“It remains to be seen how the 600k goes,” I wrote to a friend the day before the ride, “but right now I am thinking it won’t be that hard. I am doubtful it will make it onto the Toughest Events list.”
Such bravado might have been more appropriate in a trash-talking NBA locker room, but I had reason for such confidence. First, my body had been performing well and recovering quickly in the last few weeks, as demonstrated by cycling 400 km and then running 10 km in PR-time a couple of weeks ago. Second, unlike in the epic 2003 Davis 600k Brevet—I fully intended on sleeping a good 5-6 hours after 400 km, essentially turning the single event into two separate 400 + 200 kilometer rides. This also would keep riding in darkness to a minimum.
Third, I was intent on bringing what basketball players like to call their “A-game.” Unlike in my last RMCC brevets, there was not going to be any I-slept-only-three-hours-the-night-before excuses for falling asleep while riding, or arriving to the start of the brevet so late that people already started riding away while the front wheel was not yet even on my bike. I was going to ride in sight of a pack so that I wouldn’t get off course so much, in addition to riding smartly and efficiently.
At least, that was the idea.
Day 1: 400k
Miles 0-62: Louisville to St. Vrain’s Canyon
Not only did I make it to the start with half-an-hour to spare (along with ~50 other cyclists), I was actually able to commence riding with the lead pack and stay with them for the first 70 miles. Hallelujah! So far so good.
Riding with this group of riders made for a different experience from the last couple of brevets. We averaged 20.0 mph up until Lyons. Also, no one was waiting around at the first checkpoint (Mile 23), not for anyone else, or even to buy food or water. In fact, about half-a-dozen of us were left behind at this checkpoint—including myself—so I spent about five miles in the aerobars towing a bunch of others back up to this lead group.
At the next checkpoint (Mile 62) people started to linger a bit. In contrast, I took off right away and took it somewhat easy, knowing that the lead pack would catch up to me in due time and that I wanted to have fresh legs for the Challenge of the Day: the climb up Highway 7 through St. Vrain’s Canyon. This gem of a climb—ascending from 4300 to 9200′ and was 22 miles long—featured gorgeous views of Rockies filtered through abundant, towering ponderosa pine, and was relentless aside from a few flat or rolling sections in the last couple of miles. Reaching an altitude far higher than anything featured in the Tour de France, this was world class.
I was both looking forward to it and was ready. In contrast, it looked like many of the others were not! Within the first two miles of Highway 7, the lead group fractured in dramatic fashion. Cyclists were peeling off the back like leaves off a tree in a windstorm.
Somewhat surprised, I kept at a steady, relaxed rhythm and joined only by two other riders: a cyclist wearing a yellow Centennial of the Tour de France jersey, and another I’ll call Big Mig. I call him that because he was a big, tall rider much like Miguel Indurain was—one you wouldn’t guess wasn’t naturally talented for the climbs but could put out an immense amount of power.
Centennial Tour was out of the saddle a lot early on, whereas I remained seated 95% of the time and Big Mig about about 75%. As it was, for the next 1.5 hours the three of us were really mixing it up, not working at all together, but continually overtaking each other for the lead.
A funny part was when I was in front and passed a local non-brevet-riding cyclist wearing a “Shalom Cycling” jersey quickly as if he had his pants down. Shortly after Centennial Tour and Big Mig passed up him up too, Shalom Cyclist decided to attack! In the subsequent three miles he surged four times, never getting too far ahead of us, but also never getting too far behind. Finally, at the junction of Highway 7 and Highway 72 (Mile 77), he virtually gave up, pulling off the road and stopped with a defeated look on his face.
One result of all of these attacks was our group of three was starting to splinter as well. Big Mig was the first to get dropped.
Next was me. Not that I was slowing down any, but Centennial Tour accelerated and took off! Impressed with his prowess and knowing that at this point of the climb (>14 miles already) if I tried to match his surge, I’d be paying for it later. So I kept at my own pace, staying within about 30-60 seconds behind all the way to the top. Meanwhile Big Mig had drifted completely out of sight in my rear-view helmet mirror.
The climb in all took a little less than two hours, and it was a glorious feeling to reach the checkpoint near the summit. Centennial Tour and I chatted at the top, laughing about all the attacks on the climb (especially Shalom Cyclist’s attacks!), and there it dawned on me that I was one of the first, if not the first, 600-km cyclist to reach the high point of the ride. Centennial Tour, it turned out, intended on “only” riding the first 400k.
Miles 62-134: St. Vrain’s Canyon to Horsetooth, Fort Collins
I took off from the summit checkpoint before Centennial Tour so was riding alone for about 30 minutes. That’s about when I got some unexpected company: a woman named Ann.
