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Colorado Last Chance 1200km Randonnée
"Venture to Kansas"
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Last Chance 2004 Stories

2004 Results  -   Riders at Finish!  -   UMCA Article
Rider Stories:     Todd Kalchbrenner  -   Nancy Myers  -   Dan Wallace  -   Ken Bonner  -   Nancy Guth


Top 10 lessons learned during my "Last Chance" - Todd Kalchbrenner

  1. A school bus makes a pretty good shelter from an impending storm.
  2. In Kansas the temp can change from the 80's to the upper 30's within an hour, but only after you leave in your drop bag all that "unnecessary" gear you've been lugging around for 300 miles.
  3. Arm warmers make lousy leg warmers. Always carry various sizes of plastic bags.
  4. Sometimes when your bike is shaking uncontrollably it's not a mechanical problem but the onset of hypothermia.
  5. Most towns have a post office, the lobby is always open.
  6. Always set an alarm when "only stopping for a minute to warm up".
  7. A post office lobby is a pretty good place to fall asleep and wake up 4 hours later.
  8. When a racoon is on your right, veer left, the coon will also veer left.
  9. Attempt to slow as much as possible before hitting any animal.
  10. There's no such thing as an easy 1200k!

- Todd Kalchbrenner, Olano TX



Last Chance 1200k: Motelling It in September 2004 - Nancy Myers

John Lee Ellis did an excellent job of setting up the route [and Charlie Henderson -jle ]. Most road surfaces were good. No dogs chased us. There were only two sets of railroad tracks. His route sheets were very easy to follow. Most roads were low traffic. This course is not flat, but none of the hills are severe. Basically it’s downhill from Boulder to Kansas and uphill on the return trip. Not use to the altitude we found our breathing more labored in the Boulder area. The sun was also hotter than we were use to. The temperatures varied from 30’s to 90’s, sometimes in the same day. There are long exposed areas without services. It is not unusual to go 50 miles without anyplace to get water or food. The wind is ever present and unforgiving. Severe storms are not unusual and unpredictable.

We found out upon arrival that we were the first tandem ever to attempt this event. Fourteen riders, two women and twelve men, departed at 0300. The temperature was cool and comfortable with a slight tailwind. Most of Colorado was still asleep and we were having the time of our lives on our bikes, for the first fifty miles at least. The wind picked up in velocity and started changing direction. The last 27 miles into the first control was mostly south straight into a brisk headwind. By the time we left Byers, CO heading west on highway 36 the wind was very strong from the east north east. Hurricane Ivan had blown his fury across Florida and was now taking his windy rage out on us. Not even a tree for wind break. Johnny Appleseed missed this part of the country. Calorie needs escalated. Water supplies were drained quickly. The sparse towns were a precious oasis we took advantage of. As the sun went down the wind continued. We could see dark rolling clouds on the horizon, lightning dancing through the clouds. We arrived in Atwood, the first bag drop and our motel room, before meeting the storm. Mike’s upper body was trashed from trying to keep us on the road in the wind. I had stuffed one whole bag with canned food. We were crashed on the motel bed eating chucky soup from the can and loving it. We had completed 260 miles, mostly downhill on supposedly the “easy” part of the course. Mike had his doubts about continuing on for 21/2 more days. I kept reminding him that we had less than 100 miles than Ivan could push us with his mighty hand back uphill to Colorado and beyond.

We hit the road again to battle the wind prior to sunrise. Even the semi’s passing us seemed to make the wind current worse instead of helping to block it. The temperature was rising rapidly and it was obvious the sun and heat would not be our friend.

Mark and Todd passed us enjoying the tailwind we were looking forward to after the turn a round at Phillipsburg. It was in the 90’s. We decided to cool off in the shade before taking advantage of the much anticipated tailwind.

