Ten days after the 600k I completed in British Columbia, I lined up for the start of the Last Chance 1200k in Louisville, Colorado. I had come home leaving my bike in the bike box, did laundry and repacked the same gear plus more for 2+ more days of riding. The ride was staged on the outskirts Boulder, Colorado, my hometown for 30 years. I was on home turf, and that felt reassuring. Checking the roster of riders, I saw that a number of friends were also riding: Vickie from TX, Bill from NJ, Vinnie from WA, and a host of others, so I felt good about the rando-company I would be keeping for the next 90 hours or so.
My plan for the ride? Simple: to finish. Ninety hours is a long time, but subtract time off of your bike: for eating, sleeping, any kind of mechanical issue and the clock quickly stops being your friend. To be successful, the thing to do is to manage your time OFF the bike. I knew I didn’t have lots of extra bandwidth to deal with copious “off the bike” issues, I needed to streamline riding and be efficient when not riding.
4:00 am comes too soon, but everyone is outside and ready to roll. For some of the people I see, it will be the first and last time over the 90-hour time limit. That always amazes me. You can be 45 minutes behind or in front of riders and never see them on the course which gives me the feeling of both being alone yet connected to everyone else.
As the group sorts itself out, Mark Behning and I end up on the road with the honey badger of rando, Vickie Tyer. She is strong, determined, and gets it done, no matter what. Vicki and I catch up, swapping stories for hours as the miles pass by. Bill Olsen is just behind us, having a slow start to the ride. At an early checkpoint, he realizes his brake is rubbing on his Bob Jackson and picks up speed once fixed. Julie Ni is also nearby, so we group up for the day into night.
Julie flats, which turns out to be epic. All of us take a turn trying to get the new tire off her rim, and none of us can even move the bead away from the rim. It’s almost as if the tire was glued, but she swears it wasn’t. After 45 minutes, I call in reinforcements. Brent Myers (ace volunteer) is dispatched to help Julie and we leave her on the side of the road. She ends up getting it changed with the help of another rider, saving Brent, but it costs all of us an hour of time which equals sleep. Not streamlined or efficient!
Arriving in Atwood, KS, Brent welcomes me with a big bear hug. We eat and head to bed, with a departure time of 5:00 am. Vickie departs earlier and that’s the last we see of her until the celebration dinner after ride’s end.
Day 2 is hot. Bill, Mark and I make our way to Nebraska, stopping at every state line for a goofy picture. The landscape doesn’t change, rolling hills of cornfields or sunflowers, or nothing, waiting for the next planting. Sun, road and unfavorable winds, rule the day.
The three of us are all on a comeback ride with something to prove. Mark has been randonneuring since 1990, but took a hiatus for many years for other life pursuits. Bill has been battling illness for two years and is coming back into form. Between us, we have completed plenty of 1200ks, but you never know what will come your way, they are long rides.
We stop to take pictures and shed clothing at the Prairie Dog State Park. A quick 5 minutes to stretch and break up the day of the same view on both sides of the tarmac.
Zoom zoom! Bill Russell flies by in his velomobile heading west as we head east. He is already on the return, having blown out to the turnaround in a ridiculously fast time. He will finish Last Chance a full day and a half before us.
We make our way to Alma, NE, just over the border, and then return to Kansas, stopping for food in Phillipsburg. We have turned the corner and are now heading West, back to the foot of the Rockies, but they are far away, not yet on the horizon. Last Chance is a different kind of 1200k. Lacking in high mountain passes, or various eco-systems that help break up the ride, LC requires a mental discipline of unrelenting focus.
That night, I get drowsy and fall asleep on my bike. We three stop for a power nap, taking in the stars, and finally return to Atwood. While we are wrapping up our day, Greg Smith is starting his. He is refreshed and down the road while we drop into a short night of 2 hours of sleep.
It’s a beautiful morning on Day 3, and we think that if we complete today, we might just have a shot at finishing this ride. Bolstered by that, we stop in the small town of McDonald for delicious breakfast burritos and coffee, made by, yessiree, Mrs. McDonald. With full stomachs and an ee-I-ee-I-o, we three continue westward ho.