She was content with sitting on my wheel all the way through gorgeous Estes Park, where we had a slight downhill down Highway 34. At the next checkpoint in Glen Haven it turned out she had a crew that was supporting her. “If you need anything, just let me know, and maybe my crew can help you out,” she generously offered.
We rode together all the way to Horsetooth, where we parted ways. But not before she offered a parting gift when I realized that I never picked up Page 3 of the route sheet. “I’ll have my crew drop off a Page 3 for you at the 400k point at the hotel for you to pick up,” she said.
Ultimately she was true to her word. Thanks, Ann!
Miles 134-148: In Fort Collins
Horsetooth—in south Fort Collins and the last region of the big hills in the ride—was where my ride would turn from focused, efficient, and intense to the more ad hoc style of my last brevets. For it was where I decided that I was making good enough time that I could actually stop. The first half-mile detour was to my friends’ Nick and Dana’s new home in Horsetooth, as today was the day they’d be moving in.
I spent a little while admiring their views of the Horsetooth Reservoir and red rock that makes the area so special, along with getting a personal tour of their house. Meanwhile, Dana filled my water bottles. All in all this detour cost me 25 minutes, but I was delighted to see my best Fort Collins friends along with their beautiful home.
An hour later I made another detour, this time two miles. To my own home.
The main motivating factor for this was my trusty 6-year-old Olympus digital camera—the same one that had been taking all of the photos on this website since August 2002—had died in the morning. However, due to the generosity of my friend Tori and my dad who had both decided a month ago that my camera was so antiquated that they each gave me a new camera for my birthday, I had two additional digital cameras at home. So I went to pick one of them up.
While at home I also did a few other things, including:
- Going to the bathroom.
- Washing my face and reapplying sunscreen.
- Taking out the garbage as it would have stunk up the house if I had waited until the next day, when I came home.
- Making a glass of chocolate milk using chocolate-flavored whey protein.
- Unloading about two pounds of gear/clothing from my rack bag.
- Lending my neighbors Dick and Dee a battery charger for their car.
Yes, it was a productive stop. Making the detour ultimately cost me another 25 minutes, but it was well worth it.
Miles 148-248: Wellington to Lousiville
I rode virtually all alone—that is, except for Canny and a rather strong, unrelenting headwind—all the way to the 400km point except for a couple of occasions with the same person. Big Mig.
He caught up to me at Mile 200. “Where did you come from?” he asked, clearly surprised to see me. I guess he figured after St. Vrain’s Canyon, I was long gone, and indeed I would have been if I did not stop for 50+ minutes in Fort Collins! In any case, it was good to see him. We exchanged pulls in an ad hoc manner (much like on St. Vrain’s Canyon, which was not really cooperating, but rather taking away the lead from each other) to the checkpoint in Gilcrest (Mile 207).
I left Gilcrest before him, and did not see another cyclist until Mile 240 in Louisville when he again caught up. By this point I was mentally drained from fighting the relentless headwind, and again it was good to see him. He looked strong and was riding inspired.
Refusing to get dropped I stayed with him and lead the charge the last few miles all the way to the 400-km checkpoint at 9:00 p.m., just before it became dark. There we briefly chatted and it turned out his day was done; he had never intended on doing more than the 400k.
Whereas I was going to resume riding at 4:00 in the morning. “Good luck,” he wished me as I loaded up my bike on my car to drive to the hotel I was going to stay at during the night. (As I had not planned far enough in advance, I was unable to make a reservation at the 400-km Comfort Inn checkpoint before it was sold out.) “Good job and good ride,” I replied.
Day 2: 200k
Miles 248-307: Louisville to Kersey
I got 5.5 hours of sleep and was back at the 400-km checkpoint by 3:50 a.m., and on my bike by 4:00 a.m. Just as planned. Unfortunately, the next couple of hours were more akin to my last brevets as opposed to the smoothly ridden ride the day before.
It was cold. Really cold. And the route sheet—which never got me off route by more than 100 feet the day before—was littered with errors. Usually they were just typos or incorrect distance estimates, but they were egregious enough to make me question if I was on course or not, spurring me to backtrack and recheck road signs on a couple of occasions.
The first hour I had ridden seven on-course miles. Seven miles per hour. I was going to have to do better than that if I was to finish this ride within the time limit!
In addition to the less-than-desirable night-time temperatures and navigational issues, there were the aches and pains resulting from being on my bike so much. Virtually everything hurt—my feet, my crotch, my shoulders, my neck. Especially my neck. My Reevu rear-view helmet has a built-in visor that requires me to lift my head more than other cyclists (especially when I am in the aerobars), and after 250 miles, my neck muscles simply hurt.
