Sangre de Cristo 600k

I couldn’t miss the Sangre de Cristo 600k. It’s one of a few brevets that start within 3 hours of my house. In fact, much of the first day, riding home would be shorter than riding to the finish. That, and it’s one of my favorite rides. And, if you haven’t had the pleasure of riding one of New Mexico RBA John and Liz Mazzola’s brevets you need to do yourself a favor and fly, drive, or ride your bike to one to see what you’re missing.

I set a goal for 2011 to ride three Super Randonneur (SR) series. I did a nice, relaxed series in Texas with the Lone Star Randonneurs this spring. I rode their January 1st 200k. That was a great way to kick off the year! The challenge with the TX series was the long drives to the rides, and completing the Goat’s Neck 600k brevet the week after racing Hill Country 600k. (Yes, it’s true. In the crazy ultra-cycling world, the Hill Country 600k Race does not count as a 600k for an SR series.) I got to visit Louisiana and see a real Bayou during the Fleas and Trees 400k. I was singing (Making the Run to) Gladewater from Michele Shocked’s 1988 album Short, Sharp, Shocked most of that day as we were passing near many of the places she names in that song, “Upsher County’s drier than an empty bottle, since the Mormons came to town … ”

The second and third series were in Colorado and New Mexico, on roughly alternate weeks. I rode the May Colorado 600k so I could do the 1000k in June. As it turned out, there was a snowstorm on Peak-to-Peak Highway the day before the May 600k so the ride was re-routed and we got to visit Raymond, which was a short, but beautiful little detour from the usual St Vrain route. I got in an extra 200k at Valles Caldera, another excellent New Mexico ride. For one of two weekends off I went to cheer the women at the Tour of the Gila and did some riding on the race route.

I was surprised by how draining it was to ride 9 brevets in 11 weeks. If all I had to do was ride it wouldn’t be so bad, but driving, packing, un-packing, bike maintenance, leaving Bonnie, and trying to keep up with work between it all took it’s toll. I was happy that the third series, and this little personal challenge, would be complete soon. So on the final day of the final 600k it would be an understatement to say that I was a little panicked when I realized I’d locked my keys in my car, along with my rear wheel, helmet, brevet card and phone (which was only working sporadically anyway, but that is another story).

The weekend had started oddly. It seemed like the 2009 front hub I’d rebuilt with scavenged 1995 parts was at it’s life’s end so I’d put a tire on another front wheel Friday morning. As I drove out of town that afternoon I heard the tire pop and hiss as it deflated. It was a used tire and had a small hole near the bead. When I got to Taos that night I swapped the tire from another wheel.

All was good on Saturday. I’d decided I was psyching myself out about the ride and it wasn’t going to be as bad as last year. For one thing I was no longer trying to fuel myself with the “Perpetuem liquid fast” to which I attributed a lot of my problems in 2010. Also, the climbs seemed less daunting to me than a year ago. My rear wheel, which I hadn’t taken the time to check after the 1000k, had lost tension and I stopped a few times to true it and finally spent about 10 minutes in Cimarron State Park bringing the tension up all around. After that it was staying true, but I still decided to swap to my spare rear wheel when I got back to Taos that night.

I set the hotel alarm clock because my phone battery was dying and wasn’t sure I could hear my phone plugged in across the room over the noise of the window air conditioning unit. If you guessed that the hotel alarm clock didn’t work, you guessed correctly. Fortunately my Sunday morning started not too much later than planned when I heard my phone alarm in the distance. I packed everything in the car, got my bike ready and ate breakfast. About 5:45am I walked to the front door of the hotel to check out, and fell while trying to negotiate myself and bike around the Harley armada that was blocking the entrance from curb-to-curb. At first I thought, “Good, I’m not injured.” Then I heard the air rapidly escaping one of my tires.

As it turned out my rear valve stem had snapped off in the fall. I went to my car and extracted my pump and toolbox. I unseated the tire and installed a new valve stem. I was going to make one attempt to reseat the tubeless tire before throwing a tube in it. When the CO2 cartridge didn’t work (of course not, in my rush I’d forgotten to lubricate the bead with soap before trying to reseat it), I decided to make a quick drive to the gas station around the corner to use their compressor. I took my bike back to my hotel room and when I returned realized I’d locked my keys inside my car. Oy vey!

