W2: Russian River 300k

This is a forgotten draft from my archives from the 2015 season. Somehow it never got published. Too amusing not to publish now, so here goes…

W is for Workers’, as in Workers’ Ride Yeahhh! A Workers’ Ride is a ride scheduled on a different day than the regular brevet so that anyone volunteering to help staff the brevet can get a chance at finishing the ride also. This Workers’ Ride was conducted Audax style, with all of us staying together throughout. However, for most of us, an Audax ride will consist of a team of five riders, occasionally six or seven if there are tandems. This ride had ten of us! The volunteer coordinator, the lovely Megan A, scheduled us for none other than Valentine’s Day, a perfect holiday to be in such great company (ourselves and our bikes!). It was a special ride for another of us–Ann K’s first 300k, and a ride following a tough illness at that. This was only my second attempt at a Workers’ Ride (thus the W2 in the title of this post), which I’ve gotten the impression is more often conducted by riders on a much higher cadence than myself. But it was agreed that this would be a no-drop ride, so I gingerly threw my helmet into the ring.

Megan was great at reeling in all the diverse natures of the participants that day (need I say more than to mention Jason P was one of the natures?), and keeping us all together despite the wide range of paces represented. I only have a few pictures I took on my cell phone, but here they are.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa, where we took a brief pause

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa, where we took a brief pause

Sushi from Healdsburg Safeway!!

Safeway sushi mmmm tasty!!

Mouth of the Russian River

Overlooking the mouth of the Russian River on a beautiful February day, nothing like the beautiful February days where I grew up, but I’ll take it!

Many thanks also to Jenny, who procured some caffeine for me when I really really needed it, to Steffen for hanging back with me on the inbound side of White’s Hill, and after all to Jason for buying us all pizza in Fairfax on the inbound (I imagine requesting forgiveness from us for putting up with him all day???).

However great the ride was, it was my volunteer shift on Brevet Day that really made this 300k memorable for me. I loooove volunteering as most of you know, and I got the best shift, the last finish control. It was during this shift that I finished my first 300k, rolling in with Jim G, so it was fun for me to staff it. I was working with Bruce, our shift following Jason and Patrick and Ann’s. Jason and Patrick stayed long after the end of their shift, and we all had fun watching Jason taunt the raccoons at the plaza with offers of hugs and Sun Chips…it kept us awake, in any case. I also laughed heartily (on the inside!!) observing one exhausted rider saying she would rather write swear words in her brevet card instead of signing it. A few minutes later, after eating a hefty burrito brought for her by her friend, she took it all back and seemed to be looking forward to her next brevet.

Riding brevets is not easy no matter when you finish, and it’s a great feeling to support riders by volunteering in whatever capacity one can. I highly recommend it!

 

2017 Randonneur Recap

It’s been a full year of rando again, and I haven’t been blogging too much, have I? Sometimes I think that it might be boring to read about the rides, since I keep doing the same ones over and over. Well, I like them anyway! I did do a couple new ones this year, including the longest distance I’ve done so far. Still keeping up the consecutive R-12, which I will continue as long as it seems doable. It would be cool to do 10 years, but that’s a whole four more R-12s away. Life gets in the way sometimes, and that’s gotta be ok. I keep thinking I should give myself a break from it, but then if I don’t do a ride for a while, I get cranky. Gotta scratch that itch!

But seriously, randonneuring has helped me a lot over the past six years. It’s given me a huge sense of accomplishment. Riding gives me the headspace I need to be more effective at my job. Some of the things I have learned are applicable to my work as well, such as learning appropriate pacing, caring for one’s gear, the importance and rewards of perseverance, and so many more things. Of course, there are tradeoffs; long distance riding requires a lot of time away, in the rides themselves as well as in the training rides leading up to brevets, and the recovery time it takes to get back to a normal regime. Striking a perfect balance seems elusive most of the time, but I always try my best.

But anyway, just so I don’t forget where I’ve been, here’s the Year in Rando 2017 edition. Scroll over the photos for captions.

Los Milagros del Fleche

This year’s NorCal Fleche Velocio was a terrific experience. Lots of the typical ups and downs of any rando ride, a few surprises here and there (mostly pleasant), and beer and delicious breakfast at the finish! We encountered so many milagros along the way: the miracle of spring was evident on the hillsides and in the ditches; rain has returned and the countryside is loving it! It also seemed there were more baby farm animals than last year. Growth, rebirth, and multiplication were everywhere.  We even saw some jackrabbits hopping around (and some, sadly, no longer hopping around), just to give it the true Easter flavor.

I love to visit Madera, our start location, because it is so different from the bay area. It feels like a border town and has many many more Spanish speakers per capita. I miss my old Mexican neighborhood of Chicago, so I feel right at home in Madera.

01MaderaStorefront

One of my favorite storefronts on the strip

It is definitely a working class town where the day starts and ends early. Not too much going on in downtown Madera on a Friday night other than a few souped-up low-riders patrolling the strip. There is a thrift store on the strip that we went to last year, and we had fun checking it out this year too. We ate dinner at Maya, a restaurant we missed last year unfortunately, but was tasty and had great local beer.

Our team all turned in early the night before the ride. I slept fitfully, never stressed, but it took me an uncharacteristically long time to get to sleep, and I woke up numerous times throughout the night. Captain also woke up throughout the night, hearing Teammate Russ coughing more each time… uh oh… We all woke up on time, at which point Russ made the sad announcement that he would not be joining us for the ride. He said he felt feverish, achey, and had a bad cough, and that’s all I needed to wish him a safe trip back home on Amtrak. He obviously felt very bad about it, but he had given it a try by coming out to Madera with us, and unfortunately was only able to continue the ride with us in spirit. Ah well.

