2018 Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnée Day 4: Winona to Apple Valley, Minnesota USA

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA

ENDLESS BLUFFS

MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

RIVER VALLEYS

UNGLACIATED REGION OF THE MIDWEST

 

DAY 4: Thursday, August 16th

I slept for 2 hours and woke up at 7:00 am.  I opened my eyes feeling thankful.  Joye Moon, artist once said, “Every day is a gift–a new beginning…bound out of bed with the enthusiasm of a child.”  I reflected on my Coulee Challenge over the last 75:20 hours since the event began on Monday, August 13th at 4:00 am:

Total miles/kilometers: 613/982

Total elevation gain: 27,857 feet/8490 meters

Total hours of sleep:  10

Hallucinations:  0

Shermer’s Neck:  0

I pulled on some sweats and a t-shirt and grabbed my brevet card.  Although I felt better, I just wasn’t sure I could ride today.  Last night was extremely difficult.  For me to finish last night was quite an undertaking.  I honestly did not think I could manage another day under the emotional duress I experienced last night.  Yet I did feel better this morning.  And the presents I had received the past 3 days from the Coulee Challenge were quite special.  Was I willing to miss out on my last present?

I headed downstairs to have breakfast and turn my brevet card in.  As I arrived to the lobby, I saw a group of the organizers, Tom Ehlman and Jerry Christensen.  They asked me how I was doing considering the crash last night.  My eyes welled.  I felt sadness.  I allowed the feelings to again come to the surface; I recognized the importance of this in the healing process.  Jerry gave me a hug which was just what I needed.  As I let go of him, I then saw Kit and Greg Smith in the lobby.  A large sigh of relief came from me.  I was extremely happy to see her.  I went over and talked to her for a bit.  Kit seemed to be doing ok.  She relayed to me the rest of her evening last night.  She also told me that Scott was going to begin riding at around 8:00 am.  The organizers were loading up her bike to take her home.   She gave me a hug and we said our goodbyes.  I watched Kit leave as she followed the organizers to head out.

I went to grab some breakfast and turn my card in.  I saw another rider there who I had heard had DNF (Did Not Finish).  My plan was to eat and then turn my card in.  As I began to eat my breakfast, I saw Jerry Christensen again.  Jerry was talking on the phone to my friend Lara Sullivan, another Coulee Challenge support personnel and friend from my spring Pacific Atlantic Tour Gravel Camp 2018.  He then called to me, “Hey Dawn, I am on the phone with Lara and she says you better get your butt moving and get out there…”  It’s funny because all of a sudden, very quickly, something in me shifted.  Something was turned on in my mind.  After hearing him say this, I immediately went from a DNF to then saying to myself, “Just get out there and TRY.  Do it for Kit since she cannot ride.”  And then I was on again.  All it took was Jerry saying this to me, like a fire beneath me had been ignited.  Pretty amazing, huh?  I did not say anything else to Jerry and finished my breakfast.  I went back upstairs and got ready.  In the matter of 15 minutes, I had decided to try to ride the last day of the Coulee Challenge.

I dropped my bag off to the organizers and headed out of the hotel.  As I walked outside, I ran into Mark Olsen, Coulee Challenge organzier.  He asked me if I needed anything before I took off.  I replied to him that I probably needed some air in my tires.  Mark helped me out.  I am sure he could tell I was exhausted.  As he pumped the air into my tires, I looked into the U-hall truck next to me.  I saw Kit’s bike.  A took another deep breath and exhaled.

Then, I took a second deep breath and exhaled.  I began to formulate my plan.  I would try to ride as far as I could.  Would I finish?  I did not know, but I would try.  I would do the best that I could.  My plan was to take each pedal stroke and control at a time.  At each control, I would then re-assess and see how I was feeling.  I felt strong physically, but mentally I was running a negative deficit.  To be quite honest, I just wasn’t sure how my mind would hold up today.

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At 7:38 am, I began to pedal out of Winona, Minnesota and started to open the last present of the Coulee Challenge.  By comparison to the previous presents received, this one came in the smallest box.  It was wrapped in the most beautiful, detailed wrapping paper.

OVERVIEW OF THE DAY:  The final day of the Coulee Challenge had 141 miles with 4,710 feet of climbing (33 feet of elevation gain) from Winona to Apple Valley, Minnesota.  Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administrator of the Driftless Randonneurs characterized this day as “beautiful and mild climbing the first half of the day with flat run-in to the finish.”  The finish could be challenging if it was going to be windy.  We climbed out of the Mississippi River valley, rolled through the high plains of Minnesota and on the Hay Creek. We would finish on the Cannon Valley State Bicycle Trails into Apple Valley.

Day 4 Route

Day 4 Coulee Challenge:  Winona to Apple Valley, Minnesota

CONTROLS:  The controls for day included:  Plainview, Lake City, Red Wing, Cannon Falls and the finish in Apple Valley, Minnesota.  The segment from Plainview had the most climbing of the day with 47 feet/mile of elevation gain.  After that, the amount of elevation gain decreased with a flat finish to Apple Valley.  This day was shorter and significantly easier than the previous 3 days.

As I left Winona, I began to climb out of the Mississippi River Valley with a gentle climb up the wide valley. The first control in Plainview was thirty-two miles away.  I was riding alone.  This is what I felt I needed.  I did not wait for Scott.  I needed to take the first leg and see how I felt.  There was a heavy mist covering the route.  At about 10 miles out from the overnight, I was passed by Martin Fahje (RUSA #217).  He said hello to me when he was right next to me and passed me.  I know he had no intention, but with the accident last night, I was startled quite a bit.  It was nice to see a fellow rider, but I could tell the mental challenges from last night would continue.  The thoughts again came into my mind…

Damn, I wish I had my mirror.

Damn, why did that girl have to reach for her vape?

I continued to pedal onward.  At about mile 15.4 on MN-26/E Center St in Altura, I saw Coulee Challenge photographer Deb Ford on the route.  I was descending and very focused on moving forward.  I recall the moment when I saw her.  Tears filled my eyes.  I had a huge rush of emotions to deal with today and it seemed like anger was at the forefront when she took this photo of me.

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The catalyst of Anger.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.

I continued to move along the route.  The route was very scenic as I continued to climb.  At mile 19.7, in downtown Elba, I came to St. Aloysius Church. I stopped to say a prayer of thanks.  As I was taking a moment to reflect, Scott Gregory rode up and said hello as he continued forward on the course.  It was nice to see him this morning.

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Like a Prayer in Elba

The route continued along the Whitewater River and Beaver Creek in the Whitewater State Park, in the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota.  I continued to climb as I reached the first control, a Kwik Trip in Plainview.  I saw Scott there and we talked for a bit.  Additionally, Deb Ford, photographer was there and me and Scott and asked how we were doing.  My eyes welled up and I felt sad.  Deb was very supportive and empathetic.  I stopped myself from crying.  I told her I needed to stay focused and keep moving, she agreed.  Deb said she would see me on the road and we all parted ways.  I finished up refueling as Scott moved out.  I assumed I was the last one on the course.

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Whitewater River

I left the control in Plainview, my next control was Lake City, Minnesota, total overall mile 670.2.  I was feeling ok, up to this point.  The roads had minimal traffic and I was very thankful for that.  I was getting tired but holding up well considering I had only had 2 hours of sleep last night. I was pretty happy with how I was feeling overall mentally.  Physically I was feeling strong.

This section offered the ability to experience the Minnesota version of the Driftless area, which was a little more open, on the high plains.  Additionally, there were fewer long hills.

I CONTINUED TO OPEN THE PRESENT.

At mile 57.5 for the day, I arrived at the Kwik Trip control in Lake City, by the Mississippi River.  I moved through the control efficiently.  I sat by the window and was greeted by Mark Olsen.  He provided me with encouragement and relayed to me that I had one more climb out of this control and then the course would even out.  I left the control and pulled onto US-63 for 3 miles with a nice shoulder.  As I turned off US-63, onto Co Rd 15, I saw my last climb and geared down and steadily moved up the hill.  Once I crested the hill, I took a moment at the top to get a video of the last climb of the Coulee Challenge. Take a look for yourself:

I continued to move forward on Co Rd 15, which turned into Co Rd 9.  This was a two lane road with a small shoulder.  I was on this road for 4.9 miles.  Up to this point, I was feeling strong and was mentally holding together pretty well.  Well, or so I thought.  I was on this road for a few miles when this suddenly crept again into my head “Damn, I wish I had my mirror.”  Oh boy.

OK, I can manage this.  I just need to keep calm.  This was about mile 66.6 for the day/679 total distance.  I continued to pedal on for a 2 more miles.  The thought continued.  It became more frequent now.

“Damn, I wish I had my mirror.”

“Damn, I wish I had my mirror.”

I began to talk to myself, “OK, come on Dawn, you can manage this.  Stay calm.  Keep on moving forward.  RFP:  Relentless Forward Motion.”  I moved forward another 2 miles.

Unfortunately, my paranoia/PTSD continued to get worse with each pedal stroke.  I tried to manage it with self talk.  I moved foward another mile.  Then I hit my mental overload again.

Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror…

OVERLOAD

OVERLOAD

OVERLOAD

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I was again in full blown paranoia, just like I was this morning outside of Winona.

Why did that girl have to reach for her vape?

I could not pedal any further.  I stopped in a driveway and set my bike down.  I started to cry.  I became very scared again, the memory of the accident was bubbling to the surface again. It was progressively getting harder to breathe.  I felt boxed in, again.  I. COULD. NOT. BREATHE.   I sat down and put my bike upside down.  I sat there and put my head down and tried to relax my mind.  I then worked on doing some deep breathing exercises.  I was having difficulty continuing any further at this time.  I took about 30-45 minutes here to calm my mind.  It did seem to help.  Then, I tried to get back onto my bike, but the anxiety and paranoia set in again. IMG_6341 DAMN.  I took another 15 minutes to calm myself.  I looked down the long stretch of road again and then looked up to the sky.  I knew that this moment was much bigger than me biking and continuing on my grand randonnee.  It was a moment of clarity for me.  I then prayed and asked for help, specifically an angel to help me continue to move forward.  I knew I could not do it alone and I needed help.

I closed my eyes and sat in silence for 5 minutes.  I opened my eyes and looked to my left.  I could NOT believe my eyes.  I saw Robert Kingsley, fellow Coulee rider, coming towards me on the road.  I was speechless.  It was a clear sign.  My prayer was answered.

I loudly proclaimed to him, “Fancy meeting you here.”  He said hello back.

I asked him, “Interested in some company to finish this adventure out?”

He replied “Yes”

With that, I got on my bike.  My fear and paranoia had suddenly dissipated.  It was amazing.  Bob and I began towards the next control in Red Wing, Minnesota. We had about 17 miles to go to Red Wing.

Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it. But we cannot meet it halfway.  -quote from The Haunting of Hill House

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We continued along the course and my paranoia/PTSD from the accident had calmed down and seemed to dissipate.  By having Bob with me and behind me, it gave me a sense of comfort and security.  What a relief.  I was so thankful that he came along.  I began to smile again.  I became to get into my grove again.  I focused on the present in front of me.  I continued to open up my present as the miles accumulated.  We reached Hay Creek on the way into Red Wing.  I knew then that the toughest physical challenges of the ride had been conquered.  I hoped my mental clarity continued through the end of the event so I could finish.  I wasn’t sure but I would try my hardest.  That is all I could do.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…

At 87 miles/699 total miles, Bob and I arrived in Red Wing, Minnesota.  We fueled up and got ready to continue to move on.  We had one more control before the finish, 22 miles to Cannon Falls.

THE PRESENT WAS COMPLETELY UNWRAPPED.  

