To the victor go the spoils... wool cap with RUSA logo, RUSA-branded reflecto triangle, dart lapel pin... and R-12 medal!

To the victor go the spoils… wool cap with RUSA logo, RUSA-branded reflecto triangle, dart lapel pin… and R-12 medal!


yay, I really did it!

R12: The longest mile

The day before my last (hopefully the last!) 200k of this R-12 series, my dad called me on the phone. “We got about ten inches of snow yesterday, and it’s about thirty degrees today,” he informed me in a cheerful voice. My mind’s eye flashed on my own local weather forecast for the next day: low 50s and showers. Although that looks warmer than Wisconsin on paper, I knew by now that the dampness and chill in the bay area often made Wisconsin’s snow seem appealing. He asked me how I was doing, and when I planned to do my final 200k. “Tomorrow,” I said, my voice dripping with equal parts dread and fear. He let out a sympathetic laugh and said, “Well, you know which mile in a race is always the longest?” I was not in the mood for riddles and kept silent. A mile is a mile is a mile, and I would be struggling through 125 rainy, cold specimens of them twenty-four hours from now. “The longest mile is the last mile, Juli. It’s always the hardest. Dad knows you can do it, though.”

“I’ll be riding with a great group of guys, they really know what they’re doing,” I said, trying to look on the bright side. Having been quite sick for the past month, although I felt much better, my training regimen was down to about nil, and I was having more than the usual pre-ride doubts. I emailed Tom Haggerty, who had graciously invited me to join him, Keith Beato, and Steve Haas (yes, the guy who had a heart attack in July had fully recovered and would be riding with us… though he had also been hit by a car in November, and now was riding a new bike). I wanted to be sure my slower-than-normally-slow pace wasn’t going to drag them down. Tom said it would be ok, and he wrote emphatically, “First of all, No DNFs.”

Les anciens: Keith, Tom, and Steve say "We like bikes!"

Les anciens: Keith, Tom, and Steve say “We like bikes!”

Of course, little did either of us know how close to the limit we would be pushing our luck! Riding with Tom, Keith, and Steve was the one bright spot I was looking forward to about this ride, and was relieved and heartened by Tom’s response. And despite all the self-effacing comments made in jest by each of them about me wishing I had ridden by myself, I was so glad for their company! They were funny, teasing each other throughout the day. I could easily tell the three anciens had ridden many, many miles together. To get an idea, look at Tom’s pictures on flickr from the ride. Hilarious!

Another great thing about riding with them was that over the course of the day, we all traded pulls in a sense. We didn’t ride in a paceline, but in the early part of the day, Steve and Tom rode up front… Steve was way up front! This is usually my weakest part of the day. I took my turn at the front after the Ugly Mug, on the climb up Soquel-San Jose Road. In the final stretch through Cupertino, Los Gatos, and Mountain View, Keith blasted ahead of us, really pulling us all toward the finish through his childhood home turf.

The three fellas had only done this route once, a bit eccentrically as an overnight ride Tom had crafted as a commute to his job in Mountain View (attesting to his fitness level, he said when he showed up for work, none of his coworkers could tell he had just ridden his bike on a 200-kilometer overnight “commute”!). For me this would be my fourth time on this course.

The first half or so of this ride was pretty rote, although there were a few tactical errors we made early on from which it was difficult to recover. One was that we did not leave Peet’s until about seven o’clock, almost a full half hour after our scheduled start time. The other was my fault: I had grown accustomed to taking the oceanside path along Sharp Park beach instead of taking the road past the golf course clubhouse, and I really like this way. The guys seemed into taking the path, as they weren’t familiar with going that way, but I think it added several minutes to our time. In any case, somehow we only made it to Arcangeli’s with 45 minutes to spare. I’m also accustomed to hanging out for a while in the lovely creekside back yard they have there, so when Tom announced it was time to hit the road shortly after Keith and I sat down to eat our half sandwiches, it was shocking! But he was right, there was no time to lose– not a pleasant feeling so early on in a ride.

It did not start raining until we were about midway through Santa Cruz, but we were all soaked and feeling frigid by the time we got to the Ugly Mug, with only half an hour to spare at that control. As we rode through Santa Cruz, the guys all asked me questions about the little cafe. I forgot they had used an all-night Safeway as their Soquel control, and had stopped at a diner in Santa Cruz for late-night sustenance. I didn’t want to give anyone high hopes about the Ugly Mug since they usually just had one or two things they could heat up (Birthday chicken pot pie aside), and it being almost three o’clock on a rainy day I figured they’d probably be out of them. Some of my favorite moments in randonneuring have occurred at the Ugly Mug, but today I just wasn’t up to the mellow vibes. I ended up buying a green juice to get my receipt (which, although their register was never on time, now that they’d switched to using a scientifically calibrated, precisely accurate iPad as cash register, they could no longer print receipts at all and had to email my receipt to me! whither the future of randonneuring without cash registers??), and hung out in the back hallway of an adjacent office building (it was warm!) where we parked our bikes, eating the remainder of my sandwich from Arcangeli’s and trying to figure out how on Earth we were going to finish this ride within the time limit. Rain + climbing + wet, dark descent + stoplights, stoplights, stoplights through Cupertino etc. = DNF any way I looked at it. All I could do was try to eat as much as possible to give myself some energy to put a smile on my rained-on face and keep plugging away.

