Saturday, July 5, 2014

Eureka 1000k – A self-supported ride on Vancouver Island, British Columbia (June 14-16, 2014)

There comes a time when you want to find solitude in your life and get out and explore a new place and new experience.  After completed four 1200k’s  (Cascade, PBP, Rocky Mtn and Endless Mtns), I am always eager in learning more how to ride more independently.  And the 1000k distance is always a perfect opportunity to get broken into upcoming 1200k’s.  After registering for the Colorado High Country 1200k and Natchez Trace 1500k, I had the urge to find a 1000k that would give me additional experience of riding long remote stretches and riding as unsupported.  I wanted to ride the Vancouver Island 1200k in July, but was already registered for Colorado High Country. So I thought it would be great to try a 1000k on Van Isle.  The BC Randonneurs take pride in their unsupported 1000k’s and considers them to be “randonneur cycling's ugly duckling... the black sheep of the brevet family... neither fish nor fowl.”  So, upon looking at the BC Randonneurs Vancouver Island region 2014 schedule’s website, I encountered the Eureka 1000k, which route is listed as “Victoria, Gold River, Port Alberni and Lake Cowichan” and a start time of “rider choice”.  I got in touch with Mike Croy, the organizer for the Vancouver Island region, and Mike was very helpful in providing me helpful insight in my preparation for the Eureka 1000k. I also got a lot of advice from Dave Campbell, who is a good friend of mine.  Dave and Holland also allowed me to stay at their house in Victoria, and was only 5k from the start, and about 10k from the finish.  Dave and I are also planning to ride the Colorado High Country 1200k, so it was good to hang out and plan the 1200k ride.  Vancouver Island is full of excellent roads, beaches, mountains and scenic views that I had never experienced before.  The same reason that Ken Bonner named this course Eureka, is about the same reasoning on riding this particular ride…I’ve got an idea…EUREKA!

I started this ride with Ken but we got separated only about 5k into the ride and was on my own the rest of the ride.  Ken had to DNF at some point on the 1st day but he still went on to finish the Cascade 1200k the following weekend.  I am very thankful Ken was there at the start of the ride who give me some very helpful tips and encouragement.

I also found a 1000k on Vancouver Island to be very attractive since I figured I could easily take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria with my bike without needing to drive into Canada.  

I had never been to Vancouver Island, but knew that terrain would be the biggest challenging element of the Eureka along with cooler wet weather is also quite common in the interior mountains of the island. Ken Bonner created the Eureka 1000k as one of 3 most “climby” 1000k’s on Vancouver Island, which the Eureka as the 2nd most climbing (32,000 ft of climbing).  I didn’t realize this factor until Ken told me at the start of the ride.  Since I would be carrying my own gear for each day (without any drop bag support), I just figured I wouldn’t be setting any PR’s on this 1000k. But my main goal would be to finish each day at 18-20 kph average speed (including stops during each day), in order to get to my hotels…hopefully not more than 2 hours after dark.

Another big part of preparing for such unsupported ride is to get appropriate bags on the bike in order to carry essential clothing, food and tools, since I knew it was most likely I would be riding this 1000k solo and carrying most all my gear. I rode the Seattle to Glacier 1000k last year with Vinny Muoneke and Doug Migdon as an unsupported preride, but we sent all of our clothing to our overnight hotels.  Where this Eureka 1000k, I planned to carry all my gear.  Mark Thomas gave me good reviews on the new Revelate Design products, which I already had purchased the frame bag for last year. But I also got the Pika seat bag which, holds as much as 12 L. This was a perfect bag for this unsupported ride, where I could easily hold 2 extra days of clothing, rain gear and extra long sleeve wool jersey and gloves. Although, with all the clothing in the bag, it was almost maxed out, and was like having a long tail wagging behind meJ  

As any unsupported ride, it is essential to plot the course onto a computer generated mapping program, regardless if you are using a GPS unit during the ride.  I typically use Ride with GPS.  This allowed me to prepare myself on what the terrain was like on each segment of the Eureka route and also understand distances between each control for each day.  But, even though I had the course plotted on my Garmin, I always have paper cue sheet on hand always checking to make sure I am on course.  Since this was completely unsupported ride, it was up to me to choose my overnight cities and reserve my own hotels.  So I plotted the Eureka 1000k into Ride with GPS and figured out, the best place to overnight would be Gold River the 1st night (396k first day) and Parksville the 2nd night (322k second day) and third day 290k to finish in Victoria.  

I booked a hotel at the Gold River Chalet, in Gold River which the BC Randonneurs have used in previous Brevets, including the Van Isle 1200k.  The Gold River Chalet has been used in several previous brevets before and so the hotel attendant was very familiar with the Randonneurs and very helpful to me in providing me with the best service I could ever ask for. I had figured out since it would take me possibly over 20 hours to get to Gold River, I needed to look into how I was going to get food once I got there.  The first day has a considerable amount of elevation gain, about 10,000 ft in 396k and so, so by leaving at 3am from Victoria, this would get me there sometime around 11pm to midnight. I called the Chalet again and asked if I could possibly preorder food from any local restaurant and they gladly took my credit card and I had precooked Lasagna waiting in the my hotel fridge to be heated in the microwave once I arrived.  Now that’s called service!! The Gold River Chalet was a perfect place to sleep as it was right after a cool wet descent down from Strathcona Lodge.

