Another R1: Pierce Point 200k

The season opener for SFR brevets this year began with a beautiful and dramatic corkscrew dive by a pelican (white or brown, I couldn’t tell) about 40 feet above the water surface at the waterfront in Sausalito as I passed through early in the morning along with 92 other intrepid randos on January 30, 2016. Whew, that was breathtaking! The Brevet Wildlife Report for this ride is filled with two-, four-, and zero-legged creatures, some seen, some only heard, but the first one (the pelican) was the best! I think it bodes well for this year, let’s hope anyway!

I must admit I was not totally sold on this route based on my experiences last year. Losing the Light House route was traumatic, and adding more mileage to the out-and-back on highway one was not appealing. The traffic on the highway was busy last year to say the least. But I am pretty loyal to my home rando club, the season opener cannot be denied or shied away from, and heck I might as well since it’s time to start another R-12 if I wanna be like Willy N.

Another de-motivating factor popped up the week before the ride: I got a mysterious and painful earache, making me wonder whether doing this ride is quite sensible. But I made my preparations either out of habit or who knows why; you just have to get out there and try your best. I often think about PBP stories I have read in which the rider is 2 days away from the ride they’ve been dreaming of and planning for in some cases for years… and the rider has something go wrong with their bike, or some random slip and fall happens, or a bad case of jet lag leads to catching the flu or something. Although I obviously don’t have as much invested in the garden variety SFR brevet, I do cherish each ride, since you never know when you truly cannot go out there.

And I was well rewarded for my attempts to get out there! The day was gorgeous, the beauty of Point Reyes National Seashore was ravishing, I got to spend a good amount of time riding with friends but also some peaceful time on my own, and because of the two out-and-back legs of the route, I got to wave at all the riders passing by. Just perfect for a season opener! The route is definitely growing on me. Though I still miss going to the Light House, this route has far fewer cattle grates, an advantage which can’t be denied. My earache pretty much disappeared, confirming my belief that randonneuring is the cause and the cure of all my physical challenges.

As for the wildlife of note, I got to see the Tule Elk this year! One perk of the Pierce Point route is that it passes through the Tule Elk refuge. Just scanning over the Wikipedia page for Tule Elk, I felt fortunate to see the healthy populations of this species once thought to be extinct. Another wildlife sighting was less exhilerating but still unusual: a big, fat banana slug in the middle of the shoulder on White’s Hill outbound. I was just amazed that no one had run it over! Haven’t seen one of those in a while, but I guess because of the increase in wet weather, probably something I’ll see more of. Another great wildlife non-sighting was hearing frogs throughout Inverness. They were singing their little guts out! And finally, in addition to the diving pelican on the waterfront in Sausalito, I saw a seal in the water there as well as a lovely Western Grebe, a bird of the loon family native to my birthplace in Wisconsin.

And finally, for some pictures!

The bends

The bends

MOSS

Thick coatings of moss and/or lichens coated everything in sight! It was like someone sprayed green foam all over the trees, ground, concrete

If you lived here, you'd be home now

If you lived here, you’d be home now

Wetlands

Wetlands near Inverness

Marshes

Marshes

Pierce Point Road

Pierce Point Road is steep

Ocean View

Ahhh the ocean!

Top of the climb

The Road Below

Pierce Point Cows

Happy, shaggy cows

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay

Pierce Point Control

Peace and Serenity (and Lisa’s Cookies!) at Pierce Point Control

Tule Elk

Once thought to be extinct, Tule Elk are now protected on Point Reyes and a handful of other locations in California

The Golden Gate

Passing back through the Golden Gate

A Route of One’s Own

Hey, I have my own perm now! Pretty exciting!!!! The route idea originates with my cool boyfriend John P, and is based on a route he and I have been talking about for a coupla years; I just finally got around to doing all the work to make it official. Here is his blog post about riding it from a few years ago. The first part (to Fairfax) is from a Box Dog shop ride from 2008.

Part of the route was also the same as my first ride out with my blue Pelican, at least the climb of Old Railroad Grade. Funny how things go. I will always be grateful to RideOn member/rando Nick B for taking me out that day. I really had no clue where we were headed, but I was ready for adventure and loved Old Railroad Grade trail right away: it was the new norm, naturally. It feels like completing a circle to now manage a perm using that trail. It is in my bike’s DNA as well as mine. Sooo it should be easy, right? Wellll… ha.

I started working on the route in late October, hoping it could be approved for me to use as my December 200k this year. The application and approval process took a lot less time than I anticipated, and Mount Tam to Marshall, Route #2867 was made available to RUSA members to ride for credit in early November. Ten lucky randos enjoyed the ride before I finally scheduled a day for myself to ride it in December. Due to lots of rainy days in the forecast, teaching work on weekends and so on, I settled on an apparent break in the wet weather: the 16th (my lucky number!) as my big day.

I had only ridden the whole route once before, with John as a pre-ride and not particularly for time. We putzed around that day, even running into perm owner Mark G on the Cross Marin Trail on his fixie! We stopped and chatted with him for some time. What a great day that was. We had our traditional early dinner in Point Reyes at the Whale of a Deli, mmmmmeatball sub for me and carnitas torta for John. I amply photographed all the controls, poring over the details to come up with good info control questions. I now have almost three complete sets of different questions to ask in case someone rides more than once.

Overlooking Muir Woods from Mount Tam

From the pre-ride: overlooking Muir Woods from Mmmmount Tam in the early mmmmorning

 

Donkey on Fern Canyon Road

Also from the pre-ride: my buddy who lives on Fern Canyon Road. Don’t be stubborn, just keep pedaling!

Anyway, I was pretty nervous leading up to my first riding for credit of this challenging route. On paper, there’s a lot of climbing. And the climbing is all loaded into the first third or so of the distance, so you start off feeling behind the clock. I know in my mind that I can make up the time later on the flatter sections, but it was still a cause for worry for me. Would I be able to make it to the Point Reyes timed control in time? Wouldn’t that just be too annoying if I created my own perm and wasn’t able to finish it??

I had brought my nice camera, but ran out of battery in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge, so I just took snapshots of my bike at the info controls. There are a total of ten controls on this route, six of which are info controls. I didn’t really stop worrying about making good time until I got up Red Hill… then, even with Marshall wall, I started to truly unwind and enjoy the ride. Hicks Valley Road is soooo quiet and beautiful! Shh don’t tell anyone… At that point, the clock unwound too, and as I covered the quieter backroads, time seemed to stand still. I’m glad I got to make the tiny schoolhouse on Hicks Valley Road a stopping point.

Golden Gate Bridge is extra Orange

Last picture before the nice camera ran out of battery–Golden Gate Bridge is extra Orange!!

