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Discussion Starter #1
September 9 – 12, 2009
1,200-Kilometer (754 Mile) Brevet – Last Chance

For most people the first question I am asked is “what is a brevet”. The simple answer is a brevet is a long distance, unsupported ride/event that has time limits. As these events originated in France before the Tour de France days, it has a long history. Also originating in Europe, the events are measured in kilometers instead of miles, but I will translate those distances for you. As I mentioned, these events have time limits, and for a 1,200 kilometer (754 miles) event, the time limit is 90 hours. That is 3 days, 18 hours to ride 754 miles, on a bicycle.

Should you be interested in seeing some photos of the event, you can click here. This is a link to Flikr and you can view the photos as a slide show.

I seriously began thinking about a 1,200-kilometer brevet (754 miles) last November. My friend Jeff had been telling me repeatedly how rewarding the 1,200-kilometer ride called “Paris–Brest–Paris” (PBP) is and how I should plan on going to France in 2011. I knew there was no way I would even think of going to France until I finished a local 1,200-kilometer event.

I decided 2009 was my year to get off my couch and back onto my bike. I have been riding a recumbent, a Bacchetta Corsa for the last three years but had not ridden anything longer than 186 miles at a shot. This year I would be required to complete a series of rides (125 miles, 186 miles, 250 miles and 375 miles) in order to qualify for the Colorado Last Chance Randonnee.

I knew that the minimum qualification would not be near enough for preparation. I completed two 125-mile events, three 186-mile events, one 250-mile event and one 375-mile event, plus a few thousand additional miles of training prior to arriving in Boulder Colorado on September 9th. I had just over 3,500 miles since January 1st when I arrived at the start line.

I had hoped to ride with my friend and fellow recumbent rider, Randy Johnson, but due to health issues, 2009 was not his year. I did convince another local rider, Dennis Smith to attempt his Race Across America (RAAM) qualification during Last Chance instead of riding a 24-hour race. Randy and his friend, former RAAM rider Dave Meridith provided crew support for Dennis and myself. With stretches of road 70 miles long with no water, no food and no bathrooms, no services of any kind after 8:00 in the evening until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning made me very apprehensive. Having crew support at the official checkpoints and having food and water available made those intermediate distances more manageable.

Dennis, Randy and I drove out to Boulder Sunday, a few days early so we could get in a few rides at altitude (5350 feet) which is ten times as high as St. Louis. Our first ride on Monday was fifteen miles and left us both sucking for air. Tuesday morning we rode again, just 13 miles, but we felt a little better. We were glad the route would be heading to lower elevations for most of the event.

Proceeding to the bicycle inspection Tuesday afternoon our bicycles were checked for redundant front and rear lighting, reflective vests and ankle bands. We were given our route maps and brevet cards. After this, we headed out to a light dinner and got to bed early.

Ride Day One:
Boulder CO to Atwood KS - 251 Miles
Climbing: 4,295 Feet
Descending: 6,873 Feet

Wednesday at 2:00 AM, the alarm began its beeping. After wishing for a few more hours of sleep, I dressed, filling bottles and headed down to the hotel lobby. Riders congregated in the parking lot for the final instructions and send off. In all 36 riders, including three recumbents (all Bacchettas), several tandems, and various single bikes toed the starting line. This group included people nine different states, two Canadian provinces and one rider from Copenhagen Denmark.

At 3:00 AM we rolled out of the parking lot. Having pre-ridden the outbound leg for several miles, I knew the pack would split up quickly on the small climbs in town. I assumed my position at the back of the pack and rolled out, taking my time. Dennis, seeing another recumbent speed up the road, chased only to find it was not me.

After just five miles, I had a mechanical problem with an idler (chain guide) which was making a lot of noise. I reached down to check it, and found it had come completely loose. I pulled over and watched all the riders disappear into the distance while I fixed the problem. In less than five minutes, I was back on the road heading out of town.

After chasing awhile, I caught several riders and caught up with Dennis as well. We all headed east through Brighton and turned south through town. We headed east on 144th Avenue and watched the fading lights of the city disappear behind us. We all took a nature break (what cyclists call it when there are no bathrooms available) along side the road in the darkness, then quickly got back down to the task of pedaling.

I stayed with a small group as we headed south towards Strasburg with Dennis just up the road. We turned east and rode into Byers CO, reaching the checkpoint, at mile 71 with just ten minutes off the bike. Randy and Dave were waiting for us. I had them refill my bottles with drink mix and refilled my camelback with water while I had my brevet card signed. Less than five minutes later, Dennis and I were heading east into the prairie.

