Colorado High Country 1200K Initial report

MG and I had the good fortune of completing the Colorado High Country 1200K randonnee last Thursday with a great group of fellow randonneurs.

I would put this completion among the top rides we’ve undertaken as a tandem randonneuring team. We owe a lot to the support from organizer John Lee Ellis and his tireless volunteers. It was our third successful 1200K, coming less than a year after Paris-Brest-Paris.

We’ve begun posting our photos. Mine are here. MG has posted hers here and our fellow D.C. Randonneurs member (and RBA) Bill Beck has sets here.

Bill, MG and I also used Twitter to post updates on our progress, with the hashtag #HC1200. See all our Tweets here, no membership required.

Where PBP was a mass event that took stressful international travel and lots of attention to other riders, the HC1200 was downright relaxed. We took a relatively short direct flight from Washington to Denver on July 5, took a quick commuter bus ride from the airport to the hotel, and rode with just 40 other riders rather than the thousands in Paris.

The weather could hardly have been better. The only rain of note we saw was at the start in Louisville, outside Boulder, just before the start last Monday. An overnight shower abated just as we gathered in the predawn darkness for final comments by John before the first day’s stage to Wyoming.

John Lee provided evening and morning food at the hotel overnight control accommodations with the entry fee, taking away two other worries. We mostly just had to ride, control, eat and sleep — what could be easier?

We arrived each of the three evenings at sundown or a little earlier and departed between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. John Lee posted the arrival and departure times of the riders here.

The Co-Motion Speedster tandem rode well with our 700×32 Pasela Tourgurd tires and extras stuffed in a Carradice Nelson Longflap bag on the back. We rode with fenders but hardly needed them, with only a little drizzle over the four days. We had no involuntary tire deflations nor other mechanical problems.

The altitudes on the first day, at 10,800 feet over Snowy Range Road in Wyoming, were an issue for both of us. MG got some nausea and I got light-headed, but those problems cleared quickly as we descended. Other high points, including a 10,300-foot summit on the final day, gave us no problems other than a little headache for MG.

We both battled the intense UV and found we had to apply sunscreen much more often than on the East Coast; MG put on sunsleeves to keep her arms from burning. I had to put on a bandana to shield my neck.

The course was a mix of stunning forested climbs and vistas connected by long stretches of sparsely populated range lands with little vegetation. We spent many hours in a loose group 6-7 riders tooling along on gradually rising rural highways, then climbing through and over lush high passes before plunging back to the lower elevations.

Highlights included afternoon lunches in quaint Laramie, Wyo., and Steamboat Springs, two awesome country breakfasts, and a sublime sunrise journey through Gore Pass.

The final day we had a close encounter with a moose on the roadside (it bounded into the woods) and saw first-hand the ravages of forest fires. The stage started with an star-lit 30-mile night climb to Cameron Pass and then a descent after daybreak through chilly Poudre Canyon. Entire hillsides were scorched and the scent of burnt wood hung in the air.

The Poudre fire initially forced the first of a number of routing revisions John Lee made at the last minute to get riders around fire- and mudslide-related road closures in Colorado and Wyoming.

All in all the route worked well, with a few out-and-backs required to get the distance to 1200K. Despite having few roads to use, John Lee managed to keep the daily stages moderate — 220, 198, 181 and 148 miles respectively — even with the alterations.

The lack of rolling hills led us to adopt what I call “turtle tempo” riding — staying in the saddle and pushing a moderate pace without trying to fly down the road. Whenever we got a descent or truly flat section MG and I pressed the pedals, but the key to this ride was to pedal at a conversational pace and not worry much about the speedometer.

Nearly the entire field, made up of many experienced randonneurs, finished between 80 and 88 hours. That tells me the ride is geared toward a four-day experience and not to rushing through.

The only downside is that we spent more time on the saddle pedaling than a more rolling ride, and our seats and hands got pretty sore. On the third and fourth day we often stood on the pedals to get relief from the saddle. I moved my hands around the bars to lessen the soreness in my palms.

HC1200 is fairly tandem friendly, in that we and the other tandem team, Beth and Brent Myers of Denver, each finished with plenty of time to spare. We never ran low on gears except for the super-steep Twenty Mile Road into Steamboat, but as the name implies, it was not a long segment.

I’ve got a longer story in the works. For now I want to express my gratitude to John Lee and his volunteers, and to MG, for being a super-strong stoker and partner.

We had no tandem team meetings and were able to finish with some great riding pals (Jeff Bauer, Bill Beck, Dave Carpenter, Jimmy Williams, Mark Thomas and a bunch of other riders) with smiles on our faces. That’s the mark of a great event, right?

2 thoughts on “Colorado High Country 1200K Initial report

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