Hamilton Del Puerto

Due to an extremely severe case of momentary laziness, I missed SFR’s Del Puerto Canyon ride this November, forcing me to choose a permanent route for my November r-12 installment. DPC is one of SFR’s most popular routes, often the most popular. Del Puerto Canyon Road follows Del Puerto Creek which cuts through the canyon of the same name, and is just one of those very unique places in the bay area’s distant environs. I guess it is in the Diablo Range? Not sure. There aren’t too many peaks in this canyon with significant elevation, but as you ride through you can see the layers of rock emerging sideways through layers of vegetation, having been pushed around through millenia. Most of Del Puerto Canyon Road follows a wide, rocky riverbed along the road that sometimes even has water in it. And yes, there is Adobe Spring, a natural spring between mile markers 18 and 19. Someone spray painted arrows on the cliff wall opposite the spring to make it easier to find. Was it the same person who installed the spigot and water lines to draw water there? Unknown. This time I visited, the wooden bulletin board with info about the spring was missing. Huh!

Another interesting thing to me about Del P. is its proximity to Henry Coe State Park. Coe is one of California’s largest state parks, and least well known–a great combination, in my opinion! Cars are only allowed in certain campsites near the headquarters, and because of the rugged terrain, it self selects as a park for only the most tolerant adventurer. It features tough climbs, technical single track, no unfiltered water, and a minimum of human built structures encroaching into the environment. So much so that whenever I see trail markers, I’m surprised for a moment. Oh yeah, this is a state park! Occasionally we’ll run across a ranger who is hiking or biking through the park, and they are always the most curious individuals who are so knowledgeable about this fascinating place. If I’m reeeally good in this life, maybe I’ll be reincarnated as a Coe ranger! Large sections of Coe burned in the SCU Lightning Complex fire of 2020, along with long sections of the Hamilton Del Puerto 200k route. I remember seeing a video from the Hamilton observatory of what was most likely the start of that fire, a lightning strike at night. You could actually see in the extremely grainy night time video the lightning striking, and a smallish explosion setting off a slim smoky plume skyward. Yikes.

Anyway…back to that 200k route. I have been eyeing it for a few months as an interesting option for a weekday 200k. No junk miles at all, and minimal traffic, since no one’s driving up to the top of Mount Hamilton for their job. The only people working up there are the astronomers who live at the observatory! That also makes the cue sheet very simple, which is a nice bonus when it can happen. I think there are only 5 turns in the whole route. Another key bonus for me is that the start/finish control is positioned really close to a BART station!

The only hesitation I had about the route is the amount of climbing. To climb up the west side of Mount Hamilton and have to come back and climb up the east side too, and cover 200k in all, is a bit cray cray… maybe my kind of cray cray though? My other favorite perm is Sad Boiz which has 3500m of climbing and 12% dirt. This perm has just over 3700m of climbing but no dirt so it should be easy peasy! Haha so yeah I was a bit uncertain whether I would be able to finish within the time limit, but with such a great route, I didn’t think I would mind converting it into a fun ride on the fly if necessary.

Since I biffed on SFR Del Puerto which is always held the day before the hours change to Daylight Saving, and in any case getting pretty close to winter solstice, there would not be a lot of daylight. I tried to start as early as possible based on the BART schedule, and I guess it was fine.

starting out at the break of day

starting out at the break of day

I would have liked to catch more daylight descending the west side in the evening, but now that I have a new headlight (the “Light Bazooka” as John calls it) it was fine. Weather conditions were chilly, especially bookending the day, but that’s a big asset when doing such a long, tough climb. Wind was light, also a positive as there have been many times on Del Puerto Canyon for me when the wind just whips through the canyon, making it a tough, long slog. I did not want to take a ton of pictures, as even digital cameras do divide my attention, and I wanted to focus fully on riding well, eating enough along the way, not slipping out on the crazy descent down the east side of the mountain…

The climbing starts out easy, then gets steeper as you get closer to the top.

no cars

no cars

looking back toward San Jose over the easy part

looking back toward San Jose over the easy part

At a certain point, you round a corner and have a full view of the biggest telescope.



But there’s still a little ways left before the top. You have to climb still more if you want to use the bubbler or bathrooms at the observatory, and I opted to roll through and get my water at the spring, where the water tastes much better and can even cure or prevent a sore rando stomach. The summit is only 33 kms into the route. Agh, so much further to go!