When we got back on the road, I was very much cheered by the climb up Soquel-San Jose Road. I felt warmed by the body heat generated by physical activity, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Tom about radio stations in San Francisco and other rides we’ve done or would like to do. By the time we reached the top, it was quite dark, wet, and chilly. I went ahead to the Summit Store to see if I could find some shelter or warmth while waiting for the fellas to regroup. As the rain steadily fell, my Pelican and I got a whole range of puzzled, sympathetic, and even some terrified, looks as I stood in the vestibule of the store next to the cords of firewood.

Diametrically opposed to the advantages of climbing in the cold and wet stand the disadvantages of descending in the cold and wet: you are not pedaling, so no body heat is generated; and you also move 6-7 times as fast, so the cold air affects you that much more. Luckily, Keith reminded me to put on my extra sweater before we left the Summit Store, the one I had brought in order to have a warm, dry layer to put on for the Caltrain ride home. Eesh. Another difficulty of descending in the rain and cold in this particular route was that the road has lots of switchbacks, yet no streetlights in many stretches– it is utterly rural, in the middle of a thick, dark forest. And as we left the Summit Store, I heard that Steve’s headlight had been shorting out! Luckily it seemed to start working again just as we got back on the road.

The last time the three of them had done this ride, they descended Old San Jose Road and Aldercroft Heights Road in the dead of night. What an amazing challenge and incredible experience to make this beautiful descent in the still of the night. Andrea Symons said that stretch of road “brings an tear to one’s eye,” and I agree. Tom said the group would do that ride again next year as an overnight, and I hope I can go along! Hopefully next time it will be less chilly, wet, and harrowing for me. I did ok by staying focused on Tom’s and Steve’s head and tail lights as they cornered up ahead of me to give me an idea of where the road would bend. Fortunately the wet pavement was not as much of a concern as I would have thought. The night before the ride, I had installed a fresh set of rear brake pads, knowing they seem to wear down faster in the rain.

Long, wet, dark, scary, white knuckle descent handily accomplished (at least, that’s how I felt once it was over!), all of us knowing we had very little time in reserve if any, we entered the short trail section to Los Gatos. We all got down the steep, rocky part, started to gain momentum over the smooth, pleasant, fine gravel surfaced trail that parallels the river, and… Keith called out to let us know he had a flat tire. Now when I look back on it, I can only laugh, but at the time we did not see the comedy in the situation, least of all poor Keith, who had already suffered one flat tire that day. We had about 15 miles to go, and 40 minutes remaining on the clock. Tom suggested we could split up, with Steve and I going on ahead to make sure I would get credit for the ride. Though I appreciated the offer, I didn’t feel good about doing that– I didn’t like the idea of breaking up the group, I felt that we should be able to replace a tube in a few minutes anyway, and I also knew that Keith was doing installment eleven of his own R-12. So, we all set to work. Steve and Tom had headlamps mounted on their helmets, so they helped Keith find his tools and tube. Keith had some trouble getting his tire off the wet rim, so with my ever-unfailing fine motor skills from years of benchwork, I was able to get his tire off. Once Keith got the new tube in, Steve helped him use a CO2 canister to fill it (much faster!). We reassembled ourselves within minutes, and set out again with new resolve.

There are two sections of this route I don’t like: riding through Santa Cruz to Soquel, and riding through Los Gatos, Cupertino, and Mountain View. They both happen to be urban or suburban streets with lots of stop signs, stoplights, and turning lanes of car traffic that awkwardly merge with bike lanes, and they both also precede controls (i.e., stretches where I’m bound to be hungry and possibly slightly just a little bit cranky). I don’t know why every time I do this ride I expect these sections to get shorter, but having done this route a few times now, they stunningly have stayed the same distance. “Okay then,” I said to myself as we entered the heavily trafficked shopping district of Los Gatos, “This is just going to take as long as it takes.” I reached for one of the honey stinger energy goo things my dentist told me to avoid, just to be sure I wouldn’t end up snapping at one of my new-found friends out of a lack of carbs. Steve and I eye our watches, then our odometers. Our odometers, then watches. Steve does some brief mental calculations, and looks at me reassuringly. “We’ll make it,” he says. I try with wet gloves to flip over my cue sheet, but I lose the wrestling match and just get ink and shreds of soggy paper dragged over the sheet. So much for fine motor skills… All the while, Steve, Tom and I are racing to catch up with Keith, who had a three-alarm fire under his saddle all of a sudden!

