Kieran Johnson's CHC 2016 Report

Kieran is a local randonneur living in Denver who joined RUSA in 2015.

Day 1, Louisville - Saratoga

The small hours is the best time of day for riding in summer, and conditions were perfect as we set off at 4 a.m. through the deserted streets. There were a few frisky legs on the early rollers on 95th (I suppose me included) but things soon settled down and we were rolling along in a loose group of 13 with plenty of chatter. I managed to skulk at the back of the group almost all of the time, only once taking some wind as three of us rejoined after getting cut off by traffic at a stop sign. It was fun riding the familiar (to me) roads up to Laporte with people from out of state though there were a couple of familiar faces in the group too. We got scattered on the Horsetooth climbs and I rode along with Eric from Maryland for the last stretch to the first control at Vern's, arriving about 7:20. A quick pastry and bottle refill and we set off for the Poudre Canyon.

I continued riding with Eric for the first part of the gentle climb to control #2 at Rustic, along the bubbling river where I keep meaning to go rafting. After a while we came across Jason Turner who claimed to have been waiting for me, and I rode to Rustic with him, also on his first 1200, while Eric dropped back. There was still no real wind and everything was peachy.

At Rustic I felt I should eat but wasn't hungry, and with the wind starting to gust I didn't want to delay by sitting down. So I ate one of the sandwiches I'd brought with me and after some debate with other riders about the identity of the animal on the sign, required for the info control - some said salmon, some generic fish, one said very like a whale - got back on the bike and started the remaining 30-mile climb to the top of Cameron Pass. As I rode, the wind rose rapidly and it was mostly in my face. I had a nutritional brainwave and stopped at the Sportsman's Lodge store for a couple of cans of tomato juice which seemed to hit the spot. The rest of the climb was slow going with the wind and just before the top I was blown off the road and had to unclip to avoid a tumble, the first time that's happened to me. I still hadn't seen any other riders after eating another sandwich at the summit, so got ready to battle the wind to Walden.

The stretch into Walden was a little-ring drudge into a savage headwind, enlivened only by a stop in Gould (we've struck Gould!) where the store owners cast doubt on my ambition of making it to Saratoga that day.

Finally making Walden I sat down with a tired-looking randonneur who introduced himself as Vince from Oregon. Vince said he was thinking of knocking it on the head in Saratoga and I was glad it wasn't just me. We were both covered in dust flung over us by the gale-force wind. The store staff spread a rumor that the road to Saratoga was about to be closed due to wildfires. After sitting there for about 40 minutes trying to eat and drink, neither of which I had done enough of, we departed together with Gabrielle from California. The wind was more of a cross-tail for the first miles north out of Walden which cheered me up a bit. Vince and I leapfrogged each other as the terrain started to undulate and after passing through Riverside where nothing was happening, the wind abating with nightfall, we arrived at the night's lodgings a little after ten. I was pretty tired but after a good meal and a kip I felt OK in the morning, with no valid reasons for quitting, and managed to get out the door at 4:00 as planned.

Day 2 - Saratoga-Steamboat

It was a cold morning in Wyoming and I passed a handful of riders soon after starting, then no one until I found Ken Bonner taking a breather near the top of the Snowy Range climb. By that point it had started to warm, the temps having dipped to 30 on the lower slopes before the sun rose - probably less as my Garmin seems to overstate temperature. For a while I was breathing out foggy clouds and regretting not using the chemical toe warmers I'd packed in my drop bag. The summit was postcard-pretty and I had to resist the urge to stagger out to the little windswept turret in cleats for a better view. Instead I ate an old piece of jerky I found in my top-tube bag and set about the descent, which was long and fast and fun. The wind was favorable the whole way to Laramie and I wanted to enjoy it while I could, skipping the small town of Centennial as my momentum was good.