With less than 15 miles of tailwind the wind started gusting from several directions and you guessed it. We once again had a headwind. Discouraged and over heated we stopped in Norton, KS 16 miles later. We continued into the wind another 35 miles and decided to reward ourselves with another break at Oberlin,KS. When we came out of the conveince store the air was cool and calm. What a change. A man was coming toward us telling us to get back on our bikes and ride NOW. He pointed to the sky and reported that a severe storm was coming this way with 70 MPH winds, hail, tornadoes and rain. On the horizon was a well defined dark line. We stuffed the rest of the food into our mouths and started pedaling. We were riding as hard as we could straight into a storm. How crazy can we be? The wind picked up to help us for once. We had 27 miles to go to get back to the “rustic” motel at Atwood. The black wave of clouds and endless bolts of lightning moved rapidly toward us. Mike told me to look for shelter. There was none. We pushed on. The 60-70MPH winds hit us from the side. It seemed endless before we could see the lights of Atwood. We dropped onto the motel room bed trying to catch our breath just as the hail and rain battered the door, almost 200 miles more behind us. Chef Boyardee from the can. Chewing takes so much effort.

The wind was still blowing, but the storm had passed. Everything was wet but none was coming from the sky. It was still dark, cool enough for arm warmers, but fighting the headwind and going uphill kept us from getting cold. Even though we were burnt to a crisp it was good to see the sun. The day progressed slowly as did we. The few people living in that part of Kansas and Colorado were wonderful. One man welcomed us to the restroom in the senior citizen’s hall. Another took us to the back door of a café to get ice and water.

The check point at Anton, CO put us just 55 miles from Byers, CO, our last motel room until the finish. We took time to eat since there were no services until Byers. The wind was doing strange things again. Suddenly our speed picked up and we actually had a tailwind. The hills became more intense and we once again saw the mountains that we left behind on the first day of the ride. We got into Byers in time to eat in a real café instead of eating out of cans. Hot food! What a treat. The motel was another one of a kind. Don’t think I’ve ever taken a shower with that many flies before. I guess towels dry faster when they are full of holes. Almost another 200 miles out of the way. Only about 130 miles to go. We can do this! Our bodies aren’t sure. Everything is sun and wind burned even eyelids and lips. Our hands are numb and the saddle feels like a combination of broken glass and an electric sander, not to mention every joint and muscle aching.

Its cool and dark. Once again we will see the sun rise from the bike. We are heading north downhill into a valley with a tailwind. This should be fun. The cool air changes to COLD. There is no where to stop to get warm. 35 miles later is Prospect Valley, CO made up of one small café. We are shaking so hard we can’t get off of the bike. In the café a man takes of his heavy jacket and puts it on Mike. After hot food and new friends to warm us we are back in the saddle. Only 30 miles more and we are on the out skirts of Greeley and heading on our last leg toward Boulder, south and west into the wind, and 1000 feet of climbing in the stair step foothills at the edge of the mountains. We were 13 miles from the finish on a busy highway with road construction, orange barrels, black tar and rocks, headwind when we had our only flat of the trip.

770 miles later we are back at the Comfort Inn. The man at the desk apologizes. He has to give us the handicap room. Mike and I smile at each other. “That’s wonderful” we both say together.    - Nancy Myers,  Baxter Springs KS


The Yo-Yo Ride - Dan Wallace
Last Chance was an experience. I'm calling it the Yo-Yo ride. Not only because You're-On-Your-Own without support but because of the hills. Imagine Buck Hill Road, the back side of Sugarloaf and The Wall in Clermont back-to-back. [These are Florida terrain features. -jle ] Now imagine them taller and repeated continuously for several hundred miles. Constant up and down like a Yo-Yo.

I remember climbing a hill and looking out to the horizon and seeing the same road. Nothing between me and the horizon but hills. No towns. No farmhouses. Just road and hills…

The real challenge of the ride is that it's set up like a true Randonnee. Each rider is responsible for his own support (equipment, food and water). The support the organizers provided was limited to delivering and picking up bags to the bag drops. Few facilities along the course and the dawn-to-dusk hours most of the stores in the few towns along the route meant that we all had to make sure we had sufficient provisions to last until stores re-opened the following day.

There were 14 riders including John Lee Ellis, Ken Bonner, John & Nancy Guth, and Mike & Nancy Myers. John Hughes supervised the start and Dave Buzzee and Charlie Henderson supported the bag drops. John Lee did a great job organizing the event including both the pre- and post-ride dinners. I learned so much from John Lee, Charlie, John Hughes, and Ken Bonner. Ken was very generous with his time, and we spent several hours after the race talking about riding.

