Dusting Off the Cobwebs

San Francisco Randonneurs Del Puerto Canyon 200k **November 2021 edition**


Amongst the tumbleweeds blowing around on my RUSA member results page there have been few rides logged over the past couple years. A single 200k perm in 2020; a fleche and the beloved Old Caz 300k this year. Still plenty of riding has been enjoyed, just not in a RUSA sanctioned way. Yet I do long for that brevet card with torn, stained, and soggy receipts inside; that tattered, stubbornly unchanging printed cue sheet; that rainbow of my comrades’ reflecto. Absence has made my heart grow fonder for those days, so I jumped at the chance to sign up for one of my favorite SFR routes: Del Puerto Canyon 200k. Come to receive the voluminous pre-ride mailings, and there are surprisingly few names on the roster! Later in the week, the roster grew to nearly pre-pandemic size, and we had well over 100 starters for this classic route.

It's a new randoday!

It’s a new randoday… fraught with possibility!

It was nice to see some familiar faces when I got off my BART train to transfer to the Dublin-Pleasanton line. I had not seen Michael T in a couple years, and it was great to catch up with him about what we’ve both been doing in the absence of rando. Lots of new faces too yay! Irving had some doughnuts on offer at check-in where some of us loosely congregated, and Michael C was working the start, getting us signed in. I left with a small group that slipped away without taking the classic SFR oath. Stupid stuff, readysetgo!

The Crew

The Crew

I’m sure pretty close to 100% of us were all using electronic proof of passage, and you can see Tom in the above photo carefully setting his phone. No forgetting to start your logging device on this ride! I had tried using Strava a couple times for my proof of passage in the past, but it kept stopping. The timestamped photo app I had been using as backup to Strava appeared to be interfering with my Strava recording! It’s pretty disturbing to notice mid-ride that your proof of passage medium is failing you.  I’m going with RidewithGPS solely now, and no whacky timestamp photo apps. When I rode Old Caz this year, I used my film camera with time stamping as a backup. This was fun, and I do love that camera, but it was hard to remember to follow up and take photos at each control throughout that ride. I think that route has ten or twelve info controls. I have been using brevet cards for close to ten years now, so the transition to Electronic Proof of Passage has been a bit rocky. I chose to print out a brevet card and use that for my backup proof of passage for Del Puerto, but the final info control question required a timestamped photo of your bike, which still necessitated the timestamped photo app which seems to interfere with my primary method for proof of passage. I think it would be good going forward if there was a backup method available that did not involve using a smart phone, since sometimes they run out of battery too, even if all the apps behave as desired.

Sorry if it seems I’m belaboring this topic, but I’ve always felt and said that paperwork is a critical component of randonneuring. To Americans, the procedures involved may seem tedious, nit-picky, or even draconian. I interpret bureaucracy as a bedrock of French culture and society that was intended to ensure fair treatment for all citizens, and this extends to our sport. As applied to randonneuring, it is the great leveler, and reflects the necessity for self sufficiency–all riders must complete their own paperwork. No one does it for you, in the same way we don’t have aid stations or sag vehicles. Filing our own results is a common thread we all share as randonneurs, and I see it as a way to ensure fairness to all.

Anyway, on to the ride! The weather was perfect this November day. There had been some intense rains in the weeks previous. This gave a sense of deep relief to me, other riders, and the whole region including the land itself. This is supposed to be the beginning of the rainy season for us, and it has been a series of several years of ever worsening droughts. So the fact that there were recent intense rains made the ride feel sweet.

I brought my fully automatic film camera, loaned/gifted by fellow film shooter and rando Mike Teng G. It has been a fun camera to use on long rides where I need to shoot from the saddle–no time to stop and set aperture or shutter speed. Shooting film on bike rides is a source of great joy and frustration both. Sometimes you hit the jackpot, sometimes you waste a heckuva lot of film… But the good shots make it worthwhile. And they look good in a way that only film can.  After I posted a couple of my bike photos on Instagram, I got several comments that “filters are fun, aren’t they?” Haha… Yes, I’m aware Instagram offers filters to make digital pictures look analog. It’s amusing to me that someone created what they thought would be an automatic way to imitate something that is completely random. And does it also make you suffer through all the heartache of losing most of a roll due to improper metering, forgetting to set the correct film speed, lack of focus, wrong camera or lens for the situation, insufficient agitation in processing, too much dust on your negs, just plain missing the shot, etc etc etc? Like randonneuring, film photography is deeply character building and must be approached without expectations. In that frame of mind, though, every good or even decent photo is a triumph. And with that understanding, I’ve come to learn about all the automated post processing that happens when all of us take pictures with our cell phones.

The first climb up Tesla Road wasn’t too bad; the weather was beautiful if slightly chilly, the sun was out, and there was excellent company. I met someone riding a nice Jack Taylor up at the top of the climb, then we all savored the swooping descent down to Corral Hollow. Most of the big pickups carrying OHVs to Carnegie  gave us a wide berth at that hour of the day. Sadly I missed the sign indicating the Livermore bomb testing site that I always want to photograph because I was trying to catch up to Steve and Tom who had sped off the front. I encountered them at good old Jimmy’s One Stop, surprised to see me as they thought I was the one off the front. We all left together for Patterson.

