Ride Report – Warburg 2011

by Willi

And so it all starts again – the 2011 Brevet season. But this time, with more purpose and a greater sense of urgency. For, not unlike an Olympic year, 2011 occurs at the apex of the quadrennial cycle, when the international randonneuring community turns its focus to France, for the 17^th edition of the 1200 kilometer Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) Randonnee. For those attempting a PBP qualification, the completion of each brevet takes the randonneur one step further on the road to Paris. Along with the excitement and anticipation, comes the gravity of the task at hand: completion of a ‘Super Series’ of brevets, increasing in length from 200, to 300, 400 and finally 600 kilometers, before the qualification deadline of June 17^th.

To take that first step, on Saturday April 9, four of us ‘dipped our toes in the water’, to challenge the Warburg 200. Bruce Johnson packed his recumbent and made the trip up from Wetaskiwin; Phil Haswell, having completed a satisfactory solo 50 km the previous day, deemed himself fit and ready; Joel Plaschke, originally intending to ride, came down with the early symptoms of a cold and had told us to leave without him if he was not there by 08:00; and I completed the group, also unsure of my abilities, having spent two days sick in bed with a head and chest cold.

The temperature was a brisk +3C at the start. Bruce and I compared strategies for keeping our feet warm. He had installed foot warmers inside his shoes. Fearing cramps or pressure points, I had adopted an alternate strategy. I placed one hot-shot foot warmer on the mesh on the outside of my shoe, right on the toe-box, which I covered first with a lycra/rubber shoe cover, and then a second 2-layer goretex cover (MEC). To my delight, I immediately began to feel a luxurious warmth spreading across the top of my foot a warmth that stayed with me all day. A great solution!

At 07:55, with no sign of Joel, we started off as a group of three: Bruce, Phil and myself. We had not gotten far on Highway 16A west before a rider appeared in my rear view mirror. He introduced himself as Joel, and away we went, now as a group of four. Joel set a brisk pace, one that I initially chose to follow, but which soon left Phil and Bruce behind. After some time, I began to feel that I was working too hard at Joel’s pace, and was left with a choice of continuing on with him, slowing down and riding by myself, or dropping off and waiting for Phil and Bruce. Not wanting to work by myself into the head wind, and not knowing how far back Phil and Bruce were, I decided to stay with Joel for now.

We reached the Highway 60 turn off and headed south, and began to work together, changing leads for the work at the front. When we reached Highway 627 and turned west, we continued our tandem 2-man tag team, with speed dropping off when I was at the front, and the pace picking back up again when Joel lead. We were making good time, and covered the first 50 km in just under two hours.

We were both ready for a snack break when we reached the Highway 770 turn to the south and stopped to take nutrition and water (sandwich, banana). Not much later, to our delight, Phil and Bruce came riding up. Their ride seemed to be going OK. We had a chat, took some quick group photos (forgotten at the start), and then Joel and I headed off. We would not see Phil and Bruce again the rest of that day.

We had a good push to the south, in what now felt like a headwind. The descent into the North Saskatchewan River valley was very fast, and a bit shaky due to the head- and cross-winds. On the road back out of the valley, Joel showed his climbing prowess and quickly left me behind. I wouldn’t see him again until the first check point in Warburg. The route past Genesee, through Saint Francis and on to Warburg is rolling hills, which with the head wind, proved to be a bit of work the road was getting ‘lumpy’ as they say! I was working hard, and my pace was dropping back down to 21 and 22 km/hr.

On reaching Warburg (88 km, 11:45), Joel and I had a good chat, I had chocolate milk and a banana, we got our cards signed, and we were off again, east bound on Highway 39. Joel was in the lead, and we were flying: 30, 31, 32 km/hr, seemingly with a tail wind now. Life was good Joel willing to pull on the front, and me hanging on behind. When we reached the dog leg on Township Road 440 to continue east, I did not have the strength to stay with Joel, and I let him slip off into the distance ahead.

