Friday, July 25, 2014

A Smokey Roe River 400K

Pre-dawn pre-ride photo by Brenda
More Photos Here    Results Here   This is the route we rode

As we drove to Helena Friday night the winds kicked up and smoke poured into Western Montana from wildfires in Canada, Washington, and Oregon.  Montana had a nice wet spring, we were hoping for a smokeless summer for a change.  But when big areas to the west and north are in a drought we’re going to get it anyway.  Forest fire smoke is a fact of life in the summer in Montana.

By early Saturday (July 19, 2014) morning the winds had calmed a bit, but the smoke was hanging around as thick as ever.  Air quality was poor.  We knew we would all probably end up with smokers cough by the end of the ride.

But despite the ugly conditions, 5 randonneurs were at the start in Helena including myself, Ken Billingsley, Karel Stroethoff, Joshua Loveland, and Mark Liebig-who drove all the way over from Bismarck, ND.  Mark rode our 300K early in the season and this was to be his first attempt at a 400K.

The story of the day would be wind. Primarily a southwest wind. The same wind that was blowing in all the smoke and kicked up to 20+MPH would blow us most of the way to Great Falls and fight us on the return to Helena.  It was a great blessing most of the time, but also a curse whenever the route happened to turn south.

I started the ride off with a bang! Riding strong over the big hill out of Helena with Mark I felt my back tire going down. I couldn't hardly believe it. I was riding my bomb proof Gatorskins. I shouldn't be getting a flat. Mark graciously stopped and helped me get the tube changed as the other three riders came along and we all had a little impromptu gathering. The cause of the flat was simply an old multi-patched tube. The leak was right at one of my patches. My cheapness got me on that one, but that patched tube did make it through most of the summer and my Cascade 1200 attempt.  I actually forgot I was using it.  Mark quietly rolled up the tube and stuffed it in his bag saying he’d toss it at the first garbage can. It was a delicate intervention-no doubt-to keep me from attempting to patch the tube again. Much appreciation to Mark for the help in fixing the flat and saving me from myself.

The first half of the route is very lumpy with big, big rollers between Wolf Creek and Augusta.  This would have been an incredible stretch except the heavy smoke ruined the vast wide open scenic vistas we were anticipating.  But it was staying cool and the wind, which was sometimes an annoying cross-wind was helping more than hurting.

We got the full positive effect of the wind on the 20 mile legs from Augusta to Fairfield and Simms to Vaughn.  On these stretches we spent most of the time well over 20 mph.  It was incredible.
Mark, Ken and I rode the whole way together.  They’re both a little faster than me-or at least, they slow down less than me when we got tired.  So I had to dig deep at times to keep up.  But it was really good for me.

Joshua was riding his first brevet of the season.  A 400K is not the way to ease into a brevet series.  But we were riding out of his hometown-so he decided to give it a go. We met Joshua coming into the controls at Augusta and Simms as we were leaving, so he was only maybe 20-30 minutes behind at that point and looking very good. Unfortunately, he had to break off the ride at Great Falls and drive back to Helena for non-bike riding reasons. But he got in a good solid 150 miles on the hilliest part of the route-so that was a good days work for sure.

Karel just got back from a teaching trip in China.  He hasn’t hardly turned a pedal since our 400K in early June except for a couple of permanents.  So he was understandably going to ride this 400K at his own pace. I didn't see Karel again after my flat tire, but our dutiful volunteers, Brenda, Jackson, and mother-in-law Mindy drove out to check on him.  He was doing fine a couple of hours back if not just a bit sleepy.

One of the more interesting features of the route is the Riverfront Trail in Great Falls.  It’s a little tricky to navigate, but it gave us a needed respite from vehicle traffic and offered some wonderful views of the Missouri River, including the BlackEagle dam and falls.

After the obligatory stop at Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls, to see what was once known as the shortest river in the world, the Roe River, we turned south and headed to Helena, knowing full well that headwinds were inevitable. 
Giant Springs dumping into the Roe River (Missouri in the background)
Getting out of Great Falls is no fun. There’s high traffic roads, debris strewn shoulders, and about 1 mile of I-15-all going steeply uphill and into that headwind.  By the time we got to the Town Pump by the Great Falls Airport we were pretty cooked and took a long break.  Town Pump is the biggest c-store chain in Montana by far. The newest Town Pumps, like the one we used in Great Falls, were seemingly designed for randonneurs.  They even carry hard boiled eggs and pb&j sandwiches-along with all the other delicious gas station goodies randonneurs have come to depend on.

