Estero Americano 200k

There is no bad weather, only bad life choices.
-anon.

As mentioned in my previous post, I had a debilitating attack of laziness on the morning of the Del Puerto 200k, preventing me from attending that ride. Wellll it had been a hard week at work. Perhaps because I did not disclose the cause of my DNS, Rob offered to carry my brevet registration fee to the next brevet which would be the Estero Americano 200k. EA200 offered the possibility of some significant advantages to me. It was scheduled for the third day of December, allowing me to get my December R-12 installment out of the way before holiday/end of year scheduling got complicated. It’s got an east bay start location that I could ride to rather easily in the morning, and I was familiar with the start location and the way to, from, and over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. I hadn’t ridden the farm roads in Marin county in a while, so revisiting them–with a few new twists and turns–was appealing. And finally, it’s a refreshing new route for SFR!

So, with a light heart I looked forward to December 3. As it got closer to the event, I checked the weather report, and noticed that things looked grim. Refreshing my browser every few hours, or changing weather forecasting models or websites, did not change anything about that. Friends seemed to be dropping from the roster. Sigh. It looked like we were all in for a little rain training… it never occurred to me not to ride. That could have been a good thing to consider I suppose, but in the end (the end being located the next day in full sun with a nice warm bowl of won ton soup in my belly and a cat on my lap), I’m glad I rode. It was definitely a character builder, and much harder than the November 200k I did that had 3700+ meters of climbing. I had many moments of questioning my life choices while riding in high 30s-low 40s temps and steady rain for several hours. But, as I have discovered again and again as I have revisited the R-12 after a break of 4-ish years, there is something in each ride I’ve done that encapsulates why I still enjoy randonneuring, and this ride was no exception.

The start location is one I’ve passed by countless times since the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge opened a lane for bikes in November of 2019. So I was perfectly comfortable doing the 40 minute ride to the start, although it was definitely raining already at that time, about 7 am when I left home.

From the bike path near the Richmond Marina

From the bike path near the Richmond Marina

I arrived at the Marina parking lot early enough to hear Rob’s pre ride talk and carry out the all important oath not to do stupid stuff. But wait, how does it work when just leaving the parking lot is probably stupid? Never mind, just ride and don’t think about it!

right mitten or other right mitten

right mitten or other right mitten

Once the oath was over, everyone was still. Having already gotten soaked on my ride-to-a-ride, I wanted to get going, so I was the first one out of the parking lot. I said hi to Jasmine, who I met on Gold Rush this year and was one of a very few fellow women on that ride as on this ride also.

It was novel and exciting to experience that brevet-start energy on the RSR bridge instead of the Golden Gate Bridge! Vive la difference! I’ve ridden that bridge a lot, but mostly to casual rides on Mount Tam or elsewhere and mostly alone. The vibe was also a little eerie though since the mist was so heavy.

Rando RSR

Rando RSR… thank you Tak for your full fender coverage (and I mean FULL)

Bridge to Nowhere?

Bridge to nowhere?

After the bridge, we followed some familiar-to-me pathways through San Rafael and ended up riding through China Camp. I got to catch up with Bryan K and hear about his new job. At a certain point, I peeled away from the group to visit the site of the first info control. I had decided to use a brevet card backup as it seemed likely with so much wetness around that electronics would not survive… it turned out fine though. Anyway, China Camp was very nice in what was only light rain/mist at this point.

Point San Pedro Road

Point San Pedro Road… no one else is out so I am apparently weaving a bit

still feeling comfy and warm despite being wet

still feeling comfy and warm despite being wet

Right before I broke off from the group, I (finally?) noticed that my apparel was slightly different than most other peoples’. It felt odd picking out clothing for this ride, since it’s been so long since we’ve had seriously rainy weather combined with very low temps. This season has been c o l d though, prompting me to find a couple new-to-me merino wool base layers and jackets. My rainy day clothing isn’t too different than my cold weather clothing except for the rain jacket on top. I noticed everyone else was wearing shoe covers. I had a worn-out old pair at home, but I stopped wearing them some time ago when it seemed like they would just get waterlogged and heavy. I guess they keep dirt and sand out. I had to clean plenty of that out of my shoes when I got home! Well anyway, thick wool socks are the ticket for me on cold and/or rainy rides. They keep me warm, no matter how wet they get. This works for mittens too. Knitting socks and mittens is one of my favorite hobbies, so I always have plenty of them around. I used to work at a job where I had several hours of commute time on a train each day, and I would crank out pair after pair of wool socks and mittens. I gave them to family and friends, and I still had tons of them for myself. I continue to knit them now, in addition to darning the ones with holes.

