Friday, May 18, 2018

Castle Mountains 300K Brevet

The 200K out of Missoula and the 300K out of Livingston are history. Both tremendous successes. We had 11 riders start and finish the 200 and 6 riders start and finish the 300 (one outside the time limit, but who cares-he still finished!).
Bitterroot 200K team photo

Lane Coddington shot a short video our Castle Mountains 300K brevet. It was cool-temps in the 30's for some of the day, and there was a stiff east wind blowing. Lots of wide open spaces on this route.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

2018 Season kickoff-Bitterroot 200K

Click HERE for all the info on our 200K to start the season. The ride will start/finish at the Motel 6-University near downtown Missoula on Saturday, April 28. Check in is at 7:30 AM and the ride will depart at 8:00 AM. This route features a lot of paths through Missoula and the fabulous Bitterroot Bike Trail to Hamilton. We'll venture off the bike path in the Bitterroot Valley on some quiet roads before returning to Missoula on the path.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My London-Edinburgh-London 2017

After my successful finish of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) in 2015, I was feeling really good about myself. When the early sign-up of London-Edinburgh-London approached, it didn't take much convincing by my wife Brenda to sign up for a ride in yet another country. However, after the disaster that was my 2016 season, where I let my weight creep up and I DNF'd a 1000K and 600K attempt with stomach issues, I was worried about what I had gotten myself into. But with some dietary changes, my weight came back down. In 2017, among lots of other rides, I successfully completed our brevet series, which included some very wet and windy weather.  Two weeks before departure I completed a solo 3-day tour with 2 days of about 140 miles each and one day of 74 miles-all with significant mountain pass climbs and in severe heat and some heavy thunderstorms. I was going in several pounds lighter than I was at the start of PBP 2015.

London-Edinburgh-London or LEL, as it is often referred, is a 1441 Km (895 miles) Grand Randonee in Great Britain. Like PBP it takes place every four years. It is different from PBP in that it is significantly longer (by over 200K), it has a time limit of 117 hours and 5 minutes as opposed to 90 hours for PBP, and not as large in ridership (1500 on LEL as opposed to almost 6,000 for PBP). Like PBP, LEL promised a hilly route with one significantly long climb called Yad Moss. The weather, as I would come to learn, is always a mixed bag in England and Scotland. It could be hot and dry, windy, or very cold and wet. The organizers advised bringing clothing for every type of weather.

My son Jackson, wife Brenda, and I arrived at Heathrow Airport in London on Thursday morning, July 27, 2017. We were shortly joined by Brenda's parents Billy and Mindy Horne who arrived via Las Vegas after visiting relatives there. We rented a house in Erith through Airbnb-about 20 miles from the start, but with good access via public transportation.

Really liking how a late afternoon start worked for me for PBP-2015, I signed up to start LEL at 3:30 PM on Sunday. I was assigned number KK2. The start agreed with my body clock which was still partially on Montana time. The plan, for fellow Montana randonneur Karel Stroethoff and me was to ride through the first night and the next day before taking our first sleep break. Our other Montanan, Ken Billingsley who is very much a morning person, was signed up for the 10 AM start.
Me and the family at the LEL start in Loughton
On Sunday afternoon, after watching several groups go ahead, it was Karel's and my turn. The weather was partly cloudy with a good chance of rain. It was also windy, with a gust blowing over some barriers right before our start. It did look like we'd have a tailwind though. Starting groups had up to 50 riders, but our later start wasn't so popular as there were probably only about 20 people in our group. This was a bit of concern. Unlike most riders, I don't carry a GPS device to help in navigation. I was going to rely on the old fashioned cue sheet...and follow everybody else. With such a small group, it would be easy to get spread out and on these curvy roads with lots of trees there would be times where there would be no other riders in site. A possible recipe for disaster as I would later learn.

As per usual with these rides, lots of nervous energy had built up and we took off going way too fast on the hilly terrain. With my heart about to leap out of my chest, I was trying to stick with Karel (who has a GPS) when a bump sent my water bottle flying. I had to back track to retrieve it and lost the group. Fortunately, another group came along and I was able to follow and not worry about navigation for the time being. Not long after the rains came down quite heavily and I witnessed two crashes. One looked serious. After I finally caught back up to Karel, my front tire started going soft. A small sharp rock had gotten through. I got the tube changed and rejoined Karel at the first control in St. Ives-100K done.

Karel and I rode together through the night. Both of us were feeling good and with a pretty nice tailwind, we were flying. We passed many riders on that first night and found the controls at Spalding and Louth quite busy. Louth was almost out of food and we had to make do with croissants and coffee. As Monday broke, we approached the Humber Bridge, which is the 8th longest suspension bridge of its type in the world. Obligatory photos were taken on the windy bike path attached to the side of the bridge. My cue sheet somehow blew out of my front bag, but fortunately, I had packed a back-up, which I made more secure. Karel left the bridge ahead of me and I lost track of him. Now I was alone and trying to navigate on my own. My solution was to follow another rider, even though that rider was going quite a bit slower than I could go. Better to be slow than lost. After the Humber Bridge the route gets on a scary busy road for a while. Traffic was fast moving and some were probably annoyed by having to pass so many cyclists. The roads on most of the route were very narrow and required cars and trucks (or lorries as they say in the UK) to wait behind a cyclist until the on coming lane was clear to pass. If there was a blind hill or curve they just had to wait. When there was an opening, drivers would pass very quickly and sometimes very closely. Still, I found British drivers to be far more courteous than in the USA.
Karel Stroethoff at Humber Bridge
As I was standing alongside the road eating a gel, Karel came along much to my surprise. He had stopped for a nature break after the bridge and I just didn't see him. So united once again, we made good time to the next control in Pocklington.