Another issue was that I was hungry. I was running a calorie and nutrient deficit from the day before, not eating a real dinner, just munching on whatever food I had in the hotel room in order to conserve time for sleeping. As it was, I felt so lethargic that I ultimately made an unscheduled stop at a 7-11 to buy an Italian sub. Thank goodness for 7-11, indeed.
Despite having the sub at 5:00 in the morning, for the next few hours I was continually having cravings. I imagined this was the closest I would ever get to having morning sickness like a pregant woman. I stopped a couple of times at convenience stores to satisfy these food urges. At one point I really was craving salt, so I had a bag of jalapeño potato chips. Another time I had a cherry Pepsi. On the other hand, the thought of other foods—particularly anything super sweet, like donuts—was making me ill. So I avoided those.
By 7:00 a.m. the air was no longer so chilly, but by 9:30 a.m. in Kersey, the day was almost too hot! It was forecast to hit 90 degrees in Northern CO that day, and I heard later that night that some places actually hit 100.
Mile 294—more navigational issues, again due to an error on the route sheet. At one point I found myself on a washboard. mile-long dirt road, only realizing a couple of miles later that now I was completely off course. Not wanting to go off-roading again I continued on, wending through a neighborhood that could have been as foreign as Algeria as far as I was concerned and about as clueless as a newbie boy scout without a compass. Finally I came across another gas station, and the employee inside got me back on track.
By the Kelsey checkpoint (Mile 308), I was very demoralized. There was one thing that kept my spirits up, however: despite the travails of the morning, I was now halfway done with the 200k. Just 62 miles to go.
Miles 307-372: Kelsey to Louisville
Foul-tasting, plasticized warm water. Hot temperatures. A nice—but very distant—view of the Rockies. And no other cyclists until the last 10 miles. These are my memories of the last 62.
But as I rolled into Louisville and then into the final, Mile 372 checkpoint, a smile was back on my face. Did it—600k!
Any time one engages in an ultra-distance event, he is bound to encounter some rough spots. Mine came the second day in the morning of the 200k, but it was just a matter of hanging in there and working through it. The second day was not nearly as great as the first for many reasons (weather, scenery, fatigue, etc.) but it was manageable.
When I got home I weighed myself after drinking two glasses of water, and I was still six pounds lighter than when I left the house for the start of the brevet the day before. A couple of days later I was still trying to fully rehydrate along with replenishing nutrients in order to reboost my immune system. This event taxed my body more than any other event this year aside from perhaps the Quicksilver 50 Mile run.
Yet, all things considered, I think the ride overall went about as well as I’d have expected and was certainly easier than Davis 600k Brevet I did four years ago. Aside from the St. Vrain’s Canyon mega-climb, there was not much serious (i.e. long or steep) climbing, plus I only had to ride two hours in the dark. And while the temperatures on the second day were not ideal, at least it did not rain like it did in the Davis Brevet. Lastly, I got some sleep!
Even with 5.5 hours of sleep (and 7 hours of down-time) two-thirds through the ride, plus the detours and long stops in Fort Collins, I finished this ride in 34.2 hours vs. 33.5 for Davis (where I did not sleep even one minute and kept stops to a minimum.) In addition, I still had enough energy later that evening to help Nick haul a washer and dryer and 100-pound table up a whole flight of stairs at his new home in Horsetooth.
So the RMCC 600k Brevet won’t make my Toughest Events list after all, though I will be the first to concede it wasn’t easy.
Here is a route sheet (PDF, 40 KB).
Thanks goes to my friend and fellow cycling enthusiast Joe Shami for making a suggestion a couple of days before the brevet to help alleviate my navigational issues. In essence, he suggested resetting the trip meter function of my cyclometer to 0 at every turn to keep track of the length of the segments I was riding. (I also reset the odometer function to 0 at the start of the ride and used that to keep track of total distance ridden). This worked brilliantly and I was able to spend a whole lot less time remembering numbers and doing math and focusing more on riding itself. I’d even say I got lost a lot less than I otherwise would have. Now if only the route sheet was more accurate!
- 372 miles (official)
- 4:00 a.m. start, 2:14 p.m. finish the next day -> 34:14 hours total
- On bike time: 25 hours (estimated)
- Average speed: 14.9 rolling (estimated), 10.9 mph overall
- Maximum speed: 53 mph
- Climbing: 18,000 feet (RMCC website)
- Scenery: 3 (Spectacular in Lyons, St. Vrain’s Canyon, Estes Park, Horsetooth; ho-hum east of I-25)
- Support: 1 (that’s okay; advertised as “self-supported” and the only fees required are $25 RMCC membership dues
- Food: 0 (purchase your own at checkpoints)
- Weather: 3 (perfect first day; either too cold or hot at various points during the second)
- Relative Difficulty: 4
- Overall Rating: 4 (mostly because of scenery, camaraderie, and ultra-low cost)