Which was awesome, because we ended up getting to the 7-Eleven with only five minutes to spare. Five minutes! Think of all the things that take only five minutes. Microwave popcorn? Cup o’ Noodles? Third Uncle? That length of time made the difference between getting credit or not for this ride. What a suspenseful and dramatic finish to my R-12! Thanks Tom, Keith, and Steve for another heroic, epic, comical, entertaining, and challenging day on the bike.

As promised, I bought a bottle of 7-Eleven’s best champagne for us all to drink on the train ride home. Tom had brought cups, so we wouldn’t even have to drink it out of our water bottles! I even offered some to a crazy person on the train who said he had been a bike messenger in New York. Steve presented to me a Real R-12 Medal (in fact belonging to, and borrowed from, Jason Pierce), which was kind of touching, if anything involving Jason Pierce can be described as “touching” without seeming really icky… ahem. As I have mentioned earlier, it was kind of his fault I got wrapped up in this R-12 business anyway, so it seems fitting he was somehow insinuated at the end.

And now, we have come to the end of our tale entitled mmmmbike: appetizing rides carried out while pursuing the RUSA R-12 award. There will be more tales, to be sure, and possibly an entry recording what I think I learned. I’m not sure yet what form my future ride reports will take, since my only goal for the new year is to ride a 400k. Perhaps the blog needs a new subtitle. Writing blog entries about my rides has helped me review what I’ve learned throughout the year, so I definitely want to keep writing. Reading others’ ride reports is endlessly fascinating to me as well, so I want to continue to contribute to the form.

As for riding, ideally I would like to give the Pelican the month of January off, but the Lighthouse brevet beckons. In the meantime, to keep from getting restless, I’ve been enjoying indoor activities such as lap swimming and yoga. I used to love lap swimming in Chicago in the winter months, especially in the mornings when the sun would hit the beautiful indoor pool at the park district near where I lived. Lately I’ve also enjoyed a couple short social rides, and another bike camp to rejuvenate my excitement for riding. Other than that, who knows what the future holds for me and my Pelican? To find out you will just have to stay tuned for the next exciting installment of mmmmbike!

R1: Point Reyes Lighthouse 200k, January 21, 2012

“Our classic event to Point Reyes Lighthouse, Love or Hate it but we all come back the next year for more. About 7500 elevation gain.”
-from the San Francisco Randonneurs website

What more can be said about this ride, really? Just having done this ride one time, at the end of the day I was at a complete loss for words. 7500 feet of elevation gain is not that much compared to most of the permanent routes I’ve ridden this year, so it doesn’t seem like it should be that much of a challenge. When I think about the day of this ride and all twelve and a half hours I was on or off the bike throughout the day, it surely was epic, a day with many chapters. Not quite like a Tolstoy novel, but you get the idea.

For me, this ride actually started back in October of 2011. I volunteered for the SF Randonneurs at the Winters lunch control making sandwiches. I had just put down a deposit on a Pelican, so when Bryan C and Theresa L arrived at the control both riding Pelicans, I asked them about their bikes and whatnot. Bryan asked me if I was thinking about doing the Lighthouse brevet. I said sure, not having a clue what I was getting myself into. When I got home and realized what I was getting myself into, I snapped into action. I knew I was really going to do it, I just had to figure out how. The longest ride I had ever done at that point was under 20 miles, and the brevet was less than four months away. I asked a friend to help me come up with some way to train up for this ride, and he listed off all the major bike routes in Marin: start with a Headlands loop, then Paradise/ Tiburon, then go to Fairfax and San Anselmo, then Nicasio Reservoir. Then go to Point Reyes Station. Every week I kept going farther. By new year’s I was up to 100-mile rides.

my January 2 pre-ride to the Point Reyes Lighthouse

my January 2 pre-ride to the Point Reyes Lighthouse

My friend also gave me a book: Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. I have always had a stunningly huge appetite, so learning that eating more would be helpful was great!

While training, I discovered I really loved my time on the bike. I could feel my lungs getting bigger. I loved studying the scenery and was just agape at beautiful Marin County. What an extraordinary place… coming from rough-n-tough south side Chicago, it was quite a change of scenery, just the boost I needed.

As the days crept closer to the day of the brevet, though, my anxiety grew.  I wrote Gabe an email asking if I should really do this. He was very reassuring and advised, “Just bring enough on bike food and go at your own pace.” That was exactly what I needed to hear, since I was worried about being too slow, though I had worked out that at my current pace, I would be able to comfortably make the times required for each control.

Then the afternoon before the brevet, upon seeing the weather forecast for rain, I decided I needed mudflaps. Oh man, I looked at sixteen different websites, trying to decide what to do and finally went into Box Dog about ten minutes before closing time. Gabe was there, and he showed me all the different ones they had, and I realized that I had a bunch of sole leather at home that I could cut into mudflap shapes, and just make my own. I mentioned this to Gabe and he gave me a set of bolts to bolt them onto my fenders, suggesting I just buy him a beer at the Marshall store (still owe that beer). This was not without some hesitation on his part coupled with the warning that people often do projects like this the night before a brevet and it ends up making them late or lose critical sleep.  Well, I did end up being a few minutes late, just a few. I wanted to start at the back of the group anyway so I wouldn’t feel pressured to go fast.

