The rainy season is dead. Long live the rainy season! Yes, folks, after a long drought, California is wet again. I fully jinxed myself and everyone in SFR by my joyous posts regarding the beautiful weather on the Light House and Russian River 300k brevets. You’re welcome…
Rain at the beginning of a ride is more difficult than when showers show up at the end, for obvious reasons: you and your gear get soaked, then you have to ride through miles and miles with wet clothing even when it’s no longer raining. Most people were sensible on this ride and started out wearing their rain gear. I decided to tough it out, not wanting to overheat, but also feeling smug after riding through several rainy days early in the season and getting the hang of it. Though dry at the start, rain began to fall about 7-8 miles in (depending on where you were), for me on the north side of the hill between Camino Alto and Mill Valley. Prolonging the inevitable, I did not stop to put on my rain jacket until I topped White’s Hill. My wool arm warmers and jersey were pretty soaked at that point, but I wasn’t cold, so I just put on my jacket because, well, I like it. I figured that descending into chilly Nicasio without it would be unwise.
The rain continued all the way to the first control in Bodega. It only started to bug me about then. It made the valleys and hills between the Nicasio Cheese Store and Bodega so beautiful. For some reason I started to get fixated on all the country schools out in the boonies, and took a couple pictures of them.
The first people I saw in Bodega were Ian K-B and Carlin E, who assured me that, according to forecasts, the rain would disappear by the time we all got the Guerneville. It mostly stopped before I left the control, where I also saw Theresa L. Some people were getting soup and slices of pizza, which smelled really good and looked so warm, but it was too early in the ride for me to eat a big meal. I had some fruit and juice and got more water to top off my Max-Mix shake, and was off toward Joy Road.
Joy Road and I are on decent terms, believe it or not. It’s pretty slow going, but something I like about it is that I feel like I’m really sinking my teeth into the ride at this point. I picked up the pace a bit and rode alongside Mike B and Deb B, not able to chat and climb at the same time, but I enjoyed their pleasant company.
One thing that was great about Joy Road for me this time is I tried hard to eliminate any unnecessary items when packing my bike, and it was noticeable as I climbed. I felt the difficulty of the steep grade, but no drag on my bike. Maybe it also had something to do with the Ensure I downed right before leaving the Bodega control! Two valuable tips from Boyfriend John, who was not there to ride with me as he did last year, but still provides support in the form of good advice.
From Joy Road through Occidental, Monte Rio to Guerneville I descended, still mostly with my jacket on and feeling a bit clammy. In Guerneville I encountered Clyde B, recovered from an unfortunate run-in with a puddle in Ross or thereabouts and forecasting the absence of rain for the remainder of the day. I ate a yogurt, a pastry, some caffeinated tea, and again refilled my Max-Mix. Straight maltodextrin, soy lecithin and concentrated whey protein are the “Max-Mix”, a powerful and elegantly simple (not to mention muy cheaper) shake powder that keeps my engine running lately.
In spite of Clyde’s rosy weather predictions, I was becoming concerned about my wet clothing come nightfall. There was no rain at the moment, but no sun either, so nothing was drying out too much. Heading toward Hopland, I decided to take off my arm warmers and rain booties, and hang them from the various outside pockets of my handlebar bag. I’m sure it looked pretty comical going down the road, but it did eventually work, which even though it didn’t get very cold at night, eliminated a large source of anxiety for me about the night ahead. My jersey being soaked was another thing entirely: even by the time I got to Cloverdale, it was still wet enough that when I sat down in the oh-so-comfy armchairs at the Starbucks, the satin stitching of “SAN FRANCISCO RANDONNEURS” seeped into the upholstery…
Oh well. That was a nice non-control, spent with Mike B and Theresa L. I’ve always loved even a bad breakfast sandwich: there’s something about eggs, cheese, and bread that seems twined with my very core; maybe my long-ago French ancestry? Who cares, it got me back on the road, where the three of us climbed 128 out of Cloverdale.
