The 600K was two weeks ago, but I am just now getting around to writing it up. The 600K brevet is 600 kilometers (about 375 miles) and there is a time of 40 hours. The clock is always running. The brevet started at 5 am on Saturday and I had to finish by 9 pm on Sunday. In addition to finishing by the cutoff time, there are cutoff times for each of the checkpoints during the ride. I like to imagine that a bear leaves the start at the same time that I do. The bear travels at 15 kph (9 mph) and if he catches me, I'm done. Now it may seem that staying ahead of a bear that is only going 9 mph would be easy, but remember that the bear never stops. Whenever I stop for food, water, or sleep, the bear is catching up.
The route is available at http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/Saint-Louis-Area-600K.
The weather report was a little dicey. Scattered thunderstorms were predicted for both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday the winds were out of the SW at 5-10. Sunday, they were out of the W at 15-20. Highs in the upper eighties and lows in the mid sixties. I had been meaning to put fenders on my road bike for a while now and the weather report convinced me to do it for this ride.
The ride started without incident. I stuck to my game plan of starting out slow. I let the fast group disappear into the distance in front of me. The ride starts out heading east towards Pocahontas. For this part, we had a slight tailwind. The fast group never stops in Pocahontas, but I decided to stop to get a snack and use the restroom. I left Pocahontas (24.5 miles) at 6:50. This put about 45 minutes ahead of the bear.
I then headed southeast towards the first checkpoint in Breese. At about mile 40 I caught up to Scott. I had ridden with Scott for part of the 400K (and I had misremembered his name as Chris). We rode the rest of the way into Breese (mile 52) together. As I was about to leave the checkpoint, I remembered that I needed to put more sunblock on. Scott was leaving, but he said that he would ride slowly so that I could catch up. I left Breese at 8:52 (1:40 ahead of the bear).
After I left I passed Jim and Renate. They are an older (than me) husband and wife that were riding together. We formed a mini-paceline and eventually saw Scott ahead of us. Unfortunately when I caught up to Scott, I dropped Jim and Renate.
The second checkpoint was in Okawville at mile 78. After this Scott and I headed east for about 50 miles. This was nice because we had a slight tailwind again. This made up for the time we had been heading south with a slight headwind. We stopped in Irvington, Dix, and Bluford on our way to the next checkpoint in Belle Rive. It rained on us a little bit between Bluford and Belle Rive.
The checkpoint in Belle Rive was at Wilkey's Cafe (mile 140). This is just the type of restaurant that you would expect in a town with a population of 371. The employees there were just so nice to us. "Would you like to sit near the air conditioner, or would than make you too cold?" "Would you like some water?" "Is there anything else that I can get you?" The cliche seems to be true: people in small towns are very friendly. As we were leaving Wilkey's at 4:04, a few other rides were arriving. It also started to drizzle again.
After we stopped at Thompsonville (6:10 pm, mile 167) we could see the dark clouds ahead of us. I told Scott that I thought that the storm would continue to move to the east and we would miss it. I was partially correct. We missed the main portion of the storm but still caught some of the rain as we rode through the trailing edge. Still the rain wasn't too bad.
When we reached Creal Springs (8:04 pm, 190 miles), it was raining a little harder. Several people warned us that it was pretty bad out there. After eating a getting more water. We put on our rain gear and rode east towards the storm. As we rode, we could see huge bolts of lightning crossing the sky in front of us. It was still raining but it certainly wasn't a downpour. I was still hoping that we would not catch up to the storm so that we would stay relatively dry.
Like most of the riders, I had reserved a hotel room in Vienna to spend the night. This was at the 210 mile mark. That would allow me to do 210 miles the first day, sleep a few hours, and do 165 miles the second day. The only downside was that to stay ahead of the bear, I would have to leave the hotel be about 3:30 am.
After riding about 5 miles from Creal Springs we had a choice of routes to get to Vienna. We could either ride along US 45 or we could ride on a bike trail. The organizer strongly recommended the bike trail if we would be riding after dark, so our choice was easy. I had been looking forward to the bike trail as a psychological milestone in the ride.
The trail was crushed limestone, which is better to ride on than gravel but obviously not as good as asphalt. The rain had stopped but we were riding through as wooded area so the trail was a little foggy. The gray fog, combined with the gray trail, made it a little hard to see. With our lights we didn't have trouble seeing the path, it was just hard to see anything else. We tried riding side by side, but the trail was a little too narrow to do that comfortably in the dark. We just took turns leading.
One thing I don't like about riding in the dark is that I can't see my odometer. I did not to see it for navigation because we just had to ride the trail until it ended, but sometimes I like to have some reassurance that I am actually making progress.
The trail must have passed some ponds because at time the croaking of the frogs was incredibly loud. There were also tiny frogs or toads sitting on the path that would hop out of our way as we passed.
As we neared the end, I saw something in the path ahead. With the foggy path and my foggy brain I could not immediately tell what it was. It looked like a rock wall directly across the path. As I got closer I could tell that it was the branches of an enormous tree that had fallen directly across the bike path. I called back to Scott to make sure that he stopped.
The tree looked like it had fallen recently, probably in the storm that had just passed. Neither of us had packed a chainsaw so we considered our options. It was not possible to go around it because the branched extend for quite a ways in both directions. There were also lots of bushes, trees, and mud blocking that option. We eventually decided to go through it. This involved climbing over, under, and through the branches while carrying a bicycle. This was not easy and took us about 20 minutes.
