Ride Report – Camrose 2011


Willi and Wim’s Gong Show !

By Willi Fast

On Saturday April 23rd, five able and willing riders convened at the Safeway parking lot in Edmonton Millwoods to challenge the Camrose 200. Joel Paschke had ridden over from the west end, so already had some 15 km under his belt before our group start. Bill Vandermeer, the perennial Camrose 200 ride organizer was there as his normal cheery self, looking forward to his first real brevet of the season. Al Nielsen, fresh from an early 2011 Randonneuring start on Vancouver Island introduced himself. Wim Kok, Alberta Randonneur member from Fort St. John BC also arrived we had ridden this route together two years ago, and have been in contact ever since.

It didn’t take us long to get ready, and we departed on time at 07:00.

In an attempt to address some lingering hand numbness issues, I had slightly adjusted my handlebars to shorten the reach to the brake hoods. I immediately noticed a more comfortable position on the bike, and hoped that it would ease the pressure induced numbness I had been feeling on long rides since November. However, I also noticed that the angle of my computer readout had been altered by this handle bar rotation, and I didn’t like how it forced me to change my neck angle to read it I made a note to change the computer position/orientation at our first stop.

The next time I looked at the computer, I noticed that it was not working. I had a clock read out, but no bike-related information on the display. I stopped on southbound 50th Street to try to readjust the magnetic wheel sensor, but to no avail. I did not want to fall too far back, so got back on and started to work to re-catch the group. I resigned myself to riding without a computer. I had left my GPS at home, thinking that I knew this route very well, and with a hard copy map on board, I felt the GPS was redundant (note to self Redundancy, in hind sight, is a good thing!). Now, with no computer, and no GPS, I would have no indication of speed, distance travelled, or pedaling cadence. OK this would be a traditional ride without modern gadgetry not so bad.

Catching up to the group, I noticed that Joel had already pulled well ahead my prediction was that we would not see him again this day. Fairly quickly, we split into two groups of two, with Wim and myself riding together, and Al and Bill following.

The familiar route towards Miquelon Lake passed quickly, through Beaumont, nice descent down the Beaumont hill, a quick leg to the west, then onto Highway 21 southbound towards the Miquelon Lake turn off. We ducked into New Sarepta, the first control (42 km., 08:38), got our cards signed by the friendly proprietor at the store, and were just having a quick snack and drink when Bill and Al rolled up. All was going well for everyone, and Wim and I soon struck off again towards the second control at Miquelon Lake.

Wim and I struck up a great conversation, and talked about all things randonneuring, with a heavy emphasis on Paris-Brest, since that is a goal for each of us this year. Wim has completed Paris-Brest twice, and so I was using the opportunity to glean as much info as possible from this well-travelled ancien.

As we sped southward, with the aid of an increasingly strong tail wind, we spoke at length about route-finding on Paris-Brest. Wim indicated that route finding was generally not a concern there, since there was almost always someone that knew the route, and if someone made a wrong turn, others would quickly set them straight again with a verbal cue how to get back on course. We were continuing the easy wind-assisted pedaling, when Wim began to question why we had not yet reached the Miquelon Lake turn-off. We stopped, consulted the map, and with a growing sense of despair, acknowledged the realization that we had, indeed, missed the turn-off. And not by just a little. How ironic that as we spoke of route finding issues in France, we would commit such a rookie error here on our home turf, where I had driven the way to Miquelon Lake too many times to remember (literally !!). Our sense of denial weakened, as we admitted that we had over-shot the turn-off, and had ridden past not only Hay Lakes, but also Armena. We were 25 km off course, and now faced the prospect of a 25 km retreat to get back on route. Not only that, the retreat was directly back into the wind which had so easily pushed us too far to the south!

I already had a homologated 200 km Brevet under my belt this season, so that official completion of this ride was not critical for me, but Wim needed it to be official as part of his Series for 2011, so we dutifully admitted our error and began the hard retracing of our route. We now knew that we would likely miss the Control Time at the Miquelon Lake check point. Wim, eminently more experienced than I, suggested that there was almost always some margin of grace granted for one late control, as long as the subsequent control closing times were met. So, we settled in for the work ahead, and began to trade leads in the front, into the wind, in order to make as good a speed as we could reasonably maintain without blowing up. Not surprisingly, the easy conversation from early in the day had ceased as we focussed on the task at hand. I was doing a lot of mental math to estimate our chances of reaching the control on time, but it became clear that we would not do so. We worked, and worked, and ended up 20 minutes late into the Miquelon Lake control (61 km, 11:25).

We took only a very short break to sign each others cards (Store and Park still closed too early in the season), shed some clothes, and were then back on the bikes for the push to Camrose.