I had also had already booked a hotel in Parksville at the Arbutus Grove Motel (at the 718k overall mark or 322k on my own designed day 2), which was conveniently located just off the course, just before the long 30k plus stretch on the BC 19 freeway.  Parksville was also located about 30k after the 2nd double summit of the Port Alberni out and back (mostly on Hwy 4, which is full of rumple strips and narrow sections). Port Alberni summit is at 1400 ft (411 meters) above sea level and was even steeper after turning around in the city of Port Alberni. I also realized later in my preparation that the Eureka route goes right by the Arbutus Grove Motel on the first day, which allowed me to plan on dropping off my 3rd day clothing and some food for the 2nd night there at the hotel.  And this hotel was very gracious and allowed me to hold my stuff until I got there the 2nd night. 

The first day had about 10,000 ft of climbing in just under 400k, with the 1,000 ft climb up the Malahat just outside of Victoria, some steeper 300-400 ft climbs in a few places along the coast and the 1200 ft climb up to Strathcona Lodge and 500 ft climb further south out of upper Campbell River and 1200 ft descent to Gold River.  

 Even though I made it to the Strathcona Lodge just before sunset (about 9:00pm), the final 44k to Gold River was in the dark and was cool and wet on the descent. So having the extra rain gear was essential.  The view at the Strathcona Lodge and all along the upper Campbell River was the most beautiful part of the entire ride and my favorite too! 

The second day had about 9,300 ft of climbing in 322k, with the 1200 ft climb right out of Gold River and the 2nd 500 ft pitch out of the upper Campbell River, so it was important to plan to leave before the closing time. 

  Riding up the long climb back up to the Strathcona Lodge could be tough to make up time.  I left about 30 minutes before the cutoff (about 4:50am) but felt good on this climb and made up over an hour and a half in the bank by the time I got to Strathcona Lodge.  Upon leaving, I realized it was Father’s Day and so, I went back into my hotel room to hook back into my wifi and post a quick note on my Dad’s facebook.  Just taking the extra couple minutes was worth it to me as I knew I probably wouldn’t have a chance to send a note to my Dad later on.  The lodge had a buffet that started at 7:30, but since I got there a little earlier I decided to just have a warm scone and get breakfast once I got to the Campbell River control.  I also realized that even after climbing the 500 ft climb out of the upper Campbell River reservoir basin, there were still a lot of small climbs that slowed my pace down significantly while descending back down to town of Campbell River.

The long flat stretch along the beaches on the 19A (also on Day 1) is also something to consider in planning to stop only where necessary at the controls or sometimes taking up the info question option and not stopping to eat every time there’s an info or store control.  This was evident where there was an info control in Comox and Cumberland but a lot more food options in Courtney.  I wasn’t sure what store were in the smaller town of Cumberland and it was starting to rain hard once I got to Courtney.  I am glad I got some extra calories at Courtney since the climb up to Cumberland was bigger than I had expected (about 500 feet climb).

But this climb was no match for the upcoming Port Alberni double climb.  The northern climb up to Port Alberni is well over 1600 ft in 33k starting at the turn at Qualicum Beach, and much steeper in the final 3k to the summit. Where climbing from the city Port Alberni to the summit, climbed 1400 ft in only 11k.  So planning to also have wool and rain gear for the rain in the forecast was also important.  Ken Bonner also gave me a tip to leave gear that I might not need at the Coop gas station store, just before climbing the final pitch up the first climb over to Port Alberni.  And sure enough, the manager at the Coop Gas station was so generous and let me keep my stuff there. But at the time of the ride, it was raining and quite cool at the Coop station (base of the Port Alberni climb) and so I only left a small bag of clothing and wore most everything else I had.  This made the bike much lighter when I went over the Port Alberni climb!  The descent into Port Alberni was the most unpleasant part of this 1000k where it rained hard and visibility was very limited with water sheeting over the road and a lot of rocks to try and avoid on a steep descent.  I was glad I had my new Specialized TriCross with disc brakes especially during this stretch. But once I arrived into Port Alberni, the rain stopped and it was quite warm back at sea level. 

  I ate a quick bite to eat in town and then started climbing back up the Port Alberni summit. This time, the rain shower had passed and there was a stellar view of Mount Arrowsmith, all the way up the south side of the Port Alberni pass summit.  

