Ride Report – Red Deer Lakes 2009

by Willi Fast

The weather was looking up all week, and then Tony from Calgary indicated via Google Groups that he would also be riding the Red Deer 400 on Saturday, so everything was shaping up for a good ride.

I drove from Edmonton to Red Deer on Friday evening, and parked my van and trailer in the parking lot of Princess Auto, right behind the Tim Horton’s in Red Deer that was the starting point for the 400 brevet. Hoping that I would not be harassed during the night, I turned off my lights and went to sleep. Woke at 03:45, had my usual breakfast (a quick bowl of cereal plus Orange Juice), got dressed, locked the trailer and van, wished each of them well (in hopes that they would still be there when I got back in about 20 hours), and then rode over to the Tim Horton’s (0 km, 05:00).

Tony was already waiting there, and after short introductions, we were on our way north to Lacombe. The morning was cool and clear, and the riding enjoyable. It was nice to have Tony along, and we were soon talking and exchanging stories – of course, hailing from Saskatchewan, Tony was a good story teller, and that helped to make the miles go by. In no time we were in Lacombe (24.2 km, 05:59), signed each others cards because the gas station was not open yet, and continued west.

The ride around the south end of Gull Lake and on towards Bentley was a highlight again this year, just like in 2008. East of Bentley, we jumped on the bike path beside the highway – nice smooth pavement, and easy pedaling. The proprietor at Bentley Shell (46.8 km, 06:53) remembered me from two weeks ago during the Red Deer 300 and again obliged us by signing our cards.

From Bentley, we turned north again, and enjoyed the roads to Crestomere – the first part was a beautiful stretch of nice smooth road, very picturesque, and it would have been perfect, if not for the nagging twinge I started to feel (again !) in my left lower calf and Achilles tendon. I made a mental note to take some Advil in Crestomere, and to ride more sitting down rather than standing up, to take pressure off of the tendon. We reached Crestomere (82.5 km, 08:15), and were greeted by a very friendly storekeeper (second only to the Rimbey storekeeper on the Rando-friendly scale – see details later in this account). Tony and I took a bit of a break here, had some food, and I went to my pack to get my Advil – not there! How did that happen? Back to the store, where luckily enough, the friendly owner obliged by selling me Extra Strength capsules – 400 mg. I took one, in hopes that it would help to settle my left leg problem.

We continued north and west toward Winfield. This is where I remember the hills starting last year, and sure enough, the roads have not changed since then. Tony was climbing well, and was faster than I. We started to notice a west-southwest wind starting to blow, and I was wondering what the wind conditions would be like for the remainder of the ride. At about 120 km, Tony was pulling away, and I did not (could not ?) want to work hard enough to keep up with him, so I let him go, and resigned myself to riding by myself. I was happy with the decision, because I had actually planned on riding most of my spring brevets as solos, and this was the first real opportunity to do so. Coming into WInfield, I took a wrong turn (too early), and rode up Highway 20 for about 500 m, before realizing that I had made a mistake. I back tracked, and took the ‘back road’ into Winfield, and soon found the store where I got my card signed (150.1 km, 11:21). The clerk told me that Tony was about 30 minutes ahead – I resigned myself to not seeing him anymore this day.

In Winfield, another customer saw me and said: “Nice day for a bike ride.” I agreed and said yes, not elaborating on what I was doing. Most people have no appreciation for what Randonneuring is, and if you tell them, they just shake their head in disbelief or disgust (!?!). Another man, wearing a Harley Davidson ‘Chopper’ t-shirt, and his son, also came up and asked a few questions (we were the local attraction that day, I guess), and when I told him of my route, he said: “Oh yeah, it’s only about 20 minutes from Alder Flats to the Rimbey turn- off.” (40 km !!) It’s all in your perspective I guess – he jumped in his souped up pick-up, with extra-noisy mufflers, and sped off – I’m sure he would do that stretch in less than 20 minutes – with no appreciation of how long it would take me to do the same.

On the stretch from Winfield to Alder Flats, the wind was picking up more and more, and I became irritated at the constant howling in my ears. Remembering that in my pack, I still had some ear plugs provided by the organizers of last year’s Rocky 1200, I stopped and put them in. AAAHHHH – relief – quiet pedaling was a real treat – and would have been even better if not for the extra effort required to pedal into the wind!

On my way into Alder Flats, I met Tony, who was already leaving. He said everything was going well, and I assured him the situation was the same for me. I reached Alder Flats (188.3 km, 13:04) tired and hungry, so took a break there to eat some food. I knew that the next stretch would be the ‘crux’ of the ride for me – a long, uninterrupted stretch south to Rocky Mountain House, mostly into the wind, with some good hills.