Uneventful flat miles ensued until our lunch break in Patterson, where Bryan C retrieved his voicemails to hear one from his wife, whose back suddenly went out. He decided that the fastest way to get home to help her out would just be to ride the rest of the course, so he took off immediately. The rest of us leisurely finished our lunches and set off for the namesake road of this route, Del Puerto Canyon Road. I was feeling pretty amped for this!

The absolute joy and wonder of Del Puerto Canyon, of course, must come to an end eventually, but shortly before it does, one is treated to the life-giving waters of Adobe Springs. This is a natural spring that someone has made fixtures to enable one to pour water out like a faucet (actually, there is a faucet). It really does make my stomach feel better after a long day of energy shakes and pseudo-junk food.

After Adobe Springs, we all just set it in high gear and were back at the start before we knew it. I vowed at that time to reinstate my practice of doing R-12s, but unfortunately was not able to follow through. I’ve still kept riding 200+kms per month, just not for RUSA credit. This was a great ride to get those tumbleweeds out of my RUSA results page, though, and really fun to see and ride with old friends.

Virtually randonneuring: SFR Virtual Rando

Coronavirus has changed so much of the way we live now. Riding bikes has emerged as a relatively safe way to maintain one’s health and sanity, but massed start group rides like brevets are not a good idea now. I do miss brevets, and after almost 10 years of riding them, the things I love about rando are not even possible to quantify. So I’m glad that the San Francisco Randonneurs came up with the concept of Virtual Rando this year to provide a substitute for our usual Point Reyes Populaire. But something I’ve discovered over the past year is the beauty and richness of life after rando. After it, surrounding it, over it and under it. My bicycling personality is so defined by my adventurous randonneur heart that I will never be able to separate myself from the Spirit of Randonneuring. Even if I have to stop riding bikes for whatever reason, I will always be a randonneur. But there have definitely been some upsides to this year without brevets.

One interesting development has been to go on some long distance bike camping trips. When I started rando, I assumed that the longer rides such as 600k, 1000k, and 1200k would all be just as self supported as the shorter ones. Hotels and drop bags, not to mention support vehicles, never occurred to me. Maybe it was done this way in France in the old days, or maybe not, but I always wanted to do it that way. I’ve been inspired by Darryl Skrabak’s Milly for many years, and now I can finally envision how I might make that happen. I’m pretty stoked on doing more remote riding combining overnight stops with a light camping load.

I have not missed routes like the SFR 300k that include white-knuckle sections like highway 116 with no shoulder, nor have I missed the constant stream of Safeway controls on that route… Maybe when brevets come back the 300k will finally get a long-deserved reboot.

Another benefit of the lack of brevets is spending more time with my sweetheart who quit rando! Although rando will always figure into John’s riding personality, he quit rando a few years ago to ride mostly offroad.

But because neither of us drives a car, we both ride to any trailhead we would visit. This, I have discovered, is a big difference between us and a lot of mountain bikers! It is a more holistic way to be a mountain biker. We ride to trails on multi-use paths that have small children, dogs, and the elderly. We have to coexist with them in a harmonious way. And we enjoy it. I feel so grateful, in fact, to live in a place where so many people enjoy the benefits of being outdoors. Way before covid, people here have known the value of investing public resources in trail and wilderness area upkeep. These local trails are so valuable now during covid, providing a safe space for us to visit as an alternative to the restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and arts venues that are closed.

One small side benefit to no brevets is that I now have the energy for film photography on rides. Most of the time I just use a little sport camera like the Fuji DL Minizoom or Canon Sureshot or the cool old Olympus rangefinder I just got. This started before covid, but now that the control close clock is no longer ticking in my ears, I’ve been shooting film a lot more and really enjoying the results.

Me taking a picture of Mike Gao taking a picture of Metin descending Morgan Territory in the beforetimes

more fun with film at point pinole

Point Pinole’s hardest working ranger

San Francisco Bay from the bike path in Albany

Now we come to the final benefit of no brevets: virtual rando! I knew that this would be a good thing for me when I read in the announcement, “Rules: Nope”. It just so happened that Dan and I were both free and eager to ride the weekend of virtual rando, so we made a plan to visit some of our favorite spots: Briones, Black Diamonds, Sherman Island, and the Montezuma Hills. Returning from Fairfield via the old standby Lopes Road, Carquinez Bridge and Briones or something from Martinez would keep things simple.

Riding with Dan was great, it felt just like old randotimes. We both wore our Carlos-designed SFR jerseys to show the Spirit of Randonneuring flowing through us. Unlike a normal January SFR Pop, the weather was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky. It had rained a few times in the previous weeks, but the trails in Briones and Black Diamonds had drained well. In fact, this was one of the best rides I’ve had in Black Diamonds in terms of trail conditions!

Riding on the delta was delta-lightful as usual and Dan and I tried a new lunch spot that had tons of fresh fruit, a big bonus for me on any bike ride.

Levee road on Sherman Island used serpentine gravel, judging by the color

It was sad to see that the little market in Rio Vista had brown kraft paper covering its big glass windows, but the bait shop was open and had drinking water for us to buy.