The box was not opened yet…

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Red Wing, Minnesota

We left Red Wing on the Cannon Valley State Bicycle Trail to ease out of the Mississippi River Valley for the last time. We passed the Cannon River Turtle Preserve and Miesville Ravine Park Reserve as we traversed next to the Cannon River.  We spent the next 20 miles on the trail.  It was a nice scenic trail that traversed along the Cannon River.  It was wet.  Thankfully, we missed a large storm front that had moved in.

At mile 109/721 culmunative miles, we arrived at the Cannon Falls control.  This was our last control before the finish.  We were greeted by Mark Olsen and John Oneschuk, spouse of rider Marj Oneschuk, rider from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  They were waiting for Marj to arrive.  Bob and myself fueled up as we talked about our day.  We were both grateful we found each other to finish together, especially considering what we all went through the night before.

As we began to get our gear back on and prepare to leave, Marj rode into the control.  I had never met Marj.  She walked into the control and was just as pleasant and friendly as one could be.  She asked us if we would wait for her.  There was never a question in our minds.  All three of us would ride together and finish together.

32 miles to the finish of the inaugural 2018 Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee.

I BEGAN TO SLOWLY

LIFT THE TOP OFF OF THE PRESENT…

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Cannon Falls Control with Mark Olsen, Robert Kingsley and Marj Oneschuk

We bid farewell to Mark and John and headed out towards Apple Valley.  And what a beauful sight we had.  When we pulled out of Cannon Falls, the sun was setting to reveal the final sunset of the Coulee Challenge.  Boy what a sight it was!  Take a look for yourself.  It was truly a PRICELESS MOMENT as I began to move the top of the box off of the present…

The sunset guided us back to Apple Valley.  Robert, Marj and I shared stories of our Coulee adventure.  Marj was quite an accomplished randonnesuse, having done Paris-Brest-Paris, Granite Anvil, Last Chance and Van Isle 1200k’s in the past.

We continued towards the finish in Apple Valley.

All three of us synonymously got into a rhythm…

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

I continued to open

up the top of the present…

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…

We had conquered the toughest challenges of the ride.  We were on time to finish within the time limit.  Although, to be quite honest, it was not really about finishing the event for me. After the accident, I wanted to finish the ride for Kit and to honor all cyclists who have been hit by distracted/irresponsible/reckless drivers.  It was those individuals who inspired me to keep moving forward despite the mental challenges I had encountered after the accident.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…

We continued towards the finish in Apple Valley.

All three of us synonymously got into a rhythm…

A few miles from the finish I had gotten ahead of Bob and Marj and stopped to wait for them.  I wanted to make sure we all crossed the finish line together.  We continued to work together towards the finish, with huge smiles on our faces.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…

At 10:20 pm, 90 hours 20 minutes after we started, we crossed the finish line of the Inaugural 2018 Coulee Challenge.

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Coulee Challenge 2018 Lanternes Rouges.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.

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FEELING PROUD with Greg Smith, Coulee Challenge organizer and Driftless Randonneurs Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA)

Dedicated my finish to Kit.   

753 miles/ 1211 kilometers

Total elevation gain: 33,163 feet/8490 meters

Total hours of sleep:  10

Hallucinations:  0

Shermer’s Neck:  0

The present of the Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnee was simple, it was each moment across the emotional spectrum interwoven together.  It was the stillness of the valley, the sunrises, the sunset into Apple Valley, time spent with new/old friends, the accident, mentoring from randonneuring friends, bean soup at the Milk Jug Cafe, so many priceless moments.  The present of the Coulee Challenge was the dance of life, with the bicycle acting as a medium for growth.

The Coulee Challenge was epic.

It was memorable.

It was soul nourishing.

COULEE.
GRAND RANDONNEE.
HILLS.
BLUFFS.
VALLEY.
DRIFTLESS.
SMALL TOWNS IN THE MIDWEST.
RIVER VALLEY.
CAMARADERIE.
CHALLENGING.
EXCELSIOR CLIMB.
BREATHTAKING SCENERY.
MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
PUSH YOUR LIMITS.

Thank you to the Coulee Challenge for changing me.  I appreciate all of the gifts you gave to me over 90:20 hours.  I embraced every present that was given.  I am forever changed.  And to honor you and my deep love for this unglaciated region of the Midwest, I have affectionately changed my name to…

Driftless Dawn

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Coulee Proud.  Driftless Dawn.  Photo credit Mary Gersema

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YAY!  Coulee Challenge 2018 Midwest Sufferfest in ‘da books.

COULEE CHALLENGE POST-EVENT FACTS/DATA from Rob Welsh, Regional Brevet Administrator of Minnesota Randonneurs and Coulee Challenge leadership team:

  • “337 riders on the interested list as of January 1st, 140 signed up on registration day or shortly after; 88 riders starting; 75 finishers (including the 6 pre-riders from the week before).
  • 13 women started, 11 finished.  As best I know, this is a high water mark for the # of women at a 1200k event.
  • Riders were from all over the US, 4 Canadian provinces, 2 from Europe and 1 from Japan.
  • Climbing overall was fairly moderate in total compared to other 1200ks but the Coulee had a lot of steeper but shorter hills.  Compared to all the other US based 1200k rides in 2018, the Coulee was the closest to a PBP ride (smooth roads, lots of rolling terrain, no real long hills).  PBP overall has more climbing, but most Coulee riders with PBP experience said they thought the Coulee was harder because of the steeper hills, but still a great preparation for next year.
  • 28 riders completed their first 1200k, 7 were women.
  • 85% finish rate; 75 completed, 11 women
  • The Coulee Challenge was by far the largest 1200k event in the US and Canada this year and one of the largest ever held in North America.
  • The Coulee Challenge was the largest 1200k event in the US this year, by far, out of the 7 events scheduled.  Cascade had 60, Mac & Cheese had 61.In relation to how the Coulee Challenge compared to Boston Montreal Boston (BMB).  BMB had 2 years (2000, 2006) with over 100 riders.  There have been a few events with 80-90 riders, including SIR (85, 87), Davis (88), BMB (88, 85) and the Coulee ride with 88.  It would be fair to say that the Coulee Challenge event is in the top 5 of the largest 1200k events ever held in the US.
  • A couple of other interesting notes from Rob as well regarding RUSA events: 2018 will have the largest number of 1200k+ riders ever for RUSA, over 300.  This will exceed the previous high of 277 in 2014.  This probably bodes well for a high level of RUSA participation at PBP next year.”

 

Posted in adventure cycling, Audax Club Parisien, Brevet, Coulee Challenge, cycling, great lakes randonneurs, Les Randonneurs Mondiaux, midwest randonneurs, paris brest paris, Randonneur, Randonneurs USA, ultra cycling, Ultra endurance cycling, women cycling | 6 Comments

2018 Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnée Day 3: West Salem to Winona, Minnesota USA

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA

ENDLESS BLUFFS

MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

RIVER VALLEYS

UNGLACIATED REGION OF THE MIDWEST

DAY 3 CONTINUED:

Wednesday, August 15th at 9:15 pm

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Sunset Blessings.  Photo credit Kit Oslin

WEST SALEM CONTROL:  We arrived at the 4th control (mile 155/571 total miles) at around 9:15 pm.  After this control, we had one more control in Holmen before the overnight.  I refueled quickly.  From this point, we had 41 miles to Winona to our overnight.  I was getting tired and was looking forward to getting some sleep.  In total, I had 8 hours of sleep since starting on Monday.  My goal was to get 5 hours of sleep on this last night.

We left the Kwik Trip at about 9:40 pm and headed north onto Co Rd M.  It was a long gradual hill climb.  The road was a 2 lane road with a double yellow center line.  Unfortunately, this road had a very limited shoulder.  We were on this road for seven miles before we turned off.  We all had our standard Randonneurs USA regulation reflective gear on (reflective vest and ankle bands) as well as front and rear lights. The order of our pace line was Scott, me, Bob and Kit.  We were visible.

We headed in a single file, moving slow and steady on Co Rd M.  We were visible.  

We continued to move up the hill in a comfortable pace to stay together to be noticed and more visible.  With the double yellow line in the middle, cars behind us had to wait to pass.  The posted speed limit was 55 mph.  We were riding in a single file.  We were visible.

At about 2 miles out of the control, I recall thinking to myself that I wished I did not forget my rear mirror.  It’s funny because this was the first time in the entire event (at mile 573) that I remember wanting to have my mirror.  Truth be told, I felt uneasy on this road.  It was dark and we were on a climb up a two lane road, with almost no shoulder.  I recall thinking to myself that I would be glad to get off this road.

The four of us moved slow and steady up the hill.  We were riding in a single file.  We were visible.  We were visible.

Then all of a sudden, I heard a loud crash behind me.

My heart seemed to stop.

The hair on my neck stood straight up.

Conversation in my head:  “Oh shit.  That sounded REALLY BAD.”

I held my composure and continued to move off the road on the limited shoulder available to stop.  I did not hear Bob behind me.  I stopped my bike.  Scott stopped as well.

All of a sudden, a medium sized car darted in front of Scott and me and stopped abruptly.  The car cut us off.  We were lucky that the car did not hit us.  The driver got out of the car and began screaming and running onto the road.  From what I could tell in the dark, she appeared to be a younger driver.  She was holding her hands on her head, yelling, screaming, crying and frantically running around in a circle.

I then screamed “Oh my God Scott, that did not sound good.  Scott, that did not sound good. Oh my God, Scott!”  I did not turn around.

The time was around 10:07 pm.

We were visible…

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Spot Tracker details:  Blue dot is the West Salem Control.  The Green Circle is where I heard the loud crash.

I became very scared.  I asked myself, “What just happened?”  Initially, I was too scared to turn my head to look behind me.  Deep down, I knew what had just happened. Someone behind me had been hit by a car.

This can’t be happening.  We were visible.

I was frozen for about 2-3 seconds.  Then something in me shifted very quickly. I went from cyclist to clinician mode.  I took a deep breath and exhaled.  Then, I turned my head to the right to assess the situation.  There was a house to our right.  I looked back and both Bob and Kit were not behind me.  It was dark.  I could not see them initially as my eyes were adjusting.  After about a second, I was able to see more clearly.  Both Bob and Kit appeared to be down in the ditch.  I immediately told Scott to call 911.  At that same moment, there were people running out of the house towards us.  I then screamed to them to call 911.

I swiftly got off my bike.

I had to secure all of us and make sure we were safe on the side of the road, RIGHT AWAY.  I proceeded to get onto the middle of the road waving my hands and screaming with the goal to stop a vehicle.  I was able to stop a truck.  We needed immediate shelter on this road.  I knew with the speed limit, dark road and minimal shoulder that we were all in additional danger now.  I asked the driver in the truck to stay parked behind us with the hazards on to shelter us.  I worked in a Level 1 trauma center and knew all too well the danger we were in on the side of the road.

I took a moment.  The facts became more clear to me:  (1) 911 was called, (2) The scene was more secure (3) a truck was providing us some safety and shelter until the police and ambulance arrived.

I then moved towards Kit and Bob in the ditch.

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Spot Tracker details: Close up of the accident.  Bottom yellow dot is where the accident occurred.

As I proceeded to walk towards Bob and Kit in the ditch, I took another deep breath.  I saw that Bob was getting up. I went to him and asked him if he was ok.  He said yes.  He was obviously very shaken.  In the background, I could hear the driver of the car crying and moving around the scene as I followed her voice.  She then began to move into my field of vision towards Kit.  I yelled to her to STOP and to not touch her or move her.  I then swiftly escorted the driver to the side of the road.  I asked the people who came out from the house to stay with her.  She was now safe off of the road.

