R12: The longest mile

The day before my last (hopefully the last!) 200k of this R-12 series, my dad called me on the phone. “We got about ten inches of snow yesterday, and it’s about thirty degrees today,” he informed me in a cheerful voice. My mind’s eye flashed on my own local weather forecast for the next day: low 50s and showers. Although that looks warmer than Wisconsin on paper, I knew by now that the dampness and chill in the bay area often made Wisconsin’s snow seem appealing. He asked me how I was doing, and when I planned to do my final 200k. “Tomorrow,” I said, my voice dripping with equal parts dread and fear. He let out a sympathetic laugh and said, “Well, you know which mile in a race is always the longest?” I was not in the mood for riddles and kept silent. A mile is a mile is a mile, and I would be struggling through 125 rainy, cold specimens of them twenty-four hours from now. “The longest mile is the last mile, Juli. It’s always the hardest. Dad knows you can do it, though.”

“I’ll be riding with a great group of guys, they really know what they’re doing,” I said, trying to look on the bright side. Having been quite sick for the past month, although I felt much better, my training regimen was down to about nil, and I was having more than the usual pre-ride doubts. I emailed Tom Haggerty, who had graciously invited me to join him, Keith Beato, and Steve Haas (yes, the guy who had a heart attack in July had fully recovered and would be riding with us… though he had also been hit by a car in November, and now was riding a new bike). I wanted to be sure my slower-than-normally-slow pace wasn’t going to drag them down. Tom said it would be ok, and he wrote emphatically, “First of all, No DNFs.”

Les anciens: Keith, Tom, and Steve say "We like bikes!"

Les anciens: Keith, Tom, and Steve say “We like bikes!”

Of course, little did either of us know how close to the limit we would be pushing our luck! Riding with Tom, Keith, and Steve was the one bright spot I was looking forward to about this ride, and was relieved and heartened by Tom’s response. And despite all the self-effacing comments made in jest by each of them about me wishing I had ridden by myself, I was so glad for their company! They were funny, teasing each other throughout the day. I could easily tell the three anciens had ridden many, many miles together. To get an idea, look at Tom’s pictures on flickr from the ride. Hilarious!

Another great thing about riding with them was that over the course of the day, we all traded pulls in a sense. We didn’t ride in a paceline, but in the early part of the day, Steve and Tom rode up front… Steve was way up front! This is usually my weakest part of the day. I took my turn at the front after the Ugly Mug, on the climb up Soquel-San Jose Road. In the final stretch through Cupertino, Los Gatos, and Mountain View, Keith blasted ahead of us, really pulling us all toward the finish through his childhood home turf.

The three fellas had only done this route once, a bit eccentrically as an overnight ride Tom had crafted as a commute to his job in Mountain View (attesting to his fitness level, he said when he showed up for work, none of his coworkers could tell he had just ridden his bike on a 200-kilometer overnight “commute”!). For me this would be my fourth time on this course.

The first half or so of this ride was pretty rote, although there were a few tactical errors we made early on from which it was difficult to recover. One was that we did not leave Peet’s until about seven o’clock, almost a full half hour after our scheduled start time. The other was my fault: I had grown accustomed to taking the oceanside path along Sharp Park beach instead of taking the road past the golf course clubhouse, and I really like this way. The guys seemed into taking the path, as they weren’t familiar with going that way, but I think it added several minutes to our time. In any case, somehow we only made it to Arcangeli’s with 45 minutes to spare. I’m also accustomed to hanging out for a while in the lovely creekside back yard they have there, so when Tom announced it was time to hit the road shortly after Keith and I sat down to eat our half sandwiches, it was shocking! But he was right, there was no time to lose– not a pleasant feeling so early on in a ride.

