Sunday, November 3, 2013

Heart of Arizona 200km Brevet

Ride Report

The Heart of Arizona, presented by the Bullshifters Bicycle Club, is actually three rides in one! This year about 18 riders signed up for the RUSA sanctioned 200km Brevet (124 miles), 75 rode the traditional Century (about 100 miles), and 20 rode the 44 mile 'Fun' ride up Yarnell Hill to the Kirkland Junction SAG and back.

Last year we miscalculated the drive time to Congress AZ and arrived more than an hour before the start. This year, I arrived just 10 minutes before the start of the 200km Brevet! I quickly checked in, collected my swag (great wool socks that match last years wool arm warmers - Thanks Bullshifters!!), assembled the bike, and rolled to the start with 3 minutes to spare.

Mike Sturgill was the RUSA trail boss today and the brevet riders rolled out at 7 am. It seemed like only about half the riders were ready, but with a slight quartering tailwind we rolled out for the 6 mile run to US 93.

Looking forward to a great day on the bike
While we rolled out together, the group didn't organize, and with a few riders way out in front, I settled into a nice solo pace. The temperature was perfect (low 50s) and winds were forecast to be light. The plan for today was to enjoy some scenic riding at a base pace. My only other goal was to try and minimize my time at the control/SAG stops. After a nice 6 mile warm up, the route turns north on to US93, aka. Joshua Tree Forest Parkway. The road lived up to its nickname as soon the highway cut into a forest of beautiful Joshua Trees.

Joshua Tree Forest in AZ!
Traffic was light, which was good, because a few times the narrow shoulder disappears. The wind was building from the right, so with a cross wind from the right, traffic gusts from the left, and less than 12 inches of shoulder to work with for much of this section, it was a relief to reach the descent to the first SAG at the Santa Maria River!

The Bullshifters break out the best for the SAG stops on this ride. At SAG #1 in addition to the regular fare, one of the members, Nana served hot roasted potatoes, perfectly prepared according to Jim Pettett's recipe! I ate a few and put more into an empty Carbo-Pro baggie for some hot yummy pocket food to enjoy later!
Nana's Hot Potatoes
As I rolled into SAG #1 another group of about 8 riders was rolling out? At first I thought it was from a different ride, but later figured out they were on the Century ride starting early. In any case, I was out of the SAG in 4 minutes and with a warm pocket I started the long climb to the Control #1 in Bagdad. Turning east on AZ97 the winds picked up to a full headwind. Mix in steep rollers and the group that was in front shattered, and I eventually caught the lead riders just before turning on AZ 96 to Bagdad.

Copper Wire Sculpture at Bagdad AZ
With the change in direction, and the venturi effect of riding up a drainage, the headwind became a nice tailwind and I was soon at the Convenience store in Bagdad. I reloaded my bottles and asked the clerk for her autograph on my brevet card. I stripped off my base layer and knee warmers, slathered on another layer of sunscreen and rolled out in under 10 minutes! The group of century riders must have decided to visit Bagdad since they were regrouping across from the store.

Rolling back down AZ96 I waved at the other brevet riders heading up to the first Control. A few of the century riders passed me on the descent and we played leapfrog to SAG #2. Being only 8 miles from Bagdad, and with full bottles, I rode through.

On the 7.6 mile climb toward Hillside AZ

With a bunch of folks stopped at the SAG#2, I had the road to myself for most of the climb to Hillside and the next SAG. A century rider caught me near the top and we visited as we rolled into SAG#3. With one bottle empty, and 28 miles to the Control at Wilhoit, I decided to stop and refill.

Happily, this SAG was stocked with Mountain Dew, so while a helpful Bullshifter volunteer held my bike, I quickly mixed a Carbo-Pro/Mountain Dew bottle, I was out in under 3 minutes!
Huge winds, great views outside Kirkland AZ
The route descends toward Kirkland AZ and turns south. The winds continued to build and the next 20 miles were right into it. There were a couple of century riders up the road and picking up the pace, I bridged up and joined them. We each took a couple of pulls but they were riding too hard for my taste, so I dropped back into my pace and let them go. With the headwind, my goal of riding base pace was out the window, because to keep any momentum in these conditions a tempo pace was necessary (like riding up a long hill). At least views were awesome, the cottonwood trees were just starting to turn and the craggy mountains gave me something to think about other than the wind!

I caught the two riders I let go and few others over the next 15 miles. With one mile before the Brevet route turned toward Wilhoit, I noticed a train had formed behind me! I let them pull through and headed north east for the 5.8 mile climb to Wilhoit. With the turn, a nice quartering tailwind pushed me toward the control at the Wilhoit Grocery Store. It was quite busy with locals. The owner was there and she was very interested in the ride and what riders might need at the store. I purchased a gallon of water, Mountain Dew, and a Starbucks Double Shot. I explained that my Carbo-Pro/Soda mix and pocket food (Shot Blocks and Potatoes) was working well today. On longer rides, or where things weren't going so well in the digestion department,  I went through my list of typical convenience store fare: Campbells Chunky Soup, chocolate milk, baked beans, Starbucks Frapachinno, potato chips. She confirmed that all of those items were in stock! She wished me well and I rolled out in under 10 minutes.

The route descends 800 feet in under 6 miles, so even with the wind, I made great time. Just before rejoining the main route, I waved as the other brevet riders were starting their climb to the control.
Ranch in Peeples Valley
The last SAG is at the bottom of the hill where the brevet route rejoins the century route. I stopped to say hello to Jim Pettett, but he was too busy making Root Beer Floats! Did I say the Bullshifters have the most awesome SAGs!