I then turned back to Kit and took a very deep breath.  She was laying there motionless in the ditch, but closer to the road.  Her bike was 10-15 feet away from her.  I went to Kit and kneeled next to her, close to her ear.  I then took another deep breath and called her name, “Kit, Kit are you ok?  Can you hear me?”  She was quiet at first and did not move or say anything.  I took another deep breath.  “Kit, Kit are you ok? Can you hear me?”  I asked again.  And then she quietly answered “Yes, I can hear you.  I think my leg is broken.”  I exhaled.  A heavy sigh of relief came over me.  I asked her if she could feel her toes and legs; she replied yes. I then asked her if she could move her toes; she replied yes. Finally, I asked her to tell me her full name; she replied correctly.  By that time, the Sheriff had arrived and began to assess the accident scene and came to Kit.  We were informed that an ambulance was on the way.

I stayed with Kit to support her head and make sure she was ok.  I wanted her to stay alert as the Sherrif began to ask questions.  I did not want her to lose consciousness.  The Sheriff began to get reports from all of us about the accident. Then, another police car arrived on the scene.  The second police car parked like a barricade to block us off.  That police officer exited the car and went to the driver of the car.  Scott then proceeded to call the race organizers to let them know of the accident.

About 5 minutes after the accident, the ambulance arrived.  They came to us and began taking care of Kit.  I knew she was in excellent hands and moved away to allow them to assess her.  I walked away and exhaled again.  I was in shock to what had just happened and tears began rolling down my face.  I took a minute to allow me to feel these feelings.  I then saw Bob moving around the scene.  I stopped the emotions I was feeling and went to check in with Bob again.  He said he was ok and had just called his wife.  He was obviously very shaken.  Scott came by us and we waited to see what was going to happen. All three of us stood by one another.  As I looked at their eyes, my eyes began to fill with tears.  And I could see Bob and Scott do the same.  We were quiet.  There were no words.

What had happened? We were wearing our reflective gear. We had out lights on. Why didn’t that driver see us? Was the driver distracted?  We overheard the sheriff say that the young girl, who appeared to be around the age of 16-18 y/o, said she was “reaching for her vape” when she hit Kit and Bob.  I felt sick to my stomach.  I felt like I was going to vomit.

I walked away from Scott and Bob.  We were visible, yet that did not matter.  I was thankful that Kit and Bob were going to be ok, from what I could tell.  It could have been so much worse for them.  I could have been much worse for all of us.  I felt like I was going to be sick, again.

I walked around a bit around the scene to digest what had just happened.  I worked on some deep breathing exercises to remain calm and try to soothe myself.  I then called my friend Eric Peterson, who was also on the Coulee Challenge, to tell him what had happened.  I wanted to let Greg Smith, one of the Coulee Challenge brevet organizers, know what had happened. Eric said he would contact Greg to let him know.

Two sheriffs and an ambulance were on the scene.  The Coulee Challenge organizers had been called as well.  We waited for one of the organizers from the Grand Randonnee to arrive.   I spent this time between checking in with Kit and talking to the owners of the house who had come out to help us. They were very helpful to us to make sure we had anything we needed.  As time passed, the family of the young driver of the car arrived.

I walked over to examine the car that hit Kit. The passenger side mirror was completely off.  Additionally, there was a large crack in the front window on the passenger side. It was unbelievable.  Again, I felt completely sick to my stomach.  She was reaching for her vape?  Anger then crept in…

Greg Smith, RBA of Driftless Randonneurs and Coulee Challenge organizer, arrived to provide assistance.  Kit was taken care of medically.  Greg made sure that Scott, Bob and I were doing ok.  He was very supportive and concerned about us.  He then said, “You better get moving if you are going to continue.”  That seemed so pointless to me at the time, I actually seemed to forgot I was doing the event.  I wasn’t sure if I could continue.  The three of us then talked about continuing and all agreed to continue and stay together.  I wasn’t sure how far I could go, but I would give it a try.  I would continue to move forward for Kit.

We were stopped and off of the bike for approximately 2 hours.

We said goodbye to Kit and Greg and got back on our bikes.  We started moving again at approximately 12:15 am heading north up the hill on Co Rd M.  We had 5 miles to go on this road until we would be turning off onto Co Rd W.

5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.  5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.  5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.  5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.  5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.

Damn.  I could not wait to get off of this road.  Damn, I wish I had my mirror.  Damn, why did that girl have to reach for her vape?  In this dark moment, the blessing was so apparent. I opened the 2nd present of the day to reveal the clear blessing Kit, Scott, Bob and myself received that evening.  It was so very clear.  As the sign said at the bottom of the Blessing Box I saw earlier that day near Viroqua said, “But most of all, Be Blessed.” How so true, so very true…

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near Viroqua, Wisconsin

Truth be told, I was scared.  The accident really shook me up.  The three of us moved slow and close together.  We were quiet.  We had 40 miles to the overnight in Winona.  We had 1 more control before the overnight.

We were all shaken up and very quiet.  Every time a car would pass us, I had a very difficult time.  I perceived each vehicle to be too close to us.  I felt that every time a vehicle passed us that we were in danger, again.  Damn, I wish I had my mirror.  Additionally, I kept hearing the crash behind me.  This was a recurring theme every few miles in the dead of the night.  Not only was this difficult because of the crash and the psychological impact it had on me, we had some challenging climbing ahead.  The sections remaining from West Salem and Holmen had 51 and 61 feet per mile of climbing respectively.  I tried to concentrate on something else, like my favorite saying I use when I need some positive energy on these longer events that goes like this “Pedal. Smile. Repeat. Pedal. Smile. Repeat. Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…” but there wasn’t any smiling going on.  I was having a very difficult time emotionally.  I said my saying a few times to see if it would help, but it did not.  So I just quit saying it.  I put my head down and continued to pedal.  We were all quiet as we continued to climb towards Holmen.

At cumulative mile 583, we arrived at the last control in Holmen, Wisconsin.  We had 30 miles to the overnight. We refueled quickly and began the final leg to Winona.

I was an emotional mess.

Since the accident, I was having a very difficult time.  I kept hearing the crash behind me. Every vehicle that passed us, I moved all the way to the right of the shoulder, almost moving off the shoulder into the grass.  We all tried to stay together.  It was getting very late.  I was tired.  I was scared.  And behold, the randonneur witching hour arrived…

With each pedal stroke, I was becoming more anxious.  With a combination of the accident and cumulative fatigue factor, my mind was nearing overload.   I was hoping this overload would be able to make it to Winona, but it became more difficult with each mile that passed.

At mile 187 for the day, we turned off W Prairie Rd onto WI-35 N/WI-54/Great River Road heading west. It was around 3:40 am.  There was a large shoulder on the road.  Unfortunately, my mind was nearing max overload.  My anxiety continued to rise.  I kept hearing the accident behind me every 1/2 mile.  I kept turning my head back to look behind me.  There was nothing behind me.  My pedal strokes slowed down.  Scott and Bob pulled ahead.

OVERLOAD.

OVERLOAD.

OVERLOAD.

I was on WI-35 N/WI-54/Great River Road for about 2 miles when I hit my overload.  Bob and Scott were ahead of me and I felt extremely unsafe on the road despite having a very large shoulder with minimal traffic.  I was in full-blown paranoia.  In retrospect, I felt like Sigourney Weaver in Alien when the Alien was right next to her and she could barely breathe.IMG_6335  I could not breathe and it was getting harder.  I felt boxed in.  The accident, the noise of the accident, the recurring noise of the accident combined with my emotional fatigue was completely suffocating me.  I. COULD. NOT. BREATHE.  At 3:50 am, I passed the Hillside Fish House on the right.  I had 7.6 miles to the overnight in Winona.  I had 149 miles to the finish of the Coulee Challenge, but I was done.  My legs and body felt fine, but my mind had enough.  I pulled into the restaurant to stop. I made up my mind, I could not take being on any road anymore after the accident.  I was going to call the event director to tell them I was done.  I was going to DNF and I was fine with this decision.  I was going to sit here and rest my mind.  After sunrise, I would then head into Winona.

I got off my bike and proceeded to find a place to rest.  As I looked at my cue sheet to look at the number to call to DNF, Scott and Bob pull into the parking lot.  They must have noticed I was not behind them and came back to check on me.  I told them my situation and that I could not pedal any further.  I told them my mind was on overload after the accident.  The road was too difficult for me.  I was going to DNF.

It’s funny how things work in this randonnepuring world of cycling.  At that point, I was done, FINISHED.  But then Bob and Scott explained to me that I had 7.6 miles to the overnight.  They encouraged me to come with them and explained that we would all stay together.  Suddenly, the 7.6 miles did not seem too bad.  It seemed more manageable.  My anxiety dissipated a bit as we all left the Hillside Fish House.

As I pedaled towards Winona with Bob and Scott, I kept figuring out my DNF plan. I was going to get to the AmericInn in Winona and give them my brevet card.  I was done. I kept hearing the accident behind me.  It was getting too difficult for me emotionally.  Damn that girl who reached for her vape.  I was angry at her.  I also thought about my friend Kit and wondered how she was doing.  I continued to pedal and completed my second crossing of the Mississippi at Bluff Siding, then into Winona.

At 4:23 am, we arrived at the AmericInn, the third and final overnight of the Coulee Challenge.  As I pulled up, there were riders getting ready to leave for the final day of the Coulee. I walked into the lobby and there was a big group having breakfast.  I ran into my friend Eric Peterson, who I called right after the accident.  He asked me if I was getting ready to leave.  I explained that I had just arrived.  He was quiet and seemed to be at a loss for words initially.  He mentioned he was sorry about the accident.  My eyes teared up. That is all that was said.  I had no words, just intense emotions. I thought about turning in my card to DNF, but I was simply too tired to do that.  I decided I would do it when I woke up in the am.

I was exhausted.

I needed to rest my mind.

I did not eat.  I was too tired to eat.

I showered and went to bed at 5:00 am.  I set my alarm for 7:00 am.

When I first closed my eyes, a tear streamed down my cheek.  I realized how blessed we were today.  I now recognized the reason why the 3rd present of the Coulee Challenge came in the shape of two hexagon boxes.  It was a very complex day.  From the serenity of the Driftless region to a careless distracted driver, I was at two complete ends of the spectrum.

As I closed my eyes again, I only had 3 words to say…

We were visible.

Stay tuned for a true battle within…

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Posted in adventure cycling, Audax Club Parisien, Brevet, Coulee Challenge, cycling, great lakes randonneurs, midwest randonneurs, paris brest paris, Randonneur, Randonneurs USA, ultra cycling, women cycling | 4 Comments

2018 Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnée Day 3: Reedsburg to West Salem, Wisconsin USA

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA

ENDLESS BLUFFS

MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

RIVER VALLEYS

UNGLACIATED REGION OF THE MIDWEST

 

DAY 3: Wednesday, August 15th

After 4 hours of sleep, I again woke up excited.  This was becoming a trend on the Coulee Challenge.  Gosh darn, it felt like Christmas morning, AGAIN.  My 3rd present of the Coulee Challenge came in the shape of two hexagon boxes, beautifully wrapped and ready to be opened. The shape and double presents were different than the single presents I received on both Day 1 and Day 2.  Why was the gift more complex today?  I could not wait to begin to open them as my adventure progressed.  I headed to the conference room to check in that I was going to be heading out from the overnight.  I was greeted by Greg and Marcia Smith and Rorie Anderson as I checked out.

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Rorie Anderson, Marcia and Greg Smith

OVERVIEW OF THE DAY:  On the Grand Randonnee menu today was 197 miles with 8,571 feet of climbing (43 feet/mile) from Reedsburg, Wisconsin to Winona, Minnesota.  Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administrator of the Driftless Randonneurs characterized this day as “equally spaced challenging climbs from start to finish with ample recovery miles in between.”  Each segment between controls had between 43-61 feet per mile of climbing.  Greg told us to “gauge your effort because the climbing does not end until you’re in bed.”

