R & R: A Break for Some Contemplative Randonneuring

It should be no secret by now to anyone reading this blog that I think bikes are pretty cool. A person can go far with a good bike just under one’s own propulsion. But another great thing about bikes is you can effectively go short distances on them too. Bikes are vehicles, but on a human scale. It is fun and exciting to drive fast in a car for sport (speaking as the daughter of a racecar driver, I know what I’m talking about!), but to me it is even more fun and exciting to go s l o w. I like to look at the scenery down to the last patch of lichen, and when you bike, you can stop quickly to chat with a person or look at a bug or a bird. In California, seasonal changes are more subtle than other parts of the country, so if you want to know what time it is, you have to pay attention.

This is why I was so glad when my friend John announced his plan for a Slow Tour. There were other reasons (as if a reason is necessary to go bike camping). I wanted to improve on my bike camping gear, which can only be described as novitiate, and the only way to find out what works and what doesn’t is to try it. I was also glad because John proposed a route through the trails we opted out of on the San Franciscadero. Riding trails is another way to ride at a human scale– instead of having to make your way on a road that is a size, shape, and surface designed for car traffic, you are in a place designed for people walking or riding bikes. This has so many positive implications, and I often find trail riding to be so much more peaceful and enjoyable as a result. I am perfectly comfortable sharing the roadway with cars, but why would you if you didn’t have to?

Another reason I was happy about the Slow Tour was cuz I think Mr. Potis is a cool dude, and I like riding with him. He knows a lot about bikes and bike routes, he knows (or at least is able to convincingly make up) the names of local flora and fauna, he has ridden lots and lots and lots of brevets, and I thought he was a veteran bike camper, though he told me during the Slow Tour it was only his third time bike camping. Anyhoo, I’ve ridden with him a couple times this year and I think he has the right attitude. Also, he seemed to be willing to tolerate my utter lack of preparation, though I think he might have assumed I would be a little more put-together than I was when I showed up totally late at Trouble Coffee with my Pelican loaded up with panniers overstuffed with camping equipment, pre-tour anxiety, and whatnot.

The Load… my valiant bicycle, my less-than-noble packing job.

The more you know, the less you pack; the inverse is true as well. Really, I just didn’t want anything to fall off my bike, but I wasn’t totally sure that wouldn’t happen. I had never taken my bike this far with a load before, or used this front rack more than once before, or used my DIY stove on an actual trip instead of in my backyard. Trouble Coffee’s iconic cinnamon toast, a cup of peppermint tea, and my friend Annemarie who came to see us off calmed my nerves, and we began moseying.

There was some kind of charity walk going down the Great Highway that I tried really hard to ignore while we made our way out of town, and we began our Tour of Detours by taking John Muir Drive around Daly City, avoiding a part of that first climb along toward Pacifica.  We avoided Devil’s Slide by taking Planet of the Apes, what used to be highway 1 but is now a trail for cyclists mostly. There is a new patch of Highway One being built for car people to avoid Devil’s Slide, thus making the current section of highway one… a sequel to Planet of the Apes?

The view from Planet of the Apes

Top of Planet of the Apes photo op spot. Nice moment for some plums John brought.

I saw a couple hikers too, but most notable was the run-in with Velocio’s ghost! Gives me a chill down to my flat pedals to think of it. The pushbroom-mustachioed and rubber-band-around-the-acid-washed-jeans-legged gent on a purple mountain bike told us about a way to avoid more sections of highway one. We appreciated that and thanked him, though I think it made us more lost for a while, fumbling around areas to which I had never given much thought. After having some tacos at El Gran Amigo (they were just okay), we found our way to a previously untried trail that turned out to be really nice. This led us along the ocean cliffs to Pillar Point, inching closer to our goal of the Half Moon Bay campground.

Pillar Point… can you see the ship aground (to the right on the far beach)

Trail at cliff’s edge

But why hurry? The mileage on the agenda for day one was essentially the same distance I am accustomed to covering by 10 am in a formal permanent ride. So meandering, avoiding, detouring, losing our way and finding it again could occur over and over without worry about finally making it to camp before dark and settling in for the night. And we did all those things rather well. And nothing fell off my bike. And my stove worked, too.

