By Jenny Neyman
Kevin Turinsky was happy to have at least one local rider show up for the 200-kilometer cycling ride he organized across the central Kenai Peninsula on Saturday.
But while Turinsky was appreciative of Kenai rider Jamie Nelson’s determination and attitude to just give it a shot and have a fun ride, he was somewhat skeptical of Nelson’s sanity, after hearing Nelson had only logged 96 miles and less than one week training for the 124-mile ride.
“Oh, man. He probably won’t feel great tomorrow,” Turinsky said Saturday.
Nelson has done long-distance rides before, completing the Fireweed 200 mile from Sheep Mountain to Valdez, and a bike tour across Nebraska. But he took significantly longer to prepare for those rides.
“Angie (Nelson’s wife) and I had our mountain bikes out a couple times the week before, but getting my road bike out of the garage and getting on it, that was Monday (May 4). I took Wednesday off so I trained for four days — 96 miles all week. I rode more today than I’d ridden all week combined,” Nelson said Saturday. “I usually take a couple months to train and ride. This is definitely the biggest undertaking I’ve had for this little training.”
Nelson only heard about the Kenai ride the week before, and decided it was something he wanted to support.
“I was really impressed that Kevin organized this type of a ride. We haven’t had a whole lot of local organized rides before,” Nelson said. “Somebody taking the effort to put this nicely organized of a ride together, it would have been a shame not to do it. I thought it would be nice to give it a shot.”
As of 2:30 p.m. Saturday, seven hours into the trek, Nelson was still pedaling along, having survived a flat tire in Nikiski and a stiff headwind coming off Cook Inlet.
By about 5:15 p.m. he had made it to the end of hilly Funny River Road, which wasn’t even originally supposed to be part of the ride. At 7:37 p.m. he pulled into the Kenai Safeway parking lot, where the ride began 12 hours before. After that he was back home with a pizza, ice on his knees and the same attitude he’d started the day with — saying he’d met some good people and had a great time, even if he did ride more in Saturday’s event than he did all week training for it.
“This morning at registration everyone introduced themselves and was really nice, and everyone was cordial out on the course. It didn’t seem like anyone was really competitive. They were definitely in the spirit of having a nice ride and enjoying it,” Nelson said.
Ultimately, that’s what the event, called randonneuring, is all about — enjoying the camaraderie and sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a significant athletic endeavor without the competitiveness of it being a timed race.
“People will ask you, ‘Well, what did you do this weekend?’ And you say, ‘Oh, I knocked out 200 k,” Turinsky said.
Randonneuring is a form long-distance, noncompetitive cycling that originated in Europe. Cyclists ride set courses, called brevets (BRA-vays), ranging from 200 kilometers, to 300, 400 and 600 kilometers. Successfully completing those qualifies a rider to participate in a 1,200-kilometer brevet, most notably one back and forth between Paris and Brest, France.
Not all riders do brevets to progress to the 1,200-kilometer level. Many, especially in Alaska, do official-length brevets and some shorter ones just for the fun of it, or to train for a long-distance cycling race. There is a time limit for each brevet, and riders must complete the designated course in the allotted time, getting their brevet card marked at all the checkpoints, called controls, along the way.
Anyone who successfully completes the brevet is considered a winner, regardless of what order or in what time they reached the finish. Since it’s not a race, cyclists often ride together, or at least have a sense of camaraderie with each other, rather than competitiveness. But riders are on their own when it comes to fixing their bikes and carrying or providing for their own gear, supplies and tools.
Saturday’s 200-kilometer brevet, and another 200-kilometer ride May 2 in Homer, were the first randonneuring events held on the Kenai Peninsula. Both had a time limit of 13.5 hours. Turinsky, of Anchorage, who heads up Alaska Randonneurs and is the official brevet administrator for the state, said he wanted to create peninsula rides so Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna valleys randonneurs had more variety, and as an opportunity for peninsula cyclists.
They were originally slated to be held two weeks apart in April, but ash fallout from Mount Redoubt forced rescheduling on two consecutive weekends in May. Even so, Turinsky said the rides went great, with good weather, clear roads and decent turnouts for the inaugural events.
The Homer brevet had more riders than Kenai, but that may in part be a side effect of having 200-kilometer rides on back-to-back weekends, he said.
Still, Kenai’s ride drew eight registered participants — three from Anchorage, Nelson from Kenai and the rest from Homer. Two dropped out along the way.
Turinsky said DNFs (did not finish) can increase in figure-eight courses, like Kenai’s, where riders backtrack and pass the starting spot.