The wind calmed down and the smoke seemed to thin out on the way through Ulm and when we got to Cascade conditions were calm and quite pleasant.  That didn't last though.  As the route squeezed into the Missouri River Canyon after Cascade the wind hit us hard off and on.  Along with bugs…lots of bugs.  Fortunately they weren't the biting kind, just the annoying kind-unless you’re an angler or a trout.

There was lots of wildlife in the canyon besides the bugs including a huge herd of mule deer, eagles, osprey, antelope and a rattlesnake coiled up on the shoulder that an unsuspecting Mark almost rolled over (that was the only live rattlesnake I saw, but there were plenty of dead ones).

Brenda and the rest of the volunteer crew met us in Wolf Creek. They had cold cokes and other goodies. It was a real morale booster for me as we rested up for the final big hump between us and our beds in Helena.  It was a clear starry night sky.  The smoke was all gone and temperatures were quite pleasant.  If I wasn't so tired I would have been having the time of my life.

The last climb which is on I-15 turned out to be easier than expect-despite my fatigue and increasing soreness. The wind miraculously calmed and what there was actually helped push us along. Over the crest of the big hill, the lights of Helena appeared-a truly beautiful site.  The descent was even better as there was no traffic I just rode in the travel lane of the freeway and let it go.

Ken, Mark, and I were done at 1:58 AM (that’s right-2 minutes under 21 hours!  I made sure to record that). I was starting to feel nauseous like I did at the Cascade 1200, but kept it all in this time.  But it’s a good thing I didn't have to ride at all on Sunday. I was totally cooked.

Karel took a couple of sleep breaks along the way and waited to finish in daylight as it’s easier to stay awake when the sun is up. He texted that he got done at 6:46.  Another gutsy performance by one of the toughest randonneurs I’ve ever known.

Many thanks to Ken and Mark for staying with me.  We had a lot of fun and interesting conversations along the way.  And Mark managed to get to see some scenery after the smoke started to clear and before it got dark.  Congrats to Mark for his first 400K-the first of many, many more I’m sure.
Photo courtesy of Mark Liebig.  Great scenery after the smoke cleared
And again many thanks to family for all the support.  We couldn’t do this without them!

The 600K is next on Labor Day weekend.  Only one more brevet for a full series.  It’s just the longest and steepest ride of the year-no problem!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bert Karp Memorial Populaire-2014

Our little peloton leaving Bozeman

My family and I pulled off the 3rd BKMP on the 4th of July.  We had 15 riders, some new, and several who have ridden in either both or one of our previous populaires.  What we lacked in the quantity of riders, we more than made up for in quality!

We had a perfect weather day.  Pleasantly warm temperatures, no precipitation, and very little wind. We also had a new course this year, 6 miles shorter for a true 100 kilometers (62 miles), with a little less climbing and a lot less traffic-thanks primarily to Gallatin County paving more and more back roads.  I had nothing but positive feedback on the route, so we’ll probably stick to it for next year.

As for volunteer help-we who rode really hit the jackpot. All our stops, even the information checkpoints, had volunteers, dutifully and happily waiting for us with cool drinks and lots of munchies.  If a rider went hungry or thirsty-and I don’t think anyone did-it was their own fault!  Many, many thanks to my wife Brenda who coordinated the whole thing (on her birthday!)-with lots of help from my sister-in-law Deborah who came all the way from Georgia to help.  Thanks goes out to all our ride volunteers led by my son Jackson, nephews Austin and Jameson, Billy and Mindy Horne, LaVerna Schmidt, Deb Korrison, and Danielle and Shannon Karp. All these people got up earlier than they needed to on a holiday and drove all over the valley from checkpoint to checkpoint to look after us. Also thanks to sister Jody and many other family members for shopping for all the goodies, and for brother Travis and his son Austin for marking all the turns-a service rarely available for randonneuring rides.
Springhill Church rest stop

My brother Clay and his boys Darren and Derek, who rode last year, traded in their bikes for their cameras for this one and took hundreds of photos.  They were with the riders every step of the way, snapping pictures and cheering us on-along with Danielle with her cow bell.

Personally, I got in a group of six guys-all of whom were happy to ride about the same speed-and take a generous amount of time at each of the rest stops. So I absolutely had a ball. I seldom get into such a well suited group for that long. It was just a lot of fun.

The MVP performance of the day has to go to my sister Jody Schmidt who took on this ride despite a very limited amount of training miles. Jody suffered plenty through the last 15 miles or so, but gutted it out and got done with plenty of time to spare. A truly great accomplishment and a really inspiring moment.

Thanks to all who came out to ride, volunteer, or just watch and wish us well. I know mom was looking down with great pride and joy.

What a fun event!