Leaving the SAG, it was back into the wind for the climb to Peeples Valley. Named for a prospecter from the 1860's this beautiful valley promises an afternoon headwind for the 5 or so miles to Yarnell. This year did not disappoint!  Glancing down at the computer while tucked into my areobars, my heart rate was at anaerobic threshold and riding on flat ground, I was going at a blistering 13 mile per hour pace!

The steep rollers outside Yarnell provided some respite from the wind, but built again rolling through town. Finally, reaching the downhill warning sign, I pointed my trusty steed downhill for the 6 mile 1800 foot E-ticket descent. Winds were fierce and my speed was held back because of it, but the road surface was good, and even with the fun turns, I was able to keep my speed above the posted limit of 35!

After ride barbeque
I rolled into the finish at 3:32 p.m.,  8 hours and 32 minutes after I started, Mike Sturgill signed my brevet card and said I was the first brevet rider to finish.

It was a great day on the bike, but I was very happy to put this one in the bag! I rode at a harder pace than planned because of the wind, but was able to keep the total stop time at 26 minutes for two control and two SAG stops.

I slipped out of my shoes and helmet, grabbed a plate and enjoyed the hospitality and company of the Bullshifters Bicycle Club! Thanks again for a great event!

Steve Atkins

Click here for Ride with GPS Data

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Whitney Classic 2013 Ride Report

September 29-30, 2013

The Whitney Classic is a unique and awesome cycling event. It started as a challenge that a handful of Summit Adventure instructors came up with; starting from the lowest point in the continental US (Badwater California -282 feet below sea level) and continuing to the highest point in the continental US  (Mt. Whitney 14,497 feet above sea level). That's 135 miles on the bike, then dismount and continue on the hiking trail 12 miles to the top! "Successfully" completing the Whitney in its early days meant covering that ground in 24 hours or less! Because the ride tackles 3 huge climbs and 2 descents, the 135 miles of cycling includes 15,400 feet of climbing! After that initial epic adventure over 30 years ago (totally self-supported), the Whitney has become Summit Adventure's main annual fund raising event. Today, because of logistics and permit issues with the forest service, the official ride includes only the bike portion. To help increase participation and fund raising about 10 years ago, relay teams were added as a category to take on the challenge!

The Whitney is also very addiciting. Most participants have ridden the event many times. I rode my first Whitney in 1999, and have ridden each event since 2001! This is the story of my 14th Whitney Classic!

What's it going to be this year, team or solo?

Dow Villa Hotel in Lone Pine CA
Last year your humble corespondent organized a group of Arizona riders to ride the Whitney in Audax style (each riding solo, but staying together as a group). 3 of the 5 team members completed the whole ride; Michael Atkins, Carlton van Leuven, and Ryan Snow, (2012 ride report here). With the 1200km Big Wild Ride Randonnee on the calendar in July, and maintaining form through August and September, tackling this years event solo should not be a problem. Plus, by riding solo, I could get last year's DNF 'Monkey' off my back! So solo it is! Now who else could be hoodwinked into this crazy ride:

Carlton van Leuven: He was in, until his daughter announced her pending nuptials. Carlton wisely deferred this years Whitney, but joined for most of the big training rides this summer.

David Edwards: David was away at college in Ohio last year and wanted to join the Audax team, but couldn't make the logistics work. This year he is attending school here in Arizona, and was eager to tackle the Whitney solo!

Joe Tansill: Joe has ridden the Whitney 5 times and after missing last year, wanted to put a team together. He formed Tean Tanz with his sons Daniel and Patrick.

Lessons were learned last year; each rider/team would need their own SAG (support and gear) crew . The best news, Debby was willing to drive SAG. Karen and NatalieTansill would SAG Team Tanz, and Krista Anderson would SAG David.
Heading out onto the course for the shakedown ride
Funny, it doesn't feel like a 190 bpm pace!


We left Tempe Thursday evening and after a quick overnight in San Bernardino, we arrived in Lone Pine at about noon on Friday. Happily, the friendly folks at the Dow Hotel prepared our room early and we checked in shortly after lunch! The Dow is the  place to stay in Lone Pine. Great history, comfortable lobby, and the owners keep it in great shape!

Deb grabbed a nap while the faithful steed was reassembled and it was off for the obligatory shakedown ride.  Basically just head out about 10 miles on CA 190, then U turn back to Lone Pine. Its a great opportunity to loosen the legs after hours in the car, but more importantly to make sure all systems are 'Go' on the bike.

Mt. Whitney and the Alabama Hills
Rolling out of town my computer indicated that my heart rate was at full race pace. Interesting;  just spinning along at warm-up pace should not generate that kind of reading! It dropped back to normal, but spiked several times during the ride. Probably a bad battery in the sensor strap. Keeping your pace under control is critical on the Whitney, so this was just the sort of problem you want to find on shakedown, not during the event. A quick stop into the hardware store to replace the battery after the ride solved the problem!

Debby and Karen 
Returning to Lone Pine, the Summit Crew was just opening up the registration table. After lots of hugs and hello's, the check in was complete, t-shirts and other race swag stowed in the truck, and it was back to the Dow to chill before dinner.

Keeping with tradition of the past few years, the team met at the Pizza Factory for the pre-ride pasta meal. Janet Nye (Summit Board Member and solo rider) and her SAG team (Husband Alan and daughter Libby) joined us for dinner during a very busy Friday Night at the Pizza Factory!