The really sweet spot of this ride was the Montezuma Hills. I think we had a gentle tailwind, and the giant wind turbines were moving in ultra slo mo, like a turntable on 16 rpm. Some of them moved so slowly that it took a moment to tell if they were indeed moving. Others moved at varying speeds. There were no cars, or even any other cyclists, for what felt like a small slice of eternity. The whole landscape, and us within it, was utterly at peace. No distractions other than the populations of sheep and lambs going about their business in the endless rolling pastures. I exhaled steadily in the bright sunlight, appreciating all the moments leading up to this deeply cherished one right here and now.

Getting back to civilization is always jarring after an experience like that, but Friend Dan made it much easier by discussing the potential Amtrak departures from Suisun, the nearest town. We had talked about the possibility of bailing mid-ride earlier in the day. Not having done a proper 200k in at least a year, we weren’t sure how the day would go. We both felt fine actually, but there was a Filipino restaurant right there that looked open, and the rest of the route is just junk miles anyway right? Yum! We had the perfect amount of time to eat our Filipino take-away at a bench facing the beautiful marsh of Grizzly Island as the sun sank slowly below the horizon. Dan got us beers for the train and thus we wrapped up another perfect pseudo-rando.

In April 2019, most of Dan’s and my fleche team bailed within the 12 hours prior to the ride, and we rode anyway. We knew we wouldn’t get credit because it was just two randos left standing… or pedaling, as the case happened to be. But we had an amazingly good time. We definitely had the best route of any team, of that I am certain, and the fact that there were only two of us and yet we rode anyway gave us a sense of prevailing over undeniable obstacles. I think that ride was also the capper on a set of three rides Dan and I rode together which totaled almost 2000k for the month! Yes, Dan and I have ridden a lot together, and I think I’ve crashed my bike more while riding with him than anyone too.

On either of these rides, did we rando? No receipts were collected, no brevet cards or waivers were signed. Did we transcend rando? Play hooky from rando? I’d like to think we enjoyed all the best things about rando: spending the day focusing on riding in a remote place, using bike-friendly roads, paths, and dirt trails; and riding with good friends. Virtual rando felt a lot like the fleche Dan and I rode, knowing there were insurmountable obstacles to getting credit, yet riding in a randonneur tradition anyway.

Covid has forced so many of us into difficult positions this year. The number of people who have already died is tragic. It is up to us to do whatever we can to prevent the spread of this virus which has taken lives and livelihoods. I’m grateful that we can find ways of adapting and at the same time feel that sense of camraderie that is so important to maintaining the sport we love.

How have your randonneuring habits changed? Feel free to leave me a comment.


Coffeeneuring *finisher*

Coffeeneuring final ride #7
November 21, 2019
Mileage: 31 miles
Beverage: Kombucha brought from home in water bottle
Destination: Point San Quentin Beach

Sailing on the coat tails of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge opening excitement, Thursday night book club goes to Point San Quentin! Dan discovered a tiny beach just over the bridge on the San Rafael side. There is even a minimal concatenation of residential homes there, just on the eastern border of the prison.

This ride happened to coincide with the continued abundance of apples from Dan’s apple tree, resulting in various of Dan’s friends making off pretty well, apple-wise and consequently apple-containing-baked-goods-wise. What I’m saying is, Greg, who has been documenting his extensive and appetizing baking efforts on Instagram for months now, made an apple pie and carried it on his heavy bike with the platform rack in front so all five or so of us who came could enjoy it while hanging out after dark on the tiny beach in the shadow of California’s oldest prison.

Aaand that’s a wrap! Thus ends my first attempt at coffeeneuring. It has been a nice opportunity for me to spin the wheels of celebration, meditation, exploration, relaxation, seclusion, accomodation, and affiliation. Coffeeneuring has been a good way to consider a topic that has been on my mind a lot over the past year, namely the role of documenting my bike rides in a time when I’m not rando’ing so much. I’ve always taken lots of photos on bike rides, but writing helps me remember the rides in a better way. And coffeeneuring has given me a chance to write about some of the rides that are less dramatic but just as worthy of remembering. I hope it works out to do this again! If I do, you’ll surely hear about it here on mmmmbike!

An Historic Day for All Bicycle-kind

Coffeeneuring Ride 6
November 17, 2019
Mileage: 81.21 miles
Beverage: Black tea (hot)
Destination: Offhand Manor, Fairfax CA wombats.org

Picking up a thread from my first coffeeneuring post here. Darryl Skrabak was not only a founder of SFR and accomplished accordionist, he was also a bike advocate. He wrote many articles for Bicycling magazine about bicycling and the law, and he worked for a long time to get bikes to be able to be ridden on the Golden Gate Bridge.  Well, as it happens, only a couple weeks after his memorial, another key bridge in the bay area was opened to bikes: the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge!


The Bay Area is defined by its land masses separated by bodies of water. Points of crossing are few, and even fewer are open to bikes, so this bridge opening is a cause for joyful celebration. Since moving over to the east side of the bay, I have been blown away by the work being done by Bike East Bay, and their part in this historic opening is impressive.

Great signage on the Richmond side

Great signage on the Richmond side

I had to work on opening day, but on the following day I had plans to ride with a friend who lives on the Marin side. She makes excellent tea, in fact she’s known far and wide for her love of mountain biking and tea and… well I won’t go into it but I will say I was pretty tickled to be able to ride my bike the whole way to go ride with her instead of having to take the bus over the bridge like I’ve done before.