The route gets seriously hilly between Pocklington and Thirsk, with a ride past The Castle Howard and a couple of large monuments. The route also goes along some very small roads, some no bigger than what a bike path would be in the USA. Fortunately, these tiny roads also had very little traffic. I'm a heavier rider and a slow climber with a heavy bike, so I started to lose touch with the groups Karel and I had been riding with. I could catch back up on the long downhills, but would lose touch again going up. There were however, a lot of riders out on this segment so navigation wasn't an issue until I got into the town of Thirsk. There I missed a turn and ended up riding through the town and missing the control. After some inquiries, I back tracked to the control and found Karel inside having a meal. At this point it was clear to me that Karel was going faster than me. I was also conscious of the fact that I was burning too many matches to keep up with him. I felt like I needed to take a sleep break at the next control at Barnard Castle, while Karel wanted to get the big climb up Yad Moss out of the way before stopping. I had a drop bag in Thirsk, so I cleaned up, changed clothes, and made my way out in the afternoon on my own.
A monument near the Castle Howard
The route between Thirsk and Barnard Castle was quite pleasant for me. It was hilly but easier than before, and I was now going my own speed. Navigation by cue sheet slowed me down and now and then I just stopped and waited for other riders to come along to confirm I was going the right way. I got to the very nice control at the Barnard Castle school at about 7 PM. I thought the 1880's era school was the castle. Surely the building looked very castle-like to someone who comes from a place that is quite castle deficient. However, I saw on the return trip that there are real ancient castle ruins in town. There's a big museum next door. This looked a fun place to revisit someday.

Barnard Castle school
Barnard Castle is where I decided, after being awake for approximately 33 hours, that I should take a sleep break. Thanks to Karel and  my earlier efforts, I had a huge amount of time in hand and felt like I could afford to be good to myself. So after a shower, I asked to be awoken in 5 hours, inserted some ear plugs, and settled down on an air mattress on a gym floor amongst a horde of snoring randonneurs. I was back riding again at 2AM after I got up, ate breakfast, and finished faffing about, still with a healthy time cushion, but much much less than I had before (in hindsight, I took way too much time here).

The sleep break did some good. I felt like I was riding strong as I passed several going up hill out of Barnard Castle, with more taillights on the horizon to show the way. This segment of the route contains the ride's biggest climb, called Yad Moss. The cue sheet said the climb was 14km long, but when did it start? We had been climbing most of the way from Barnard Castle. We passed through what looked like a forested area with a river flowing along the ride and a lot of camping and tourist sites. A light misty rain started to fall as the terrain opened up and I knew I was finally going up Yad Moss. The only sound other than my breathing were sheep bleating along the road-hundreds, if not thousands of sheep. For a long time I was alone, but as I got nearer to the top, I started to see several tail lights ahead and few bright headlights coming up behind. Even closer to the top, the light misty rain got harder, along with a gusty cross wind. Day was breaking as I finally reached the summit and I was also meeting many of the fast riders returning from Edinburgh.
Sheep and a rock wall. Lots of both in the region
The wet descent of Yad Moss was over quickly and I stopped for some coffee at the rest stop in Alston. After the coffee break it was a lumpy and very wet ride to the next control Brampton. The very hard rain let up just as I got into the control. Everybody was soaked.

We entered Scotland shortly after Brampton. It still rained off and on, but the weather warmed considerably even as the winds became much more variable and difficult. Scottish roads proved to be very rough. I was very glad to reach the control in Moffat which was very nice with good food-even though I didn't dare try the haggis.

After Moffat there was a very long climb up the Devil's Beef Tub-a big hill outside of Moffat. Don't ask me what Devil's Beef Tub means. Then a long downhill before a lumpy finish into Edinburgh. This would have been one of best stretches of the route, if the not for torrential rains and rush hour traffic. I'm not sure I could have been wetter riding in a full swimming pool. Fortunately, I was with a large group of riders so there was no worries about navigating. Stopping was another matter.  My wet rims didn't adhere to the my brake pads all that well. I had to take it really easy going down hill for fear of shooting through an intersection. A bike path on an old railroad grade was a welcome respite from the traffic and the rain slowed as we rolled into the control in Edinburgh-the half-way point of the ride. Brenda and Jackson were there to greet me, having taken the train up from London that morning. It was a real boost seeing them.
Brenda and Jackson met me at the Edinburgh control
I had another drop bag in Edinburgh so I took a shower and changed clothes. I also decided to take an hour and half sleep-still feeling confident that I hand plenty of time in the bank. I slept well, but felt an oncoming cold in my chest that was giving me a cough and taking away my voice. The return route diverges from the incoming route for a while. Instead of going back to Moffat we had a control in Innerleithen a mere 43 km's away and then Eskdalemuir which was in another 49 km's. The short distances should have been a warning. This stretch would be very difficult.

It was dark going out of Edinburgh and navigation by cue sheet was nearly impossible. The roads are typically not marked with a road name or highway number sign. The cue sheet called out the directional signs to the next town, but often, I just couldn't find the signs, which were usually small and hard to read-especially in a sleep deprived state. Fortunately, I was caught by a group of four Brazilians, a couple of whom spoke English. We were joined by an Italian and a couple of Englishmen. This little group of United Nations made their way up some steep and tiny narrow roads above Edinburgh. As per usual, our little group broke up. Me and an English guy climbed faster than the rest of the group, but on the descent the same English fellow went very cautiously while the group from Brazil disappeared out of site. I should have gone with them but waited too long. The result was I was somewhere in between and alone on the dark descent to Innerleithen. I finally saw some tail lights going into the town and then picked up up the arrows the organizers set out to mark the last few turns. Inside the control I got to briefly meet the people I had been riding with.