After dinner we headed down to the Lone Pine park for the traditional praise and worship service. Awesome musicians from Julian (near San Diego) have made the trip the past several years and have become a special part of the Whitney. We enjoyed songs, scripture, and words of inspiration from Tom Smith, Summit's executive director. Kelli Stansell, event director, also provided some last minute instructions. Then back to the Dow to try and relax and get some sleep!


Time to finish packing, ice the coolers, and grab a light meal before leaving Lone Pine. The event does not start until 3 pm, but the start line is 120 miles away. So we set out at about 9:30 for the 50 mile drive to Panamint Springs. The owner of the resort provides a free pancake breakfast, and there is a mandatory rider meeting to go over rules for the permits, SAG and rider tips, and last minute instructions.
"Why do they do this?"

"Start slow..."
After the meal, its back in the cars for stops at Stovepipe Wells (for last minute supplies and post cards) and Furnace Creek (change into riding kit in the air conditioned restrooms at the visitor center). We cut our time a little short leaving Stove Pipe, and arrived just in time at Badwater for the pre-race photos. Luckily for us, the event staff arrived after us!

At the start in Badwater

Cool day in Death Valley
After a briefing from a park ranger, we lined up for the start and at 3:10 we were off!

Ready to go!
David and Patrick Tansill

The Valley

The fast teams moved to the front and headed out of sight! David and I settled into an easy pace and were soon joined by Team Tanz. As is tradition, the whole Tanz team started, but after a few miles they started their rider rotation. We rode the next 45 miles together to Stovepipe Wells.  The temperature increased, but winds were light and conditions could not have been more favorable for a controlled ride through the valley.

David and Daniel Tansill
Because of vehicle restrictions, Krista joined Deb in the Suburban for the first segment to Furnace Creek and was a quick study providing fantastic SAG support. At Furnace Creek she grabbed David's car and we were greeted by our SAGs about every 5-6 miles to check on us. Deb and Krista had lots of time to get acquainted, waiting for us to roll through and spring into action. They knew exactly what we needed and were able to provide perfect handoffs. In fact, we did not stop rolling until we reached the Wild Rose SAG stop 51 miles into the ride to put on our lights and reflective gear!

We were also cheered on by the SAG for Team Tanz! Lot's of smiles, pictures, and good times were had by all as we rolled through the first 45 miles of the event.

Ready for a bottle change in Death Valley

Towne Pass

Heading up Towne's Pass
The climb to Towne Pass is about 17 miles long and gains 5200 feet. We were making great time and with the super SAG support we did not need to stop or even slow down until we reached the Wild Rose Stop about half-way up the pass. Deb and Krista had our lights and reflective gear ready when we rolled in, 3:15 elapsed time from the start. We were out of the stop in five minutes and back on our bikes for the steepest section of the climb (8%). Another 1.5 hours of climbing put us at the top of the pass.

We stopped for food and arm warmers. After rolling only a few hundred meters down the pass, I started to get cold (wind chill and wet kit); so we quickly flagged down the SAG vehicles and put on jackets and leg warmers. Back on the bikes and seconds later, with all lights on high, and a firm grip on the bars we were bombing down the pass at 51.8 mph!

The course drops down to 2000 feet in about 12 miles, so in the warmth of Panamint Valley we flagged the SAGs down again to strip off a layer or two. We told them to head to the next SAG stop at Panamint Springs about 5 miles up the road.

Fr. Crowley/Hillcrest

What does down must go up on the Whitney! The next climb is about 12 miles and gains about 3000 feet to Hillcrest. There is a SAG stop at the Fr. Crowley lookout near the top and after the steep climbing. Our plan was to take a break at Fr. Crowley, have some soup (Kelli stocked it specifically for us last year and again this year!), and change into dry kit (clothes).Click here for a link for a great article about Fr. Crowley and history of the Inyo County area!

The climbing starts easy then quickly tilts up after leaving Panamint. As is typical, we faced a light headwind on the climb. The moon was not up and the stars were out in full force. We talked about how we were doing and feeling. David was concerned that the cold air was constricting his breathing, and we settled into a easier climbing pace and started the countdown to potato soup at Fr. Crowley.

This is my favorite portion of the event, no traffic, awesome stars, and easier climbing. It can be a spiritual and emotional time and was especially this year. With all the normal 'man defenses' worn off from the rigors of the ride, I always feel especially close to God climbing this hill!

When we rolled into the SAG, Deb and Krista had been there and warned the volunteers we were approaching and looking forward to SOUP! We had joked on the climb that after being focused on soup for so long, if it was gone, there could be a terrible headline: "SAG volunteers massacred by chain wielding crazed cyclists!"

That's what the Whitney does to your head. One minute you are near tears in a spiritual closeness to GOD, the next talking about how bad things could happen if there is no soup at the next SAG.

Well, as we rolled in, they all yelled "NO SOUP FOR YOU!" Lucky for them, the soup was ready. After a 20 minute break, we were back on the road with dry kit and warm full tummies!

We stopped once more at Hillcrest to add layers for the next descent. At that point David realized he left his wallet, gels, and cliff bars on the roof of his car at the SAG. When Krista rolled in, they were gone! We layered up, and Krista doubled back to look for them and Deb went back to double SAG duty.

After Hillcrest the course tilts down and again we were making great time to the next SAG at Darwin Turnoff. Just before we reached the SAG, Krista flashed by in the car. Dave says, I wonder if that means she found his stuff. SHE DID! It was spread over 150 yards of the road outside of the Fr. Crowley SAG. We praised God and got back on the bikes.

Back to two SAGs we were back to full speed, and arrived in Lone Pine at a little before 1 am.

