My first 400K Brevet

My first 400K Brevet was the Anchorage-Seward-Anchorage ride in 2012. I had survived the Anchorage-Palmer-Anchorage 300K two weeks prior, and was beginning to think I could actually do a full series (200K, 300K, 400K and 600K Brevets) and earn Super Randonneur status. But the thought of the Seward 400K left me, well, scared.

The 300K took me and the small group of four I was with 18:17 hours to finish. And while that was well within the 20 hour limit for a 300K, it seemed to me that to add 100K to that ride, as tired as I felt, would certainly mean another 8-9 hours, which is beginning to push the 27 hour time limit for the 400K. Could I ride for that long?

The route, while straightforward (get on the Seward Highway, head south and turn around when it stops and come back), was daunting as well. The Seward Highway is a heavily trafficked two lane road with decent shoulders for the most part. Scenic it is, but low traffic it is not. Along with the traffic are the often brutal winds along Turnagain Arm, and of course the climb over Turnagain Pass.

Here’s my report.

I arrive at the Huffman Carrs start location shortly before the 4am start time with some trepidation. Our Regional Brevet Adminstrator, Kevin Turinsky is there to send us off. There are three other riders doing the 400K; Andy Sorenson on his recumbent, Jan Schwarzburg, and Tom Parker. Andy is a seasoned randonneur and I usually only see him at an occasional control where he is lounging around. Normally he is ahead, way ahead of me. Jan is new to randonneuring but not to cycling, and is a strong rider. He finished well ahead of me on the 300K. Tom Parker is another seasoned randonneur, but rides a more modest pace. He completed the inaugural Big Wild Ride in 2011, and is my inspiration. Steady, quiet, low key, and riding a beautiful MAP Randonneur.

I am the last to roll out but soon pass Tom as he is stopped to mess with his tail light. As I hit Potter Marsh (2 miles in) the headwinds start. Pushing steady it seems 8 mph is about all I can do. Doubts flood over me. This is going to be a loooooong ride. I resolve to just ride my own pace and keep moving. Tom is somewhere behind me. It will be okay.

About half way to Girdwood I wave as a truck passes me and realize that Tom’s bike is hanging on the rear rack. Huh? Surely not. It slowly settles in that I am the last one out here grinding away against the wind under thick grey clouds. I plod on. I figure I should just keep pedaling and see what happens.

I finally arrive at Girdwood (not an official control on the outbound leg) and stop for an espresso and pastry. I see Andy and Jan leaving as I arrive. Hey, maybe I’m doing okay.

Back on the road the wind has subsided but dark clouds loom ahead. The rain starts shortly before the turn onto the out-and-back to Portage Glacier. Tom and his wife Joy are waiting at the Portage control in the steady rain. Tom’s MAP suffered a broken pedal, so he’s now supporting the ride with Joy. They offer lots of encouragement and water but with the rain I don’t stay long.

The rain thankfully tapers off as I begin the long, but not steep climb up to Turnagain Pass. I begin to feel better about things as I dry out and actually enjoy the climb. Pulling into the parking lot at the pass I find the nicest lady supporting the ride with water, snacks, etc. I am much indebted to these folks, and am humbled by the support they give to the few of us riding. She takes a picture of me and I head out on the mostly downhill run to the Hope Cutoff.

Turnagain Pass

Turnagain Pass

The climbs leaving the Hope Cutoff are harder for me than the Turnagain climb. I finally reach Summit Lodge, my legs starting to cramp, and Mike Price is waiting in his uber-custom RV. It’s what you would get if you cross a Hummer and a Class C motorhome. He heats water and I rest my legs while changing into dry socks. I slurp down a cup-o-noodle, pack up my stuff and head out. It’s all downhill to Seward right?

Uh, no. Actually there’s a fair amount of climbing on the run into Seward. I stop in Moose Pass for a Red Bull and a Payday. As I’m sitting by my bike an older gentleman asks about my ride. He’s impressed that I started in Anchorage, telling me “thats where I DROVE from”. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was planning on riding back to Anchorage (but not sure at this point if I can).

I make a brief picture stop along Kenai Lake.  One of the benefits of riding alone is stopping whenever you feel like it.

Kenai Lake

Kenai Lake

The downhills are tempered by more headwinds. It seems like it takes forever to pedal into Seward but I finally arrive at 3:33 pm. There’s no way I can ride back to Anchorage.

Tom meets me at the Subway control and offers gentle encouragement. I eat a sandwich, soup, chips, drink a Coke, and feel much better. Reapply Chamois Butt’r, pack up and head out about 4:20 pm.

Amazingly I feel good. The climbs out of Seward don’t seem so bad. The sun comes out.

Sun on the way back to Summit Lodge

Sun on the way back to Summit Lodge

I arrive back at Summit Lodge as Andy and Jan are leaving. Mike signs my card and I head into the lodge for some food. I eat a grilled chicken burger and fries, drink copious amounts of water and coffee and feel great. I’m out of Summit in 43 minutes, and am soon coasting down to the Hope Cutoff.

I take to the adjacent bike path leaving the Cutoff and enjoy the late evening sun at my back. I take a picture of my shadow running in front of me.

Late sun

Late sun

I arrive back at Turnagain Pass somewhere around 10 pm, and there is Mike waiting for me. He’s put in a long day. I top off the water bottles and enjoy the long downhill back to Turnagain Arm.

The sun has set behind the mountains, but I’m mesmerized by the glow on the distant peaks as I round the end of Turnagain Arm. The picture of course does not do it justice. And to add icing to the cake, the route does not require the out-and -back to Portage on the return. Just cruise on into Girdwood.

Evening light on the mountains

Evening light on the mountains

Well, cruise and cruise and cruise. It seems like a long way back around Turnagain Arm to Girdwood. Thankfully the winds are not an issue, and I eventually arrive in Girdwood at 11:35 pm. Jan is waiting in the Girdwood store, his ride over. He suffered a series of flats, and as he runs tubulars, he is done after his second spare punctured. Unfortunately, my spare tire and tubes are no help.

I snarf down some more food and head out at midnight, thankful that there is only 30 flat miles left. The winds are mostly calm, with a few breezes in my face at times. At some point I start thinking I can do this section in 2 hours and finish the ride by 2 am. I work hard and keep moving, only stopping briefly to reply to a text from my wife. But eventually I realize I won’t quite make it by 2. I pull into the Huffman Carrs at 2:08 am. Kevin and Tom are waiting for me. God bless them.

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