600 km in British Columbia
a view from the back
laid my head down on the pillow at 2:30 AM and for the next five
hours I slept with an intensity that Randonneurs know all too
well. It's a special kind of sleep that's well earned. Then, despite
only getting 5 hours of sleep, I woke up completely refreshed.
I was a little disoriented for a few minutes, but soon after looking
around the room, I recognized the tandem, and my captain, and
quickly remembered why I was here, and indeed where here was.
Here was Lytton, British Columbia, about 400 km into a 600 km
brevet. Why? Because it was fun. Hard, but fun. The previous morning
at 7 AM, Terry Zmrhal and I clipped our shoes into the pedals
on the tandem at a gas station just outside Vancouver, BC, along
with 10 or so other Randonneurs, and aimed our bikes north and
east toward Cache Creek, 300 km away, up the Fraser River Canyon,
and into the wind.
The sight of another tandem was welcome, since this meant we
might have company during the ride, and a little help with the
winds. It's really difficult for tandems to draft singles, since
our pace is considerably different from that of single bikes,
but tandems do very well drafting each other. Dierdre and Bob
had just started riding together. This was only their fourth tandem
ride, but their last ride was a 300 km, so they knew sort of what
they were in for.
Terry, on the other hand, had somehow allowed himself to be conned
into attempting a 600 km ride on a tandem after having done just
a 50 mile ride with me 6 weeks before. I thought it was very brave
of him to agree to try this ride, but also had every confidence
in our ability to complete the ride. The second time we rode together,
he proved to be an excellent captain, inspiring great confidence,
as he maneuvered the bike up and back down a fire road for a little
offroad fun. I half jokingly suggested we try a 600 km on my bike,
when I made my next trip to Seattle in June, and he shocked me
when he wrote back saying sure. So I rented a tandem case and
packed up the Burley for its first plane trip.
After my last trip out, when my bike went to San Francisco instead
of Seattle, I was a bit paranoid about the bike's final destination,
so I showed up at the airport several hours early, and insisted
on seeing the bike board a plane bound for Seattle. They assured
me that it would go with me, and the sight of it at the baggage
claim area when I arrived was certainly a relief. A few hours
later, I had the bike reassembled and ready to go.
Ted Milner had graciously offered us a place to stay the night
before the ride, and planned to do the first 100 km of the route
before heading home and catching up on overdue work. I had hoped
we might see Ted on the road, but he flew out of the parking lot,
and we only saw him at the first checkpoint, where he turned back.
We were joined by Mike, Anna, Bob and Dierdre. They also flew
out of the parking lot, but we tried to hang on as our speed hovered
around 24 to 25 miles an hour. The route started out flat to rolling,
and everyone seemed to want to take advantage of the initial easy
According to the locals, winds typically blow up the canyon,
but we noticed that we already had a slight headwind. This was
not a good sign, but I was happy to have the tandem, given its
inherent advantage in a headwind.
continued on with this group until we heard that first awful pinging
noise of a broken spoke. Fortunately, for us, it wasn't on our
bike! Deirdre asked Terry if he noticed a wobble in their rear
wheel. A pretty serious amount of side to side movement confirmed
the bad news, but luckily we had just passed through a large town,
so they were able to ride back to find an open bike shop to get
spokes and fix the wheel. We continued on with Mike and Anna,
since we had no spokes that would fit and there was nothing else
we could do to help.
We took a quick break at the first checkpoint at about 90km,
gulped down a couple of muffins, refilled our Camelbaks and headed
on our way. This concluded the flat part of the ride. Soon afterwards
we turned on Route 1, the Trans-Canada highway and began our ascent
up the canyon. The scenery up to this point had been quite nice
as we followed a river valley, with a few small hills on either
side, but breathtaking does not adequately describe what followed
for the next 200 km. Mountains rose up from both sides of the
river, and the road rolled along up and down where the base of
each hill reached down toward the river. This broke up the relentless
climb to Cache Creek with an occasional screaming descent, but
also made me realize how difficult the return trip would be. I
tried not to think about it as I soaked in the most beautiful
scenery I have ever experienced on a ride. My words just can't
do justice to the beauty of this area. I can say that this was
the most difficult ride I have ever done, but every ounce of energy
expended on the climb was rewarded many times over with the sights
along the way. Maybe I appreciated it more because we had to work
so hard, or maybe the Fraser Canyon is one of the most beautiful
places I have ever been. I highly recommend this ride to all Randonneurs!
The weather was also spectacular... well sort of. The skies were
crystal clear, allowing the sun to poor down on the completely
exposed route. So actually it was a little too hot. There was
no break from the sun, and while it was better than being wet
and cold, it did make for a tougher ride. Terry and I found ourselves
each going through a full Camelbak almost every 30 miles.
are great inventions, since they allow a rider to carry 70 ounces
of water in an insulated bag in a very convenient place, but they
have one disadvantage over clear bottles, and that is seeing when
the water is about to run out. I've started keeping a water bottle
on the bike for these situations and to use to spray on the back
of my neck and my feet to help cool me off, but we discovered
at about the time Terry finished off his Camelbak that it works
better when someone has put water in the bottle. His clever stoker
was able to hand up her not yet empty Camelbak to get us through
to the next stop.
