The first Christianssands 1200 of all times are now history. On Wednesday the 31st of May, 4 riders from The USA, Holland and Norway embarked on the ride that would take us through 4 counties in a maximum time limit of 90 hours. The ride became a varied one when it came to weather and terrain.
Christianssands 1200 was «born» some time through the winter of 2015-2016 as a thought in my head. The Danish Randonneurorganization, Audax Club Dänemark (ARD) has got its 1200 as a return ride from Copenhagen to Örebro, Sweden. The Swedes have got their “Length of Sweden”, formerly known as “Sverigetempot”. In Norway we did not have a brevet/randonnee exceeding 1000kms. If we were to have one, the thought was to have an official 1200km, homologated by the international organization Les Randonneurs Mondiaux (LRM). There were 2 purposes for making a 1200km ride in Norway. Firstly, we wished to be able to offer Norwegian riders working to obtain the prestigious Randonneur 10000 award, a local 1200 to accompany the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur. Secondly to use the 1200km for national and international marketing to promote long distance riding in Norway. During spring of 2016, the thought slowly transformed into action and work to create a course began.
Making a 1200km ride is a lot of work. You need to figure out where to ride. A challenge in itself as the length of the course should be as close to 1200 kms as possible. The course should also be put without possibilities for cheating by taking short cuts. The controls will see to that, but at the same time there must not be too many controls, but by intervals of around 60-90 kms. My personal opinion is also that at the course should contain some features that would make the 1200km interesting to ride.
After having cycled a 1000km Brevet from Brande, Denmark, in 2014 I had an idea for arranging a 1200km in a somewhat similar way. They used a house in Brande as a starting point for 3 different loops which together made up the total distance. This gives the riders a possibility for a depot where they could store things the need, sleep, take a shower and change/dry clothes. He course therefore was made as 3 loops using Kristiansand as the starting/ending point and also the place the riders came back to after each loop. An eastern, a western and a northern loop were created with a total length of 1205 kms.
It is a lot of paperwork and planning involved in the process. A scheme pointing out each turn and corner for the whole distance must be made, the distances between these turns and opening/closing hours for each control must be noted on the scheme. A description of the route must be made along with rules and gps-tracks.
The Christianssands 1200 was decided organized as a Brevet, meaning every participant needed to make sure to organize their own logistical arrangements before, during and after the ride. Due to this, the fee for participating was put as low as NOK 300, but with a no-show-no-pay policy. In the fall of 2016, the paperwork was finished and ready to be sent to the Norwegian national coordinator for Brevets who forwarded the material to Les Randonneurs Mondiaux. If possible, I wanted the ride to take place on the 31st of May to the 4th of June 2017.
Prior to the process leading up to the final result of the Christianssands 1200, I knew there were rules stating you must have been an organizer for at least 2 years to be allowed to arrange a 1200km. Combined with the late submission of the application, it was expected no start before 2018. Not really a bad thing as I simultaneously was involved in the organizing of the Norwegian part of the SuperBrevetScandinavia (SBS). To my surprise rumors occurred late fall 2016 about the Christianssands 1200 being allowed arranged in 2017 and the ride would be put on the international calendar of the LRM. I got it confirmed as late as December 2016. At that point it was less than 6 months to the mentioned start and taking into consideration the fierce competition from established rides like London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) and SuperBrevetScandinavia (SBS), I saw a problem for attracting riders to a new ride like the Christianssands 1200. The LEL and SBS draws great attention and it seems like “everybody” wants to participate.
Not organizing the ride was never an option. If the ride is on the international calendar, it will be arranged. The solution became to take entries but not use too much time and energy on marketing. During the winter of 2017, the Christianssands 1200 created some interest from foreign riders. On a weekly basis, mails started to pop in from randonneurs seeking more information. The first entry except from two local, Norwegian riders came from Japan! I knew from participating in Paris-Brest-Paris 2015, that Asian randonneurs were eager to participate in long distance rides, but I would never have guessed the first entry being from japan. Shortly after, the second entry came from Dutch randonneur Jos Verstegen, who I had met during a 1000km 2 years earlier. The last entry was made by Vernon Smith from Colorado, USA. 5 entries covering Japan, USA, Holland and Norway was really not bad for us. The riders were updated by mails prior to the start. Our Japanese participant chose to withdraw from the ride in April, but the others wished to go on with the ride.