The rider from Italy asked to go out with me on the leg to Eskdalemuir. He was having trouble with is GPS and he wanted to go with me and my cue sheet. Kind of a turn of the tables there. My Italian friend, (I can't recall his name) was very cold and took a long time get back to his bike, but I waited for him and we set off into the night. Fortunately, this leg was pretty easy to navigate. It included three long climbs so progress was slow. When my Italian friend fell behind, I waited after the first descent where he came in shivering despite being covered head to toe. The cold was having a harsh effect on riders from warmer climates. There were only a couple of cues the rest of the way so I gave him the directions and pressed on. He made it safely to Eskdalemuir and he thanked me for the help. I think he got his GPS working again.

I was really sleepy in the early morning hours so I took a half hour nap in Eskdalemuir and then headed back out into more hilly roads and off and on rain. I was beginning to question the wisdom of paying all this money to come to the UK to be miserable. I just wanted this thing to be over. But there was a long ways to go.

Now back in England, Brampton was a good stop for me both directions. I got something to eat and took a 15 minute nap in the rider lounge area. I was looking forward to the Yad Moss climb in full daylight. The sun was out and I was hoping to get some pictures. The ride to Alston and the foot of the climb was up and down, but trended up and very steep at times. On one hill I got off the bike and walked after another rider nearby had tipped over after stalling out. Much to my dismay, I could see the big hill in front of us shrouded in mist and knew we were going to get wet again.

The steepest part of the the Yad Moss climb is right in Alston on cobblestones. I didn't even try-I just walked it. The wind was blowing hard and a misty rain was hitting me sideways. As I started out, I noted several riders returning to Alston-either to wait out the rain or to abandon. I later learned that a lot of riders abandoned at this time as the conditions were really rough. Despite the misery, I was not alone. Several riders were heading up the big hill. The grade is not steep but the climb just goes on forever. It rained harder and harder and crosswinds picked so no pictures. Finally at the top, the descent was still a grind as the wind was blowing right in our faces. Not only was this hard, but my average speed was very slow and I was not replenishing the time lost resting in the controls.

For some reason the organizers had us take a slightly different route back to Barnard Castle. So instead of a long down hill like I was expecting it was more up and down, with a lot of steep punchy climbs. I was really starting to lose it mentally here. I was angry with the weather and the route designers who seemed to want to take us over every paved goat path in the area-the steeper the better.

Castle ruins at Barnard Castle
I set out of Barnard Castle after another half hour nap with maybe an hour in the bank. I was worrying about my time, but many of the riders around me had started earlier and were running late. I followed a group of Italians out of Barnard Castle and found a familiar French guy (can't remember his name) without a GPS doing the same. We had met in Edinburgh with Brenda and Jackson. He was from Versailles where we had stayed for the last PBP. He was a good conversationalist. I also spoke some French to him which was fun for me. The Italians were obviously feeling the ride and were all over the road and going quite slow. It was a little scary at times as several crashes almost happened. I lost the group when my helmet cover blew off. I went back for it and they were gone. I saw enough tail lights to make the next turn, but it was raining heavily again and it was very dark. I passed one of the Italians and a couple of other riders and came up on a fellow with no working tail lights. After finding his speed to my liking I pulled up alongside and let him know about his lights. He said his batteries were dead. I said I'd be happy to ride behind him if it was okay to follow as he had a GPS. His name was Ton and he was from Thailand. He spoke English and we had a nice visit. I felt that Ton was faster than me, but he said he was really tired and going slow so I was able to hang on. Whenever a car came along I got right on his wheel and became his tail light. I was so thankful to meet up with Ton. I'm not sure I could have found Thirsk without him as riders were getting very scarce as more and more were calling it quits.

After a visit to my drop bag and a shower, I signed in for another half hour nap. The volunteers said I had an hour and half in hand coming into Thirsk and I was in good shape as the route gets flatter and faster later on. I took their word for it and indulged in the nap-which I probably couldn't have done without anyway. Thirsk to Poklington went pretty well. It had stopped raining for the moment so I could read my cue sheet and the roads seemed somewhat familiar. It was still hilly and one ascent in the dark caught me in the wrong gear forcing me to dismount and walk. Later I had to take a 10 minute road side nap against a utility box while also waiting for a few more riders to come along. Daylight was on as we went past The Castle Howard again and I followed another rider through a forested area with a tree canopy completely covering the road. It was beautiful and tranquil moment with the birds singing.

I took a 15 minute nap on the floor of the cafeteria in Pocklington where they were playing a drive time radio station over the loud speakers with some great 80's music. Drive time radio with an English accent was interesting to me for some reason.

Out of Pocklington a group of guys made up mostly of English guys caught me and offered to include me in their paceline. I had been seeing these guys off and on the whole way so we were starting to get to know each other. Unfortunately, I didn't get everyone's name but I believe there was a Peter, Gerrard, Mike and a couple more (sorry guys, but I'm terrible with names even when I'm not sleep deprived). My French friend was with us for a while as well, but then later disappeared. Everyone knew my name because it was on my RUSA tag on my carradice bag. We worked together as best we could, but it was hard to maintain a paceline with everyone being so tired and the terrain being so hilly. It was nice to have some help with the headwind, which was growing ever stronger.

After getting rained on hard again a couple of times and peeling rain gear on and off, we crossed back over the Humber Bridge and bought some snacks at a small grocery store. A local came up to find out why he was seeing so many bikes coming though town. We were happy to present the gospel of LEL and he was impressed and gave us lots of encouragement.

After the Humber Bridge the route goes through a region called the Lincolnshire Wolds. It was an easy section going out with a tailwind and fresh legs, but going back it was a constant up hill head wind grind. It also rained hard some more before getting warmer and more humid. I had mistakenly thought this leg was 87 km, but when we came across a sign that said the next control in Louth was still 10 miles I almost cried. More wind, more hills, and then finally a very empty Louth-but this time with plenty of food.

