Monday, September 17, 2007

Highwood Pass 300K - 15 Sept 2007

Fujin @ sunrise on Hwy 1A


Last year this time the High Pass Classic 300K was cancelled due to snow in the mountains as well as rain/freezing rain at lower elevations. I had been trying to contact the ride organizer to volunteer at the controls, but rec’d no reply. I found out later that the Alberta Randonneurs is “self-serve” brevet club with no formal controls or ride staff. This of course makes sense when you realize a strong ride turn out is 12 randonneurs and a more typical number is 4-7.

I was hoping to complete the ride this year, but I had a work commitment that would see me at the office throughout the weekend. Given the late date I assumed the snow would be flying before another opportunity would arise. Luckily plans changed at work and I didn’t have to work the weekend..=-)

This was great, but only left me a few evenings to get a lot of work done on my Fujin that I had been putting off until winter. Things like mounting fenders, installing a Shimano dynohub and Solidlights 1203D headlight, installing some Radical designs bags to carry my gear and doing a general tune up/check over to make sure the Fujin was ready.

One of the often quoted sayings in the Randonneur World is “…don’t try anything new on a brevet…” Naturally I had to ignore that and try several new things so I’d know if they worked before the 2008 season rolled around. Although I did have some “issues” nothing ride threatening happened and I know that I have some changes to make over the winter.

I got my gear together and even loaded by bent into the truck the night before to allow me to sleep in a tad longer. One of the biggest challenges for me when riding a brevet is getting out of a warm comfy bed at 5am and ride my bike in the freezing cold. Definitely one of the drawbacks of being solar powered! I did managed to get out of bed at 5:05am when my second alarm went off. I drank some chocolate milk and grabbed a Pepsi for some caffeine loading on the drive.

Just as I got to the ride start in Cochrane at 6:15am I saw 3 riders departing with lights ablaze and reflective gear shinning back in my headlights. I knew there was an early group leaving at 6am and figured that must be them. My plan was to ride with the 7am group. Pulling into the parking lot I saw two other vehicles and no other activity at all. I started to realize I was the 7am group!

I had my bike out and ready around 6:45am with no more vehicles arriving and a chill setting in I thought it best to hit the road. I was slightly bummed that I would not have any company, but on the bright side it meant I could ride my own pace the whole ride.

Start to Barrier Lake Visitor Centre [67km]

The ride up Hwy 1A to Hwy 40 is gradually uphill with only a few climbs of note, however, the persistent headwind on this road makes it fairly challenging considering how easy it appears. As you ride through the rolling hills at the edge of prairies you have a wonderful view of the foothills in the distance. I quickly realized three things on this stretch of road 1) training with a stripped down Fujin was not optimal preparation for riding a loaded Fujin 2) the Shimano dynohub produces a lot of drag 3) the combination of items 1 & 2 can really bring your moral down. It didn’t help that the pre-sunrise chill was a bit colder than I expected and I had some complaints from various bits of my anatomy!

I warmed up as I continued to ride and the sun threatened to rise. It was a beautiful morning to be in the country on a bicycle. When the sun finally did rise my morale took a turn for the better [remember I am solar powered] and I shut off the 1203D reducing my front wheel drag somewhat. I passed Ghost Reservoir and the marina next door. At one point I came across some fresh droppings on the road and was puzzled as all the fields were fenced. I got my answer 400m down the road when I approach a horse that was on the loose. Upon seeing my bent the horse started running along the road in the direction I needed to go. With fences on both sides of the road he had nowhere to go and I didn’t have much choice, but to keep on riding. Shortly we hit a downhill so I moved to the far left of the road and sped by him at 50kph. As soon as I was past he went right back to eating grass!

As I approached the turn off for Hwy 40 the headwind increased substantially. Having read Wim Kok’s great ride report I started to worry I’d be fighting the wind all day. Climbing Highwood Pass on a bent is one thing – doing so against a strong headwind is a whole different matter. Getting onto Hwy 40 you have to get past a couple Texas Gates that prevent the free-range cattle from escaping their grazing area. These widely spaced round metal bars are challenging on a 700c DF and murder on 406 wheeled SWB bent. However, I got good at hitting the 4” wide metal strips that crossed the bars at a couple spots. This meant smooth sailing as long as I didn’t miss my mark. After a short stretch on Hwy 40 I reached the first control at the Barrier Lake Visitor’s Centre. To my surprise there were 3 rando bikes parked outside. I didn’t think I’d be able to make up 30mins in less than 70kms, but I think they were pretty cold, as was I, and they had taken a break to warm up. I got my control card signed, filled up my bottles and got ready to leave right away so that I could ride with them. My toes were still numb and would be until control #2 at Fortress Junction.

