February-March: Preparing for Flèche Norcal 2013

One of the things that attracts me to the eccentric sport of randonneuring is the odd rules governing it. Sometimes brevets seem like part bicycling, part scavenger hunt. Doing paperwork before the ride, then also afterwards, to document a ride and prove that one has completed the ride within established parameters is at best unusual in the world of sport. Timed control points throughout a route, secret controls, and rules about self-sufficiency during a ride are also unique to this particular style of bicycling. Taking this aspect to the extreme is the 24-hour Flèche Vélocio. Understanding the purpose and history of the event helps one understand the rules about routes, timing, and riding as a team. This is another thing that interests me in randonneuring: being a book conservator necessitates a respect for history, and necessitates investigation of how the practices of our forefathers and -mothers carried though the present shape our lives. Carrying on a tradition in bicycling dating back to 1947 makes one feel a part of something that is greater than oneself. The basic idea behind the flèche is that riders grouped together in small teams travel by bicycle on different routes starting from distant points, converging at the same time on a single location. In France, this location is wherever the FFCT designates the annual Easter cycling festival will be, usually somewhere in Provence; here in northern California, there is no cycling festival, so we all converge at Crepes on Cole in San Francisco for Easter brunch.

Last year I had been interested in doing the flèche, but I was too inexperienced. I had done the Russian River 300k in March and suffered through the final 50 miles or so, feeling pretty exhausted when all was ridden and done. The flèche sounded interesting, but I did not know any teams needing riders with whom I would feel well-matched. Twenty-four hours sounded like a long time to spend with a handful of people, and I didn’t want to ride with a team if it didn’t sound quite right. One year and many long rides later, I feel more ready. I am still a little scared. There is a lot of climbing on my team’s route. The forecast is for rain. My team is made of randonneurs with a lot more experience than me, so I hope I can keep up with them! One great thing about our route is that I have ridden many parts of it before, and if I need to bail, I can easily find BART or Caltrain from the first or second control.

Another great thing about the ride this year is my team! I know the captain of my team fairly well by now, I have had only good experiences with the other members so far, and look forward to getting to know everyone better over the course of this twenty-four-hour ride.

In order to feel prepared for this ride, which will be the longest I have ever done in miles as well as time spent from beginning to end, I have kept up my riding on the weekends to at least 100k each weekend, and some other form of exercise, whether running or yoga, during the week. I have started stretching every morning, too, and started eating more and sleeping more two full weeks before the event, which starts this Saturday at 7 am. Randonneuring has forced me to take much better care of myself– no more skipped meals or lost sleep. I also get my work done much faster now so I can spend more time on my bike. Spending less time at work is a huge benefit as any freelancer or small business owner knows.

In February and March, I rode the Two Rock/ Valley Ford brevet, the Sonomarin 300k permanent, and the Point Reyes Ramble permanent populaire. Two of these rides were spent entirely with a good friend, and 300k was ridden alone. An unintended bonus is that I get to keep a potential 2013 R-12 going, though that’s not my goal for this year.

The Two Rock/ Valley Ford ride was ridden with Alice Stribling, fellow Pelicanist.

Just a coupla Pelicans in Fairfax

Just a coupla Pelicans in Fairfax

Alice is an artist, illustrator, seamstress, and bike lover who has a lot of complicated interests and is constantly pushing her boundaries like me. At the end of last year, she decided to sign on to the AIDS Life Cycle ride from San Francisco to LA. There are a lot of great things about this ride, and a lot of fellow randonneurs participate. I’m sure it will be a great experience for her! As part of her preparation for that, she decided to sign up for the Two Rock/ Valley Ford 200k this past February– her first 200k! She had planned to ride with Jenny Oh Hatfield, but when Jenny didn’t show at the start (she started about 30 minutes late), Alice approached me. “I’m terrified,” she said in a low voice. “Oh! Let’s ride together,” I exclaimed. I usually don’t try to stick with any one person or group throughout a brevet, but I knew if I stuck with Alice, we’d have fun.

Wildflowers and sunshine

Wildflowers and sunshine! Happy day.

After we all pulled out of the Crissy Field parking lot, I watched the majority of riders climb the hill up to the bridge far ahead of us. “Where is everyone going?,” Alice asked. I knew this is a route on which the rando speed demons like to show their colors, and did not feel even the slightest tinge of loss in watching them climb away from us. Just a nice peaceful ride out in the country was what I wanted, and indeed that’s what we got!

Adorable baby farm animals everywhere you look

Adorable baby farm animals everywhere you look

Alice and I got to spend a lot of quality time together talking about our families, our bikes, the food we like to eat on brevets, and other stuff. It’s not often I get to hang out with her, so this ride was a special treat.

Alice makes her own bike food, and she shared some with me. Amazing.

Alice makes her own bike food, and she shared some with me. Sooo tasty.

We finished in good time, and again at the finish was Volunteur Supérieur Monsieur le Capitaineur Jean-Joseph Potiseur. John enjoys checking in riders at the finish control, and was especially cheerful today due to the ample supply of good beverages he brought and the fact that Vélocia was also hanging out at the finish. John and Vélocia gave Alice the congratulations due to her after successfully completing her first 200k, a heroic act not soon to be forgotten.