In Laramie I was ravenous so had a breakfast at McD's while waiting for them to start serving lunch. Then I had a shake, a McChicken and 20 Nuggets, 10 of which I thought it would be a good idea to take with me, checked off the info control and got ready for another long stretch of headwinds. Each mile seemed to take forever as I rode to the right of the rumble strip on a road that seemed to be going nowhere. Finally I got to Woods' Landing where I sat in the café and had an iced tea with a ton of sugar and filled all three bottles. Up the "stiff" (per cue-sheet) six-mile climb, which would be a fun climb on a normal ride but felt like going up the down escalator to me, and I crossed back into CO saying goodbye to WY and its rumble strips. I was really tired and my average speed was glacial but I figured I would rest in Walden and the wind would die down after dark. There were volunteers about 10 miles from Walden with water and snacks but I just kept on grinding away solo, thinking it would only get better from here (I was right).

In Walden I ate a hot dog and some chips and sprawled on a sofa at the control for half an hour, chatting with friendly support people and hearing tales of windy woe from further back on the route. Three California riders came along and I decided to ride out with them, but this alliance was even briefer than usual as the wind was still strong I and opted to get a head start while two of them got milkshakes. I stopped on a rise shortly before Muddy Pass to don my night attire but was immediately beset by a wrathful swarm of mosquitoes who infiltrated every crevice, so I crammed all my gear back in my bag and fled, swatting at my legs and body as I rode! I finally got to put my warm kit on a few miles later when I encountered Pascal Ledru waiting by the side of the road in a mosquito-free zone. I climbed Rabbit Ears pass, not a hard climb from that side, as the last of the sunlight drained away, negotiated the grooved surface between the summits, and managed the seven-mile descent into Steamboat without colliding with any of the deer who flashed by like pale-eyed spirits in the margins of my vision. I was completely shattered and mentally numb, but stayed up for an hour or so watching the Tour de France on TV and eating three bowls of the fantastic homemade chile on offer at the control. I realized I had carried the 10 McNuggets all the way from Laramie and decided I probably wouldn't need them any more, but kept them overnight just in case.

Day 3 - Steamboat-Walden via Grand Lake

I left at about a quarter to five with my roommate Gavin from Maryland, riding easy as we digested breakfast. I was happy that the hard part was done and we only had 180 miles today, and was looking forward to some nice scenery. We soon caught up with Kris and Barry from CA and then Ken Bonner, and we rode together for a while discussing sundry things. As we started to climb a series of small hills I left them behind and had a nice solo ride in the warming air to Yampa, passing a tranquil lake with patches of mist evaporating from its surface. I skipped the store in Yampa, and stopping only to strip off a layer or two, soon found myself at the start of Gore Pass. This was the most enjoyable climb of the ride for me, because it was a picture-perfect morning, there was no traffic, and the topography of the climb was engaging with an early steepish section leading into a rolling plateau area followed by another proper climb to the summit. Near the top I passed another CHC rider and was myself joined by Gavin, a stronger rider than me who explained he'd been delayed by a flat. We rode to the top together, took obligatory cheesy summit photos, and then savored the 15 mile, near-traffic-free descent which was probably the highlight of the whole brevet. I was getting tired and hungry but it was only a short ride into Kremmling (official residence of the Russian president) where Gavin and I hitched our hosses to the post and had a slap-up feed at the local saloon.