It did rain while I was going through Samuel P. Taylor Park, and of course I could not find a single person to ride behind who had mudflaps. I was totally shocked that several riders did not even have clip-on fenders on their road bikes! I guess I expected that everyone would have bikes exactly like mine, kind of funny now that I have ridden with people on so many types of bikes.

While I rode through Point Reyes National Seashore, which happened to be enjoying its 50th year as a federally protected seashore, apparently I was fascinated by the cows. I took more pictures of cows than anything else on that ride. Maybe they reminded me of my time spent growing up in Wisconsin? Most riders talk with resentment or dread about the dairy farms in Point Reyes, because the cattle grates are brutal on bike tires and rims.

more cows.




more cows. Thanks, ladies, for coming out to cheer us on!! Not quite like the crowds on the sides of roads in the Tour de France… maybe the California Randonneur version.

Well, I finally made it to the Lighthouse control, and hung out there for just a few minutes before heading back toward the Marshall control.  It’s true that the ride to the Lighthouse and back is hard, but it is exhilarating. It’s impossible to explain the sense of accomplishment coupled with the beauty of the landscape. While I was at the control, I even saw a rainbow to the north.

Rainbow is faint, just emerging form the edge of the coastline above the rider-- anyone care to identify?

Rainbow is faint, just emerging from the edge of the coastline above the rider– anyone care to identify?

The ride to Marshall was very difficult for me; it was the only part of the course I had never ridden, and I was starting to feel pretty hungry, ready for that chowder! Sitting inside the Marshall Store and eating my chowder, though, I started to warm up and feel much better.

Mmmmm chowdah

Mmmmm chowdah


I sat at a table with a bunch of other guys on the ride, some of whom were changing to their dry socks. I left the control with Ron Lau, riding his Pelican! Ron is an incredibly kind-hearted and generous person, and I was very happy to ride with him. At this point, the whole brevet just seemed like a movable party. Of course, I was bringing up the rear of said party, and most of the riders had long finished by the time I made it back to Fairfax. But even though it had been a long day, longer for those of us at the end of the group, the sense of excitement, satisfaction and good will was enormous.

So enormous, in fact, that somehow at the finish, Jason Pierce convinced me to sign up for the next brevet whaaaa? Wait, I thought I was finished! I met my goal already! Then I somehow slipped and told Aaron Wong that since it was my first year, I would only ride the 200k-length brevets, which he answered by saying, “Oh, so you’re doing an R-12?” I remember just staring at him with a deer-in-the-headlights, you-just-spoke-my-destiny kind of look for only a fleeting moment, then went back to digging around in the pile of salty chips and cup o’ noodles.

R2 (belatedly entered): Two Rock- Valley Ford: One good ride deserves another

I did not come up with the idea of keeping a blog about my rides for the R-12 until I actually thought I might do an R-12, so I never wrote a ride report for this ride. Now that it is ten months later, of course, I don’t remember a whole lot about it. However in the interest of completeness, to have an entry for each ride in the series, I will put down what I do remember for this ride and in another post, for my first brevet, the Point Reyes Lighthouse 200k.

One thing I remember is being superpsyched to do the ride. For my first ride, I was a few minutes late to the start, being a little nervous and insecure about congregating with accomplished randonneurs. For the second ride, I did not care; I had tried one brevet, and I finished!!! (Really, at least three exclamation points. Maybe a few more.) I also had discovered on the Lighthouse 200K that I liked arriving and riding by myself, and meeting people along the way. I was really looking forward to meeting new friends, and I did!

And so it begins...

And so it begins…

On our way to the bridge

On our way to the bridge

Golden Gate Bridge is hazy in late- winter mist

Golden Gate Bridge is hazy in late- winter mist

One rider I met who would become a huge influence and great friend was Ely Rodriguez. We met while riding around the Nicasio Reservoir because he rode up to me and asked me if I made my mudflaps, which I did. I explained to him what I do for a living, which opened the conversation onto talking about leather, thread, tools for leatherwork, and so on. Once we turned off onto Point Reyes- Petaluma Road, Ely spied Jason Pierce up ahead, powering up the first hill on that road, and wanted to catch up with him and his group, so he raced off.

morning mist lifting off the dairy farms along Point Reyes- Petaluma Road

morning mist lifting off the dairy farms along Point Reyes- Petaluma Road; Ron Lau pausing to remove a layer

We met up again at the intersection of Valley Ford Road and Highway 1… I was just about to turn the wrong way and miss the Valley Ford control! But Ely happened to be at the intersection coming back from Valley Ford at that very moment and steered me in the correct direction, thank goodness or else I would not have gotten credit for the ride!