We had only started out with four on our team. Now down to three (the minimum required to receive credit), we started out for the Black Bear Diner, our start control. I usually don’t have a big diner breakfast before the start of a brevet, so this was nice. We had plenty of time to eat, fill our water bottles, and take care of other morning business (such as the important task of conveying the news of the loss of one teammate on Instaspam) before saddling up.

Our new route is easier than our old route through Eureka Canyon and San Juan Bautista, still beautiful, and one sweet perk is that we never have been buzzed by impatient or inattentive or hostile drivers. No matter how big the jacked-up 4×4 pickup, they all swerved way over when they passed, and some even waved at us! Two guys driving tractors out in the fields wildly pumped their arms like they were riding a bicycle and shouted “Andale, andale!!” Velocia and I also tried to get some of the semi truck drivers to honk their horns at us, and 3 out of 3 did! Such childish pleasures, but there you go. Hey, it’s Easter (almost), and we were on a bike ride far from home, so we all felt unfettered and fancy-free. This is one of the great things about team rides, especially when the team all know each other well.

And yes, there were occasional semi trucks out there! This is the heart of large-scale farming, the Central Valley of California. If you ever wondered how it is possible that millions of people can be fed by stuff sticking out of the ground periodically, kind of a milagro in itself, you should visit this area. We passed a farm growing grapes for wine production, we passed acres of leafy greens of some kind (broccoli?), almond orchards, fields of oats and winter wheat, and even a gin-producing facility. We also saw a small airfield for crop dusters… thankfully not spraying anything the day we rode through. Just one of the many ways cycling can be good for your health sometimes, sometimes not so much. I do enjoy seeing the hand lettered signs in Marin County saying “Organic Farm No Spray”.

After an easy warmup though the flat, friendly farm roads, we got to Foster’s Freeze for a malty pause before entering Panoche Road. Last year, Panoche was very very hot and sunny, so it was great to have a little ice cream shake before the hot part. Captain almost deleted this stop but I insisted on retaining it. When we got there, we were slightly ahead of schedule, so we got to relax going into our favorite part of the ride.

02LosPhotogs

Los Photogs

03TeamPhoto

Team Photo! V had just been to New Zealand and was sporting her epic suncreen, much needed today!

04PanocheRoad

Panoche Road is greener than last year. Trail conditions were excellent, very few ruts and the dust was not bad

05SanBenitoCty

Captain took the County Limit sign, right at the top of a steep pitch

06StreamCrossing

Stream crossing! We’re feeling Epic!

07Goats

Goats on a farm, many in the shade today

08PanocheInn

(Where) is Panoche? We’d been hungering for this, our lunch spot… I was captivated by this sage message about being self employed.

09PanochePass

My riding companions had both indulged in 2 beers at lunch, so I snuck ahead and pulled through to take Panoche Pass! Yeah!!!!

10PanocheRoadPaved

After the descent from Panoche Pass Summit, we enjoyed a seemingly endless (in a good way) stretch of road just like this. Nary a car nor cloud nor climb, not even a cow out here. Rando heaven. If you like that sort of thing.

11Aromas

The lake/swamp near Aromas is totally still, not to mention full… sun is almost gone for the day

12Aromitas

Last picture before the sun goes down, the beautiful valley on Aromitas Road

The ride through the Watsonville area, coastal communities, and up through Aptos (Hi Cousin Lise!) to Santa Cruz was pleasantly quiet, with the stars and the moon to guide us. At Jeffery’s, our Santa Cruz control, we were somewhat expecting or hoping to see a couple other Fleche teams come in, but nada for us. Hmmmm my phone was too low on battery to check if any other teams were posting their status. Last year we saw 3 other teams at Jeffery’s. I guess it was nice that Jeffery’s was quieter this year since I was making a serious attempt at napping, but it didn’t work anyway.

When we leave Santa Cruz, we have about 85 miles, almost all on Highway One, all in the dark, and usually with a light tailwind. Unfortunately for us this year, the weather roll of the dice gave us a strongish headwind and light rain… yes, more rainy riding for me. Sure the wildflowers are nice but can’t it rain some other time, like when I’m inside… and where is that rain jacket I left at home because there was no rain in the forecast? Hm. Well, nothing to do but pedal through it. I did not feel too fatigued, but around 4 to 5 in the morning I sure was feeling sleepy. The sleep demon would not be denied. It was just the three of us on our team, although we did periodically run into members of Rob’s team, who seemed to be suffering from multiple instances and types of mechanical issues. At least it was something happening, and it periodically woke me up from my drowsiness. I remember trying to keep a safe distance from my teammates, since I kept nodding off and was worried I would crash them. I think the wise thing to do at this point might have been to stop and try to ditchnap, although in the rain I’m not sure how that would have worked. As it was, I took advantage of the cushy nature of my sweet sweet Eroica tires that would sort of hop and wake me up when I steered into the fogline. Bizarro coping mechanism perhaps, but I got through it without crashing. Probably somewhat due to my sleepiness and thus lower speed, we didn’t have much time to spend at our penultimate control in Pacifica, which is fine I guess now that the Denny’s is gone and all we have is the cold, cold floor of the Safeway entrance to sleep on. At that point, I woke up and smelled the coffee, and we practically ghost pedaled the way back from there. I will never forget the view of Mount Tam from the southern corner of the Great Highway! It was so misty and all shades of pastel in the reluctant sunrise. We did not have a whole lot of time left on the clock, but at that point I realized the ride was almost over, with a mixture of sadness and anticipation for my pint of beer at the finish. It had been a long 24 hours.

13RandosReward

I never drink on a ride until it’s over… This beer was soooo tasty

14CrepesOnCole

Fellow teams enjoying their breakfast at Crepes on Cole after volunteers take care of our brevet cards and valet park our bikes for us. Volunteers (not pictured) are AWESOME!!!!!