Our group set off again after the Louth Control. It was warm for the first time on the whole ride. Bare arms and legs. Low on energy, I lost our group on the first big hill out of town and absentmindedly not paying attention to my cue sheet, found myself quite lost with no other riders in site in front or behind. I had some time in hand at this point, but it was all quickly evaporating as I started a mild panic. I pulled out my cell phone as I had downloaded the route into it, but in my weak mental state I could not make it work. I brought up my location on the screen and it didn't show any roads anywhere. I back tracked and found a woman walking her dog. I asked if she had seen any cyclists come by and she said no, but she saw a lot on the next road over. So I headed that way and asked a man out a walk how to go. I showed him my cue sheet and he immediately recognized Horncastle as the next town and sent me the right way (I love the name Horncastle-it sounds so medieval). Relief washed over me when I rolled up on my friend Ton. I told him I got lost again and asked to ride his wheel for a while. Ton was glad to help and off we went. It's amazing, with the fear of being lost, I had forgotten how tired and sore I was and found some new energy somewhere. Ton and I flew along, passing several riders. The headwinds were fierce and as Ton slowed I took over pulling for a short while. The effort took its toll. On a long flat stretch I lost Ton's wheel and was on my own, but only briefly. I came across the same guys I had left Louth with. They were just getting going after a break. It was such a relief that I had not lost any time, but I would pay for the extra stress.
I presented Ton with my Bobcat jersey in gratitude for saving  my ride 
After a meal and another half hour nap in Spalding, we were off to St. Ives as night fell. Now we were in the region known as the Fens. It's pancake flat, but we still had that headwind. Thankfully the wind had died down to a manageable 15-20 mph I would guess, much lighter than riders who passed through earlier in the day. We could only manage about 17-18 kph while sharing the work. Everyone was tired. Some of the guys were getting cranky and snapping at each other, and I was starting to fall asleep on the bike and creating a very dangerous situation. When we finally got to St. Ives, I didn't even bother to get food, I headed to the dorm and asked for a half hour wake up call.

I woke up on my own about 40 minutes later. The overworked volunteers were just as tired as the riders at this point. The extra 10 minutes was needed, but my group was gone and I was on my own again. I couldn't figure out how to get out of St. Ives. There were no street name signs and very few cyclists coming out the control. Finally I saw some tail lights and headed their direction. The first several miles out of St Ives were on a wonderful flat and straight path. I could follow tail lights the whole way. When the path ended we were coming into the big city of Cambridge. I came up on an English rider who said he lived in the area. I asked if it was okay to ride along for a while. I'm sorry I don't recall his name, but he was very nice, and he got me all the way through the City which would have been tough to do on my own. After Cambridge, the dozies took over again and I had to let my English friend go as I sought rest on a bench. I set my alarm for a 10 minute snooze. It worked. I felt better and I rode on. A few miles later-lost in my own mental fog-I missed a turn and climbed a big hill unnecessarily. I got back on track okay, but I was losing a lot time on these little lost excursions.

By some miracle, I found the penultimate control at Great Easton. I still had 25 minutes in hand and only 48 km or about 30 miles to go. If could average a little more than 12 km per hour (only 7.4 mph) and not get lost I'd make the finish easily. After a quick snack I was off. Great Easton is very near London's Stansted Airport. There were lots of airplanes flying overhead. The big jets offered a bit of a distraction as I grinded over the narrow, hilly roads. It was also confirmation that we were getting close to London. Navigation started off well. The turns would all supposedly be marked so I shouldn't have any problems, despite there not being very many riders left. But panic set in once again as the arrows seemed to stop showing up and nothing made sense on the cue sheet. After going down a big hill and coming out on a very busy highway that I knew we weren't riding on, I realized I was lost again. I really just about checked out mentally at this point. I knew I was only 10 or 15 miles from Loughton and I had well over an hour left on the clock, but I had no idea where I was. I called Brenda and told her in a blubbering diatribe that I was lost and probably wouldn't make it. She immediately set to work to figure out my location generated by my Spot Tracker and determined that I really wasn't too far off course. Talking to Brenda calmed me down enough to realize all I needed to do was turn around and go back to where I knew I was on route and try again. There was still time. As I climbed back up the hill I came across two men on a recreational ride. I asked them if they knew how to get to Loughton. They didn't know, but offered that there was an orange arrow on a sign just at the bottom of the hill on the road that I should have gone down. This was a huge relief and sure enough the arrow was there. I was back on route and shortly came across a German woman looking at her phone. I asked if she was lost too. Cool as you like, she said her GPS was working fine she was just returning an email as she had plenty of time to finish. I asked if it was okay to follow her-allowing that if she was faster to not worry about dropping me. Another British man came along and we stayed together all the way to Loughton with no more drama.

Montanans Karel Stroethoff, Jason Karp, and Ken Billingsley successfully finished LEL 2017
As I approached the finish I heard and then saw my family cheering for me along with Ken Billingsley who had successfully finished early that morning, and Ken's wife Health. Tears started to fall as I fell into my family's arms with nearing the 117 hour mark but with a few minutes to spare. Ton happened to be right there too so in a spontaneous moment of gratitude I offered and he accepted the Montana State Bobcats cycling jersey I was wearing. I credit him with saving my ride by coming along at the right time before Thirsk and after Louth. It was a special moment. It took a few minutes after the hugs and high fives to remember to go in the building to get my card stamped, but I finally did and the staff confirmed that I was within the time limit and awarded me a finishers metal.

Never have I been so glad to finish a ride-a ride that I am sure will be the hardest I ever attempt. Many thanks to all the volunteers and staff for LEL. The people taking care of us and watching out for us were so wonderful. The controls were excellent, the food was just right, the drop bags system, the card system-everything worked so well. Thank you to everyone!
Catching some z's at the finish-waiting for off peak hours to haul the bike home on the Tube

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Schedule

I didn't do a very good job of keeping my blog in 2016. I'll try to do better in 2017.

