Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tour de Bozeman-my foray into the racing world

Travis warming up his son Jameson and nephews Derek and Darren for the kid's races

My Shazam! socks didn't help me in the sprint

My brother Travis and his family were here for vacation from Savannah, Georgia and Travis took his bike with him so we decided to sign up for the first ever edition of the local bike race called the Tour de Bozeman.

To get ready for the race, I participated in two time trials and a road race with the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club within the month prior. To say I'm inexperienced at racing would be an understatement.

The time trial on Saturday morning went pretty well. I was way down in the standings, and Travis passed me like a freight train, but I completed the route a minute and a half faster than my only other time trial on this route a few weeks ago.

The sprints were a neat event. They blocked off all of downtown Bozeman so we had Main Street to ourselves. A nice crowd lined both sidewalks to watch and despite a rain storm rolling through most everyone stayed around. My heat consisted of Thor Hushovd and his two brothers (two other riders were no-shows) so I was quickly left in the spray of their back wheels and eliminated. Travis did a little better-getting out of his first heat and finishing a close fourth (top three advanced) in his second heat. Despite my quick elimination it was fun to warm up riding around downtown and it was fun to have lots of family there watching.

My nephews Derek, Darren, and Jameson participated in the kids race before we grown-ups did our sprints. All three of them beat more people than Travis or I-so maybe there's some future cycling glory for our family? In any case, the kids loved it-a great idea from the event organizers.

The final stage of the event was the road race on Sunday morning. Travis and I participated in the Category 4/5 field-which was by far the biggest field in the event. Our race started at Bridger Bowl, went over Battle Ridge Pass and almost to Wilsall before turning around and going back over Battle Ridge and finishing in the Ross Peak Subdivision near Bohart Ranch (about 41 miles). This is a brutally tough course with a hill right out of the chute, and a mountain pass about three miles into it. I got washed off the back of the pack at the foot of the Battle Ridge climb due to inexperience and fear of riding fast in a big group and kind of blew myself up trying catch back up instead of riding within myself. Out of breath, I watched helplessly as the rest of the field including Travis disappeared over the hill ahead of me. For most of the rest of the ride I drafted with Al from Manhattan who was also riding his first big race (or first race in a long while anyways). We cruised along and chatted and really had a pleasant time. I had met Al earlier in the season at the Tour de Spud (a local touring ride-not a race) where ironically we were way in front of field most of the way.

Despite my later arrival, there was nice crowd at the finish line to cheer me in, including my parents, wife Brenda, daughter Stephanie, sister-in-law Deborah, and a host of fellow racers and race volunteers. Getting that ovation (which every finishing rider got) was really special-I didn't feel like I sucked quite so bad.

At the end of it all I really enjoyed my racing experience, but I also realize that racing really isn't for me. I'll stick to my longer and slower randonneuring rides and continue to help out with our bike club's more sedate touring group. However, Travis has already indicated that he wants to come back. He feels like he has some unfinished business with this race and now that he knows what to expect with the competition, altitude, and weather among other things he wants to give it another try. If Travis does come back I will probably ride too, but only the Tour de Bozeman and no other big race (sort of like Lance always did with the Tour de France). If Travis can't make it back maybe I'll be a volunteer instead-since I know what the riders go through I think I'd be good at cheering them in at the finish line.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Beartooth Pass Permanent

Entry and Waiver Form

Map and Profile.

RUSA Permanent No. 675 climbs into Wyoming and over the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge, MT to Cooke City, MT and back.

The road construction that kept me from attempting this ride in 2009 appears to be substancially complete other than a short quarter-mile section of hard packed gravel after the Top of World Store.

A cue sheet is hardly necessary-the only controls are at both ends of the route which is entirely on US Highway 212.

The route has 14,000 feet of climbing in 207 kilometers. Oh yeah-it tops out at over 10,947 feet above sea level so bring your lungs along! I finally attempted this ride on September 12, 2010. I made it to the Cooke City with only about 16 minutes to spare, then totally blew up about half way up the climb on the way back. I probably could have finished within the time limit, but I would have been descending switchbacks in the dark-not really recommended. A kindly motorist gave me lift to the East Summit where I then dropped back into Red Lodge. My friend and fellow randonneur, Ken Billingsley, did complete the ride however. Congrats Ken! This DNF will eat me up all winter-I'll attack it with a vengance next summer (when the days are a little longer). UPDATE: I did conquer this route in 2011, ride report here.

