2009 started pretty much like any other year. The usual winter e-mails were exchanged suggesting overseas rides in the sun. I said yes to John Barkman’s idea of Madrid Gijon Madrid (MGM1200); then good friend Nick Dale from Western Australia suggested riding London Edinburgh London (LEL1400) with the WA lads, another yes. Gold Rush 1200 in California had been on the wish list for a long time and it let me meet up with Carol Bell, Hans Dusink and his long suffering wife Linda. The final piece of craziness was seeing Audax Oz’s Sydney Melbourne Alpine (SMA1200) and another entry went in. It was only when booking flights and leave that I noticed the schedule. The first three rides (Gold Rush, LEL and MGM) were within seven weeks starting in July. I then had a break of two months before heading out to SMA. I’d set myself up for an International Super Randonneur 1200 series on three continents in under six months. It seemed kind of crazy but also struck me as an exciting adventure, so having never done anything so silly since riding tandem with Jon Jennings, I hopped on a BA flight to ride #1.
#1 Gold Rush Randonnee – 6-10 July 2009
Organiser; Davis Bike Club, California, USA
I can’t remember quite how this ride got on my ‘wish list’, but it did. It runs every four years from Davis to the turnaround at Davis Creek. It does what it says on the tin, travelling through gold rush country in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
At 6pm several groups formed up for the dash through 100km of flat lands to Oroville. There the climbing started and didn’t end until the feared Janesville grade some 888km later. Then it was, as they say, ‘downhill all the way to the finish’ and back onto the flat lands where mosquitoes feasted on us. Rice is grown on land irrigated by dykes; hence the charming mosquitos.
The ride turned out to be a really friendly affair, meeting up with old friends as well as new. I caught up with Mary Crawley and Jeff Bauer on their Co-motion tandem and Bill Olsen who I’d see again on SMA. New friends made during the ride were many, but one that sticks in my mind is Paul ‘the Octopus’ Rozelle, one of three riders on fixed. The plan to ride with Carol fell by the wayside as she dashed off with the lead group, but over the next 24 hours a posse of Hans, John Evans (on fixed) and I formed and the rapid-fire exchange of banter and jokes made the ride a 1200km full of fun. We rode together until 20km from the arrivee where Hans and I managed to mislay John. He’d stopped for a much needed coffee stop and forty winks, not headed down the freeway as we’d feared.
The ride organisation was good; the route fantastic with wonderful scenery, the only disappointment was that my ride jersey got lost in the post. Would I ride this again? Yes.
#2 London Edinburgh London – 26th July to Friday 1st August
Organiser Audax United Kingdom
This was my second edition of LEL, my first was in 2005 but without a 1200km prologue! The WA group set off at 08:30 attired in our new team jerseys. It could have been something about the nice arrows or stripes on the jerseys, or perhaps our convict/ACP number 511501 that made AUKs wary of talking to us! During the ride, Nick and I hooked up with some great groups including bunches from Seattle International Randonneurs and Audax Italia. During the first day of the ride, Nick and I had the pleasure of riding with Rick Blacker from the US and Sophie Matter from France. Both had preceded LEL with the Rocky Mountains 1200. Unbeknown to any of us at the time, we’d meet up again at SMA.
The weather gods put on a spectacular display of rain and wind, but forgot to include sun in the mix. Nick and I became ‘the group’ with John Evans popping in and out as he’d had the cunning idea of booking into a Travel Lodge or two rather than using the accommodation provided by the organisation. Despite the challenges of the weather, bunch banter provided enough entertainment for us to complete the ride with plenty of time in hand.
The ride organisation was ‘interesting’ but the ride held together under difficult circumstances, so thumbs up. I preferred the 2005 route to this one. Would I ride this again? Perhaps
#3 Madrid – Gijon – Madrid – 18th to 22 August
Organiser; Audax Iberia
This was the second MGM. As with the 1st edition, it almost coincided with LEL, but this time they had been a bit more kindly and scheduled it two weeks after LEL rather than finishing 2 days before the start of LEL. I was one of the first three ladies to ride this event, the others being Spain’s Nuria Rodriguez Jurado and Italy’s Rosanna Bandieri. I was also one of a quartet of Brits who’d just completed LEL; the other three being John Barkman, John Evans and Peter Turnbull. John E was at this point, we thought, winning the crazy randonneur prize as he’d sneaked in the Super Brevet Scandinavia 1200 between LEL and MGM. I was unaware that Bill Olsen was on a similar run; his fourth ride was Endless Mountains 1200. However, SMA would prove a bigger obstacle to their attempts to ride 6 1200km+ brevets in the same year.
We departed from Algete, a beautiful town about 20km from central Madrid at 22:00. We were escorted by a combination of motos and mopeds for most of the night, acting as mobile route marshals. For once, Mr Evans had had a light bulb moment and had chosen a bike with gears as opposed to his beloved fixed, which given the amount of climbing we were going to enjoy, was a wise move. However, Pat Hurt hadn’t had the same thought and was riding his fixed Airnimal. Going down long descents in the dark, he looked like a Bugs Bunny cartoon not quite up to speed.
