sfr Fort Bragg 600k: Ending the series on a high note

It’s been a while since this ride, but there were some things about it I still think are worth writing about. Other than the obvious one, being the fact that it was the longest of this year’s series. Several points will always make it stand out for me, and then there’s the totally magical, mystifying, unlikely, and amazing thing that happened toward the end! Saving that one for last! But the other five points are good too…

titanium pelican

Where’s the Pelican? Stealthican at the Petaluma Safeway hiding among the flower pots

  1. Sadly I was not able to get my wheels rebuilt in enough time after the 400k to have decent and safe wheels for my bike. So, because I happen to be dating the bicycle equivalent of a shoe horse (who also happens to be a loving and caring and generous person), my boyfriend loaned me one of his bikes. He loaned me… his titanium Steve Potts custom rando. Yes. He hasn’t been riding it too much since he stopped riding most RUSA events, and maybe he thought it needed to be ridden some. I wasn’t gonna ask why, I just rode the crap out of that bike (carefully!) and enjoyed every moment. And I can say I didn’t ask why, but I did feel a slight bit guilty about riding John’s bike. A Ti frame with Pelican geometry that took many a long month to make. Custom made by Steve Potts… A slight bit guilty, but it was nice to have that gesture of support from my sweetheart, and I knew that I would appreciate the bike through every kilometer. The gearing was quite different from my usual setup, but it wasn’t a problem at all. I even wondered if I should change my current gearing.

    Jitensha medium handlebar bag

    Mini handlebar bag… so refreshing!

  2. Another great thing about riding the Potts was it was set up for only a small handlebar bag and a small saddle mounted tool bag. One of my constant issues with my current setup is that I enjoy the convenience of the highly compartmentalized Berthoud bag, but it discourages me from carrying less somehow. I was really looking forward to the freedom of carrying less. On a 600k, the extra energy expended in carrying more stuff does add up. The bike itself was lighter too, adding up to a real feeling of liberation.
  3. Graffiti on the bathroom wall in Cloverdale. This is kind of an offshoot of the pleasures of riding alone, since I doubt if I were riding with others, would I have proposed stopping in Cloverdale. But, heavy climbing is uncomfortable if you need to go to the bathroom, and I haven’t ever been comfortable taking a leak en plein air like the mensfolk. So just as I was about to give up on finding a good place with a loo in Cloverdale, I saw the Public Library sign! Having been a librarian, public libraries are real oases to me, and I was curious what the Cloverdale one would be like. So, I went in and found the following graffiti on the ladies’ room wall:
    I <3 BOOKS

    ME TOO

    On the way out, I found a nice copy of Two Years Before the Mast in the for sale box in the vestibule. I had a hard time leaving that behind, though would have felt silly carrying it over the hill.

  4. The campground. It is my second time for this beautiful place. The campground this year had a different feel than the last time, but was even better because John was volunteering there and had brought me a tent to sleep in. I got almost twice as much sleep as when I did this ride in 2014! It’s always hard for me to leave.
    Indian Creek entry

    Indian Creek entry

    Indian Creek setup

    Indian Creek setup

  5. The ride itself! Here, look at some pictures. I rode it mostly solo, though I did ride with Eric M, Therese C, and Dan B for a little while, and some others through Samuel P. Taylor park.
    Eric M totally stoked for 600k goodness

    Eric M totally stoked for 600k goodness

    Through Samuel P. with these great guys

    Through Samuel P. with these great guys

    Onward toward PRS with great company

    Onward toward PRS with great company

    That one landmark... it is great that each route builds on the others for a sense of familiarity

    That one landmark… it is great that each route builds on the others for a sense of familiarity

    Me and my shadow strolling down D avenue

    Me and my shadow strolling down D avenue

    Aaah finally! The open fields and vineyards

    Aaah finally! The open fields and vineyards

    Lovely light

    Lovely light

    Play of light and shadow

    Play of light and shadow

    Topping off the climb to the Yorkville highlands

    Topping off the climb to the Yorkville highlands

    Now I'm really getting somewhere

    Now I’m really getting somewhere

    More beautiful vineyards

    More beautiful vineyards



    The tree never do it justice

    The tree tunnel…photos never do it justice

    18 miles to the turnaround!

    18 miles to the turnaround!

    Climbing up to the sea cliffs

    Climbing up to the sea cliffs

    ...more climbing, the air's getting misty and very chilly

    …more climbing, the air’s getting misty and very chilly. I rode all the way out to Fort Bragg with the darkness descending around Mendocino. Then, all the way back to the campground through the tree tunnel in complete darkness, without falling asleep on my bike at all! My attention was certainly on edge, though there were very few motorists out, and only one small animal that I saw.