The headwinds off the prairie were ferocious--as strong, if not stronger, than those headwinds on your 300k in WPB last year. A bad storm swept thru on the second night with thundershowers and tennis-ball size hail in parts. Riders sought shelter in farm houses and one had to resort to hiding in an empty school bus. After the storm passed, the temperature dropped and the wind shifted 180 degrees. So it was a headwind on the return too.

I didn't make it. On the first night, my light system failed, then my computer. I limped along on a weak Cat Eye back-up and arrived at the first overnight stop at mile 256 twenty-six hours after starting. I was six hours behind where I wanted to be. After futzing around for a few hours trying to rest, I started up again, but the temperature quickly rose to the 90's. Heavy sun, no shade, lotsa hills. By the middle of the afternoon, it was clear that, without a decent lighting system, I'd miss the cutoffs at the 7th and 8th controls, so there was no point in continuing.

Ken said the course was as difficult as any other 1200k he has ridden. I’m told John & Nancy Guth said it was more difficult than the Furnace Creek 508. All in all, it was a great trip. I'm glad I went, and I'm looking forward to returning and finishing---although Ken was trying to talk me into London-Edinburgh-London next year.    - Dan Wallace, Winter Park FL


Colorado Last Chance 1200k (2004) - Ken Bonner
Wh-u-u-m-p! Wh-u-u-m-p! The sudden gusts of wind toss me across U.S. Highway 36 and knock me out of my fascination with the dramatic strikes of gigantic bolts and sheets of lightning all around me. A light drizzle of rain begins. The electric wires are buzzing and the heavens are a constant roar of thunder. I stop at the end of a driveway which leads to the lights of an isolated farm house. I need to think about things!

Prior to leaving Boulder on our eastward excursion onto the plains of Kansas (formerly known as the Great American Desert), John Lee Ellis, brevet director, advises us that the predicted high temperatures will be in the mid-eighties F.; and, there was a likelihood of evening showers. Yesterday and today have been in the mid-nineties F. For some time, since dusk, I have been wondering about where John has been getting his weather forecasts .... maybe "That Old Black Magic.com" website? However, I have not been wondering too much since I've been making great time with the help of a very strong tail wind. Now, I start to think about the very dark and forbidding clouds which were on the south and north of me ... what happened to that channel of clear sky directly west towards the foothills of the Rockies?

I lean against my bike with my butt to the wind. I've put on my rain-jacket and am munching a p.b & jam sandwich I carried with me. A pick-up truck passes by and I see he applies his brakes, then turns around and drives up to me. "You O.K.", he asks. I reply in the affirmative. "Well", he says, "you are going to get hammered! There's heavy rain and hail just up ahead, sure you don't want to jump in?" "No", I say in my naivety "I've got my rain jacket, I'll be fine! He looks at me as if I am out of my mind and I watch his blurred tail-lights (rain on my glasses) disappear into the darkness and lightning. Hey, after experiencing 20 solid hours of torrential downpour, thunder and lightning at B-M-B just a couple of weeks ago, I can handle anything! Besides, the weather forecast was for night-time showers .... this little event should blow away in a few minutes.

Ten minutes later. Still propped against my bike trying to keep from being blown across the highway. The light rain has now become a heavy horizontal "downpour" mixed with hail. My body temperature is dropping rapidly and the storm seems to have settled in. Where is that pick-up truck driver now? Should I fill my cleats with sand by walking into the isolated farm house and likely get bitten by the owner's farm dog? Where is the culvert I am supposed to crawl into (along with rattle-snakes and other unknown dangerous creatures!) if I encounter a tornado? Finally, I decide to risk the dog, pick up my bike to turn it around, and ..... wh-o-o-o-sh, it is suddenly plucked up from the ground and I am hanging onto it by the cross-bar as it assumes the horizontal position. I desperately cling to it so it doesn't head off on its own into the Land of Oz!