We headed out through a countryside turned the most wonderful shades of terracotta. As John said, we were seeing the visual of Miles Davis’ ‘Sketches of Spain’. The weather gods seemed to be smiling on us, kindly providing a gorgeous daily 40oC of sun on our backs. We rode over a 1240m climb to get us up and over the Picos de Europa, where our world turned from terracotta to green all the way to the turnaround at Gijon, a working port on the Bay of Biscay. However, the weather gods hadn’t ordered 1200km of sun and as we chugged back up the mountain, we rode in a nasty drizzle that had been hassling us for a couple of hours. This didn’t spoil the drama of the narrow road as it twisted and turned through a rocky gorge. However, the drizzle didn’t have our climbing legs and departed a bit before the summit of the climb. After that, thankfully the sunshine re-installed itself right up to the finish.
The motos were fantastic, constantly making sure we were all OK. They were even cheering and handing out Coca Cola at gone midnight on top of the climb from hell, following the control at Ayllon. Basically, if you could find a metre of smooth surface to ride at any given time, you were doing exceptionally well. Following the route was a challenge, as the route sheet was in Spanish with no arrows painted on the road, unlike Gold Rush or Mille Miglia. Ray Robinson’s wife had translated the route sheet into English for Ray who was also riding MGM. John and I were lucky enough to be given a copy, but for whatever reason, there was a crucial instruction missing with less than 100km to go to the arrivee. This led to an off-route excursion that added about 90km to the ride while visiting the hilltop town of Guadalarjara. Once John had figured which way the sun was turning (he usually lives in Australia) in relation to my 10 year old map, we were heading in the right direction again., We pitched up at the arrivee with 1.3 hours to spare. John, Pat, Chris Wilby, Peter Turnbull and I then enjoyed a great festive lunch with most of the Spanish riders.
The ride organisation only provided the basics, but always did it excellently, including their moto team. The event is very ‘Spanish’ with 85% of the peloton being Spaniards. However this contributed to the charm and enjoyment of this ride. Would I ride this again? Yes
#4 Sydney – Melbourne Alpine – 29th November to 1st December
Organisation; Audax Australia
The idea of a straight-out 1200km ride over the Snowy Mountains captured for me the spirit of adventure and randonneuring. What I and various friends didn’t realise was that our spirit of adventure and enthusiasm for randonneuring was going to be tested 110%.
We rolled out from under the Sydney Harbour Bridge as one big peloton of about 60 riders plus local route finders at 6:00am, heading for the first night’s stop at Canberra, the nation’s capital. Lots of good friends were in the bunch; Nick Dale, Dave Minter, Bill Olsen, John Evans (on fixie), Sophie Matter and Rick Blacker. The task of getting to Canberra had seemed relatively straightforward and promised a good night’s sleep (in randonneur terms at least). However a full-on headwind installed itself, which remained there for the next 600km with rain thrown in as a special treat. The route and route sheet were both ‘challenging’ which meant that the group that formed after Gunning rolled in just 2 hours before the control closed. After a bite of food and a hint of sleep, we tackled breaking out of Canberra. My groupetto had the good fortune of Peter Heal on his recumbent as a ride guide before he headed to work after a night helping at the control.
Getting to Cabramurra at 1400m in the Snowy Mountains, with the boast of being Australia’s highest town, proved the next challenge. At Cooma, having loitered in a control way too long with Stuart Dowel, Chris Rogers (ride organiser) gave me a bum steer, telling me that Dave, Bill and John were ahead. I launched a 110km time trial, unaware that I was chasing Dave not on his bike, but in a car because the three of them had fallen victim to the ride and were already out. However, my time trial saved my ride, as I got into Cabramurra with an hour in hand before the control closed, near midnight. The subsequent descent and climb had gradients more severe than the Devil’s Staircase in Wales. An added bonus was the darkness and negative temperatures, due to wind chill. Then followed a crazy twisty rollercoaster of descending and climbing, ending at the motel control of Corryong and some well-earned sleep.
I passed through the Bellbridge control, again in Mr Evans’ entertaining company. John, like a lot of the riders sans brevet cards, rode to the Melbourne finish just for the fun of it. With the sun out and the wind at our backs, the riding was great. Control cut-off times were no longer an issue and those lucky enough to have brevet cards in their jersey pocket really relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
The last day on the road; 200km from Euroa to Melbourne was brilliant. The weather was warm with a tailwind to gently push you along plus the company of good friends. I rolled into the arrivee with Dave, Bill and John to be greeted by lots of Victorian friends who didn’t ride SMA, but were enjoying a Christmas party that doubled up as the control. It was the perfect way to complete my second ISR 3C.
The ride organisation was excellent, but the route sheet ‘interesting’. This ride suffered one of the greatest DNF rates of all time (virtually 50%), only matched by Endless Mountains 1240km, so a second edition might not be on offer. Would I ride this again? Don’t know.
A big ‘thank you’ has to go to all the organisers and volunteers that made riding these brevets possible. The rides not only provided me with fantastic challenges, but the opportunity to meet up with long-time international friends, in some cases multiple times and making new friends who I’ve since had the pleasure of meeting and riding with again. Chasing an ISR award (twice now) has encouraged me to travel to new and wonderful countries that I might have not otherwise gone to and filled the memory banks to overflowing; thumbs up.