Truthfully, by now the lack of scenery change is wearing on me. I’ve brought music for this day, but make the newbie mistake of bringing the wrong headphones. The monotony is what makes the ride tough. Fields of dreams for as far as the eye can see.
Retracing the road, we complete the long stretch to Idalia. Stopping in at a small store, we meet an elderly man named Glenn who is behind the counter. Behind him is an opening into the liquor store and we are in need of a beer. I ask him if I can purchase one from the grocery and he says, “no”, I need to go to the liquor store.
I walk outside, take two steps and enter the other door of the same building. Glenn is there waiting for me. “Hello!” I say, “may I buy these beers?” I pay, go outside, take two steps and enter the grocery side of the shop. Glenn is there and I say, “Hello!”, as if it’s the first time I am seeing him. “May I buy some water?” Glenn obliges and we buy ice too as we are going to make some ice socks out of our leg warmers. I ask if we can drink our beers outside and he instructs us to move away from the building and drink responsibly in the shade. Bill, Mark and I share some shade and rehydrate with light hops.
The sun sets as we continue to ride west. We stop in Cope to get reflective and comment on how sad this little town is despite having some interesting homes and storefronts. Many of the small towns on the route are empty or are barely hanging on. Boarded up buildings and a small handful of people are the only inhabitants. We agree that once the grocery and the gas station go out of business, it’s likely the town will fail. And what of the folks who stick it out? Where do they get their groceries? It’s unlikely that Amazon delivers food by mail or drone in these parts. It’s depressing and I am grateful for my home and community.
Rolling on into the night, we watch some heat lightning off in the distance as we begin climbing up to Anton. The air is cool, it has rained here, but our roads are dry. The heat lightning is entertainment for us, but a few riders who were here earlier got stuck waiting out the quick storm in an outhouse along the road. Sometimes it pays to be slow.
Continuing on through the last control before resting in Byers, we are welcomed after 20 miles of rollers by a surprise neutral support stop. Catherine Shenk is parked in Last Chance, CO in her campervan, with hot soup, beer, and chips for weary riders. Catherine introduced me to randonneuring 10 years ago and she was a welcome sight. The soup was good but the warm hug from a good friend gave me an extra boost.
Thirty-five miles of rollers brought us back to Byers, where we were welcomed by the ever-cheerful Paul Foley, pushing mountains of food our way and checking in to our needs. He even carried my bike up some rickety stairs to my room. Bonus!
Four hours later, Paul is serving up coffee and muffins to get us down the road. We have 103 miles and 14 hours to get it done. We three set off gingerly but in good moods. After 30 miles, we are back onto roads I know well. We stop in at a carniceria for fantastic tacos before heading to Platteville, our last control. Today we will celebrate the day, so we stop for hoppy refreshments.
Heading back into Boulder County, I’m keeping an eye on the sky. A typical late afternoon storm is brewing, and we need to outrun it, because the wind is swirling and we’re getting pushed around. We’re on familiar roads to me so we ramp up our speed, wrapping up the last few miles in style. Jersey zippers up, sitting tall, we pull into the finish, to the cheering of our fellow randonneurs. Mark has completed his first 1200k in 14 years, Bill has ridden out his illness and we all feel like we’ve accomplished something big.
One of the upshots of a life-changing event is that you get to re-set. Re-set the choices before you, re-set your goals. Are you trying to “get back” to where you used to be physically? Are you choosing something new and different? Riding a 1200k seemed a far-fetched idea while sitting in a wheelchair. Eight months later, Last Chance was an accomplishment. For me, the ride should have been named, First Chance because it helped define my re-set. Lynn (another randonneuse and survivor of a car v bicyclist crash) tells me that motion is lotion. To keep moving is healthier for your body and mind than remaining static. Another friend offers that the only way is forward. To move forward. Sounds simple, right? I’ve thought about what it means to move forward, and while I don’t have it all figured out, I can say that it will continue to include this whacky sport that gives me so much. Forward.
Many thanks to Mark Behning for being a fine partner on and off the bike and to Catherine and John Lee for extra support getting this ride completed. Thanks for reading.