I don't know if there is any harder 200K route in the USA-if there is I sure don't want to ride it. Anybody attempting this ride needs to be fit and prepared. Aside from the obvious climbing, there are always unpredictable winds and constantly changing weather conditions (don't attempt this ride if thunderstorms are predicted-there's no where to hide on the plateau). The altitude will have an effect on your performance. The reward for attempting is some of the most scenic and majestic views anywhere in the world-all the more enhanced from the seat of a bicycle! Also, aside from Beartooth Pass, you will ascend Colter Pass to get to Cooke City. At about 5 miles long and topping out at 8,000 feet, this climb is no slouch either!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Search for Plummer's Gold-no gold-just headwinds.

Greg Courtney conquers Virginia City Hill-elevation 7,000 feet.

Greg's Photos

Fellow randonneur Greg Courtney's vacation plans changed a little bit so he was back in Bozeman on the weekend of July 11-just enough time for us to tackle another one of my Permanents before he headed home to Iowa. This time the 237k (147 miles) Search for Plummer's Gold-a route that takes a lap around the Tobacco Root Mountains.

On our ride last week I fizzled out after the first 100k in gusty cross-winds. I felt much better today-though I still fizzled towards the end.

We left the Town Pump by Three Forks at 7:00 a.m. and pedaled to Ennis-our first checkpoint. In between Three Forks and Ennis are two significant climbs-the long but fairly tame Harrison Hill and the much steeper Norris Hill. Both climbs went well and the descent into the Madison Valley was awesome. Since my 400k brevet in Washington-where I really scared myself going downhill-I've been working on my descending a lot and I was able to go all the way down without fear while hitting speeds over 40 mph.

It was shaping up to be an absolutetly beautiful day-the sun was out, there was no sign of rain clouds, and only very light breezes. Much different than what I'm used to on this route-which was quite windy the two other times I rode it.

After a short break in Ennis, Greg and I headed up the 10 mile long Virginia City Hill. The climb starts just out of Ennis where we're at 4900 feet and tops out at 7,000 feet. It's a monster in wide open terrain with no shade. Fortunately the very light breezes were with us which made the climb just a little bit easier. On the way up we passed two fully loaded touring cyclists on recumbents doing maybe two miles and hour. They had my total respect-carrying all their camping gear with them on a bike all the way across the country. We would end up seeing 4 pairs of touring cyclists on the segment between Virginia City and Twin Bridges-which isn't surprising as that is part of Adventure Cycling's Trans-America route.

The descent into Virginia City was a blast-once again I was confident enough not to touch the brakes and sped down at 45 mph. On the entrance into town we were easily breaking the speed limit!

The light breezes that helped us over the hill switched and were in our faces-pretty much the rest of the way. I doubt the wind was much more than 5-7 mph, but when it is constantly against you it will burn you out. Greg and I got low and team time-trialed all the way to Sheridan at around 20 mph despite the wind. It was great fun, but a rest stop at the Sheridan Grocery store was welcome. While there we visited with a touring couple on a tandem-going all the way across the country. It was pretty cool.

More time trialing on the way to Whitehall. After we crossed the Jefferson River I had to let Greg do most of the pulling-as the wind was starting to take its toll. The wind started out from the northwest and came around to the northeast-the worst possible directions for us. I was able to stay on Greg's wheel more or less until about 5 miles outside of Whitehall when I completely blew up. Cycling is weird that way-one minute you're flying along and the next you're barely able to keep the pedals turning. The last 30 miles was going to hurt.

Greg wasn't the mess I was, but he was feeling the effort too. After a longer break in Whitehall we headed for Three Forks. The rest stop helped me a little, but in Jefferson Canyon before the Lewis and Clark Caverns I was cooked. The little hills after the caverns that I barely notice when fresh had me in my granny gear. It was one of the worst stretches of riding I've ever done! Greg was kind enough to soft pedal and stop and take lots of pictures so we stayed in contact. After Sappington Junction, the grade becomes more favorable and I rallied a little bit. I wasn't able to do any pulling, but we made good time again.