15CrepesOnCole

Happy Easter

Milagros in Mexican culture are little silver or tin tokens used for praying for curing ills of all kinds: you can see some here. One of my teammates had a sort of milagro in her handlebar bag… you can see her randonneur version here. It was definitely a lucky-socks-fueled miracle we finished within the time limit, given the horribly annoying wind and rain in the last stretch on highway 1. Also a miracle I was able to keep my bike upright from 4-5 am when I was so tired and drowsy. Since then I resolved to work on my public napping skills. I’ve always felt like sleeping in public is just not normal, but I guess randonneuring has tested the limits of normal in so many ways, why not one more? I know I’ll have to figure this out somehow as the longest rides of the year still lie ahead… oh–was that a pun? Ha. I need to come up with some good jokes too, to keep me awake in those wee hours of the 400k and 600k… If I come up with any good ones, you may see them here on mmmmbike!

Mother Nature Returns: SFR 300k

For the past year or so of randonneuring, I’ve had that sinking feeling that results from getting something you haven’t earned. The weather has just been wayyy too good. Sunny, clear skies all winter long when there should have been rain. I grew up in a region with real (and yes, that meant at times dangerous or at least uncomfortable) weather: lightning storms, blizzards, ice storms, frozen roads blocked by excessive ice or snowfall, tornadoes. So in addition to the concern over California’s drought, during the past year I felt a sense of unease building, waiting for the pendulum to swing back.

As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried: Mother Nature would not abandon us! The forecast for last Saturday’s ride was beyond grim: lots of rain throughout the day (could be uncomfortable, but temps looked like they would stay relatively warm) and 20mph+ headwinds on the coast from the afternoon through to the night (the discouraging part). A roster of 70+ riders shrank to 30- when people started voicing their concerns on the club listserv. Granted, some people voiced their excitement or just plain neutrality (the position I shared), but I couldn’t read anymore when it was suggested that the ride be cancelled or rescheduled. Fiddlesticks! I am glad that those who did not want to ride had a chance to transfer their registration to another, perhaps sunnier, brevet. In randonneuring, we are all responsible for knowing our own limits and what we want to deal with. For me, the prospect of bad weather brought back memories of my childhood! Kind of funny. In any case, I’m glad the ride was not rescheduled, because it was an extraordinary experience.

Start control

Check-in felt like a sparsely-populated Adventure Series ride, not like the SFR 300k I’m used to. In past years, riders have filled the Golden Gate Bridge plaza to start this brevet; the lack of participation gave a slightly chilling reminder that the day would be hard. Rob came up to me and subtly or not so subtly asked me if I had made any plans to ride with anyone. In fact I had: Steve H had found out from John that I was riding, and wrote to me asking if I would want to ride with him and Tom H. This invitation was easy to accept, having ridden with them before in the rain and finding them to be ideal riding partners. I explained further to Rob my thinking in attempting this ride in this particular weather: I had done this route 5 times, and it is an easy route for me, one I’ve completed successfully as a solo perm more than once. I also did a 318k ride that had 50% more climbing two weeks ago, so I felt confident of my training level. Furthermore, according to the forecast, the first part of the ride to Healdsburg should give us a tailwind, thus being easier than in past years, so we should still have energy in reserve for the tough part at the coast. Apparently he was convinced by my rambling and moved off while I went over to fulfill my volunteer duties and do some gear checks.

Rob reluctantly administers the oath "not to do stupid stuff"

Rob reluctantly administers the oath “not to do stupid stuff”

At this point, I was a little nervous, but no more than for a typical brevet. The weather would be an added source of uncertainty, but I was looking forward to the challenge, because I had done this route many times. As my riding companions were to comment later, it was the one route they had done the most, which was true for me too. The key factor giving me more optimism was that temperatures were forecast to be relatively warm, which if it’s raining, can be a big help.

The Easy Part: 85 miles to Healdsburg

It was not raining at the start control. I didn’t need to put on my rain jacket until the Marin wiggle. We saw the sun after Camino Alto.

Jack Moonbeam in his fluorospendor

Jack Moonbeam in his full fluorospendor

 

The only time we saw the sun that day

The only time we saw the sun that day

Rain was softly falling as I rode through the usual San Anselmo, Fairfax, up and over White’s and through Samuel P. Taylor Park. Tom H and I chatted pleasantly up until the secret control, noting that not a single car had passed us. The views of Black Mountain in the light rain were luxuriously green.

In Petaluma, we picked up Jack Moonbeam, and I still felt a lot of energy. I had finally begun to memorize the layouts of all the Safeways on the SFR routes. I moved quickly through the control, getting exactly what I needed and consuming it fast.

Perky in Petaluma

Perky in Petaluma

We got right back on the road and proceeded to the next stretch. As I anticipated, we had a tailwind, and though it rained steadily, it was never cold. The farmlands between Petaluma and Healdsburg looked pretty great, and due to the lack of glare from the sun, I saw outbuildings of the farms that I had never noticed before. I wanted to take tons of pictures of these, but it was already feeling risky to keep taking out my camera and putting it back, since there was a lot of traffic and I was riding in a relatively close group. A couple of times, I couldn’t resist…

Yellow and green and gray

Yellow and green and gray

Wildflowers

Wildflowers almost as bright as hi-viz (and hey, check out that paceline-friendly mudflap!)