4 riders at the start sounds perhaps not that much, but to me as an organizer, the number of participants are irrelevant. I can’t decide for others about whether to participate or not. The most important to me is the experience the riders have from participating. Due to the fact we were only 4, the riders got an offer to be picked up at the airport and all were invited to dinner the evening prior to the start to get to know each other. It is not every day someone travels several thousand kilometers from the US and the Netherlands to participate in a 1200km ride in Norway.
THE FIRST LOOP: HEADING EAST
After months of waiting and preparing for the Christianssands 1200, the ride was ready to be launched Wednesday 31st of May at 8AM. The starting location was at the University of Agder in Kristiansand. This first edition of the ride had 4 participants: Vernon Smith (USA), Jos Verstegen (Holland), Stein Andre «Kengu» Høgeli (Norway) and Bjørn Olav Sviund (Norway). All riders were present at 8AM, the brevet cards were handed out and after a short chat and some pictures, we took off towards the first control at Saltrød near Arendal. It’s always a little feeling of «how am I going to be able to accomplish this» of the sheer distance of a ride like 1200 kilometers, but that feeling does go away after just a few kilometers. You focus on here-and-now and the distance to the next control. To be thinking of the whole distance is not any use.
The weather was sunny and warm when heading out of Kristiansand, but a little bit of headwind. Not enough to make any difference, though. Stein Andre had to stop after just 14 kilometers with a puncture, but that was also the only puncture and severe technical problem during the whole ride. After changing the tube and the tire, we were off again, soon dividing into two single riders (Bjørn Olav and Jos), while Vernon and Kengu paired up.
This part of Southern Norway, also known as «Sørlandet» did really show itself from the best side this Wednesday morning. The blue sky, the sun reflecting in the ocean with all the small islands and white houses, all gave a good display of what a nice day at «Sørlandet» can look like. The ride to the first control is not challenging. We passed through the towns of Lillesand, Grimstad and Arendal on our way to the first control at Saltrød (78 km). Vernon and Kengu almost missed the control, chatting while they passed it. After a short stop, we continued towards the second control at Valle (169 km). The ride slowly transformed from the quite flat coastal terrain to a more hilly ride in lush green forests and small lakes on the way to Valle. A short stop at Brokelandsheia secured filled bottles as the day grew warm. It is important to drink and eat enough or else you slowly gets dehydrated and then you inevitably lose your power. At the checkpoint at Valle, we stopped for food and a rest. The plan was to reach the checkpoint at Horten (284 km) before the shop serving as a checkpoint closed, so we could not rest for long.
The cork screw
At Åby the course was heading onto a cycle road to avoid the densely traficated E18. Here we met gravel for a couple of kilometers. It is better to ride gravel for a short while than riding with Lorries. Safety and secure ride is important to us, but it is impossible to avoid the E18 completely and eventually we had to hit it for a few kilometers until the road to Langesund emerged. This is a quieter road to the Brevik Bridge, but a little more hilly than continuing on the E18. On the way to Sandefjord we also passed Langangen. Here we rode the old road containing a 360 degree turn, the «corkscrew» built in 1859. A nice display of how they built roads in Norway a century or two ago.
Continuing on the E18 and not turning towards Langesund was what Kengu and Vernon did. This was noticed by Jos riding behind them and at the next control at Sandefjord (241 km); he made me aware of the fact as he made an official complaint on this matter. To make the story short, national coordinator Jens Glad Balchen was contacted and a time penalty of 1 hour was applied to Kengu and Vernon for the advantage they might have had for not riding the course for these kilometers. Though not done intentionally by Kengu and Vernon, we are obliged to respect and follow the rules of the ride as stated on the brevet cards. Both riders accepted the penalty without any hesitation.
From Sandefjord, we started to be in a hurry to reach the checkpoint at Horten (284 km) before midnight. The control did not close before 3AM, but the REMA 1000 shop was the last possibility for buying food before the night. Kengu, being the strongest rider, was put in front and he worked hard to get us to Horten. He did it with a gap of just 4 minutes. Phew….
The leg from Horten to Skien (371 km) meant night-riding, but night-riding in Norway at summer does not come with the usual darkness as seen further south. Darkness usually comes at around 1030-11PM at this time of the year, but it does not get pitch black. The latitude of the town of Horten equals the latitude of Skagway, Alaska if compared to the American continent. That means dark shades of blue, purple and orange/red colors lasting for only a few hours. At 0230AM the daylight was back around us and at 0430AM the sun could be seen in the horizon. The temperature became quite cold, though, dropping down towards 0 degrees Celsius (or 32 Fahrenheit) just south of Hvittingfoss. Several roe deers were spotted along the road in the early hours of the morning. Leaving Horten also meant leaving the coast and heading into more rugged terrain. At first not too bad, but when closing in on Skien, the climbs started to get a little bit steeper and longer. A taste of what was to come later that day.
After breakfast at the Skien checkpoint, we headed out to meet the road to Treungen. I went first, followed by Jos some 20 minutes later ond then finally Kengu and Vernon 10 minutes behind him again. This road crosses through Telemark, a county (or in Norwegian: “fylke”) notoriously known for its hilly roads. The hilly sections often stretch relentlessly on for long distances, providing few possibilities for rest and food. In this case for about 50 kms to Drangedal and then 11kms on to Bostrak. After Bostrak, a 16 km, 400hm climb brought us to the ski resort of Gautefall at 540 meters above sea level. The 12km descent from the top down to the checkpoint at Treungen (469 km) felt well deserved and so did the food and rest at the check point.
At this point, we realize we had not seen Jos for a long time. Kengu and Vernon stated he had started before them from Skien. I had started first, and I knew he had not overtaken me enroute. Riding alone is no unknown activity to randonneurs, and from knowing Jos from earlier, we knew he had a lot of experience, having completed a lot of brevets over the last 8 years. On the other side accidents can happen, and as an organizer the “what if…”-thought might cross your mind at times. Anyway we decided to wait for a bit to see if he would catch up with us.
From Treungen to the check point at Justvik near Kristiansand the distance is almost 120kms. The road follows the river in the valley bed south through Topdalen, passing the small communities of Åmli, Dølemo, Hynnekleiv and Herefoss before reaching the small town of Birkeland just 30kms north of Justvik (591 km). The ride here means long, straight plains and few hills. At Åmli we stopped for a bit and at that point Jos passed us again, so we at least knew he was ok. We did reach the check point at Justvik at around 7PM on Thursday 1st of June. The Christianssands 1200 then reached its half way mark. It was time for a break. We had pedaled for around 35 hours straight, earning the right to a few hours of deserved sleep. We arranged for meeting again around midnight in downtown Kristiansand in order to pass the check point at Sjøsanden, Mandal (654 km) before it closed at 04:49AM.
THE SECOND LOOP: HEADING WEST
After a couple of hours of sleep, the alarm went off and it was time to continue the journey. After the cold the night before, it was time to put on some more clothes to stay warm. Freezing through the early hours of a new day, is an unpleasant and unnecessary experience. Wool as the inner layer was chosen, due to the heat keeping properties of wool. It keeps you warm even if it gets wet.
At 10 past midnight we met up at the rendez vous point in Kristiansand and headed into the western loop. First stop Sjøsanden Camping site in Mandal (654 km). The night between Kristiansand and Mandal was darker than it had been further northeast the night before, but it was also warmer. Or could it be the wool that made it feel like it was warmer? The readings on the gps showed 6-7 degrees higher this night, so it was not nearly freezing. The night felt velvety and like a carpet tugged around. Going from Søgne to Mandal, there are few sources of light except an occasional road light and lights from houses along the way. All felt quiet. Closing in on Mandal, the darkness also had got into a struggle with the daylight, and the daylight was about to win; thus revealing the beautiful coastal landscape at Tregde. At 0330 we reached the checkpoint at Sjøsanden.
Lindesnes – Norway’s southernmost point
The camping site was closed, so after a short rest we went on towards Lindesnes Lighthouse (697 km), Norway’s southernmost point. After having to ride a few kilometers on the E39, one of the main highways between Oslo and the western part of Norway, we headed onto a much quieter road down to Lindesnes. The tiredness began to take its toll, so after a few kilometers, we had to rest. No bus shelters or anything was in sight, so we just lie down directly on the dry asphalt and fell asleep for 20 minutes before continuing to Lindesnes.
Lista – wind and rain
At the Lindesnes site there was almost no activity. Only a young man having breakfast. The time was around 0630. There was a light, cold fog coming from the ocean, so pedaling on was the correct option. The route went back to the small community of Spangereid, where the route headed west towards Lyngdal. This is a 17 km ride with lots of uphills and downhills. The last ascent before heading down to Lyngdal is particularly long and steep. The rain also started to come about a kilometer after Spangereid, making life a little bit more miserable. But when finishing this part, the road stretched out again for a long, (almost) flat ride past Farsund and Vanse to the checkpoint at Lista Lighthouse (760km). A good tailwind helped a lot on the way to the Lighthouse and life felt good at this point despite the rain. The Lista Lighthouse is an attraction due to the landscape and bird sanctuary there. A lot of seabirds use the terrain for nesting. The coastline outside Lista also is quite treacherous, claiming a lot of ships over the centuries.
The green tunnel – and the hills of Agder
When leaving Lista, tailwind had changed to headwind and the pace went down. After a few kilometers, the course turned off to the north, leaving the flat plains of Lista to a more hilly terrain again. The old road from Farsund to Åpta is a fine example of how they built roads in the old days. Much like the corkscrew near Langangen on day 1. The narrow road winds up along the steep hillside in a lush, green forest, giving the impression at times you are riding in a green tunnel. Vernon later had calculated the ascent here to 17%. On the northern side the road falls into a long descent down to the small community of Åpta. From Åpta the ride goes further north to Kvinesdal. Enroute we followed the top of the hillside overlooking Kvinesdal. Giving a spectacular view where the curtain of trees opens up for a look several hundred meters down.
From Kvinesdal the route goes along the valley north to the small community of Kvinlog (837 km) where we found the check point at the local store. The rain had continued more or less for 10 hours straight, but there was still work to be done.
From Kvinlog the route goes into a quite tough terrain towards Konsmo (896 km). The climb from Kvinlog eastwards is not long, but it is steep and after this climb, it is just a short while before the long ascent at Haddelandsheia. Well, to a man from Rocky Mountains like Vernon, the ascent probably is not long, but to most others it is some distance.
No road continues goes going up forever, though. At some point there will be a descent again. This time towards Eiken. At the top it looked like the valley below was engulfed in fog, but after a short while we realized it was only low skies almost covering the valley. Underneath it was clear view, but with the continuous rain and headwind. At Eiken the route turned south for some kilometers along the Lygne lake before taking east across the hills to Audnedalen. Downhill towards Audnedal, disc brakes definitively were an advantage. The descent is very steep and long. With less braking power in the wet and cold, it could have been a scary ride along the narrow, winding road towards the valley floor. When finally down, it was a turn to the right and then a 40 minutes ride to the check point at Konsmo. The shop there closes at 8PM and after a while it was clear it would be impossible to be there before that time. 8.10PM I rolled into the check point to discover it was all dark. A man was cleaning up outside and I got to speak to him. He soon appeared to be the owner and after explaining the 896km ride to get to his shop, he went inside for to give me a stamp in the brevet card. When he came back he also brought a coke and an egg and shrimp baguette! My man! I was eternally grateful!
After a short break filling the stomach, the return to Kristiansand (953 km) started. Just after midnight Kristiansand was reached after 350km and well more than 4000 hm. A well-deserved rest was then a necessity. But before bedtime, the time for riding to the next control together with closing hours of the next check point was looked. Through the day, almost 7 hours were “saved”, giving the possibility of sleeping until morning with lots of time to reach the checkpoint at Engesland (1005 km) before 1123AM. The alarm was set to 0530, giving 1 hour to be ready to ride.
THE THIRD LOOP: NORTH (AND FINISH)
At 0530 sharp, the alarm went off and it was time for the last, northern loop of the Christianssands 1200. Dry clothes from the drying cabinet made it much more pleasant to get dressed. Outside the rain from yesterday had seized, but still with grey skies as far as you could see. There were not much wind, and therefore the start went well. After a few kilometers, the worst soreness in the muscles from the days before also had disappeared and the last 250kms lay ahead. First stop Engesland.
Taking the wrong control
There were not much traffic this Saturday morning, and when leaving Vennesla on the Rv 405, the early birds sang all the way to Engesland, leaving iPods completely unnecessary. At first the ride went very well, but when approaching Vatnestraum, a lot of short stretches with gravel road started to emerge. Road works are always done in the summertime in Norway, due to the ground freezing during the winter. The risk of puncture is always here when a lot of small stones are littering the entire road, but luckily punctures were avoided. At this time I also got a text message from Jos, telling me he had to withdraw from the rest of the ride due to the tough day the day before. The 4 riders who had started the ride then were down to 3. A reminder to us that riding in the southern part of Norway can be tough at times. You have to be prepared physically and mentally for the challenge. Just after Vatnestraum the rain also started to pour down again, as if to test our strength to carry on. Kengu and Vernon had started an hour after me. When arriving at Vatnestraum they believed they had come to Engesland. The quickly discovered the error and woth no time to spare they rushed towards Engesland, reaching the check point with a difference of only 4 minutes!
At 10.10AM, the checkpoint at Engesland appeared for me. Being wet and with the finish within reach, no time was left on the check point. Next control, the 15th, was 84 kms away at Ose in Setesdal (1089 km), but first a long ascent from Vegusdal to Evje was on the menu. The course here follows the river some 20kms west before falling 3kms down into the valley Setesdal at the town of Evje. Setesdal were once one of the most isolated valleys in Norway. Poor quality of the roads lead to a culture developing along the rivers and farms in the valley. There are stories of the Setesdal-giants, long men with big hands of an incredible strength. There are also a number of silversmiths in the valley making jewelry found nowhere else. The language is also something special and even people living in Kristiansand can have great difficulties understanding what some people living just 150 kms further up the valley are saying. These days, the roads are better and are continuously improved, so riding there is no problem. The course goes on the eastern side of the beautiful lake Byglandsfjord. At one point the road crosses from the eastern side of the lake to the western side of the lake at a place called Storstraumen. Here we also find a road continuing on the eastern side along the Byglandsfjord. The road is narrow, but almost without traffic, making it ideal for riding. Now the rain also started to seize and after a short while Ose was within sight.
Last 120 kilometers
From Ose the course goes straight south along the Rv9. At Storstraumen the course goes on the western side of the lake, ending at Byglandsfjord. From Byglandsfjord it is just a short ride to the last check point at Evje (1143 km). At this point you almost feel like you have finished the ride. It is just 60 kms to go and you feel like you have done it! But you still have to go those 60 kms. So after some food, the last ride to the finish was bound to happen. With almost 8 hours to complete 60 kms, you have enough time, but at the same time you wish to get that shower and be able to sleep without having to set the alarm to wake you up. An even, but not too high pace was used, and after around 4 hours, the finish at Kristiansand emerged. What a beautiful sight!
The finish and what next?
Bjørn Olav finished first at 1015PM, then Kengu and Vernon followed with huge smiles on their faces at 1025PM. Both riders had their times adjusted by an hour due to the time penalty applied at Brevik on the first loop. I was keen to hear what Vernon thought of the ride. The first thing he said to me when finishing was: “Do not change a thing!” I’ll take that as a good sign. Vernon was as a joke declared best foreign finisher.
The Christianssands 1200 proved to be a tough ride. An experienced randonneur like Jos Verstegen, having ridden 16 of the 1200’s, got his problems with the terrain and the weather and had to give in at 950 kms. The gps afterwards showed 13382 meters of height. Not too bad, perhaps, but the hills sometimes comes relentlessly for long distances, draining you for power.
This does not keep us from organizing the ride once more. Perhaps already next year. Who knows? Keep an eye on the international ride calendar at the Les Randonneurs Mondiaux website if you could be interested.