Cascade 1200: This Year’s Big Ride

Last weekend, I rode in the Cascade 1200 km brevet. I like to make one ride every year my “main goal” – a ride for which I train, around which I plan my calendar, a ride that is special.

This year, my “big” ride was the Cascade 1200 km brevet. The course circumnavigates the central part of my home state of Washington. I like rides that take me through diverse landscapes. Beyond that, I had some unfinished business with the Cascade 1200. The first time I attempted it, I woke up the morning of the ride with a slightly sore throat. My condition worsened, and after 350 km, I took the train home and proceeded to spend three days in bed with a flu. The next year, I pre-rode the course a week ahead of the official event. This is done to check the route sheet for accuracy, and make sure the course is rideable. In the event, we had to find a new route at the last minute, because a mountain pass still was covered in winter snow. I set out with too ambitious a goal, spent much time finding a new route through Yakima, got exhausted a third of the way through the ride, only to face horrendous headwinds in Eastern Washington that slowed me to a crawl. I finished the ride, but I knew I could do better.

This year, my goal was to complete the Cascade 1200 in “Charly Miller Time” – 56:40 hours. The Charly Miller Society is RUSA’s only performance award, for U.S. riders who complete PBP as fast or faster than the only American who ever raced in PBP when it was a professional race; Charly Miller came 5th in 1901. For the Cascade 1200, this was my private goal, not something recognized by any “official” awards.

While my training this year was much less than I would have liked, I tried to make up for it in quality and focus. I also spent some time planning my ride. I thought about my average speeds on various sections of the course and the length of my stops at each control. I fine-tuned these variables until I was convinced that my goal was within reach. Having a bike now that performs better would help, too. During the previous attempts, I still was riding tires that by themselves were about 8% slower than my current Grand Bois Hetres on smooth pavement, and probably much worse on the chipseal of eastern Washington.

This year’s ride turned out to be a memorable adventure. It was nice to ride with various randonneurs on Saturday, during the first day on the road, even though a deluge dampened our spirits a little. When most riders stopped to sleep at the first of three “overnight” controls provided by the organizers, I forged ahead alone through the next two days and nights. Even though this approach means I missed the organized ride’s support, I appreciated all the volunteers who catered to all my needs and encouraged me at the first day’s stops – thank you!

The winds were more favorable than last time, and even losing 1:15 hours due to several unfortunate errors on the route sheet (pre-ride check??) only temporarily threw me off schedule. I was lucky to avoid rain on the last mountain pass – the roads were still damp – and even more lucky that a deer running in my path during the descent only glanced off my front tire. Descending mountains in the morning twilight always makes me sleepy, so I took several short naps along the way, before speeding up for the last leg along the Cascade foothills.

I arrived back at the start/finish on the third day at lunch time, 54:32 hours after I started. I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at our favorite taco truck, but the ride back to Seattle, just 65 kilometers, seemed to take forever. Indeed, it took all afternoon! A few nights sleep later, I now am looking forward to a bike-free vacation with my family, and some leisurely touring this fall. A full report on my ride in the Cascade 1200 will be in the Autumn issue of Bicycle Quarterly.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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25 Responses to Cascade 1200: This Year’s Big Ride

  1. Congratulations Jan! Thats an amazing time for such a challenging ride. I look forward to the full report. Reading a ride report on the cascade 1200 about 6 years ago is what originally sparked my interest in randonneuring.

    • I tried a new strategy of holding back the first 70% of the ride, and finishing strong. It worked! I had no real low spots, except the dreaded mountain descent. 25 miles of coasting makes you sleepy!

      • Bill Russell says:

        Correct event pacing is one of the toughest things for coaches to instill in the athletes they guide. The humility required to “let ‘em go” is something few riders attain; congratulations.

      • It’s a difficult balance of going so slowly that you’ll never catch up, and going so fast that you exhaust yourself and loose more time due to that. My experience shows that I tend to overestimate what a sustainable pace is. Going deliberately slightly slower early on allows me to go much faster at the end.

  2. Jim Duncan says:

    Inspiring. To set such a challenging personal best and do it has to be so satisfying. A deer “only glanced” off your front tire during hour descent; whoa, that would keep you awake on the rest of the descent. Amazing. Congratulations!

