R1: Point Reyes Lighthouse 200k, January 21, 2012

“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 January 2 pre-ride to the Point Reyes Lighthouse

my January 2 pre-ride to the Point Reyes Lighthouse

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.

more cows.

cows…

cows...

cows…

more cows. Thanks, ladies, for coming out to cheer us on!! Not quite like the crowds on the sides of roads in the Tour de France… maybe the California Randonneur version.

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.

Rainbow is faint, just emerging form the edge of the coastline above the rider-- anyone care to identify?

Rainbow is faint, just emerging from the edge of the coastline above the rider– anyone care to identify?

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.

Mmmmm chowdah

Mmmmm chowdah

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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.

R2 (belatedly entered): Two Rock- Valley Ford: One good ride deserves another

I did not come up with the idea of keeping a blog about my rides for the R-12 until I actually thought I might do an R-12, so I never wrote a ride report for this ride. Now that it is ten months later, of course, I don’t remember a whole lot about it. However in the interest of completeness, to have an entry for each ride in the series, I will put down what I do remember for this ride and in another post, for my first brevet, the Point Reyes Lighthouse 200k.

One thing I remember is being superpsyched to do the ride. For my first ride, I was a few minutes late to the start, being a little nervous and insecure about congregating with accomplished randonneurs. For the second ride, I did not care; I had tried one brevet, and I finished!!! (Really, at least three exclamation points. Maybe a few more.) I also had discovered on the Lighthouse 200K that I liked arriving and riding by myself, and meeting people along the way. I was really looking forward to meeting new friends, and I did!

And so it begins...

And so it begins…

On our way to the bridge

On our way to the bridge

Golden Gate Bridge is hazy in late- winter mist

Golden Gate Bridge is hazy in late- winter mist

One rider I met who would become a huge influence and great friend was Ely Rodriguez. We met while riding around the Nicasio Reservoir because he rode up to me and asked me if I made my mudflaps, which I did. I explained to him what I do for a living, which opened the conversation onto talking about leather, thread, tools for leatherwork, and so on. Once we turned off onto Point Reyes- Petaluma Road, Ely spied Jason Pierce up ahead, powering up the first hill on that road, and wanted to catch up with him and his group, so he raced off.

morning mist lifting off the dairy farms along Point Reyes- Petaluma Road

morning mist lifting off the dairy farms along Point Reyes- Petaluma Road; Ron Lau pausing to remove a layer

We met up again at the intersection of Valley Ford Road and Highway 1… I was just about to turn the wrong way and miss the Valley Ford control! But Ely happened to be at the intersection coming back from Valley Ford at that very moment and steered me in the correct direction, thank goodness or else I would not have gotten credit for the ride!

Valley Ford Post Office

Valley Ford Post Office

That is another thing I remember distinctly from this ride: I was still pretty unfamiliar with the rural roads in Marin and Sonoma Counties, and getting lost repeatedly had been a constant, frustrating feature of my training rides. Now I’ve figured out that many of the roads are simply named for their beginning and end points: Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, Fallon-Two Rock Road, Tomales-Petaluma Road, Marshall-Petaluma Road.

I also remember riding with David Nichols and Mariah Whitney on this ride (I had met them in the Marshall Store on the Lighthouse brevet), as well as Alex Zeh. I met Alex on the stretch of the 1 from Valley Ford to the coast, that wind corridor agh! I drafted him for a little bit I guess, then he asked me if I wanted to speed up the pace to try and catch up with his friend who was up further. I said sure, though by that time I was pretty tired! Well, I think that was the first time I experienced how riding with another person can give you a burst of energy even when you’re tired, because we really upped the pace and caught up with his friend quickly! We also found David and Mariah, but unfortunately while ascending into Point Reyes Station, Alex crashed into David, causing his derailleur to break off! Aagh. I could not think of a single thing I was capable of doing to help him, and he waved me on, so I kept going. Bummer.

