After working up some distance with a couple Populaire’s and a 32 miler over the past few months, I signed up for, and rode my first full 200k (126 mile) brevet. I had planned to head to Portland with my wife and daughter for a “brewpub” 100k, but when travel plans fell through, I saw that SIR was doing the Bellingham 200k the same weekend. Perfect intro to the longer distance! It was a relatively flat ride for the area with 3-4k feet of elevation gain, so it seemed pretty reasonable for me to test my fitness.
The night before was packing and prepping. I knew there was a chance of rain, and it would be in the upper 30’s to lower 4o’s most of the day, so I put an extra wool jersey and tights in my saddlebag, as well as spare socks and a hat. I brought my rain gear thinking I would just pack it if necessary. In the front rando bag, I put a couple packets of Perpetuem drink mix, some Nuun tablets for electrolytes, and various snacks like dark chocolate, a roll of Thin Mints (my daughter is a Girl Scout), and some snack mix. I also threw in a couple small cans of V8. Locked and loaded, I checked the bike and got my new Garmin eTrex set up and ready. I did a dog walk, and then tried to follow the same 1 mile track on my bike. After experimenting, I found a fairly good dashboard for biking that allowed me to navigate like I do in a car GPS in following a marked line. I had downloaded the route earlier, so I had that ready to go.
Other incidentals in the bag were spare batteries, 2 tubes, and the usual tool kit for flats and such.
After listening to increasing rain all night, I had go get up at 4:30am to get up to Bellingham by 6:30 for check-in. Driving up, I noted that the 1.5 hour drive at 60mph was less distance than I would be riding for the day, at only about 76 miles. Intimidating, but I felt ready. I stopped for a coffee at Starbucks, and the barista said there were a number of folks passing through that were on their way to a run, climb, or bike ride. I was definitely not going to be alone on this wet day.
As I neared Bellingham, it started to snow. Now I was getting excited! The snow wouldn’t stick – it was too warm. It would certainly be invigorating.
We left the coffee shop at 7:32am, and I told myself to take it easy and try not to burn out of the gate. I had a long ride ahead. There was a secret control not too far down the road at a lookout on Chuckanut Drive (normally a panoramic beauty of a road).
As it was snowing and cold, I commented that it probably couldn’t get any worse, and of course that sealed our fate for more of the same for the next few hours. As we rode along Lake Whatcom, it started snowing harder, and seemed to be sticking everywhere but the road. As we exited the lake’s northern end, I happened to run into a road race that was just getting started. I pulled to the side for a cookie when the pace/support cars and about 30 riders came by climbing a long hill. I thought to snap this pic a bit too late, but it shows the nasty conditions pretty well:
After this point, things started to look up. I continued to ride solo as I had from the start. I was trying to keep an easy pace, but also realized that the headwinds I was starting to run into would not help. Luckily, I had tailwinds going north.
Getting up to Sumas was a trip – lots of semi-flooded farmland that seemed to be growing hazelnuts. I snapped a lot of pictures as the clouds were starting to clear and the sun was starting to break through occasionally.
Once I got to the border, I realized I had come a long way. It felt like I was days away from Bellingham, but I still felt pretty good. I had been keeping up with regular eating and taking water, and still had plenty of go.
Now it was time to start heading back towards the water. After riding along the invisible Cascade foothills, I started to get into a headwind. This wasn’t too bad, but it definitely slowed me down, especially in the relatively few hilly sections. It was a bit of a bummer saying goodbye to the mountains.
Riding on the border was a trip. This section is populated and mainly farmland. There was a road on the US side, a small ditch, and a road on the Canadian side. It was like riding down a split highway.
I saw quite a few border patrol cars, but it’s interesting seeing the big border crossings built up, and riding roughly 20 miles where one just has to jump across an open ditch to be in another country! Along the boundary roads, I came upon another rando rider who blew a sidewall and needed a spare tire (not tube). I told him that I hadn’t brought one, but may start packing one on future rides. He told me it was the first time it happened to him in 20 years. After wishing him good luck (and making sure he had a phone), I continued on.
When I arrived in Blaine and saw the water again, I really knew I could do it. It seemed so close now.
At one of the controls, I met up with a couple riders who were fueling up, so I rode with them on an off for the next 20 mile or so. It was getting windy now, and the forecast northwesterly winds turned out to be southwesterlies. The paceline helped us get through the headwinds down to the Lummi ferry. Riding in the Lummi nation was pretty cool. I waved to a lot of folks on the way, and they waved back. This was definitely friendly country, and not the hostile city environment I’m used to.
At this point, there was all of 15 miles left – my typical commute. I felt like I was in ok shape, but I definitely wanted to get back. I started out faster, and quickly lost sight of my drafting friends. There was a nice tail wind heading back north up the peninsula. Lots of great views across the water of the final destination. This was great motivation. I was down to my last bit of water, and still had plenty of food, so things were looking really good.
The last 10 miles went by quickly, and I soon found myself in the final control with a group of happy Randonneurs congratulating me on finishing my first 200k! Wow – it turned out really well, and I have to thank all the folks that encouraged me on the way. This was a fast crowd. I came in at 11 hrs 4 minutes, but the majority of the riders were in under 10 hours. There were only 5 DNFs, and one that didn’t make the cutoff, but I was surprised that so many folks kept going with all the snow from the first half of the ride.
Consequently, my spare summer gloves came in handy. I changed out my soaked winter gloves halfway through, thinking that the new ones would quickly freeze my fingers, but my hands and feet remained toasty after the rain stopped.
Now that I’ve done this distance, I can see doing a 300k, but 400 and up looks mighty challenging. I definitely have no illusion that folks that pull off a 600k or 1200k are truly tough individuals!