It did not start raining until we were about midway through Santa Cruz, but we were all soaked and feeling frigid by the time we got to the Ugly Mug, with only half an hour to spare at that control. As we rode through Santa Cruz, the guys all asked me questions about the little cafe. I forgot they had used an all-night Safeway as their Soquel control, and had stopped at a diner in Santa Cruz for late-night sustenance. I didn’t want to give anyone high hopes about the Ugly Mug since they usually just had one or two things they could heat up (Birthday chicken pot pie aside), and it being almost three o’clock on a rainy day I figured they’d probably be out of them. Some of my favorite moments in randonneuring have occurred at the Ugly Mug, but today I just wasn’t up to the mellow vibes. I ended up buying a green juice to get my receipt (which, although their register was never on time, now that they’d switched to using a scientifically calibrated, precisely accurate iPad as cash register, they could no longer print receipts at all and had to email my receipt to me! whither the future of randonneuring without cash registers??), and hung out in the back hallway of an adjacent office building (it was warm!) where we parked our bikes, eating the remainder of my sandwich from Arcangeli’s and trying to figure out how on Earth we were going to finish this ride within the time limit. Rain + climbing + wet, dark descent + stoplights, stoplights, stoplights through Cupertino etc. = DNF any way I looked at it. All I could do was try to eat as much as possible to give myself some energy to put a smile on my rained-on face and keep plugging away.

When we got back on the road, I was very much cheered by the climb up Soquel-San Jose Road. I felt warmed by the body heat generated by physical activity, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Tom about radio stations in San Francisco and other rides we’ve done or would like to do. By the time we reached the top, it was quite dark, wet, and chilly. I went ahead to the Summit Store to see if I could find some shelter or warmth while waiting for the fellas to regroup. As the rain steadily fell, my Pelican and I got a whole range of puzzled, sympathetic, and even some terrified, looks as I stood in the vestibule of the store next to the cords of firewood.

Diametrically opposed to the advantages of climbing in the cold and wet stand the disadvantages of descending in the cold and wet: you are not pedaling, so no body heat is generated; and you also move 6-7 times as fast, so the cold air affects you that much more. Luckily, Keith reminded me to put on my extra sweater before we left the Summit Store, the one I had brought in order to have a warm, dry layer to put on for the Caltrain ride home. Eesh. Another difficulty of descending in the rain and cold in this particular route was that the road has lots of switchbacks, yet no streetlights in many stretches– it is utterly rural, in the middle of a thick, dark forest. And as we left the Summit Store, I heard that Steve’s headlight had been shorting out! Luckily it seemed to start working again just as we got back on the road.

The last time the three of them had done this ride, they descended Old San Jose Road and Aldercroft Heights Road in the dead of night. What an amazing challenge and incredible experience to make this beautiful descent in the still of the night. Andrea Symons said that stretch of road “brings an tear to one’s eye,” and I agree. Tom said the group would do that ride again next year as an overnight, and I hope I can go along! Hopefully next time it will be less chilly, wet, and harrowing for me. I did ok by staying focused on Tom’s and Steve’s head and tail lights as they cornered up ahead of me to give me an idea of where the road would bend. Fortunately the wet pavement was not as much of a concern as I would have thought. The night before the ride, I had installed a fresh set of rear brake pads, knowing they seem to wear down faster in the rain.

Long, wet, dark, scary, white knuckle descent handily accomplished (at least, that’s how I felt once it was over!), all of us knowing we had very little time in reserve if any, we entered the short trail section to Los Gatos. We all got down the steep, rocky part, started to gain momentum over the smooth, pleasant, fine gravel surfaced trail that parallels the river, and… Keith called out to let us know he had a flat tire. Now when I look back on it, I can only laugh, but at the time we did not see the comedy in the situation, least of all poor Keith, who had already suffered one flat tire that day. We had about 15 miles to go, and 40 minutes remaining on the clock. Tom suggested we could split up, with Steve and I going on ahead to make sure I would get credit for the ride. Though I appreciated the offer, I didn’t feel good about doing that– I didn’t like the idea of breaking up the group, I felt that we should be able to replace a tube in a few minutes anyway, and I also knew that Keith was doing installment eleven of his own R-12. So, we all set to work. Steve and Tom had headlamps mounted on their helmets, so they helped Keith find his tools and tube. Keith had some trouble getting his tire off the wet rim, so with my ever-unfailing fine motor skills from years of benchwork, I was able to get his tire off. Once Keith got the new tube in, Steve helped him use a CO2 canister to fill it (much faster!). We reassembled ourselves within minutes, and set out again with new resolve.

