By Michael Lau
Ontario Randonneurs, Ottawa
Davis is quite a bicycle-friendly town. The city of Davis, California has 50,000 bicycles for 53,000 residents and is recently known as bicycle capital of the world. Their bike/parking lane is 50% wider than the road for cars and every bus is equipped with bike rack and wheelchair lift. The cost of bus from Sacremento airport to downtown Davis 15 miles away is U$1 and they don't even charge extra for the bike box.
On July 9-13, the Davis Bike Club put on quite a show at the GRR. The number of volunteers/organizers (173) outnumbered the number of riders (73) by 100. They had a website to track the in/out of all riders and sent out periodic emails to the randon and ultracycling mailing list. Since the ride is scheduled to start on Monday evening at 6 p.m. and last till 12 noon on Friday, this means a lot of volunteers took a week off from work just to volunteer for this event. The service at the controle was unreal. Their service ranges from the regulars of filling your camelback/bottles, mixing your drink, getting your bag to making your sandwich, getting your drink/soup, pumping your tire and putting oil on your chain. If you do not shown up in the projected time, the volunteers come out and search for you. At the Adin controle on the outgoing leg, they even gave us two bowls of warm water with a slice of lemon in it to wash our hands before the meal. At Susanville controle, they even got some ice cream for Ken Bonner. The volunteers at the Adin controle asked us if we wanted to get a shoulder rub but we declined. No wonder the riders took such a long stop at every control.
The GRR also encountered some extreme weather conditions. The temperature ranged from a hot 95F at the start to very cool (low 40 on the second night and mid-30 at Janesville Grade - highest point of GRR at 6430 ft). There were localized thunderstorms on day 2 but we were fortunately to miss the downpour as we arrived at the Adin controle 5-10 minutes earlier. That thunderstorm also brought hail at Janesville Grade and two female riders were stranded. On day 3, another thunderstorm hit Susanville with up to 1 foot of water on the road but it missed the majority of the riders and hit some riders five hours behind us. The wind between Davis and Susanville was mostly from the south and southwest direction meaning tail wind for the first 200 miles and head wind for the last 200 miles.
The GRR course has a whopping total of 15 controles and 5 water stops ranging in distance between 20 miles and 50 miles (the first water stop). The first 100 miles to Oroville is mostly flat but had 36 turns. Next, the riders have to tackle an 8-mile climb up the Jarbo Gap. The descent gently dropped into the beautiful Feather River Canyon. This Canyon running next to Feather River is the most beautiful part of the ride. The riders will occasionally hear the trains passing on the track across the river. Once you cross the river, the course will climb gently at 2-4% grade to Tobin resort at mile 136. After Tobin, the climb will get steeper and steeper to Greenville controle at mile 181. There is almost no traffic at night in this road. In daytime, it is a different story. The roads are narrow and the shoulder is about 6 inch wide. With incoming traffic, the timber logging trucks and cars would fly by less than 1 ft away from you.
The next 13 miles after Greenville is relatively flat. The climb up the south side Janesville Grade is not very steep but long. Half way to the top of GRR is the Antelope Lake at 5000 ft. The summit at 6340 ft is only 6 miles from the water stop. There were some small rollers at the top. Next, riders had to descend down the famous Janesville Grade, a vertical drop of 2500 ft in just 5 miles. Those five miles varies from 8 to 16% with 0.1 mile at 19%. This descent can be quite hazardous in the rain at night. The Susanville controle was about 7 miles passed the bottom of the Janesville Grade. Next the riders will tackle a gentle 5-mile 1500 ft climb up another beautiful Antelope Pass with a great view of the Sierra Nevada plateau. After a short descent, the riders will climb 4 miles to another pass. After crossing this unnamed pass, the route will take the riders to a dry-up lake called Eagle Lake where the Eagle Lake water stop (mile 280) was located. The next 36 miles to Adin was relatively flat with some small rollers. Adin controle at mile 316 located at the Adin community center was the biggest controle. The route continues northward through the Adin Pass (a gradual 10-mile climb with 2 mile steep section at the top) with a short descent to Canby. After Canby, riders will take a quiet country road to Alturas along the Sierra Nevada's high desert. After the Alturas controle at mile 360, riders rode another 20 miles to Davis Creek controle located just a few miles south of the Oregon border. A huge RV parked in front of the beautiful church was the site of Davis Creek controle. The riders then retrace the route back to Davis with the exception of about 10 miles from Oroville to Davis.