Richmond San Rafael bridge bike lanes and Mount Tam

so effing exciting

Richmond San Rafael bridge with bike

Pelican is pleased

Mission San Rafael

Mission San Rafael with beautiful fall colors

Mt Tam from Pine Mountain

Mt Tam on the right and Mount Diablo in the misty distance from Pine Mountain trail

Even though I was a bit late to start, we still had enough time for a delightful loop around Pine Mountain, joined as well by her neighbor, and then I got to enjoy a lovely lunch she cooked, with venison chili (venison courtesy of the local upscale grocery’s dumpster! yep… twelve pounds in all, collected in one-pound sealed plastic wrappers) and tiny green and orange tomatoes from the garden. I headed back homeward over Deer Park trail and around Phoenix Lake to squeeze just a tiny bit more dirt from the day, then back over the bridge for my twofer. Super dreamy day made possible in part by a healthy quantity of black tea keeping my eyelids propped open… I hadn’t unpacked my bike after the camping trip, so was up half the night reconfiguring my bike to be able to ride.

Later I found out about this article about the historic fight to get bike lanes on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. It is a great read, in part because it divulges that the bike lanes were supposed to open in April! WTF? Well, I’m glad they are open now, and yes I understand that this is just a test opening that could only last 6 months, but I’m not telling my subconscious about that part just now. I’m just going to ride and ride and ride and ride that bridge, rain or shine, in honor of Darryl and everybody who has marched, written letters, made phone calls, gone to meetings, and made this happen, until I wear out the pavement!

Richmond San Rafael Bridge bike lane

Rainy day bridge with newly installed fenders

Coffeeneuring Outside

Ride 5
November 14, 2019
Mileage: 15.5 miles
Beverage: Hot nettle tea
Destination: Sibley Volcanic Preserve, ebparks.org

More riding with rando friends combined this time with a local sub 24 hour overnight. I had made the bold announcement to the weeknight riding group that I would be camping overnight in the hills overlooking Oakland, and a couple cats volunteered to ride along with me to Sibley, a nearby East Bay Park, as part of our regularish Thursday night jam. I like to call it the Thursday Night Book Club because we meet at a public library where one of us works, and cuz I’m a bookbinder and we all like books. I was pretty thrilled that some people agreed to ride with me because I would be camping all by myself, bringing my single person tent and tiny alcohol camp stove. I had a larger solo tour idea I’d been hashing out and wanted to check whether my gear would work out.

Blue Pelican with camping gear

the rig

The ride up to the ridge was eerie since the whole area was wrapped in thick fog. We decided to take the dirt alternative to the usual paved Tunnel Road, just for kix, and found that the rutted, complicated and supersteep pitches had mostly been smoothed over. We were all disappointed by this turn of events. This trail had been a real challenge, and I had just started figuring out how to stay on the pedals for most of it! Oh well.

We continued on up Skyline, Jesse telling us about his recent bike tour on the C & O trail and the Gap Trail out east. We entered Sibley, which even though it was only about 7 pm was already looking pretty creepy with all the fog. We rode past a couple guys hanging out with their mountain bikes and smoking weed… was that me hoping they would not stick around too long? Sometimes I get a little paranoid about being by myself. Sibley is pretty big, how would anyone possibly find me? More importantly, why… although my homemade tin can stove is pretty sweet I guess. LOL.

mull foon

moody moony moon

We rode the short, rocky dirt trail to the place where I was going to pitch my tent, a nice bald spot with some bushes nearby… don’t ask me where, it’s a stealth spot! Though I shared the locale with Jesse and Greg, you can try asking them if you want to know where it is. When they departed, I sensed a slight confusion, like, “Why would anyone want to camp out here on a night like this??” But I was happy, I really needed to sleep outside–it could not wait another day. There was a near-full moon that was heavily diffused by the fog, making it very easy to set up my tent which I hadn’t seen the likes of for years. I changed quickly into my warm pyjamas and found my camp stove and two (yes, two!) candle lanterns. My tent has a little sheltered entry way, a perfect little space for cooking and hanging out. There was a fair wind out, so the shelter was helpful in keeping my stove from blowing out. My little homemade stove worked perfectly, as it has for years. This time, the fuel level was perfect to boil water for a fulfilling meal of dehydrated bean soup with couscous and a big thermos of hot tea. Yum!

alcohol burning camp stove

tin can stove…priceless…my cozy home for one night

I had been fantasizing about doing some reading or writing by candlelight in the tent, but as soon as I finished the last bit of soup and tea, I conked out, ne’er to wake until right before my 5 am alarm. I was able to pack up and ride home with enough time to hang up my tent and sleeping bag to dry before starting work at 8:30. It was nice to be able to go through the work day with a solid foundation of a peaceful night’s sleep, all sound muffled by the fog.

bike in the maze

hashtag bike in the maze

Almost Rando Coffeeneuring

Ride 4
November 11, 2019
Mileage: 75.037 mi round trip
Beverage: Tea Soda
Destination: States Coffee, 609 Ward St. Martinez CA statescoffee.com

Just a plain old social road ride among randos. Dan, Greg, Nate, and myself. Dan came up with the route, something he’s been pretty good at lately, and it just happened to go by one of my favorite hipster cafes in recently hipsterized Martinez. I had been having relationship troubles, and Nate’s beloved canine companion Peanut had recently died of cancer, so it was nice to get out with close friends and shrug off our heavy burdens for a short and sweet ride. I’m still on sabbatical from SFR but I do love a longish road ride in a rando style. I will always be a randonneur, no matter what happens with the permanents program, RUSA insurance, or my insufferable stubbornness. Brevet card or not, my rambling heart rando’s on.