Feeling no pain

Feeling no pain

Santa Rosa Selfie

The classic SFR group selfie looks slightly different today

It felt like we arrived in Healdsburg in no time at all. I found the excellent sushi I’ve enjoyed there many times, got some other stuff to eat and drink, and sat inside at the Starbucks cafe tables to chow down. My riding companions joined me, Tom looking at and showing us adorable videos of his son saying “I love you Daddy” on his phone, what would become a regular feature at every control. So far, the ride did not feel epic whatsoever. Sure it was raining, but no big deal. Sufferfest cancelled, right? Actually, I knew that the hard parts lay ahead. I wanted to split from this control as fast as we could. I finished eating and went outside to make some slight adjustments to my bike and pack up. Apparently my riding companions were confused and stayed inside waiting for me, only wasting a few minutes, but then as we rolled out of the parking lot, Steve noticed that Tom’s rear wheel was flat. Amazingly, he had the offending tube out on the sidewalk before I turned my head around, but said we should go on ahead and just soft pedal until he caught up. Jack had already left the control, also saying he would soft pedal and wait for us. Caught in between, Steve and I headed out on Westside Road.

More easy: Westside Road, River Road, Hwy 116

It was gorgeous that day. Being outside in the rain when it’s not cold is amazing. Like when it’s snowing, human-made sound is mollified by the raindrops. And once you’re wet, you can neither become significantly drier nor wetter, so the fact that it kept raining didn’t bother me. Traffic was not too much lighter, unfortunately, but the colors of the fields were quite beautiful.

Fields and skies

Fields and skies

Luscious green

Luscious green

Nearing the end of Westside Road

Nearing the end of Westside Road

Steve and I finally caught up with Jack, but at that point Tom was not yet with us again. We pulled to the side to decide what to do. I used the opportunity to eat a little snack. We decided to keep going and wait in a more sheltered place for Tom. Almost at the intersection of River Road, I decided to pull over and take a snapshot of the Russian River from the end of Westside Road–always a beautiful sight, but today more unique.

Russian River

Russian River

Steve and Jack had decided to wait under the River Road overpass, and while there, we made sure we had each others’ cell phone numbers. Before too long, Tom showed up and we hooted at him to let him know where we were. Nature breaks ensued (almost) all around, Steve made some brake adjustments, and finally we were off again. River Road was trafficky but relatively uneventful. Tom pulled most of the way, and before long, we arrived at the point of my greatest weather-related fears: the mouth of the Russian River.

The Coast

We climbed the first steep pitch, and the wind was surely there to greet us as I feared. Each gust reminded me to keep my eyes on the road, my hands firmly braced against the handlebars, and my butt squarely on the saddle. I learned how to drive on ice at a relatively early age, so I am no stranger to adverse weather conditions, but no doubt about it, this was tough. It took just as much power to pedal as it took to hold my bike steady. Though it would have been nice to paceline, it was too dangerous to do so, since the wind was so variable. Sometimes the gusts would blow more from the west than south, and one such gust could blow you right into the rider in front. I did my best to keep a safe distance, hold my front end stable, and stay focused. It was not easy. There were times when the full force of the storm was directly upon us, like when the road climbed to an exposed rise. Those of you who have ridden this road on a bike know that there is no shoulder here, and only a few iceplants between the edge of the road and a steep dropoff. I rode further in from the edge here, possibly a risky tradeoff since there was still a fair amount of car traffic. But the cars out were probably locals and gave us a wide berth that day, and I think that was due in no small part to Jack Moonbeam’s full-coverage reflecto.

On a day with more reasonable weather conditions, this is the most beautiful part of the route. Majestic sea stacks, rock outcroppings, natural arches, grottoes, and rocky beaches are fair to see for miles of coastline. On that day, however, we were witness to the other side of the coin. In its own way, it was majestic too, dangerous as it was. I did not look at the ocean too much (remember: target fixation!), but when I did, it looked unfamiliar to me. Usually the water is a clear, luminescent dark turquoise, calmly though inevitably crashing on the rocks. On that day, the water was gray, opaque, swirling, only slightly blue and angrily throwing its weight around with strong intention. We, too, felt tossed around. The rain shot at us by the bucketful, stinging our faces, chests, and arms. Finally we arrived in Bodega, exhausted from putting up such a fight.

At Diekmann’s I ate a small cup of roasted potatoes and half a breakfast burrito, and drank a nice beet ginger juice. It was great to have some warm solid food. Our clothes dripped on the floor and made a huge puddle as we commiserated about having ridden through that mess and watched another Grant video. Tom explained that the weather couldn’t be that bad because the rain didn’t wash away the dirt on his arm from changing his tube. Ha! But as I looked down at Jack’s shoe covers, previously spattered with road dirt, I noticed they were perfectly clean now and back to normal. We had gotten a thorough washing, indeed. Feeling humbled, I lingered, not able to conceive of getting back on my bike. Eventually, we all did. This time we went through the spin cycle until we got to Marshall. At that point, the wind died down significantly, replaced by soft rain.

Marin Post Office Tour

On the way to Valley Ford, Steve and Tom dropped off the back. I would get to the top of a hill and look for them, but didn’t see them. Jack also dropped off a little bit, so I stopped and got off my bike for a short break. Night had fallen, and I was worried about getting cold. Once Jack caught up, I suggested we wait for Steve and Tom in the Valley Ford post office.

It was warm in that post office… delightfully warm. Jack was reaching for his phone, and was saying something about “calling this in”. Whaaa??? I was shocked. “You mean DNF?!”, I asked. I couldn’t believe what I heard. To ride through all those wind gusts and then give up seemed terribly pointless. Completing this ride was of the utmost importance to me now. It had been tough, but the finish was in reach, and we were still well within the time limits. It was also critical to me that our group stay together. I think I convinced him to keep going, because he put his phone back.