Valley Ford Post Office

Valley Ford Post Office

That is another thing I remember distinctly from this ride: I was still pretty unfamiliar with the rural roads in Marin and Sonoma Counties, and getting lost repeatedly had been a constant, frustrating feature of my training rides. Now I’ve figured out that many of the roads are simply named for their beginning and end points: Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, Fallon-Two Rock Road, Tomales-Petaluma Road, Marshall-Petaluma Road.

I also remember riding with David Nichols and Mariah Whitney on this ride (I had met them in the Marshall Store on the Lighthouse brevet), as well as Alex Zeh. I met Alex on the stretch of the 1 from Valley Ford to the coast, that wind corridor agh! I drafted him for a little bit I guess, then he asked me if I wanted to speed up the pace to try and catch up with his friend who was up further. I said sure, though by that time I was pretty tired! Well, I think that was the first time I experienced how riding with another person can give you a burst of energy even when you’re tired, because we really upped the pace and caught up with his friend quickly! We also found David and Mariah, but unfortunately while ascending into Point Reyes Station, Alex crashed into David, causing his derailleur to break off! Aagh. I could not think of a single thing I was capable of doing to help him, and he waved me on, so I kept going. Bummer.

Lastly, I remember Jason Pierce working the finish control and somehow convincing me to sign up for the 300k. Whaaatttt? How did he do that? I guess after finishing my second brevet, I was on a natural high. How else can I explain it?

R11: The Black Friday Christmas Miracle

So here it is, month eleven of a twelve month commitment, and I am not feeling anywhere near 100% health-wise. Various work and other commitments have prevented me from fulfilling my November ride until nearly the last weekend in the month. Then, an impulsive decision to ride to Point Reyes Station on a weekday before my 200k was scheduled (to test out the road resurfacing in Samuel P. Taylor Park– which was indeed smmoooove) turned out to be a very bad idea. I knew it was going to rain that day, so I have only myself to blame, but the ill effects from that ride linger even still, two 200ks and a full month later. Ugh.

Having followed through 83% of my goal, what was I to do? Luckily (and I attribute my thus-far success with the R-12 to favorable luck as much as anything), I had scheduled this ride with someone willing to take an easy pace, a solid rider with a lot of miles under his belt and someone with whom I’d done a few rides with previously so there would be no surprises in terms of pacing, mechanicals, or personality conflicts! John P.! John had already done two 200k rides in November (one of them being the sopping- wet Davis Dart), so it was very sweet that he kept his commitment to ride with me at the near-end of the month.

One other great thing in terms of a lack of surprises was that we would be riding the Jittery Jaunt, a route I had already completed twice successfully. Oddly enough, in spite of it being Black Friday, ringing in the Christmas shopping season, the roads were peaceful and relatively car-free. We also had fantastic weather– the thermometer at the Valley Ford store read 70 degrees!


We really lucked out that day in other ways too, finishing with about forty minutes to spare. I’m not kidding when I say I was sick that day! I have never ridden that slowly, even on my very first brevet. Of course, since John had just done the Davis Dart, he was used to taking the entire allowed time for a ride, but it made me feel more than a little nervous at the penultimate control with so little time in the bank, and having a cracked rear fender to boot. Thanks again John, for stopping in Black Mountain Cycles and braving the testosterone- laden atmosphere to get me some washers so my fender would not make goose-honking noises all the way back to town. (I should add that the fender was still under warranty, and Gabe at Box Dog replaced it for me the following week. I should also say that for the amount of tough mileage I have put on my Pelican, only a fraction of it reported here, my bike has had very, very few mechanical problems in its first year. And in fact, I probably would not have wanted to keep up with the R-12 if it weren’t for my sweet, sweet ride, all thanks to Gabe and Box Dog Bikes, really.)


my sweet, sweet ride, only a week old!

I don’t usually like to spend (waste?) a lot of time and word count tooting my own horn about how great my bike is, but hey, this is my blog. If you don’t want to read it, you can go read someone else’s! But seriously, I’m not kidding now, my bike is so dope. It is always ready for adventure, it even cheers me up on rides like this one when I’m not feeling my best. Before you suggest that maybe I have a slightly unnatural attachment to an inanimate object, I would point out that I’ve noticed a lot of people who ride their bikes too much (!) also have this same feeling toward their bikes, and frankly, why would you spend ten to upwards of eighty continuous hours with an inanimate object if you didn’t really, really like it? I think the difference with my bike is that I did not try to get the cheapest possible bike and then later realize I need to add things to make it functional. When I decided to get a Pelican, I knew I needed a lot of help with the build list, and fortunately (again, I benefit from good luck!), Gabe was there to come up with a superior build list for me and for the style of riding I said I wanted to do, and not too far from the budget I had to work with. Well, maybe a tad over, but I do not regret a single penny. Anyway, there are way stupider things one can spend money on, a point not lost on me on Black Friday, the World’s Most Pointless Shopping Day. These are the kinds of things that rolled through my mind on this penultimate ride of my 2012 R-12 series, as I struggled though and eventually accomplished the ride in twelve hours, fifty minutes… lots of thinking-time. Oy.