  3. Leaf Slayer says:

    Congrats on the great ride Jan. It was my first 1200k and I had a blast. On day one I had some cramps that subsided pretty quickly. Day two was long and the wind frustrating but overall I felt good. Day three I cracked heading into Mazama. I had food but nothing was appealing. 3 miles from the finish I forced down some food and instantly felt better. I shouldn’t have waited so long. Day four got off to a beautiful start with a dawn ascent of Washington Pass. Unfortunately the descent was too cold and wet to enjoy. But after the descent I began to warm up and felt great as I rode into the finish with great company. In fact I felt quite strong and me and my fellow riders pretty much hammered along the rolling roads for the last 20 miles back into Monroe. Aside from some sore spots on my bum, a numb big toe and some fatigue, I feel great. My bike, built by Joshua Bryant, worked well. I had only recently gotten a Schmidt Dynamo hub which was so much better than a battery powered light. Full fenders kept my bike relatively clean and the chain never dried out in spite of significant rain. I was never at a loss for gear as everything fit perfectly in my front bag. I can’t even begin to say enough good things about the route itself, the volunteers and my fellow riders. Definitely looking forward to the 2014 C1200. I started randonneuring 5yrs ago and had done 5 600ks but was still pretty anxious, wondering if I was physically and mentally prepared for this ride . Really, I think things went much smoother than I could have hoped for and I just had a great time and enjoyed myself quite a bit in spite of the weather and distance.

  4. jeff angeley says:

    Great effort! Looking forward to a full write up or detailed story on your experience…

  5. Nice ride Jan. I am amazed by those of you that can push themselves so hard for so many hours. Not only is 54:32 an awesome time, it was done with no drafting support from other riders (except maybe the first day.) I tend to avoid any sort of pacelines for the most part, but when I do join one it is obvious what a great physical and psychological advantage they provide. Congratulations on achieving your goal.

    • In the rain of the first day, drafting came at a cost of being uncomfortable. Beyond that, I wanted to keep to my schedule. So I worked with others for maybe 100 km of the first day. In the end, I actually arrived first at the “overnight” control, because my stops were shorter than those of other riders.

  6. Chris says:

    sounds awesome Jan! I hope to try a couple of the shorter Rando events in Anchorage Alaska during the next three years while I’m stationed in Kodiak… I actually start my trip North from San Diego on Sunday!

  7. Lloyd McMahon says:

    I’m curious about what you consider training. Do you have a “system” or just ride a lot? I’m recently back into cycling at age 51 after many years of not riding and have gone in six months from wanting to call 911 after a seven mile ride to doing 50 mile rides through the Blue Ridge Mountains where I live. That’s great but it seems a long ways from doing a long brevet, which is a goal (PBP is a goal/dream). I hate the thought of getting into some sort of pseudo racer mindset, but I want to get fit enough to have some great adventures.

  8. antonio neto says:

    Jan, congratulations from Brazilian people. Very good!

  9. “…the only professional racer who ever raced in PBP…”
    Are you sure this is correct?
    Bob

  10. Bill Gobie says:

    Nice job, Jan. I am curious how you kept supplied through the nights in country where they really do roll up the sidewalks at night. Regarding, “losing 1:45 hours due to several unfortunate errors on the route sheet (pre-ride check??)”, where did this happen? The route was pre-ridden by several riders, separately. I did not find any errors when I programmed my GPS. That did not prevent the infernal thing from trying to misdirect me after Dry Falls, but since I practically had the route memorized I caught the problem.

    • It’s pretty easy for me to carry 600 km worth of food in my handlebar bag, and if it’s not hot, the three bottles I carry on the bike will last me through the night for liquids. I did one resupply in Quincy, and got water in Mallot and then again in Marblemount on the other side of the mountains. If I had needed water, a saloon was open in Winthrop, and faucets usually are easy to find in places like Mazama.

      The first big route sheet error occurred leaving Naches. Google Maps is incorrect there – it appears that the intersection in question was rebuilt completely a few years ago. Instead of going straight, we had to turn left to get on S Naches Rd. Going straight led you up a tough 4.5 km climb. I alerted the organizers, and they re-directed later riders (including you) there. The error is doubly unfortunate because it appears that it has been on the route sheet at least since 2008, when my friend Ryan climbed the same ridge when he rode the Cascade.

