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2018 Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnee Day 1: Apple Valley, Minnesota to Black River Falls, Wisconsin USA

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





OVERVIEW OF THE ROUTE:   The Coulee Challenge 1200K was summarized by Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administer (RBA) of Driftless Randonneurs as “moderate to challenging climbs separated by long runs through river valleys to recover and bank time” in the area of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin.

Route distance:  1210 kilometers/752 miles

Elevation gain:  33,072 feet/10,080 meters of climbing (44 feet per mile)

300 km (182 miles) in Minnesota/900 km(559 miles) in Wisconsin


DAY 1: Monday, August 13th

You could feel the palpable excitement at the start.  There were 88 riders, from the United States, 4 Canadian provinces, 2 from Europe (Denmark and Sweden) and 1 from Japan.  13 of the riders were women.

As a women in randonneuring, we are the minority.  At the beginning of every brevet, I try to connect and introduce myself to the other women on the ride.  I personally find that this is important to build fellowship, especially with the low percentage of women in randonneuring.  A few minutes before the start, I met Sara Hreha from Connecticut who was doing her first 1200k.  We both expressed how excited we were to be doing the Coulee Challenge.  Sara was no stranger to the midwest, originally from Minnesota.

It was a randonneuring reunion for me and so many others.  I was very excited to be meeting up again with Kit Oslin and Scott Gregory with the Minnesota Randonneurs.  I had met them, as well as fellow Coulee rider Ken Knutson, in the fall of 2016 at the South Dakota Ramble 600K.   Additionally, I was sharing this event with my randonneuring mentor Eric Peterson.  He is a good friend from Illinois who introduced me to randonneuring and Randonneurs USA (RUSA) back in 2015, with whom I rode Paris-Brest-Paris with.


With Greg Smith and Kit. Photo courtesy of Kit.


Anda, Ken Knutson and me. Photo courtesy of Eric Peterson

The book of the inaugural 2018 Coulee Challenge was just beginning to be written…


5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

We started our Coulee adventure at 4:00 am on Monday, August 13th with a police escort out of Apple Valley, Minnesota.  Our overnight destination was Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

OVERVIEW OF THE DAY:  On the Grand Randonnee menu today was 234.7 miles (380km) with 10,428 feet of climbing (44 feet per mile).  Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administrator of Driftless Randonneurs, characterized this day as a “flat start to warm up followed by intervals of challenging climbs and super-fun descents with long flat sections between to recover.”

Day 1 Route

Day 1 Coulee Challenge:  Apple Valley, MN to Black River Falls, WI

CONTROLS:  For those of you not familiar with randonneuring, controls are designated points on the brevet/event where you must stop to be validated to continue on any given route.  You check into the control (usually a convenience store) and purchase an item to receive a receipt and a time stamp on your brevet card.  The distance between controls can be anywhere between 30-60 miles, depending on the route.  The controls for today included:  Cannon Falls, MN, Red Wing, MN, Pepin, WI, Elmwood, WI, Tell, WI, Arcadia, WI and the overnight was in Black River Falls, WI.  I was really looking forward to getting into this particular region of Wisconsin as these are some of the same areas I rode in the Wisconsin Triple Crown Series back in 2013.


Driftless Mist.  Photo courtesy of Deb Ford Photography.

It was a nice roll out at the start as we warmed up our adventure legs.  I started off the morning sharing the road with Christian Rassmusen from Denmark.  I immediately noticed his Denmark kit and welcomed him to the states.  He was no stranger to Grand Randonnees.  Christian explained to me that he was looking forward to exploring this midwest region of the U.S. on this 1200k.

We hit the first control in Cannon Falls at mile 31 and were greeted by Rob Welsh, RBA of Minnesota Randonneurs.  Approximately 10 miles after the Cannon Falls control, I had the chance to talk again to Sara Hreha from Connecticut.  We both remarked how we needed to pace ourselves as we climbed one of first hills out of Cannon Falls en route to Red Wing.   This is one of the priceless gems from doing randonneuring is meeting people from all over.  As I always say, “it’s more than just about the bike.”


Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.

The early portion of the route traversed along the Mississippi River via the Great River Road.  After the second control in Red Wing, Minnesota, we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin.  The route included spectacular viewpoints overlooking both the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin.  I spent some of the late morning riding with my good friend Eric Peterson on portions of the Great River Road.  Additionally, I also enjoyed more road time with Christian from Denmark.


With Christian Rassmusen, Denmark.  The choice of paved versus gravel is a constant struggle.

I also had the chance to spend quite a bit of time riding with Jim Solanick (RUSA #41) from Florida.  He gave me such great information on doing 1200k’s, having multiple Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) and 4 Boston Montreal Boston (BMB) finishes to his name, including many other cycling accolades.  He was one of the speakers at the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) seminar held before the event.  He was very enjoyable to ride with and offered many great tips to me on being more efficient off the bike at PBP.  We never stop learning.

As I moved out of Pepin towards Elmwood, Wisconsin, I was able to connect again with both Kit Oslin and Scott Gregory out of Minnesota.  It was nice to ride with them on their playground as the last time I rode with them was in 2016 in South Dakota.  They are both exceptional cyclists as well as kind and genuine individuals whom anyone would enjoy spending time with.

We were catching up on cycling adventures as we began to ascend into the Driftless region.  Truth be told, I began to feel like a 6 y/o on Christmas morning.  I felt like I was beginning to open the shiniest present with the biggest, red bow…



Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

So what is this Driftless region all about?  

The Driftless region of the Midwest is characterized by unglaciated parts of Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois. The rugged terrain is due both to the lack of glacial deposits and to the incision of the Mississippi River into bedrock.  As a result, the topography is very sculpted.  As you ride, you see forested hillsides reach down to valleys cut into limestone bedrock.  These valleys may also be by many cold water trout streams.  Forests, prairie, wetlands and grasslands are characteristic in this Southwestern region of Wisconsin.


Kit meeting the Driftless


Ice-age reminants


To flow in the Coulees


Driftless Horizon

I continued to move efficiently through the rest of the controls as I moved towards Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.


In summary, the route on Day 1 offered majestic views at the top of climbs with fun, fast descents.  Some of my favorite views on this day included red barns, quiet winding roads, bucolic limestone ridges along the route and the valley views in the unglaciated regions of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin.


Coulee smiles.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography

After 236 miles, I arrived at the overnight in Black River Falls at 11:34 pm.  Overall, I was happy with Day 1 of the Coulee Challenge 1200k.  Although I came in 45 minutes later than I projected, I felt efficient and strong.  I had no mechanicals or any bike/gear related issues.  As I moved off the bike, I felt very proud.

Upon arrival in Black River Falls, I was greeted by Dan Diehn, route organizer and his family working the Days Inn overnight control. A bountiful plate of lasagna and salad was waiting for me.  After eating, I picked up my overnight bag and headed to my room.  I met another women who was doing her first 1200k.  My roommate for that night was Oksana Slobonyuk Kovalenko from Colorado.  We briefly chatted before heading to bed.

I set my alarm for 4 hours of sleep and fell asleep after a quick shower.

Overall, I was happy with Day 1 of the Coulee Challenge 1200k.  Although I came in 45 minutes later than I projected, I felt efficient and strong.  I had no mechanicals or any bike/gear related issues.

I could not wait to open my 2nd present from the Coulee’s!

Stay tuned for Day 2 of the Inaugural Coulee Challenge 1200k…



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