I was head to toe covered in wool that day, with a rain jacket and high viz vest on top of it all. I stayed as snug as a bug in a rug! That is, until the sun was finally down for the day and the temps started to get absurdly low. So, in case you’re wondering how this rando survived temps in the 30s and steady rain becoming heavy rain, this is just what worked for me. No shade on whatever else that works for you if it’s different, goodness knows we all just do whatever we can to stay warm on a day like that. Please leave a comment if you have any special tips!

Anyway, back to the ride. After China Camp, the route weaves through suburban east Marin county, past lovely, scenic strip malls near highway 101 haha. Well, at least there are bike lanes throughout, and drivers were nice. It was a great day to be riding through this area, since the rain kept most people at home instead of doing their Christmas shopping or whatnot. I’m not sure I’d want to do this ride on a sunny day, but I did enjoy that it’s just something different for SFR–a different way to get to Petaluma, along with the different start location and so on. There are a couple sections of interesting bike paths, one of which goes through Olompali Wildnerness.

Olompali

Olompali

Big wide bike path

Big wide bike path

But basically we are riding parallel to a big highway until arriving at San Antonio Road. I love this road because it is so close to suburbia yet so rural! All of a sudden you are in farm territory. I passed a mail carrier who waved at me. I’m sure she thought, like most people that day, that I was crazy to be out riding in weather like this, but I was enjoying myself. Somewhat like riding at night, riding in the rain can be peaceful. There was one driver who passed me when I was riding up a little hill to a freeway overpass, and lowered his passenger side window to yell, “You’re tough!” Haha. Later on, as the weather conditions worsened, I would remember that, and wonder, “Am I tough? Or am I crazy??” All of the above?

Neither snow nor rain, nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers or randos from their appointed rounds

Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers or randos from their appointed rounds

After San Antonio Road is I street, which seems to get even deeper into hillbilly territory even though you’re creeping closer to downtown Petaluma. The pavement quality is poor in this section, which is not always a negative for me. Neglected roads are often more interesting to me; they have unique features and either less or slower traffic.

I stands for Improvised pavement

I stands for Improvisational pavement

I was relieved to reach the Petaluma City Limit sign. The 7-Eleven hot chocolate machine had been softly whispering my name throughout San Antonio Road and I Street. Of course, the machine wasn’t working and I got something pinkish, overly sweet, and minty-chocolatey-tasting, but it was liquid and it was very hot. I also wolfed down a banana and tried to leave as soon as possible.

Rain or Shine Cycles indeed

Rain or Shine Cycles indeed

I stopped at the stoplight at Washington Street with another rando who had a speaker playing some kind of music… It reminded me of a Neko Case album I had listened to earlier in the week, so the song Stinging Velvet provided the soundtrack for my next seventy-odd kilometers: “cold and shiver and cold and shiver and cold and shiver–and warm” I liked how the end of the line’s emphasis is on WARM! And that Bakersfield sound plays well in rural Marin County, exactly where I was headed.

The road from Petaluma to Valley Ford is smoothly-paved with fast traffic, but with wide shoulders throughout: a perfect way to tick down some mileage. I arrived at the Valley Ford Market hungry for my only real food of the day. They have some great rando options there, and today I utilized the much appreciated indoor dining option for the first time ever! The time displayed on their gigantic, cheesy 1950s style wall clock (original?) made me shudder a little… time to ride, not tarry. I gulped everything down and jumped back on my Pelican, amidst friendly well wishes from the cashier and deli counter lady, to dive into the second half of the ride.

The beginning of this section was deeply restorative for me. I love riding through west Marin farmland, especially in the rain. The fog and mist are moody in just the way I like, leading me to heavy thought lines like, “Who will win the women’s elite cyclocross race in Boom Belgium tomorrow?? Blanka Vas? Denise Betsema? Shirin Van Anrooj? Or would it be former champion Lucinda Brand?” I have been glued to the screen lately, watching these crazy-tough UCI racers. Rain? Check. Mud? Check-check! Freezing cold temperatures? Check! Yes, with all the rain and muddy farm roads, I was surely feeling the ‘cross vibes, though those races only last about 45 minutes and then it’s time to hit the hot showers! Again prompting me to wonder: Am I nuts? Or rather, how nuts am I? Why am I still out riding so many hours in? Better not to think about it. “Cold and shiver and cold and shiver and cold and shiver and WARM…”

mud-adjacent

mud-adjacent

Anyway, the landscape was the real star of the day to me. There were patches of swamp grasses that were astonishingly red! That totally surprised me. Once again I longed for my film camera, and planned to somehow make it back there the next day to take pictures [nope! didn’t happen]

Red!