The Festival of Hills created by the Minnesota and Driftless Randonneurs continued…

Day 3 Route

Day 3 Coulee Challenge:  Reedsburg, Wisconsin to Winona, Minnesota

CONTROLS: The controls for today included: Richland Center, Norwak, Viroqua, West Salem, Holem and the overnight in Winona, Minnesota.

After bidding farewell to Greg, Marcia and Rory, I walked outside with my bike.  Jim Solanick (RUSA #41), Central Florida Randonneurs, was walking out at the same time.  At 4:50 am, I began to open up the first present.  As soon as we turned out of the parking lot, we began to climb.

I felt good this morning as I started out towards the first control in Richland Center. Again, like yesterday morning, the mist covered the valleys.  This was the second time I would be sharing the road with Jim (Central Florida Randonneurs).  We talked about his experiences randonneuring, finishing Paris-Brest-Paris x 2 and Boston-Montreal-Boston x 4.  Additionally, after the Coulee Challenge, I also find out he qualified for Race Across America (RAAM) in 2002.

 

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The Serenity of the Driftless

About an hour out of the overnight, we were passed by Lane Coddington from Missoula, Montana on his recumbent.  He asked Jim and I about a positive word for the day.  You can see my response here at 5:56 on this video:

Today’s route was characterized by quiet roads, stretches along river valleys (Pine and Kickapoo River) as well as some challenging climbs up to the ridge tops.  We rode through more of the Driftless region into the Ocooch Mountains with more breathtaking scenery.  As we reached the Richland Center control, we passed by the famous Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin, a National Historic Landmark.  Richland Center is best known as the birthplace of Frank Llyod Wright.

The route was serene.  It was peaceful.  It gave you time to reflect among the beauty.  There were so many priceless natural and man made gems of the Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnee:  scenic high ridges, low valleys, natural rock formations, trout streams (Class I and II), wooded areas, dairy and Amish farms.  The rivers and streams provided the perfect habitat to visualize birds and bald eagles as you moved along the quaint winding roads.

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Paleozoic Plateau

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Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.

Pure Midwest.  

Pure Rando.  

Pure Driftless.

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Enveloped by Serenity in the Driftless

I bet you are wondering what it felt like?  Well, have a look and feel the Coulee

 

As we continued to ride through the day, the route meandered by the Kickapoo River Reserve, Wildcat Mountain State Park and Coon Valley.  As the afternoon approached, Jim and I parted ways and I rode for alone for a few hours.  The solitude was nice.  This was my favorite day of riding as the scenery was just spectacular with every pedal stroke.  I continued to open up my present…

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…

And, as promised, the midwest hill fest continued with more climbing.  As Greg said, we wouldn’t stop climbing until we hit out beds at the overnight.  We still had a long way to go.

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Cranking up a Coulee

pastoral valleys

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quiet, bucolic roads

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LaFarge, Wisconsin

As was the case on the previous two days, my efforts in climbing were rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding hills and valleys.  This day also featured a number of Amish farms on the route.

 

As the day passed into the early afternoon, I found Kit and Scott again on the route.  I also came upon Robert Kingsley from Minnesota.  We all shared the road together again, leap frogging each other as we moved forward.  At about mile 78 (493 miles from the start), I felt the need to fuel with some real food.  I stopped in Ontario and saw Don and Ken Ward leaving a restaurant.  They commented that the soup was very tasty.  That sounded good to me, just what I needed to refuel.  I stopped at The Milk Jug Café in Ontario for some bean soup. and invited Bob to join me.  We enjoyed our Coulee fellowship in this small rural cafe.

 

After about 30 minutes off the bike, we left towards Norwalk.  The next control was at mile 86.  I was feeling strong and confident in my riding.  I was keeping my off-bike time down as much as I could.  I recognized I was not efficient as the previous two days.  Fatique was setting in.  But overall, I was happy with my riding on this day so far.  I had no hallucinations and no problems with my neck as I did back at Paris-Brest-Paris 2015.  The score was looking very good:

Dawn: 3

Hallucinations/Shermer’s Neck: 0

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Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.

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Additionally, I was not having any gear or bike issues on this day.  Although I did not have my Garmin bike computer (since it failed me on the beginning of Day 2), using the Ride With GPS application on my phone was working fine with the audio cues for navigation.  My Salsa Warbird (aka Orange Crush) was also holding up well.

I continued to move along the route, enjoying the scenery and serenity.  I continued to open the first present.  I was so happy and joyful.

In between the controls in Norwalk and Viroqua, I recall seeing this Blessing Box along the road.  I stopped to take it in as I was feeling very thankful for the opportunity to be on this Grand Randonnee.  I was feeling blessed for having no physical or bike issues.  Little did I know how significant this photo would be by the end of the ride today.  If only I knew how significant.  As the sign said at the bottom of the Blessing Box, “But most of all, Be Blessed.”  It is so very true.

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Driftless Blessings.

After the Viroqua control, we moved along the course up onto a ridge.  And with this transition, a nice breeze accompanied us.  We continued to move towards the fourth control in West Salem at mile 155.

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Kit and Scott

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Kit and Scott

The hours progressed.  The sun continued to move towards the horizon.  We were approaching sundown and the West Salem control at mile 155.  All four of us rode together as we recognized this fact.  There is safety in numbers riding at night.  This is one of the unwritten rules of randonneuring.  As fate had it, our safety would be put to the test in a short matter of time.

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Goodnight Moon

I opened one of the hexagon boxes

to reveal a beautiful sunset as we crested a hill.

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Coulee Sunset.  Photo credit Kit Oslin.

WEST SALEM CONTROL:  We arrived at the 4th control (mile 155/571 total miles) at around 9:15 pm.  After this control, we had one more control in Holmen before the overnight.  I refueled quickly.  From this point, we had 41 miles to Winona to our overnight.  I was getting tired and was looking forward to getting some sleep.  In total, I had 8 hours of sleep since starting on Monday.  My goal was to get 5 hours of sleep on this last night.

We left the Kwik Trip at about 9:40 pm and headed north onto Co Rd M.  It was a long gradual hill climb.  The road was a 2 lane road with a double yellow center line.  Unfortunately, this road had a very limited shoulder.  We were on this road for seven miles before we turned off.  We all had our standard Randonneurs USA regulation reflective gear on (reflective vest and ankle bands) as well as front and rear lights. The order of our pace line was Scott, me, Bob and Kit.  We were visible.

We headed in a single file, moving slow and steady on Co Rd M.  We were visible.  

We continued to move up the hill in a comfortable pace to stay together to be noticed and more visible.  With the double yellow line in the middle, cars behind us had to wait to pass.  The posted speed limit was 55 mph.  We were riding in a single file.  We were visible.

At about 2 miles out of the control, I recall thinking to myself that I wished I did not forget my rear mirror.  It’s funny because this was the first time in the entire event (at mile 573) that I remember wanting to have my mirror.  Truth be told, I felt uneasy on this road.  It was dark and we were on a climb up a two lane road, with almost no shoulder.  I recall thinking to myself that I would be glad to get off this road.

The four of us moved slow and steady up the hill.  We were riding in a single file.  We were visible.  We were visible.

Then all of a sudden, I heard a loud crash behind me.

My heart seemed to stop.

The hair on my neck stood straight up.

Conversation in my head:  “Oh shit.  That sounded REALLY BAD.”

I held my composure and continued to move off the road on the limited shoulder available to stop.  I did not hear Bob behind me.  I stopped my bike.  Scott stopped as well.

All of a sudden, a medium sized car darted in front of Scott and me and stopped abruptly.  The car cut us off.  We were lucky that the car did not hit us.  The driver got out of the car and began screaming and running onto the road.  From what I could tell in the dark, she appeared to be a younger driver.  She was holding her hands on her head, yelling, screaming, crying and frantically running around in a circle.

I then recall screaming this to Scott, “Oh my God Scott, that did not sound good.  Scott, that did not sound good. Oh my God, Scott!”  I did not turn around.

The time was around 10:07 pm.

We were visible…

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Spot Tracker details:  Blue dot is the West Salem Control.  The Green Circle is where I heard the loud crash.

WE WERE VISIBLE!

 

WE WERE VISIBLE!

 

WE WERE VISIBLE!

 

The battle begins in the next episode…stay tuned.

Posted in adventure cycling | 4 Comments

2018 Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnee Day 2: Black River Falls to Reedsburg, Wisconsin USA

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA

ENDLESS BLUFFS

MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

RIVER VALLEYS

UNGLACIATED REGION OF THE MIDWEST

 

DAY 2: Tuesday, August 14th

After 4 hours of sleep, I awoke excited.  It was Christmas morning AGAIN.  I was about to open the 2nd present of the Coulee Challenge and I could not wait!  I got all nostalgic and wore my 2013 Wisconsin Triple Crown Series kit.  I would be riding in the same regions of the Kickapoo Kicker event, which started/ended in Viroqua, Wisconsin.

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More Coulee Smiles on Day 2.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

OVERVIEW OF THE DAY:  On the Grand Randonnee menu today was 180 miles with 8,766 feet of climbing (49 feet/mile) from Black River Falls to Reedsburg, Wisconsin.  Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administrator of Driftless Randonneurs, characterized this day with the “First 100 miles are probably the hardest on the whole route.  Don’t let the short distance fool you, It’s a tough day.”  There were 14 climbs on the route with ranges from 3-8.2% and the steepest (Excelsior) at 12.5%.  The Excelsior climb was longer than most  at 1.5 miles in distance.

Day Two is where we experienced the full variety of the terrain offered at the Coulee Challenge 1200k.  This day erased the notion that the “midwest is flat” from your mind.

Day 2 Route

Day 2 Coulee Challenge Black River Falls, WI to Reedsburg, WI

After a nice breakfast, I walked outside with my bike around 5:00 am.  I began to organize my lights.  The sound of cicadas filled my ear.  A large group was just leaving as I walked outside.  So it looked like I would be heading out alone.  I started riding at 5:27 am out of Black River Falls in a cool mist.  Let the adventure begin.

I felt good this morning as I started out towards the first control in West Salem, Wisconsin. With 4 hours of sleep and a nice breakfast to fuel me, I began to warm my legs up.  The first control was at mile 39.  I began climbing right away out of Black River Falls.  I had heard from the route organizers that the first 100 miles on Day 2 was the toughest of the 1200k.  In my mind, I characterized today as the “KING/QUEEN stage” of the Coulee Challenge.  It was the hardest of all of the 4 days.  I was excited for the challenge and adventures ahead.

I began unwrapping the bow off of my present.

As luck would have it, the challenges started fairly early in Day 2 for me.  Despite being fully charged, my Garmin completely froze at mile 5.3 miles.  “Are you kidding me?” I yelled out to myself.  No way was this happening on my 1200k.

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Screw Garmin!

I could not re-boot it.  I could not turn it off.  It had failed me.  What was I to do?  Well, I had to let the battery die so it would stop beeping.  So for the next 3 hours, I had the constant beep from my damn Garmin in the background.  On the positive side, I was glad I had my phone and Ride With GPS (RWGPS) as a back up.  I did not have a mount on my bike for my phone.  As a result, I had to keep my phone in my Relevate design front handlebar feedbag and listen to the cues to turn but would not have any data to look at as I rode.  For those of you not familiar with cycling applications, the RWGPS application has an audio feature which gives you turn by turn audio navigation.  This was the 2ndtime this season I had issues with my Garmin.  I made an important NOTE TO SELF at that moment to look at Wahoo Element bike computers for next season.  Not only had I had issues with my Garmin, there were others I met at the Coulee who had experienced similar problems in the past.  Many of them had or were planning on going to Wahoo bike computers.