“It’s so tempting if you just feel marginal. You go, ‘Well, there’s my car. It’s right there.’ (Figure-eight courses are unusual in the Lower 48, but) I tend to like them up here in Alaska. There aren’t a lot of services, so it’s really helpful when you have a place to stash some food or extra clothes.”
Riders went from Kenai Safeway out the Kenai Spur Highway toward Nikiski, down Miller Loop Road and Holt-Lamplight to Nikiski North Star Elementary School, back to the Spur and north out to Captain Cook State Park, then south on the Spur to Kenai, out Bridge Access Road to Kalifornsky Beach Road, west on K-Beach to Kasilof, back up the Sterling Highway to Soldotna, out Funny River Road and back, up K-Beach to Bridge Access and back to Kenai Safeway.
The Funny River portion of the course was a last-minute addition, due to a glitch in the mapping software Turinsky used to calculate the distance of the course. A Homer rider called him a few days before the ride and questioned whether the course was long enough.
“I said, ‘No, no, no. It’s fine. It’s got approval. I know what I’m doing.’ Then it started nagging me,’ he said.
Sure enough, the course was about 20 miles short. A friend had previously told Turinsky that he should consider including Funny River Road in a brevet in the future. There’s no time like the present, he figured.
“So that’s how we ended up out here,” he said Saturday afternoon, manning the impromptu checkpoint at the end of the pavement 16 miles out Funny River Road. “But I always wanted to use this stretch of road. I’ve never been out here until today.
“And I’ve got a view of (Mount) Redoubt out here. I looked around and went, ‘Hey, oh, is that what I think it is? Oh, wow.’”
Turinsky said he was a little concerned that riders may get lost on the changed course, especially those who hadn’t been in the area before, and since three of the four DNFs in the Homer ride were due to navigational errors on the riders’ part. It’s bad enough when riders don’t perfectly follow the navigational directions on their cue sheets, but it would be especially bad if the course itself was labeled wrong.
“I would hate to send somebody off the wrong way. It could be catastrophic. They’re sitting out there crying in the rain and wind with a flat tire and barking dog. It could just be awful,” Turinsky said.
Nothing that eventful befell any of Saturday’s riders. Nelson probably had the most drama. About 16 miles in he had flat tire on Holt-Lamplight. He was riding side by side with another cyclist and pulled over off the shoulder to let a semi truck by the both of them. He said he must have hit something sharp in the sand that popped his back tire.
Not only did he not have time for adequate training before the race, but the bike’s mechanics hadn’t had a full shakedown yet this spring, either.
“I took the tire off. When I put new tires on last year, I don’t remember them being that tight on the rims, but they were really tight. I started to pump up the tire and it looked like it was holding air, then the valve stem broke. I had to take it off again, and it wasn’t any looser the second time. It was just as hard to get off and it was just as hard to get back on. It took maybe 40 minutes to get it changed. I’m kind of embarrassed how long it took.”
With just a hand pump, he could only get the tire inflated to about 50 pounds per square inch pressure, versus his usual 110 psi. That and a headwind coming back from Nikiski further slowed his progress.
“When I got to Captain Cook and turned back around that stretch there was a really big headwind. I looked at my cyclometer and realized it was already longer than the longest ride I’d had all week. Between the wind and the tire being a little bit down, by the time I got to the Nikiski Rec Center checkpoint, I was kind of having doubts,” Nelson said.
He figured he’d shoot for Kasilof and see how he was feeling then, but had it in the back of his mind that he’d probably be too tired to continue.
“But that definitely proved to be the worst stretch. If it was that windy the rest of the day, at least it wasn’t a direct headwind,” he said.
Funny River Road was another challenge, but by then the end was relatively near.
“Funny River always has good hills. If I do Funny River, I usually just go from my house. I don’t usually ride 90 miles first,” he said.
Turinsky said he’s planning on making the peninsula brevets annual events, probably holding them in May with Kenai first, then a week or two break before Homer. He’s hoping for more riders and volunteers. Angie Nelson pitched in when she dropped Nelson off Saturday morning and saw Turinsky could use another volunteer. And Judy Abrahams, of Sterling, who moved to the peninsula from Anchorage where she’s ridden brevets before, “was totally my hero” for all her help, Turinsky said.
Nelson said he’d do the brevet again, although with far more training first.
“A lot of the world always looks better on a bike. Going down around the Kasilof area you really get to see how nice a lot of that area is. If you’re just whizzing by in a car you don’t get to look at it,” Nelson said. “It was a lot of fun. Kevin organized it really well. It’s certainly a great way to meet nice people and a fun way to see the peninsula.”