I started descending the steep, twisty east side down, observing all the blackened trees. I wondered if cavity-dwelling animals would want to come back to roost in charred wood. I did see a lot of prairie dogs throughout the day, but not too many other animals. Not even other bicyclists or motorists on this Monday before Thanksgiving. There were a few farmers and rangers who all waved back at me when I waved at them. But the road was almost unsettlingly deserted. I kind of expect nowadays that road rides will have crappy, unfriendly or downright dangerous drivers, and I surprise myself sometimes by how accustomed I have become to aggressive drivers, anticipating them and compensating for them. But the past few road rides I have done have been mercifully peaceful.

bike is bursting out of bounds

bike is bursting out of bounds

Once you get most of the way down the hill, you cross a bridge, which is the sign it’s time to start climbing again. There is really no respite from climbing on this route. I started to feel despondent about my ability to finish within the time limit, but the bright sunlight was so beautiful on San Antonio Road and I was just loving the experience, so I kept riding on toward the spring. I would need to go there anyway, as I wouldn’t be able to make it back up the mountain without more water. Riding downhill from the Junction is a treat! So many times I have crawled up that climb, it’s nice to see the road from the other direction. When I got to the spring, there was a nice couple filling up what seemed like more carboys than their vehicle could possibly carry. They immediately asked if I would like to get some water for myself, and I assented. I looked at my watch and realized I would probably have enough time to do the whole route! I’m so bad at rando math sometimes… I do have an agreement with myself to never bail on a ride between controls. Though the spring is not a control on this route, I was able to get some food and water in me and think a little more clearly.

I rode on, leaving the couple to fill up their water-carboy-clown-car… and enjoyed still more quiet, peaceful mileage on Del Puerto Canyon Road.

When I got to Patterson, I looked around for the place where I usually go to eat. Distracted by a sign for a sushi restaurant that ended up being closed, a cyclist who had passed me on DPC waved me down. I rode over to him and we talked about where we were riding. He was packing his bike into his car. He said he remembered seeing me ride out there before, and said he remembered “this” and tapped the top of my handlebar bag with Mark E’s Souffle sticker in it. Ha! I am surprised how long I have been carrying around that sticker!

crossing back from the Patterson control over the Governor Jerry Brown Aqueduct...eyes roll

crossing back from the Patterson control over the Governor Jerry Brown Aqueduct…so named because its aura smiles and never frowns, obviously

Being a good shepherd of my time, I left right when I planned to so I would have plenty of time for the hard climb back. I didn’t want to feel rushed on the final descent off the western side of Mount Hamilton, since it goes through a lot of park land and would probably have lots of animals jumping out in front of my bike in the dark…

The ride back through Del Puerto Canyon was still really peaceful, and when I turned onto San Antonio Valley Road, it was getting toward the golden hour. I lamented not having a good camera with me and resolved to come back again with one. Golden grasses, golden oak leaves, golden cows, golden road, golden prairie dogs. Everything had turned to gold for just a few hours. I was racing through this section, again to leave myself plenty of time for the climb ahead. At this point, I was starting to wonder if Putin had pushed the nuclear button or something, because I hadn’t seen any evidence of human activity for hours.

no cars and still more no cars

no cars and still more no cars

ummmm where is everybody??

ummmm where is everybody??

I passed over the bridge signaling it was time to start the big climb. I think there are only 7 miles left to the top at that point. Throughout Del Puerto Canyon Road, nearby Mines Road, and San Antonio Road are giant mile markers painted on the road, in my case showing how many miles till you reach the summit. I slowly counted them out, just finding that cadence that would be sustainable and holding onto it as much as I could.

post sunset on the climb

post sunset on the climb

When I turned that final corner and saw the telescopes for the second time that day, it was just at last light.

beginning of a brand new day for telescopes

telescopes just starting their day

I saw the telescopes silhouetted against the deep red sunset, and as I rode past them, I heard them starting up. A lift door slowly slid open as I passed. I had never witnessed that before! Pretty cool… I just stopped for long enough to put on my mittens, any spare additional layers I could find, and take a picture of my bike at the top.

I figured I had enough time to descend carefully, even with the additional climbing within the descent (!). I did see a little gray fox prancing across the road and heard something furiously rustling in the bushes at some point, but no real hazards. And I finished in the time limit! I will definitely be doing this route again. Hopefully when it’s still cool out!

end of the bart line

end of the bart line

Rambling Ride Report

Crikey! It’s been a long time since my last post. I just noticed that I have put in 8800 km this year in recorded rides, so I guess I have been outside riding a lot–and not inside writing a lot. Generating material for my blog! Haha. 8800k seems like a lot for me, since the past few years have only yielded about 5500k in recorded rides. I don’t usually record my commutes or grocery runs, but do record any touring, brevets, or local riding on my rando or mtb bikes. Unfortunately I did not get it together to do Errandonnee or Coffeeneuring this year, so that’s not in there.