A few miles out of Kremmling (no sign of Putin) Gavin had another visitation from the puncture fairy and waved me on. Soon I found myself unexpectedly in the Colorado River canyon which was winding and suspiciously easy riding (could it be a tailwind?!) Hot Sulphur Springs looked like a quirky kind of place but I didn't stop and continued to Grand Lake, climbing a perky little hill on the way. After some navigational farting around in Grand Lake I located the checkpoint where the two Andies assiduously attended to my every need (more onions on your sandwich? sure why not) and I lingered a bit longer than I probably should have, causing my legs to feel heavy when I set off again 40 minutes later. On the way back down to Granby I passed and waved at 15-20 randos trundling up the hill in dribs and drabs, like penitents on an arduous pilgrimage, and I met a bunch more at the bottom where I resisted an ice-cream and refilled all three bottles for the long stretch back to Walden over Willow Creek Pass. I was with four others as we turned off the highway to start the climb but was dropped like a hot potato. Willow Creek is very similar to Gore Pass with a steep, gradual, steep profile, stretching its elevation gain out over 21 miles or so, but while I had been full of the joys of spring on Gore, I was weary on Willow Creek and crawled up it, having to resort to an external battery to keep my phone powered up as the dyno-hub was just turning too slowly for too long! But again there was nary a breath of wind and I was moving just fast enough to keep the bugs off. Another easy-on-the-eye pass, with the eponymous watercourse burbling through marshy terrain on one side and then the other, the many shades of green refulgent in the evening sunlight, and a freshly hollowed-out deer carcass bloating by the roadside halfway up as a reminder of pitiless Fate. Finally I reached the top where there was a support van with grapes which were strangely appealing. I put on some arm warmers and long gloves, though there was still half an hour of light left, and happily rolled down the other side of the pass.

Another marvelous moonlit ride ensued, the sun disappearing around the time I hit the tiny settlement of Rand, where I made a mental note to return with paint and add an "o" to the sign. I felt full of energy as I knew I was on the home stretch. I spent some time trying to outwit the infernal expansion cracks which scarred long sections of the road here but pretty soon realized the best tactic was just to put the hands on the tops and get it over with as quickly as possible. Swarms of minuscule flying things glittered in the moonlight as I passed over and alongside swampy creekbeds. I saw a taillight in the distance which gave me more motivation for my private TT and managed to catch and pass the phantom rider about three miles before Walden. The food was yet again hors categorie and after a massive plate of turkey and mashed potato with gravy I staggered off to my room, my roommate Gavin kindly hauling my bike up the stairs for me, and slept quite well until after five.

Day 4 - Walden-Louisville

The last stage was short compared to the others and with quite a big net downhill, so I was feeling more complacent than usual when I woke up. For the first time I was one of the later starters, and finding my way into a group of six or seven, passed several other riders on the chilly morning drag from Walden to the bottom of Cameron Pass. We struck Gould again but I had already staked my claim on day one, so on I went only stopping to take off surplus clothing at the bottom of the climb. Again I was slow going up the climb, which didn't matter at all, and the summit came much sooner than I was expecting it which is always a pleasant surprise. After a lovely descent I had a hearty eggy breakfast in Rustic and an easy ride down to Laporte marred only by a suddenly quite painful ass which had me doing the out of the saddle, coast, out of the saddle, coast thing the whole way down. I stopped at Vern's for more sustenance, a baked spud submerged in chile, and finally left in the scorching noonday sun with Dave Nelson and another rider called Paul. We were together for a while, then Paul dropped back as I think he preferred to be on his own with the traffic and debris on the shoulder. So I rode on with Dave, moving pretty well, at one moment on top of the world because we were almost done, the next moment all pissed that we still had three, two, one hours to ride. We were both tired and emotional as we finished with four and a bit hours left on the clock.

My moving average speed on all four days was slower than any other long ride I've done, which was obviously due to the wind and riding mostly alone but also to my underestimating the fatigue that builds up on a 1200k. All this meant I didn't get the six hours per night of sleep that I had fondly anticipated, never mind a chance to while away the evenings reading the thick book I packed in my drop bag! But I still got three to four hours each night which was luxurious compared to some folk. For the first time I felt my position was close to perfect, no knee or ankle pain and manageable posterior soreness. I did learn that lips aren't immune to sunburn; I'll pack a balm next time. Ate and drank just about enough, except the first day.

So all in all, much harder than I'd expected, but I habitually underestimate rides. The route is gorgeous with a good selection of climbs and the front-loading of the stages makes a lot of sense. I met a bunch of amusing and kind people - chief among them the volunteers - and not one objectionable person. For much of the first two wind-wracked days I was vowing not to do another brevet, never mind another 1200k, but of course by the finish I was already sketching plans for next year. And also vowing to bring the aero-bars next time I go anywhere near Walden.