The kind farmer provides shelter, the use of his telephone and stores my bike on his front porch. My wife, Margot, who has been waiting at the next control 25 miles away, wondering when she was going to get hit by a bolt of lightning, bravely drives back to the farm house and then I drive nearly 90 miles to the motel in Byers, Colorado, where I had planned to cycle to during the night. The next morning, clear and cold, I drive back to the farm-house and start riding west once again. Off the bike for 12 1/2 hours. The farmer has informed me that we were probably on the edge of a tornado, as all during the day, there had been reports of tornadoes just north of his farm. So much for the prediction of "night showers"! Also, "Adios" to my hopes of finishing around 60 hours so I could drive to the San Francisco 1000k brevet.

The day passes, clear and sometimes with a tail-wind, sometimes with a head-wind. We have a new wrinkle this year. Instead of heading directly into Boulder on the way back, we take a little detour up to a place called Kersey. Like the end of so many 1200 k brevets, this is probably a very scenic route, but on the dark, rural backroads, one feels trapped in a bad dream .... it's getting colder (I should have brought more warm clothing!) my hands, feet and body suffer everytime we drop down a hill. Please, please, no more downhills! Did I miss a turn? The back wheel feels funny ... it has acquired a nice bounce it did not have a few minutes ago. A slow leak? No, probably just a loose spoke? Bump, oops, that was the rim hitting the pavement. Maybe I can finish the last 50 miles on a flat tire? A porch light shines on the road, so I come to the conclusion that I might as well fix the flat where there is light.

A pick-up truck goes past, brake lights go on and it turns around (is this the same pick-up I experienced earlier in the ride?!!) It stops a few yards behind me and its bright lights help me see while changing the tire and tube. Just as I wave "thanks" into the lights the driver's door opens and a woman gets out. I probably don't look too well -- tired, cold and unshaven for several days and it's close to midnight. Once again I am offered help (a ride). I decline, saying I have ridden 700 miles and only have 50 to go. The lady is impressed! She wants to congratulate me by shaking my greasy hand! I show her my blackened hand and express my appreciation, but she insists on shaking my hand anyway! Colorado folks are just plain friendly!

I finish the ride frozen to the core. The next day, John Ellis organizes a post-Last Chance dinner and we trade stories.

If you go, be prepared for

  • friendly people -- not only the riders and organizers, but the folks that live along the way. U.S. Highway 36 should be known as the "friendliest highway in America", even the trailer trucks provide lots of room for cyclists. This includes the trucks coming from the opposite direction, as they seem to understand that they kick up a tremendous side wind when they pass
  • extremes in the weather. Although this is a relatively benign time of year (September), temperatures can range from the high 100's to the high 30's Fahrenheit. Strong head, side and tail-winds. No shade, no bicycle repair shops and no place to hide when nature calls!
  • foothills --- eventually one gets to the flat plains, but the foothills seem to last forever (and you can see them for miles and miles and miles and .....)

   - Ken Bonner, Victoria, British Columbia



Best Chance for a Real Randonnée - Nancy Guth
The Last Chance Randonnée may be the best Chance for a true western prairie experience of a lifetime; an experience often only read about in westerns or viewed on reruns of "The Little House on the Prairie." It is a ride complete with huge western skies, skies so big and so blue, it is truly "Big Sky" country. The people we met were kind, chatty, and helpful, unflappable in wind, electric storms, sun or bone chilling cold.

At the pre ride meeting on Sunday September 12, ride organizer John Lee Ellis cautioned the 14 riders to pack thoughtfully, as services were few and far between. Then everyone went out for a pre race meal, joined by the director of the UMCA, John Hughes and his friend Carol Garnand, and devoted volunteer, Dave Buzzee. Buzzee had driven from Ohio to help John Ellis, so John could ride the Randonnée.

The predawn was clear and cool as we cycled to the park-and-ride, where the Randonnée officially began at 3 a.m. with an official John Hughes send off. The beginning was fast and social, with several of us riding together, enjoying the tail wind and sharing stories as we pedaled towards the first stop in Byers. Leaving Byers, the wind shifted to a head wind, and gradually picked up throughout the day. The skies were so blue, it looked like a movie set, but the sun was a constant reminder of the reality of the harsh western plains. By the time we reached Kansas, I felt like a prairie girl in a wagon train, because I was parched and getting tired from battling the wind. However, after a cool shower at Atwood, and some drop-bag food, John and I were ready to continue in the cool of the evening with Mark and Todd, the Texas guys trying to qualify for RAAM. We enjoyed our ride to Oberlin, pulling into a motel under a pitch-black sky dotted with countless stars. The relentless RAAM duo continued on their quest. After a few hours of sound sleep, we pushed on to the turn around point in Phillipsburg, Kansas.

