Sorry for the long absence. This entry has taken me a long time to write. Writing my bike blog has had to take a back seat on the loong Xtracycle of my life already full of work and bicycling stuff. This being my first 600k ride, it has taken me longer to think about how I want to record it. To release you all from the suspense I will come right out and report that yes, I finished with over two hours to spare (the results have already been posted to the SFR website for some time now anyway!).
But as we all know, there is much more to a ride report than the binary fact of finish/did not finish, so for the really important stuff, read on… (and I will try to keep it brief with lots of pictures!)
This ride did not have an auspicious beginning. Though I got a solid night’s snooze time and got out the door more or less on schedule that morning, I discovered several blocks from my house that I had left sans bidons–without my water bottles! Put in the embarrassing phone call to Rando 411 (day of ride contact) to relay to the start control volunteers that I would arrive after the official start of the ride, then head back to pick up these essential items. Once I finally reached the bridge, Volunteer Roland tested my lights and approved my (improved) reflective vest, and Volunteer Kimber handed me my card. With smiles and waves, they shooed me off over the bridge and there I went.
I was too busy trying to catch up to the others to be nervous, and luckily before long I did begin to see other randos. I passed a few at the roadside on Camino Alto, the first big climb; going through Samuel P. Taylor park I encountered one of those again as Brian C, and he said he had broken his chain and Todd T stopped to help him fix it. Brian and I rode together all the way to Point Reyes Station, the first control, where I saw several others of my kith. Still feeling slightly behind schedule, I made my purchase as quickly as possible and took off for Petaluma.
On the way to Petaluma, I began to enjoy the ride and feel my pace. The 600k is a route comprising sections of all the previous rides of the season, adding an out-and-back from Cloverdale to Fort Bragg. On this familiar stretch to Petaluma, I experienced a powerful feeling that the two 200ks, the 300k, and the 400k were all leading up to this one monumental ride. I was able to finish all of the others, and rode with wonderful people each time. I began to feel that whatever happened on this ride, it would be all part of the wonderful adventure.
When I arrived in Petaluma, I was already feeling the effects of the strong wind that day. There were several other randos I knew milling about in front of the Safeway, and hoped I might be able to leave with a group. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it happen. I got totally disoriented in the Petaluma version of this ubiquitous store that is a central feature, though in varied iterations, on all SFR rides, and couldn’t find the yogurt or the bathrooms. I also thought I would be eating a huge meal or something, and bought way too many items. When I got outside, I saw a group leaving, but wasn’t ready to go. Such is the result when too much time is taken at controls! I knew the consequences could be dire. The wind was just awful that day, and riding alone in it can really sap one’s energy. So I sorted out what I needed to do and saddled up ASAP with the aim of catching up with them. One important lesson randonneuring has taught me is to never give up!
Just in the middle of Santa Rosa, I did it! I caught up with them. It was a great big group: John Guzik, Gabrielle, Sarah, Kaley, Alex, Deb, and many others. They were all stopped on a sidewalk while John fixed something on his bike. Unfortunately this was not the first mechanical for this group, but I was so happy to have joined them, and also glad to stop for just a moment, that it didn’t matter.
Amazingly, this group stayed solid all the way to Fort Bragg and all the way back from Fort Bragg to the Indian Creek campsite. I was so gratfied to ride with this group of accomplished randos. At some point during this ride, Deb earned her Mondial–she has now ridden the distance around the Earth in ACP brevets, 40,000km. I’m sure that Alex is getting close to earning that award as well. Kaley was impressive in riding a fixed-gear bicycle the whole way through this 600k, according to some the most challenging 600k in the region. We did have a lot of little “bumps” (one of the northern Clifornia slang terms for hills), and we tried to slow our pace on the climbs to make sure Kaley did not get dropped from the group as darkness approached.
One of the bigger climbs is on CA-128 after leaving Cloverdale. I had done this climb a month ago for the 400k, so I knew what was in store. Our group spread out a bit, but afterward on the way to Booneville, I saw Alex and Steffen again. Alex wanted to stop at the Booneville store, where I found a nice kitty.
We also found Deb at the Booneville store, kicking back on the front porch for a spell with Glenn. With Alex and Steffen we hatched a plan to make an brief stop at the Indian Creek campsite where our drop bags were, to pick up some nighttime items such as warm gloves and sweaters, eat a quick bite and take off from there together as a group to our route’s turnaround: Fort Bragg.
For you non-randos out there, drop bags are the allowed support we riders can have during a ride of this length. Randonneuring is based on the philosophy of self-sustained riding, with no follow cars and no services (not even any arrows or chalk on the road telling us where to turn!). However, for the longer rides (600k, 1000k, 1200k, 1400k), we are allowed to bring a small bag such as a backpack to the start, containing extra food and/or fresh clothes for resupply at a convenient point during the ride. And for these longer rides, the hosting club will often get a hotel room and offer a few beds for riders to get a few hours’ rest and perhaps a shower. Our resupply point would be the Indian Creek campground, a shady area with a bubbling creek, giant redwoods, and a crackling and warm campfire to sit around. Volunteers also brought tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads for us to crash on, and a stove to make soup and pancakes! I knew I would need to get at least a couple hours of shut-eye on the way back from Fort Bragg, and checking out the campsite made me excited about that.