Mike didn't seem too happy taking leisurely water and food breaks
every thirty miles, and a look a shock appeared when I suggested
we might take the full forty hours to complete the ride, but Anna
seemed to enjoy the draft and the company, so we stayed together,
not taking real long breaks, but still relaxing and enjoying the
ride, the food, and the mountain views.
The second checkpoint was listed as either Boston Bar or a cafe
just beyond the town. We continued through town up a hill to the
cafe, while Mike and Anna stopped in town. Both of us were pretty
hungry at this point and craving salt, but the waitress didn't
express any surprise when we ordered pancakes and french fries.
It was already starting to get quite warm, so I soaked my hair
with water to cool myself off a little, doused lots of powder
in my shorts to cut down on the saddle sores, and we headed back
out, up the next major climb.
wasn't too much later that we caught up to Mike and Anna taking
a rest stop in the one little spot of shade in the entire canyon.
We pulled over for a few minutes of shade ourselves, and then
headed out together. The mountains on either side of us rose up
probably 5-6,000 feet. The canyon itself was wide enough to accommodate
the river, a set of railroad tracks on either side, and the road,
although the road often had to travel along the side of the mountains,
sometimes rising as much as 1000 feet above the river, and other
times dropping down just beside it. Every thirty miles or so the
canyon would spread out enough, and a small town would appear.
One of these towns was Lytton, where we made our next stop. Here
we checked into a motel. Knowing we would be coming back through
well past midnight, I figured it was better to get the room now.
This would also give us incentive to ride back after the turnaround
point. We were about 200K out on the course, but it seemed much
farther. And the next 100K seemed to take much, much longer than
My legs weren't that tired, and the views definitely gave me
something to take in, but my mind wandered, at it just became
a very mentally challenging ride. From his previous descriptions
of rides, I knew that Terry was a true Randonneur at heart, and
would have no trouble with this ride. I think he may have also
felt a bit weary, but his spirit was strong, and he never showed
any signs of fatigue. I saw a sign for a car dealership in Cache
Creek, and fantasized about buying a car for the return trip,
but Terry would hear nothing of it!!
had a couple of minor mechanical problems. One was that we could
not use the smallest (13 tooth) cog. No amount of adjusting the
indexing would allow us to use that cog, and we really, really
wanted to at times, but we adjusted and made do with our other
gears. The other problem was this annoying clicking coming from
the front wheel. I had noticed it on a previous ride, and took
the wheel into Peter, my local wheel builder. He tightened the
spokes, and that seemed to fix the problem for a while, but it
came back. Terry asked if it might be the bearings, and I said
it couldn't possibly be my less than 1 year old Phil Wood Hubs
that I'd taken out a second mortgage on the house to purchase.
Well, as it turns out the FSA hubs have just the teeniest bit
of play in them, making them Field Serviceable, and they need
more grease to prevent the creak. I promise that the wheel will
be quieter on our next ride, but the noise did help keep us awake.
We reached the turnaround point in Cache Creek before dark, and
after riding around in circles found the motel that served as
a checkpoint. We had sent drop bags out to this point, so I showered
and changed into fresh shorts, picked up food and batteries, and
resisted the temptation to sleep. Terry and I were ready for real
food, and opted for a Chinese restaurant across the street. Mike
and Anna seemed OK with fast food, so we split off here. The chow
mien hit the spot, and we were back on the road just after 10pm.
We then began seeing riders coming toward us. Two passed on singles,
and were greeted noisily with our horns and cheers. Later we saw
Bob and Dierdre. They had lost about two hours to the spoke repair,
but were cranking along and looking strong. The best part though
was that we were going downhill. I knew we had done a fair amount
of climbing on the way out, but I had also remembered a lot of
descending, and we didn't seem to have very many climbs now. The
skies were clear. A full moon poked over the mountains, but was
occasionally hidden by the peaks. The air was cool, though not
cold, and the sounds of trains down below traveling next to the
river were the only thing that broke the still calm of the night.
We enjoyed a slight tailwind, but nothing like the winds from
earlier in the day.
The next few miles were quite desolate. We reached one little
crossroads and found two cyclists bundled up and waiting for rescue.
The hills and lack of low gears on their bikes had taken their
toll on their knees, so a spouse was her way to take them home.
We sipped on some caffeine containing drinks, chatted for a few
minutes, and headed off into the moonlight. Soon afterwards, a
car with their bikes on the back passed by as we continued heading
down the canyon.
We reached Lytton, where we had a room, at around 2AM. We were
both getting tired, and the motel was a welcome sight. We knew
that it would have been better to continue down the canyon with
the light winds, since the normal wind direction would return
the next day, but we were both ready for sleep. We talked briefly
with Mike and Anna who were staying in the next rrom. They planned
to just sleep a couple of hours and try to beat some of the winds.
We decided to go for more sleep.