My first thought was “DNF.” Then I remembered this was the last ride of the series. “OK. Call Liz and John.” Phone numbers on cue sheet locked in car. Liz had said she was planning to leave at 6:00am. It was about 6 already. I needed to try to intercept them. I’d told them I would try to leave at 4:00am and I knew they’d be worried if they didn’t find me out there.

I go back to the front desk, dial “0” for the umpteenth time because the guy is always in the back watching TV. Me, “I need to call a locksmith.” Him, reaching for phonebook, “OK. There’s only one that can help.” He makes a call. “He’ll be here right away.”

I go stand by the road to look for John or Liz or Ryan because they have to ride by the hotel if they haven’t already left. Then I remember, my mom was worrying during the 1000k and asked for phone numbers before the 600k. Back to the front desk, dial “0”. “I need to make a calling card call…”

After I wake up my mother, I see Mike walk up in his bike gear. One of the first happy things I’ve seen all morning! He calls Liz and John and soon they drive over, right behind the locksmith who’s finally arrived 45 min after he’d be right there. Heck, it was 6:45am on Sunday morning in Taos, NM, I was lucky he arrived before noon!

I watched him unlock the car thinking, “That’s about as simple as the old coat-hanger through the window. I should have one of those things. Well no, if I had one it would be locked in the car right now.” He unlocks the car. No alarm. Great! Very reassuring. I try to get the hatch open and in the process the alarm goes off. I dive over all my gear to reach my keys at the very back of the car.

It seems to take the locksmith almost as long to write out the bill as it did for him to get to the hotel. Finally I’ve paid. He’s gone. I head to the gas station. The compressor won’t seat the tire either (see note above about soap lubricant) so I punt. Swap the cassette back to Saturday’s wheel. Get my bike together. Check out of the hotel and get on the road, just after 7:00am.

Now I had less than 14 hours to finish and to the best of my memory it took me more than 14 hours last year. One advantage of a late start is it’s warmer. I booked it over the mountain to Angel Fire, much faster than 2010 when I’d had to stop a few times to add layers. I made a quick stop at Angel Fire for more water, and before I reached Mora I was back on doable pace. I just needed to maintain 10 mph with stops to finish by the 9:00pm limit.

I’d passed Ryan in Angel Fire while he was stopped for one of his infamous restaurant meals. He rode into Mora and headed to the ice cream shop just as I was leaving the control. I knew Ryan would pace himself to finish so if I could stay ahead of him I’d be OK. I also knew he was a stronger climber than I so he might come zipping by me on any of the remaining climbs.

Sunday was hot and windy, a little hotter and windier than last year, but that could just have been because I started later. This year I was carrying a CamelBak and had plenty of water to stay hydrated with extra to stay cool. No stopping to beg water from farmhouses this time.

And I take back what I said about Sapello. The ride from Mora to Sapello is very beautiful. The checkpoint is nothing to write home about, but they do have a clean bathroom and an extensive liquor selection if you’re in for the true French brevet experience.

I made it to the Sapello checkpoint with an hour to spare, bought a bag of ice to fill my CamelBak and bottles and to implement my new cooling strategy; stuffing my shorts legs with ice. If you’re in a hot, dry climate and don’t mind some dripping in your shoes you should try it some time. It’s like icing your quads and hams and creating a mini circulating cooling system.

Climbs and headwinds back to Mora. By that time I’d started to lose my appetite, but I thought I could get by with fewer calories since I’d been eating well up to that point. A couple more long climbs, more headwind, hot, hot temps in the valley near Talpa, smoky skies and red sun. Then a long descent to Taos. I was cooked! And the ride was done!

Valles Caldera 2011

A video blog for 2011 (14:21)-
Link to 2x version for those with only 7:10.
Link to 4x version for those who want to see it in 3:35.

Valles Caldera 200k Brevet from Cathy Cramer on Vimeo.

A beautiful day for a ride in the Jemez Mountains. 125 miles, 11,000 ft of climbing. The ride starts at Overlook Park in White Rock, NM, goes thru Bandelier National Monument, by Fenton Lake and turns around at Jemez Springs. For more information about the route see

Ride with GPS route and profile-

A few images pulled from the sequence in the video-

2010 Valles Caldera blog post

More information about this brevet at