States Coffee Martinez

Nate’s vegan donut and cuppa coffee

Franklin Valley coasters

Coasting down Franklin Canyon wheeee

Franklin Valley

After Franklin Canyon, pondering the remainder of the route




Ended the ride at Dan’s to pick up a bag of apples! Good eats to come

The Grind: Coffeeneuring Ride 3

Ride 3
November 5
Mileage: 2.2 miles round trip
Beverage: Chai (hot)
Destination: Philz Coffee, 1775 17th Street San Francisco https://www.philzcoffee.com/locations-sf

Something I haven’t yet mentioned is the marked lack of coffee in my coffeeneuring. The thing is, I gave up coffee several years ago–mostly. Occasionally I will have a single espresso shot for those times (often while randonneuring) when I’m dangerously drowsy. But due to stomach issues, coffee just doesn’t work for me, so it is making my committment to coffeeneur more interesting.

In my work as a bookbinder, an important component is teaching, and several times per year, I step out of my studio to teach bookbinding for one week, 9 am to 6 pm, in San Francisco. There are some pretty great cafes in SF, so decided to try to include one in my coffeeneuring clatch. I had originally planned to visit Daily Driver since I miss bagels here in CA. But unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to ride there before work, so as a backup, I settled on what would be closest: Philz on 17th street in Potrero Hill.

The ride from the BART station was fun since there’s a little hill on the route, and riding it on my fixie-townie is always a good morning warmup. On this particular morning, I happened upon another fixie rider on the hill who was riding at just about my same pace, maybe a little faster. He had cool striped kneesocks exposed by his folded jeans cuff. I stepped up my pace a little to keep up, and at the next red light commented how nice it is to see another fixie rider on the hill. He smiled and nodded in agreement.

Sometimes after a long brevet I enjoy riding my fixed gear just to have a totally different ride experience. It’s a different way of pacing, a different relationship to one’s bike which is welcome on those days when commuting by bike is necessary though less than appealing. Sometime I’ll have to figure out a way to ride brevets on my fixed gear, but just riding around town on it makes me pretty happy too.

my fixie townie


Coffeeneuring 2019 Ride 2: Is Bicycling Meditative?

Ride 2
October 18, 2019
Mileage: 6.0 miles round trip
Beverage: ginger tea
Destination: Berkeley Zen Center, 1931 Russell St Berkeley CA/berkeleyzencenter.org

Whenever I explain randonneuring to people who have never heard of it, there’s always someone who comments that it must be very meditative. Sometimes people ask what I think about over so many hours on the (mostly) open road. I always cringe a little when people suggest that something (other than meditating) is meditative, because meditating can be really hard at times. It’s only as peaceful as the inside of your mind, and we all know just about how peaceful that can be. I also cringe since there are so many ways people seem to misuse the term Zen, especially to sell things such as their social media marketing schemes or even just boiling it all down to Zen in a Jar!

There was a moment on the fleche from 2 years ago when Dan and I rode past the driveway to a Zen monastery up in the mountains on Skyline, and Dan commented that he’d love to just sit around all day, it must be easier than riding our bikes for 24 hours straight. I expressed my doubts at this conjecture, though I’ve never tried sitting zazen for a full day (so far). At least while riding, one has the road to distract one from the thoughts that occur to one’s oft-befuddled mind.

That said, I do think there are a few parallels between meditation and randonneuring, though they may not be ones you’d expect. The first thing that comes to mind is in both activities, you spend a lot of time with most or all of your weight on your sit bones. Having to tolerate muscle soreness, possible joint pain, and tenderness in the sit bone area are all things you might experience. I’m not sure if you can get saddle sores from a zafu, but you need to develop a tolerance for small amounts of physical pain or distraction in order to sit zazen. Quite often in randonneuring, things like this will come up, too: a pain in my knee that randomly appears, then an hour later, disappears, also for no reason. I’ve learned that it’s not worth giving too much attention to these sensations, and this is something meditators also know. My randonneuring and zazen habits tend to support each other: it helps to have solid core strength to sit zazen, and it certainly helps to develop patience to be a randonneur. Another unexpected similarity between the two activities is the feeling of freedom I experience in both, although both activities carry with them the possibility of Type 2 fun.

Regardless of whether it’s good for you or enjoyable in the way most people seem to think, I’ve been meditating every so often on my own since I was a teenager. I have almost no memory of how it occurred to me to do this, but as soon as I started, I never stopped. One thing I haven’t done this whole time, though, is visit a zendo or try to meditate with others. I finally realized about two months ago that the Bay Area is home to several world class Zen centers, so maybe I should go see what they are like.

I settled on Berkeley Zen Center because it’s very small, and very close to my apartment. I went first for the weekly meditation instruction they offer on Saturday mornings, and then started going for Monday morning zazen (sitting meditation) which begins at 5:40 am. Already I felt comfortable getting up that early because I do that so often for brevets and perms, and I learned that everything good starts early when no one else is out.