Red!

more red among the estuary

more red among the estuaries: Valley Ford Franklin School Road bridge

The ride is named for the tidal estuary between Valley Ford and Bodega Bay. Some of it is used for cattle ranching, and the Sonoma Land Trust also owns a 127-acre preserve that borders the estuary. Otherwise it is inaccessible to the public, being one of the last estuaries in the whole state to remain undeveloped. I feel fortunate to ride there since being in a landscape that is relatively unchanged by human development feels very regenerative for me. I enjoy it a lot.

Estero de San Antonio

Estero de San Antonio

narrow, muddy road

typically narrow, muddy road

As you can see from these pictures, there wasn’t a ton of light throughout the day. The clouds and mist made the land truly overcast. Once I made it to the turn onto Chileno Valley Road, the skies noticeably darkened. As little warmth and light that the sun had imparted that day, it was now beginning to sink in the sky. The heavy mist that had lingered throughout the afternoon was now turning into bigger droplets. I pulled off to chug some gel for energy, so I could enjoy Chileno Valley Road a bit more. So many times had I ridden this road in all kinds of weather! The Hopland 400k comes to mind–rain, sleet, extreme wind, heat. This was where I took my last photos of the day.

Lago Chileno... or Laguna Lake--no matter the name you'd hardly recognize it

Lago Chileno… or Laguna Lake–no matter the name, you’d hardly recognize it

tree canopy in the last section before Wilson Hill

tree canopy in the last section before Wilson Hill

It didn’t get totally dark for me until I reached Lucas Valley, just before the San Rafael city limit. However, the woods between Nicasio and Lucas Valley Road were cold enough that I started to notice limits on my manual dexterity… Uh oh… This was the point where I started to seriously question the ol’ life choices. I postulated that if I got a flat tire, I might not be able to fix it, and then where would I be?? After the descent from Big Rock, the speed of traffic on the road increased along with my anxiety about still being there. I tried to ride a little faster, but the day had just taken so much out of me. Luckily I was very familiar with the route back to the bridge, so at least I wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost. I was still worried about flats, since I had had so many on recent rides, and it seemed impossible not to get a flat tire riding through San Rafael… didn’t happen though. What did happen was I bonked hard on the RSR bridge, and had to stop riding to down some gel and malto since I couldn’t squeeze either bottle anymore with just one hand. Life choices! Maybe the heavier mittens next time. I had actually brought another pair of full finger gloves with me, but I had waited too long to put them on, and I couldn’t move my fingers enough to put them on now. Well, only about 20 minutes and I would be at the finish! But of course, then I would have to ride home! Haha, …yeah.

Luckily, it was much warmer on the Richmond side of the bridge, and even more luckily, … VOLUNTEERS!!! They had a tent set up at the Richmond Marina with hot tea and hot cup o noodles. Just miraculous. It completely brought me back to life! I could move my fingers again too, which was nice. Volunteer Greg was there with his amazing pastries, Volunteer Jeff was there too, and another Volunteer I didn’t get to know. Wow. Lots of good humored banter all around, among riders and volunteers, and then thank goodness Greg and I rode most of the way home together. I had been seriously dreading the ride home! But riding along with Greg was fun, the temps were much warmer, and I finally relaxed. I saved Greg’s pastries for the next morning since I just wanted a beer and hot shower and sleep.

next morning yum!

next morning yum!

Who won Boom? You’ll have to watch it. Just fracking amazing talent there on the part of those tough women riders! As for me… well, we know in rando there is no podium, but I feel triumphant for just surviving that ride! That took a lot out of me, and was the most demanding ride I’ve completed this year. One could argue (as I did in my head in the waning couple hours of the ride) whether it’s worthwhile to do such rides–isn’t it foolish or even irresponsible to ride in such terrible weather? Perhaps… but there is still a lot to be gained from it, even beyond the valuable gear testing that happens on such a ride. Sometimes it’s good, even necessary, for you to go beyond your comfort zone. Sometimes pushing yourself is a part of so-called self care. The past year has been tough for me in a lot of ways, and I feel like these last few installments in my R-12 attempt are helping me restore my confidence. It’s good to know I made it through such a difficult ride in adverse conditions. Will I be able to follow through all the way to next May to complete this R-12? You just might read about it right here on mmmmbike!

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5 thoughts on “Estero Americano 200k

  1. Wow! What a day, and then some! Thank you for the writeup & the photographs.

    Randonneuring is a big…podium?

    Nicely done!!

  2. What an enjoyable read! So many great lines. Perhaps my favorite: “Sometimes it’s good, even necessary, for you to go beyond your comfort zone. Sometimes pushing yourself is a part of so-called self care.” The pace and rhythm of writing allow the reader to feel like we’re on the ride with you, sometimes even in your mind thinking your thoughts with you. Thanks so much for sharing the experience and your craft as a writer.

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