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.

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