The 400k brevet is generally considered the most difficult in the Super Randonneur Series. The increased distance over the shorter brevets can be difficult to manage physically, particularly later in the ride. While there are 27 hours allowed to complete a 400k, my perception is most randonneurs push to finish the ride without stopping to sleep. Such conditions can contribute to a cumulative fatigue that can be challenging, particularly for cyclists new to the sport.
As Susan, Sarah, and I left Bismarck for Helana, Montana on July 18th, the challenge of the 400k weighed heavily on my mind. Was it worth the risk to drive 10+ hours to ride this ‘new’ brevet distance? Assuming I could make it through the day, what traffic risks would I face by riding during the wee hours of the morning? And finally, how would my body respond to the smoke that covered much of Montana from fires in Canada and central Washington?
Looking back, these questions/concerns seem justified, but were non-issues. The Roe River 400k turned out to be an excellent experience thanks to good planning, excellent support, and favorable riding conditions. And with a finishing time of 20:58, it may perhaps be the fastest 400k I’ll ever ride.
Beginning in north Helena, the route followed I-15 to Wolf Creek for a long clockwise tour on mostly quiet, two-lane roads through Augusta, Fairfield, Simms, Great Falls, and Cascade before returning to Wolf Creek for the final 30 miles back to north Helena. It was a challenging route, with about 9000 feet of climbing and significant distances between controls. Jason Karp, Montana’s RBA, mentioned the route was PBP-like, minus the tree-lined roads.
(Daybreak, south of Wolf Creek)
(Big Sky! Highway 434, heading north to Augusta)
(Time to refuel at the Augusta Trading Post)
(Anheuser-Busch grain storage in Fairfield)
(The great falls in Great Falls)
(The Roe River... ...in all its 201 feet of glory)
Conditions for the ride were ideal for the clockwise route; at least for nearly all of the first 165 miles. A moderate- to strong south/southwest wind aided the riding effort, and provided a co-benefit by clearing the smoky skies by the time we left Great Falls for the return to Helena (a leg that proved difficult given the significant headwind, though the clear, star-filled sky more than made up for it once we were riding in the dark). Much like the Fishtail 300k, I found the traffic courteous with the exception of a couple sub-five foot passes (one of which involved a Montana state patrol car).
My riding companions for the day included Jason and Ken. We rode together for nearly the whole route. Similar to the 300k, I was the fortunate beneficiary of their strong riding, quick wit, and positive focus when we were all suffering. Additionally, we seemed to be ‘in-sync’ throughout the day, sharing a similar riding pace for nearly the entire ride.
(Riding companions for the day - Jason to the left and Ken to the right)
Aside from one flat early in the day and a few interesting wildlife interactions, we enjoyed a smooth, uninterrupted ride. As for the latter, we shared the road with a confused antelope near Cascade (who, fortunately, ran away from us), and I nearly ran over a rattlesnake while daydreaming along the frontage road north of Wolf Creek. Ken and I were also chased by a pug for about 50 yards early in the ride (I can handle being chased by that breed of dog… …a non-threat, even at 10 mph).
This was my first brevet where I did not break for a sit-down meal, though we took ample time in Augusta, Simms, Cascade and later in Wolf Creek to refuel with food and drink. The stop in Wolf Creek, with much thanks to Jason’s wife, son, and mother-in-law, was timed perfectly given we had been on the road for over 18 hours.
My pace dropped off considerably after midnight, perhaps a reflection of the cumulative physical/mental fatigue brought on by the 400k distance. The final climb back to Helena even found me walking my bike for a short stretch (and goodness, did it ever feel good to walk for a while!).
Other miscellaneous reflections…
· Issues with my right knee were managed nicely by ibuprofen. Only four tablets were needed during the ride.
· Tightness/pain in my upper back came and went throughout the ride, suggesting an underlying psychological driver to this physical response. Also, I felt better on this ride than the 300k. Accordingly, a switch in Nitto stems prior to the ride (resulting in a more upright position) had the desired effect.
· Riding along the Missouri river was a wonderful experience, despite being constantly pelted by an array of flying insects. I’m fairly certain I could repeatedly ride the stretch from Cascade to Wolf Creek and never tire of the scenery.
· Helena is a good destination for the family. I returned to a positive review of the downtown and surrounding countryside. We’ll return in the future, hopefully for a longer stay.
(Looking down on the Missouri)
(Now along the Missouri river, somewhere north of Wolf Creek)
With completion of this 400k, I’m now a 600k brevet from Super Randonneur status for 2014. My work schedule won’t allow me to return to Montana to complete the series, which will pass over Beartooth pass on Labor Day weekend (that will be a ride for another year!). Instead, I’ll be off to Minnesota mid-September for the Tour d’Twin Cities.
All for now. If you’d like to read another excellent ride review by Jason Karp, I encourage you to visit belgradebobcat.blogspot.com.