For the next 584-miles, we would stay on Highway 36. Randy had warned Dennis and me that we would find the “strongly rolling hills” challenging for nearly forty miles. He was right. Dennis pulled away as his climbing skills are better than mine are. I would climb between four and seven miles an hour and descend the other side at 35 to 38 miles per hour. I reached the town of Anton CO and found Dennis at the little grocery store along with several other riders. I reached the 126-mile mark (nearly 200 kilometers) setting a personal best at 8 hours 14 minutes including a total of 15 minutes off the bike. After refueling and stretching my toes, we left as a group and continued east.

The next checkpoint was a café in Cope CO at the 146-mile mark. I managed to stick with a group of riders through this section arriving in time for a bowl of potato soup. Randy and Dave filled Dennis’ and my bottles while we ate. Our group headed out again barely 20 minutes later.

On the ride towards Idalia CO I had been riding with Dennis, a tandem team (Brent and Beth Meyers of Denver) and Leslie Sutton of Boulder. I managed to keep up for awhile even though the pace was high. Dennis dropped back to ride at his own pace. The tandem team pulled away from Leslie and me on a small roller. Leslie and I stopped at the grocery store in Idalia to buy water and use the bathrooms. Brent and Beth were gone for now, and Dennis was still behind us. We waited a few minutes but Dennis did not arrive. I found out later Dennis had a flat tire shortly after he slowed his pace.

Upon looking at my watch, I noticed I had set a second personal record. My 300K (186 mile) time was 14 hours 30 minutes with stops. Leslie and I continued working together until we reached the Kansas State border mile 195. Brent, Beth and Stephen Whiteman (from the Boulder area) had stopped to take pictures.

Again, the tandem team and Stephen proved too strong and they pulled away. Leslie and I reached the next checkpoint, St. Francis KS, mile 209 well before sundown. I was sitting and eating a banana, a peach and a plum while Randy and Dave refilled bottles and camelbacks. Leslie, Stephen and I headed out.

Upon reaching Bird City, mile 224 we had to stop to don our night gear and turn on lights. It was nice to stop for a few minutes to take my shoes off and rub my toes.

The three of us reached the overnight at the “It’ll Do Motel” in Atwood KS, mile 251 (400 kilometers) at 8:51 PM (Mountain Time) which set another personal best for myself, 17 hours, 51 minutes with stops. With all these new personal bests on day one of a three-day ride, I was feeling great, but knew I could not keep this kind of pace. I set off for the motel office where pizza and fruit waited. After a short feeding, I went to my room to shower. Dennis pulled in at 9:35 PM as I was going to bed. Dennis showered and was down for a short sleep break.

Ride Day Two:
Atwood KS - Kensignton KS - Atwood KS - 219 Miles
Climbing: 4,265 Feet
Descending: 4,265 Feet

Dennis is 60 years old, and with his desire to qualify for RAAM, had a 75-hour time limit. I had no such desires, and just wanted to finish the ride in anything under the allotted 90 hours. Dennis was up, dressed and checked out before 12:50 AM (local) 11:50 PM Mountain Time. As this ride crossed two time zones, which changed at the Kansas border, times were a bit confusing, at least to me. I was up and gone at 2:50 AM local, 1:50 AM Mountain Time. The downside of my departure was I hit the thick fog. Visibility was not more than about 200 feet for nearly several hours. Dennis apparently did not encounter the thick fog, just pockets of fog throughout the night. Leslie departed shortly after me, and ended up turning around in the fog and quit her ride. With such limited visibility, it was quite dangerous when trucks and cars would pass. Drivers could not see you until they were nearly upon you.

I reached the town of Norton KS, the next checkpoint at mile 313 at daybreak. It was here that the fastest riders were heading back to Atwood after riding straight through the night. Dave and Randy took good care of me and had me on the road quickly.

Seven miles west of the turn around point in Kensington KS, I saw Dennis on his way back west and he shouted out some encouragement. I continued to roll east, reaching the checkpoint in Kensington, mile 360 at 10:25 AM (Mountain Time). Dennis was just over an hour ahead. Guy Oldfield was staffing this checkpoint. Guy has ridden several of the brevets in St. Louis and I was happy to see him there.

Randy took my picture in front of the post office just before I headed back on the road. If you check out the pictures, you will notice I am leaning to the right. I thought I was standing up straight, but I looked a bit like the "Leaning Tower of Pisa".

I met Hans Binder from Copenhagen at this checkpoint and talked with his wife who was providing support. I also saw another recumbent ridden by Tomas Russell of Alamo CA. Both Hans and Tom passed me on my way out of town.

I reached Norton KS, mile 407 mid afternoon. Randy and Dave asked what I wanted to eat. I just ate some more fruit and had my bottles filled before heading out again. Here was my big mistake. Dave and Randy were standing on a Subway parking lot. I passed up a crucial opportunity to eat solid food. This error caught up with me.

