“Our classic event to Point Reyes Lighthouse, Love or Hate it but we all come back the next year for more. About 7500 elevation gain.”
-from the San Francisco Randonneurs website
What more can be said about this ride, really? Just having done this ride one time, at the end of the day I was at a complete loss for words. 7500 feet of elevation gain is not that much compared to most of the permanent routes I’ve ridden this year, so it doesn’t seem like it should be that much of a challenge. When I think about the day of this ride and all twelve and a half hours I was on or off the bike throughout the day, it surely was epic, a day with many chapters. Not quite like a Tolstoy novel, but you get the idea.
For me, this ride actually started back in October of 2011. I volunteered for the SF Randonneurs at the Winters lunch control making sandwiches. I had just put down a deposit on a Pelican, so when Bryan C and Theresa L arrived at the control both riding Pelicans, I asked them about their bikes and whatnot. Bryan asked me if I was thinking about doing the Lighthouse brevet. I said sure, not having a clue what I was getting myself into. When I got home and realized what I was getting myself into, I snapped into action. I knew I was really going to do it, I just had to figure out how. The longest ride I had ever done at that point was under 20 miles, and the brevet was less than four months away. I asked a friend to help me come up with some way to train up for this ride, and he listed off all the major bike routes in Marin: start with a Headlands loop, then Paradise/ Tiburon, then go to Fairfax and San Anselmo, then Nicasio Reservoir. Then go to Point Reyes Station. Every week I kept going farther. By new year’s I was up to 100-mile rides.
My friend also gave me a book: Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. I have always had a stunningly huge appetite, so learning that eating more would be helpful was great!
While training, I discovered I really loved my time on the bike. I could feel my lungs getting bigger. I loved studying the scenery and was just agape at beautiful Marin County. What an extraordinary place… coming from rough-n-tough south side Chicago, it was quite a change of scenery, just the boost I needed.
As the days crept closer to the day of the brevet, though, my anxiety grew. I wrote Gabe an email asking if I should really do this. He was very reassuring and advised, “Just bring enough on bike food and go at your own pace.” That was exactly what I needed to hear, since I was worried about being too slow, though I had worked out that at my current pace, I would be able to comfortably make the times required for each control.
Then the afternoon before the brevet, upon seeing the weather forecast for rain, I decided I needed mudflaps. Oh man, I looked at sixteen different websites, trying to decide what to do and finally went into Box Dog about ten minutes before closing time. Gabe was there, and he showed me all the different ones they had, and I realized that I had a bunch of sole leather at home that I could cut into mudflap shapes, and just make my own. I mentioned this to Gabe and he gave me a set of bolts to bolt them onto my fenders, suggesting I just buy him a beer at the Marshall store (still owe that beer). This was not without some hesitation on his part coupled with the warning that people often do projects like this the night before a brevet and it ends up making them late or lose critical sleep. Well, I did end up being a few minutes late, just a few. I wanted to start at the back of the group anyway so I wouldn’t feel pressured to go fast.
It did rain while I was going through Samuel P. Taylor Park, and of course I could not find a single person to ride behind who had mudflaps. I was totally shocked that several riders did not even have clip-on fenders on their road bikes! I guess I expected that everyone would have bikes exactly like mine, kind of funny now that I have ridden with people on so many types of bikes.
While I rode through Point Reyes National Seashore, which happened to be enjoying its 50th year as a federally protected seashore, apparently I was fascinated by the cows. I took more pictures of cows than anything else on that ride. Maybe they reminded me of my time spent growing up in Wisconsin? Most riders talk with resentment or dread about the dairy farms in Point Reyes, because the cattle grates are brutal on bike tires and rims.
Well, I finally made it to the Lighthouse control, and hung out there for just a few minutes before heading back toward the Marshall control. It’s true that the ride to the Lighthouse and back is hard, but it is exhilarating. It’s impossible to explain the sense of accomplishment coupled with the beauty of the landscape. While I was at the control, I even saw a rainbow to the north.
The ride to Marshall was very difficult for me; it was the only part of the course I had never ridden, and I was starting to feel pretty hungry, ready for that chowder! Sitting inside the Marshall Store and eating my chowder, though, I started to warm up and feel much better.
I sat at a table with a bunch of other guys on the ride, some of whom were changing to their dry socks. I left the control with Ron Lau, riding his Pelican! Ron is an incredibly kind-hearted and generous person, and I was very happy to ride with him. At this point, the whole brevet just seemed like a movable party. Of course, I was bringing up the rear of said party, and most of the riders had long finished by the time I made it back to Fairfax. But even though it had been a long day, longer for those of us at the end of the group, the sense of excitement, satisfaction and good will was enormous.
So enormous, in fact, that somehow at the finish, Jason Pierce convinced me to sign up for the next brevet whaaaa? Wait, I thought I was finished! I met my goal already! Then I somehow slipped and told Aaron Wong that since it was my first year, I would only ride the 200k-length brevets, which he answered by saying, “Oh, so you’re doing an R-12?” I remember just staring at him with a deer-in-the-headlights, you-just-spoke-my-destiny kind of look for only a fleeting moment, then went back to digging around in the pile of salty chips and cup o’ noodles.