Sunday, April 18, 2010

Iceland Blows While Kenai Knows

Eliot poeticized that, "April is the cruellest month...", and that's why we only have one brevet in the month before May! T.S. quickly characterizes early spring's bleakness in the first few lines of his poem The Waste Land. And when he writes, "I will show you fear in a handful of dust." I wonder if he was ever a cyclist in The Great Land, riding through the sins-of-winter; the gravel deposited on our roads all winter-long that becomes menacing and dangerous as it emerges from the snow and ice, until the midnight armies of street-sweeper ants complete their twisty, windy journey through our cities by early June.

He never mentioned volcanos in that poem though, did he? Last year a volcano belched, and spewed ash all over the 200K course, causing us to move the start date into the redemption of May, when the leaves just begin to come out, and the air smells sweet with birch and cottonwood sap. This year, it was a volcano again! However, that was in Iceland, and boy, are they feeling it. That's too bad for them. Ash is no fun, and really hard to deal with. Here's to hoping they can get back on their bikes soon!

Here in Alaska, randonneuring season began last weekend, again with a few surprises. Interest in randonneuring is really growing, and four days before last Saturday's Kenai 200K brevet, the number of e-mails and phone calls asking for details about the ride really jumped. I figured we were looking to have between 30 and 35 riders to kick off the 2010 season. That would've been a record turnout.

Then, on Wednesday, the snows began. A spring snow dump isn't unusual up here in Southcentral Alaska, and with three days before the ride, I wasn't that concerned. However, the sudden little squall ended up being the second snowiest day in April on record. By the end of it, 9.5" of the wet, heavy stuff was covering our streets, roads, and yards, hiding the emerging doggie-bombs once again.

For a few moments I considered contacting the RUSA mother ship to alert them of the current weather problem and the possible need to postpone the ride for a week. That's when an unknown rider sent me a text message saying that he and a friend were setting off on their bikes in an hour, to ride the 158 miles, through the snowstorm and over Turnagain Pass, to the brevet start in downtown Kenai on Saturday morning.

Due to the snowstorm, the potential 30+ riders quickly evaporated to perhaps...2. However, knowing the mystery rider was at that very moment launching himself into the tempest, I decided that if he was intrepid enough to brave the storm, I could at least show up and put the brevet on for him.

Good thing he shamed me into not postponing the ride. Early Saturday, in the grey of the 33 degree morning, 18 cyclists (twice as many as last year) from all across Southcentral Alaska showed up to ride! There were commuters from Anchorage, locals from Kenai, a mountainbiker from Kasilof, bike shop owners from Palmer, my neighbor from Turnagain, a schoolmaster, college students, distance-junkies, attorneys, and an assortment of others from as far south as Homer and north to Wasilla (no, Sarah Palin didn't ride our 200K!). Riders were sporting carbon, aluminum, and steel in the form of go-fast road bikes, a recumbent, a few mountain bikes, and a slew of Surleys 'cross bikes (one a single speed).

I kept my pre-ride speech short as everyone stood straddling their bikes, shivering in the cold. And promptly at 7:30AM the 2010 Alaska randonneuring season began as the mini peloton of 18 balaclava-and-bootie-clad riders hummed quietly out of the parking lot and headed north, past Kassik's Brewery, to the first contrôle at North Star Elementary in Nikiski.

The Kenai/Nikiski backroads were open and quiet. And for the most part, the ride up to the Captain Cook Rec Area was uneventful. Riders could just spin, listen to the birds, and take in the scenery. One small group of riders got so caught up in the moment, they missed a turn and earned themselves a few bonus miles.

This flat-ish course is very near the ocean for the most part, and as the riders returned from Nikiski and approached the bridge over the world-famous Kenai River, the early afternoon breezes began to kick up. The same thing happened last year; I think this is the nature of a course on Cook Inlet. Kalifornsky Beach Road is about as flat and straight as they come, but it didn't seem like that in the wind.

The final lobe of the course, up Funny River Road, offers the only real hills on this 200K. By that time of the day, riders were really racking up the kilometers, and the friendly breezes began to turn into mocking headwinds. Funny River wasn't a joke. It was along this section that Buzz rounded a corner to find Kirk (both veterans of last summer's 600K) sprawled and napping in the gravel on a paved turnout. To Buzz it must've appeared that Capt'n Kirk had given up the fight and died right there on the spot. The Kirkinator began to stir as Buzz rode by, gingerly remounted his bike, and continued the push to the contrôle.

There must be at least 18, more interesting versions of the rest of this rando story. But, you'll have to get those directly from the riders who came and rode the fantastic Kenai 200K brevet.

It's early in the season for such a long ride. Congratulations to all the finishers! And to those who didn't make it, thanks for joining us on a great ride!

Kenai 200K photos are HERE.
Kenai 200K Results are HERE.

Thanks so much to my generous volunteer, Joy! You did a wonderful job, and we are all grateful! You were a critical component in making this ride a success for all our randonneurs.

Come join us on one of our other upcoming brevets or populaires, make some new riding friends, get on some roads you've never before ridden, and challenge yourself on some scenic and interesting courses.

The legendary Homer "End-of-the-Road" 200K brevet is coming up in less than 2 weeks. I'll have details posted soon. If you're aiming to go, you might want to start looking into booking a room soon. I'm beginning to hear all kinds of plans for après vélo.


Anonymous said...

Kenai ride was a great start. Loved it .

Anonymous said...

Who's the cute guy in the Alaskan Amber shirt?