Taking highway 128 out to the coast and riding the final miles on highway 1 to Fort Bragg would be the only part of this route I had never done before. It did not disappoint. The ‘tree tunnel’ was amazing and mysterious as the light waned. I don’t have any photos from this part of the ride. Just too beautiful for pictures. While we were riding through it, we began to see the first SFR riders returning from Fort Bragg!!! I was so excited and happy to see them, I don’t know what was going through my mind at the time but I started ringing my bell and cheering, and our group all cheered for them and rang our bells when they went by: Max, Jason, Rob, Bryan, and others.
Once we got out to the coast, we all stopped to turn on our lights and put on whatever reflective or warm garments we hadn’t already.
Many more riders passed us coming back from Fort Bragg, and we rang our bells to greet them all. Highway one at this point began to wear me down. By the time I got to Fort Bragg, I didn’t have anything left. My stomach hurt, I was cold despite all my layers, and the safeway did not have anything I wanted to eat (anything warm!). I got a kombucha for my stomach and had some candied ginger, which I also gave to Alex. Some of the faster guys in the group started to take off, and I was ready to get out of there. I heard someone say McDonald’s and that perked me up right away! We all left the Safeway for the McDonalds a ways back down highway one. Yeah…fries, coffee, and a frozen custard! That magic combo that has now worked its charms on me the past few rides. So many things I do during a long bike ride that I would never do otherwise! We all set out from Mickey D’s feeling fuller and refreshed. The night was dark, the surf was loud, and the tailwind was luscious going back down highway one. We all minded each other to make sure we multiplied our visibility on that busy highway with the switchbacks and dips.
When we got back to CA-128, we stuck together like glue. This was the most memorable part of the ride for me. Steffen and I were out in front, Deb and Alex in the middle telling gripping and humorous stories of encounters with hippos, wildebeests, and lions. The tree tunnel had faded to black, so the stories were an essential part keeping us all alert and moving together. The pavement on this stretch is smooth and the turns are gradual, and very few cars were out. I felt myself getting a bit drowsy, but I knew the campground was not far away. Before long, we arrived there and there were plenty chairs by the fire, plenty bowls of potato soup to go around. Deb and I discussed crashing in one of the tents for 2.5 hours–oh, the luxury!–and leaving together in the morning.
And that is exactly what we did… Alex had left by the time we woke up, but Steffen, Glenn, Gabrielle and Peg were still in camp. Volunteer Eric made me a pancake and Volunteer Chris made espresso with his Italian stovetop espresso machine. Mmmm!!! It was hard to get out of there in the morning. I could not decide what to bring from my drop bag; my handlebar bag needed a complete overhaul and repacking; fuzzy teeth the nature of which I have not felt since college hangovers hung in my mouth… knowing Deb wanted to leave half an hour ago (but was also in the same boat) motivated me in getting my act together and ready to roll.
Finally we left the cozy campground and made our way through the heavy fog of Philo and Booneville. We found Gabrielle and Peg, and continued on.
We climbed and climbed, and crossed back into Sonoma county.
We descended into Cloverdale, and decided to pause at the Starbucks in Cloverdale to wait for Kaley. I had a delicious breakfast sandwich and a terrible juice. Kaley showed up, and we continued on. At some point, Glenn, Deb and I separated from the others, Glenn saying he had to make Mother’s Day dinner with his wife that evening. I kept wondering how on earth he was going to make that, but apparently he had everything carefully planned out, and even finished the ride twenty minutes before he told his wife he’d be there!
The miles ticked by…
Geyserville seemed dry; Westside Road sizzled in the afternoon heat. The drought was over, yet we had not really had very much rain. By the time I reached Guerneville, I felt like a dried-out raisin. Tomato soup and another kombucha got me going again, and Steffen arrived at the Safeway; we all headed out to the coast. Wind, wind, and more wind was the recipe for the afternoon. The Tomales Bay wind tunnel was up to its usual nastiness, but we all shared the burden. On Highway One along the coast again, though, my heart sang. Those rollers!
Once we got into Point Reyes Station, our last control before the finish, I discovered something amazing. I had made my projected times at every single stop within 20 minutes! It is incredibly rare for this to happen, even on a dart or fleche. I had indeed spent a lot of time planning this ride, planning time spent at controls as well as between them–that time really paid off. It was such a great feeling so close to the end of the ride to know that I had ridden according to plan, even with the lost time at the beginning.
Unfortunately, one tragic thing did happen at this control: the Whale of a Deli, my favorite place in Point Reyes Station, was out of meatball subs…I had been looking forward to that since Guerneville. And the cheese sandwich Deb got gave her a stomach ache later. Ah well…
In the final analysis, I’m still in disbelief that I finished a 600k, something I’ve wanted to do for so long. I had thought I would ride most of it by myself and that it would be a much harder ride. If it weren’t for riding with Deb, with Alex, Glenn, and Steffen, I’m not sure I would have finished, who knows. I might still be out there… But as it was, I had a fantastic time. I liked the 600k distance and route more than any of the shorter rides. It took me the entire week afterward to recover, so I decided against the 1000k later this summer. But I guess the honeymoon stage for me and randonneuring is still not over yet, now in our third year together… I’m still amazed by how much I’ve learned by doing these insanely long bike rides. What I learn affects my professional life as well as my personal life. I try not to get too philosophical about the meaning of it all, but I will say that I now understand a lot more about the relationship between humans and our bodies, as well as the need we all have for some kind of physical activity and the positive effect it can have. I’m not sure I can truly say that bicycling is good for your health–we all know too well the dangers involved, not to mention the more banal negative aspects such as having to eat at Safeway or Seven Elevens all the time. Bicycling has been good for me, though. Hopefully it will continue to be…either way you’ll only hear about it on mmmmbike!