Portal Climb

We downed coffee and reloaded drinks for the last 14 miles to the finish. The first two are nice and flat through town. Both Deb and Krista stopped at the McDonalds drive through and David and I made our way through town. Soon we were on the steep slopes of the portal road. I mentioned to David that we need to pace ourselves on the bottom half, because the real climbing is in the last 5 miles (grades 8-13%). About half-way up we realized we had a shot of finishing in under 13 hours, and with both of us feeling good, we dialed up the pace. The last 3.6 miles took nearly 45 minutes, but when I crossed the line, my computer showed 12 hours 26 minutes, a personal best for me.

Just a little winded at the finish!
Deb quickly wrapped me in a blanket and Kelli prepared a hot chocolate. Tom took the Finish Photo and I crawled into a nearby Summit sleeping bag to stay warm! David rolled in just a few minutes later to high fives, hugs, and congratulations!
"Its in the Bag!"

Final thoughts and Thank You

This was my 14th Whitney and 8th Solo Effort. Riding with great friends and introducing David Edwards to the madness that is the Whitney was very special.

Of course having my best friend as my SAG crew supporting and encouraging me made this one of my most enjoyable and rewarding Whitney Classics.

Thank you for supporting our ride financially. We have raised nearly $12,000 so far! There is still time to support our ride and send in your pledge to support Summit Adventure. Click here to donate online!

Click here for more photos.

Click here for GPS data

Thanks again for your support!

Steve Atkins

Phil 4:13 “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me”

What's next?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

End of World to Kelvin End of Pavement Loop x3

Safety Pullout at the End of the World

Ride Report
September 14, 2013

Just one year ago, Carlton van Leuven, Michael Atkins and your humble correspondent rode the loop from the top of the "End of the World" climb down toward Winkleman to the "End of Pavement" on the Kelvin-Florence Highway. A ride so nice, we would do it thrice! With two weeks to the Whitney Classic Fund Raiser we wanted to dial in our equipment and get some high angle climbing in (2012 ride report).

David and Carlton at the start
Fast forward one year to today. Conditions were very similar (cool at the start, hot at the finish, a gentle breeze from the south), and two of us returned with a fresh victim, David Edwards. Last year David was attending the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio and Michael was attending school in the here in Arizona. David really wanted to join us on the Whitney last year, but could not because of his school commitment. This year the roles are reversed, with David here and Michael in Ohio, it will be David heading to Death Valley.

Rolling out at dawn
I picked Carlton up at 0500 and we were at the safety pullout by 0600. David met us there and we were ready to go at 0615! Last year it was very cold on the first descent, so we all wore long sleeves. We checked traffic and rolled out and down the 10%+ grade. In no time, we were bombing down the highway at 50+ mph. It was quite breezy on the descent, and the wind actually held us back.

After a short climb the route takes a long descent past the ASARCO Ray Works open pit copper mine to the Kelvin turnoff. From there we rolled past the homes in Riverside to the Gila River. After the bridge, the road angles up at 15+% for a short stout climb to the end of the pavement on the highway.

David and Carl approach the turnaround
It only took us about 20 minutes to cover the 10 miles to the end of the pavement. I joked with David that the goal is to beat that time to get back to the top!  It would take us an hour to get back!

The road is steep and rough back down to the bridge, and a set of RR tracks on the far side of the bridge call for a cautious descent. Although with each successive lap we found better lines, increased our speed, and 'bunny hopped' the tracks to keep our momentum through Riverside.

Carl noted that the packing box for a big screen TV on the back porch of one of the houses was still there from last year!

Back on the main highway, the route climbs back past the main entrance of the ASARCO Ray Works. The pavement is in good condition, and while the grade continually is changing, it is a pleasant climb.
Big Ass Tonka Toys!

On the first lap five huge off road dump trucks were just firing up to start their day, on the second lap two had headed into the mine, and on the last lap they were all working!

On each lap, the colors changed as the sun rose higher in the sky. With the different minerals in the tailings heap, it looks like a minature man-made painted desert!

Coming Soon?

On the second lap, I stopped to photograph this memorial at the Gila River bridge. I have ridden past here many times and have always enjoyed seeing the flag against the beautiful riparian desert backdrop. The sign promises an additional memorial that will be 'coming soon!' Maybe next year.

The short descent back to the Gila River

On the second lap, the temperature was still cool before the real climbing began, so we compared nutrition strategies for the ride. I was trying a different mix (Carbo-Pro and Coke), David was using power bars, and Carlton left his food on the counter at home. WHAT! He as half-way through the ride on water only! I had a bag of Swedish Fish in my bento bag and offered them to Carl. Never underestimate the power of sugar Fish!
Enjoying the Fish

Wondering when the hard climbing will start!

The last two miles to the "End of the World" climb at an average 10% grade. Of course some sections are "above average." The first lap: Cool, fresh legs, not so bad. We reload our bottles and head out and return for the second lap: Sun is up, temperature is climbing, and sweat is pouring out from everywhere. Another reload and we set out for the third lap: Temperature is officially hot, eyes are blinded from the salt/sweat pouring out from under our helmets, legs and back complaining loudly, and finally reaching the top we go right for the truck and douse ourselves with ice water from the cooler!

Some where along the way on the last lap David rode off the front, so by the time Carlton and I limped in on the final lap, he was already in his car and heading home!

We covered 61 miles and climbed 6,500 feet in about 4.5 hours of great riding.

The Whitney Classic is only 2 weeks away! I plan to ride solo and Debby will be my super SAG driver. This ride is all about raising money for Summit Adventure. Course income provides for only 45 percent of the Summit budget. The rest comes through fund raising events such as the Whitney Classic. I served as a member of the Summit Board of Directors and know how critical a successful Whitney is to the financial health of the ministry. Debby, Mark, Michael and I have all participated on Summit courses over the years and have been deeply impacted by this great ministry! We all love Summit. That’s why I ride!