Control 1

Control 1, yes, Starsucks

Control 2

Control 2: Base of Old Railroad Grade, always a good time to down that Ensure

Halfway Up

About halfway up Mount Tam, always brilliant–and quiet!–in the morning

West Point Inn Surprise

When I rounded the last corner before the West Point Inn, I see a hugely tall figure with his hands in the air calling my name!! When does that ever happen?! Turns out it’s these cool cyclists, coming home from camping on the Mountain of Tam.

Control 3

Control 3: Top of Mount Tam! Too bad the Visitor Center is closed, because I bet they have some great patches!

I never tire of this view

I never tire of this view from Ridgecrest Boulevard

Control 4

Control 4 is at the junction of the Bolinas Ridge trailhead, Ridgecrest Boulevard, and Bolinas-Fairfax Road. You can’t go wrong with any of these choices, but this route takes you downhill to Alpine Dam and the town of Fairfax, home of mountain biking and the Coffee Roastery, the suggested receipt control

Cross Marin trail

Control 6 is at the end of the second dirt section, the Cross Marin Trail. The trail surface is usually covered with soft pine needles, and the air is filled with the aroma of either wet redwoods or campfire smoke from the Samuel P. Taylor campsites nearby. Again, not a losing proposition either way.

Lincoln School

Control 7: The little white schoolhouse, built long ago. Still quite small, and still a functioning schoolhouse for the farm families who live out here. I can’t take a picture of it, because I’d be giving away the control question!

Marshall Wall Tree

Oh sweet lord, the tree at the end of the Marshall “wall” climb. It’s really not that bad of a climb, just looong.

The long stretch of remote, quiet road is over. Now the route turns south on CA-1, a very familiar stretch of road for SFR brevet riders.

The long stretch of remote, quiet road is over. Now the route turns homeward on CA-1, a very familiar stretch of road, and destination in itself, for SFR brevet riders.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes Station, the timed receipt control I was so worried about. I made it with plenty of time to spare, having made up lots of time on the flat Hicks Valley and Marshall Roads. Now I am smelling the barn!

There’s a lot to love about this route. There are a couple tweaks I might make if I could redo it, but it’s in the books now, so it has to stand as is. And it was a fair amount of work to create the route, cue, and info control questions, certainly making me appreciate a lot more the dedication, focus, and determination required to create a formal route such as this. A lot of expertise and riding experience goes into making a RUSA permanent route if it’s really good (in the case of Mount Tam to Marshall, the credit for that all goes to John). This one is challenging, though not as much as an Adventure Series ride. It allows riders of normal randonneuring capabilities to enjoy mellow backroads while keeping the amount of climbing doable. It offers a couple dirt trails, though one is flat and the other uphill, so that riders who would like a gradual introduction to mixed terrain riding can have it without any risky technical descents. It also includes three rails-to-trails in their entirety (super duper fancy prize for anyone who can name them in the comments section)! After riding others’ perms for so many years, I am glad I have finally come up with a route of my own to contribute. I can’t wait to come up with some more!

 

That one ride, that one day…

Hi there good people of the bicycle persuasion, believe it or not, this is not a dead feed yet! Sorry it’s been so long, yes the time does go by rather quickly these days.

Pretty soon the year will be over, and another R-12 with it, with any luck and/or possible blessings from the Spirit of Randonneuring, my collection of guardian angels, etc. I have been extremely lucky so far this year. I have been able to go on some really fantastic rides. My local cycling club happens to be one of the most active randonneuring groups in the U.S., with several great rides to choose from every month. It’s been fairly easy to keep up my R-12 pattern with such an active calendar. In October, I did three different randonnées!

I decided not to go to PBP this year, which freed up my schedule for a lot of relaxed-pace fun rides. I will probably end up riding to Brest one day with thousands of other like-minded riders; it seems like it is my fate as a cyclist of Gallic ancestry. Instead this year, I spent some time on the local mountainsides with my sweetie:  climbing…

Seaview Trail/Tilden Regional Park

Seaview Trail/Tilden Regional Park

descending…

Wildcat Canyon/Havey Canyon Trail or Mezue

Wildcat Canyon/Havey Canyon Trail- or possibly Mezue Trail

climbing…

Deer Park Fire Road, Muir Woods

Deer Park Fire Road, Muir Woods

descending…

Rock Springs Trail

Rock Springs Trail…after the steep part

and eating excellent burritos in Fairfax.

Casa Manana

Casa Manana

John’s much better at climbing and descending than I, but I try to be good-natured about getting off the bike and walking if I have to, and anyway, I’m much better now than I was a year ago. I’m pretty excited about these new adventures and the new skills I’ve gradually been honing.

Writing about randonneuring has gotten a bit complicated this year. Early in the year, one of my dearly cherished amigas was crashed into along with 4 other riders by a drunk driver. They all survived, but sustained serious injuries. Last summer, a young, sweet-sounding, and experienced randonneur was crashed into and killed by an underage driver. The litany of frightening things that can happen while “sharing the road” goes on. I try to be upbeat in this blog, but sometimes it doesn’t feel honest. I know that I am not alone among randos and non-randos in that human suffering such as this affects me deeply. There is a further feeling of injustice about it, since bicycling would appear to be such an innocent activity. The muse does not like the situation, does not like it at all. I guess the muse went on strike for a while. I did not stop randonneuring, but I definitely started orienting myself away from automobile-friendly areas. Sharing a trail with hikers, runners, and other people walking at a relaxed pace instead of “sharing” the road with stressed out texters feels good.

I think my most memorable ride this year was also the hardest (isn’t that always the way?). John, Eric W, and I rode up Railroad Grade nearly to the top of Mount Tamalpais, then rode the Bolinas Ridge trail

Bolinas Ridge Trail

Bolinas Ridge Trail

to Shafter, skirted around Kent Lake,

John and Eric edging the lake

John and Eric edging the lake

and then ascended again up San Geronimo Ridge

John and Eric at the top of San Geronimo Ridge

John and Eric at the top of San Geronimo Ridge, looking at Pine Mountain

to Pine Mountain,

Looking at Mount Tam from the north

Looking at Mount Tam from the north

finally descending via Bolinas Road into Fairfax, and routing home via the usual roads. The beauty, the remoteness, and the difficulty of this ride was surreal. I didn’t bring a camera, but I did have my phone with me, so the photos are from that. More here. I’m not sure if we rode even 50 miles that day, but it was the hardest ride of the year without question. And it wasn’t a formal ride of any kind (thus the title of this post).

Off-road riding seems to be gaining popularity with randonneurs lately. More people are enjoying the “mixed terrain” experience, and in the most recent SFR pair of populaires, more randonneurs chose the mixed terrain option. Many thanks to Carlos D for designing that very enjoyable route. I often think that bikes are only partly-suited to be on roads, and that trails are better designed for the scale and size of a bike. However, trails are also made for hikers, families, and sometimes horses, not just bikes, so bikes are not always entirely suited to be on trails either. Practically speaking, in order to get to a given trail, I ride to the trailhead, so it’s good to be able to ride both on roads and trails. Conversely, the skills developed in mountain biking help a lot in randonneuring. The brevets on narrow country roads with winding descents and highly charactered pavement definitely recall the tougher trail descents for me. Climbing rocky, uneven trails can be more difficult, which makes climbing on pavement seem a lot easier.