However, there had to be a beverage involved to qualify as a coffeeneuring ride, so this visit was for their Friday afternoon tea, discussion, and zazen. At the discussion, there was a Presbyterian scholar of religion who was dropping in to chat. He didn’t want to stay for meditation, although he professed to want to “improve his thinking.” This confused the rest of us, and though no one pressured him to stay, one person commented that meditation is a good way to “defrag your brain,” which I though was an apt analogy. Another parallel between rando and Zen is the emphasis on the role of the community in one’s development. If you want to go far in Rando or in Zen, go with others. It was a lively discussion we all had over tea and cookies, and then we crossed the garden for a short period of zazen followed by bowing and chanting the heart sutra.  Since I have only visited Berkeley Zen Center four or five times, I am still lost when it comes to the choreography of the ceremony, but others have been helping out and, like randonneuring’s structure and rules, I’m sure it will become natural to me soon. I wonder if there is a coffeeneuring equivalent in Zen? Hmmm.

Parallel Randoverse: Coffeeneuring 2019

My first attempt at coffeeneuring ever! I did the Errandonnee years ago, maybe 2013? 2014? I still had my beloved teal blue Motobecane then which died of a deeply indexed headset and subsequent unsolveable steerer tube issues. But… why coffeeneuring?  It’s not going to be easy, since I don’t drink coffee! I am not sure how best to document fun rides, either. Not having to collect receipts is confusing. At least there’s a control card that somewhat resembles a brevet card. It’s funny, even though I don’t feel compelled to rando for credit as much as I once did, randonneuring has deeply affected my riding habits. I’d like to think of this coffee(neuring) clatch of rides as a way of taking a snapshot of my relationship with bicycling, how it looks at this moment, and see where it takes me. Also, I’ve run into some other fun coffeeneurs over the past year, even rode with one in Nevada!

Day one: Gamblers 1000k

Day one: Gamblers 1000k

October 12, 2019
Ride 1
Mileage: 27.46
Beverage: coffee stout
Destination: Biketoberfest, downtown Fairfax, CA 760 Center Blvd Fairfax 94930

The route for this first coffeeneuring ride was an easy dirt route to Fairfax from San Francisco. I love this route, and John and I have trodden this path many times.

Blithedale Ridge from Eldridge Trail

View of Blithedale Ridge from Eldridge Trail… or possibly from Hoo Koo E Koo

John is Not randonneuring today

I get my own sticker

Bike: 650b blue Pelican with WTB resolute tires which don’t mount well to my Velocity rims. There’s always a bump or something–they don’t inflate evenly. This time, I tried overinflating them to even them out, then letting off some air. It has definitely improved but not eliminated the problem. Otherwise the tires are perfect for that paved/dirt mix which characterize most of my routes these days.

When we got to Biketoberfest in downtown Fairfax, John and I parked our bikes at the free bike valet and almost immediately found our friend we were planning to meet. She was directing traffic on busy Center Boulevard so that fairgoers would be able to visit the tents and vendors on both sides of the street without worrying about cars speeding through.

Downtown Fairfax... so fair

Downtown Fairfax… so fair

Biketoberfest 2019

Biketoberfest 2019

Like several other of the fair volunteers, she was in a German folk dancing costume and a cool velvet porkpie hat with a feather! She gave us her beer glasses and we got a couple small glasses of beer–coffee stout for me, lager or something for John.

As soon as we sat down with our beer and our sandwiches, I noticed our friend Braxton roll right by with his two daughters, aged ten and seven (?) and his gal Erin! They said they were planning on taking the ferry back to San Francisco later, so when it was time to go, we joined them and rode with them to the ferry terminal. This wasn’t really part of the coffeeneuring ride, but it was so much fun! Braxton’s daughter Claire is riding pretty fast now *and* we have matching wrist watches.

After we got back to SF, it was time for John and me to go to the memorial celebration for SFR founder and past RBA Darryl Skrabak. This was sad for me since I never got to meet him, but he seemed like a pretty cool guy for many reasons. He built and maintained boats for the Dolphin Club, where the event was held; he was a draft resister in the Viet Nam war; he rode both on pavement and on trails like I do; and he even played the accordion.

Darryl's PBP bike

Darryl’s PBP bike

Custom fabs

Custom fabs

Darryl Skrabak

Darryl Skrabak: rest in peace, though we wish you could have been with us a little longer.

Mount Tam to Moscow 300k: Going Nowhere, Getting Nothing

It was recently announced to RUSA members that there would be a (hopefully) temporary suspension of the RUSA Permanents program. I had a strong immediate and emotional reaction to this of dismay, disappointment, even slight panic. RUSA Permanents have been a source of joy, excitement, and sense of achievement for almost seven years for me.

When I recovered from my first reaction, I realized this presented an opportunity to me to explore some routes that weren’t formal perms, yet could be. Or I could ride some routes that weren’t suitable to be RUSA routes, yet were good for just fun riding. In an effort to keep expanding the perms I own, I have been wanting to create longer versions of Mount Tam to Marshall. I have had the route worked out for many months, but due to work and other stuff, I haven’t been able to pre-ride the route before submitting it to RUSA.