We are again hosting a full brevet series, with the entire series being done before July. This is to help facilitate my own training for London-Edinburgh-London in late July. LEL is the British version of Paris-Brest-Paris, but 200K longer with a 116 hour and 40 seconds time limit. It's pretty ambitious of me to think I can pull this off, but I'm gonna give it a go.

The 6th annual Bert Karp Memorial Populaire will take place on the 4th of July as usual. We had about 35 riders last summer, and we had a great time. Hoping we can top it.

We will cap off the season with a 200K in Yellowstone Park-as long as the weather cooperates.

Here's the schedule for 2017. The dates are firm. The starting locations are somewhat tentative, but not likely to change. More info will be posted at my Montana Randonneuring website. Please feel free to email me with any questions.


April 29-200K Belgrade
May 20-300K Helena
June 10-400K Missoula
June 30- 600K Belgrade
July 4-100K Bozeman
Sept. 17-200K W. Yellowstone

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Glaciers to Geysers 1000K-2016

I'm teaming up with John Pearch of the Seattle International Randonneurs to organize the Glacier to Geysers 1000K brevet. We had this on the schedule for 2015, but the ride fell victim to the severe summer heat wave.

The 2016 edition is scheduled to start from the Amtrak Depot in Whitefish, Montana on July 20. The route goes through Glacier National Park over the Going-to-the-Sun Highway and then turns south through Great Falls, MT and Gardiner, MT before entering Yellowstone National Park. After riding by YNP's most famous attractions including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Lake Yellowstone, and Old Faithful, the ride will finish in Big Sky, Montana.

Logistics: Riders are responsible for their own motel and travel arrangements. Whitefish is served by Amtrak and the Glacier International Airport is nearby. Whitefish has lots of motels, but the summer season is busy there so book as early as you can. Bike boxes and luggage can be transported from Whitefish to Bozeman. Just let us know ahead of time what you want us to carry so we can make sure we have room. Drop bags will be carried to Great Falls, Gardiner, and the finish-again let us know ahead of time. The finish is at Big Sky, Montana-but no need to make motel reservations there. My family will be available to shuttle riders from Big Sky to any Bozeman-Belgrade area motel and help riders in getting to the Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport  and/or their rental car if necessary.  There is no Amtrak service anywhere close to Bozeman.

The first overnight is in Great Falls, MT. The Econo Lodge Ponderosa is on the route and that's where the drop bags will be. The second overnight is in Gardiner, Montana. Drop bags are planned to be at the Super 8 Motel. Riders will need to make their own overnight arrangements.

Let us know if you have any questions. We will do everything we can to help riders make this work.

The following is the information for last year's ride. We'll be updating the information as we get closer to the ride date:

The preliminary cue sheet is HERE-note that it is subject to change prior to the ride.

The entry form and waiver are HERE

Profile info is HERE The updated route map is HERE

There will no-doubt be minor tweaks to the cue sheet and route map before we get to the start, but this will give riders a good idea of what they're in for. For more information, or if you have any questions, feel free to join and post on our Montana Randonneurs google group.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Paris-Brest-Paris 2015, Le Retour

I'm satisfied that I finished, but determined to get back in 2015 and do better.  If nothing else, I acquired an immense amount of information that will help me next time-and God help me...there will be a next time! (from my PBP 2011 ride report).
PBP-2015 start
More Photos HERE

It's been four years since my fateful Paris-Brest-Paris 2011 ride. A ride that saw me finish in a respectable 86 hours and 6 minutes, except that I had signed up for the 84 hour start. Thus no finisher's medal and a listing that simply shows me as hors délai (outside the time). Though I'm sure no one else cared, this has bugged me greatly. I've probably thought about it every day since. As the statement above shows, I was determined to go back and do better...and by better I mean not necessarily faster, but being recognized as an on-time finisher. I also wanted a better experience. I wanted to be in the big group, talk to more people, see more of the crowds on the road, and sample more of the food made along the way. I didn't get much of that when I fell off the back of the 84 hour group.

So I got myself qualified, signed up for the 90 hour start, and made the trip back to France in August of 2015. This time, instead of going over separately due to work schedules, Brenda and I were on the same plane and we were joined by our kids Stephanie and Jackson. Since both kids are grown, this was a rare opportunity for our little family to be together again.

My start in Group M left at 18:45 (6:45 PM) on Sunday evening. Many groups had already left and more were gathered and getting ready to go. It was a festive atmosphere. The new start location at the National Velodrome in St. Quentin-en-Yvelines just outside of Paris added a little more big time to the event, but it was the cheering crowds as we rolled out that made it so special. I haven't been cheered like that since my high school basketball glory days almost 30 years ago. It was a goose bump producing moment. Its certainly something few amateur cyclists, even very accomplished ones, get to experience.
Karel Stroethoff and me in the starting paddock
I don't go into these things with a rigid plan. I think it's better to see how things play out. Some rides feel good right at the start, others it takes a while to get warmed up. Then there's weather, terrain, mechanicals and all that stuff. But what I had in mind for PBP was to find a big group that was going maybe just a little slower than I felt like going, and draft in their slipstream. 1230 kilometers, or 764 miles, is a long way. Best to save as much energy as possible. This plan worked to perfection for a long ways, though groups were dynamic. Some would slow down too much and I found myself chasing on to another up the road, other times I thought I was drafting off the back of the group only to find I was behind slower riders who were falling off the back requiring me to chase back on or wait for the next group to come along. Sometimes the leaders would suddenly decide to pull over for some reason leaving me and a handful of other wheel suckers to find someone else to attach to. I shamelessly drafted off groups made up of many nationalities and languages, including French, Brits, Germans, Norwegians, Italians, Filipinos, and many more.