So where have I been riding? Well, I resolved to resume my long abandoned practice of doing R12s. I am about a third of the way through a new one and I’m so thrilled about it! I stopped R-12ing back in 2018 when my back went out for some unknown reason, and that kept me off any bikes at all for 2 months. Then that terrible lawsuit shut down the RUSA perms program. It is still a loss that I feel since so many old perms are still not entered into the new program. And I for one enjoyed interacting with other perm owners to register and file results. Registering for a perm online is easy, but there is no one there to tell you that a control location, for example a cafe or restaurant, has closed, or an entire section of the perm is off limits due to past wildfire damage. Yes, both of those things happened to me on 3 different perms! I guess we are truly on our own to do advance research on our routes now.

All I can say now is that I’m deeply stoked that the perm program is back at all, since readers of this blog know how much I love RUSA’s permanents program.

The most recent perm I did was one of my own contributions, Delta Double Crosser. Like most of my perms it is loosely based on a route that John P created. Although he and I met through rando, he has hung up his RUSA number for good and now focuses solely on unquantifiable riding (yes… silly, I know). It’s kind of unfortunate since he came up with some of my favorite fleche and dart routes! Oh well. I was able to convert one of those routes to a perm, thus we have the Delta Double Crosser #3505. This is a deceptively difficult route. It has very little climbing and in fair winds should be easy, but complications like the status of the Caltrans ferries and wind direction have led many an intrepid randonneur to DNF this route or at least find themselves within just a few minutes of the time limit at the end. It was originally designed as a route for the Davis Dart, to allow for maximum goofing off time among a team of rando pals. As always with John’s routes, low traffic roads have the priority, but as always in rando, some high traffic roads are required to make connections between those beautiful, serene, low traffic roads.

The route starts in Berkeley. The first control used to be at a Starsucks but luckily due to new policies around EPP results, we don’t have to get receipts anymore–I say luckily, since said Starsucks has vacated this location. Anyway, the route immediately starts up a very gentle climb over the Berkeley hills through Wildcat Canyon park. It’s been chilly and damp in the mornings lately, and the fog was low at the start. Once I summited over Wildcat Canyon, things cleared up considerably, though they never got very warm that day.

fog down low
fog down low

The route then takes a common track for local road cyclists, descending Wildcat Canyon Road, crossing San Pablo Dam Road, and climbing Bear Creek Road. It’s a bit of work, but not too bad. Then instead of heading back toward Berkeley, the route continues on Alhambra Valley Road over the pig farm climb. Then a bit of lovely coasting through tree-canopied winding pavement, and you’re at the first control, Martinez. Originally, the control was at States Coffee in Martinez, but on this Sunday morning, there was a line out the door, wrapping around the building. I opted instead for a liquor store on the edge of town, just getting some water and chips. I brought a lot of bike food with me and was hoping to avoid spending too much time at any of the controls.

After Martinez, the route heads over the Benicia Bridge, which has a dedicated bike/ped path. It also has a rail bridge right next to the hiway, which I would be riding on during my train trip back home at the end of the day. Did I mention that this is a point to point route that finishes at the Davis Amtrak station? Ok then.

Not sure what the machinery and cables are all about
Not sure what the machinery and cables are all about

Next up is the lovely section along the sloughs and waterways of Suisun and Cordelia! I like that this route offers Goodyear road as an alternative to the more common Lopes Road.

Fine example of hand lettering in the wild
Fine example of hand lettering in the wild
Back on Lopes, open sky, open road
Back on Lopes, open sky, open road
Chronic problem of housing developments taking over open space
Chronic problem of housing developments taking over open space. In the 10 years since I first rando’ed out here, the amount of new development is pretty disappointing

After some more pleasant, quiet miles on Cordelia Road, I roll into Suisun City. There are no real services between there and Rio Vista, the next control, so I take care of a bio break, removing my early morning layers, put on some sunscreen, and eat a couple bars. There is a nice public bathroom by the boardwalk, so I don’t have to buy anything. There are people fishing off the boardwalk in the bright sunlight.