A Grocery Store and Frozen Spinach

Phillipsburg was the only "real" town since leaving Boulder (real by my definition is having a grocery store). We took advantage of the store to purchase food supplies, and I bought a package of frozen spinach. I tucked the package inside the rear of my shorts and the frozen spinach cooled my back and soothed my back pain for several hours as I continued riding - and it is biodegradable when it thaws out. Just as John and I started out on the next leg, from Atwood to Byers, Charlie Henderson, the rancher, randonneur and extraordinary support official, came out of his motel room and said "Better not leave - there is a strong electrical storm over yonder, about 60-100 miles in the direction you're going." Full of food, coffee and Vivarin, we returned to the bag drop room and tried to rest as we heard the wind howl accompanied by vivid lightening, and occasional hail. We were happy to see Nancy and Mike Myers come blowing into the room, exclaiming about the challenge of keeping the tandem on the road in the wind. Three hours later, about 10:30 p.m., Charlie told us the severe weather restrictions had been lifted and we were free to go. We took off for Byers with a tail wind, which lasted about 30 minutes, then switched to a side wind, growing in intensity to gusts of over 50 miles an hour. Lightening again illuminated the sky and when it got really close, we decided not to ride any further, laid our bikes down, with red lights flashing and huddled together on the shoulder. Fortunately, a van came along, and the gentleman offered us a lift, but refused to go west because of the winds and hail, so he brought us back to Atwood. Charlie did not even look surprised when we dragged back to the motel several hours later.

Third Time's the Charm

After drying out, we lay down again. John slept and I watched the weather. By 3 a.m. the stars came out twinkling. We took off again enjoying the bright stars and then a glorious sunrise. We made it into town called Joe's expecting that with a name like Joe's we could find a coffee shop, but the only public building was a post office. Joe's postmistress had a strong pot of coffee she was willing to share, and thus fortified, we cycled on. The next town had a small country store and the friendly ladies offered advice and pads for John's saddle sore. The sun shown relentlessly all afternoon and with no clouds and constant wind, I was getting dangerously dry. We came across a Methodist church with a sign on the door "Downstairs door open" so we went on inside. A group of ladies were busy quilting beautiful handmade quilts, welcomed us inside, offered cold water and ice, and blessed us as we continued on our way.

From Quilts to Garbage Bags

We refreshed at the bag drop motel room in Byers and continued with the sun setting below the mountainous horizon of the Front Range. As the sun set, the temperatures dropped...and dropped - I wished for my tights, which were still in my bag drop at Byers. Our last notable stop was somewhere outside of Greeley, where we thankfully saw a 24-hour truck stop. Almost frozen, we shivered in to savor steaming coffee and purchase a few garbage bags. The attendant enjoyed the diversion by helping us cut up the bags for leg and arm warmers.

We dropped off our brevet cards at the last control, John Ellis' house, and pedaled to the motel, thankfully entering the lobby still wearing garbage bags. The attendant congratulated us and quickly offered a room! We were greeted by Mark and Todd, the Texans RAAM guys, already hitting the free breakfast at 5 a.m. John immediately joined them for breakfast, I opted to discard the garbage bags and enjoy a long, hot shower!

The Last Chance was an extreme adventure in all senses, warm friendly people, varied scenery and temperatures and extremely challenging, as the wind more than made up for the lack of steep hills. We enjoyed meeting and cycling with new friends, John Ellis, Chris Grealish, Mike and Nancy Myers, Ken Bonner, and "old" friends like Todd and Mark from Texas. John and I marveled at the dedication of volunteers like Charlie Henderson, Dave Buzzee, and John Hughes. Challenge yourself next year to try this true western brevet, and see how satisfying the experience can be! It makes for a great story back at the office: "What I did on my summer vacation!"

- Nancy Guth, Stafford VA

Nancy's story Copyright © 2004 by the UMCA, Inc. For more information on endurance riding, go to www.UltraCycling.com.