2011 High Country 1200k Report

[Photos of High Coutry 1200]

It seems once or twice a year I’m on a bike ride that makes all the training seem worth it. Often it’s an easy, relaxed ride with friends during a break in the season. High Country 1200k was not easy or relaxed, and I rode most of the 750 miles alone, but as I was enjoying the sight and sound of the raging Poudre River for miles Thursday morning I was grateful for the preparation that made it possible for me to experience this beautiful ride.

Although I’d been looking forward to the ride for weeks, on Sunday before the start I was dreading the forecast of rain. I installed fenders on my bike and mentally prepared myself for the possibility of four very wet days.

Monday morning the roads were wet, but the rain had stopped. Because I’m in “no-drafting” mode until after HooDoo I waited a few minutes after the other riders had left the parking lot before rolling out. After I’d gone about one mile I heard air leaking out of my tire, but it sealed quickly. Wet roads often mean more punctures so I’d added sealant to both tires in preparation. By the time we got to the secret control the roads were dry and the sun was shining.

A fairly flat 60 miles brought us to the checkpoint in Laporte. I’d passed a couple riders en route, but I was still near the back. Even though I’d not been pushing particularly hard, I can’t say that I felt like riding another 160 miles, but after refilling bottles and shedding clothes I headed up Poudre Canyon.

The sun was still shining and the river was high. There were lots of rafters at the lower end of the Canyon. I was thinking how nice it would be to be floating down the river in a raft, and figured it wouldn’t be a bad vacation to ride High Country 1200k and plan a rafting trip afterwards.

Around mile 85 I heard more leaking air from my back tire. Again it sealed. I could tell it was low, but I was only 15 miles from, Rustic, the next control, so I figured I would check it there.

At Rustic I bought a gallon of water and filled my Camelbak and bottles. My rear tire was very low. I added some air ’til it was around 80 psi.

From there it was a gradual 3000 foot climb to the top of Cameron Pass. A few miles from the top a light rain started and continued a mile or two over the top. After that, the roads dried quickly, and I enjoyed a few miles of fast descent.

The sky was overcast as I was riding into Walden, and I wanted to get on the road quickly to get as far as possible before the rain started. A few miles before Riverside, WY, the sky let loose. There was pounding rain and some hail. I thought about stopping because of the lightning, but it looked like it could be a long wait before the skies cleared and I was worried I’d get cold standing around. Whereas it looked clear to the north, the direction I’d be turning toward in 2-3 miles, so I pedaled on.

As I hoped, soon after I made the right turn at Riverside, the rain stopped. I rode into Saratoga before sunset and was happy to find the dinner menu included vegan bean soup! I ate two bowls of soup while I was organizing for the next day, took a shower, and got some sleep.

I awoke around 2am, ate, dressed, packed up. My rear tire was very low. The fenders made it difficult to do a good check of the tire condition so I pumped it up to 100psi and signed out at 3:30am.

As soon as I clipped in, air was spewing from my tire again. It sealed, but I had very little pressure left. I pulled over by the hardware store and tried to add more air, which caused the sealant to fail. I rolled back to the hotel for my drop bag and spare tire. After I got the old tire off I was amazed I’d gone as far as I had. There was a cut about 1/2″ long across the tread.

By 4am I left for real, but the tire change had made a mess of my very low clearance fender. I must have stopped 4 times in the first 5 miles to fiddle with it.

In spite of many nature breaks and stops to adjust my fenders and add layers, the climb up the Snowy Range was one of my favorite parts of the ride. Even in the dark it was beautiful. As the sun came up there were snow drifts and lakes that were still partially frozen over, wildflowers and rushing streams, and at that early hour, almost no traffic.

The descent into Centennial was a blast! I still had plenty of water in my Camelbak so I didn’t have to stop, but it seemed like the closer I got to Laramie the less pleasant the road and route became. A sheriff’s deputy yelled at me to “stay in the bike lane.” Referring, I suppose, to the unrideable, gravel strewn, shoulder, with broken pavement, overgrown with weeds. It was good practice riding the narrow few inches of nicer pavement between the white line and the rumble strip.

Although I’ve stopped in Laramie before when driving I-80 and didn’t think it such a bad place, the section of town we rode into was pretty dismal. I was glad to be headed away from there. As with arriving, the first few miles leaving Laramie were pretty depressing.

Just after Woods Landing was a great surprise. The route turned back into Medicine Bow National Forest, better roads, and a beautiful, somewhat steeper, climb.