A cool night gave way to a beautiful day on Monday and I was feeling very good. Sleep before the ride made all the difference. In 2011 I got about 4 hours of tossing and turning before the 5 AM start. In 2015 I took a big nap on Saturday after my bike check, and slept off my jet lag for 11.5 hours on Saturday night and Sunday morning. I woke up a little before noon and noodled around until it was time to head for the Velodrome on Sunday afternoon. So when I got to Loudeac at 18:45 on Monday, exactly 24 hours after I started I was still not sleepy. After replenishing from my drop bag and getting a minor drive train adjustment from the mechanic, I set off for St. Nicolas du Pelem which I had in mind as my sleep break with the idea of potentially getting all the way to Carhaix if I was still feeling good. 
The whole town of Loudeac was there to see us

The plan to get to Carhaix went out the window when I hit the first hills out of Loudeac. I don't remember much about this stretch from 2011, maybe I subconsciously deleted it from memory, but it was tough. The hills got steeper and quite long in places. As we passed through a village I asked some road side fans if the road ever goes down. A man shouted back in perfect English that it does down in just a little ways. He was right...only it went right back up again. So it took me a long time to cover the 27 or so miles to Saint Nicholas du Pelem, it had gotten dark, and I was ready for a break. The control was quite busy, but they had cots available so I checked in and asked to be woken up in 3 hours.

I didn't sleep great, but I did sleep. In fact they woke me up 15 minutes late. That was okay I thought, I still had some time in the bank. As I sat down to the rather unappealing breakfast of pot roast that they were serving (I would have killed for some pancakes and bacon) I saw Sam Collins from Jackson, Wyoming wandering through. Sam rode his qualifying series with us here in Montana and he was staying with us in our Airbnb apartment in Versailles. It was nice to see a familiar and friendly, albeit tired looking, face. Sam had just woken from a shorter nap. He had started an hour later than me so he had even more time in the bank. We rode out of St. Nicholas together into a chilly, damp and foggy morning, but very happy to have those hills out of Loudeac already done. 
A not quite wide awake Sam Collins in St. Nicolas du Pelem

Seeing cyclists in reflective gear in the predawn fog is a pretty trippy experience, especially when they are standing or laying down on the side of the road. They looked like skeletons in the mist.

Sam and I chatted away for a long time, scarcely noticing that we were attracting a bit of peloton behind us. That was okay, after all the wheel sucking I did yesterday it was my turn to do some pulling-as long as they were willing to go as slow as us. Some of the route signs to Brest started to turn up missing, but by this time we were constantly meeting 80 hour riders and fast 90 hour riders returning from Brest so when in doubt we just waited for someone to come along. I'm not sure, but I may have even saw Karel Stroethoff from Missoula go by. Karel and I started in the same group back at the Velodrome, but he was out of site right out of the gate and riding much faster than me, as his 76 hour finish time would attest. 
Sam Collins burning up the road on the way to Brest

The climb over Roc Trevezel, the highest point on the route was easy and the descent was fun. Throughout this ride I climbed slow, but descended like a stone, so I was always getting passed and then passing the same people. The only person on the ride that I found that went downhill faster than me was Sam, so I just tucked in behind him and we flew. The descents of PBP were always great fun. Nothing too technical with a few round-a-bouts thrown in to swerve through. That was the payoff for all the climbing we had to do.

Crossing the bridge into Brest is quite a site. It was a beautiful day and the water below was a glorious blue. Lots of people posing for pictures, including me. Then to the control where we were cheered at the entrance by another big crowd. Halfway done. So far so good. 
On the bike/ped bridge entering Brest

We must have hit the Brest control at the peak of the bulge-that period when the bulk of the 90 hour riders go through. It was busy. The line for the cafeteria wrapped around the building. Sam wanted to get a nap on the grass and I wanted to get going so we parted ways for the time being. I found a little bakery/deli type place with a bunch of bikes around it on the way out of town where I got to use my French to order some lunch. Then it was up some big hills, including Roc Trevezel again on the way to Carhaix with one quick stop in Sizun to get some cafe au lait and make a slight saddle tilt adjustment. Sizun really rolls out the red carpet for PBP and there were randonneurs everywhere enjoying their hospitality. 
Sizun. A very popular town on the route

Carhaix was picked over like an old piece of road kill as it gets hit hard by riders coming and going-not a sandwich to be had in the place. No loss, a little bakery in the very next town had the best pain au chocolate I've ever had. I also got myself a sandwich and was good to go as the sun started setting. The plan was to get to Loudeac to access my drop bag, refresh and clean up and then press on to either Quedillac or Tinteniac for a sleep break. The only problem was, with all the hills in between, and me being a little too good to myself with bakery stops the time I had in the bank was evaporating. Sleepiness hadn't hit yet, but I was slowing way down.

I got to Loudeac at midnight and after filling my tray in the cafeteria I saw Sam walking through. He couldn't sleep in Brest, but now was in bad need of a nap. While eating I looked over the tables and was very surprised to see fellow Montana randonneur Ken Billingsley just sitting down. Ken left the Velodrome at 5 AM Monday morning, about 10 hours and 15 minutes after me. I was glad to see him and that he was doing so well, but it was a concern that he was able to catch me so soon. I felt like I was riding well, but I was slower than I thought I was. I'm afraid I was pretty cranky, but I'm sure Sam and Ken forgave me and they gave me lots of encouragement. 

After cleaning up and changing my kit, I had a couple hours in the bank. A little nap on that bench won't hurt. It's chilly outside, there's lots of people around making noise, no need to set an alarm. With my drop bag as a pillow I laid down just to rest my eyes for 15 minutes or so. I woke up over an hour later. Oops. So much for a long sleep break in Tinteniac, I have less than a half hour in the bank. Time to get going. I was starting to worry. 