My pace was slowing dramatically and I could not figure it out at first. Then I realized that just drink mixes, gels and fruit were not enough for this distance. I struggled my way back to Oberlin, mile 442 where I found a Subway attached to a gas station. I went inside feeling terrible. I ate a six-inch sub, drank water and refilled bottles again. I began feeling better, but the dreaded bonk had already taken its toll.

I really hated this part of the ride. The traffic between Oberlin and Norton in the mid afternoon was terrible. The shoulder of the road was narrow and the trucks were passing much too close, even when they had room to move over they just buzzed by. I later found out this stretch of road was a major area for traffic heading from Nebraska to Texas, and from Kansas City to Denver. I am generally fine around traffic, but this was freaking me out. I think the best option would be to ride through the first night so you get through this section in the early morning.

Just outside of Atwood, a little before sunset, I was riding up a long mild grade. Two grain or cattle trucks were following a black pickup truck and they were coming towards me. One of the cattle trucks decided to pass and come over into my lane, taking the full lane and the shoulder as well. I began waving my arms to warm the truck. The only response I received was him blowing his horn. I ended up having to bail out off the road into the sand as he blew by still honking his horn. So much for sharing the road.

I arrived safely back at the “It’ll Do Motel” mile 469 in Atwood at 7:36 PM (Mountain Time). I told the volunteers about the trucks passing so close as well as the head on incident. I was not the only person to mention this. Later, I heard truckers had called the state police complaining of bicyclists being all over the road. The owner of the motel, a person of some importance in the area, told the police what he had been hearing. I sat and ate several slices of pizza. It was so good I had to ask where it was from. “It’s not delivery. It’s DiGiorno". Frozen pizza never tasted so good.

Dennis was already in bed by the time I came into the room and showered. I was in bed and sleeping in just a few minutes.

Ride Day 3:
Atwood KS to Byers CO - 180 Miles
Climbing: 4,163 Feet
Descending: 1,857 Feet

Dennis was back up and on the road by midnight local time. I managed to get a little more sleep and was back on the road near 2:30 AM local time.

I felt much better having food in me. The weather was much better, with no fog. We were going to have a hard day ahead. Wind forecasts were 20-30 mile per hour winds out of the north, north-west and perhaps northeast.

I headed out alone, enjoying the solitude and the scenery. Many riders were complaining about how ugly the prairie was. I totally disagreed. No there are no snow capped mountains or ocean views. There are practically no trees anywhere. The prairie held its own beauty. I could look maybe seven to ten miles in any direction and see the vastness of the prairie, the rolling hills, some cattle, and on a clear night, ten thousand stars. It was beautiful, open and unspoiled.

I reached St. Francis mile 511 a bit before sunrise. The Sinclair gas station had just opened and Randy and Dave were there. I had my card signed, and asked what the woman behind the counter was making. “Breakfast burritos” was her reply. I bought one and a coffee. I think this was the first coffee I have ever bought. It was cold outside and I needed some caffeine. I inhaled the burrito and drank half the coffee when Tom Russell on his Ti-Aero recumbent rolled in.

I bought a second burrito for the road and Tom and I headed out together. I could not keep up on the slight hills and let Tom disappear into the distance. It was sad as I so rarely get to ride with other recumbents. I guess the answer is for me to get stronger so I can keep up.

The Colorado state line was at mile 525. I wished I had my camera with me as I missed both opportunities to take the state line picture. I pulled into Idalia’s little grocery store, mile 540 and had my brevet card signed. I ate the spare burrito I had been carrying and refilled bottles again. The wind had picked up to the point the tumbleweeds were flying across the road from north to south. There was no dodging the tumbleweeds, you kept pedaling through. Next came several dust storms. The wind had picked up the soil and was blowing it across the prairie. You could see the brown wall coming and had to squint for protection. Several of the brevets in St. Louis this year were exceptionally windy, so that ended up being good preparation. I was very glad it was a crosswind and not a full on headwind.

At Mile 575, I pulled back into the little town of Cope. I checked out the offerings and ended up eating a burrito and a bowl of chicken soup. I was refilling bottles when Mark Thomas and several other riders pulled in. I chatted for a few minutes then headed off.

It was mid afternoon when I pulled into Anton’s general store. Several other riders were there as were two people (a young man and woman) who where cycling from New Orleans, up through parts of Missouri, the KATY Trail then Highway 36 to Denver. They were covering the roughly 1,600 miles in five weeks. They were closing in on the last miles and hoped to finish the same day. I warned them that there was no water, no bathrooms, no vending machines for the next 55 miles to Byers and they needed to stock up before they left.

Randy and Dave took good care of me again and I was rolling after eating a turkey sandwich and drinking a 7-Up.