Lastly, I remember Jason Pierce working the finish control and somehow convincing me to sign up for the 300k. Whaaatttt? How did he do that? I guess after finishing my second brevet, I was on a natural high. How else can I explain it?

R11: The Black Friday Christmas Miracle

So here it is, month eleven of a twelve month commitment, and I am not feeling anywhere near 100% health-wise. Various work and other commitments have prevented me from fulfilling my November ride until nearly the last weekend in the month. Then, an impulsive decision to ride to Point Reyes Station on a weekday before my 200k was scheduled (to test out the road resurfacing in Samuel P. Taylor Park– which was indeed smmoooove) turned out to be a very bad idea. I knew it was going to rain that day, so I have only myself to blame, but the ill effects from that ride linger even still, two 200ks and a full month later. Ugh.

Having followed through 83% of my goal, what was I to do? Luckily (and I attribute my thus-far success with the R-12 to favorable luck as much as anything), I had scheduled this ride with someone willing to take an easy pace, a solid rider with a lot of miles under his belt and someone with whom I’d done a few rides with previously so there would be no surprises in terms of pacing, mechanicals, or personality conflicts! John P.! John had already done two 200k rides in November (one of them being the sopping- wet Davis Dart), so it was very sweet that he kept his commitment to ride with me at the near-end of the month.

One other great thing in terms of a lack of surprises was that we would be riding the Jittery Jaunt, a route I had already completed twice successfully. Oddly enough, in spite of it being Black Friday, ringing in the Christmas shopping season, the roads were peaceful and relatively car-free. We also had fantastic weather– the thermometer at the Valley Ford store read 70 degrees!

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We really lucked out that day in other ways too, finishing with about forty minutes to spare. I’m not kidding when I say I was sick that day! I have never ridden that slowly, even on my very first brevet. Of course, since John had just done the Davis Dart, he was used to taking the entire allowed time for a ride, but it made me feel more than a little nervous at the penultimate control with so little time in the bank, and having a cracked rear fender to boot. Thanks again John, for stopping in Black Mountain Cycles and braving the testosterone- laden atmosphere to get me some washers so my fender would not make goose-honking noises all the way back to town. (I should add that the fender was still under warranty, and Gabe at Box Dog replaced it for me the following week. I should also say that for the amount of tough mileage I have put on my Pelican, only a fraction of it reported here, my bike has had very, very few mechanical problems in its first year. And in fact, I probably would not have wanted to keep up with the R-12 if it weren’t for my sweet, sweet ride, all thanks to Gabe and Box Dog Bikes, really.)

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my sweet, sweet ride, only a week old!

I don’t usually like to spend (waste?) a lot of time and word count tooting my own horn about how great my bike is, but hey, this is my blog. If you don’t want to read it, you can go read someone else’s! But seriously, I’m not kidding now, my bike is so dope. It is always ready for adventure, it even cheers me up on rides like this one when I’m not feeling my best. Before you suggest that maybe I have a slightly unnatural attachment to an inanimate object, I would point out that I’ve noticed a lot of people who ride their bikes too much (!) also have this same feeling toward their bikes, and frankly, why would you spend ten to upwards of eighty continuous hours with an inanimate object if you didn’t really, really like it? I think the difference with my bike is that I did not try to get the cheapest possible bike and then later realize I need to add things to make it functional. When I decided to get a Pelican, I knew I needed a lot of help with the build list, and fortunately (again, I benefit from good luck!), Gabe was there to come up with a superior build list for me and for the style of riding I said I wanted to do, and not too far from the budget I had to work with. Well, maybe a tad over, but I do not regret a single penny. Anyway, there are way stupider things one can spend money on, a point not lost on me on Black Friday, the World’s Most Pointless Shopping Day. These are the kinds of things that rolled through my mind on this penultimate ride of my 2012 R-12 series, as I struggled though and eventually accomplished the ride in twelve hours, fifty minutes… lots of thinking-time. Oy.