Half Moon Bay hike-in/bike-in area: we count ourselves among the oddballs assembled here on a Sunday night in October

For dinner we ate some quiche I brought as an afterthought, just some food I had made earlier in the week that would have gone bad if I left it at home. Potis and I had a boil-off to see whose stove worked better, the results of which were relatively inconclusive (though personally, I think mine boiled water faster AND it was homemade out of a pop can and some thin stainless steel).

DIY alcohol stove the winner?

I had some miso soup, since it was cold after dark next to the beach, and we drank tea.

Sunset at Half Moon Bay campsite beach

The quarter- operated showers at the Half Moon Bay campsite were hot, my tent and sleeping bag were cozy, and the surf crashing onshore 100 feet away– all contributing factors to my excellent night’s sleep and the affirmation that Slow Tour is a good idea.

The next morning, John chatted with an interesting character camping in the hiker/biker area while I assembled myself. Then I chatted with him too, a bit about bookbinding (when people ask what I do, I tell them…) and other stuff. John talked to him about landscape architecting while a hawk dove around camp looking for its pound of flesh and eventually found it.

Our wild morning friend

The fog seemed like it was lifting, but then changed its mind. We packed up and as I lifted up my handlebar bag from the ground, a large, light brown bug crawled around looking for cover. It didn’t crawl too fast, and John was able to identify it as a Jerusalem cricket. It was pretty big, almost as big as a small frog.

As Chief Route Advisor for Slow Tour October 2012, John had put a lot of time and energy into finding our designated day two breakfast joint by typing “breakfast Half Moon Bay” into that one internet search engine. It totally paid off. We ate Portuguese sausage omelettes among the community seniors and lots of vinyl upholstery and great works of art. Inspired and stuffed, we headed off toward the business district to find a bookstore we had ridden past the day before. While I poked my head in, Mr. Potis sat on a bench outside, chatting with another tourist, though not of the bicycle kind. The bookstore had some interesting Californiana, but nothing worthy of carrying as far as I was about to go.

Back in the saddle, we found the Purisima Creek Trail, part of the California Coastal  Trail.

amazing views of the ocean along the trail

More cliffs and ocean…

Some beautiful fields and hills too…

The trail edge is close to the dropoff in many places!

John is pleased with Slow Tour

We are ten

One of two ospreys flying above us, waiting for us to take our snapshots so they can fight in midair with a hawk

End of the trail section for now

We then made our way eventually toward Stage Road for a good deed and corresponding photo op.

Stickering Stage

…then to Arcangeli’s for a sandwich. I think I had thought the grocery stores in Pescadero were more developed or something, why did I think there would be couscous there? I did not prepare too well foodwise on the second day. But it was fine, the sandwich from Arcangeli’s held me over for a while. We found some fantastic riding on Old Haul Road, but not before a little mishap.

There is of course some argument about what exactly happened. Passing through Loma Mar, a baby hawk swooped down on my handlebar bag to take my last piece of yogurt seed bread, John waved his finger at it, and in doing so lost his balance and went down… some may say. Or was it that he reached out to push me up the slope, going for the typical goofy Potis Manoeuver, and his panniers bumped into mine and caused the fall? Ladies and gentlemen, you are welcome to form your own opinions. Anyway, at the moment it happened, I thought I heard a big car behind us, and my heart leapt up into my throat! But when I stopped and looked back, I saw that luckily only John’s pride was injured aside from a few scrapes.

Mr. Potis tries to show me his scrapes… wait, where are they??

Thusly we proceeded to Old Haul Road and toward our goal for overnight two: Portola State Redwoods Park. Pretty desolate on a Monday: the large ranger station building looked like it would be cool inside, but was unstaffed and locked. While John went to the loo I found a half bag broken open of firewood, which he tied to his rear rack with one of his neverending striped straps, mumbling something about the papers he brought for kindling. He had mentioned a couple times before something about bringing something to burn in the campfire on the second day, but did not specify exactly what. It sounded serious… what on earth would a person drag all this way on a bike?

Look at all the moss on the trees at left!

