"Why are you doing that?" I think that is the most common question we randonneurs get from both friends and strangers. Good question. Why would anyone endeavor to ride 750 miles in 90 hours or less? As I recently put it to one friend, I'm going to ride almost four double centuries in four days, with four hours of sleep between each. I think the response I got was along the lines of "you are crazy!"
Last Fall, a good friend of mine, Tim Woudenberg, convinced me that we should do Paris-Brest-Paris together. PBP is the granddaddy of all 1200k brevets...an annual pilgrimage is made by thousands of cyclists every four years to ride in PBP. He promised me wonderful scenery, great food, and the option of sleeping in a French barn! Although I didn't care much for French food and wasn't all that excited about flying halfway around the world to ride with 5000 of my closest friends, I grudgingly agreed. After all, when was the last time Tim wasn't spot on about a ride?
Well, in January, another friend of mine, Bruce, brought the Big Wild Ride to my attention. He was excited about it as there would be minimal riding in the dark. I was excited about it because I have always wanted to go to Alaska! Since reading Jack London and Walter Morey as a kid, Alaska had always been a destination I wanted to explore. Besides, it was closer, better food (in my mind), and was a ride across a vast wonderland with only 40 riders! I cancelled my date with Tim and signed up for BWR 2011!
Bruce and I began our preparations by completing a (relatively) local brevet series. These rides are 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k, and completion is required to be qualified to ride a 1200k. At the 400k, Bruce made the decision to pull out for a variety of reasons, and I was left to finish the qualifications solo. I ran into one of our customers, Roland Bevan, at the 400k, and we eventually decided to ride together on the BWR. Also, a 2012 RAAM teammate, Larry Graham, was coming along as well. The three of us would conquer the Alaskan landscape!
Here is the route in a nutshell:
To talk about preparations briefly is impossible. The logistics of doing a ride like this can be mind-numbing. I had several goals for this ride:
1. Complete the course in 90 hours or less, enjoying the scenery and the Alaskan culture.
2. As much as possible, ride during the day and sleep at night.
3. Sleep in real beds with real showers (no community sleeping arrangements).
4. Have fun!
Roland was in agreement on these goals, and so I set out an ambitious plan to meet them. Remember, our goal was to finish in about 90 hours...we were not interested in racing the course to see how fast we could do it. To meet these goals, we would need to alter the standard course plan slightly to access hotels on the route. We also had to extend our first day about 60 miles to get on a daytime riding schedule. So, here was the plan:
1. Ride starts at 6pm on Sunday. We would arrive at the first overnight control (mile 265) around 4-6pm on Monday, and keep riding to Salchaket Roadhouse approximately 60 miles further, arriving between 10-12pm. Get 4-6 hours of sleep and continue.
2. Day two would take us to the Healy sleep control 150 miles down the road, and then an additional 38 miles to Cantwell where the Backwoods Lodge would have a room waiting for us. Again, arrival was about 10-12pm. Get 4-6 hours of sleep and continue.
3. Easy 200k day to Talkeetna to the overnight control there. They had a hotel with beds and showers for all riders.
4. Up at midnight to finish the last 110 miles to Anchorage before noon on Thursday.
I knew #1 was doable...I've done it before. My bigger concern was #2. Completing 530k and then getting up a couple hours later to ride another 200 miles was unfamiliar territory for me. I knew that once I got past day 2, the last two days would be easy as they were on relatively recumbent-friendly terrain (read flat to rolling) and significantly shorter.