High Plains Shifter ……


…..at the Colorado Last Chance 1200k Grand Randonneur

I wish I was as badass as Clint the way he was in High Plains Drifter. Yet, in a way,  I was, and so was everyone who accomplished this 1200k starting near soggy ass Boulder CO east to a crispy Kensington KS and then back west, not in the ultimate gunslinger’s way, but having the ability to endure the distance, the desolation, the wear down suffering.

hwy 36

Some say “shit happens”, but on this journey it became “shift happens”. Although the scenery seemed to be a sea of nothingness, I constantly had to shift. Shifting gears for the ever changing wind, terrain, strength, and varied pavement. I was constantly shifting my position to accommodate the myriad of aches, encroaching soreness, fatigue. I was shifting my attire for the full frontal rainstorm, wind, mist, drizzle, as well as a sun boosted scorcher topped off with hi humidity during a 40+ mile stretch of freshly laid chip sealed ass-fault! Only the drive to go forward never shifts! Pedal faster, punk!

Jens the Canadienjens in kansas

This was my first Grand Randonneur (1200k) unlike most of the others. I believe I had trained well in N Carolina and then the last few months in my new home in Gunnison CO. I was constantly tinkering with my Merckx, adjusting the positioning, gearing. I had fairly new equipment, like brake pads, cables, saddle, bar, bar wrap, Loctite on the spoke nipples, lubricated and tightened everything. I also had stop leak injected in the tire tubes to prevent punctures. I trained for this event staying fairly structured and riding a lot in the mountains, in the heat, rain and darkness. I always kept an eye on the data I was accumulating in order to be able to gauge my pace. Eating and hydrating was tried and tested. I knew the food available was going to lack, so I found the right food I could tolerate for 3 days. Good coffee was non-existent except McDonald’s excuse for espresso in Norton. The bike got trashed from all the rain and debris, such as the manure excreting from the cattle trailers as the blew by inches away. Thankfully, I brought oil for the chain and later bought a can of WD-40 and sprayed the whole drive train to keep the Campy singing!


It helps that I rode at my pace. The first day started at 3AM during the beginning of monsoon. So, for the first 70 miles we all rode in the dark rain with our heads down pondering our sanity. After the first control, a microwave chicken biscuit and a quart of chocolate milk, I ended up riding alone for most the day going east on Hwy. 36. The rain turned to a drizzle/mist and a headwind. And then the rollers. During one of my moments of High Brain Drifter, I wondered why I was dropping in elevation yet gaining vertical footage. Dang! Some of those rollers have over a 5% grade! I also calculated that I was going to rotate my cranks about 165,000 times!  Most of the brain waves were spent staying focused,  or not quitting, or the consequences of quitting, or the next control. What kind of food might be there? Stop the brain, here comes more rain.kansas sunset

At the end of the day, I decided to ride with the next closest rider. I didn’t want to ride this all by myself. I train alone, but not here. I hooked up with Gary Sparks. We rode the next 2 days together. We got to know each other. Kept the pace manageable, stopped when we needed and it was fun. I gave him the nickname Jens. He looked like the hardman in my mirror. Anyone conquering this is a hardman. Jens the Canadien, rode this last year. He was riding an old steel Marinoni with a Campy Valentino gruppo. Classic! Jens converted a trash bag to a full on storm shield!


Deep into the ride, the legs were surprisingly fluid, but the internals were shifting. The stomach began to get irritated. Time for Tums. My back began to complain. Tighten my saddle and dig out the Aleve. And my universal joint was getting tender. Wear 2 pairs of shorts and apply Lantiseptic liberally! Sometimes the rain felt good. Gotta keep them ears soft.

I wanted to stop and sleep when we got to the 3rd bag drop in Byers CO. It was nighttime on the 3rd day with 200k or so to go. The fatigue was taking it’s toll. Jens decided to push through to the finish. Hardman.  I took a 4 hour break. shower, hot food, fresh clothes, re-charge electronics and get some semblance of sleep. The rain finally stopped. Time was on my side.

I left Byers with my new riding pals at about 4:30 AM. It was Vinnie and Theo. We were riding within range of each other the whole trip. Those guys had the ultimate class randonneurring bikes. Unlike racing bikes which all are stripped down, aero-ized, carbon molded look alikes speed demons, the randonneurring bikes are so individualized. Each rider puts a lot of thought to building up there bike that will support them trustfully over every long haul. Vinnie and Theo are from Seattle and Portland. Vinnie is an incredible athlete. This was his 7th Grand this year! Theo, the kid, has done his share of Grand’s. I have a lot of respect for the left coast randonneurs.

theo & vinnie photo courtesy: John Lee Ellis

We slowly made it north to the lovely feedlots of northern Colorado. Ah, my nose was finally getting a shift in the country air! Our route was changed due to the floods that washed out the roads. The roads we did take were full of debris, Surprisingly, no flats except Theo was encountering a slow leak the last few miles. My neck was stiffening and I started to get a bit of double vision. So, maybe there wasn’t as much debris afterall. hmm

As we rolled closer to our finish in Superior, the big city traffic was upon us again. Rudeness arises from those in some self-inflicted rush. The roads on our trip were in pretty good shape and some wide shoulders throughout. There was little traffic except for some of the outlaw agriculture truckers from Kensington to Norton who gave little space. The crew that took care of us at the bag drops were awesome and a friendly sight for my road weary eyes. The hot cocoa was a lifesaver!


I envisioned this when I was riding through the great grasslands. I felt very vulnerable as if I was on a small rowboat in the middle of the ocean with no sight of land. I planned for the worst, hoped for the best and all of it came about, the good, the bad and butt ugly!. I am already planning about my next one!

brevet card me on 1200

Happy Trails…..punk!



2 thoughts on “High Plains Shifter ……

  1. Andy – great job. I thought we had it bad on the LC last year but that was only one day of rain. I rode a little with Gary on the Stampede this year. He sets a great pace and is a good guy to ride with on these adventures.

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