On one of the first round-a-bouts out of Loudeac I came across Corey, Andy, and Mike (I hope I got his name right) of the Seattle Randonneurs. This was a great comfort. They left the same time I did so their finishing control closed the same time as me. They didn't seem too worried about running out of time-we just needed to keep moving. We had a nice ride on this part of the route which isn't quite so hilly and in short order we were in Quedillac for a bol of cafe au lait. At this point the ride is pretty much fueled on cafe au lait. I just wish the French understood the concept of large because their servings of cafe au lait were just way, way too small.

At daybreak on Wednesday morning we were almost to Tinteniac when sleepiness which I had avoided almost the entire ride, hit me like a two ton brick. I was starting to dream while on the bike in a pre-sleep state which is very dangerous. When I got to the control at Tinteniac I needed a nap, bad. I still didn't have much time and I didn't trust myself to wake up, so I paid 7 euros at the dormir for a bed and a wake up call in a half an hour. This turned out to be a pretty plush stop. They led me to a room all to myself and I was out like a light...and awoken in what seemed like an instant. I was really groggy and not 100% sure where I was. I had to remind myself that I was indeed in France and I needed to get back on my bike. 

I found Sam again at the control. He was feeling much better after a rough day the day before and he was very encouraging. He introduced me to Bob from New Jersey and the three of us set off for Fougeres. The nap must have did me some good because I had the energy to grab the wheels of a fast group of French riders and held on. They eventually dropped me on a steep hill, but in my defense, they must have had support at the controls because they weren't carrying any extra gear with them like I was. I wasn't alone for long as I heard an American voice ask me about my Montana State Bobcats jersey. It was David Weber from Minnesota. He snowboarded at Big Sky near my home in Montana. We chatted away and rode hard. He was trying to make up some time as well. We got to Fougeres in no time. 

I probably wasted too much time in Fougeres, but it was one of the few controls with decent rest rooms and that was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. On the way out I briefly met Eric Peterson from Illinois. We had ridden some of the Crater Lake 1000K together back in 2010 and kept in touch via Facebook. Then Sam and Bob came along and we stopped at a little bar/restaurant type place where I ordered a couple of crepes.  300K to go.

More sleepiness on the way to Villaines la Juhel. I took a 15 minute sleep break under a tree, using my phone alarm to wake me up. A little farther down the road I heard sirens and pulled over to let an ambulance go by. After a while I came across a horrible scene as paramedics were giving CPR to a rider along side of the road. I said a prayer for him as I passed, but later heard there was a rider who died of a heart attack. It was a sobering reminder of just how fragile our existence is.

Almost to Villaines la Juhel and Ken catches me again. We ride together into what in my opinion is the neatest control on the whole ride. Villaines la Juhel was clean, had plenty of bathrooms and port-a-johns, and a grocery store just outside the control selling sandwiches. I was in good shape again. I rode out of town with a new found determination. There was only 220K to go, a distance I can usually do in 9 or 10 hours. I thought I could be done with this thing by 8 AM tomorrow morning if I kept riding and didn't take any long breaks. 
A woman saw me trying to take a selfie leaving Villaines. She offered to take my picture with her fancy camera and email it to me. The people of France are just the best when it comes to this ride!

The good energy lasted for about 30 miles. I raced to catch a big group and drafted along. I met Greg from Wisconsin who was just about the most chatty and friendly guy I had ever ridden with. He gave me some NoDoze since I forgot mine in the drop bag back in Loudeac. I also rode up on Eric Peterson again and we had a nice chat. But I was starting to really wear down and after a while just had to ride my own slow pace as the route started getting very hilly again. I was cussing the hills as I rode into Mortagne au Perche in bad need of a break, but with not too much time to get one.

I found Ken again inside the control. He was going to take a sleep break. I didn't have the time for a proper sleep, but did put my head on the table for 15 minutes. Then it was time to get up and get going again. The dream of finishing early was out the window. Now I just wanted to get done within the time limit.

The road out of Mortagne au Perch was the hardest of the trip. I wasn't thinking clearly and starting to dream on the bike again. I took a sleep on the side of the road and a little later on a sidewalk in a small town. A road side stand miraculously appeared where they were giving away coffee. I had two with lots of sugar. But I was still having trouble shaking sleep.

Then it started to rain. Just a light drizzle at first but then a pretty healthy down pour. The weather had been so perfect the whole ride, why did it have to rain now! I was mad and getting worried. My progress since Mortagne au Perch had been slow due to the cat naps and coffee breaks. In working out the math it looked like I could be in danger of being late into the final control (note to self, stop trying to do math when you're sleep deprived. You screw it up every time). I went into emergency time trial mode as the morning came and the rains fell. I cursed it at the time, but I think the rain was a huge benefit. I was wet, but I wasn't at all cold and I got to the penultimate control at Dreux wide awake. I had about an hour in the bank, but didn't think there was time to get any food at the control. Fortunately I remembered I had a serving of soy protein powder in my bag, so I put that in a water bottle and took off. It actually didn't taste terrible-in fact it was kinda good.

I really was worried. I thought back to the last 60 km stretch in 2011. There were some big hills that I had to walk up. So I shot out of Dreux as fast as I could. After a big climb out of town the route zigs and zags across some open countryside. It's pretty flat at first so I put the hammer down with two Germans on my wheel. After pulling for a long time I slowed down and the Germans took over. I grabbed their wheel and pedaled for all I was worth. We rolled up on the some familiar looking blue Seattle Randonneurs shirts. It was Andy, Corey, and Mike, again along with Jeff Loomis. And again they didn't seem at all worried. I calmed down considerably, looked at the time and the distance and realized I was fine. When the big climbs in the Forest of Rambouillet came I motored right up, no need for walking. We chatted along as the route seemed to wander in every direction. Finally we started getting in the outskirts of Paris and the the surroundings started to look familiar. A few stop lights and a few round-a-bouts and the big buildings in Montigny le Bretonneux came into view. We got on a path and the Velodrome appeared. A small crowd cheered as we followed the path to cross the chip reader. My family was running across the parking lot to greet me with a big hug. 
Big finish line hug from Brenda

I did it. I was in time. I was finally an official finisher of Paris-Brest-Paris!