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Misty and cold in the valley

The month of March came in like a lamb (uh oh!), and though I had to teach bookbinding school on the day of the 300K SFR Russian River brevet, I had to get in a 300k before the flèche (captain says!). So, just like last September, I sent in my paperwork to do the Sonomarin permanent by myself. Unlike last September, it was a tough ride. It seemed like there was more wind somehow.

Windy out to the coast

Windy out to the coast

I had heard from the riders doing the brevet the day before that there was a lot of wind, and it was no different when I did the ride– I just didn’t have anybody to draft! Or pull, for that matter. In any case, by the time I reached Camino Alto for the home stretch, I was feeling flattened. It had been a long day with a lot of ups and downs. It was getting towards my “moon cycle”, as my yoga teacher calls it, and the mood swings that day had resembled a swinging sledgehammer on a long, thin, fraying string. I do bring my mobile telephone with me on these rides, but I switch it on airplane mode to avoid running out the battery, so when my sweetheart called me to let me know he’d be coming to meet me at the finish location, I was none the wiser. So when I was riding along the dark bike path in the Marina and heard his bell ring out and heard my name being called, I thought, “Hallelujah!!!” Wow. What a pleasant surprise! He figured out when I would be there based on what I told him my projected finish time would be, and showed up to meet me with beer and hamantaschen pastry! He seemed to think my finishing a 300k by myself was a big deal, but I thought him showing up at the finish to meet me was Most Awesome. In any case, I got my receipt from the Safeway, and we went back to his place, where he had a steaming dish of halupke waiting for me. Is there such a thing as rando-princess treatment? I now believe there is… I’m also quite glad I broke my “no dating cyclists” rule! Only a randonneur really knows what a randonneur wants at the end of a brevet.

My last ride for the month (prior to the flèche) was a 125k permanent with Jesse Marsh. Jesse is one of the first randonneurs I rode with last year, and he’s a pretty smart and fun guy to ride with. First of all, he stops at ALL stop signs. That wins big points with me, even though I’m not always as good about that as I should be. Secondly, he likes to talk about rando problem-solving, a favorite topic of mine as a person new to the sport. Making adjustments to food consumption, sleep patterns, training schedules and the like can make a huge difference to me in whether a brevet feels good or not, and they are simple, common-sense things to change that don’t require buying anything. And sharing ideas is always fun for me. So we spent a lot of the ride chatting about what works for us and what doesn’t. Awesome! Jesse, a two-time SR Series and R-12 finisher, told me this year he wants to do a P-12! P-12s are like R-12s, only half the distance each time. I think that’s a really cool idea, one that wouldn’t have occurred to me. But there are a lot of really nice Populaire-length routes out there, so why not try some of them? Spending less time on the road is a good way to keep up with your riding yet still have time for family and other obligations. Doing a full Super Randonneur series is a pretty serious time commitment, as I am learning, and it’s not something everyone can necessarily do every year. But a P-12 is certainly within reach, and I’m sure it helps one avoid burning out. So I applaud him on that one.

sutro Pelican

Dang I love my Pelican!!

Last weekend I did a little in-town jaunt up to Twin Peaks for some reps up and down, just to make sure my bike was in good working order before the flèche. I had cleaned my bike and completely cleaned my chain, so I wanted to make sure the chain was not dropping or slipping, and that the brakes would be in good shape. Everything seemed fine, and I felt great on the bike. When I got home, I laid out all the clothes and nonperishable food I wanted to bring with me, and made careful selections about what I could bring based on how things fit in my bag. I am very excited for this next chapter in my randonneuring experience. Now that a few days have passed since the weekend, I am nervous about the rain in the forecast, but I know I made the right decisions about what to bring with me: two extra pairs of gloves, wool cap, packable wool base layer, warm rain jacket, lots of reflecto stuff for riding at night, etc etc. We’ll see how it all works out. Then, two weeks later is the 400k, my sole goal for 2013. I’m sure I will learn a lot on the flèche that will help me on that ride.

I end this post with a picture taken at the start of the very first Flèche Vélocio. There were only three machines on that ride (one a tandem), the minimum size team. In spite of the rain which has already started to lightly come down, the riders all look radiant: the sincere love affair French people have with bicycling is so tangible in this photo. This is still true: even when I meet French people these days in my work, français who do not ride very often, their eyes glaze over a bit when I mention my bike, commuting by bike, any aspect of bicycling. It’s remarkable in its difference from what you get from fellow Americans about cycling: terror, dread, pity… The picture also shows something special about randonneuring that I treasure: there is no gender separation here. Women and men ride the same events together. One of the original goals of the Flèche Vélocio was to create a route that would test the boundaries of how far a person could possibly travel by bike in 24 hours. The minimum is 360 kilometers, but the original goal of the team pictured was closer to 500, according to some reports: the distance from Paris to Lyon. The ride I will be doing this weekend is not quite as ambitious… peut-être.

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