R10: Winters 200k

Winters was a great ride and a significant milestone for me, ironic though the town name of Winters, California may seem (does California actually have any winters? Not like any I’ve experienced elsewhere!). But truly the best thing about it for me was that since the ride start was in the east bay,  it was an opportunity to spend the night and some quality time with some of my family who live in Berkeley: my aunt Louise and cousins Emma and Adam. I hadn’t seen my cousins literally in decades, so when I showed up at my aunt and cousin Emma’s house in Berkeley, I was very happy to see them and start to fill in the years. Emma works at the public library in Berkeley, and lived in my neighborhood in San Francisco for many years, so we had a lot to talk about. My aunt and cousin Adam just moved out here from rural Wisconsin outside Madison, so it was great to hear about how things have been going for them since the move. My aunt’s in-law cottage behind my cousin Emma’s house is filled with beautiful woven rugs, a giant Liberty Bonds poster, and she has a bin of the same kind of yarn I like to use as well as a beautiful spinning wheel. She bicycle commutes (or at least, did until a recent knee injury, so now she has her bike set up indoors on rollers to build strength… she is a Coleman, all right!!) and so does my cousin Emma, so hanging out with them made me feel very much at home. Aunt Louise also woke up at 4:15 am to make a fabulous breakfast for me before I set out for my ride and she set out to do her volunteer work. I am definitely going to be making the trip over to Berkeley more often to spend time with them.

This ride was a milestone for me because last year’s Winters brevet marked the beginning of my involvement with the randonneurs, as a volunteer at the lunchtime stop. I was pretty amazed at the riding ability of all the arriving riders, and did not even consider I would ever be able to ride like that. But here I was now, showing up at the start of the Winters ride one year later. What the heck? Well for starters, I do love my bike. Riding long distances is never a chore for me; it is always enjoyable, even in the pouring rain or when I get a flat tire. On the other hand, it has taken a fair amount of focus and determination to keep up with the R12. In order to do at least one 200k ride per month, I have to do a lot of other rides as well to keep in shape. I have had to be more conscious about how much I eat (a lot more than before!), how much sleep I get (also more), and if my muscles feel sore, I have to make a serious effort to stretch out to keep from getting too tight. It’s been rewarding and also surprising that I’ve been able to keep up with this so far, and I’ve gotten a deep and meaningful sense of achievement out of it, something I can apply to my other endeavors as well.

So on to the Actual Ride Report! The week before the ride, I had put out a message to the rando list asking if anyone would want to ride with me from Berkeley to Winters. My friend Sterling, with whom I volunteered at the finish control on the 1000k this year, responded. Poking my way around in the dark through a closure of and detour around the Ohlone Greenway in Berkeley, I found my way to the intersection where Sterling suggested we meet, precisely on time.

Heading out from my aunt’s, it is dark as pitch out.

And just at that moment I saw a familiar- looking bicycle headlight steadily heading toward me. It was really terrific to see a familiar face that early in the morning!

I am brand- new to this group, but I gather from the way the rides are scheduled throughout the year that the hardest rides (the 400k, 600k, and 100k) fall early on the calendar year, with the later ones being more mellow and focused on social riding. Since this is October, this ride fell more toward the social category. There is not a lot of elevation gain, a catered (by volunteers) lunch stop, and of course the standard gorgeous northern California weather and scenery. The weather for this day was warm and sunny. The route was brand new to me– because it’s in the east bay, I have not ridden in that area at all. It’s slightly different terrain than that found in Marin and Sonoma counties. The route had a lot of wide open spaces and relatively low rolling hills. Riding over the Carquinez Bridge was a beautiful early- morning treat (after riding past the Phillips 66 oil refinery that had a little accident this past June).

Beautiful pastel colors in the bridge match the sunrise

Once I got to the first control, I encountered a lot of happy, familiar faces. I saw David N and Mariah W, two riders I met on the Two Rock- Valley Ford ride in February. I left that control by myself, but stumbled onto David and Mariah again after getting myself slightly lost in the seemingly unending and indistiguishable, though impeccably paved, office parks in that area. The three of us rode together comfortably the entire remainder of the ride. It’s so awesome and somewhat rare to find other riders who are closely well-matched with one’s pace and experience level, and moreover, David and Mariah are super nice people to spend a ride with. Yay!

The lunch stop in the city park in Winters, California was very relaxed and fun.

Lovely picnic

I asked Bryan C about his recent cyclocross exploits, which he reported as having a totally different and exciting flavor compared to randonneuring. I’m inspired by cyclists who get outside the usual riding styles to mix things up a bit. I don’t have too many different kinds of bikes with which to experiment, but seeing people do different kinds of riding reminds me not to take cycling too seriously or get too narrow-minded about it. It also reminds me of the panoply of bike parts in the world. There is so much to learn about how different parts of a bike function, and how those parts are altered in design and fabrication to more appropriately serve different riding styles.