It’s nice to be well-rounded so you can take advantage of the best qualities of each option. Lucky for me, I have a bike that is well-rounded too. Now I have two Pelicans (bought one of John’s older ones): the one I keep clean for brevets, and the muddy one…

Hello? Bike cleaning fairy??

Hello? Bike cleaning fairy??

I guess that is the only disadvantage of mixed terrain riding that I can think of… but the views sure make up for it.

The view from Rock Springs Trail

The view from Rock Springs Trail

R36: Uvas Gold 200k

Yes, it’s true, despite my predilection against accumulating stats, my last ride has resulted in a consecutive streak of 36 monthly rides of at least 200 kilometers in length. Whoops! Never meant to do that, and so now what do I do if I want to get lazy and break my streak?? Oh those pesky rando-world problems… Actually at this point it’s no longer a question of lazy or bold. I start to notice when I haven’t done a long ride in a few weeks, and it’s not pretty. The call of the Pelican must be answered.

And speaking of the call of the Pelican, a few days after the Uvas Gold 200k marked my third year with ‘er. How I lucked into getting a bike as nice as this, I will never know and I do not want to know. I just know I feel this way about it… A bike can be a pal, an extension of our personality, a vessel into which we pour all our efforts to elevate ourselves, a simple (or complicated) machine that works (or does not), a vehicle which brings us closer to where we want to be. In bookbinding we say, “Use the best tool you can afford,” and I think I’ve applied this rule to my bike as well.  Anyway, I realized during the Uvas Gold 200k that if I finished the ride it would be my 36th consecutive monthly 200k, and one person asked, “And you did it all on that bike?,” and “Yes” was the answer. Even Old Caz, twice! Yes.

So anyway. Uvas Gold. This is a new route for SFR, and was promised to us to be a mellow year-ender. I believe the term ‘flat’ was used publicly. Good thing I do not pay attention to such terminology when it is bandied about in relation to an SFR route. Just pointless. The week before the scheduled brevet, our RBA rode the route as a permanent and reported an elevation gain figure in the neighborhood of the old Point Reyes Light House route. I’m not sure if anyone would describe that route as ‘flat’, maybe ‘flattish’? One enlightened person made the comment that a ‘flat’ route should avoid such roads with names including the following: Hill, Mount, Mountain, Valley, Grade, View, Ridge… which Uvas does not. But, like I said, when someone tells me an SFR route is flat, I have the same reaction as when someone tells me, “We will get to the top of this climb right around the next corner.” Heard that one before…

It was the rain, however, which gave me pause on the morning of the ride. It sounded like buckets of nails were overturning at the moment I got out of bed, and after eating breakfast, it hadn’t let up. Walking outside to the balcony hallway, it felt cold as well. Not the most encouraging scenario, making for the first time I ever questioned starting a brevet. I had ridden in a downpour the weekend before, but it was a 25-miler. Even that ride took my shoes 3 days to fully dry out. Finally when I decided to try it anyway, it was getting close to the time the BART train to Fremont would be leaving my station… I sprinted to the station, not having the time to put on my rain jacket, gloves, or hat! But I made it with plenty of time to spare as the train was stalled in the station, probably waiting for a connection. Taking BART was fun, since we now get ourselves organized to all hang out in the last car if possible. I got to chat with Therese C about her bike; I rode some parts of Old Caz and El Paseito Mixto with her, so it was nice to see her. Greg M and some others were also there, and Brian O and Alex P also showed up. Rando BART party!

There was light rain when we got off the train, causing us to put off walking across the wet parking lot for a few minutes… But we eventually trudged over and signed in, took the oath, and started off. By that time, there was barely enough rain for me to keep my rain jacket on, but the roads were still wet. After the first ten miles or so, the rain moved off and stayed away for the whole day, making me very glad I came out to ride. Some other great things about the Uvas Gold 200k: I liked the idea of riding all the way to Gilroy, which seems really, really far, even though we started in Fremont. I liked the Coyote Creek Trail, and the bright green early morning views from Mount Hamilton were spectacular after the rain. The post-rain forest aroma from San Felipe still lingers in my notsrils.

As usually happens, at the very beginning of the ride I get to chat with a few of the people I never see after the first control: Eric L, Andrea S and others. One of my favorite things about brevets is catching up with the people I know (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively), putting faces to names of people I’ve heard about, seeing peoples’ different gear and bikes… but even though I valiantly took the Milpitas city limit sign, it wasn’t too long before I got dropped by most people, and then it was time to ascend the Mountain of Hamilton! I stopped to drink an Ensure brought specifically for this climb, and let my esteemed comrade Alex P climb ahead. This was the biggest climb on the route. About halfway up, I was confused (as were two other riders) by a twisted street marker, and had to pause to get in the right gear to restart… Along rode Jack H and Brian O. I rode with Brian O on the rest of the climb up Mount Hamilton, and we had fun chatting and mutually bemoaning our being out of shape. I think at that point, or at the first info control, we also ran into Ben G, Eric M and Theresa C, three people with whom I rode Old Caz this summer.

There were a couple wild descents that had been given mild passing notice in the pre-ride talk; Jack H noted to me prior to the ascent that these descents had been understated, and he was oh, so right. I was glad for the extra warning, I was glad I just replaced my front brake pads, I was glad I took the time to go to the bike handling skills classes, and I was glad my bike handles so well. Therefore, I was glad while descending, and I thought it was fun. But wow! Tight turns, those. In case anyone is reading this who is considering riding this route, consider yourself warned: watch those descents on Quimby and Metcalf if you’ve never ridden them before (there are at least a couple 180 degree hairpins) and be sure your brakes are working well. Then you will have fun.

At the base of Metcalf, we entered the Coyote Creek Trail, a very nice (its flatness was quite welcome to us!) multi-use path. There’s a little bathroom/bubbler shack close to the end where we took a break for stretching and replenishing of fluids. Not too much longer and we would be in Gilroy, the lunch stop. A bunch of us left together and made our way through the semi-rural streets of Morgan Hill and San Martin. It was a cheerful group with lots of chatting and a medium pace. I unfortunately have not ridden in a close group like that too often, and a minor calamity resulted when I touched wheels with Brian O in front of me and Dan B behind. I took a little dive and my right shoe came off, I tore a hole in my nice wool knickers (darn it!) and got a little road rash. But the funniest thing to happen was that my left rear fender stay got bent into an S shape… and in spite of that, the wheel turned fine. And I felt fine too. So, I put my shoe back on and we continued down the road, no worse for wear but of course much more consciously on my part.