      The second problem occurred on the trail system of Yakima. Beyond that fact, that the trails are closed at night, and I had to climb over a gate to stay on course… I am not entirely sure whether it was an error of the route sheet, or simply a problem of no street names and insufficient instructions, but I was unable to find the exit of the trail. I am not even sure I was on the right trail – there were so many trails going in all kinds of directions, and the route sheet didn’t have any instructions. I rode back on forth over the same 5-km stretch of trail several times, and finally made my way through the neighborhood after asking as security guard at a car dealership for directions. I was lucky the guard knew where Mattawa was… All the other errors were of little consequence, mostly instances where the street names on the ground did not match those on the route sheet. In those cases, it was pretty obvious where one should go. The total time lost actually was more like 1:15 hours. (I corrected the post.)

      A diligent pre-ride of the course could have made sure the route sheet matched the conditions on the ground, and it could have added directions where the course was hard to follow through the trail system (or taken it off the trails in the first place, as there were good on-street alternatives.) In the event, it appears that the route sheet was tested by the riders of the event, and as the first rider through, I found most of the bugs.

      • Bill Gobie says:

        Now I remember that turn leaving Naches. When I went through volunteers were directing riders. My gps called the turn correctly so I wondered what the fuss was about. My routing software must have autorouted correctly on that leg, so I did not check turn-by-turn when I programmed my gps.

        All the people who checked and/or pre-rode the course were veterans who knew the course. I speculate their prior knowledge allowed lapses of attention to go uncaught. That was certainly the case for me, and although I was not tasked with checking this part of the course I apologize for not catching the error. The pre-riders might have made the turn without looking at the directions. The route sheet should have been checked by someone unfamiliar with the course. However, volunteer participation was a bit thin this year. That this error was not corrected after the previous running is hard to fathom.

        The Yakima bike trail is one of my favorite parts of the course, particularly after the out-and-back to Lodgepole which I find psychologically taxing. I think it is far preferable to riding in daytime traffic in Yakima. In the daytime the trail is a lot of fun, although since it is heavily used one has to be ready to brake hard coming around blind spots. The exit could certainly be hard to find at night. Maybe the directions should be rewritten with nighttime in mind, and an alternative on-street route provided for after-hours riders. (I doubt anyone knew Yakima actually locks up the trail at night!) I have learned to study satellite photos of bike trail transitions. This is a situation where an odometer on your bike might have saved you some trouble.

      • I have since checked the maps, and indeed, I did not go far enough on that trail. However, I rode for 25 minutes, and my speed was at least 20 km/h, more likely 25 km/h. So I rode between 8.3 and 10.4 km on the trail, rather than the 6.5 km the route sheet indicated. My suspicion is that the mapping software did not account for all the twists and turns of the trail, but instead calculated the distance as the crow flies. This means that an odometer would not have helped at all. Having maps of the area, either in paper or digital format, would have been useful, but generally, the route sheet should be all you need to find the course. Trails are especially difficult, since street names are not indicated, even where the trail crosses streets. So there is no way of checking that you are on course.

        If intermediate directions had been added, rather than just use the Bikeroutetoaster route sheet, it would have been no problem. If it said: “at km xx, pass under the freeway… at km xx, gravel pit lake on the right… at km 6.5, turn off the trail,” then it would not have mattered that the distances were incorrect. The rider would see the landmarks and thus know they were on course. After the obvious error in Naches, my faith in the route sheet wasn’t all that great, and when the intersection did not appear, I had no idea whether I even was on course.

        I agree with you that pre-riders should turn off their GPS and check each intersection to make sure that the route sheet is correct. I have pre-ridden enough courses to know it’s a significant task, but I also have found enough errors to know not to take it lightly.

      • Bill Gobie says:

        “… I rode between 8.3 and 10.4 km on the trail, rather than the 6.5 km the route sheet indicated. My suspicion is that the mapping software did not account for all the twists and turns of the trail, but instead calculated the distance as the crow flies.”

        I have checked the route sheet against my gps track from the ride. The distances on the route sheet for the trail are accurate. (This was my recollection from the previous running as well, when I only had an odometer.) My gps logged points as close together as 20 feet on curves, so the track follows the trail quite well. If you were on the trail in complete darkness the twists and turns might have slowed you more than you perceived. Or you passed the exit and did ride 8-10 km. That is possible since the trail continues past the exit. Inexplicable things happen at night, so we may never get to the bottom of this.

        At one point I took a short detour on a spur that looked like the main trail. At the exit I caught up with another rider who was confused by the route sheet in broad daylight. I agree more elaborate instructions for the trail, created from an on-the-ground inspection without the pressure of a pre-ride, would be good. All we need is a volunteer….

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