Something about heavy climbing gets me envigorated, and I attacked the hill with all of the (once again, Ensure-fueled) energy I could muster.
Mike pulled ahead, Theresa lagged behind for a short time, eventually pulling ahead of me, and we all regrouped after the lovely descent into Hopland.
I think I would be willing to do two Joy Roads on this route if I could have some other turnaround point than the Hopland Valero. I don’t know what it is about that place; the pizza is great, but my morale as I eat it has taken a serious nosedive both times I’ve been there. Even after hanging out there for half an hour, when Theresa and Mike were ready to go, I just couldn’t pull myself together to leave with them. They offered to wait a few more minutes, but I sent them ahead. Finally after another twenty or so minutes, I started to pack up. Sarah B was gathering a large train of riders which consisted of pretty much anyone still at the Valero, and barked out, “Coleman! You with us?” That snapped me out of my stupor, and I was ready for action. THANK YOU, SARAH! Night riding alone is not a really great idea, and I was excited to be a part of this group.
Once we all made the 101 crossing safely, I noticed all my clothes were dry, and I was in the middle of a big, cheerful group, my spirits rose. There was still some sun left in the day (though I knew I wouldn’t get to Chalk Hill before sunset as I hoped in my ride planning); the Russian River was absolutely gushing past us, thank jehovah for the rain; and I was flying down the road with a nice tailwind.
Our big group splintered and reunited, with me riding with Deb B and Phil A most of the way through 128, Chalk Hill and Santa Rosa, stopping for a long pit stop at a McDonald’s in Windsor. I had been looking forward to stopping at the Denny’s in Petaluma just before the control, but after I led the three of us astray for a good mile due to misreading my cue, Phil made a beeline for a nearby McDonald’s and we all ate the same thing I would have had at the Denny’s: coffee, fries, and milkshakes. The lady at the counter very graciously filled my water bottles and we were back on the road.
Phil was an absolute machine of a pacesetter. That was amazing. We made great time through the quiet farmlands and outskirts of Sonoma County suburbs. I feel so grateful to both Deb and Phil for allowing me to join them for this stretch.
After Petaluma, my energy definitely waned, and I was able to keep up with them only until Fairfax or so. My drowsiness started to take over around Larkspur, and I decided to get off my bike and walk off my sleepiness. At one point under a canopy of trees over the road, I saw a gray blur move over the road with a rhythmic beating of wings. A complete absence of sound meant that was an owl, wow. Some of the riders who had ended up behind Deb and Phil and I started passing me: Gabby, then Peg, Sarah, and others. They asked me if I was ok, and I waved them all on, telling them I was just sleepy. We had all seen another randonneur loaded into an ambulance around the Nicasio reservoir (apparently due to dehydration), so I understood their concern. I walked a little further, thinking about how great it was to ride with Deb and Phil, and suddenly it occurred to me they had been listening to headphones… I don’t usually do that myself, but I remembered I had some music stored in my phone, and turned it on to softly play through the speaker. It perked me up right away! I got back on my bike and pedaled up Camino Alto and the inclines to the Bridge. So…there you go, I never know what odd thing will save me on a brevet. I guess I would have finished regardless, but it sure was nice to wake up and be able to ride.
This is the second time finishing this brevet for me, and it has not been easy either time. The weather is always an issue for this one: if not howling winds, then rain or extreme temperatures. Both times I’ve arrived at Hopland, I would have fiercely argued that there was no way I’d be able to make it back to San Francisco by bike. But I have to remember that it’s a front-loaded route: all the difficulty is in the first half, then you generally get pushed back home by kind tailwinds. It’s still not easy, though: after doing two years of 200k rides every month, I can assert with confidence that the 400k is more than twice as hard as two 200ks. I look forward to the time when a 400k is as natural to me as a 200k. Then perhaps you will see some pictures from later in the ride instead of just me yakking about it. Now that would be an improvement…