As this was the hilly leg, again, I just reminded myself that as I crested each hill, that was one more hill checked off, and one less hill I had left to climb. Riders were passing me on a downhill (42 mph) when I crossed a bridge and had my first and only flat tire. I pulled over and took my rear wheel off and quickly had a new tube installed and inflated. A passing rider asked if I needed any help and I said yes. I asked that he hold the bicycle up while I reattached the wheel. I then put my bags back on the bike and was off again. Several riders waited while this went on. They were gone quickly as their climbing ability was superior to mine.

I crested the final hill and could see the long downhill leading me to Byers. I stopped briefly to stretch my feet as I had another bout of hot foot. I turned my lights on and rolled down. I reached Byers around 7:40 PM. Dennis had decided to ride through the night and left around 6:20 PM. I sat in the group hotel room feeding my face with wonderful grilled sandwiches and fruit. Randy and Dennis had gotten me a room, on the second floor. How nice…. stairs. After a shower and more food, I was in bed and fast asleep.

Ride Day 4:
Byers CO - Boulder CO - 104 Miles
Climbing: 1,844 Feet
Descending: 1,562 Feet

I arose at 3:00AM and dressed with my warmest clothes and full finger gloves as it was pretty cold. I left with two other riders, Robert Bruce and Robert Pogorelz. My right knee was very painful and it was hard to pedal. I was thinking that another 103 miles was going to be difficult. After seven or eight miles, the Aleve painkiller was kicking in and the knee was settling down. I was able to pedal again. Of course, I lost contact with the Roberts and they were gone.

This last section had 33 turns that I had to make to reach the final checkpoint at John Lee Ellis’ house. I had the map out (first time since the ride began) and was trying to pay close attention. I had enlarged the cue-sheet but my eyes would still not focus and I could barely read the turns.

Upon reaching Keeneburg, mile 691 I passed the two Roberts bicycles as well as a third one at a café. I reached Plattville the penultimate checkpoint with the Roberts close behind. I stopped for some solid food with Randy and Dave. Again it was a gas station burrito. Strange enough, these rolled up gems had been working well for me. Aside from an occasional turkey sandwich on my local brevets, I rarely eat solid foods. However, the burritos surprisingly sat well.

I headed out knowing the Roberts would be passing me soon enough. I headed west into a light rain for the three and a half miles to Road 19 and turned right. I continued until the road came to a “T” intersection. This was not correct. The directions said go five miles to Road 20. This was not five miles and this was not Road 20. I looked at the map again. Shoot! I was supposed to turn left, not right. I turned around and retraced my course until I was back on track. I knew the Roberts had made the correct turn and were several miles ahead of me. Oh well. To be honest I was a bit angry with myself as it was a stupid mistake made with tired eyes.

I finally pulled onto John’s street glad to see Randy, Dave, John Lee and the Roberts there. There were questions as to what happened. I told them my mistake and was just glad to be finished. I handed over my brevet card for the last time.

Before I could even sit down, I had my finisher’s medal draped around my neck and a smile on my face.

Since I like numbers.
754 miles in 81 hours 22 minutes (3 days, 9 hours, 22 minutes)
On bike time: 55 hours 17 minutes (13.64 miles per hour rolling average)
Off bike time: 33 hours 5 minutes (eating, sleeping, eating some more)
Total Climbing: 14,567 Feet

657 Posts
JostRider....awesome post. I had recently started reading up on Brevets; as we have a qualification series just northwest of Boston, MA....not to far from where I live. I am far from being able to complete some of the longer rides; but I am keeping it in mind if I can get the time to train a little more. I like to use longer and longer rides as motivation to get through the more grueling training rides. I have to say though, the idea of rides that long, unsupported, I find a little intimidating. Maybe some day though!!!!

12 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
JostRider....awesome post. I had recently started reading up on Brevets; as we have a qualification series just northwest of Boston, MA....not to far from where I live. I am far from being able to complete some of the longer rides; but I am keeping it in mind if I can get the time to train a little more. I like to use longer and longer rides as motivation to get through the more grueling training rides. I have to say though, the idea of rides that long, unsupported, I find a little intimidating. Maybe some day though!!!!
Let me ask you a question. Can you currently ride 100 miles? if you can answer yes, and you can do that in 10 hours with lunch stops, then you can ride brevets. The jump from riding 50 miles to 100 miles is harder than jumping from 100 miles to 200 miles. What ever is working (nutrition, fit of bicycle to body, contact points (feet, butt, hands) keep doing. If it is not working on a 100 mile ride, fix it and you will do well. You may just want to slow down one or two miles per hour for the longer events. As many brevet riders say it's mostly mental, not physical. With this statement I would generally concur.

The Boston Brevet series is one of the nation's best. Give it a try!
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