Back at Walden the clouds were threatening. It started to sprinkle just as I was leaving. It only lasted a few minutes and I was too warm in my non-breathable rain jacket. I stopped and took it off even though it didn’t look like the rain was finished. After few minutes more it was raining again. I didn’t last long. Even so I was drenched and chilly. Just as I was drying out the rain started again. I could see blue sky ahead so I rode hard to try to get past the rain and I did escape all but a few drops.

The climb up Muddy Pass was much faster than I expected. It’s very gradual, and broken up with short descents along the way. Rabbit Ears is just a few short climbs from there. Rain looked inevitable as I got to the top of the descent to Steamboat Springs. I stopped to put on my rain gear. The rain began as I was chatting with a local rider who had just climbed up and was headed back in only shorts and a jersey. Brrrrr. The descent, which would have been fun if the road had been dry, was slow. I sat up as much as possible and never let my speed build up on the very wet and windy road. After seven miles of wet, cold, my knees rebelled when they had to turn the pedals again for the last two miles to the control. Those two miles were the most difficult of the entire ride for me.

The volunteers at Steamboat spoiled us. Chili (yes, a vegan option) with pasta! The first time I’d had that combo. It was very delicious, warming and filling. I spent time analyzing the weather before going to sleep, having decided to just get up at 2am and leave early if it wasn’t raining. It was a luxurious stop, but I wasn’t too pleased about spending nine hours off the bike and only five of those sleeping. I needed to be more efficient.

Wednesday morning I removed my fenders because of all the time I’d wasted on Tuesday adjusting them, and because it looked like there was a good chance of no more rain. I made a fender from a plastic bottle to protect my rear light and was glad I had. The roads were wet when I left Steamboat and there was wet, thick fog until after sunrise. My stomach wasn’t feeling all that spiffy either and I had to stop in Yampa.

In spite of all that I enjoyed the climb up Gore Pass. It was not as spectacular as Cameron Pass or the Snowy Range, but still beautiful, and it was followed by another ripping descent. After that the route followed US-40. While the scenery was beautiful, the traffic made it less enjoyable than the rest of the day.

I was expecting a climb to Grand Lake and then a coast back to the Willow Creek Pass turn. That’s not at all how I experienced it. Although the first few miles from Granby to Grand Lake are uphill, after that it’s all rollers. Since there was a tailwind to Grand Lake, the hard part was the return. Granby Lake made for some nice views and there were some little oddities along the way; like the houseboat converted to floating concession stand on an obscure little golf course.

The climb up Willow Creek Pass was superb! Very beautiful and very little traffic. It was one of several highlights of the ride for me.

The descent was not much of a descent. It was a slog, on bad pavement, back to Walden, but it was definitely worth the effort. The volunteers at overnight control #3 treated us to cold drinks and black beans and rice. Some of the tastiest beans and rice I’ve ever eaten! I got a room with a little kitchen which made it easy to get breakfast for myself. I was a little more efficient with my time; nine hours off the bike, 6 hours of sleep. I started out for Cameron Pass at 3:30am.

More spectacular scenery! I noticed some deer in a field around sunrise and thought, “Well, I’ve seen lots of deer, but here, in the Moose Viewing Capital of the World, I’ve not seen a moose.” Just then, trotting along with me on the other side of the road I saw the moose. I might have been frightened to be so close, but it was clearly looking for an escape and veered into a side road a few seconds after I saw it. Minutes later I saw several moose in the field. And two more a couple miles up the road.

The sunrise over Cameron Pass was beautiful. I pedaled easily and thoroughly enjoyed the descent to Laporte. I stopped many times for nature breaks, adjusting clothing and (unusual for me) taking photos.

From Laporte the route was basically “in town”. I was first motivated to get off Taft Hill Road which seemed to go on forever. Then I was motivated because it looked like rain was imminent.Then I was motivated because I saw a rider a few miles ahead and wanted to see who it was. After being stopped at nearly every light in Louisville, I arrived, in post-ride bliss, at the final control.

Many thanks to the organizer, John Lee Ellis, and all the volunteers! The route was well-planned, the food was incredible, and the accommodations excellent!

5 Replies to “2011 High Country 1200k Report”

  1. Milly, I always use a compact crank, 50/34. For most long rides I use an 11-28 cassette, but will occasionally swap that out for flatter rides.

  2. You missed out in Laramie! I rode into the downtown area via a foot bridge over the railyard and found a sweet little section of town with an amazing Thai restaurant, a friendly bike shop, and even a vegetarian cafe! I felt sorry for all the riders I saw at McDonalds on my way back out of town.

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