The last 3 or 4 miles of the route are hilly and I suffered a bit more, but finally rolled into the Town Pump. Greg, who had recently finished tough 600k and 1200k rides was pretty cooked too-we had worked hard on this one-with at least 140k into light headwinds.

We finished the ride in 11 hours and 10 minutes-(total elapsed time from start to finish). My computer showed 9 hours and 3 minutes of riding time-a full hour and 12 minutes faster than the last time I rode this route in May. That explains the fatigue I guess.

Despite the suffering-I enjoyed this ride immensely. I climbed better than last week, I descended better than I ever have, and I got some very productive speed work in drafting with Greg. This is the type of ride that will only make me a better cyclist.

It was a very special honor having Greg come out and ride my permanents. Getting to ride with another randonneur in my home state was truely special.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hollowtop 200 Permanent-with company

Greg Courtney of Ames, Iowa stopping for a photo op along the Madison River

Greg's Photos

On July 3, 2009 I rode my Hollowtop 200 Permanent for the second time this year and the third time overall. But this ride was special because I was joined by Greg Courtney from Ames, Iowa. I rode with Greg on my first ever randonneuring event, the St. Anthony Sand Dunes 200k Brevet, out of Driggs, Idaho in May of 2008. We've managed to keep in touch over the year via email and a few months ago Greg contacted me and said he was going to be in Bozeman visiting relatives and was interested in riding one of my permanents. More recently, Greg finished the Shenendoah 1200k Randonnee-coming out of that with a sore achilles. Given that we decided on my most "mellow" ride-the Hollowtop 200. Plans came together, Greg made it to Bozeman, and I had the day off on the Friday before the 4th of July, so we set up a start time of 7:00 a.m.

Greg is the first person, other than myself, to ride one of my permanents. I was very excited and interested to get another randonneur's perspective on the route.

The weather forecast was a little concerning. Our wet spring has extended into summer. The forcast was for a relatively unstable weekend with a good chance of thunderstorms most of the day. As I was getting ready to leave my house the sky was cloudy and some light sprinkles were dampening the pavement.

Between Three Forks and Sappington Junction we encountered a rain shower and there were more black clouds all around. The clouds also obscured the route's namesake Hollowtop Mountain. We broke through the rain shower in Jefferson Canyon and suddenly blue sky and pleasant temps took over. It was a nice 70 degrees in Whitehall.

Rain no longer seemed to be a concern, but the wind was kicking up as we left Whitehall and headed over Highway 359. I was definitely feeling the wind's effects. Fortunately for me, Greg wanted to stop several times to take pictures-I was grateful for the little rest breaks. Other than the wind, it was really turning into a nice day-except the clouds partially obscured Hollowtop and the rest of the Tobacco Root Mountains most of the day.

A major theme of the day was traffic. When I did this ride in April-before tourist season-I had very little traffic. Today-the day before the 4th of July-traffic was quite busy. We must have been passed by 100 horse trailers-probably due to the big rodeo in Ennis. But other than the constant annoyance we didn't have any major trouble. The cool weather did keep the drunk rafters coming from the Madison to a minimum.

We had a few sprinkles in Norris as we took a little lunch stop. I was sure the rain would follow us through Bear Trap Canyon along the Madison-as it tends to do-so I put on my jacket. My thought was if I put on my jacket-it won't rain. That seemed to work! About five miles down the road I was peeling it off-getting wetter on the inside from sweat than on the outside from rain.

We had cross headwinds the rest of the way until we dropped into the Gallatin Valley after Anceny Hill. I struggled mightily with these winds as I watched Greg ride off into the horizon. Thankfully-he was always at the top of the hill waiting for me and taking pictures. For some reason this season I've struggled with hills more so than in the past-I'm not sure why. With hills and wind I slow to a crawl. I suppose being 6'5" and relatively unflexible, I have the aerodynamics of a barn door.

Greg rode magnificently. His recent completions of extremely tough 600k and 1200k rides have him in great form. He was fun to draft with on the flatter sections of the course where I could hang on.

The mostly downhill glide back to Belgrade on the last 20 miles was fun and fast and we finished the ride in a respectable 8 hours and 30 minutes.

Greg made my day when he told me this was the most scenic permanent he's ridden. It sure was fun having his company on the ride. Other than the traffic and the wind it was a perfect day.