Before long, Steve and Tom rolled up, explaining that Tom had gotten another flat. Someone came into the post office to check his mail, saying that he didn’t blame us for hanging out in there–it’s where he used to wait for the school bus when he was a kid! Now, he said, the kids have to wait on the porch of the supper club next door. The guy hopped into his black truck outside that had US Zombie Outbreak Response Team stickers on it, and drove off. Reunited, our group filled our bottles at the back of the post office, and took off for Point Reyes.

Valley Ford Post Office

Valley Ford Post Office: Storm Chasers

It was tough getting there, with all the climbing on CA-1 seeming much more steep than usual. Traffic was almost nonexistent at this hour–even the locals won’t go out now, I remember thinking. Once we got to the rollers on the coast, we got a hero’s tailwind, and were in Point Reyes at a comfy 8:30, at least to my mind. The Palace Market was still open and the deli counter worker gave us free cups of hot water to drink (THANK YOU, sweet, sweet man!), we bought some stuff, and went over to the post office to warm up and make some minor wardrobe changes. I called John and was glad to hear his voice. I also tried to message Eric W who I knew was working the finish control, to let him know the four of us were leaving Point Reyes. I’m not sure if he received it, but I thought it was a good idea anyway.

heated post office

…wait. did you say… THE HEATER IS ON???!!!

The Final Chapter: just one. more. little. obstacle

At this point I didn’t even notice the rain anymore, though it was still pouring. Being pushed around by the wind on the coast made any other weather seem just not worth noticing. We rode over Olema Hill, also insignificant, Whites Hill, boring. I started to notice myself feeling sleepy around Larkspur, and tried to open a bag of Gu chews, but my fingers didn’t seem to be working from the cold and I had to gnaw through the bag. Agh! Let’s just get this thing done. Up Camino Alto. I had considered proposing to the group that we sneak in via Camino Bajo instead, but didn’t want to be a cheater… But then we had to take it anyway when there were crews working on a downed tree on Camino Alto. Back up and down and over to Meadowsweet, and finally ended up on the bike path. It seemed endless. I think we were all beyond tired, just numb. I mean, of course, after this entire day, we would have to detour around a fallen tree…

But we did it! We finished with an hour to spare. When we arrived at the Bridge Plaza, Eric and Megan greeted us warmly, and thus we were returned to the world of the living. The last time I did this route as a brevet, I finished in 14:36, with an average time of 16 hours over five times ridden. This time it took 19 hours, and I was grateful to finish at all, in fact. I owe this completely to my compadres Jack, Steve, and Tom. Thanks guys, next time we will try for better weather.

Nice looking weather data from the day here

20 finishers ranging from 14h0m to 19h0m; 6 DNFs (compared to 126 finishers in 2015 with an average finish time of 15h2m)

Del Puerto 200m

It’s been a year and a half since I moved to Oakland from San Francisco, and thus my desires to do perm routes over here in the east bay have waxed accordingly. There are many great ones, thanks to Kitty G and others, but for the month of February I was beginning to settle in on Eric L’s Diablo Territory in spite of its daunting amount of climbing. Hemming, hawing, stalling, and probably reading the group’s list serv too often, I picked up on an announcement from Eric that he had a new perm building on SFR luminary Bruce Berg’s Del Puerto 200k. Eric’s version, at 200 miles, would have a start and finish in Berkeley, following familiar roads to and from the start/finish of the Del Puerto 200k. At 318k, it still has much less climbing than Diablo Territory, so yes, I admit to a bit of laziness in choosing it…

Anyhoo, Eric sent me my card and some words of encouragement after having completed the inaugural ride the day before, and I luxuriously slept in my own bed the night before the ride (for SFR brevets starting in San Francisco, I now stay over at John’s the night before, sometimes leading to uncomfortable realizations the morning of the ride such as important items left at home in Oakland). I woke on time, left on time, and got my receipt at the 7-11 at precisely 6:00 am! I was in such a great mood that I chatted with the clerk, who shared with me that he’s a distance runner and sometimes likes to ride “but only 40-50 miles”. He had huge biceps, and I could tell he was in good shape. It was kind of cool chatting with a random stranger who didn’t think riding 200 miles in one day was totally batty, which is usually the reaction I get.

Off I went, climbing up Spruce up to Wildcat. Familiar, easy way to start the day. The sun rose over Mount Diablo as I was still rounding swirly corners on Wildcat.

Mount Diablo sunrise

Mmmmount Diablo

Down Wildcat, into Orinda and onto St. Stephens Trail, one of my favorite east bay multi-use paths, of which there are many. While I just started getting into a groove, I noticed a pair of bright yellow hi-viz patterned arm warmers riding up next to me. I looked up and saw my fleche teammate and John’s cousin Russ, woohoo! He was riding out to Alamo and then meeting his son who would be mountain biking on Mount Diablo. We rolled along, chatting about our route stuff for the fleche this year, and about his son, who is on his high school’s mountain bike team. Yadda yadda and all of a sudden it was time for him to turn off, leaving me to continue the route through San Ramon, the next control.

At this control, I went into the gas station a bit confused, as it was too early for me to really want anything. I grabbed a bag of plain pretzels and walked up to the counter, Here, also, I ended up chatting with the clerk, this time about yoga. I have never really talked too much to clerks at controls, but today was very genial and relaxed, so why not?

I continued on, admiring the beautiful hills of Las Trampas backing up the city of San Ramon, and soon I passed the start of the SFR Del Puerto route. Now the sun started cooking, and although I had applied sunscreen liberally at the last control, I could feel a sunburn coming on. Drank plenty more water through Livermore, and as the buildings and man-made structures on Tesla Road started to thin out, I stopped to shed layers, put on fresh sunscreen, and take out my camera.

Tesla-Road

The old oak tree

The-Old-Barn

The old barn

One of the true jewels of this route, Tesla Road shimmered in the sun. Unlike when we ride here in parched November with the club, the hills were a bright, luscious green. Wildflowers were popping up all over, orange, yellow, and purple. Rams, sheep, cows, goats, and chickens were out.

