Ride Report – Cypress Hills 2011

By David Oliphant

This promised to be a tough ride this year. We would be using the new course that had been put in place a couple of years ago. The features of the original course were still there, a great climb to the top of the Cypress Hills. The new course got rid of a couple of negatives of the original: the new course had only 30 on the Trans Canada (the old course had almost a 100), on the old course the last 47 km was due west and was typically into a headwind (not the best way to finish if it was your first ride). So the revised course used a new road that climbed up to the Little Plume Church and the top of the hill just beyond (this road was not paved years ago). It added quite a bit of climbing to the original route, but that was one of my goals in redesigning the course.

But this was not the reason I was expecting a tough ride. That had to do with my training. It has been a long, cold, snowy winter in Medicine Hat this year. That combined with working since January, meant I had very few kilometers in my legs. The longest ride I had done since January 1 was 54 kilometers (which was a ride to the Little Plume Church).

Sunday morning dawned sunny but cool, 0 C. Forecast for the afternoon was 17 C with a west wind at 20 kph. I was a Starbucks shortly after 7:30 and figured I had enough time for a small coffee. Gord Blair from Lethbridge showed up at about 7:45 so we were off right at 8 A.M. The first part of the course is a small loop that heads west for 3 km so we got a taste of the early morning breeze. Before long we were heading east with a nice tail wind. Quickly to Eagle Butte Road and heading south with a cross breeze. This is a road I have used often as a training ride, and one thing I have learnt is that you can’t judge the wind on this road by the wind in the Hat. Usually it picks up as you head south (which is why there is a wind farm proposed down there some where). But today luck was on our side, the wind actually died down as we went south and climbed.

Winter was still very much in evidence at the top of the hill as snow was lining the road on both sides for the last couple of kilometers. My wife, Lucie, was at the top waiting to sign our cards. We had a good view of the Cypress Hills at the top, but now we were turning around and heading back down. It was a great ride down, and at the bottom where we were turning east the tailwind was still there.

So it was a quick ride down the Trans Canada before heading south again on Highway #41. Just before the turn we took a quick stop to remove some clothing, or rather go to less insulated clothing. Then it was the start of the long climb to the Cypress Hills. There was a steady cross wind for the next 30 kilometers as we slowly climbed to the base of the hills. Once into the trees in the Provincial Park the breeze was gone, but now it was the 4 kilometer climb to the top, rising about 300 meters in that distance. I could tell my fitness was not there (well actually I’d noticed that a while back) so I took one short break on the way up. But I made it to the top, and though tired I knew the worst was over.

At the top the route turns on to the Ressor Lake Road. Lucie and I had driven out on Saturday to check out this road, and it was definitely winter up there. On Saturday at the top of the hills you were in the clouds, a strong wind was blowing resulting in lots of wind blown snow which was building drifts across the road. We would not be able to ride this section on Sunday unless conditions had improved. Lucie was again acting as our control person and she was to decide if it would be safe to ride this section. If not, she was to return and wait for us at the turn onto Ressor Lake Road.

I was actually glad to see that she was not at the turnoff and that the road was passable. Glad because the plan, if we could not ride this section, was to add on that distance at the end of the ride which I wasn’t looking forward to having to do. Plus of course this was the final stretch east, and the tailwind was still there. Which was very good because I was very tired. But lunch and a rest was 9 kilometers away.

A roast beef sandwich, couple of brownies, and a coke and I was ready to go. My feet had been getting a little sore during the last few climbs, so during lunch I had even taken my shoes off (check out the picture). After about 25 minutes it was time to go, the second picture gives a good idea of the snow on top of the hills. The first 9 kilometers was slow going into that wind. Crossed paths with Gord two kilometers out. Soon I was back to Highway #41 and what I knew would be a long stretch of generally downhill. A good place to recuperate and get some life back into the legs.

It was a great ride down. The temperature was rising, the snow was melting, making for lots of small creeks and waterfalls (the one foot high type). All the way down I could feel the wind getting stronger. Just before getting back to the Trans Canada I stopped and removed my tights and jacket. The jacket as much for aerodynamics as for temperature. The wind was still there and it was slog to get back. Last year I remember having a tailwind for this stretch (which is unusual). The next 24 kilometers was into a 35 kph wind at maybe 19-20 kph. It was during this section that I noticed my front tire seemed to be getting soft. Each time I stood I could feel a little bit of instability, but it wasn’t losing air fast. I finally had to stop and fill it about 5 kilometers from the finish.

The turn at the Black & White to head north into town brought a welcome relief from the wind. It was actually a SW wind, so finally had a bit of a tailwind. The last 4 kilometers were a breeze. Clocked in at Starbucks at 5:56 P.M. for a time of 9:56.

Gord came in at 7:13 for a time of 11:13. Said he just didn’t have enough recovery time since his previous 200 only 4 days before.

Turned out, once I checked my records, that this was also the second earliest in the year that I had completed a 200.