If you have already donated, thank-you! If not I would appreciate your consideration, its easy, just click here to go to my personal fund raising page!

Hey, send Summit some $$!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013 Whitney Classic Fund Raising Appeal

At the base of the Townes Pass in 2012
Yes, its that time of year again…The 32th Annual Whitney Classic Bike Ride, Summit Adventure’s main fundraising event, will take place on September 28th-29th .The Whitney is an adventurous 135-mile bike ride that starts at 3:00 p.m. at Badwater, Death Valley, California (282 ft. below sea level), continues through the night and finishes the next morning at the portals at Mt. Whitney (8365 feet above sea level). The ride includes three major climbs of 17 miles, 13 miles and 13 miles, two of which by Tour de France classifications are considered “Out of Category” which to you and me means “really, really steep.” Total elevation gain for the ride is 15,300 feet. 
Usually over 110 at the start!
This is my 14th Whitney! What, are you nuts? Yes, nuts and addicted to this awesome ride. I love to ride, I love Summit Adventure, and I love this event. Nothing matches the awesome course, camaraderie of the participants, and incredible support from the Summit Staff and volunteers. Many of you have been loyal supporters of Summit all these years. I cannot thank you enough!

This year I will make my 8th solo effort. My awesome SAG driver from the Alaska Big Wild Ride, Debby Atkins will provide support and encouragement! After our great adventure in Alaska, we are looking forward to putting an exclamation point on this year's cycling season at the 2013 Whitney Classic!
In the past thirteen years, through your generous support, we have contributed over $135,000 to Summit Adventure! Thank you! Here’s where you come in: I have set a goal to raise $10,000 for this year’s Whitney. Course income provides for only 45 percent of the Summit budget. The rest comes through fund raising events such as the Whitney Classic. I served as a member of the Summit Board of Directors and know how critical a successful Whitney is to the financial health of the ministry. Debby, Mark, Michael and I have all participated on Summit courses over the years and have been deeply impacted by this great ministry! We all love Summit. That’s why I ride!
Please join my support team and make a donation today! (Donate online by clicking here

Note: As a thank you for donations over $100, I will send you a Whitney Classic T-Shirt after the event! 
Please pray with me for a safe, successful event. If you have any questions, or would like to just catch up, please call me at 602-549-5331 or at home at 480-775-1682. I would love to hear from you. Thank you and God bless!

Check out Summit’s web page by clicking here             
Thank you for your continued support!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Alaska Big Wild Ride 1200 km

July 2013
Ride Report
Worthington Glacier on the road to Valdez

The Sell

I was thinking about trying to get a 1200km ride on the calendar this year, and the easiest way to make that happen is to work it around a vacation 'a la PBP.' Just before mass one morning I am cruising the RUSA website and see the logo for the Alaska Big Wild Ride (BWR). Deb and I have been wanting to visit Alaska for years, here was my chance! While Deb was warming up with the band at church (she plays the flute) before the procession, I say, "what do you think about going to Alaska for a cruise?" She says, "why is there a bike race involved?" Saved by the bells, and mass starting, I could only grin and return to my pew and pray! 

We couldn't work out a cruise, but we did the next best thing. We rented a RV in Anchorage and toured the Kenai Peninsula and Valdez for the week prior to the event. We had a blast, a full photo report is here. Generally; we took glacier cruises out of Seward and Valdez, visited the Alaska Sea Life Center (Seward), Pratt Museum (Homer), Anchorage Museum, Alyeska Tram, Kenai, Whittier, and the Matanuska Glacier!

We had an awesome time, and by the time the BWR was ready to start, Deb was an expert at slinging the 31 foot RV around like it was a Mini Cooper!

Check-in and rider meeting

Our RV park in Valdez had cable, so after catching the final stage of the Tour de France and attending a mass at the local Catholic parish, I was able to meet Kevin Turinsky get my bike checked and pick up copies of the final cue sheets. Then it was back to the RV to see if Chris Fromme still won the tour during the stage re-run, and to try and catch some sleep before the 11 pm rider meeting.
Kevin Turinsky - Alaska RBA and BWR Trail Boss
Kevin Turinsky, Alaska RUSA Regional Brevet Administrator and Trail Boss for this event provided the 45 riders that would line up for the BWR with a schedule of events for the next 90 hours. He outlined the procedures to be followed at the controls and described the areas where we were likely to encounter construction. We became very familiar with road construction on our RV tour in the week before encountering many sections of road under various stages of repair. We would encounter many more during the BWR.

The meeting wrapped up and we milled around parking lot swatting mosquitoes and enjoying some blues/rock from a local trio that added to the festive nature of the start. Lots of photos were taken, most were overpowered by the reflective gear we were all wearing! The race photographer pointed the headlights of two vehicles at us and voila, great shots!
In the glare of a pickup's headlights at the start line

Start and Day 1

We rolled out at midnight as a single group, and the bunch slowly picked up the pace on the 15 or so miles of the pancake flat run toward the start of the 15 mile climb to Thompson Pass. There was no significant wind and we were clipping along at 20 miles an hour at an easy pace. It was fun to see Debby swing the RV into the passing lane and overtake the bunch on her way to control at Tonsina Lodge. She would get there in 90 minutes or so, and sleep there until I would arrive between 6 and 7 am.