Tesla-looking-back

Looking back from the top of the climb

Toward-the-Interior

Looking forward toward the interior

 

Sheeps

Big, burly sheepses must be broiling

Descending Tesla was peaceful and quiet on this sunny Sunday. There were lots of trucks hauling ATVs to the ATV park on Corral Hollow, but they all passed me in a pretty chill and respectful manner, slowing down and/or pulling all the way to the left. Rando heaven, I think they call it.

Before long I got to the section of orchards and farmlands preceding the route’s next control.

BeesThose boxes on the ground are beehives! The bees were actively buzzing around throughout this whole area. Bees love my hi-viz windvest, and I found a few clinging to it as I rode. No stings. It just heightened the experience of the day, though–beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky, the hills all cheerful and green, orchards with rows of trees in bloom for acres, and of course bees buzzing everywhere. Is it spring yet?

At Jimmy’s One Stop, I found another chatty clerk, the last of this ride. I just got some water here, my favorite mineral water, and didn’t tarry. I was ahead of time according to my plan, and didn’t want to lose ground.

Mmmmineragua

Mmmmineragua

I must have had a tailwind then, and stayed within my plan all the way to the next control at Patterson. This is the turnaround, at almost 100 miles. I still felt pretty good at this point. I ate some solid food, drank something yummy and cold, washed my face and rinsed my water bottles, and put on more sunscreen. It was time for the second beautiful jewel of this route: Del Puerto Canyon Road.

DPC-Road

The road is a ribbon

The-Old-Farm

The old farm, the old fence

Trees-in-rocks

Living wall

I guess now I have a really good explanation for riding such long distances if I ever need one. The beauty and remoteness of this place is so mind boggling each time I ride there. It may be hard to imagine why a person would ride their bike 100 miles just to get to ride on this road. I might argue that one of the reasons why it’s so enjoyable is because you have to ride 100 miles just to get there. And you can tell it’s rather far from anywhere meaningful to hurried texters. There could be a massive apocalypse or even the next version of iPhone could be released and this place would not change one bit.

Another special thing about Del Puerto Canyon Road is the natural spring. I often seem to find it at an ill-timed point when I don’t really need water, but I can’t resist.

Adobe-Spring

According to this bulletin board, King Solomon wanted us to work hard, do good deeds, and party hardy

This road is so beautiful, remote, and the landscape so rugged that you would almost not notice that you are experiencing a long, steady climb. In about 26 miles, you climb about 2900 feet, which would not really be that difficult if it weren’t for that one mile where you climb 900 feet of it. I like John’s description of the sign you’ve gotten to the hard part: you see a lump of hardened concrete on the ground where it must have fallen off the back of a concrete truck because of the sudden steepness. For a cyclist of meager ability such as myself, it is a crushing climb. This day was no exception. Thankfully, the next control is near the top, so you get to stop and take a breather. In the SFR route, we stop and have a sandwich and beverage at the Junction Cafe, but the Junction is between owners at this time and there are no sandwiches available.

I arrive at the Junction about half an hour before sunset and still precisely on schedule. Whew. There are still a few bumps before the very top, but about 30 miles of descending after that, and with the sun going down I decide to add a few items of warm clothing. I want to save most of my layers for later, as I fear the night in Chabot and Redwood Parks will be frigid.

Welcome-Sight

The best thing about riding solo is I take all the county and city limit signs

The point in the photo above is the true top of the climb. Here begins the long way down. The sun is sinking, and although I was pretty much still on my schedule, my mind started to spin out of control here. I did not like the thought of descending Mines Road in the darkness, since it is narrow in parts and has some tight turns. It hugs the edge of a deep gorge, and even though I’d be riding on the inside of the road, it seemed terrifying. It was also getting colder very quickly, but because I wanted to get as far as I could while there was still any light at all, I didn’t want to stop and put on my mittens, even though it was starting to affect my ability to use the brake levers. Yikes! I also became painfully aware that I was only 25 miles in to my 100-mile ride home from the turnaround, and it was already almost dark–I would have to ride the entire remainder in the dark.

Fortunately, I regained some semblance of mind during the descent, as I traveled around curve after curve, gaining confidence with each one safely passed. I thought of all the times I’ve done the Davis Night Brevet, a ride that begins at 8 pm. I thought of Cousin Russ and the fleche, another all-night ride I’ve done. I remembered the stillness and quiet to be found while riding at night, and remembered how enjoyable it could be. Of course, all those other times, I’d ridden with others, and now here I was, just me and the moon.

I made it to the next control, the Castro Valley Safeway, right around the time I had planned to be leaving it. I was pretty exhausted, and my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. It wasn’t particularly warm inside the Safeway, and they did not have any more hot soup at that hour. I couldn’t quite decide on what to eat, definitely the low point of the ride for me. I think it was mostly due to my fears of how cold it would be when I eventually went back outside. Later I found it had been in the high 30s/low 40s. I had already put on all the layers I had brought with me, and my teeth were still chattering. So…I started to look around the store for any kind of extra clothing they might have for sale, anything at all. I found some cotton tights in the Health and Beauty Aids department, and they looked pretty good. I got a slightly larger size and put them on over my cycling tights. I was finally ready to go.

Riding that last stretch was hard. I never felt those roads contained quite so much elevation gain as they did that particular night…though I’ve never ridden them after already riding almost 300 kilometers. I definitely felt out of my depth…or out of my height, I guess. But I just kept going, did what I could, continued on. Although the climb warmed me up, I was still glad for the extra layer. The moon was full and provided a surprising amount of visibility. And there were loud choruses of frogs croaking all around to keep me company! It was a little scary to be out there all by myself, but it was peaceful too. I’m actually pretty grateful for this experience, since you never know when you might end up riding alone at night, even on a brevet. It’s nice to know I can get through it and even enjoy it.