As in the case of randonneuring, you need to flexible and adapt to the situation.  Cycling mirrors life.  I had to continue to move forward.  Initially, I was thinking of borrowing a friends Wahoo bike computer on the ride, but then decided against it.  As the day went on, using my RWGPS/phone seemed to be working well for me.  I did not want to have the added stress of using a new bike computer/system shift me off of my flow.  Although I would not be getting any data (mph, rpm, mileage, etc…) as I rode, I rode with perceived exertion as my guide.

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West Salem

CONTROLS:  The controls for today included:  West Salem, Viroqua, Highland, Spring Green and the overnight in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.  Additionally, I was also looking forward to also getting into this particular region of Wisconsin as these are some of the same areas I rode at the Kickapoo Kicker event of the 2013 Wisconsin Triple Crown Series.  The 35 mile stretch to Viroqua had 2618 feet of elevation gain, which equated to 75 feet per mile of climbing.  Yes, everyone had to have their “Big Girl/Big Boy” pants on today.  The Excelsior climb (mile 100) was the main course on the randonnering smorgasbord.

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Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

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Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

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Pure Rando.  Pure Midwest.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.

I rode most of the morning alone until I came up upon a Minnesota Randonneur from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Robert Kingsley.  He was riding in his first 1200k.  I enjoyed his company as we moved from West Salem to Viroqua.  With both of us being from the midwest, we talked about riding with the Minnesota Randonneurs, various midwest cycling events and about mutual friends we shared.

We continued to climb as we moved along the route through Barre Mills, Greenfield and Coon Valley.  The efforts in climbing were rewarded with magnificent views of winding roads into river valleys.

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Robert Kingsley en route to Viroqua

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Muscoda: Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

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Only in Wisconsin.

About two hours out of the Viroqua control, I came upon 2 riders from Colorado and Seattle.  Don and Ken Ward, twin brothers, were enjoying their yearly adventure excursion trip on the Coulee Challenge 1200k.  They were accomplished randonneurs and strong cyclists.  We shared riding adventures and training secrets for the Coulee.  Additionally, we shared our excitement for the upcoming Excelsior climb at mile 100.  We knew it was going to be hard.  We talked about how we planned on tackling the climb.  With the gearing I had set on my Salsa Warbird (rear cassette 11/32) I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it up the climb with all of my gear/bags.  I would give it a try, but would be fine if I had to walk it.  I did not want to overexert myself and then be spent the remaining 86 miles to the overnight.

We continued to move through southwestern Wisconsin towards Soliders Grove.  The views were quite spectacular as they had been since we started out of Apple Valley, Minnesota.

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Sharing the Coulee with Don and Ken Ward

Additionally, as the afternoon progressed, I ran into both Kit Olsin and Scott Gregory again from the Minnesota Randonneurs.  It was nice to share the road with them again on Day 2.  We all continued towards Excelsior.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…

At mile 100, I met the infamous Excelsior climb with Don, Ken, Scott and Kit.  Greg Smith, Driftless Randonneurs Regional Brevet Administrator commented that “there are plenty of steeper climbs in the Driftless – this one is “only” 12.5% at its steepest but you’re climbing for just under 1.5 miles.”  Again, these first 100 miles were tough.  There were 14 climbs on the route with ranges from 3-8.2% and the steepest was Excelsior at 12.5%.  This was a longer climb at 1.5 miles.

So everybody…

MEET EXCELSIOR

ex·cel·si·or

/ikˈselsēər/

noun

  1. used in the names of hotels, newspapers, and other products to indicate superior quality.

    “they stayed at the Excelsior”

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    Damn Excelsior. Photo courtesy of Greg Smith

ex·cel·si·or

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Excelsior sashaying. Photo courtesy of Greg Smith.

/ikˈselsēər/

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More sashaying up Excelsior.  Photo courtesy of Greg Smith.

ex·cel·si·or

/ikˈselsēər/ 

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Kit rocking Excelsior

As we began the climb up Excelsior, we were welcomed by Greg Smith (Coulee Challenge leadership team and Driftless Randonneurs RBA) and his wife, Marcia.  Unfortunately, I could only climb the first 1/4 of Excelsior, the grade pitch hit 12.5%.  OUCH.  I already had 338 miles on my legs.  I elected to walk the rest of the hill to conserve and save my legs for the remaining 86 miles of Day 2.  It was sure fun to watch others move up the climb, especially Kit.  She really killed the climb, steady and smooth.  Kit is an exceptional cyclist, amazingly strong.

I finished the climb sashaying with a smile and some girl power attitude.   I was proud to walk this hill, no shame.  As I hit the top, I took a deep breath, exhaled and exalted “Namaste”.

I immediately got back on the saddle and used the downhill and flat terrain to make up time in the bank.  At this point, the terrain became more flat to rolling.  I welcomed this change to give my body time to recover from Day 1 and the challenging first part of Day Two.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…

I continued to use my efficiency off the bike as I moved through the control in Highland at mile 130.  I was making up good time on the flat terrain.  I felt good.  I felt strong.  When I arrived at the last control in Spring Green, there was a nice sized group there.   I saw Ana Adams and Sarah Hreha there, it was good to see them again.  Scott Gregory was also there and talking to Jim Solanick.  It was good to see Jim again as we shared the road the day before.  I shared the control with Scott and Jim.  We talked for a bit and I refueld to finish up the remaining 27 miles to the overnight.  I did not spend too much time there as I my goal was to get to the overnight by 11:00 pm.

As the sun was setting, I left the control in Spring Green alone.   Soon after I left, Ken Ward (Washington) and Don Ward (Colorado) came alongside me and we all agreed to ride together as it was getting dark.  There is always strength in numbers riding in the dark.  It seems to be an unwritten randonneuring rule that when it gets dark out, people tend to stay together.

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I arrived at the Reedsburg overnight control at 11:05 pm with Ken and Don Ward. I was very happy with my ride today which showcased the larger towns of Viroqua and Spring Green, and a section along the Wisconsin River.  I had demonstrated a great deal of efficiency on/off the bike despite not having my Garmin bike computer to use.  I kept my control time down and felt strong physically.  Truth be told, my 2nd present of the Coulee Challenge was even better than the first gift I received yesterday.

As I parked my bike in the large conference room of the hotel, I was greeted by good friends Bob Booth and Melissa Hardin as I checked in.  They were in charge of the overnight.  There was a bountiful spread of food which consisted of chili, rice, drinks and desserts.

This was an added bonus for me to see both Bob and Melissa.  I met them in 2015 when I started randonneuring.  Robert Booth is both a Randonneur USA and midwest randonneur legend with many RUSA awards to his name including:  multiple K-hound, RUSA cups, Mondial, Randonneur 5000, R-12, P-12 to name a few.  Melissa Hardin is the ultimate super-domestic.  They are my rando angels who saved me at Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 when some of my luggage did not arrive for the start.  Not only are they my cycling angles, but Bob has been one of my randonneur mentors since I began randonneuring in 2015.  I talked with them a bit before I headed to my room.  I quickly showered and set my alarm for 4 hours of sleep.

As I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep, I felt thankful…

423 miles completed

19,286 total feet of elevation gain completed

Hallucinations:  Zero

Shermer’s Neck:  Zero

Total Hours of Sleep:  8

 

I could not wait to open my 3rd present from the Coulee Challenge 1200k.

 

Life is better

in the Driftless region

of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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Coulee Determined.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

Stay RAD.

Stay Wild.  

Stay Rando.

 

And stay tuned for Day 3 of the Inaugural Coulee Challenge 1200k…

 

 

Posted in adventure cycling, Audax Club Parisien, Brevet, Coulee Challenge, cycling, great lakes randonneurs, midwest randonneurs, paris brest paris, Randonneur, Randonneurs USA, ultra cycling, Ultra endurance cycling, women cycling | 4 Comments

2018 Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnee Day 1: Apple Valley, Minnesota to Black River Falls, Wisconsin USA

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA

ENDLESS BLUFFS

MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

RIVER VALLEYS

UNGLACIATED REGION OF THE MIDWEST

OVERVIEW OF THE ROUTE:   The Coulee Challenge 1200K was summarized by Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administer (RBA) of Driftless Randonneurs as “moderate to challenging climbs separated by long runs through river valleys to recover and bank time” in the area of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin.

Route distance:  1210 kilometers/752 miles

Elevation gain:  33,072 feet/10,080 meters of climbing (44 feet per mile)

300 km (182 miles) in Minnesota/900 km(559 miles) in Wisconsin

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DAY 1: Monday, August 13th

You could feel the palpable excitement at the start.  There were 88 riders, from the United States, 4 Canadian provinces, 2 from Europe (Denmark and Sweden) and 1 from Japan.  13 of the riders were women.

As a women in randonneuring, we are the minority.  At the beginning of every brevet, I try to connect and introduce myself to the other women on the ride.  I personally find that this is important to build fellowship, especially with the low percentage of women in randonneuring.  A few minutes before the start, I met Sara Hreha from Connecticut who was doing her first 1200k.  We both expressed how excited we were to be doing the Coulee Challenge.  Sara was no stranger to the midwest, originally from Minnesota.

It was a randonneuring reunion for me and so many others.  I was very excited to be meeting up again with Kit Oslin and Scott Gregory with the Minnesota Randonneurs.  I had met them, as well as fellow Coulee rider Ken Knutson, in the fall of 2016 at the South Dakota Ramble 600K.   Additionally, I was sharing this event with my randonneuring mentor Eric Peterson.  He is a good friend from Illinois who introduced me to randonneuring and Randonneurs USA (RUSA) back in 2015, with whom I rode Paris-Brest-Paris with.

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With Greg Smith and Kit. Photo courtesy of Kit.

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Anda, Ken Knutson and me. Photo courtesy of Eric Peterson

The book of the inaugural 2018 Coulee Challenge was just beginning to be written…

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

We started our Coulee adventure at 4:00 am on Monday, August 13th with a police escort out of Apple Valley, Minnesota.  Our overnight destination was Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

OVERVIEW OF THE DAY:  On the Grand Randonnee menu today was 234.7 miles (380km) with 10,428 feet of climbing (44 feet per mile).  Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administrator of Driftless Randonneurs, characterized this day as a “flat start to warm up followed by intervals of challenging climbs and super-fun descents with long flat sections between to recover.”

Day 1 Route

Day 1 Coulee Challenge:  Apple Valley, MN to Black River Falls, WI

CONTROLS:  For those of you not familiar with randonneuring, controls are designated points on the brevet/event where you must stop to be validated to continue on any given route.  You check into the control (usually a convenience store) and purchase an item to receive a receipt and a time stamp on your brevet card.  The distance between controls can be anywhere between 30-60 miles, depending on the route.  The controls for today included:  Cannon Falls, MN, Red Wing, MN, Pepin, WI, Elmwood, WI, Tell, WI, Arcadia, WI and the overnight was in Black River Falls, WI.  I was really looking forward to getting into this particular region of Wisconsin as these are some of the same areas I rode in the Wisconsin Triple Crown Series back in 2013.

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Driftless Mist.  Photo courtesy of Deb Ford Photography.

It was a nice roll out at the start as we warmed up our adventure legs.  I started off the morning sharing the road with Christian Rassmusen from Denmark.  I immediately noticed his Denmark kit and welcomed him to the states.  He was no stranger to Grand Randonnees.  Christian explained to me that he was looking forward to exploring this midwest region of the U.S. on this 1200k.

We hit the first control in Cannon Falls at mile 31 and were greeted by Rob Welsh, RBA of Minnesota Randonneurs.  Approximately 10 miles after the Cannon Falls control, I had the chance to talk again to Sara Hreha from Connecticut.  We both remarked how we needed to pace ourselves as we climbed one of first hills out of Cannon Falls en route to Red Wing.   This is one of the priceless gems from doing randonneuring is meeting people from all over.  As I always say, “it’s more than just about the bike.”