We found a nice little spot to camp and pitched our tents. I went to the bathroom and John collected all the unused firewood he could find from the unoccupied campsites’ fire pits, and started a fire in ours. I came back and he handed me a small paper bag. “Burn it,” he said. “Um, should I throw the whole bag on?” “No, it’s more fun to burn them one at a time.” I slid the papers out of the bag to reveal old brevet cards. Totally stunned, I said, “John, I don’t want to burn these!” I’m not even through with my first year of riding brevets. “I’m done with those rides, I have the medals at home, I don’t need the cards.” We looked at some and I asked him about the rides they recorded, and one by one each went into the campfire. Night fell, and John lit his little camp candle. We had some tea, talked a little more, then he went to bed. I stayed up to read my book for a bit. There wouldn’t be any brevet cards to burn for this ride– no checking in anywhere, no receipts to collect or times to log. But this kind of riding, so adventurous in a different way, is just as essential to the sport. Finding new trails and routes takes time and intention. An open attitude and being able to talk to locals is helpful, too. End of day two and Slow Tour is still a good idea.

Half an hour after John went to sleep I heard a soft thump on the bench I was sitting on. I looked sideways, trying not to turn my head, and saw a little fur ball jump off the bench. It ran up the slope to the road and paused… I grabbed my headlamp and shone it at the animal. A little fox with a big frizzy tail! It was staring at me! Then it turned tail, as they say, and scurried off.

In the morning, I woke up before John and walked around the campsites. I spied a hiking trail sign and felt personally invited, so I hiked for awhile. I saw lots of moss, upturned redwoods, a creek, and several signs dedicating this particular area or that to some family or other. Kind of annoying as one would hope that people visit hiking trails to find something other than man-made signs reminding you how broke our nation’s green spaces are. At some point I realized I was still wearing my camp slip-ons and pyjamas, so I turned back.

John was awake by now, so I told him about the little fox in our camp. He asked me if it was my spirit guide– I think he was joking, but it reminded me of my beloved dog Shera and how people used to tell me she looked like a fox.

While we waited for our breakfast bread to toast and water to heat up for John to make us coffee, I looked at John’s bike and he said the lugs are “like delicate baby birds’ mouths”. Ah, bike lovers. Of course, John has a terrific bike and great set-up for camping. While we waited for breakfast, John added to his list of Things That Worked and Things That Did Not. I was pretty impressed that he brought a bottle full of tasty kvas from Cinderella. Definitely in the ‘worked’ column. The wind-proof camp candle was a ‘worked’. For my own list, although my sleeping bag is comically huge and uncompressible, it was incredibly warm and cozy. My tent is the bomb. I think I need a light duty rear rack that I can tie things to like my hugeass sleeping bag, so I don’t have to awkwardly tie it to my saddle hooks after sitting on it for half an hour trying to jam it into a stuff sack. Again, thanks John for putting up with my less-than-ideal setup. At some point a new and more compressible sleeping bag will come into my life (when the budget allows). I actually like the way my bike handles when the weight is in the front, even on technical descents, so the bartered-for-homemade-jam Tubus front rack is in the ‘worked’ column. Definitely lower tire pressure next time would make the trail sections like Old Haul and Planet of the Apes more comfy.

When breakfast was over, it had gotten late in the morning, so we quickly packed up and said our goodbyes, though not before me having to fix a flat tire that must have happened on Old Haul or something. I would head back to San Francisco via Alpine Road (one of my favorite climbs in this region) and Skyline Boulevard through Woodside, then Canada Road

Water Temple!

to the Camp Sawyer bike path around the Crystal Springs Reservoir (where I flatted again, this time from a metal shard in the road) and up to the BART station in Millbrae.

On my way home! No more pedaling today.

A gorgeous ride and tougher climb with a camping load it is, making it a good challenge. John would go on further south to Santa Cruz and stay with friends, family, and friends’ parents. It was a great trip for me; I think it was also for John. I learned a lot, I saw a lot, I rode a lot, I slept a lot… perfect little getaway! My appetite for bikecamping is whetted, and I can’t wait to do more. Maybe northward next time. There are so many great parks and campsites easily within bikeable distance, so there are plenty of opportunities to go slow– if you can handle the pace, that is!