A total of eight Canadians attended this ride. They were Michel Richard, Karen Smith, Ken Bonner and Keith Fraser from B.C Randonneurs, Glen Smith from Prairie Randonneurs, Martin Heath, Ken Dobb and I from Randonneurs Ontario. Unlike BMB 2000 where I rode solo for 1150 km, I was lucky to find somebody (Keith Fraser of Vancouver) about my speed to ride with. I never talked or ridden with him before even though we had ridden in the same PBP and BMB together 4-5 times. With the exception of BMB'94, we always started at different times. Keith is a strong climber and have ridden PBP in 49-hr in 95 despite getting lost. After the water stop at mile 50, a group of four were formed. Ten miles later, Dan Fuoco decided to drop back leaving three of us. Three of us including Brad Flicker of Texas, Keith and I arrived the first controle two minutes before it opened despite we stopped at a gas station for over 10 minutes for water and Gatorade 16 miles earlier. The problem was the distance to the first controle was 3 miles short causing us to miss the opening time. We refilled the bottles first before we stamped our controle card. After Oroville, the 2400 ft climb up Jarbo Gap consisted of two staircase climbs. I accidentally set the pace too fast at the front on the second climb and we lost Brad. With a strong tail wind, Keith and I reached the turnaround (mile 380) in 24 hrs 19 min. We then calculated the stop time at Adin so that we would hit Susanville at 6 a.m. for the Janesville climb. On the way back, we took slightly longer breaks for showers and food at Adin and Susanville. With the cold temperature on second/third night, hot head wind descending down Feather River Canyon, we were just trying to survive the cold night and hot day on the return leg. A total of four flats in the last 190 miles among us also slowed our progress. On the third night, we left the secret controle at 1:05 a.m. at mile 712 and then something bizarre happened. The scenery looked the same at night and we thought we were doing circles but we were actually on course. We decided to cross a sand road to Hwy 113 just 2 miles from the end of this 19 mile stretch but I rode over some Rosehead bush and completely flat both tires with 5-10 holes in it. Even with Keith lent me his spare tire and tube, we spent almost an hour pulling the thorns out and fixing the tires. With a strong cold headwind, it took us almost 4 hours to do the last 38 miles. Keith arrived at the Davis controle 4:55 a.m. on Thursday morning. I left the course and went straight to my motel in Davis to sleep with 1.4 mile to go. My objective of riding 60+ hrs without sleep is complete so getting sleep is more important than checking in. I still have 30+ hrs to spare before the checkpoint closes. After some sleep, I went back to the finish nine hours later to check in at 2:02 p.m. that afternoon. Ken Dobb got lost for 4 hours in the ride and finished on Friday at 10 a.m. with Karen and Michel from B.C. followed by Martin Health an hour later. All foreigners including 8 Canadians, 1 Brits and 1 Dane finished the ride. There were 60 finishers with 13 DNFs with the last two riders finished with over an hour to spare. With just 7-day rest, two Canadians even used this ride as a warm up for London-Edinburgh-London (1400km) starting on July 21. These Canadians are tough!
Although GRR has only 24,000 to 28,000 ft of climbing, this ride was the one of the toughest 1200 km ride that I have ever done. The climbs were concentrated in a 200 mile section including a 19% grade at Janesville Grade and some long gaps/passes. There were a lot of very rough roads (40+ miles) resulting in a lot of pounding of the body. Getting lost and riding extra bonus miles were quite common in this ride. There were 18 and 36 turns in the return and outgoing legs between Davis and the first controle at Oroville. An arrow was missing in Susanville due to construction and others arrows were not painted on the return route into the town of Oroville. Some mileage in the cue sheet was off. The strong headwind in the last 200 miles was definitely the worst part of the ride. Despite all the tough conditions, the hospitality and superb service of the GRR volunteers definitely make GRR a worthwhile 1200 km event to come back in 2005.