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Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.

The early portion of the route traversed along the Mississippi River via the Great River Road.  After the second control in Red Wing, Minnesota, we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin.  The route included spectacular viewpoints overlooking both the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin.  I spent some of the late morning riding with my good friend Eric Peterson on portions of the Great River Road.  Additionally, I also enjoyed more road time with Christian from Denmark.

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With Christian Rassmusen, Denmark.  The choice of paved versus gravel is a constant struggle.

I also had the chance to spend quite a bit of time riding with Jim Solanick (RUSA #41) from Florida.  He gave me such great information on doing 1200k’s, having multiple Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) and 4 Boston Montreal Boston (BMB) finishes to his name, including many other cycling accolades.  He was one of the speakers at the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) seminar held before the event.  He was very enjoyable to ride with and offered many great tips to me on being more efficient off the bike at PBP.  We never stop learning.

As I moved out of Pepin towards Elmwood, Wisconsin, I was able to connect again with both Kit Oslin and Scott Gregory out of Minnesota.  It was nice to ride with them on their playground as the last time I rode with them was in 2016 in South Dakota.  They are both exceptional cyclists as well as kind and genuine individuals whom anyone would enjoy spending time with.

We were catching up on cycling adventures as we began to ascend into the Driftless region.  Truth be told, I began to feel like a 6 y/o on Christmas morning.  I felt like I was beginning to open the shiniest present with the biggest, red bow…

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Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

So what is this Driftless region all about?  

The Driftless region of the Midwest is characterized by unglaciated parts of Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois. The rugged terrain is due both to the lack of glacial deposits and to the incision of the Mississippi River into bedrock.  As a result, the topography is very sculpted.  As you ride, you see forested hillsides reach down to valleys cut into limestone bedrock.  These valleys may also be by many cold water trout streams.  Forests, prairie, wetlands and grasslands are characteristic in this Southwestern region of Wisconsin.

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Kit meeting the Driftless

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Ice-age reminants

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To flow in the Coulees

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Driftless Horizon

I continued to move efficiently through the rest of the controls as I moved towards Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…

In summary, the route on Day 1 offered majestic views at the top of climbs with fun, fast descents.  Some of my favorite views on this day included red barns, quiet winding roads, bucolic limestone ridges along the route and the valley views in the unglaciated regions of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin.

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Coulee smiles.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

After 236 miles, I arrived at the overnight in Black River Falls at 11:34 pm.  Overall, I was happy with Day 1 of the Coulee Challenge 1200k.  Although I came in 45 minutes later than I projected, I felt efficient and strong.  I had no mechanicals or any bike/gear related issues.  As I moved off the bike, I felt very proud.

Upon arrival in Black River Falls, I was greeted by Dan Diehn, route organizer and his family working the Days Inn overnight control. A bountiful plate of lasagna and salad was waiting for me.  After eating, I picked up my overnight bag and headed to my room.  I met another women who was doing her first 1200k.  My roommate for that night was Oksana Slobonyuk Kovalenko from Colorado.  We briefly chatted before heading to bed.

I set my alarm for 4 hours of sleep and fell asleep after a quick shower.

Overall, I was happy with Day 1 of the Coulee Challenge 1200k.  Although I came in 45 minutes later than I projected, I felt efficient and strong.  I had no mechanicals or any bike/gear related issues.

I could not wait to open my 2nd present from the Coulee’s!

Stay tuned for Day 2 of the Inaugural Coulee Challenge 1200k…

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Posted in adventure cycling, Audax Club Parisien, Brevet, Coulee Challenge, cycling, great lakes randonneurs, midwest randonneurs, paris brest paris, Randonneur, Randonneurs USA, ultra cycling, women cycling | 2 Comments

Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnee: The Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee 2018

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA

ENDLESS BLUFFS

MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

RIVER VALLEYS

UNGLACIATED REGION OF THE MIDWEST

 

WHY THE COULEE CHALLENGE?

In July 2017, while participating in the annual “Dart-Pop” weekend held by the Driftless Randonneurs, I was made aware of a 1200K that both the Minnesota and Driftless Randonneurs were putting together in 2018 to showcase the Driftless region of the Midwest, the Coulee Challenge.  I knew almost immediately that it would be my 1200k to do in 2018.  Not only would it be a great training event for my second Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) in 2019, it would also bring me back to my cycling roots.

When I began cycling in 2011, I was instantly enamored by the various events held in the Driftless region of Wisconsin. In looking for adventures on the bike which pushed my boundaries, I began searching out challenging events in the Midwest.  As soon as I heard of the Dairyland Dare and Wisconsin Triple Crown Series, sponsored by Spree Touring and Stewart Schilling, I was hooked.  In 2012 , 2013 and 2014, I spent my summers competing in these events.  They were quite different than local events in that they offered longer distances (200k and 300k) and had quite a bit of climbing.  These events were some of the toughest outings in the Midwest, set over the unrelenting hills in the Driftless region of Wisconsin.  If you loved to do hills, these were the events for you.

In 2013, I completed the Wisconsin Triple Crown Series.  This series was made up of 3 challenging events in Wisconsin which included: Acadia’s Brute, the Kickapoo Kicker and Dairyland Dare.  Upon finishing the series, each participant received a custom Pactimo Jersey which had a season recap with your name on the back of the jersey and distances completed.  To this day, doing that series with a group of friends from my local cycling club is one of my fondest memories in my cycling scrapbook to date.

To be able to go back to these regions again, as a randonneuse in a Grand Randonnee, was very exhilarating for me. In my mind, this was the Wisconsin Triple Crown Series on steroids.  Additionally, I was also looking forward to seeing how my neck would hold up on a 1200k again.  My last 1200k in 2015 had me facing both Shermer’s Neck and significant hallucinations.  I finished Paris-Brest-Paris in 88:46:36 but very broken at the finish.  It was my first season of randonneuring.  I was hoping this outcome would be much better with 3 years of randonneuring and much more structured training under my belt.

SIGN UP / REGISTRATION / STATS AT THE START:

There was a lot of talk on social media to get the word out about this event.  I was impressed with the marketing effort.  There were actually business cards for the event created in the summer of 2017 to generate interest.  I informed the rider organizers that I would assist in getting the word out about the event and began sharing this with members of the Great Lakes Randonneurs as well as local cycling clubs in the greater Chicagoland area.

The website for the event went live in the fall of 2017 and there were 337 riders on the interested list.  The window for registration for the event opened on January 1stand 140 individuals signed up.  At the start, there were 88 riders, 13 were women.

Registration for the event was $450.00 and included on route support, hotel accomodations, a progressive bag drop each day and dinner/breakfast provided at the overnight hotels. Support vehicles were also on the route to handle neutral support, bike repair and emergency services.  An event t-shirt, riding cap and finishers medallion were included in the fee. Event jerseys were available for purchase.  Another added bonus was on the route photography by Deb Ford.

ARRIVING IN MINNESOTA:

On the Saturday before the event, I loaded up my Dodge RAM 1500 and headed from my house to Apple Valley, MN which was approximately a 6 hour drive northwest.  I arrived in Apple Valley to begin to prep for the start of the ride on Monday at 4:00 am.  It was nice that this event was local so I did not have to fly or ship my bike.  In addition to getting my bike and gear ready in MN, I was equally excited to try using a planning spreadsheet for the event. This would be the first time I would be using this on a 1200k.  Shout out of gratitude to Carol Bell, Greg Smith and Bob Booth for mentoring me on creating and using a randonneuring excel spreadsheet to assist with planning and executing my second 1200k.  I did not have anything like this for Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015 and was ready to see how my plan carried out on this Grand Randonnee.

Other than forgetting my mirror for my glasses (analogous to a rear mirror on a car) I was set to go.  These roads would have minimal traffic and I was confident I would be fine without it.  In retrospect, I wish I would have asked someone if they had an extra one or purchased one at a local bike shop for the event.  Little did I know how important that would be later on in the event.

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Orange Crush (Salsa Warbird) converted to rando-mode and ready for the Coulee’s

PRE-RIDE ACTIVITIES:

The Coulee Challenge registration also included many pre-ride activities:  a RUSA 100K the Saturday before the start, pre-event dinner on Sunday and two seminars on Sunday related to Paris-Brest-Paris.  I also had the chance to meet up with new friend Lara Sullivan from Minnesota who crewed with Pacific Atlantic Cycling (PAC) Tour Gravel Camp back in April.  It was good to see her again and reconnect.  I had a blast with her at PAC Tours in Tuscon this past spring.  She was on the crew for the Coulee Challenge.  Not only is she an exceptional cyclist/athlete (RAAM qualifier) she has a lot of experience crewing for ultra events.

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PAC Tour Reunion with Lara

The Paris-Brest-Paris Seminars were very interesting and valuable resource provided for first time PBP riders and experienced PBP anciennes.

The first seminar was done by Rob Welsh, Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) of Minnesota, who put together a very informative presentation on the history of Paris-Brest-Paris. The first Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) was held in 1891 and has been held 24 times since its inception.  He provided a very well rounded historical and political perspective of PBP.  Did you know that the original organizers of Paris-Brest-Paris went onto develop the Tour de France?

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Rob Welsh, RBA of Minnesota discussing the history of Paris-Brest-Paris. Photo courtesy of Deb Ford.

The second seminar was a panel of 6 very noteworthy speakers on preparing for and riding Paris-Brest-Paris which included: John Lee (Randonneurs USA President), Pamela Wright, Dan Driscoll, Martin Fahje (RUSA#217), Jim Solanick (RUSA #41) and Jeff Newberry. A breath of randonneurring experience and helpful advice for all who attended this informative panel discussion.

 

Afterwards, all riders and support crew convened for the pre-ride buffet dinner with general introductions and a brief pre-ride overview by the Coulee Challenge Leadership Team.  At this Grand Randonnee, there was a high percentage of seasoned/veteran randonneurs/randonneuses with low RUSA numbers #153, 217, 390 and 527 as well as many first time 1200k riders.

With 2018 marking Randonneurs USA’s 20thAnniversary, sharing the Coulee Challenge with the all participants and the crew was special to me.  I felt quite blessed to be at the start.

One more wake up for the adventure to begin…

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I hope you will follow my voyage in the unglaciated regions of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin during the 2018 Coulee Challenge.

Stay tuned for Day 1….

 

Posted in adventure cycling, Brevet, Coulee Challenge, cycling, great lakes randonneurs, midwest randonneurs, paris brest paris, Randonneur, Randonneurs USA, ultra cycling, Ultra endurance cycling, women cycling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TRUE GRIT. LOOSE GRAVEL. Where the road ends, gravel begins. Pacific Atlantic Cycling (PAC) Tour Inaugural Gravel Camp 2018

Upon completing Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015, I joined the Ultramarathon Cycling Association (UMCA).  My goal was to learn about additional cycling opportunities that would push my boundaries. In 2016 and 2017, I completed the UMCA Year Rounder Challenge which entails completing a 100 mile ride each month for a year. I heard about the McSweeney Women’s Scholarship honoring UCMC member Anne Marie McSweeney, who loved cycling and sharing her experiences with others.

As I was researching the award, I learned that she convinced a group of five women to sign up for PAC (Pacific Atlantic Cycling) Tour Women’s Week. Anne was a woman who was extremely enthusiastic about cycling and empowered many others by sharing her “joy of life” and her passion for cycling. In 2006, at the age of 45 years old, Anne Marie passed away when her car collided with an RV in Klamath Falls, Oregon.  In honor of Anne Marie and to promote long-distance cycling, UMCA developed a scholarship fund in her name. The fund provides a one-week PAC Tour cycling training camp partial scholarship to a female cyclist each year.  I was honored to learn I was selected to receive the Anne Marie McSweeney Scholarship in 2018.  As a result, I attended the 2018 inaugural PAC Gravel and Road Tour.