I thought, nice we will all get the base of the first climb at no effort at all. Then I notice, that mushy, bouncy feeling you get just before the rear wheel flats out. D'oh! Flat! I pull out of the pace line and pull off. I get the tube changed quickly, find and remove the fragment of steel cable that caused my delay, but the freight train is well down the tracks. I figured I won't see another tail light until the climbing starts and didn't.

On the climb I caught a few riders but as I crested the top, I was blasted with a cold wet wind out of the north. I stopped to put on my layers and rain jacket. It was a cold wet descent to the control at Tsaina Lodge (38 miles). I reloaded my bottles with Hammer SE and a Coke and was on my way. While there was no rain the in the forecast, I remembered the admonition the Bob Marshall Wilderness Forest Ranger gave my hiking buddy Bill Boyle; "Don't you boys be fooled by the going in weather!" My rain pants were up the road waiting at the next control!

The rain eased off on the run to the next control but the north wind continued to build. I rolled into the control at Tonsina River Lodge (82 miles) at about 0600 cold and wet. I grabbed a hot coffee in the lodge and had Deb warm up a can of beans in the RV. I was back on the road in 20 minutes. Deb packed up the RV and headed up to the Control at the Sourdough Roadhouse so she could take another long nap. There were several great views of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in this section. Its route generally paralleled highway we were following all the way to Fairbanks.

Trans-Alaska Pipe line

The road gently climbed and the rain did not reappear, but the wind continued to build to the next control at the Hub of Alaska in Glennallen (119 miles). There were a big  bunch of riders there. I grabbed a Frappachino, reloaded my bottles at the Tesoro convenience store and was out of there in about 10 minutes. About an hour later a big train of riders came by and I jumped in. It was nice to have some relief from the wind and we worked well together.

This section introduced us to the 'loose gravel' sections we would encounter often on the highway. Sections 50-300 meters long of what at first looks like chip seal, but was made up of much larger stones (large marble sized) glued to the surface with tar. In any case it really disrupted our pace and was extremely uncomfortable to ride on, I affectionately referred to it as Alaska Chip Seal!

Mosquito incubator and 'Alaska Chip Seal' section
We rolled into the Sourdough roadhouse (154 miles) about 1215 and were held up by the race organizers while they determined road construction conditions up the road, which was OK since it was lunch time. Deb fired up some soup. The mosquitoes were so bad here, and like most stops, Deb refused to leave the shelter of the camper. Any unfortunate pest that found its way into the camper would find itself at the receiving end of Deb's fly swatter. Yes they were big enough to require the full sized swatter, and as the event progressed, many carcases littered the RV!  After 45 minutes the volunteers determined it was good to go so I rolled out alone, most of the bunch was still enjoying their lunch in the road house.
New road section before the construction, Delta Jct is the first sleep stop
After a few more sections of Alaska Chip Seal we were treated to 15-20 miles of fresh pavement before we hit the patch of road the organizers were concerned about. There were deep potholes, but in the daylight they were easy to avoid, and more importantly, easier to ride than the Alaska Chip Seal sections! I rolled into the control at Paxson lodge (189 miles) about 1400 and took a 20 minute break before pressing on.

Summit Lake
The road continued to climb to Summit Lake with great mountain views. The wind was still strong out of the north, and was quite chilly blowing off the surface of the cold lake. The race photographers set up a spot for taking photographs and I took a short break here, thinking that most of the climbing for the day was over and the next sections were generally downhill.
Near Summit Lake
The winds were actually stronger on the downhill side, so it was just as hard work going down as it was going up. I was joined by another rider who's rear shifter failed, so he had only two gears to work with and could only pull occasionally as we fought through the wind. The next control was the Lodge at Black Rapids (231 miles). The lodge actually sits atop a small bluff with a very steep dirt driveway. It was so steep, Deb could not get the RV up the driveway. It reminded me of the steep driveway at the Elgin Community center on the Tombstone 600, only steeper! I checked in and rolled back down the driveway to grab a light dinner in the RV. I leaned my bike against the camper and went inside.

A few minutes later a Cessna 172 rolls out of the garage and starts spooling up for take off just in front of the camper on a short gravel landing strip (Apparently the shoulder doubles as a landing strip!). As the pebbles began to pelt the RV before he took off, I suggested to Deb that we should move the camper back. I run to the back window to make sure its clear and Deb starts to back up, then we hear a bump -- Oh crap, my bike! It was leaning against the RV. Luckily it was not damaged, but it was only inches from the front wheel! The Cessna took off and we were both relieved the bike was OK. I must admit however, that at that point in the ride, if the bike had been ruined, I would have been happy to stop the ride right there!

Back on the bike after a light dinner and only 231 miles into the ride I was feeling the effects of 20 hours of riding, most of it unprotected into the wind. I still had 3 hours of riding to the sleep control. The course leaves the river and climbs 700 feet to a tundra area before it levels off and heads to Delta Junction.
Roadside pullout at the pipeline
The sun was finally starting to set at 2000 and I was wet from perspiration on the climb. I stopped at the top to put on arm, leg warmers, and my reflective vest when Chip and Clint from the DC Randonneurs flashed by. I hopped on the bike and managed to catch them. We worked together on the last 17 miles to Delta at a good pace that helped the miles go by. Also we saw quite a few Moose and other wildlife on the high tundra. We reached an Army base outside of town that seemed to go on forever, but we finally found the sleep stop at about 2300. I checked in and returned to the RV for a shower and dinner. I crawled into the sack at about midnight and set the alarm for 0400.