Happy to catch up with Paul, Willi & Dale

Barrier Lake to Fortress Junction [38km]

My newfound companions [Paul & Willi from Edmonton and Dale from Red Deer] were quite interested in my Fujin. I think a lot of DF riders just find the design so odd that it attracts a lot of attention. I decided to ride at the back and see how things worked out. As I expected on the climbs they would pull away from me and on the downhills I’d pull away from them. Rather than try to ride together I figured it would be best just to let the bikes run and meet up when it was convenient. Dale was having a low spot in his ride and fell off the back on this stretch. I would later be able to completely sympathize with him as I had my own low energy period. Although Paul & Willi and I were well matched [if the road was equally up and down] during this part of the ride the general upward nature of riding towards the pass meant that I dropped off the back as well.

Riding alone on Hwy 40 was very pleasant as the wind died down to almost nothing, it was sunny & warm and the mix of coniferous trees & deciduous trees with their fall colours was pretty spectacular. Traffic was light and the motorists I did encounter were courteous. One thing I really liked about Hwy 40 was the absolute lack of frost heaves – smooth riding. I quickly arrived at the Fortress Junction control and met up with Paul & Willi. While getting stocked up on the usual Gatorade and chocolate milk I asked the owner how far it was to the top of Highwood Pass. His reply was 40kms. Dale showed up as we were getting ready to leave. He looked tired, but resolute.


Fortress Junction to Highwood Pass [30km]

Expecting a 40km ride to the pass I settled into a comfortable rhythm and let Paul & Willi go on some of the early steep climbs. The scenery became even more dramatic the higher I climbed with pockets of snow on the north faces of the mountains hinting at winter's rapid approach. I saw my DF buddies in a road-side rest stop, but decided to keep riding as I was feeling strong and they’d likely catch me before the summit in any case. At about 25kms I started up a long steep climb that just wouldn’t end. I was getting tired and a bit worried as I figured the final climb to the pass was 10kms off and probably much worse. I winched my way up the steep road and started to get suspicious that I might actually be on the final climb since there were no mtns higher than the ones I was about to cross. I turned out to be right as I came upon a sign marking the summit of Highwood PassCanada’s highest paved road. I stopped for a break and shortly Paul & Willi rolled up. Although we had surmounted the hardest portions of the route we still had 175kms to ride to the finish.


Highwood Pass to Longview [75km]

The descent from the pass was a lot of fun. Not my fastest on the Fujin, but 79kph is thrilling – especially after a long hard climb. There were some climbs to negotiate on the descent, but coming into them with so much momentum all I had to do was put in a little more energy and I was over the top and on to the next downhill. I lost sight of Paul and Willi fairly quickly as I exploited my recumbent’s aerodynamics as much as I could. At anything over 30kph I took the lane and used the smoother debris free road rather than risk the shoulder. After about 35kms of ear to ear grinning I pulled over to take a break and round up the troops. My DF friends showed up and we continued together along the mostly flat Hwy 541 to Longview rapidly eating up the KMs. We had a quick bite to eat at the Black Cat in Longview and we were hoping to meet up with Dale while off the bike. By the time we started riding out of town we still hadn’t seen Dale and were a bit worried about him.

Paul enjoying the ride.

Longview to Black Diamond [17km]

Climbing the long-ish hill out of Longview we could see a cyclist in the distance, but we didn’t think it was Dale because of the colour of his jersey. My legs were feeling sluggish working up the climb and I suspected I’d get dropped when we hit some of the steeper climbs between here and the finish. On the other hand we were 210kms into the ride and I had bags of time to finish so I had no worries. The 17kms to the next control at Black Diamond flew by and sure enough, as we pulled into a gas station to have our brevet cards signed, there was Dale. He had bonked on the climb to the pass and had to deal with a rear flat because of a Texas Gate, but he kept spinning the pedals and kept a positive attitude. It was great to have the whole group together again as we set off towards Bragg Creek.

Alberta Randonneurs ride Highwood Pass

I made it over the highest paved road in Canada...=-)

Paul & Willi happy to reach the summit

Fujin Porn

Black Diamond to Bragg Creek [52km]

My DF companions set a blistering pace as we raced towards Hwy 549 and then Hwy 762. I hung on the back as best I could and a few times considered just letting them go so I could ride at my own pace, but it seemed foolish to give up the company and the benefit of the pace line until I really couldn’t stay in touch with them. Dale, in particular, was riding strongly at the front of the group. It was a good lesson for me to see how well he recovered and how poorly I was feeling. Things change on a long bicycle ride. When they are going well you need to be grateful and take advantage of them. When things are going poorly keep eating, drinking and turning the pedals – they will get better. I finally did lose the group on a climb near the turn off for Hwy 762. I watched them climb away from me and readjusted my pace. It was actually quite pleasant to be by myself for a while rolling along in solitude as the sun was setting.