WHAT IS PAC TOUR?  PAC Tour (Pacific-Atlantic-Cycling Tour) was started in 1985 by cross country record holders Susan Notorangelo and Lon Haldeman to offer long distance cyclists the ultimate cycling vacation. And those of you who follow RAAM (Race Across America) know what legends in cycling that both Susan and Lon are. In 1982, Lon won the first RAAM (9 days, 20 hours) and then again in 1983 (10 days, 20 hours). In 1983, Susan set Paris-Brest-Paris record at 54 hours and won RAAM in 1985 (10 days,14 hours) and 1989 (9 days, 9 hours). In 1986, Susan and Lon set the Transcontinental Tandem record from L.A. to N.Y. in 9 days, 20 hours.

There are many tours offered by PAC Tours each year and they vary depending on the year. In 2018, the following tours are offered: Historical Hotels, Century Week, Chiricahua, Mountain Tour, Gravel and Road Tour, Route 66 Tour, Northern Transcontinental and Lakes and Seaway NY. Other years have offered: Southern Transcontinental, Vermont, Ridge of the Rockies, Tour of the Canyons, Pacific Crest Tour, Eastern Mountains and Ghana Bike Tour. Additionally, in the true spirit of giving back, they also have been going to Peru since 1999 building schools, supporting orphanages and supplying books. They support projects they have direct contact with and personally scout the needs of the project. They purchase the materials in person and they deliver the materials in person via First Presbyterian Church Global Outreach.

The costs are variable depending on the tour and participants in each tour, with ranges between $1,395 to $3,500, up to $7,500 for one of their Transcontinental tours. If you investigate other tours offered like Trek or Backcountry, the prices offered by PAC Tour are relatively lower.  The following is included with each tour: motels, breakfast, lunch, all snackstops, beginning and ending banquets, gear shuttle, technical support, sag service, preparation guidelines, E-newsletter, PAC Tour jersey, T-shirt, large gearbag and support from the most experienced long distance cycling staff in the world.

Interesting to note that I had met both Lon and Susan back in 2014.  When I attended my first La Vuelta Puerto Rico (LVPR), I had the opportunity to meet them at the Captain’s Dinner before the event. Additionally, we all rode in the same peloton and enjoyed the festivities in Cabo Rojo as you can see…

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La Vuelta Puerto Rico 2014 with Lon, Susan and William Medina

I also rode with Lon again in the Spring of 2015 as I began doing my brevets to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris with the Great Lakes Randonneurs. Both Lon and his daughter, Rebecca, rode the 200k and 300k Audax Club Parisean brevets that spring with the Great Lakes Randonneurs.

FORMAT OF GRAVEL WEEK:  The format for the Gravel and Road Tour week of Desert Camp included 6 days of riding for a total of 270 total miles (150 gravel) with the following schedule:

Monday: 4/2/18 Tucson to Sonoita 61 miles (30 gravel)

Tuesday: 4/3/18 Sonoita to Patagonia 42 miles (25 gravel)

Wednesday: 4/4/18 Patagonia Nogales Loop 43 miles (23 gravel)

Thursday: 4/5/18 Patagonia to Mexico Loop 48 miles (39 gravel)

Friday: 4/6/18 Patagonia to Green Valley 44 miles (28 gravel)

Saturday: 4/7/18 Green Valley to Tucson 32 miles (no gravel)

ARRIVAL IN TUSCON/SHIPPING BIKE TO CAMP:  The Friday before camp, I left Chicago via ORD and flew into Tucson Airport. I elected not to travel with my bike but used BikeFlights.com to ship my bike from Wheel Werks in Crystal Lake, Illinois to Arizona Cyclist. I dropped my Surley Moonlander Fat Tire Bike to Wheel Werks a week before to have them box up my bike and tires. I then opened an account with BikeFlights. The cost to ship my bike one way was $68.00 plus $2500 insurance, which totaled $100 one way. This was a seamless process and I would highly recommend it to anyone who would like to travel with their bike. BikeFlights.com uses FedEx and UPS to ship bikes both domestically and internationally. You can track the shipment of your bike throughout the entire process.

When I arrived at my destination, I found some local places to take in the culture and searched for a good local Mexican restaurant. I started my morning with a nice Cubano coffee from Raging Sage Coffee in downtown Tuscan and then headed to have breakfast at Teresa’s Mosaic Café. This restaurant was featured on Food Network and Travel Channel for their Huevos Rancheros. It was delicious! The homemade ranchero salsa was authentic and the Horchata made the meal. The tortillas are homemade on the premises while you wait. This place was quite a gem! I highly recommend it if you are ever in Tuscon.

After breakfast, I headed to Arizona Cyclist to pick up Big Mama (aka my Surley Moonlander). She was all ready for our adventure ahead. I then headed back to the hotel to get my gear ready for the week ahead. My bike and gear were ready although my body was not quite ready. Unfortunately, I had to nurse a left ankle peroneal tendonitis that flared up that week, so I spent the rest of the evening doing some ice baths and leg elevation. Nevertheless, I was optimistic I was going to be able to ride.

SUNDAY, APRIL 1ST:  EASTER AND CHECK INTO PAC TOUR:

I woke up and headed to 10 miles south of Tucson to the Mission San Xavier del Bac for Easter mass. Built in 1797, it is the oldest European structure in Arizona. The Mission is quite amazing and is known as one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the US.  I then headed back to the hotel to keep icing my ankle and elevating it before check in for the tour in the late afternoon. I was excited to meet the rest of the riders and crew.

There were a total of 10 people in our tour: 4 crew members and 6 riders. The crew members consisted of Lon, Susan, Lara S. from Ely, Minnesota and Steve W from Amston, Connecticut. Then the riders were: Marcy A from Santa Fe, New Mexico; John E from Denver, Colorado; Byron G from Niles, IL; Morgan, M from Scottsdale, AZ; Geoff S from Arlington, Massachusetts. I was the PAC Tour virgin in the group. Many have been on several PAC Tours and their enjoyment and return to PAC tour is a testament to the high quality of these tours. We all went for dinner on Easter Sunday to a Chinese restaurant to get to know one another more. I could tell it was going to be a great adventure already!

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PAC Tour Gravel and Road Camp 2018.  Photo courtesy PAC Tour

STRUCTURE/FORMAT WITH PAC TOURS: Typically each day ran the same. Breakfast in the lobby, either provided by PAC Tour or by the hotel. Afterwards you would prepare you bike and drinks outside where the PAC Tour trailers were parked. If we were not staying at the respective hotel the next evening, gear bags would be placed outside the trailer by a pre-determined time.  Cue sheets and route maps were provided for each day with excellent detailed instructions.  They even had the grade of gravel on the cue sheets, delineating the type of gravel encountered.  The grades run from 1, 2, 3, 4.  Chip seal/pavement being #4 , soft sand being #1, pack cinder/dirt road #3, rough pavement #3-4 and gravel #2.

Approximately every 2 hours there would be a rest stop where the PAC Trailer was parked and ready to take care of the riders in every way possible. Food, drinks, sunscreen, energy powder (Hammer products), cold soda, candy, fruit, beef jerky, granola, pickles, tomatoes.  Once getting off your bike, you immediately head to the first stop to wash your hands before heading for the food and drink. It is very sanitary and very clean to prevent any type of cross-contamination or spread of germs-infection. At this stop there was also some commonly used products such as sunblock, salt tablets, Endurolytes, advil, etc..

PAC Tour trailers were amazing works of art and complete bike tour functionality that were designed by Lon. I learned that Lon does wood working and designed all of the trailers that they have used. It is like going to a “Container Store” full of bike supplies in a very orderly fashion that has everything you could think possible. They are prepared for anything should you have any type of mechanical or issue with your bike. The trailer was pulled by a Ford F150 Truck also with a customized hatch with a bike rack on the roof. It was quite an amazing set up. You could just see the experience that comes from doing tours since 1985 as well as being ultracyclists themselves.  PAC Tours is a well oiled machine and amazing to watch.  It is definitely a combination of strategy, coordination but most of all, lots of passion that bleeds through every fiber of the tour.

As the week went on, and in talking with other participants, it is clear what PAC Tours offers is unmatched in any other tour company, in the US and outside of the US.  I felt blessed to be a part of this inaugural camp and to be on a PAC Tour. I have heard so much about them over the past 4 years and was so excited to be part of one now.  Just take a look for yourself to see what PAC Tour magic is all about…

 

DAY 1 MONDAY 4/2/18:  Tucson to Sonoita 61 miles (30 gravel) with 3,400 feet of climbing

Unfortunately, my left ankle tendonitis was not completely resolved so I elected to not ride the first day. I really felt my ankle needed an additional day of rest before riding, especially with the high mileage and climbing on this first day.  I did not want to chance making things worse and then not being able to ride the rest of the week.  So I ended helping Susan with the rest stops and then helped taking pictures on the route with Lon’s camera.  I had a blast and got some great photos!

The route left Tuscon on paved roads along the San Xavier Indian Reservation. The first rest stop at mile 15.5 was among some walnut trees before riders hit the gravel and began to do some serious climbing.

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The route traversed through the Coronado National Forest with nice long climbs, going from 2,450 EL at the start in Tuscon to 5,230 EL at the summit at mile 40.6.

From there, the riders faced a strong headwind into Sonoita as they went through Empire Ranch to Sonoita Inn.  Empire Ranch is a working cattle ranch in southeastern Pima County, Arizona.  It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1976.   As you can see, it was simply breathtaking and I highly recommend a visit to it if you are in this area anytime.

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DAY 2 TUESDAY 4/3/18:  Sonoita to Patagonia 42 miles (25 gravel) with 1,700 feet of climbing

After a restful evening in Sonita and a hearty breakfast together, we packed our bags and dropped them off on the truck for a departure time of 7:45 am.  My ankle was feeling better this morning in comparison to previous days, so I elected to give it a try to ride today.  My goal would be to keep a high cadence to keep any soreness of my posterior tibialis and peroneal tendons at bay.  Although I was riding my Surley Moonlander (weight at 36.08 without gear/bags), the gearing allowed me to ride an easy gear with set up gearing of front chainring 36/22 and rear cassette at 13/35.

We left Sonoita (3,400 CSF) heading South into the Canelo Hills towards the Canelo Pass which is located in the Coronado National Forest. The first rest stop was at mile 15.7 in a shaded area which was very welcoming. My ankle was feeling good. I was keeping a high cadence at around 88 rpms. As we left this stop, we then began a climb which crossed the Arizona Trail several times.  We reached the top of Canelo Pass at 5,246 EL (mile 20.9) .  The climb to get to the pass computed at about 88 feet/per mile.  You could definitely feel the burn in your quads with the loose gravel and steep inclines in this section of the day. But as challenging as the climbs were, there was also solitude admist the pain.  Solitude and pain paraell in the gravel universe of cycling.

Think about whispering winds…

Think about silence

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Our lunch stop today was at mile 27 at the Vaca Ranch in Lochiel.  This was one of my favorite stops on the tour, so open and majestic.  This stop had us surrounded by Saddle Mountain, Red Mountain and the Bog Hole Wildlife Area.

After a nice hearty lunch, we continued on small, twisty narrow roads along Harshaw Creek into the quaint town of Patagonia.  We were staying in Patagonia for the next 2 nights.