After descending back down the north side of Port Alberni, and arriving back to the Coop gas station store (just before dark), I went to purchase a hot chocolate and the gas station manager saw how cold I looked and spared me a free hot choco!  I also got my extra clothes I left behind and then headed the final 20k to my hotel back to the Arbutus Grove Motel in Parksville. Although, I must say…if I were to ride this again, I would probably avoid the 5k Highway 19 stretch, just west of the 19A/19 interchange, which had a very narrow shoulder and the bridge over the Englishman River was extremely narrow.  And at night, this was kind of sketchy.  Next time, I would probably get a hotel in the center of Parksville along the 19A where there is more food options too and avoid the Highway 19.  I was glad I had left some cup noodle and other non-perishable food with my clothing with the hotel host on the first day.  Eating salty noodles and broth in my hotel was all my stomach wanted and was glad I didn’t try and spend time waiting and eating at a restaurant…and also could just roll over in my bed and fall right a sleep!

The third day had about 9,900 ft of climbing in 290k from Parksville back to Victoria.  Since Parksville was not a control, it was imperative to leave with plenty of time in the bank, in order to make the next control in the morning on the south side of Nanaimo. Even though Nanaimo was at the 765k mark, with sleep time at the overnight, and with steep terrain on the route that avoided the main city streets of Nanaimo, it was important to leave by 6am, giving three and half hours to go 47k.  As I mentioned before, the route would go on Highway 19 for 30k, instead of going through the heart of Nanaimo. Although, this stretch of highway 19 had a wide shoulder, but I was still desperate to get it done. 

Once I got to the control on the south side of Nanaimo, I had still had over an hour before the closing time and saw I had until 4pm to get to Lake Cowichan (about 76k further).  Since I had passed the 600k mark, I gained about 5 additional hours in the bank, instead needing to keep the 15kph in the first 600k. After Nanaimo control, the route passed by familiar territory I rode on the 1st day.  

But once I arrived in Somenos, the route climbs up to Cowichan Lake on the older Cowichan Lake Road, which was nice the route took us off the main highway.  After getting to the Cowichan the route descended back the same way to Somenos.  Then headed north to Crofton, which I had been on the first day.  However, it was interesting how there wasn’t a control in Crofton, since the route continued further south of Semonos, but the course went to Crofton that added on 20k with some steep hilly terrain.  But I was still honest and it was great to make it to Crofton and take a photo by the Crofton sign, as my own personal “secret” control.  It was rather warm at this point so ice cream was greatly appreciated.

The route continued south on more familiar territory from the first day, all the way down to Cowichan Bay.   Climbing out of the steep Cowichan Bay and once I got back on Hwy 1, the route deviated from the first day and climbed up to Shawnigan Lake, where the next control was since Cowichan.  I was starting to feel all the extra gear I had picked up from my overnight in Parksville, and my pace definitely showed it.  I stopped and had a quick bite to eat at the local pizza place.  The route continues up the Shawnigan Lake road all the way to the south side of the Malahat climb. 

Once I arrived to the summit at the Shawnigan Lake Road/ Hwy 1 intersection, it was a nice descent all the way down to Goldstream turnoff of Hwy 1.  When planning for this ride, I had looked at the cue sheet and upon plotting into Ride with GPS, it was avoiding crossing Hwy 1 on Spencer Road.  I looked at this intersection in Google streetview when planning and noticed a traffic light and so programmed my GPS route to cross Hwy 1.  However, once I arrived at this intersection on the ride, I was forced onto Hwy 1 and there was no traffic light and barriers up, which didn’t allow me to cross Hwy 1.  So I just got onto Hwy 1 and took the next exit and eventually found the control in Millstream (a suburb of Victoria), with not much trouble.

The route then goes north to Sydney on Millstream Road and Ross Durance Road and other back roads.  This section was the most enjoyable roads on the entire 1000k, with smooth asphalt (about 1.5 lane) and steep rolling terrain in a dense forest.  It was about an hour before sunset and so it was good lighting and glad I hit this stretch before dark.  It was a Monday evening so only a couple cars and bicycles passed me.  The Ross Durance Road is a very popular route for riding and glad it was a part of the Eureka 1000k, even though it was 960k into the ride!  Once I descended into Sydney, it cooled off significantly.  The sun had just set but I just had 20k to go back to Victoria on relatively flat terrain.  It was cold enough that I put on my jacket and leg warmers and kept them on all the way back to the finish.  It was great to finish back in Victoria (north Saanich) not long after dark at 22:09 (67 hours 9 minutes for the entire 1000k). My results and splits can be found here on Strava:

The Eureka 1000k was the best ride ever! I learned a lot more about riding independently on this self-supported type ride.  It definitely paid off to plan all the details on my own, which made things a lot simpler and go much smoother on the ride.  Learning the course and planning my own hotels and meals and bringing the appropriate gear made this 1000k ride a fun journey on Vancouver Island. I am very excited to go back and ride more on Vancouver Island.  Thanks again to Mike Croy and Ken Bonner for organizing a great ride.  And also to Dave and Holland for all the great hospitality in Victoria! It was so great of Dave, Holland and Mike (and his son) to help me celebrate my finish over awesome homemade pizza and good beer after I finished the next day.  Thanks for all the great times!  A grand adventure and well worth trip, which makes me feel ready for the upcoming 1200k’s.