Now began what for me was the ‘low-point’ of this brevet: alone on the road, working hard, feeling tired, but trying to keep motivated. I tried standing from time to time, but had no snap in my legs. I kept telling myself: Just make it to Calmar. Just make it to Calmar. At the half way point to Calmar, I stopped, took a quick gel for some energy, had a quick ‘nature break’, and climbed back on my bike. Another 10 km to Calmar ………… When I passed the RCMP radar trap hidden behind the cemetery fence on the side of the highway, I was tempted to ask the officer how fast (slow) her radar gun thought I was going maybe my computer had been lying to me …………. I let the opportunity pass, and kept plodding. As I finally reached the 1 km to Calmar sign, (believe me, you gain the ability to recognize those signs from VERY far away!), the flags on the flag poles were straight out and flapping hard, indicating a good stiff wind from the south. Oh please, I said, Let that wind still be blowing by the time we get to the last north bound leg of our trip.

At Calmar (130 km, 13:35), I stopped at the Fast Gas (of course where else would I stop?), got my card signed, bought my chocolate milk, and sat down outside on a parking block to have an energy bar. Now, every ride has its highs and lows I’ll let you be the judge as to how to characterize what happened next.

As I was sitting there, likely looking pathetic after some hard work, a big F350 Diesel pick up pulled up right beside me. Out stepped an old (must have been Ukrainian) farmer: jeans too big (but required to accommodate the belly), greasy flannel shirt (untucked, of course), three days stubble on his chin, Massey Ferguson hat on his head, and wearing rubber boots.

He walked up to me and said: Shave the mustache!

Pardon me?

Shave off that son-of-a-bitchin’ mustache !

Why ?

Are you married ?


Do you live in Calmar ?


Where do you live ?


You rode all the way from Edmonton ?

More or less. (no need to explain what I was really doing hardly anyone understands.)

Pointing to Mrs. Marinoni (my bike): Is that a ten-speed ?

Yes. (the concept of 30 gears would have been mind-numbing again, no need to explain)

These gas prices are a rip-off !

And, then he walked away ……………………………..

Did that really just happen ?????


My mind no longer dwelling on my fatigue, I climbed back on board and continued east towards Leduc. I spent the next 10 kilometers processing what had just happened. I will never forget this chap’s face, his manner, nor his interrogation of me. Ha too funny.

In Leduc, which I thought was a check point, I pulled into the Tim Horton’s, my mind set on a bowl of soup. When I got out my brevet card, I discovered that it was Nisku, and not Leduc that was the next check point. I tucked my card back in, decided to ride on to Nisku, and see how how I felt there.

Heading north to Nisku, I got a first taste of the strength of that south wind. I cruised along at 36 km/hr, not working at all, and reached Nisku in no time (155 km, 14:44). A quick card signing at the MacDonald’s, and I decided to keep going to Devon for one last break there. As I pulled onto Highway 625 west bound, I saw Joel not far ahead! I caught him fairly easily, and he said he was feeling tired.

The wind felt like a diagonal wind from the left front quarter, so I told Joel to tuck in behind my wheel on my right side, and we worked our way to the Devon turn off in a two-man echelon. The quick 1 km run into Devon from the turn off confirmed the strength of the south wind we flew to Devon (170 km, 15:22), spotted another Fast Gas, got cards signed, had one last snack and chocolate milk, and then started off again. Almost immediately, we sped down to the North Saskatchewan River for the second time today. The climb back out was hot, with full exposure to the sun, but did not take long, and again, we were flying in a straight shot to the north with a full tail wind! Cycling should always be this easy! Big Ring/11, cadence 55, and flying at 38 km/hr. What fun!

We soon reached the last turn, east on Highway 16, back into west Edmonton. With the end so close now, the south wind was only a minor annoyance. A bigger annoyance, however, was the sloppy roads in the city. After 200 km on bone dry roads in the country, we rode for four blocks in slop and mud, and will need to spend some time on cleaning and maintenance before the next brevet.

Joel and I finished together at 16:37, for a total time of 8 hours 37 minutes. Not bad for the first excursion of the season.

Next up, the Camrose 200 next weekend, and then a couple of weeks reprieve before the Smoky Lake 300.

Lessons learned (again!): don’t go out too fast; the new toe warming strategy is a good one; it’s okay to ride by yourself at your own pace; but it’s even better riding together with a tail wind!