As we continued riding, I felt pretty hungry. I mentioned to Brian about how my Most Frequent Riding Partner John and I ate sushi from the Half Moon Bay Safeway for Thanksgiving while bike camping, and we both started to look forward to lunch. As it turned out, the Gilroy Safeway had an excellent sushi chef making hand rolls on the spot! I had a giant dragon roll as big as a small burrito that also had one nigiri roll in the package, and I ate it all, no problem! …as delicious as it was large. While I dined at the picnic tables outside the Safeway, I was able to share one of my favorite brevet comestibles, surprising to me that more people don’t drink more of it: sparkling water. I overheard my table-mate say to her riding partner that she was having better luck with her stomach troubles this ride, so I felt compelled to share with her that sparkling water has never failed to ease any stomach sourness I’ve had. She was surprised, and gladly took the leftover of the large bottle I had bought! Woohoo another convert to fizzy water, yesssss.

I left with Dan B and James W, my poor sense of direction almost leading us through a high school football field, and then after not too long on Uvas Road, they dropped me. I knew it would happen sooner or later, and I didn’t mind riding around the Uvas Reservoir by myself one bit. What a beautiful road. Info control: check. Water level since the rains: up, though still very very very low. What is going on here, people?!? I know the Marin and Sonoma reservoirs are filled to overflowing after the recent rains, but inland California is another story. I did not bring my camera on this ride, so you will have to imagine the ring after ring of vestigial water levels left in a formerly huge reservoir.

After Uvas, there is another little bump before rejoining the Coyote Creek Trail in the opposite direction from the morning. I could not for the life of me find where the cue sheet said to enter the trail, and there were several highway on ramps sharing the same space, so I just tried to find the safest way to get the trail that I could. Doing that in near-dark was the least fun part of the ride for me, and something I would look at on Streetview next time. At the end of the trail, I ran across some other randos looking for the entrance to the mysteriously marked (or unmarked?) Road N… Dadblame new route, but we found it.

Sometime during the remainder of the only-medium-sucky suburban streets (mostly with bike lanes, though the disappearing bike lane section raising my neck hairs for as long as it lasted) I ran into Steve H and Tom H, members of the former Gilroy-bound gruppo. Yay! We rode through and through to the penultimate control where we got some life-giving beverages and snacks, and through to the very end. I am always happy to run into these guys, chipper as always even at the very end of a long day of human-powered pedaling.

Even with more climbing than promised, I had a great time that day on my bike. And even in the off season, so many fantastic people were there! The scenery was just amazing after the rains: bright neon green, so fresh and lovely. Uvas Road was quiet, remote, hilly, scenic–just what I love about SFR brevets. I look forward to next year…and may even continue my R-whatever! If I do, you’ll hear about it here on mmmmbike!

2014 Davis Dart: Delta Montagnards Ride Again!

This has been a tough year for the ol’ mmmmbike. Lots of bad karma coming back to me for whatever horrible things I’ve done lately have made me want to wash 2014 down the toilet asap. No time for bike riding and work, work, work is all I get. I’d like to say things are slowly getting back on track now (at least I have time to update my bike blog!) but I don’t want to jinx myself, so let’s just say I feel lucky anytime I can get on my bike for a casual 200K (plus or minus a few special K’s) with some very nice people.

That was exactly what I had in mind for the Davis Dart this year, and it did not disappoint. We did the same route as last year, with the same team mates and the same controls. We even had the same captain, though now he’s calling himself Capitain Jacques Zut-Alors or something… And he came up with a new team name this year: the Delta Montagnards. A perfect expression of the route, since we ride over high climbs and then ride along the delta to Sacramento. And since it seems impossible to be a mountaineer of a delta, we know we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. Capitain Zutalors promised us a 13.5 hour program teaching us “French for Randonneurs: How to Slowly and Loudly Pronounce English so the French Can Understand You at PBP Next Year”. Well, then at least he might not tell us his UFO story again! (Actually, he was just saving it for the train ride home. Gah!)

One great thing about this ride was that the route started in downtown Oakland, about a ten-minute ride from my new home and WHQ of Book Island Inc.

Broadway, now with bike lanes all the way!

Broadway, now with bike lanes all the way through!

P1020258

Brilliant red fall colors near Lake Merritt

 

Moving to Oakland has afforded me many perks: no more junkie-homeless-hooker-mentally ill people hiding from the cops on my block (!), no more construction dust from the continual conversion of all available space to $4000+/month apartments, and the Oakland hills are always in view, with their attendant greenery fair to see. There are five independent book stores within two blocks of my new place, a yarn store, a family ice cream parlour, and a corner two-screen movie theater, not to mention that Montano Velo is now my LBS. Not too shabby! And many randos live nearby, rando-pal and fellow Pelicanist Bryan C. probably closest.

Having lived in the bay area for only five years or so, and most of it in San Francisco, I haven’t explored the beautiful riding opportunities in Oakland and points east. The Delta Montagnards route has more significance for me this year now that I’m living here, so I pay more attention this time as we ride past the Chabot Space & Science Center and through Joaquin Miller Park.

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Views starting to appear on Butters

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Skyline is not too trafficky at this hour

Top of Pinehurst

Top of Pinehurst

We ride eastward, taking Pinehurst. We cross Redwood Creek, Indian Creek, and Moraga Creek. Lots of water-crossing today! Our first control is at the Safeway in Moraga. I take a bathroom break (I don’t need to go that badly, but there are not always chances to use a real bathroom on these rides) and make the unpleasant discovery that I have entered my moon cycle, as some might say…drat. I lose about 20 minutes purchasing some feminine hygiene products and dealing with all that crap, and we finally get on the move again. Then Andrea has to go too, so we meet her at the bike trail head over yonder from the Safeway.

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The whole paintbox

We traverse lots of multi-use paths from here to Black Diamonds, which is really wonderful. Lots of people are out jogging, walking their dogs, and walking with friends and companions. It is chilly, but sunnier than I remember last year. I am wearing all the extra clothes I brought, but wish I had my mittens. No worry, though, for before too long it starts to warm up, and we are climbing.

P1020299

It is going to be a beautiful day!

We take the Iron Horse Trail and Ygnacio Valley Road  to get to Black Diamond Mines Regional Park, a member of the East Bay Regional Park System. The oak trees are wiry, the trail surface is in great condition, and I’m feeling pretty ok. Last year the grade of the trail was a surprise and I just walked a bunch of it. This year I rode all of the first part, though now I look at the ridewithgps page and it shows some of the grade is 12-14%?!? Could that be right?? I did ride this part, but I was far behind my teammates, I think. This is such a unique trail and I like it a lot, but I still need to work up to it. It would be great to explore more of the trails in this park, since the part we ride is such a small percentage of the trails here. We have a descent, then some more climbing, some of it also at 13% or so… I have definitely taken off all my extra layers by now… It sure is beautiful up at the top, though, and you can see for many, many miles. It is a clear day with lots of sun and lovely crisp autumn air. The rains from several days ago must have improved the trail, because the surface is much more smooth than last year’s deep ruts. Hardly any other people are here, at least on this side of the hill. After we start descending we encounter a group of smiling, good-natured young hikers.