I caught up with them at Hwy 762 as they were donning night gear and turning on their lights. However, when they set off I didn’t even bother trying to stay with them as there was a significant climb within sight. I was into unknown territory as far as ride distance was concerned and length of time riding. I felt a bit down emotionally and quite tired physically. Although I only had 50-60kms left it seemed at times a really long way to go at my turtle like speed on the hills. It was really beautiful riding alone through the country side, the fragrance of wood smoke in the air and deer jumping fences along the side of the road. My Solidlights provided lots of light for me to see by and the virtual absence of vehicles made me very grateful to whoever had selected this route. I reflected on the many things I had learned this year. I thought I was an experienced cyclist before I started randonneuring, but in many ways I am just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible – that is a very exciting and humbling feeling. Happily I started to feel better and my speed picked up as I was getting close to Bragg Creek. Of course traffic also picked up the closer I got to town and I found it very hard to see the road when oncoming traffic sped past with blinding lights.

These guys are fast!

Bragg Creek to Cochrane [31km]

Paul, Willi & Dale were at the Bragg Creek gas station when I pulled in. Willi suggested we ride the last portion of the route together for safety. It was a good idea and very thoughtful of them to wait for me. I got my card signed and quickly downed some chocolate milk so I wouldn’t hold everyone up too much. It was getting quite cold by this point and I was looking forward to completing the ride. We bombed down Hwy 22 towards Cochrane on a slight downhill for the first 10kms. The only challenge being a new construction area at the junction of Hwy 8. Riding through some rough dirt and gravel on my Fujin at speed in the dark with car headlights and reflective safety tape all over the place was completely surreal! I half expected to go down, but I ended up making it through without any drama. The road turned uphill towards Hwy 1 and I could tell I didn’t have the energy to stay with the group. They pulled ahead a bit, but waited at the Hwy 1 junction. The climb that followed also split the group, but this time Dale and I stayed together at the back while Paul and Willi danced up the hill. I just didn’t have the leg power left to do any dancing…=-) Paul and Willi waited again at the top of the long climb and we rode together the rest of the way downhill to Cochrane to complete the ride at 22:10.

The Finish


What a great day to ride in the mountains. It felt like summer most of the time and even felt a bit too hot at times. Considering last year’s ride was cancelled due to snow/freezing rain this edition was spectacular. One of the benefits of randoneering in Alberta is the opportunity to spend time amid such beautiful scenery as the sun rises, passes overhead and then sets. The subtle changes in light, vegetation and geology are fascinating and make you really appreciate our backyard. I also really enjoyed the company on this brevet and felt some of that randonnuer camaraderie that I have read so much about in other folks’ brevet reports. Paul, Willi & Dale were wonderful companions to have on this ride who displayed humour, tenacity and generosity in equal measure. It was nice to see lessons learned throughout the summer pay off on this ride and my recumbent skills/fitness allow me to finish the ride without drama. At the same time I was challenged on this ride, particularly, the last 90kms and I clearly have a lot of work to do so I will be ready to tackle to longer distances in 2008.

Ride Info/Stats:

Route Map
Route Info/Brevet Card
Wim Kok’s 2004 Ride Report

Official Distance = 310km
Bike Computer Distance = 315km

Ride Time: 15:25hrs
Time On Bike: 12:51hrs
Time Off Bike: 2:34hrs

Avg Speed Overall: 20.4kph
Avg Speed On Bike: 24.5kph

Thanks to Willi for many of the pics included in this report.


Jerome said...

Hey Vik,

Congrats on the ride! You must be proud. That's a great accomplishment. Glad to hear the weather was in your favor also. When is the next rando ride you are doing? What's going to be the first ride of the season next year? I need to get my butt in gear if I'm going do some longer rides next year. Thanks for the ride report, very nice. Kudos Vik. Cheers.

Vik said...

Thanks Jeremy - I'm happy to have extended my distance a bit so I am more prepared for 2008. This is the last official brevet of 2007, but if the weather holds I'd be up for a 200K if you have the time.

The ride calendar is a little different each year , but this year the first ride was a 200K on 14 April.

I hope you can make it out next year - having another bent to ride with would be great...=-)

Jerome said...

Yeah, I just need to make the time. I'm now getting concerned that I won't be able to do a 200K. It's been over a month since I've ridden the Volae!!!!! Sucks huge. If 200K is a bit ambitious, I'd love to do even a bragg creek run or something like that. Fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

Great report, Vik. I've only done one 200 miler and that was back in 1992, yet I still remember the lows and highs like it was yesterday.

Good job!

Dennis T

Vik said...

Jeremy - Bragg Creek sounds great. It is a nice fast ride and we can grab lunch at Bragg Creek. Whatever seems like the best option for you is okay by me.

Thanks Dennis. It is becoming pretty clear to me that so much of the LD cycling game is mental. Thanks also for showing me the light with your Fujin. Your posts on BROL definitely helped lead me to this wonderful bike.

Jim said...

Hey Vik:

Great ride and a wonderful write-up. Congratulations on a remarkable accomplishment - that is SO FREAKIN FAR!! It has to help that you're riding through such gorgeous country! Nice job taking great pictures on through such a challenging ride.

Hang in there!