There are two sections of this route I don’t like: riding through Santa Cruz to Soquel, and riding through Los Gatos, Cupertino, and Mountain View. They both happen to be urban or suburban streets with lots of stop signs, stoplights, and turning lanes of car traffic that awkwardly merge with bike lanes, and they both also precede controls (i.e., stretches where I’m bound to be hungry and possibly slightly just a little bit cranky). I don’t know why every time I do this ride I expect these sections to get shorter, but having done this route a few times now, they stunningly have stayed the same distance. “Okay then,” I said to myself as we entered the heavily trafficked shopping district of Los Gatos, “This is just going to take as long as it takes.” I reached for one of the honey stinger energy goo things my dentist told me to avoid, just to be sure I wouldn’t end up snapping at one of my new-found friends out of a lack of carbs. Steve and I eye our watches, then our odometers. Our odometers, then watches. Steve does some brief mental calculations, and looks at me reassuringly. “We’ll make it,” he says. I try with wet gloves to flip over my cue sheet, but I lose the wrestling match and just get ink and shreds of soggy paper dragged over the sheet. So much for fine motor skills… All the while, Steve, Tom and I are racing to catch up with Keith, who had a three-alarm fire under his saddle all of a sudden!

Which was awesome, because we ended up getting to the 7-Eleven with only five minutes to spare. Five minutes! Think of all the things that take only five minutes. Microwave popcorn? Cup o’ Noodles? Third Uncle? That length of time made the difference between getting credit or not for this ride. What a suspenseful and dramatic finish to my R-12! Thanks Tom, Keith, and Steve for another heroic, epic, comical, entertaining, and challenging day on the bike.

As promised, I bought a bottle of 7-Eleven’s best champagne for us all to drink on the train ride home. Tom had brought cups, so we wouldn’t even have to drink it out of our water bottles! I even offered some to a crazy person on the train who said he had been a bike messenger in New York. Steve presented to me a Real R-12 Medal (in fact belonging to, and borrowed from, Jason Pierce), which was kind of touching, if anything involving Jason Pierce can be described as “touching” without seeming really icky… ahem. As I have mentioned earlier, it was kind of his fault I got wrapped up in this R-12 business anyway, so it seems fitting he was somehow insinuated at the end.

And now, we have come to the end of our tale entitled mmmmbike: appetizing rides carried out while pursuing the RUSA R-12 award. There will be more tales, to be sure, and possibly an entry recording what I think I learned. I’m not sure yet what form my future ride reports will take, since my only goal for the new year is to ride a 400k. Perhaps the blog needs a new subtitle. Writing blog entries about my rides has helped me review what I’ve learned throughout the year, so I definitely want to keep writing. Reading others’ ride reports is endlessly fascinating to me as well, so I want to continue to contribute to the form.

As for riding, ideally I would like to give the Pelican the month of January off, but the Lighthouse brevet beckons. In the meantime, to keep from getting restless, I’ve been enjoying indoor activities such as lap swimming and yoga. I used to love lap swimming in Chicago in the winter months, especially in the mornings when the sun would hit the beautiful indoor pool at the park district near where I lived. Lately I’ve also enjoyed a couple short social rides, and another bike camp to rejuvenate my excitement for riding. Other than that, who knows what the future holds for me and my Pelican? To find out you will just have to stay tuned for the next exciting installment of mmmmbike!

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2 thoughts on “R12: The longest mile

  1. i was hoping you would buy my “old saw” comment about the last mile as it really is the last 125 miles…

  2. Pingback: Mother Nature Returns: SFR 300k | mmmmbike!

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