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Familiar

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Quercuses…or Quercae???

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Andrea is happy in Black Diamonds!

At the trailhead on the other side of the park, we exit and start rolling over the silky smooth blacktop road out of the park. There is a momma goat with an awkward little kid in the middle of the road. We slow down, and an oncoming car sees us and slows down too. We all watch as the the two goats clamber out of the road and back onto the farm.

It is now time for lunch! We speed out of the park and say, “Till next time, beautiful and difficult trail!,” heading for our lunch stop at the Pho place in Brentwood.

mmmm

mmmm

It is marvelous, just like last year. In fact, the salted lemonade is better and I think I could drink two. I am amazed at Capitain Zut-alors’s ability to find a place like this, truly a golden noodle in a haystack of inedible junk food. But seriously, it is also kind of an art form to cobble together a 200k ride from various pieces and segments one might want to ride on. This ride has some fantastic segments all in need of connectors, something I would not have been able to figure out! We try not to tarry too long as we are already behind schedule. Last year we made up a lot of time on the delta because of its luxurious flatness, but we may not be able to do that this year because as Subcommandante Sordo brought to our attention the week before the ride, our ferry (the Real McCoy II) is out of service! Fortunately, he found us another waterbus, the J-Mack (how do they come up with these names?). Just a couple kilometers further upstream, and we would be back in business.

Last year, riding over the Antioch bridge over the San Joaquin River was pretty scary for me; the walls on the sides of the bridge leave just enough space for a cyclist to ride on the shoulder, but there is a lot of debris in the shoulder (flat tire potential), and traffic moves fast. This year, I was prepared for that, but I was not prepared for the bottle thrown in our path from a passing pickup truck. Not cool! What was also not cool about it was that it was a bottle of Martinelli’s apple cider, one of my favorite kinds! The kind with the bottle shaped like an apple. Oh well. I have never had something thrown at me during a ride, so at least now I can check that off my list.

We had another stupid traffic incident later when another pickup was pulling out into the roadway to prepare for a turn, blocking our path and forcing us to merge into the lane of traffic. Maybe people were pissed that the Real McCoy II was out of service? Really no excuse. We certainly did not experience anything like that last year.

Finally we got to the ferry crossing. The J-Mack was much smaller than the Real McCoy II, and the operator was very nice and smiled at us. I deduced there had been other dart riders on the ferry before us. Being on the ferry made me feel completely released from the stress of being in traffic. The Sacramento River was so lovely, and so green. There were lush grasses and other plants on the riverbanks and the still surface reflected the blue sky. The soft buzzing motor pulled the ferry along its cable, simply going back and forth from one bank to the other, from that bank back. It’s a different pace of life when you depend on a ferry.

Calm and clear

Calm and clear

We disembark from the ferry and are back on our route from last year, which follows the sloughs and channels, levees and islands southwest of Sacramento. It seems more beautiful than last year; the weather this year has been much clearer, and even the suburbs looked better. We are still behind the clock, but not as much as I thought, and Capitain is happy.

Is everybody happy??

Is everybody happy??

The light wanes, and we get to the washboard-y part of the road, surprisingly coming across a car. It’s still quite pretty around the fields where some crops have been cleared, and in others there are still grape vines.

Delta Dusk

Delta Dusk

Around this point, a young hawk kept following us

Around this point, a young hawk kept following us

We arrived in Clarksburg still about 20 minutes behind schedule, and stopped outside the general store there to put our night time reflective vests etc. on and check our lights. We roll past the bikes of another dart team that is dining at a barbecue joint there, but we don’t stop until we get to the Sacramento Food Coop–our last stop.

The Coop is great like last year, but I’m feeling antsy about leaving our bikes outside in the dark, even though we amply locked them. Carlos and John are having some kind of disagreement probably stemming from having done too many Super Volunteer Series together, and I go to the washroom to run some cold water over my face. I’m pretty exhausted in spite of the many flat miles, and am looking forward to our arrival at Sudwerk, the final control. We eat our food and take off, crossing the Sacramento River for the last time that day. It is completely dark by the time we get to the bike path next to I-80, thankfully separated from Interstate traffic by a high concrete barricade and fence. We pass a dude hanging out on the path  which is sort of limited in width; he has a big overloaded grocery cart and is fussing around in the dark with something. John said later he had a green glittery helmet on, but I thought it was just a hat. Later when we were talking to another team at Sudwerk, we found out when they traversed the same path, the guy was on the ground, and one of the team nearly missed running him over! They doubled back to find out why he was on the ground. One person asked him if he needed some help, and he said, “Can you help me get my ex-wife back?”

It was terrific to see everyone at the finish at Sudwerk! The dinner was much nicer this year too. It seemed like most teams’ routes took it easy this year, no epic Davis darts.

The train ride back was great other than the aforementioned telling of the UFO story (which rousted Subcommandante Carlos out of his chair in disbelief that John was really going to tell that story yet again). We did get to talk to Eric L about his recent riding of the new 1000k Shasta Mountains SFR route. John and I had both just read his written account posted to the SFR list, and it’s a real page turner!

Thanks again to my sweetheart for another great day on the bike. I know it must take a lot of planning and expertise to put together the route, and a lot of patience to lead us all around all day! And of course, a big thanks go to the Davis crew for organizing, but my biggest thanks go to Andrea and Francisco for the ride home from the train station at the end of the night. Thanks for the lift!

 

S4: Fort Bragg 600k

Sorry for the long absence. This entry has taken me a long time to write. Writing my bike blog has had to take a back seat on the loong Xtracycle of my life already full of work and bicycling stuff. This being my first 600k ride, it has taken me longer to think about how I want to record it. To release you all from the suspense I will come right out and report that yes, I finished with over two hours to spare (the results have already been posted to the SFR website for some time now anyway!).

feeling adequately rewarded

feeling adequately rewarded

But as we all know, there is much more to a ride report than the binary fact of finish/did not finish, so for the really important stuff, read on… (and I will try to keep it brief with lots of pictures!)

This ride did not have an auspicious beginning. Though I got a solid night’s snooze time and got out the door more or less on schedule that morning, I discovered several blocks from my house that I had left sans bidons–without my water bottles! Put in the embarrassing phone call to Rando 411 (day of ride contact) to relay to the start control volunteers that I would arrive after the official start of the ride, then head back to pick up these essential items. Once I finally reached the bridge, Volunteer Roland tested my lights and approved my (improved) reflective vest, and Volunteer Kimber handed me my card. With smiles and waves, they shooed me off over the bridge and there I went.

a demain, pont de la porte d'or!

a demain, pont de la porte d’or!