I also took the opportunity at the lunch stop to thank Rob Hawks for arranging for the great weather for our ride. Of course, it is a running joke because Rob has nothing to do with the weather, but he does put in a lot of effort to ensure that brevets are enjoyable and go smoothly. RUSA and SFR specifically form a big umbrella with cyclists of all stripes, and being the RBA (Regional Brevet Administrator) of such a group can’t be easy. In any case, I wouldn’t want to do it, so it’s important to me to thank him for the effort he puts in.

The food at the lunch stop was impressive, and I went for broke with a tri-tip sandwich that was very filling. Unfortunately, I forgot that a giant hunk of red meat is not that great of an idea on a brevet (Velocio’s fifth rule!), and on the climb following the lunch stop, my stomach was not at all happy about that. Usually I love a tough climb, but with the bright sun and my stomach hurting, I do not think I would have made it if not for following David and Mariah’s wheels. David’s seat post was making some kind of creaking noise, for which he repeatedly apologized, but as I noted to him, all I noticed was my own panting. Urgh.

Rocky Top

We saw Kitty on this same climb, who said she had just seen her usual riding partners pass her by on some other event. Kitty is a total badass in my opinion who relentlessly pounds out tons of mileage (kilomettrage?) every week. Sometimes she’s out in front on a brevet, sometimes the bout en train, but she is a role model to me because she is consistently riding, and is always cheerful and funny.

We do not sprint for county line signs.

Anyway, after rolling along Putah Creek (the name of which, according to this Wikipedia entry, “is the subject of much speculation”), we made it to Monticello Dam,

The dam over Putah Creek forming Lake Berryessa

past gorgeous and sparkling Lake Berryessa winking at us in the sun, and came to the control where Sterling was checking us in and signing our brevet cards. It was great to see him again, but we were off from this station almost before we arrived. I was just enjoying the company of my fellow riders, not trying to set the course record, but we had sat for quite a while in Winters and I’ve been trying to keep my control times down, so I didn’t want to linger at this control. Sterling said there was just one more little climb, and though I did not believe that for even a moment, my upset stomach was saying I should try to finish this ride as soon as possible.

When we arrived at the penultimate control, we encountered a rider who had had to bail on formally completing the ride due to mechanical issues. He got 5 flat tires that day, and had to find a bike shop to service his front wheel. I really liked his bike, a Miyata frame he had built out himself with great stuff for a rando bike. He said since he’s tall, it was hard for him to find the right frame. He also said this was his first brevet, and even though he wasn’t formally finishing the ride, he had to get back somehow and his bike was the only vehicle available. That’s a courageous fellow. We rode with him out of the control, but he flatted again not long after and he insisted we should not wait for him. I found out later that he had ridden with fellow randonneuse Deb B during her trip to China.

We ended up finishing this ride pretty quickly! This was my fastest time for a 200k yet. During the ride, I had no idea it would be so. I remember thinking as we were looping back around the office parks that it would be nice sometime to break the ten-hour mark on a 200k, and maybe I should make that a goal for next year.  Well, we finished this one in 9h25! Weird. And David and I were feeling totally whupped toward the end– Mariah pulled us the whole way from those rollers on Lopes Road and Lake Herman Road to the Carquinez Bridge.

Happy riders coming back over the Carquinez Bridge

After we went over the bridge, I got a little second wind. When we arrived at the finish there was a host of friendly faces smiling at us. We hung out for a bit and had some Goldfish, said our goodbyes, and I made my way, again with Sterling as a helpful guide, toward the closest BART station (I think it was El Cerrito).

Headed back to SF on BART, handlebar bag stuffed with my dress from dinner with Aunt Louise!

What a great day and fantastic ride. It seems almost sinful to me how enjoyable these rides are, from the scenery to how well my Pelican carries me along. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to participate in them, and am grateful for the companionship and high caliber of character among the people I ride with along the way.

Another R9: The Solo 300K, a ride in sixteen or so pictures

Almost before the September 1 200k was over, Ely and I were scheduling another ride. I pride myself on never turning down a ride unless I have to work, so when Ely proposed another September ride, I immediately told him of my desire to do another 300k before the year was out. So of course, because Ely rarely turns down a good ride idea either, we scheduled it for the last Saturday in September. We even did a tough Marshall wall training ride to lead up to riding 100k longer than to which we were accustomed.

foggy morning headed into the sun

that last tree before the top

we did it… though I still don’t know what this ‘wall’ is all about. maybe going clockwise? anyway a very nice other cyclist who happened to be out took our picture.