Mount Tam to Marshall is not the hardest 200k route I’ve done, but it’s not the easiest either, and the 300k version continues that trend. It starts by climbing Mount Tam all the way to East Peak (kind of the top), then there is a little more climbing on East Ridgecrest Boulevard. If you’re at the top when you get to East Peak, how can there be more climbing? Don’t ask… Anyway, then you drop down on Ridgecrest, all the way down to Alpine Dam, up again and then down to Fairfax. The climbing is definitely front-loaded in this route. The 200k version then goes out to Marshall-Petaluma Road, climbs and descends to Marshall, and goes back to SF via CA-1 and Sir Francis Drake. The 300k version would go up Wilson Hill instead of to Marshall, then through Chileno Valley, Freestone, Occidental, Monte Rio, Moscow Road, and finally to the jewel of the route: Willow Creek trail. Then it goes back to San Francisco via CA-1 (at night, when traffic has calmed down), following the same return as Old Caz through Stinson Beach and Tam Junction. When describing these roads and tiny towns that are not more than a crossroads, a lot of people might say, “There’s nothing out there.” Fine with me! When there is no desirable destination other than the road itself, fewer cars will be there, at least. I prefer the peace of empty roads that go nowhere.

I had been wanting to ride the 300k version for many months, but whenever I started out, I ended up bailing and riding the 200k version instead. It felt like such a huge time commitment to go that much further. Always something else that needs to be done at home. Finally last week I set my mind to completing the 300k. Since perms have been suspended, no randobucks are available anyway, so I might as well do this ride that is not official in any way. Going nowhere, getting nothing.

It may seem punishing to ride the hardest climb of the route first, with not too much opportunity to warm up, but riding up Old Railroad Grade is pretty amazing first thing in the morning. It is really worth waking up for! As I have said before in the blog, Old Railroad Grade is my Trail One. It was the first place I went on New Bike Day when I got my Pelican, and I can almost recreate in my mind every berm, dip, and turn, many of the trees along the way, the streams that rush by the trail in the rainy season, the past and present ruts and slick rocks. Friday’s ride was typical…

Pure golden morning light

Pure golden morning light

Couldn't help but stop briefly for a snapshot

Couldn’t help but stop briefly for a snapshot

Looking backwards down the trail

Looking backwards down the trail

Sourced from the mountain

Water at the community tool shed is sourced from the mountain

Twin trees at intersection of Old Railroad and Hoo Koo E Koo

Twin trees at intersection of Old Railroad and Hoo Koo E Koo

Looking southeast at the Bay Bridge and financial district of San Francisco

Looking southeast at the Bay Bridge and financial district of San Francisco

Mount Diablo to the east

Mount Diablo to the east

Trails have drained well; seems like someone has been doing a lot of work here. There were lots of areas with medium-sized gravel placed in previously rutted areas

Trails have drained well; seems like someone has been doing a lot of work here. There were lots of areas with medium-sized gravel placed in previously rutted areas

Finally arriving at West Point Inn

Finally arriving at West Point Inn

At East Peak I finally encountered some people and we mutually commented on how beautiful the day was. I went on my way to East Ridgecrest, the highest paved road in Marin County, then West Ridgecrest.

Rolling hills of Bolinas Ridge from West Ridgecrest Blvd

Rolling hills of Bolinas Ridge from West Ridgecrest Blvd

Looking down on Bolinas Lagoon from West Ridgecrest

Looking down on Bolinas Lagoon from West Ridgecrest

Best intersection ever... No bad choices here

Best intersection ever… No bad choices here

Then downdowndown to Alpine Dam.

Alpine Lake as still as glass

Alpine Lake as still as glass

Up a little more, then down to Fairfax for a bite to eat. I always stop at the Coffee Roastery for their fresh beet juice and tasty, filling frittatas, but something was off in frittataland that day. I still ate it, but heading up White’s Hill from Fairfax, I didn’t feel too hot. I started to formulate bailout options. Hmm I could just go to Freestone and get a scone, then turn around, or I could go to Freestone and then do Barnett Valley, or… Okay stop. Just keep going and you don’t have to figure anything out. Easier that way! So I kept going, but in the back of my mind, or more often the front, I kept thinking I would not go the whole way. I just felt really tired, one of those days you are pedaling squares for hours. After being on Hicks Valley for a while I remembered that I hadn’t checked the air in my tires before starting out, and thought maybe the air pressure could be a little higher, so I stopped and added some air, which helped me feel a bit lighter. Chileno Valley Road, once I got there, was gorgeous that day, and I saw even more calves and cows than usual. The swans were mostly on the far side of the lake, but there was one closer to the road that had its head all the way down in the water. I thought it might be a pelican, but it drew its long, graceful neck out of the water and I saw that it sure was a swan! There were also a lot of red tail hawks and peregrine falcons in the air. Although I was struggling, I noticed I was making up time, and since I didn’t have any control closing times to meet, why worry? Rando without boundaries was liberating!