Day 1: 270 miles; 11,000 feet of climbing; 23 hours

Day 2

Deb set her iPad alarm as a backup, however it was still on AZ time, so I rolled out of bed and started to get dressed, and then noticed it was 0300 not 0400; so I crawled back into bed for another hour. It seemed like my head hit the pillow just as the 0400 alarm went off. So with a light breakfast of pasta and coffee, I was back on the road at 0455 (control closing time). Deb moved the RV up to the next control at Midway Lodge.

This next section was the low point of the ride for me. I had not recovered from Day 1 and could not generate much power on the rollers. I would get sweaty on the uphills and chilled on the downhills. Three guys from the Pennsylvania Randonnuers flashed by and I was only able to hold their wheels until the next steep uphill. Halfway to the control I was toast. Deb encouraged me on and I finally made the control at Midway Lodge (317 miles). We decided to take a long breakfast break and Deb cooked up some bacon and egg burritos. I also took a 45 minute nap, spending nearly 2 hours at the control!

When I was finally ready to go, Deb fired up the campers sound system. To the motivating sounds of Darius Rucker's 'Wagon Wheel' I loaded up the up the bike. I also plugged in my ear buds so I could have a little music to help motivate me. I have never ridden with ear buds, wanting to hear what was coming up from behind. But these allowed the road noise in so I set the volume low enough to hear the music and the road, set my iPhone on shuffle and was off.

The wind was starting to build from the south (tail wind), and since the next 50 miles to Fairbanks were flat to slightly downhill, and with my new found music motivation (did I also mention I shot my first 5-Hour Energy here) I set off. I don't normally try anything new on a long brevet, but I was ready to try anything and everything to get motivated.

It worked. I was able to hold a steady pace of 18-20 mph. Since most of the bunch passed me during my nap at Midway, I didn't see any riders until I reached the control at the Fairbanks Safeway (368 miles). I took another long break and another 45 minute nap before heading to the next control at Nenana, about 50 miles away.

This was the only photo of Skinny Dicks suitable for a family blog!
Skinny Dick's Halfway Inn (396 miles) was ironically halfway to the next control so I rolled in to refill my bottles. A few randonneurs were milling about and one ordered a beer. I thought, I already feel terrible, what can it hurt, so I ordered an Alaskan Summer (my label of choice on this trip) and a bag of chips. One of the guys noticed an inflatable doll among the many off color items in the inn, and took a photo of it propped up on his bike. I think we were all a little spent from the effort on Day 1! Fortified with salt and alcohol, I rolled out to the next control at Nenana (419 miles).
On the road to Nenana!
It was hot and the RV generator overheated so Deb could not run the AC. There was plenty of flow-through ventilation so it was not too uncomfortable, as long as you didn't stand around outside. Why, because if you are not moving, the mosquitoes converged in the hundreds. At natural break stops, I would get 3-4 bites in minutes! Again another long break before heading out for the last 50 miles to the sleep stop in Healy.

The wind was still coming from the south, so it was back on the nose from Fairbanks to the sleep stop in Healy. I reloaded my bottles at a campground halfway to Healy at the Tatianika Trading Post and RV park. Again the mosquitoes were thick and I received a fresh round of welts in the 5 or so minutes it took to reload and get back on the road. The wind seemed to finally abate at the sun started to set. Just then I see a sign indicating road construction for the next 15 miles! Most of those miles were on graded gravel and dirt. It was actually easier to ride than Alaskan Chip Seal, but the dirt section lasted 11 miles!
11 miles of this before the sleep stop in Healy
Since it was 10:30 pm traffic was light, however every 15 minutes or so a semi tandem trailer rig would flash by at what seemed like 70-80 miles an hour. The posted speed limit was 65 in the construction zone! Really! At least it was mostly downhill and the views were great. After about an hour bouncing through loose sections, trying to pick a line of solid dirt, and diving to the side when the suicidal truckers blasted through, I reached fresh pavement that would deliver me to the sleep stop in Healy. After missing the turnoff for the control, I finally rolled in, again about midnight. Shower, eat, sleep! The Healy control (475 miles) closed at 0625, so I set the alarm for 0600 to try and get some extra recovery sleep.

Day 2 : 205 miles; 6700 feet climbing, 20.75 hours

Day 3

Totem Motel in Healy - Some riders stayed here
After a light pasta breakfast, I rolled out at 0700. Again, I could not generate reasonable power, and since I opted for a long sleep stop most of the riders were already up the road. The first 45 miles of the day were generally uphill into a breeze which was very frustrating. The views were breathtaking and I was able to limp into the commercial zone just outside the Denali Park entrance. I was a bottle low, so I jumped into a convenience store to reload. Another 5-Hour energy AND a Starbucks Double shot and I was out the door.

Commercial area near the park entrance
Hard riding was offset by great views
The caffeine was just starting to kick in as I rolled into the control Cantwell (513 miles). The volunteer cheerfully noted that I was the Lantern Rouge (last rider in the group)!I had texted Deb earlier and told her to make my breakfast burritos to go. So I reloaded my bottles and after a very short stop was on the road. I was very happy to have my private chef, because I was able to get out on short order with breakfast in my pocket. A few of the riders commented that the Cantwell Broad Pass Cafe would not earn top honors in speed or hygiene!