Perhaps as karmic retribution for my having to turn down several good ride ideas in September for work, Ely found out he had a work obligation on that day. Hm. It is easier to ride with friends in most cases; the time goes by faster, and you do too, particularly on a route with a lot of wind. However, I had already gone through registering for the ride and my brevet card was in hand, really a fait accompli if you ask me. This is something I like about the Randonneurs and their rules… Pretty often, good ride ideas get abandoned or the time and date changes too much when several peoples’ schedules are involved. When you have to formally recognize the start time of a ride, you’re more likely to stick to it. So, in the interest of maintaining a sense of discipline, I decided to do the ride anyway by myself. I didn’t want to invite anyone to ride with me, since it was too late to ask the permanent owner to process a new brevet card.

To keep myself focused throughout the ride, I decided to take a photo each hour of the ride as close to the hour mark as would be practical. So… here they are. I finished the ride in about 15 and three quarters hours, and since there were just a few shots I took in between hour-marks, I have photos here in the quantity of sixteen and change.

0500 hours: Marina Safeway potted plant offerings. Pelican is ready to go! 5 am start time worked great to get lots of good riding in before the fog burned off or people with monster trucks awoke and rumbled around.

0600 hours: Camino Alto, partying with the owls, coyotes, deer, and raccoons

0700 hours: golfers are starting to appear close to Nicasio Valley Road

0800 hours: fog is still around on the way to Petaluma, dripping like rain and the front of my bag is soaked with it; man in bakery delivery van is sleeping in his van parked by the side of the road (not in picture)

0900 hours: thought the 7 eleven was the control for Petaluma; opened handlebar bag and discovered the drink powder I had brought in a ziplock bag had distributed itself all over the inside of the bag. Got handi-wipes, cleaned the bag, read the cue sheet and discovered the 7 Eleven is not the Petaluma control grr.

1000 hours: ok, the whole Petaluma disaster is over and I’m moving on. I pass my bookbinding mentor’s studio in Penngrove and ponder the connections between bookbinding and bicycling. Also practicing rolling my r’s and reciting Carter Family songs.

I pause to photograph the jackelopes frolicking in front of The Last Record Store in Santa Rosa for my Field Museum friend in Chicago, Ken Grabowski.

1100 hours, I am getting close to Healdsburg. Vineyards abound. The fog has finally abandoned and I am readying the sunscreen. My butt hurts and I am wondering where I will find some bag balm or something in Healdsburg– I don’t think Safeway, the location of the next control, carries it.

1200 hours: Westside Road. This is the third time this year that Westside Road and I meet, and it’s not unpleasant. I am getting used to the ups and downs and the broken pavement. Having found a little tub of carmex at the safeway in Healdsburg, my posterior is feeling much better, so the bumpy road doesn’t bother me.

1300 hours. Ten hours into the ride and I am in Guerneville! It feels like a real accomplishment until I remember I started an hour earlier than the typical 300k brevet.

1400 hours: I had to take a long break in Guerneville. I hadn’t really stopped to take a meal break, and was pretty hungry and needed to just wash the road dust off my hands and face. So this picture is at the mouth of the Russian River, not too far from where the last picture was taken, but ah well. If I hadn’t been on a formal brevet permanent, I would have headed north to Jenner at this point just to check it out.

1500 hours: I encounter the riders of the Levi’s Gran Fondo, happening that same day and sharing my route for several of my favorite and most beloved miles of this area: the stretch between Jenner and Bodega Bay. I chat with a nice old gent who likes my bike and thinks I am fast in spite of my giant handlebar bag. I am surprised he doesn’t know about randonneuring and doesn’t seem to be too interested. He peels off into a sag tent and we ring our bells in a bike-style fare-thee-well. As I continue, there are crowds lined up cheering cyclists along the sides of highway one. There is a group of women with a bedsheet spray painted with something about supporting the Gran Fondo because of all the good looking men rolling by in tight shorts. They enthusiastically cheer me on anyway, even though I’m not a dude and not in the Gran Fondo.


1600 hours: from Valley Ford to the coast. My least favorite stretch of road. Headwind city. No shoulder and no shade. Broken pavement on steep grades.Some cute farm animals to look at, though.

1700 hours: taking a break at the Marshall Store yayyyyy! I come so close to buying a t-shirt this time, I am so happy to be greedily guzzling chowder. The people who work here are always nice to us randos, and this is no exception. I am particularly glad I made it in under 12 hours, what would be the cutoff time for this control on the 300k brevet.

1800 hours: my shadow on Point Reyes Petaluma Road as I round the Nicasio Reservoir. I am smelling the barn…

the same bridge I crossed under at 0700 hours

1900 hours: the top of White’s Hill outside Fairfax. The moon is up!

2000 hours and I am in Sausalito, looking over the moony San Francisco Bay. The final control is within reach, and as I arrive there before the turn of the next hour, I do not take any more pictures.

This was a great ride for me. I enjoyed the route very much, and it felt like a big accomplishment to do by myself. I felt tired, but happy at the end of the ride,  ready to take on a 400k next year. There were some definite improvements I had wanted to make over the 300k I did in March, such as eating more overall and stretching at breaks. There is still more room for improvement.