Monday, May 26, 2008
St. Anthony Sand Dunes 200KM Brevet May 24, 2008
The sport of randonneuring hasn't caught on in Montana yet so I will have to do some traveling to ride any brevets. The closest rides offered in my part of the country take place in Driggs, Idaho with the Yellowstone Area Randonneurs. Jim Severance is the Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA).
This year The Yellowstone Area Randonneurs is offering a 200K brevet on May 24, 2008 and a 300K brevet on May 31, 2008. The 200K worked out perfectly-beings it's a long weekend for Memorial Day. So Friday after work, my wife Brenda, son Jackson, and I loaded up the car and headed to Driggs-approximately 190 miles south of us.
The next morning was the day of the big ride. I was extremely excited and really didn't sleep very well. I also drove Brenda crazy-getting up several times to check and double check my gear. I was really afraid I'd leave something important behind. But despite all that I was wide awake before the alarm went off and got myself ready. The motel was about a mile away from the start so I had a nice relaxing warm up ride. It was about 6:30 a.m. and the only thing moving in Driggs was RBA Jim and four cyclists signing up for the ride.
Jim had ridden the course the week before on a "worker's ride" so he wouldn't be riding with us, but instead would be looking after things. The three riders to join me were Greg from Iowa, Al from Pennsylvania, and John from Wyoming. Interesting-no other riders from Idaho. Al was on a quest to ride an organized century (or longer) in all 50 states!
As we set off at 7:00 a.m. clouds were heavy and the air was a chilly 39 degrees. It didn't look like it was going to get much warmer-but we were hoping the rain would stay away. The forecast called for 50% chance of showers.
We made our way out of Driggs and headed toward our first checkpoint in Ashton, Idaho. After brief conversation as we rode in a steady paceline, it was apparent that Greg was going to go a little faster than Al and John. It looked like Greg's pace suited me so I rode beside him and we chatted while cruising through the small town of Tetonia, Idaho. I was very happy that I'd have someone to ride with-I knew well ahead of time that this brevet would only have a handful of riders and there was a distinct possibility that I'd have to ride the entire route by myself.
After riding on the state highway for the first 20 miles or so, Jim had us turn off onto a more narrow farm road heading over the hills of eastern Idaho. These farm roads are paved with a chip seal (probably from recycled asphalt) and were a little more rough than the state highway. But there was no traffic at all-it was extremely quiet. While descending a particularly steep hill I thought I heard something snap-or click. The bike seemed fine so I kept going-realizing a little later that the snap I heard was my bar-end mirror hitting the pavement. Dang! I've gotten quite used to using the mirror all spring and now I'd have to ride the rest of the route without it.
Greg and I got to the first checkpoint-the Shell station in Ashton and got back underway in short order-taking more narrow and lightly traveled farm roads along Henry's Fork of the Snake River-which was very swollen by spring snow melt and heavy rains in the area. We even crossed a rickety steel one-lane bridge with wooden planks on the deck-it was pretty cool. Greg and I got to the St. Anthony Shell station and our second checkpoint and then headed west out of town as the clouds hung low all around us and the west-southwest wind blew in our faces.
We knew our next checkpoint was the famous St. Anthony Sand Dunes-so instead of religously following the route sheet provided by Jim, Greg and I followed the signs that pointed towards the Dunes-realizing about 3.5 miles later that we should have kept going straight when we took that last right turn. The Sand Dunes area is huge and Greg and I were in the wrong place. After asking directions from one of the many ATV riders on the Dunes we headed back to the proper route. We started to get rained on pretty good in the last few miles to the Sand Dunes checkpoint. I wasn't suffering-but I wasn't exactly comfortable either. I don't have much experience riding in the rain and my bike is not equipped with fenders.
After the Sand Dunes, the route reverses itself for awhile and we encountered Al and John, still together, and still riding strong. We encouraged them with the tailwinds they would get after turning around at the dunes.
After a quick stop at a St. Anthony grocery store to stock up on fuel, and a nice conversation with a local who admired our bikes and told us of his past life as a cyclist-Greg and I were approaching 100 miles and on our way back towards Driggs. Jim had us diverge from the outbound route so we wouldn't go back to Ashton, but instead took some more farm roads along the Fall River. After our little route mishap earlier we were more careful about staying on route-stopping to check the route sheet several times.
There appeared to be rain showers all around us, and the winds were picking up strength as the inbound route converged with the outbound route again. We would be on more familiar roads the rest of the way-which was both a blessing and curse-as we knew how many rolling hills we had ahead of us-with more up than down as we made our way back to Driggs. The benefit of the route convergence was that we went past the location where I lost my mirror-and sure enough-there it was laying along side the road still in tact. It was at about this point, where Greg and I really started feeling the effects of our ride. We were readily clicking into our small chainrings for any climb-of which there were many. We also picked up a steady 15 mph headwind and the rains started really coming down. We met Jim in his pickup along this part of the route and told him we were doing fine and would make it to the end-no problem! Even though we were starting to really feel miserable. We only had about 22 miles to go.
The final stretch on the smoother state highway gave us a straight on headwind and steady drizzle. I was fairly comfortable in my jacket, but it had a bit of a parachute effect into the wind making it that much harder. It was also mostly uphill. Greg and I shared the work-taking turns pulling out front. After a long while the stop light in Driggs became visible and we knew we were going to make it. About that time we met Brenda and Jackson in the car coming the other way-they quicky U-turned and passed us heading to the finish line. Greg and I pulled into final checkpoint-the place where we started at 5:17 p.m., some 10 hours and 17 minutes after we started. Not bad considering the rain, wind, and extra miles. This "200 km" brevet was actually 135 miles so Greg and I ended up about 142 miles for the day. We were no worse for wear-felt fine, and happily turned in our cards. Brenda snapped a picture of us victorious. We then rode the one mile back to the motel at nearly 20 mph with the wind now at our backs.
A little while later, as Brenda, Jackson, and I were sitting down for dinner at a little Mexican restaurant on Driggs' main street I saw Al and John come riding in. I quickly jumped in the car and drove to the finish line to congratulate them. They came in with plenty of time to spare and looked good. Al said it was one of the toughest rides he has done so far on his quest for a century in every state-but he wasn't complaining-he knew he would be that much stronger for his ride next week (I think he said it was in Nevada).
Of course-as we packed the car the next morning the sun was shining, the birds were singing and the wind was calm. But that's okay-what would have been the challenge of riding when it's nice out?
I enjoyed my first randonneurring experience very much. I think it was much more rewarding being a tough ride in less than perfect conditions. I learned much more about myself, my equipment (need fenders), and the need to improve my navigation skills. I especially found the art of navigating with a route sheet on a route in which I am completely unfamiliar to be challenging and kind of fun-very different from the riding I do here at home where I know the roads. I'm really glad I had Greg to ride with-I think I could have gotten myself pretty lost without him on a couple of occasions.
This will probably be my only brevet of 2008. I'd love to ride Jim's 300k next weekend, but my daughter is graduating from high school on that day-so I think I better go to that instead. The rest of my summer is pretty well planned with projects at home and a family vacation later on. But next year-the goal is a complete brevet series including a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K-who knows where. Beyond that maybe a 1200K, and ultimately Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011 (if I write it down and make it public I have to do it-right?!)