I was too busy trying to catch up to the others to be nervous, and luckily before long I did begin to see other randos. I passed a few at the roadside on Camino Alto, the first big climb; going through Samuel P. Taylor park I encountered one of those again as Brian C, and he said he had broken his chain and Todd T stopped to help him fix it. Brian and I rode together all the way to Point Reyes Station, the first control, where I saw several others of my kith. Still feeling slightly behind schedule, I made my purchase as quickly as possible and took off for Petaluma.

mmmmorning!

mmmmorning…the day opens

On the way to Petaluma, I began to enjoy the ride and feel my pace. The 600k is a route comprising sections of all the previous rides of the season, adding an out-and-back from Cloverdale to Fort Bragg. On this familiar stretch to Petaluma, I experienced a powerful feeling that the two 200ks, the 300k, and the 400k were all leading up to this one monumental ride. I was able to finish all of the others, and rode with wonderful people each time. I began to feel that whatever happened on this ride, it would be all part of the wonderful adventure.

When I arrived in Petaluma, I was already feeling the effects of the strong wind that day. There were several other randos I knew milling about in front of the Safeway, and hoped I might be able to leave with a group. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it happen. I got totally disoriented in the Petaluma version of this ubiquitous store that is a central feature, though in varied iterations, on all SFR rides, and couldn’t find the yogurt or the bathrooms. I also thought I would be eating a huge meal or something, and bought way too many items. When I got outside, I saw a group leaving, but wasn’t ready to go. Such is the result when too much time is taken at controls! I knew the consequences could be dire. The wind was just awful that day, and riding alone in it can really sap one’s energy. So I sorted out what I needed to do and saddled up ASAP with the aim of catching up with them. One important lesson randonneuring has taught me is to never give up!

just me all the way to Santa Rosa

just me all the way to Santa Rosa

I always end up solo for this windy stretch

I always end up solo for this windy stretch

Just in the middle of Santa Rosa, I did it! I caught up with them. It was a great big group: John Guzik, Gabrielle, Sarah, Kaley, Alex, Deb, and many others. They were all stopped on a sidewalk while John fixed something on his bike. Unfortunately this was not the first mechanical for this group, but I was so happy to have joined them, and also glad to stop for just a moment, that it didn’t matter.

IMG_3848

les poseurs sont heureux

IMG_3861

Alex and Deb led the charge for most of the way… along this stretch, we picked up Steffen, but lost John G.

IMG_3851

Typical crappy California weather… don’t hate us

Amazingly, this group stayed solid all the way to Fort Bragg and all the way back from Fort Bragg to the Indian Creek campsite.  I was so gratfied to ride with this group of accomplished randos. At some point during this ride, Deb earned her Mondial–she has now ridden the distance around the Earth in ACP brevets, 40,000km. I’m sure that Alex is getting close to earning that award as well. Kaley was impressive in riding a fixed-gear bicycle the whole way through this 600k, according to some the most challenging 600k in the region. We did have a lot of little “bumps” (one of the northern Clifornia slang terms for hills), and we tried to slow our pace on the climbs to make sure Kaley did not get dropped from the group as darkness approached.

One of the bigger climbs is on CA-128 after leaving Cloverdale. I had done this climb a month ago for the 400k, so I knew what was in store. Our group spread out a bit, but afterward on the way to Booneville, I saw Alex and Steffen again. Alex wanted to stop at the Booneville store, where I found a nice kitty.

mmmmeow

mmmmeow

We also found Deb at the Booneville store, kicking back on the front porch for a spell with Glenn. With Alex and Steffen we hatched a plan to make an brief stop at the Indian Creek campsite where our drop bags were, to pick up some nighttime items such as warm gloves and sweaters, eat a quick bite and take off from there together as a group to our route’s turnaround: Fort Bragg.

our wonderful volunteers yeah!!!

our wonderful volunteers yeah!!!

stopping for cup o' noodles, chips, and Led Zeppelin at Indian Creek... things I don't usually have a taste for except when on a brevet

stopping for cup o’ noodles, chips, and Led Zeppelin at Indian Creek… things I don’t usually have a taste for except when on a brevet

For you non-randos out there, drop bags are the allowed support we riders can have during a ride of this length. Randonneuring is based on the philosophy of self-sustained riding, with no follow cars and no services (not even any arrows or chalk on the road telling us where to turn!). However, for the longer rides (600k, 1000k, 1200k, 1400k), we are allowed to bring a small bag such as a backpack to the start, containing extra food and/or fresh clothes for resupply at a convenient point during the ride. And for these longer rides, the hosting club will often get a hotel room and offer a few beds for riders to get a few hours’ rest and perhaps a shower. Our resupply point would be the Indian Creek campground, a shady area with a bubbling creek, giant redwoods, and a crackling and warm campfire to sit around. Volunteers also brought tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads for us to crash on, and a stove to make soup and pancakes! I knew I would need to get at least a couple hours of shut-eye on the way back from Fort Bragg, and checking out the campsite made me excited about that.

Taking highway 128 out to the coast and riding the final miles on highway 1 to Fort Bragg would be the only part of this route I had never done before.  It did not disappoint. The ‘tree tunnel’ was amazing and mysterious as the light waned. I don’t have any photos from this part of the ride. Just too beautiful for pictures. While we were riding through it, we began to see the first SFR riders returning from Fort Bragg!!! I was so excited and happy to see them, I don’t know what was going through my mind at the time but I started ringing my bell and cheering, and our group all cheered for them and rang our bells when they went by: Max, Jason, Rob, Bryan, and others.

Once we got out to the coast, we all stopped to turn on our lights and put on whatever reflective or warm garments we hadn’t already.

Steffen dons the rainbow mittens

Steffen dons the rainbow mittens

Happy to be here, we made it to the coast!

Happy to be here, we made it to the coast!

Mouth of the Navarro River at dusk

Mouth of the Navarro River at dusk

Many more riders passed us coming back from Fort Bragg, and we rang our bells to greet them all. Highway one at this point began to wear me down. By the time I got to Fort Bragg, I didn’t have anything left. My stomach hurt, I was cold despite all my layers, and the safeway did not have anything I wanted to eat (anything warm!). I got a kombucha for my stomach and had some candied ginger, which I also gave to Alex. Some of the faster guys in the group started to take off, and I was ready to get out of there. I heard someone say McDonald’s and that perked me up right away! We all left the Safeway for the McDonalds a ways back down highway one. Yeah…fries, coffee, and a frozen custard! That magic combo that has now worked its charms on me the past few rides. So many things I do during a long bike ride that I would never do otherwise! We all set out from Mickey D’s feeling fuller and refreshed. The night was dark, the surf was loud, and the tailwind was luscious going back down highway one. We all minded each other to make sure we multiplied our visibility on that busy highway with the switchbacks and dips.