This route was just the challenge I was looking for–mostly familiar, but with new connections and twists. The scenery was excellent, the traffic was low to moderate, controls well placed. I would love to do it again after daylight saving, to have more light, and to see what the orchards look like in a few months’ time. As is so often the case with the well-worn SFR routes, simply riding them at a different time of year yields brilliant results. Thank you Bruce for your contribution of the Del Puerto route to our group, and thank you Eric for making it more accessible and challenging with adding the Berkeley start. A new classic!

S2: 300k SFR Russian River

The day before this brevet, I happened to be on my way into my local bike shop and glimpsed a Really Nice Bike leaning against the counter. I thought, “Wow, I wonder whose bike that is…,” looked up, and it was E Protorio! I rode with him on and off during the Lighthouse brevet, and after chatting a bit he said he’d be riding the 300k as well and was in the shop looking for a decaleur. I took care of my business there and we said “See ya tomorrow!”

I had a feeling when I saw him that this would be a great ride, and it was: for me, for Protorio, for many other riders I saw that day, and even for the club itself. There were around 120 riders, the biggest roster SFR has had for the 300k.

at check-in, with the Bridge looming overhead in the mist

at check-in, with the Bridge looming overhead in the mist

lots of us out riding today

lots of us out riding today

at the secret control, still quite misty

at the secret control, still quite misty

whew! at the secret control after holding the wheels of some of the speedier crew

whew! at the secret control after holding the wheels of some of the speedier crew

I did not take too many pictures for much of this ride, since I was desperately holding on to some of the faster group with Protorio, led by the Dixon tandem. This helped me make an early time goal to Petaluma. I didn’t waste time there, set out with Jack H, and caught up with another fast-ish group. I led the paceline… then got dumped by the paceline… and was on my own for a while. It was kind of nice to stop hammering anyway, and I enjoyed a peaceful stretch to the Healdsburg Safeway. Seeing many of the people I rode with in the morning still eating their lunch made me feel like I hadn’t lost too much time, and I didn’t want to eat a big meal. Some yogurt, iced tea and chips sufficed, and I filled out my card, slapped on some sunscreen, and was off again through the vineyards of Westside Road.

in bloom

in bloom

open sky toward Mount Saint Helena

open sky toward Mount Saint Helena

lovely in the shade

lovely in the shade

At this point, I encountered Theresa, and we discussed cameras and photography. It was very nice to see her, and when we ran into Jack and his cohorts pulling out of the Guerneville Safeway, we developed a full-on paceline out to the coast.

P1000273 P1000274 P1000275 P1000277I let them go ahead of me on the climb after the mouth of the Russian River, since I knew that the pace would be too much for me. I enjoyed a lovely stretch of coastline southward to Bodega Bay and the next control: Diekmann’s General Store.

pretty view off the deck at Diekmann's

pretty view off the deck at Diekmann’s

we pause for a mouthful

we pause for a mouthful

When I’ve done this as a permanent in the past, I’ve enjoyed the pizza at Diekmann’s very much, so I was looking forward to having some again.Of course, they were out of pizza, but just like on the Lighthouse brevet this year, I discovered something better (breakfast burrito! eggs, potatoes, cheese, and bacon–perfect for long distance bike riding!) and kept moving.

At this control, I saw Jesse and French, who I have ridden with before. This was a terrific ride for seeing many of my rando-friends. Lots of great people out riding on this gorgeous day. And as it turned out, I kept making my time goals for the various controls throughout the ride! First time that has ever happened, really. I think it was the weather. Yes, the weather… (or the paceline after paceline I hopped on…) But I did hear of many people having a great day. And I finished fifteen minutes under my most optimistic goal. So weird. Another weird thing about the finish was running into Jesse and French again just before the Bridge! French really got jazzed once he got on the Bridge, and we all followed him, going FAST. I went over one of the seams in the pavement, and wouldn’t you know my cell phone popped out of my bag… unfortunately it did not drop into the water, but instead the very kind Jesse doubled back to look for it for me. Ah well, maybe next time.

My sweetheart John P was there working the finish and had brought me some special vittles on which to dine. I sat around eating and chatting with people for a while then finally had to make my way towards home. Part two of the SR series is complete. What a great day! I hope it doesn’t make me feel too full of myself as the hardest rides are yet to come.

R10: Old Cazadero 300K

IMG_3173

My general goal in doing an R-12 this year was to maintain discipline and keep in shape in order to work up to a full Super Randonneur series (one each of a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k, all ACP-sanctioned brevets) in 2014. After riding the 400k this year, I knew that simply riding 200ks each month would not be enough to make me ready for a 600k next year, so I wanted to do something longer this fall. But when John suggested we do the Old Caz 300k permanent, I was not so sure it would be a good idea. Max, the route owner, says of this ride that one should add 30% to one’s average finishing time on the regular SFR 300k in order to get an idea of what to anticipate on Old Caz. That would put me outside the time limit by almost an hour. So, I started jogging again a few weeks before we planned to ride, and established a routine of stretching exercises in the morning. I also took care of groceries, etc. to make sure I had no reason to skip meals like I sometimes do when I’m hard at work. I also did some research on the route to see if I could figure out some goals to set for myself as far as timing for each control (ha! I am pretty naive). In studying the Old Caz route, I compared finishing times (according to the SFR website) among a sample of ten riders who finished the SFR Russian River 300k this year and the Old Cazadero 300k. John P’s results had the least variation: 15%. The greatest variation among finishers was an increase of 40%.