I usually function very well on 5 hours, but the headwinds weighed
heavy on my thoughts as I set the alarm for 6:30. Apparently I
needed 5 hours, since when the alarm went off I showed no signs
of life whatsoever. Terry let me have another hour and woke me
at 7:30. We were out the door in 15 minutes. The winds had already
started, and the heat wouldn't be far behind. We returned to the
pancake checkpoint from the day before, and found 4 other riders,
the tandem and the other two singles we had seen going into Cache
Creek. Mike and Anna had left on schedule. Bob and Dierdre had
also stayed in Lytton, arriving a few hours after we did, and
leaving an hour or so before. They were just finishing breakfast
when we arrived and headed out soon afterwards, figuring we would
see them down the road. The other two riders had stayed in Cache
Creek and had been riding since 3AM. Terry and I were definitely
operating on more sleep than any of the other riders, and it showed.
We were in good spirits and having a great time.
waiting for pancakes, I spotted a chocolate mouse cake, and devoured
it as an appetizer. One great thing about riding 385 miles in
a day and a half is I can eat lots of forbidden food. Just get
the calories in. At least until it gets hot. I've been using a
completely liquid diet for the past 7 years, and this year I am
trying to go with solid food for various reasons. I am still having
a lot of trouble digesting solid food during the heat of the day,
and having to take Motrin for my back wasn't helping any. I have
mostly healed from my accident a couple of weeks ago, but still
have an occasional muscle spasm in my shoulder and pain in my
lower back. Our bike was like a small rolling drugstore with Rolaids,
Motrin, muscle relaxers, powder and sunscreen. And while I was
taking and applying these things, I had to remind myself that
I was having fun, but it wasn't that hard. I really was
The next section of the ride involved a couple of major climbs,
one over Jackass Hill, and the other through Hell's Gate. We stopped
at Hell's Gate for pictures, while I wondered which way the gate
led. Were we entering or leaving??
winds soon answered that question. We entered. The headwinds
picked up and brought our spirits down. I really, really hate
pedaling with all my might on downgrades, but there were times
that we really had to fight to make the bike go forward. The sun
poured down with a vengeance. Terry lives in Seattle and doesn't
get to see much sun, so his prayers were being answered, but I
think he was starting to change his wish! I began having more
trouble with heat and food, and was definitely ready for a break
when we reached Yale.
Bob and Dierdre were just finishing a short break when we arrived.
We talked about getting together on the flats to do what tandems
do best, draft off of each other and work together in the tailwind.
We decided to meet at the next checkpoint. Then we went in for
food. I munched on a box of cheese crackers and soaked my head
a couple of times. I was definitely going through a low at this
point, but Terry kept a great positive attitude. Just before we
left, we saw the other two single riders go by, and stop at the
next store in town.
The winds picked up. Terry showed incredible bike handing skills
as he kept us going straight in fierce crosswind gusts, and 25-30
mile per hour in his face winds. When we came off the canyon,
we barely broke 11 miles an hour on an 11% downgrade. We turned
right onto route 7 and the wind picked up. I didn't think
it could be worse, but it was. I kept looking around, trying to
concentrate on the beauty of the scenery rather than the wind.
We were both getting butt-weary and tried standing more and more
to relieve the pressure, but standing made us a bigger sail against
We eventually reached the next checkpoint and were so relieved
to see that Bob and Dierdre had waited. We asked them to wait
just a bit longer, as we gobbled down grilled cheese sandwiches
and milkshakes. Two tandems working together are great. They didn't
feel they were getting much of a draft off of us, but the companionship
helped increase both of our speeds. We leap frogged back and forth
on the hills, and I was glad to have them along because we started
standing more without me having to ask. Two tandems can draft
off of each other, but there is also a little competitiveness
that just makes them go faster together. We seemed to catch that
for a while.
Then we reached the hill. Some referred to it at Agassiz
Agony. I think Terry called it Woodside. All I know is that it
was steep and long and we used our lowest gear and it hurt. Bob
and Dierdre had broken another spoke and were worried how the
wheel would hold up on this climb, but they did fine. The rest
of the ride in was easy, well relative to everything else.
We took one more break and my stomach finally started to feel
better. We both picked up our pace and even reached those 24-25
mph readings that I had seen on the way out. We arrived a few
minutes after Mike and Anna, and everyone was thrilled to have
completed the ride. The skies had looked threatening for much
of the afternoon, but the rain held off for 1/2 hour after we
finished. We reloaded the van, and after quick showers at Ted's
began the drive home to Seattle.
This ride was absolutely the best ride I have done all year.
I have never been on a more beautiful ride. I thought Terry was
a little foolish to agree to ride the tandem on a 600 km, but
my respect for him is considerable. He did a remarkable job as
a captain and riding companion. He kept the bike upright when
I got dizzy. He pulled us up hills with remarkable ease. He never
complained about the heat, or distance or shifting and put up
with my complaints and my stomach. And I just wanted to take this
opportunity to thank him again for a wonderful ride. Thanks Terry!
Want to do another one?