This portion did turn into a marathon for me – a long stretch (80 km) with challenging terrain. My leg was still bothering me, and I had started to resort to a combination of seated climbing and standing climbing, to give my body ‘a variety of experiences’ : my calves preferred seated, while my quads preferred standing. I alternated, and somehow continued to make progress, although my average speed was starting to go down. I knew that I was still ahead of my planned pace, but was starting to wonder if I would be able to keep up my rate of work for the remainder of the ride. I finally got close to Rocky, when I saw Tony on the other side of the divided highway, leaving back north towards the Rimbey turn-off. We just waved at each other, I called out ‘Good Luck’ and gave him a thumbs up, which he returned. That was the last I was to see of him on this ride. While riding to Rocky, I had dreamed of getting a large Blueberry Blizzard at the Dairy Queen – I was getting hungry again, and the thoughts of ice cream kept me motivated. However, when I got to Rocky (258.1 km, 16:24), I thought that a more rational choice would be substantive food, so headed to the Subway for soup. I prefer Tim Horton’s soup, but the Timmies in Rocky is way on the south end of town, and I was not about to ride an extra 4 km for their soup! At Subway, I ordered soup, drinks and cookies, and ate one of my sandwiches along with the ordered food. I felt pretty wiped out at this point of the ride, and was looking forward to riding with the wind that I had just pushed for 80 km. I started to get cold, so finished up my food, and got back on the bike to ride north again, to the Rimbey turn-off.

The expected tail-wind did not ever really manifest itself, and there was more climbing that I had anticipated along the stretch that I had just ridden in the other direction. I was getting a bit down, and focused on what I knew to be a decent downhill run to the turn-off. At the crest of each rise, I was expecting to find the beginning of the descent, only to be disappointed once more by the sight of more climbing ahead. I noticed a white station wagon pass me and pull over on the side of the road, and then realized that it was Charlene Barach, the ride coordinator, pulling over to have a quick visit. How nice of Charlene to check up on us, provide cold water and general encouragement. Thanks again Charlene! Despite overall fatigue, I eventually reached the much anticipated turn-off, the downhill run was not as long or as enjoyable as it should have been, but at least I was getting closer to Rimbey, and was now headed east – would that get me out of the wind?

The east-bound leg to Rimbey from Highway 22 is a nice stretch, and I recall from last year’s ride seeing a doe and her two fawns cross the highway along this strech, while a fully loaded 18-wheeler did all he could, with engine Jake-Breaks and normal brakes, to avoid hitting them as they bounded across the road. This year, on this same stretch, a rural red-neck Albertan with the requisite ear-drum-busting mufflers bolted by me, honking the whole time, even though I was well over on the shoulder. What was that about? Ironic – on the same stretch of road, from one year to the next, I experienced Mother Nature’s best and Human Nature’s worst – go figure.

I also recall, from this stretch last year, riding with John through road construction zones in the rain, each of us without fenders, and looking and feeling like drenched sewer rats, picking the grit from between our teeth when we finally got to Rimbey. This year, the construction zones had been transformed to smooth pavement – nice! At one point, I got some dust under my right contact lens, and I stopped to take it out and clean it. I had some trouble with that, and finally decided to just leave it and continue. It was to bother me for the rest of the ride. The rest of the ride to Rimbey was uneventful, except for that rude hill as you enter town from the east! Ugly. My thoughts turned again to ice cream, and I wondered if the same clerk would be at the store in Rimbey (340 km, 20:33) as last year. Sure enough! There she was! And she remembered me. Wow. She said that Tony will still half an hour ahead. I stopped to eat, drink, and put on clothes, while the super friendly clerk (who wins the most Rando-friendly award – I think she’s the best I’ve ever met!!) offered to fill my camelbak with ice. With a nice send off, I was on my way.

Just east of Rimbey, I got very cold, and stopped to put on my jacket. It was also starting to get dark, and I decided not to put on my helmet light – I really only need it to read my computer, the other on-board lights providing plenty of light for navigation and safety. So, on I rode, in the dusk, noticing that my left leg had stopped complaining. After a time, it seems, your body stops nagging about what you are doing to it, accepts that you will not stop, and you begin to not notice the pain anymore. Good? or Bad? Not sure yet ………………….

I knew there was one more big climb, south of Bentley, and decided to ride there, and then stop to call home with a progress report. I did that, and then continued for the final two legs.

A 14 km stretch to Sylvan Lake, with the last big climb, which was not as bad as remembered, then a final run east back to Red Deer. Both went fine, and finally I was pedaling south on Taylor Drive back to the Tim’s. Another fear popped into my head – would my van and trailer still be there? What would I do if they had been towed?

I pulled into Tim’s to get my card signed (400.1 km, 23:32) – closed! Oh well, the hotel next door was open, and the clerk was happy to sign for me. I had already spotted my van and trailer in the parking lot, so all was good on that front. I put my bike in the van, crawled into the trailer, got into warm and dry clothes, called home, and crashed. Got up again at 04:00 to drive home.

So another successful brevet, and now only one more to go – 600 on June 6/7.

First of all, many thanks again to Charlene Barach for her dedication to Randonneuring in Central Alberta – I appreciate all you do, and we will miss you when in three weeks you head off to Australia! Please keep in touch.

Thanks also to Tony for his accompaniment – he was a pleasure to ride with, and I hope the remainder of his ride went well!

I will send my scanned brevet card to Ken and Maurice for homologation. Ride GPS files to follow.

Ride Stats:

  • Total time: 18 hours 32 minutes
  • Average speed on the bike: 25.9 km/hr
  • Time off the bike – about three hours
  • Total Elevation gain: about 7200 feet