Serene Suisun
Serene Suisun

After Suisun City is probably the worst part of the ride. I felt like I had arrived in Suisun City relatively early though, and was making decent time. I was ready to ride the blasted shoulder of highway 12 and get it over with. Turns out, there was relatively little traffic that day.

Caltrans, what are you thinking
Caltrans, what are you thinking

I left Suisun and things seemed to be going fine, until my front tire started to feel soft. Dagnabbit. The shoulder on this particular highway is not the best for fixing flats, but I happened to be really close to Nurse Slough road, not an open road but at least there was a big pullout before the gate. The previous weekend, I got 3 flats on a ride and came to discover my once lovely Grand Bois Cerfs gifted from John were not going to make it through the ride I had planned. I was getting really efficient at roadside patching, but the sidewalls were too dried out and threadbare. This time, I was starting out fresh with a new set of Panaracer Paselas (also gifted from John…hmmmm), which I used a lot in my early rando experience and thought they were pretty bombproof. Humpf! All the flats I had gotten were in natural areas and they were all from thorns, so… maybe a seasonal thing. Anyway, I had a pretty pleasant experience fixing my tire and patching the tube actually.

Always wanted to poach this
Always wanted to poach this

Wheel back on, I continued down the highway, turning off on Dumbarton Road for a brief respite. Indeed it is pretty there, but apparently I am just a huge thorn magnet these days, because I got another flat, just before turning back onto 12.

Not complaining about the flat fixing scenery
Not complaining about the flat fixing scenery

A large jackrabbit showed itself to me while I waited for the patch glue to set, then hopped off into the distance. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the animals I see on rides. I don’t really see that many but when I do, I usually feel lucky. On another ride recently I saw a big old brown bear, and I felt lucky that it was just a glimpse.

There is a short climb after Dumbarton Road on 12, then you’re off it entirely. 12 is a direct route to Rio Vista, but what a relief not to take the short route. Instead this route takes Shiloh Road to Birds Landing and the classic Shirley’s Tavern, then Montezuma Hills Road to Rio Vista. There are a ton of levee roads out on the slough that I’d like to check out sometime… Dinkel Spiel Road is really a road apparently! I think these are all roads for duck hunters and there is some club which grants you keys to the gates out there. I guess this is probably duck hunting season, so not the best time. Sometime though.

For now, it is plenty for me to enjoy the sweet pleasure of Shiloh Road and Birds Landing. I wasn’t expecting Shirley’s to be open, and was starting to feel pressed on time due to the double flat fiasco, but the Budweiser light in the window was on and a $1 soda sounded like a good idea. I tentatively brought my bike up to rest on the porch railing, now painted bluish gray instead of the pink it was the last time I was there. Someone came to the screen door from the inside and opened it for me, welcoming me in. I stepped through it and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. There were four people inside, none of them Shirley, but that wasn’t too surprising since Shirley was in her 90s the last time I was there. Instead there were two women behind the bar and a nice older couple sitting in the comfy chairs by the window. The man of the couple was really interested in talking about bikes. It took the women a long time to come to grips with my having ridden from Oakland, but they were nice about it. I was super proud of myself for having several singles in cash to pay for the two beverages I wanted: a Jumex peach juice and a ginger ale. When I inquired about Shirley, the women explained that Shirley had died the previous August, and the family was still deciding what to do with the bar. One asked the other how many people came in on her shift on Friday, and she said she sold 2 beers her whole shift. It had always seemed like that kind of place to me, but they said that when there were crews out building the wind turbines that heavily dominate the landscape of the Montezuma Hills, the bar was very busy. Just when I was thinking I had spent too much time there, I suddenly thought I should pick up some water, so I got one from the refrigerator and said my fond goodbyes to them, hoping it wouldn’t be my last visit.

Shirley's Tavern
Shirley’s Tavern

Next up, Montezuma Hills!!!!! Five exclamation points because it had been so long since the last time, and because of all the good memories of riding out there with so many different people. The nice couple at Shirley’s eventually passed me in their car and politely tooted their horn and waved. Not too many others out that day.

Farmer driving his tractor
Farmer driving his tractor
I got one of these mirrors for the Humboldt 600k... not sure if it's really that effective but I guess it's nice to have.
I got one of these mirrors for the Humboldt 600k… not sure if it’s really that effective but I guess it’s nice to have.
Sheeples and baby sheeples
Sheeples and baby sheeples… One time on this road, the farmers were driving their flocks of sheep up the road, completely filling the road with sheep.