We were pedaling south now, and the wind was quite strong, blowing mainly from the west, but seemingly also from the southwest. Wim and I rode echelon style to gain some advantage for the following rider and again traded leads. There was still not much talking as we rode one behind the other, and as we worked, we realized that we would be able to make up enough time to be back-on-time by Camrose. As we reached Camrose, we were glad to be on city streets, with a short reprieve from the wind on the open prairie. As we crossed the first set of railroad tracks at the edge of town, a driver in an oncoming pick-up was waving and yelling at us: You dropped your back-pack! Wim suddenly realized that his pannier had come off, and sure enough, upon looking behind us, saw it laying on the road by the tracks. The jarring of the railroad crossing had loosened it. We quickly retrieved it, re-mounted it, and were off again towards the control at the Subway on the west side of Camrose. We had faint hope that we might have caught back up to Bill and Al by Camrose, but there was no sign of their bikes as we rode up to the Control (91 km, 12:48). With a time buffer of 16 minutes now in the bank, we got our cards signed, and learned that Bill and Al had departed from the Control about 30 minutes prior. Oh well maybe we would see them in Wetaskiwin?

We settled into a nice lunch at Subway the soup and sandwich hit the spot. I was already feeling tired, and did a little bit of stretching to relieve stiffness in my quads. As always, I got a little cold at the stop, and actually looked forward to getting back onto the bike, to warm-up. But that prospect was tempered by the thought of working directly into the wind for the next 40 km to Wetaskiwin.

As we left town, it became evident that Wim was now much stronger than I was, and he began taking more than his fair share of turns at the front, into the wind. Feeling badly about all his work, I tried to take my turns, but became increasingly pathetic in my efforts to lead. Wim graciously acknowledged my efforts, but continued with his yeomans work in our now lop-sided team. Surprisingly, the leg to Wetaskiwin, although very difficult, passed relatively quickly for me. Even the climb out of the coulee, after a less-than-satisfying descent into the wind, was not as difficult as I had imagined it would be. The last 10 kilometers to Wetaskiwin, however, became mentally taxing, as we kept our eyes on the horizon, and the Wetaskiwin Water Tower, which seemed to never get any closer! How many times, as children, did we drive on the southern Alberta prairies, and have the same agonizing wait to reach water towers and elevators that beckoned from the distance? Upon reaching the Wetaskiwin Control (134 km, 15:15), we had built up a 30 minute time cushion, and I looked forward to a nice sit-down at a picnic table in the sun. Although I felt hungry, I was not able to eat anything, and just drank the (for me) obligatory chocolate milk. Again, both Wim and I got cold, and after checking in with our respective spouses by phone, to warn them of our impending lateness for pre-arranged lamb dinners and evening concerts, we got back on our bikes for the push north towards Leduc and Edmonton.

The wind was now from the front-left quarter (from the northwest), and again Wim and I pedalled in a two-man echelon to yield some advantage to the trailing rider more often than not me! Surprisingly, we made good time into the wind, and the 35 km to Leduc were covered in 1 hour and 45 minutes. At the Control, (168 km, 17:00), we learned that Bill and Al had left there 30 minutes prior we were maintaining our distance to them. I had a craving for ice cream (typical for me), satisfied that with an Oreo Cookie Ice Cream Bar, and after a short rest in the sun, got back on for the final push home.

We used the short western leg out of Leduc as a recovery leg, and didn’t push very hard. Shortly before heading north to Beaumont, we sped down into a coulee, and easily climbed up the other side to the Beaumont turn off. A rather more difficult climb followed, which we ascended slowly, not pushing the pace. On reaching the height of land, we enjoyed a final push into Beaumont, buoyed now by the thoughts of finishing.

The climb into Beaumont was not difficult a climb of 1 minute 30 seconds (yes I timed it), and after negotiating several red lights (welcome reprieve and short rests), we were on the final highway push into Edmonton. On the way, we seemed to hit every red light, which became annoying, but soon enough pulled into the Millwoods Safeway parking lot. As we rode to our cars, Al passed us in his car on his way home. When we stopped for a quick chat, he asked us if we had gone to the bar or something after finishing. They had come to the finish and saw our cars still there, and pondered where we might have been, and why our cars were still there. Sheepishly, we admitted our earlier error. We met Bill at our cars, and gave him a short account of our gong-show adventures. It felt good to be done (201 km, 11 hours 44 minutes). My slowest 200 ever, but not a bad 250 considering the conditions!

So, our personal gong show turned this 2011 season opening 200 km spring classic into the Camrose 250. Despite disabled computers, forgotten GPSs, poor navigating, loose panniers, incessant wind, and (on my part) weak legs, we persevered to finish. I am chalking it up to experience, and in a way, the ride scheduled for next weekend should be somewhat easier, having bridged my earlier 200 from this year with this ride of 250, prior to challenging next weeks Smoky Lake 300.

I cannot write enough thanks to my friend and fellow randonneur Wim Kok, whose experience and work ethic resulted in my being able to finish this brevet. Thanks Wim lets do it again some time soon!