The P Wagon and Queen of the Camp in Cantwell
I was enjoying my burrito when Clint from the DC Ranonneurs caught me from behind. The caffiene and burritos were working, and the wind seemed to finally tamp down to a reasonable level. Clint served the Navy at one time and lived near Annapolis. We ended up riding and talking together most of the way to the next two controls. I began to notice that my left ankle and right knee were getting irritated.
Good road surface, company, and generally downhill!
Clint from Annapolis

Lake in Big Pass
We saw a few riders up the road and picked up our pace. Soon we joined four Texans including Pam, who I rode with for a short time on the 2011 PBP! Clint saw a buddy further up the road so he powered up, but I stayed behind with the Texans enjoying their pace and conversation! Plus my knee and ankle did not like the faster pace.
Clint and I catch the Texas Crew
A few miles before the next control at Hurricane Gulch, we were stopped again and had to wait for a pilot car. It was a good spot to take a break and our next control was only a few more miles up the road.
Flag Stop
I took a 20 minute stop at the pullout at Hurricane Gulch (550 miles) and had a light snack in the RV. I pushed out with the Texans and some DC Randonners, but could not hold a pace with my knee and ankle flare-up. Debby texted that there was a great restaurant and outdoor patio with a view of McKinley at the next stop, so I put my head down and pressed on.
The end is near!
I rolled into Mary's McKinley View Lodge (589 miles) at about 1600 and would spend about an hour there enjoying a sit down lunch of chicken strips, fries, and a beer! Debby was happy to get out of the RV and the bugs were not bad there at all. It turned out that the owner of the lodge was also familair with the trading post Debby's grandmother ran on the Navajo reservation in AZ!

Many randonneurs came through and we took lots of photos on the deck. It was nice to spend some time (about an hour) off the bike enjoying the views and the company!
At Mary's McKinley View Lodge
Mt. McKinley (Denali)
I rolled out with the DC Randonnuers, but could not hold their wheels on the uphills with my bum ankle/knee. So the next 36 miles I enjoyed alone. Reaching the Talkeetna Spur road, I stopped to get some water and a Frappachino at the Tesoro store. When I rolled out a rider from the Davis California bike club caught me and we worked together to hammer out the last 14 miles to the Swiss Alaskan Inn control (640 miles).

It was about 2000 (8pm) and too early for me to stop riding, so we decided to move up the road to Willow. Since it is not an official control, I could not get support there. So I loaded everything I would need for the run to Wasilla on my bike, and changed into my final kit for the last 120 miles to the finish.
Rocking the San Tan kit for the last leg
I left the Inn at 2100 and figured it would take a little better than three hours to cover the 44 miles to Willow. The sun was setting and suddenly the a car on front of me slams on the breaks. That meant wildlife, yes, two more moose crossing the road! There was some road construction, but the surface was fresh unpainted pavement and the winds again tamped down making the flat run to Willow somewhat enjoyable. With about an hour to go, I plugged the headphones back in for motivation. I hit Willow just after midnight.

Day 3: 208 miles, 5800 feet climbing, 18 hours

Day 4 

I decided that my lack of power the last two mornings was related to eating too much breakfast, so this morning I simply grabbed a hot coffee at the Townsite Food Market and added sugar until it started to pile up on the bottom of the cup. I slammed it down and started eating Shot Blocks and Honey Waffles on the road. That seemed to work much better, and even though it started to rain shortly after leaving Willow, I was at the Wasilla Wal Mart (713 miles) control just before 0700. Just as the Wal Mart in Wasilla came into sight, Gavin and some of the Pennsylvania crew rolled by, having made their stop at the Starbucks. By the time I hobbled into Wal Mart to get a receipt, explain to a couple of McDonalds employees what I was up to, and back to the RV to pick up my burrito to go, 30 minutes went by!

Back on the road, the route had us on the Glenn Highway, a 4 lane divided highway. The suction/draft of the heavy traffic was helpful for forward progress, although somewhat disconcerting when you had to cross exits and on-ramps! Debby flew by in RV on her way to the finish. After 10 miles of 'interstate highway' style riding, the route exits the freeway and picks its way through Anchorage to the hotel finish control near the downtown train station. Luckily the organizers painted these handy directional signs on the pavement:
Almost there
The last miles of any 1200 are always agonizing. This one was no different, unable to get out of the saddle, it was especially difficult to get over the steep rollers approaching town. The last 10 or so miles flattened out and soon I was at the finish line at the Comfort Inn Ship Creek (753 miles) and greeted by the ever present and 'Best SAG driver ever' Debby and some race volunteers. I rolled in at 1051 for an official time of 82 hours 51 minutes.
Very happy to have this one in the bag!

Day 4: 68 miles, 2900 feet climbing, 6 hours


One of the volunteers took my bike and hosed it off while I completed the brevet paperwork (unexpected and very much appreciated). Then Deb and I returned to the RV to get street clothes and head to the control room in the hotel for real showers. Arriving we noticed an extreme lack of beer in the room. Having about 10 Alaskan Summers left in the P Wagon, Debby and Gavin scrambled back across the street and stocked the brevet room with cold ones which we and the other riders enjoyed greatly.

We cleaned up, took a nap, returned the RV, attended the post-ride banquet and celebration after the official close time of 6 pm. All the riders that had not abandoned made the time cutoff! Then we waited in the lobby of the hotel until 10 pm, and took the shuttle to the airport for our 'red eye' flight home. My son Michael picked us up at the airport and dropped us home and we slept most of the day away.

This was my fourth 1200km brevet (PBP 2007, 2011; Shenandoah 2008); and looking back I think it was the second hardest. It clearly ranks #1 in terms of majestic natural scenery! Kevin Turinsky and the Alaska RUSA Volunteers did an awesome job organizing and supporting the ride through spectacular and every changing backdrops of incredible beauty.

This was the only time I had a support crew on a RUSA event, and Debby could not have done a better job. She knew what I needed when I needed it. Especially the kick in the ass to get moving on Day 2 when I was close to considering abandoning the ride!

That's why she's The Queen!

Steve Atkins