At the end of Montezuma Hills Road is the town of Rio Vista. It’s the first town you go through that is truly on the delta. There is a big fishing store in the middle of town that is sometimes the only store that is open. This time, I was feeling pretty hungry–my strategy of not stopping for a meal was sort of falling down so I checked into the Mexican restaurant for a bite to eat. I’ve pretty much given up on rando math at this point in my rando career, and I decided that even if the two flats and Shirley’s Tavern got me really far behind I would probably catch up on the flat levee roads? Or something. Anyway it was definitely my stomach doing the talking when I decided to stop, and when the waitress asked, “would you like the burrito wet?” I was like, “Yeahuh!!” Ooooo that was a good burrito! It was big which is normally a problem for me on brevets since I have never been a fast eater, but this one went down fast and I was out of there and back on the road pretty quick.

When I was in the restaurant, there was a dropped ceiling with those foam panels… you know. Some of the panels were replaced with paintings of local stuff. The one above my table was confusing though–I couldn’t tell what it was. About an hour later when I was on the Real McCoy II ferry, I realized it was exactly this view:

I’ve written before in this blog about how much I love riding on the delta and how the ferry forces you to slow down and appreciate a different pace of life, so I won’t go into it here. I’ll just say I’m glad the ferry was in service that day! Detours around the ferry kind of suck, especially if you’re on a bike.

Delta livin
Delta livin

The ferry does take what feels like hours to traverse that wide waterway, and when I got to the other side, I was feeling the need to burn up some mileage. Not really the vibe of the delta, but I was still able to enjoy riding there. Really no cars to speak of until I got to Clarksburg, a distance of about 40 kms. And if you add Shiloh and Montezuma Hills Road, it becomes more like 75 kms. With. no. cars!

The sign you see after exiting the ferry
The sign you see after exiting the ferry
Lots of agriculture out here, more often grapes. Also lots of birds (not pictured)
Lots of agriculture out here, more often grapes. Also lots of birds (not pictured)
Water crossing
Water crossing
Beautiful light and shadow on the levee roads
Beautiful light and shadow on the levee roads
Just before Clarksburg, the road leaves the water and straightens out
Just before Clarksburg, the road leaves the water and straightens out

In Clarksburg, I just needed to stop for water, so I stopped in the little convenience store before Husik’s.After Husik’s the route has to use 160 to connect to a bike path, which was probably more unpleasant than highway 12 actually. It is a narrow, winding road with no shoulder and pretty high median speed… Most drivers were courteous but it’s annoying that Caltrans is still doing repaving projects on roads like this with absolutely no shoulder.

The rest of the route is mostly relaxing bike paths throughout to West Sacramento and then the Yolo Wildlife Sanctuary Bypass to Davis.

However, there is a pretty dangerous overpass with high speed on- and offramps in West Sac that needs to be removed from the route. It is a new overpass since the last time I rode here. It made me feel really glad that I have so little trust in civil engineers that design these types of things, because even the sidewalk makes it impossible to avoid cars coming off the freeway. If I had the safety expectations of any normal person (as opposed to myself, knowing that just because there’s a sidewalk doesn’t mean it leads anywhere you want to be) I definitely would have been squashed.

Still firmly not doing rando math, I did have my sights set on the 7:10 train from Davis back to Oakland. I had put the hustle on throughout the delta but especially from Clarksburg. I had a smokin’ Stereolab loop stuck firmly in my head, and it was forcibly propelling me forward. And the whole West Sac thing I just wanted to be over as quickly as possible. Soooo I did end up making the train, just by a hare’s breath!

It was Halloween weekend, so everyone on the train was smashed. It was really crowded too! I had forgotten my courtesy lock to lock up my bike to the train’s bike rack, so I just stood downstairs near my bike for most of the ride. I remembered when I was at Shirley’s, the woman of the couple sitting next to the window had asked me, “If you make the train from Davis, do the conductors wake you up when you get to your stop?” At the time I thought it was a silly question, but when I was leaning against the windows in the lower level, feeling the gentle rocking back and forth of the train car, I did feel a bit snoozy. It had been a full day with a lot of chapters… which is why I still like doing these long rides. They still feel like an adventure, since something different and unexpected happens each time. I hope I can keep up my R-12 streak though it seems like I’ve just been squeaking by, riding each one at almost the last day of the month (or the very last day in some cases!) If I do, you’ll only hear about it here on mmmmbike!

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.