I couldn't believe how good I felt. I wasn't sore or sleepy. Just happy and relieved. I even had the energy to ride my bike back to Versailles after enjoying some of the festivities in the Velodrome and grabbing a quick shower.
The Champagne was a nice touch. Thanks family!

I am so thankful for all those who encouraged me along the way. I was so motivated not to let them down. Finishing PBP is a moment I won't ever forget. Sharing that moment with my family-we'll you really can't ask for better than that!

Congrats to my guys-the guys who rode our Montana qualifying series. Karel, Ken, Sam and myself all had successful PBP's. A 100% record to help the American cause! 
Ken Billingsley with his wife Heath at the finish. Ken got done in 80 hours for his 7th PBP.

A few random thoughts:
  • My time of 87:59 was almost two hours slower than my time in 2011. However, I'm sure my riding time was faster in 2015. I don't know for sure because the wrong push of a button on my bike computer destroyed that data. The difference can be explained in the extra waiting I had to do at the controls. In 2011 I was so far behind that there were no crowds and no waiting, in 2015 there was a line for most everything-especially the restrooms. 
  • A fast time wasn't a big concern for me. I stated before the ride that I would be completely satisfied if my finish time was 89 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds. I wanted to enjoy the ride and everything about it. I definitely was successful in that.
  • I got nervous toward the end, but I always had some time in the bank (meaning time before the control closed) to sit down eat something or stop at a bakery or coffee stand along the way. I probably should have tried to be more efficient earlier so I could have gotten one more multi-hour sleep break after Loudeac on the way back.
  • I was always hungry. This is a very good sign. It means everything is working as it should. Whenever I've lost my appetite on these long rides my performance suffers and it can lead to a DNF. On PBP I'd eat a bunch of food and find myself starving 30 miles down the road. I always had an energy bar or gel to compensate for that.
  • It took me 24 hours to get to Loudeac on the way out. It took me 8 hours longer to go from Loudeac to the finish. That is all thanks to fatigue...and the hills. Oh my gosh the hills!
  • I've read many reports that PBP is not a difficult route. I'm guessing most of those who say this are light. I weighed-in right at 200 pounds at the start. I don't carry as much as some, but my bike is heavier than most and I am heavier than most-so this very hilly route that is PBP is very difficult for me. That being said, there are plenty of guys my size that do this ride very, very quickly-so being big can't be an excuse. I need to work on my speed.
  • I'm not a fan of a liquid diet, but on that last stretch from Dreux to the finish I was fueled by a serving of Hammer Nutrition's Vanilla Soy Protein power. I threw it in my bag almost as an afterthought-just in case I ran low on calories. I must say it really hit the spot. That might be one way to speed things up next time, maybe using a liquid diet on a few segments of the route to eliminate the need to stand in line for real food. Just a thought. I didn't need to go any faster-I was fast enough. But as I said, more sleep would have been nice.
  • I can't believe how good I felt on the entire ride-other than the sleepiness. I felt better on the whole of PBP than I did on the second half of my 400K and 600K qualifiers. Our mountainous 300K two weeks before the event, and the rest I got afterwards set me up well.
  • The people of France-who put this ride on, and come out to cheer us on, feed us, encourage us, and make us feel so welcome-I just can't thank them enough. They are amazing. They make this ride so special.
  • Sam Weber, a reporter for my hometown newspaper the Belgrade News, did a very nice article about my ride.
    We even had signs! Thanks again family!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

PBP-2015 Here We Go

I don't know if I'm ready for Paris-Brest-Paris. I don't think any cyclist ever thinks they are perfectly trained for a big ride, but it's going to happen anyway.

We got in some solid training in July and early August, focusing on climbing. There are no mountain passes on PBP. I don't think we ever get much over 1000 feet above sea level. But the route is very, very lumpy so having some good climbing legs is helpful.

On July 18, Ken Billingsley, Ken Baker, and I rode the Shields Valley 200K which has nice climbs over Battle Ridge Pass, Bozeman Pass, and Joe Gaab Pass on Jackson Creek Road. We rode it hard-much harder than comfortable.
We were so fast we beat our volunteers to the Paradise Valley control.
Then on August 1st Ken, Ken, Karel Stroethoff, and Mark Liebig from North Dakota rode what was one of the hardest routes I've ever designed. The Chief Joseph 300K had six significant summits including Bear Creek Hill, the two summits on the Beartooth Highway at almost 11,000 feet, over and back on Colter Pass by Cooke City, and the horribly named Dead Indian Pass on the stunningly scenic Chief Joseph Highway. We had about 14,000 feet of climbing in 193 miles. The ride had the added benefit of being very hot around the Cooke City area-which I needed to make sure I knew how to regulate my salt intake (I need lots on hot rides).
At the foot of the pass-Chief Joseph Highway

I also rode with the Iron Cowboy, did some climbing by the Lewis and Clark Caverns, got in a hard paced club ride and a 100K permanent on a Friday night after work, staring at the same time PBP will start. It was all good for me.

I feel good. I'm excited, and ready to go. I will be looking forward to meeting up with Ken Billingsley, Karel Stroethoff, and Sam Collins in St. Quentin-en-Yvelines before the ride. I am proud that these guys used our brevet series to get themselves qualified.

My only real worry now is that my bike makes it on the plane and survives the trip. That is probably the biggest worry of every randonneur who is traveling overseas to France this week. For those who might be interested, you can track my progress HERE. I start riding at 6:45 PM (Paris time) on Sunday, August 16.