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R10: Winters 200k

Winters was a great ride and a significant milestone for me, ironic though the town name of Winters, California may seem (does California actually have any winters? Not like any I’ve experienced elsewhere!). But truly the best thing about it for me was that since the ride start was in the east bay,  it was an opportunity to spend the night and some quality time with some of my family who live in Berkeley: my aunt Louise and cousins Emma and Adam. I hadn’t seen my cousins literally in decades, so when I showed up at my aunt and cousin Emma’s house in Berkeley, I was very happy to see them and start to fill in the years. Emma works at the public library in Berkeley, and lived in my neighborhood in San Francisco for many years, so we had a lot to talk about. My aunt and cousin Adam just moved out here from rural Wisconsin outside Madison, so it was great to hear about how things have been going for them since the move. My aunt’s in-law cottage behind my cousin Emma’s house is filled with beautiful woven rugs, a giant Liberty Bonds poster, and she has a bin of the same kind of yarn I like to use as well as a beautiful spinning wheel. She bicycle commutes (or at least, did until a recent knee injury, so now she has her bike set up indoors on rollers to build strength… she is a Coleman, all right!!) and so does my cousin Emma, so hanging out with them made me feel very much at home. Aunt Louise also woke up at 4:15 am to make a fabulous breakfast for me before I set out for my ride and she set out to do her volunteer work. I am definitely going to be making the trip over to Berkeley more often to spend time with them.

This ride was a milestone for me because last year’s Winters brevet marked the beginning of my involvement with the randonneurs, as a volunteer at the lunchtime stop. I was pretty amazed at the riding ability of all the arriving riders, and did not even consider I would ever be able to ride like that. But here I was now, showing up at the start of the Winters ride one year later. What the heck? Well for starters, I do love my bike. Riding long distances is never a chore for me; it is always enjoyable, even in the pouring rain or when I get a flat tire. On the other hand, it has taken a fair amount of focus and determination to keep up with the R12. In order to do at least one 200k ride per month, I have to do a lot of other rides as well to keep in shape. I have had to be more conscious about how much I eat (a lot more than before!), how much sleep I get (also more), and if my muscles feel sore, I have to make a serious effort to stretch out to keep from getting too tight. It’s been rewarding and also surprising that I’ve been able to keep up with this so far, and I’ve gotten a deep and meaningful sense of achievement out of it, something I can apply to my other endeavors as well.

So on to the Actual Ride Report! The week before the ride, I had put out a message to the rando list asking if anyone would want to ride with me from Berkeley to Winters. My friend Sterling, with whom I volunteered at the finish control on the 1000k this year, responded. Poking my way around in the dark through a closure of and detour around the Ohlone Greenway in Berkeley, I found my way to the intersection where Sterling suggested we meet, precisely on time.

Heading out from my aunt’s, it is dark as pitch out.

And just at that moment I saw a familiar- looking bicycle headlight steadily heading toward me. It was really terrific to see a familiar face that early in the morning!

I am brand- new to this group, but I gather from the way the rides are scheduled throughout the year that the hardest rides (the 400k, 600k, and 100k) fall early on the calendar year, with the later ones being more mellow and focused on social riding. Since this is October, this ride fell more toward the social category. There is not a lot of elevation gain, a catered (by volunteers) lunch stop, and of course the standard gorgeous northern California weather and scenery. The weather for this day was warm and sunny. The route was brand new to me– because it’s in the east bay, I have not ridden in that area at all. It’s slightly different terrain than that found in Marin and Sonoma counties. The route had a lot of wide open spaces and relatively low rolling hills. Riding over the Carquinez Bridge was a beautiful early- morning treat (after riding past the Phillips 66 oil refinery that had a little accident this past June).

Beautiful pastel colors in the bridge match the sunrise

Once I got to the first control, I encountered a lot of happy, familiar faces. I saw David N and Mariah W, two riders I met on the Two Rock- Valley Ford ride in February. I left that control by myself, but stumbled onto David and Mariah again after getting myself slightly lost in the seemingly unending and indistiguishable, though impeccably paved, office parks in that area. The three of us rode together comfortably the entire remainder of the ride. It’s so awesome and somewhat rare to find other riders who are closely well-matched with one’s pace and experience level, and moreover, David and Mariah are super nice people to spend a ride with. Yay!

The lunch stop in the city park in Winters, California was very relaxed and fun.