The Valley Ford Market was busy, but not like it was on weekends. There was a steady trickle of customers, mostly local. There was one tall, clean cut guy at the deli counter ordering sandwiches by saying loudly, “Let’s do the turkey etc etc etc…” So weird when people ordering food say they are doing something. Oh well, my sausage roll was excellent, not exactly the kind of thing I would have advised myself to eat at that moment, but I inhaled it and my chocolate milk, and refilled my water. I thanked the cashier on the excellent vittles, and she said yes, they were made in house. I have to say lately I’ve been really impressed with the old Valley Ford Market.  In one of my bailout fantasies I had been thinking I would not eat in Valley Ford but instead get a scone in Freestone or one of those wraps they have at the market in Occidental, but I’m glad I made the full stop in Valley Ford. It made it easier to keep riding through to Jenner/Russia House. One nice thing about this route, though, is that it does have several food options along the way.

Zooming along toward Monte Rio, traffic was light on this Friday. I love riding on weekdays, because local traffic is usually much more polite than the weekend out of towners, busy to get to their kayaking or wine tasting adventures. This route uses Moscow Road instead of River Road as well, further reducing encounters with crappy drivers. It did not disappoint.

View from Moscow Road of bridge crossing Russkaya River

View from Moscow Road of the usual bridge leading to 116

View across Russian River from Moscow Road

View across Russian River from Moscow Road

Moscow Road is a little like Cherry Street

Moscow Road is a little like Cherry Street: lots of redwoods… though nearly flat!

Sunlight from the west bursting through the trees

Sunlight from the west bursting through the trees

Russia House #1 is welcoming, its door wide open

Russia House #1 is welcoming, its door wide open

Russia House #1, the turnaround control, is a pretty interesting place. It used to be an Indian restaurant. It is situated in kind of an odd spot on Highway One, right at the junction of Willow Creek and CA-1. It’s sort of a dead spot though, on a stretch that doesn’t have too many other businesses. I have been wanting to try it out for a long time, since John and I both love Russian food and what seems to be the national beverage of Russia: kvass. Russia House #1 has a porch at the back where you can sit and look at the last bend the Russian River makes before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. On this day, the view was amazing, right at sunset with the light filtering through the clouds.

View from Russia House to Russian River

View from Russia House to Russian River

The food at Russia House #1 consists of a buffet with 4 or 5 items, with a sign saying “Please help yourself and pay according to your WISDOM”. You can pay in cash or with a credit or debit card. Apparently some Russian tourists have reviewed the place: in the original Russian or translated. The restaurant has lots of handmade wooden toys made in Russia, other Russian handicrafts on display, a large chess set and samovar, and an upright piano next to a harp.

Buffet with all home made vegetarian food

Buffet with all home made vegetarian food

Chess set and interesting sculpture on the main table

Chess set and interesting sculpture on the main table

There are lots of posters for some kind of spiritual healer up in the bathroom… I wasn’t too interested in that, but the apparent caretaker and I had a scintillating conversation about local Oakland politics, since he said his son lives in Oakland and I do too. I had a lovely bowl of borscht, making two out of three of my meals containing beets today. Can’t go wrong with that. Also got some dark rye bread, a hard boiled egg, and some Russian tea from the samovar. Perfect rando food for a chilly day.

Bowl of vegetarian borscht with lots of potatoes and sturdy broth

Bowl of vegetarian borscht with lots of potatoes and sturdy broth

One thing I was happy about in arriving at Russia House #1 was that it was not dark yet. Riding this as I was in December, there was very little daylight to be had that day. I think I made the most of it, but I had a suspicion that I would be riding Willow Creek, and the rest of the route, in the dark.

Riding dirt trails in the dark has become one of my winter passions lately. I’ve been fortunate to find some friends who enjoy it too, and we’ve ridden some trails I never would have thought possible to ride in the dark without crashing. It is a new challenge and made much easier by riding in a group, and it makes me feel rewarded for investing in good lighting for my bike, although when the moon is full, sometimes you don’t even need a light.

There was still some gloam by the time I left Russia House #1, but after the long road to Willow Creek trail, that had faded. I began climbing the soft trail strewn with pine needles. The woods were quiet and completely dark. At sections where the trail opened up, I could see bright stars in a deep blue sky. This was why I wanted to make the route longer, not so I could check a box for RUSA saying “yes, I did a 300k.” A route that includes Mount Tam’s Old Railroad Grade, Chileno Valley, and Willow Creek in one day? Yes or yes??

I got to the top of Willow Creek and paused to put on my jacket and mittens for the descent. There would still be some climbing to get to the top of Joy Road, then the descent down Joy. The rest of the route involved familiar territory: Bodega Highway to Freestone-Valley Ford Rd, then Valley Ford and CA-1 most of the way back to Sausalito. It was a tough slog, quite cold and I was drowsy. I took quite the tour of local post offices to nap along the way.

The post office in Marshall was the best one I found, the warmest and with the added bonus that I was able to access the free wifi of the Marshall Store all the way across the street! I took my phone out of airplane mode, and opened my email. Amazingly, there was an email from the RUSA board advising members that the perms program had been reinstated!

So, did I feel like my route scouting had been a waste? Of course not. The ride had been just what I needed: a way to get back into shape after a forced break due to smoke in the air from the Camp Fire. It was a tough ride, an excellent training opportunity, and my body remembers even if my RUSA stats don’t show it. I felt well rewarded. It was good to know I enjoy randonneuring with or without paperwork, and that I have the discipline to get through a ride of that length without the imposed restrictions of the brevet card.


The Dao that can be trodden
is not the enduring and unchanging Dao.
The name that can be named
is not the enduring and unchanging name.
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching