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Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnee: The Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee 2018

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA







In July 2017, while participating in the annual “Dart-Pop” weekend held by the Driftless Randonneurs, I was made aware of a 1200K that both the Minnesota and Driftless Randonneurs were putting together in 2018 to showcase the Driftless region of the Midwest, the Coulee Challenge.  I knew almost immediately that it would be my 1200k to do in 2018.  Not only would it be a great training event for my second Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) in 2019, it would also bring me back to my cycling roots.

When I began cycling in 2011, I was instantly enamored by the various events held in the Driftless region of Wisconsin. In looking for adventures on the bike which pushed my boundaries, I began searching out challenging events in the Midwest.  As soon as I heard of the Dairyland Dare and Wisconsin Triple Crown Series, sponsored by Spree Touring and Stewart Schilling, I was hooked.  In 2012 , 2013 and 2014, I spent my summers competing in these events.  They were quite different than local events in that they offered longer distances (200k and 300k) and had quite a bit of climbing.  These events were some of the toughest outings in the Midwest, set over the unrelenting hills in the Driftless region of Wisconsin.  If you loved to do hills, these were the events for you.

In 2013, I completed the Wisconsin Triple Crown Series.  This series was made up of 3 challenging events in Wisconsin which included: Acadia’s Brute, the Kickapoo Kicker and Dairyland Dare.  Upon finishing the series, each participant received a custom Pactimo Jersey which had a season recap with your name on the back of the jersey and distances completed.  To this day, doing that series with a group of friends from my local cycling club is one of my fondest memories in my cycling scrapbook to date.

To be able to go back to these regions again, as a randonneuse in a Grand Randonnee, was very exhilarating for me. In my mind, this was the Wisconsin Triple Crown Series on steroids.  Additionally, I was also looking forward to seeing how my neck would hold up on a 1200k again.  My last 1200k in 2015 had me facing both Shermer’s Neck and significant hallucinations.  I finished Paris-Brest-Paris in 88:46:36 but very broken at the finish.  It was my first season of randonneuring.  I was hoping this outcome would be much better with 3 years of randonneuring and much more structured training under my belt.


There was a lot of talk on social media to get the word out about this event.  I was impressed with the marketing effort.  There were actually business cards for the event created in the summer of 2017 to generate interest.  I informed the rider organizers that I would assist in getting the word out about the event and began sharing this with members of the Great Lakes Randonneurs as well as local cycling clubs in the greater Chicagoland area.

The website for the event went live in the fall of 2017 and there were 337 riders on the interested list.  The window for registration for the event opened on January 1stand 140 individuals signed up.  At the start, there were 88 riders, 13 were women.

Registration for the event was $450.00 and included on route support, hotel accomodations, a progressive bag drop each day and dinner/breakfast provided at the overnight hotels. Support vehicles were also on the route to handle neutral support, bike repair and emergency services.  An event t-shirt, riding cap and finishers medallion were included in the fee. Event jerseys were available for purchase.  Another added bonus was on the route photography by Deb Ford.


On the Saturday before the event, I loaded up my Dodge RAM 1500 and headed from my house to Apple Valley, MN which was approximately a 6 hour drive northwest.  I arrived in Apple Valley to begin to prep for the start of the ride on Monday at 4:00 am.  It was nice that this event was local so I did not have to fly or ship my bike.  In addition to getting my bike and gear ready in MN, I was equally excited to try using a planning spreadsheet for the event. This would be the first time I would be using this on a 1200k.  Shout out of gratitude to Carol Bell, Greg Smith and Bob Booth for mentoring me on creating and using a randonneuring excel spreadsheet to assist with planning and executing my second 1200k.  I did not have anything like this for Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015 and was ready to see how my plan carried out on this Grand Randonnee.

Other than forgetting my mirror for my glasses (analogous to a rear mirror on a car) I was set to go.  These roads would have minimal traffic and I was confident I would be fine without it.  In retrospect, I wish I would have asked someone if they had an extra one or purchased one at a local bike shop for the event.  Little did I know how important that would be later on in the event.


Orange Crush (Salsa Warbird) converted to rando-mode and ready for the Coulee’s


The Coulee Challenge registration also included many pre-ride activities:  a RUSA 100K the Saturday before the start, pre-event dinner on Sunday and two seminars on Sunday related to Paris-Brest-Paris.  I also had the chance to meet up with new friend Lara Sullivan from Minnesota who crewed with Pacific Atlantic Cycling (PAC) Tour Gravel Camp back in April.  It was good to see her again and reconnect.  I had a blast with her at PAC Tours in Tuscon this past spring.  She was on the crew for the Coulee Challenge.  Not only is she an exceptional cyclist/athlete (RAAM qualifier) she has a lot of experience crewing for ultra events.


PAC Tour Reunion with Lara

The Paris-Brest-Paris Seminars were very interesting and valuable resource provided for first time PBP riders and experienced PBP anciennes.

The first seminar was done by Rob Welsh, Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) of Minnesota, who put together a very informative presentation on the history of Paris-Brest-Paris. The first Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) was held in 1891 and has been held 24 times since its inception.  He provided a very well rounded historical and political perspective of PBP.  Did you know that the original organizers of Paris-Brest-Paris went onto develop the Tour de France?


Rob Welsh, RBA of Minnesota discussing the history of Paris-Brest-Paris. Photo courtesy of Deb Ford.

The second seminar was a panel of 6 very noteworthy speakers on preparing for and riding Paris-Brest-Paris which included: John Lee (Randonneurs USA President), Pamela Wright, Dan Driscoll, Martin Fahje (RUSA#217), Jim Solanick (RUSA #41) and Jeff Newberry. A breath of randonneurring experience and helpful advice for all who attended this informative panel discussion.


Afterwards, all riders and support crew convened for the pre-ride buffet dinner with general introductions and a brief pre-ride overview by the Coulee Challenge Leadership Team.  At this Grand Randonnee, there was a high percentage of seasoned/veteran randonneurs/randonneuses with low RUSA numbers #153, 217, 390 and 527 as well as many first time 1200k riders.

With 2018 marking Randonneurs USA’s 20thAnniversary, sharing the Coulee Challenge with the all participants and the crew was special to me.  I felt quite blessed to be at the start.

One more wake up for the adventure to begin…


I hope you will follow my voyage in the unglaciated regions of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin during the 2018 Coulee Challenge.

Stay tuned for Day 1….


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