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.

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