Old Caz is a challenging route by all accounts. There are several grinding climbs, and yet, the rewards are great: lots of natural beauty, and country roads empty of traffic. There are some dirt sections, rough pavement, and even a stream crossing. I have read numerous discussions on the SFR list about the appropriate tire size, gear etc for a ride of this nature, but I stuck to the usual plain old 700C Pelican with the same 32mm Panaracer Pasela tires I always ride. Mr. Potis rode his old standby red custom 650B Pelican.

Chileno Valley was still in the morning... We had perfectly clear weather the entire day: no clouds to obscure each and every beautiful view available

Chileno Valley was still in the morning… We had perfectly clear weather the entire day: no clouds to obscure each and every beautiful view available. Unfortunately, there was little time to stop and take lots of pictures; we needed to stay on the move to finish within the time limit.

I haven’t yet figured out what exactly makes one route more difficult than another. Some routes have similar amounts of elevation gain, but one seems much harder than another. There are several blog entries with ride reports on Old Caz, and most of them scared me into keeping up my training routine. Of course, the one that echoed through the vast caverns of my vacant mind as I rode Old Caz was this. For the most succinct and accurate description of the Old Caz route, I look to the route owner himself, here.  Most SFR brevets and permanents will have at least one or two mean climbs over a 200k, and most of the standard brevet routes try to keep us away from trafficky highways as much as possible. But Old Caz is part of the SFR Adventure Series: a group of brevets that have more strenuous routes, go to more remote places, and (wait for it…) No Safeway Controls!!!!!

I always thought the Adventure Series would be something nice to do after finishing PBP a few times. As exciting as PBP is, I’m sure there’s a certain segment of the randonneuring population that needs a new horizon. In fact, there are brave and noble randonneurs in my area who have accomplished multiple 1200ks in one year, and continue to ride afterwards, too. I have not even attempted a 600k, so what am I thinking in trying any of the Adventure Series rides? Just blind ambition, I guess. It was also very nice that John invited me to join him, and that he believed I would be able to complete the ride. I trained as hard as I could in the short time available to prove him right.

Any time I ride a route that is unfamiliar to me, it’s a bit of a gamble. I worry about getting lost, but more importantly, it’s difficult to pace oneself when you don’t know what to expect. Difficult sections are made easier for me by knowing when they’ll be over. I can eat extra food and know it will digest before a tough climb if I give myself at least 20-30 minutes. If I run out of energy in the middle of a climb, I usually just give myself indigestion by eating in the middle of it. I prepared as much as I thought possible for this one, and then, I had to resign myself to the adventure.

To pace myself, I printed out the elevation profile in addition to the cue sheet

To pace myself, I printed out the elevation profile in addition to the cue sheet

I thought it would be a great idea to carry extra water along in a platypus bladder like I use when camping, but the sealant loosened while inside my handlebar bag and turned John’s lovely Alps bag on loan to me into a little swimming pool for all my stuff. In case you ever doubt the waterproofing of plain cotton canvas duck, I’m here to tell you it holds water, yes it does. In feeling that I was packing too much stuff, I left my wool mittens at home, a decision I regretted deeply later on.

But a lot of things went right on this ride, long, slow slog that it was. Most of the controls for the Adventure Series routes are info controls–you have to answer a question about an intersection or a street sign to prove you didn’t take a shortcut. Info controls, hallelujah, are not timed, so you have a bit more leeway in your pacing. Receipt controls are timed. Jenner is a receipt control on this route which happens to follow the two main climbs: Fort Ross and Old Caz. I had been pretty sure throughout those two climbs that we wouldn’t make the Jenner control in time, but tried to keep the pace constant anyway. When we arrived in Jenner well before close, I was shocked. The next timed control was Point Reyes Station, another control I was pretty sure would cause a DNF for us, but we made that one too. I don’t think John has ever ridden this route so slowly; in the end, we finished the ride with 45 minutes still on the clock. I am currently the record-holder for the slowest finisher on this course at twenty hours and one minute. John and I kept joking throughout the ride that if we DNF’ed, I would have to do the Jittery Jaunt permanent to fulfill the October installment of my R-12… so, at least there was no Jittery Jaunt for me.

Doing this ride in October meant there would be less daylight for us while riding. Some of the later hours were the most memorable for me, such as riding around Bolinas Lagoon in the dark, and the climb out of Stinson Beach. The only sound was the surf hitting the shore, so incredibly peaceful. Motorists at that hour were more likely to be locals and gave us a wide berth on the road. Riding our usual rando bikes meant we had our nice, bright lights and of course we always wear good reflective gear.

In the final analysis, I am so glad to have done this ride, and so grateful for a patient and generous riding companion like Mr. P. When my Platypus broke open, he offered to carry a couple of my things to take some weight off during the Old Caz climb, and although we rode more at my pace than his, he never complained. I think I have finally convinced him that he is a much stronger rider than I, a point I’ve been arguing for some time now unsuccessfully, so I’m glad we’ve put that to rest.

Thank you, my friend, for a long and beautiful day on the bike

Thank you, my friend, for a long and beautiful day on the bike

I am also grateful to Max, the creator of the Adventure Series rides. To some he is a sadist, to some an evil genius; to me he just seems like a guy with an extraordinary aptitude for endurance sports who wants to enjoy greener pastures than those of the typical (though also, it must be said, not too shabby) SFR routes. To enjoy the beautiful, sweeping views, you must work for them. Being at the top of Fort Ross and looking over the coast toward Jenner and Point Reyes Seashore was like being in an airplane. Only at the top, looking down over the coastline, did I realize what I had just been doing for the past few hours.  It’s a very tangible feeling of accomplishment. At that point I also realized there is no way to fully prepare for an experience like that; you can only do the ride, and hopefully keep doing rides like it. So… ’til next time, Old Caz.