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Lon and John descending into Patagonia

 

DAY 3 WEDNESDAY 4/4/18:  Patagonia Nogales Loop 43 miles (23 gravel) with 3,300 feet of climbing

We headed out at 8:15 am to do a loop out to Nogales.  It was nice not to have to pack up all of our gear and be settled in for a few days at the same location.

 

The elevation in the downtown of Patagonia was 3,800 EL. By mile 9, we had already climbed 1,150 feet (127 feet per mile of climbing.) We passed the Arizona Trail again today as well as Old Harshaw townsite ruins and hit a steep 7% climb at mile 12.0. The first rest stop was in Guajolote Flats at mile 12.5.

After this stop we then continued to climb towards the Santa Nino Ranch and reached the summit of 5,900 EL at mile 18.4. From there we began a descent with some steep 7% sections of soft sand and through a Sycamore wash. The Cattle guards were a welcome relief at times and seemed to be the smoothest portion of the route.  But really, to me, gravel is definitely chicken soup for the cyclists soul.

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-GRAVEL LETS YOUR SOUL SHINE THROUGH-

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SEEKING BALANCE UNDER THE WIDE OPEN SKY

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I felt lucky to have the good suspension of my fat tires to absorb the shock of the rocks and also give me the stability on the very sandy sections. Additionally, there were also some pretty sharp bends on the fast descent to lunch. But the large rocks, sand and fast descents were no problem for Big Mama!  I was so pleased with my choice to ride this bike on this gravel tour.  Although slow and heavy, I enjoyed every moment of my gravel adventure week on my Surley Moonlander with PAC Tour’s Inaugural Gravel and Road Camp.

We arrived at lunch at mile 27.5.  Another exceptional lunch on the road via PAC Tour. They had definitely spoiled me. Caprese salad with a turkey sandwhich and broccoli salad sure beats PB&J.  It’s hard to truly capture how special PAC Tours really are in a photo.  You have to experience one to see for yourself.  But to give you a taste of the body and soul of PAC Tour, take a look for yourself:

We arrived back in Patagonia for our 2nd evening.  Post ride drink, shower and stretching.  That evening we all went to dinner as a group to Velvet Elvis in Patagonia. The pizza was…well, very interesting for sure. Let’s just say the company was much better.  It’s hard to get pizza anywhere than from my hometown of Chicago, I guess you can say I am spoiled.  But in any event, I had to get my picture with Elvis to show he is still alive and kicking in Patagonia, Arizona.  IMG_3106

 

DAY 4 THURSDAY 4/5/18: Patagonia to Lochiel-Mexico Loop 48 miles (39 gravel) with 2,900 feet of climbing

The 4th day of PAC Tour Desert Camp had us doing another loop out of Patagonia to Lochiel, traveling near the Mexican border. We reversed sections of the previous day’s route into Patagonia. It’s amazing how different things look in reverse. At mile 13.5 miles into the adventure, we had our first stop again at Vaca Ranch. I could not get enough of the wide open spaces, the cool breeze hitting my cheek and the sound of gravel crunching under my tire…

We left the Vaca Ranch and continued onto Lochiel, passing Lazy J-2 Ranch in expansive wide open fields with majestic rolling climbs.

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FALL IN LOVE WITH TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF.  MIND. BODY. SPIRIT. 

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SIDE NOTE:  The wide open spaces rejuvenate me.  It is where I find peace and solitude from the constraints of the concrete jungle of life.  It nourishes me.  It bathes me.  

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I am so thankful to have these moments of solitude.  Nature is my other mother. 
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Photo courtesy of PAC Tour

It is on this day that I found myself ever so thankful for this opportunity to be with PAC Tour on their inaugural gravel camp.  I recall also feeling so grateful for being a recipient of the Anne Marie McSweeney Scholarship from the Ultramarathon Cycling Association (UMCA) in 2018.
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Big Mama and Vanderkitten take on PAC Tour Inaugural Gravel Camp 2018

We descended into Lochiel for a break at mile 26.5.  As is customary, Susan had a perfect spot under a large cottonwood tree which provided plenty of shade.  In addition, a few miles after this break, we had the opportunity to pass a historical marker indicating the first Spanish traveler arriving there in 1539.

I had the chance to spend a bit of the afternoon riding with Lon and John from Denver, Colorado. Another blessing of this tour was the new friendships engendered with people from all over who have a very similar sense of adventure on the bike. PRICELESS for sure.  Have I told you that PAC Tours ROCK?  Yep, definitely a bucket list item if you are a cyclist who likes to push your boundaries and be around like-minded cyclists.

After our break in Lochiel, we then began to head back to Patagonia.  At mile 40.5, we had lunch in Harshaw, right across the street from ghost town ruins.  We then headed back to Stage Stop Inn in Patagonia for the evening.

As we got into Patagonia, I had the chance to meet a cyclist from Arizona who had just started the Arizona Trail Race that morning and was 50 miles into his ride. He had completed the 300 mile race the year before and had his sights on the 750 mile route this year. The Arizona Trail Race is an unofficial challenge that takes place every spring on the cross state Arizona Trail, and started in 2006.  Two distances are available: 300 and the 750 which traverses from Mexico to Utah with a mandatory hike across the Grand Canyon. DSCN2367Rebecca Rusch was competing in the 300 mile race. Darn, wish I would have known that as it would have been pretty neat to greet her in the town of Patagonia!

That evening for dinner one of the participants organized a wine and cheese social at the Stage Stop Inn.  We all shared our adventures of the day over some wine, cheese, chips and salsa.  We talked gravel events, gearing, what we liked/disliked about our current bike set up.  Additionally, we all were discussing how we would all be back for a 2nd PAC Tour Gravel camp.  I know I would be back without a doubt and I would be bringing my gravel friends.

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Day 5 Friday: 4/6/18 Patagonia to Green Valley 44 miles (28 gravel) with 2,500 feet of climbing

We left Patagonia heading west towards the Coronado National Forest en route to Green Valley and hit our first cattle guard right out of town. I was joking with fellow riders and Lon and Susan and told them we should rename this tour “Le Tour de Cattle Guards”.

This day was the most challenging and most technical of the entire camp. This day reminded me most of doing Dirty Kanza200 in 2016. I really enjoyed the challenges of this day, we ascended Mount Hopkins, a peak of the Santa Rita Mountain range.  It is the 2nd highest peak in the Santa Rita Range and provided magnificent views as we twisted through narrow, winding roads.  The main road is a twisting single lane of dirt without guardrails.  Both climbing and descending required careful precision and technical skills on the loose large gravel.

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This route had a section that was very remote and it seemed to be ridable by ATV’s only. From mile 3.5 on Salero Canyon Road at 3,900 elevation with a steep 10% climb, we had climbed to 4,700 elevation after just 7.8 miles, yep you could feel that climb for sure.

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Photo courtesy of PAC Tour

The first stop was at mile 13.2, we loaded up on water as the next section was very remote and it would be difficult to get help if needed.  We headed on Road #143 through many rough ravines for the next 14 miles en route to Amado, Arizona.

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The route on Day 5 was like a gravel cyclist’s Christmas present.  It was the gravel gift that just kept on giving.  We had

ADOBE RUINS

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2 WATER CROSSINGS

A VERY NICE CLIMB THROUGH THE CORONADO NATIONAL FOREST.  

NOTE:  Very nice climb=a very steep hike-a-bike with a 2 mile climb to the summit.  

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IT 

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WAS 

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VERY 

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STEEP!

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Shout of CONGRATULATIONS to Byron G from Niles, IL who summited the climb.  There were portions at 17-19% with loose gravel.  I told him afterwards I wanted to film him summiting this next time.  SUPER AMAZING for sure!  I don’t have any data from this climb as my Garmin kept turning off as I was doing my hike-a-bike up to the top.

As with all summits and climbs, the reward is the downhill.  This one was EPIC for sure.  It was a fast descent with no guardrail and loose gravel.  I was glad to have my disc breaks and the traction of my Surley Big Larry 4.8 tires to provide me with traction needed for stability.

The descent from the summit was breathtaking. Take a gander for yourself…

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What an amazing climb to the summit.  And the descent was mind blowing as well.  About a mile into my descent down, I was able to see 3 Javelina’s cross the road in front of me.  They are in the family of wild boars/pigs and have long, sharp canine teeth that protrude from their jaw about an inch.  Glad to stay clear of them.  We don’t have those in Illinois.

It took me about 5 hours to get to the lunch stop on Hopkinsville Road at mile 26.0.  It was slow moving with the terrain as well as time to stop to soak in all of the scenery.  You only go around in this thing called life once, so stop to smell the roses.

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After lunch, we headed on pavement into Green Valley via the Anza Trail.  This trail included a mix of limestone gravel and crossing some dry sandy washes. Our overnight stay in Green Valley was at the Best Western Motel.

DAY 6 SATURDAY 4/7/18:  Green Valley to Tucson 32 miles (no gravel) with 1,500 feet of climbing

In lieu of riding the last day, which was strictly pavement, I decided to send everyone off and then head back to Tucson by car to drop off Big Mama off at Arizona Cyclist. With flying home the next am, I was short on time to both ride and get this drop off done.  The bike closed at 2:00 pm. I arrived at Arizona Cyclist in ample time to drop the bike off and then headed back to the hotel to greet the riders as they arrived.

I spent the my last afternoon in Arizona assisting the PAC Tour team in breaking down their trailers and support vehicles. That evening all of us went to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant to celebrate a great week together.  We returned to the hotel for the ice-cream social that Lon and Susan put together, which included a power point cued to music of our week together.  We all shared our favorite memories of the week.  A perfect ending to a perfect week with PAC Tour.

And that’s a wrap on PAC Tour’s inaugural Gravel and Road Week 2018.  I appreciate this opportunity to share my experience as a first time attendee with PAC Tour.

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Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo: PAC Tour

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PAC Tour Gravel and Road Camp 2018

REFLECTING ON PAC TOUR GRAVEL CAMP 2018:

It’s been almost six weeks since I finished my first PAC Tour .  I am looking forward to returning to share the gravel road with the PAC team and crew.  I was extremely impressed with the level of support, coordination, logistics and service provided to me and all of the attendees of the inaugural Gravel and Road Desert Camp 2018.  The PAC Tour website states they cater to “Exceptional Cyclists”.  It was very clear to me that Lon and Susan are exceptional individuals, both on and off of the bike.  I could see and feel that they embody excellence, have a strong passion for what they do and place high value on service to others.  

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The heart and soul of PAC Tour:  Lon and Susan

As I watched them work throughout the week, I kept coming back to the book Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf which details one’s journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness.  I also was thinking of John C. Maxwell and one of his quotes in Today Matter’s when he stated, “Success is when I add value to myself.  Significance is when I add value to others.”  The value that PAC Tour has added to the cycling community since 1985 is exponential and transformative.  I challenge you to look into what PAC Tours can offer you as a cyclist and what PAC Tours does to serve better the whole of humanity by embodying growth, responsibly and love.  I saw this first hand in my week with PAC Tour.

Without any hesitation, I strongly recommend PAC Tours.  If you are interested in any of their tours, check out their website and photos to their previous tours.  For more photos of the Gravel and Road Camp, please check this link for more official PAC photos.

Moreover, I would like to thank both PAC Tour and Ultramarathon Cycling Association (UMCA) for providing me the opportunity to be a receipient of the McSweeney Women’s Scholarship.  Like Anne Marie, I love cycling and sharing my experiences with others.  I look forward to continuing her vision by empowering others to push the boundaries of what is possible.  I hope by sharing my experience you will be inspired to try something new on the bike this Summer.  Simply love what you do and do what you love, whatever that may be…

And, as always, remember to PEDAL, SMILE, REPEAT…

As they say in France, “Bonne route”

Dawn

Paris Brest Paris Ancienne 2015, #T073

 

 

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