When we got back to CA-128, we stuck together like glue. This was the most memorable part of the ride for me. Steffen and I were out in front, Deb and Alex in the middle telling gripping and humorous stories of encounters with hippos, wildebeests, and lions. The tree tunnel had faded to black, so the stories were an essential part keeping us all alert and moving together. The pavement on this stretch is smooth and the turns are gradual, and very few cars were out. I felt myself getting a bit drowsy, but I knew the campground was not far away. Before long, we arrived there and there were plenty chairs by the fire, plenty bowls of potato soup to go around. Deb and I discussed crashing in one of the tents for 2.5 hours–oh, the luxury!–and leaving together in the morning.

cammmmpfire

cammmmpfire

pancakes and espresso!

pancakes and espresso!

And that is exactly what we did… Alex had left by the time we woke up, but Steffen, Glenn, Gabrielle and Peg were still in camp. Volunteer Eric made me a pancake and Volunteer Chris made espresso with his Italian stovetop espresso machine. Mmmm!!! It was hard to get out of there in the morning. I could not decide what to bring from my drop bag; my handlebar bag needed a complete overhaul and repacking; fuzzy teeth the nature of which I have not felt since college hangovers hung in my mouth… knowing Deb wanted to leave half an hour ago (but was also in the same boat) motivated me in getting my act together and ready to roll.

Finally we left the cozy campground and made our way through the heavy fog of Philo and Booneville. We found Gabrielle and Peg, and continued on.

We drop some layers and refill our water at the Yorkville Post Office...water not too tasty though

We drop some layers and refill our water at the Yorkville Post Office…water not too tasty though

We climbed and climbed, and crossed back into Sonoma county.

Welcome back to Sonoma County!

Welcome back to Sonoma County!

We descended into Cloverdale, and decided to pause at the Starbucks in Cloverdale to wait for Kaley. I had a delicious breakfast sandwich and a terrible juice. Kaley showed up, and we continued on. At some point, Glenn, Deb and I separated from the others, Glenn saying he had to make Mother’s Day dinner with his wife that evening. I kept wondering how on earth he was going to make that, but apparently he had everything carefully planned out, and even finished the ride twenty minutes before he told his wife he’d be there!

The miles ticked by…

Deb's still got it! Roll on Deb!

Deb’s still got it! Roll on Deb!

Glenn picks up the pace to make dinner date

Glenn picks up the pace to make dinner date

Hah! Oh, Geyserville.

Hah! Oh, Geyserville.

Geyserville seemed dry; Westside Road sizzled in the afternoon heat. The drought was over, yet we had not really had very much rain. By the time I reached Guerneville, I felt like a dried-out raisin. Tomato soup and another kombucha got me going again, and Steffen arrived at the Safeway; we all headed out to the coast. Wind, wind, and more wind was the recipe for the afternoon. The Tomales Bay wind tunnel was up to its usual nastiness, but we all shared the burden. On Highway One along the coast again, though, my heart sang. Those rollers!

IMG_3891

Once we got into Point Reyes Station, our last control before the finish, I discovered something amazing. I had made my projected times at every single stop within 20 minutes! It is incredibly rare for this to happen, even on a dart or fleche. I had indeed spent a lot of time planning this ride, planning time spent at controls as well as between them–that time really paid off. It was such a great feeling so close to the end of the ride to know that I had ridden according to plan, even with the lost time at the beginning.

still loving it!

still loving it!

Unfortunately, one tragic thing did happen at this control: the Whale of a Deli, my favorite place in Point Reyes Station, was out of meatball subs…I had been looking forward to that since Guerneville. And the cheese sandwich Deb got gave her a stomach ache later. Ah well…

back the way we came

back the way we came

At the finish... we did it! Boyfriend John extended his Volunteer shift to welcome me in and took this picture.

At the finish… we did it! Boyfriend John extended his Volunteer shift to welcome me in and took this picture.

In the final analysis, I’m still in disbelief that I finished a 600k, something I’ve wanted to do for so long. I had thought I would ride most of it by myself and that it would be a much harder ride. If it weren’t for riding with Deb, with Alex, Glenn, and Steffen, I’m not sure I would have finished, who knows. I might still be out there… But as it was, I had a fantastic time. I liked the 600k distance and route more than any of the shorter rides. It took me the entire week afterward to recover, so I decided against the 1000k later this summer. But I guess the honeymoon stage for me and randonneuring is still not over yet, now in our third year together… I’m still amazed by how much I’ve learned by doing these insanely long bike rides. What I learn affects my professional life as well as my personal life. I try not to get too philosophical about the meaning of it all, but I will say that I now understand a lot more about the relationship between humans and our bodies, as well as the need we all have for some kind of physical activity and the positive effect it can have. I’m not sure I can truly say that bicycling is good for your health–we all know too well the dangers involved, not to mention the more banal negative aspects such as having to eat at Safeway or Seven Elevens all the time. Bicycling has been good for me, though. Hopefully it will continue to be…either way you’ll only hear about it on mmmmbike!

S3: Hopland 400k

The rainy season is dead. Long live the rainy season! Yes, folks, after a long drought, California is wet again. I fully jinxed myself and everyone in SFR by my joyous posts regarding the beautiful weather on the Light House and Russian River 300k brevets. You’re welcome…

Rain at the beginning of a ride is more difficult than when showers show up at the end, for obvious reasons: you and your gear get soaked, then you have to ride through miles and miles with wet clothing even when it’s no longer raining. Most people were sensible on this ride and started out wearing their rain gear. I decided to tough it out, not wanting to overheat, but also feeling smug after riding through several rainy days early in the season and getting the hang of it. Though dry at the start, rain began to fall about 7-8 miles in (depending on where you were), for me on the north side of the hill between Camino Alto and Mill Valley. Prolonging the inevitable, I did not stop to put on my rain jacket until I topped White’s Hill. My wool arm warmers and jersey were pretty soaked at that point, but I wasn’t cold, so I just put on my jacket because, well, I like it. I figured that descending into chilly Nicasio without it would be unwise.

wet on White's

The rain continued all the way to the first control in Bodega. It only started to bug me about then. It made the valleys and hills between the Nicasio Cheese Store and Bodega so beautiful. For some reason I started to get fixated on all the country schools out in the boonies, and took a couple pictures of them.

ejt 008 ejt 011 ejt 012 ejt 013

The first people I saw in Bodega were Ian K-B and Carlin E, who assured me that, according to forecasts, the rain would disappear by the time we all got the Guerneville. It mostly stopped before I left the control, where I also saw Theresa L. Some people were getting soup and slices of pizza, which smelled really good and looked so warm, but it was too early in the ride for me to eat a big meal. I had some fruit and juice and got more water to top off my Max-Mix shake, and was off toward Joy Road.