Lovely picnic

I asked Bryan C about his recent cyclocross exploits, which he reported as having a totally different and exciting flavor compared to randonneuring. I’m inspired by cyclists who get outside the usual riding styles to mix things up a bit. I don’t have too many different kinds of bikes with which to experiment, but seeing people do different kinds of riding reminds me not to take cycling too seriously or get too narrow-minded about it. It also reminds me of the panoply of bike parts in the world. There is so much to learn about how different parts of a bike function, and how those parts are altered in design and fabrication to more appropriately serve different riding styles.

I also took the opportunity at the lunch stop to thank Rob Hawks for arranging for the great weather for our ride. Of course, it is a running joke because Rob has nothing to do with the weather, but he does put in a lot of effort to ensure that brevets are enjoyable and go smoothly. RUSA and SFR specifically form a big umbrella with cyclists of all stripes, and being the RBA (Regional Brevet Administrator) of such a group can’t be easy. In any case, I wouldn’t want to do it, so it’s important to me to thank him for the effort he puts in.

The food at the lunch stop was impressive, and I went for broke with a tri-tip sandwich that was very filling. Unfortunately, I forgot that a giant hunk of red meat is not that great of an idea on a brevet (Velocio’s fifth rule!), and on the climb following the lunch stop, my stomach was not at all happy about that. Usually I love a tough climb, but with the bright sun and my stomach hurting, I do not think I would have made it if not for following David and Mariah’s wheels. David’s seat post was making some kind of creaking noise, for which he repeatedly apologized, but as I noted to him, all I noticed was my own panting. Urgh.

Rocky Top

We saw Kitty on this same climb, who said she had just seen her usual riding partners pass her by on some other event. Kitty is a total badass in my opinion who relentlessly pounds out tons of mileage (kilomettrage?) every week. Sometimes she’s out in front on a brevet, sometimes the bout en train, but she is a role model to me because she is consistently riding, and is always cheerful and funny.

We do not sprint for county line signs.

Anyway, after rolling along Putah Creek (the name of which, according to this Wikipedia entry, “is the subject of much speculation”), we made it to Monticello Dam,

The dam over Putah Creek forming Lake Berryessa

past gorgeous and sparkling Lake Berryessa winking at us in the sun, and came to the control where Sterling was checking us in and signing our brevet cards. It was great to see him again, but we were off from this station almost before we arrived. I was just enjoying the company of my fellow riders, not trying to set the course record, but we had sat for quite a while in Winters and I’ve been trying to keep my control times down, so I didn’t want to linger at this control. Sterling said there was just one more little climb, and though I did not believe that for even a moment, my upset stomach was saying I should try to finish this ride as soon as possible.

When we arrived at the penultimate control, we encountered a rider who had had to bail on formally completing the ride due to mechanical issues. He got 5 flat tires that day, and had to find a bike shop to service his front wheel. I really liked his bike, a Miyata frame he had built out himself with great stuff for a rando bike. He said since he’s tall, it was hard for him to find the right frame. He also said this was his first brevet, and even though he wasn’t formally finishing the ride, he had to get back somehow and his bike was the only vehicle available. That’s a courageous fellow. We rode with him out of the control, but he flatted again not long after and he insisted we should not wait for him. I found out later that he had ridden with fellow randonneuse Deb B during her trip to China.

We ended up finishing this ride pretty quickly! This was my fastest time for a 200k yet. During the ride, I had no idea it would be so. I remember thinking as we were looping back around the office parks that it would be nice sometime to break the ten-hour mark on a 200k, and maybe I should make that a goal for next year.  Well, we finished this one in 9h25! Weird. And David and I were feeling totally whupped toward the end– Mariah pulled us the whole way from those rollers on Lopes Road and Lake Herman Road to the Carquinez Bridge.

Happy riders coming back over the Carquinez Bridge

After we went over the bridge, I got a little second wind. When we arrived at the finish there was a host of friendly faces smiling at us. We hung out for a bit and had some Goldfish, said our goodbyes, and I made my way, again with Sterling as a helpful guide, toward the closest BART station (I think it was El Cerrito).

Headed back to SF on BART, handlebar bag stuffed with my dress from dinner with Aunt Louise!

What a great day and fantastic ride. It seems almost sinful to me how enjoyable these rides are, from the scenery to how well my Pelican carries me along. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to participate in them, and am grateful for the companionship and high caliber of character among the people I ride with along the way.