After making our way through the tree, we only had about a quarter mile to go to reach the end of the bike path. That meant it was only a mile or so to the hotel. On the way, we stopped to buy some food at a convenience store. I bought a coke, some chips, and a sandwich to eat once I got to the hotel. We reached the hotel (213 miles) at 10:19 pm. This was later than I had hoped for but I would at least be able to get a little sleep. Scott noticed that his rear wheel was out of true. Something had probably happened to it when he climbed through the tree. He loosened the rear brake so that it wouldn't rub.
We later found out that the fast riders made it though before the tree fell. The riders behind us decided that it was impossible to go through the tree so they backtracked a couple of miles and walked up an embankment to get on US 45. We also found out that the riders ahead of us and behind us both got totally soaked at some point during their rides. We were lucky enough to thread the needle between the storms.
The front desk told us that they would have a continental breakfast set up for us at 2:30 am. I though this was very accommodating of them. When I got to my room I realized that I had left my sandwich sitting on a ledge outside of the convenience store. I had neglected to put it in my bag. Oh well, I had the chips as well as some other food that I had packed in my drop back. I took a shower, ate my food, and went to bed. I got about three hours of sleep from 11:30pm - 2:30am.
In the morning, I had some cheerios and Scott and I were back on the road by about 3:18. The bear kept going the whole time we were sleeping so we were only a few minutes ahead of the bear at this point. This is why we had to build up a lead yesterday.
The first leg this morning was heading east but it was early enough that there wasn't any wind. It was still foggy which made things a little disconcerting. There were times when the road looked flat to me but I was going at least 15 mph without pedaling so I was obviously headed down hill. There weren't any turns for the first twenty miles so we didn't need to worry about navigation.
In Anna we stopped for second breakfast (5:00 am, 235 miles, an hour ahead of the bear). Scott was a bad role model and had a microwave sausage biscuit. I followed his example and that wasn't a good idea for me. The biscuit just sat in my stomach for the next hour or so.
After that we were in the hilly part of Illinois. Yes, there are hills in Illinois--they keep them in the south. A little bit after Anna we turned north towards Alto Pass. Now in Colorado, a name like Alto Pass would involve several thousand feet of climbing. This wasn't that high but it was still a long stretch of climbing. Once we reached the top it was quite beautiful. The sun has just come up and we were riding past some orchards. I sung a few lines of "Oh what a beautiful morning".
We reached Murphsboro (mile 261) and stopped at Hardee's for another breakfast. When we left Scott's back tire was flat. Scott suggested that I go ahead but I stayed to see if I could help. I was hoping it was just a slow leak but while replacing the tube we saw that the rear wheel was damaged. Scott again suggested that I go ahead, so I did. There wasn't much I could do but I was afraid that Scott was just getting rid of me so that he could quit with nobody watching.
I later found out that he got it fixed enough to ride to Pinckneyville where his wife met him with another bike of his. According to the rules, you can only receive support at designated checkpoints so he had to make it the 24 miles to Pinckneyville.
I left Murphsboro at 8:00--less than an hour ahead of the bear. As I rode north towards Pinckneyville the wind started to pick up. I was coming out of the west so it was a crosswind, but I knew that I would be headed into it soon enough. I stopped Pinckneyville (285 miles) for about half an hour. I left at 10:00am, an hour and twenty minutes ahead of the bear. Now I was headed directly into the wind. It was very difficult-in some parts it was a struggle just to go 10 mph. Eventually I reached Eden for a brief rest (303 miles, 11:37).
I stopped in Coulterville for more water and then continued towards Okawville. In once section I got to ride east for a few miles. After I turned, I wondered where the tailwind was because I didn't feel it. Then I realized that I was riding at 15 mph in still air. The wind was directly behind so I didn't feel anything. In this section, someone was driving the route checking on the riders. I said I was doing fine and asked if anyone was still on the route behind me. This is when I found out what had happened with Scott. I also found out that Jim and Renate and a couple of other riders were behind me. At this point I realized that I had more respect for the riders who were behind me that the ones who finished ahead of me. It might be easy for the fast riders (or not), but I know the people behind me were working harder than I was.
I reached Okawville (mile 329, 1:46 pm), which is my favorite convenience store in the world. I felt like I was only 50 miles from the finish. This meant that I should be done in 4 or 5 hours. Okay, 4 or 5 hours doesn't sound good so don't think about it. I should reach New Baden in an hour or so. You should never think about how far it is to the end, just how far it is until the next stop. I left Okawville at 2:28, an hour and 40 minutes ahead of the bear. This section was heading into the wind again.
As I neared New Baden, I saw some riders from the "flat as a pancake" century. The odd thing is that I rode that ride last year for my first century (100-mile ride) ever. In one year I had gone from riding 100 miles to riding 375. I stopped at New Baden and Scott caught up to me. A friend of his was riding that last section of the ride with him. We headed out for the rest of the ride together.
By this point I was pretty tired and my hands, butt, and back were hurting. In the hilly sections earlier I was in the drops going down the hills which puts more pressure on my back. On the bright side, it takes some pressure off my hands. The ride was taking its toll on me but I knew I could keep going.
We made one last stop in St. Jacob (358 miles, 1:50 ahead of the bear) and the headed for the finish. We had talked about stopping in Marine but we decided to just keep going. When we got to Fruit Rd we were headed into the wind again but being so close to the end kept our spirits up.
We finished at 6:50 pm. Our time was 37:50, so we finished with two hours and ten minutes to spare. I didn't really think about it until after the ride was over, but it would have been possible for me to fail at this ride. I also know that I would need to be in better shape to do a 1200K. I'm not going to Paris so I don't need to worry about it this year. If I ever want to do a 1200K I am going to have to do some training.
4 other riders (including Jim and Rebate) finished behind us. I was glad when I found out that they finished. I don't know how many riders started (15-20?), but 12 riders finished.