'till next time, Bodega!

’till next time, Bodega!

Joy Road and I are on decent terms, believe it or not. It’s pretty slow going, but something I like about it is that I feel like I’m really sinking my teeth into the ride at this point. I picked up the pace a bit and rode alongside Mike B and Deb B, not able to chat and climb at the same time, but I enjoyed their pleasant company.

going up...

going up…

good company!

good company!

happy chatting

happy chatting

One thing that was great about Joy Road for me this time is I tried hard to eliminate any unnecessary items when packing my bike, and it was noticeable as I climbed. I felt the difficulty of the steep grade, but no drag on my bike. Maybe it also had something to do with the Ensure I downed right before leaving the Bodega control! Two valuable tips from Boyfriend John, who was not there to ride with me as he did last year, but still provides support in the form of good advice.

From Joy Road through Occidental, Monte Rio to Guerneville I descended, still mostly with my jacket on and feeling a bit clammy. In Guerneville I encountered Clyde B, recovered from an unfortunate run-in with a puddle in Ross or thereabouts and forecasting the absence of rain for the remainder of the day. I ate a yogurt, a pastry, some caffeinated tea, and again refilled my Max-Mix. Straight maltodextrin, soy lecithin and concentrated whey protein are the “Max-Mix”, a powerful and elegantly simple (not to mention muy cheaper) shake powder that keeps my engine running lately.

road dirt yecch

road dirt yecch

countryside still bright green

countryside still bright green

In spite of Clyde’s rosy weather predictions, I was becoming concerned about my wet clothing come nightfall. There was no rain at the moment, but no sun either, so nothing was drying out too much. Heading toward Hopland, I decided to take off my arm warmers and rain booties, and hang them from the various outside pockets of my handlebar bag. I’m sure it looked pretty comical going down the road, but it did eventually work, which even though it didn’t get very cold at night, eliminated a large source of anxiety for me about the night ahead. My jersey being soaked was another thing entirely: even by the time I got to Cloverdale, it was still wet enough that when I sat down in the oh-so-comfy armchairs at the Starbucks, the satin stitching of “SAN FRANCISCO RANDONNEURS” seeped into the upholstery…

visions

visions

Sitting on something wider than a saddle produces smiles

Sitting on something wider than a saddle produces smiles

leg stretching yeah!

leg stretching yeah!

Oh well. That was a nice non-control, spent with Mike B and Theresa L. I’ve always loved even a bad breakfast sandwich: there’s something about eggs, cheese, and bread that seems twined with my very core; maybe my long-ago French ancestry? Who cares, it got me back on the road, where the three of us climbed 128 out of Cloverdale.

Something about heavy climbing gets me envigorated, and I attacked the hill with all of the (once again, Ensure-fueled) energy I could muster.

yessss

oh yeah baby

Mike pulled ahead, Theresa lagged behind for a short time, eventually pulling ahead of me, and we all regrouped after the lovely descent into Hopland.

I think I would be willing to do two Joy Roads on this route if I could have some other turnaround point than the Hopland Valero. I don’t know what it is about that place; the pizza is great, but my morale as I eat it has taken a serious nosedive both times I’ve been there. Even after hanging out there for half an hour, when Theresa and Mike were ready to go, I just couldn’t pull myself together to leave with them. They offered to wait a few more minutes, but I sent them ahead. Finally after another twenty or so minutes, I started to pack up. Sarah B was gathering a large train of riders which consisted of pretty much anyone still at the Valero, and barked out, “Coleman! You with us?” That snapped me out of my stupor, and I was ready for action. THANK YOU, SARAH! Night riding alone is not a really great idea, and I was excited to be a part of this group.

fun group woo hoo!

fun group woo hoo!

yellow light

yellow light

Once we all made the 101 crossing safely, I noticed all my clothes were dry, and I was in the middle of a big, cheerful group, my spirits rose. There was still some sun left in the day (though I knew I wouldn’t get to Chalk Hill before sunset as I hoped in my ride planning); the Russian River was absolutely gushing past us, thank jehovah for the rain; and I was flying down the road with a nice tailwind.

Our big group splintered and reunited, with me riding with Deb B and Phil A most of the way through 128, Chalk Hill and Santa Rosa, stopping for a long pit stop at a McDonald’s in Windsor. I had been looking forward to stopping at the Denny’s in Petaluma just before the control, but after I led the three of us astray for a good mile due to misreading my cue, Phil made a beeline for a nearby McDonald’s and we all ate the same thing I would have had at the Denny’s: coffee, fries, and milkshakes. The lady at the counter very graciously filled my water bottles and we were back on the road.

Phil was an absolute machine of a pacesetter. That was amazing. We made great time through the quiet farmlands and outskirts of Sonoma County suburbs. I feel so grateful to both Deb and Phil for allowing me to join them for this stretch.

After Petaluma, my energy definitely waned, and I was able to keep up with them only until Fairfax or so. My drowsiness started to take over around Larkspur, and I decided to get off my bike and walk off my sleepiness. At one point under a canopy of trees over the road, I saw a gray blur move over the road with a rhythmic beating of wings. A complete absence of sound meant that was an owl, wow. Some of the riders who had ended up behind Deb and Phil and I started passing me: Gabby, then Peg, Sarah, and others. They asked me if I was ok, and I waved them all on, telling them I was just sleepy. We had all seen another randonneur loaded into an ambulance around the Nicasio reservoir (apparently due to dehydration), so I understood their concern. I walked a little further, thinking about how great it was to ride with Deb and Phil, and suddenly it occurred to me they had been listening to headphones… I don’t usually do that myself, but I remembered I had some music stored in my phone, and turned it on to softly play through the speaker. It perked me up right away! I got back on my bike and pedaled up Camino Alto and the inclines to the Bridge. So…there you go, I never know what odd thing will save me on a brevet. I guess I would have finished regardless, but it sure was nice to wake up and be able to ride.

This is the second time finishing this brevet for me, and it has not been easy either time. The weather is always an issue for this one: if not howling winds, then rain or extreme temperatures. Both times I’ve arrived at Hopland, I would have fiercely argued that there was no way I’d be able to make it back to San Francisco by bike. But I have to remember that it’s a front-loaded route: all the difficulty is in the first half, then you generally get pushed back home by kind tailwinds. It’s still not easy, though: after doing two years of 200k rides every month, I can assert with confidence that the 400k is more than twice as hard as two 200ks. I look forward to the time when a 400k is as natural to me as a 200k. Then perhaps you will see some pictures from later in the ride instead of just me yakking about it. Now that would be an improvement…