    Believe it or not, looking forward to more riding!

    After a great 3.5 hours sleep at the campground, and an egg sandwich and kiss from my sweetheart who stayed up all night to staff the control. Believe it or not, looking forward to more riding!

    In the mmmmisty morning

    In the mmmmisty morning

    Yorkville highlands making me feel high! The sun is up!

    Yorkville highlands making me feel high! The sun is up!

    Westside Road near Guerneville: the Russian River is low, spirits are still high

    Westside Road near Guerneville: the Russian River is low, spirits are still high

    When I started to enter the rolling hills of Marin County farms, I really felt excited. Getting closer!

    When I started to enter the rolling hills of Marin County farms, I really felt excited. Getting closer!

    more beautiful farmland

    more beautiful farmland

    Country roads... supple tires

    Country roads… supple tires

    Vast expanse of gorgeous farmland

    Vast expanse of gorgeous farmland

    Eucaleupt on Tomales Bay

    Eucaleupt on Tomales Bay

    More Tomales Bay

    More Tomales Bay

    my staple hangout

    my staple hangout… I had wanted to get back to PRS in time to visit Mike at Black Mountain Cycles, and I made it! I told him I was riding John’s Steve Potts titanium bike, and he agreed I was the luckiest girlfriend ever.

    Marin Headlands! I am truly home.

    Marin Headlands! I am truly home.

    That more obvious orange landmark

    That more obvious orange landmark

    This bike.

    This bike.

  6. Lastly, the unlikely and magical thing. When I was descending Olema hill toward Point Reyes Station in the morning of the first day, my changeable-lens sunglasses bounced out of the rear pocket of my wind vest. They were astronomically expensive and purchased with the aid of an REI gift card from my brother, REI membership dividends, and annual member sale and were still expensive, so I was pretty bummed about that. This is the second pair of changeable lens sunglasses I have lost, and I also dislike having the lenses when the sunglasses are no longer there. But I resigned myself to this fate and pedaled on. In the past I have bought a pair of sunglasses from the dollar store in Healdsburg to get me through…
    dollar store sunglasses

    dollar store sunglasses… what can you do…

    kinda ridiculous, but whatever. Well. On the inbound leg of this route, we climb back up Olema hill. So I’m climbing, and hoping, and scanning the roadside, and climbing, and hoping, and… yes, they were there. I found them! They were not too far from a trailhead, so anyone could have picked them up. But I got them back.
    And, more importantly, I finished the ride. I was the last one in, just like the 300k and the 400k, which kind of made me glad in a way. Participation has been down slightly this year for us SFRs. I don’t think I’ve gotten slower; in fact, I improved my time by two hours this year (due to the much lighter bike, most likely). John was there to greet me at the finish (even though he woke up at the same time the day before that I did, then went through all the duties of working at the campground, setting up a tent for me as well as staying up throughout the night, and striking camp and cleaning the campground the next day!), and two Erics were there, and I got to tell the story about my lost and found sunglasses! All good. There were some cloudy skies on this ride, but no rain, I met or surpassed all my time goals, and felt great at the finish.


sfr400k: the series, and the rain, continue

I didn’t bring my camera along on this ride, and waited too long to write the report. So I will just make brief, passing mention of this ride here. I did enjoy it a lot, in spite of the intermittent rain that turned somewhat-risky pieces of broken glass in the shoulder and roadway into little magnets attaching themselves to all our tires the whole dang day. I heard one rider got six flats that day! I succumbed myself, but only once, displaying my poor skill level in replacing a tube. I don’t know how long that took exactly, and I don’t wanna know, but I do know my riding partner was extremely patient while I struggled with my ailing pump that would blow air everywhere except into the tube. Finally, Ben loaned me his pump and I fixed it. In my defense I can only say it’s been a really, really long time since I got a flat tire (lucky me, right?), and I have always carried my pump under the down tube of my bike, which got absolutely pummeled with rain and grit for about 20 hours on the previous ride.

So, that was my lowest point of the brevet. What were the highlights?

-got to ride with Ben G most of the day, whom I’ve ridden with before and is a very nice brevet companion;

-we both got rides home from the exceedingly kind and noble volunteers b/c we finished last and thus ended their shifts early;

-second lanterne rouge (last place) finish of the season, though despite this fact, I did not feel too bad throughout the ride and even caught some city limit signs from Ben (usually when he didn’t realize there was one coming up);

-some nice pictures of the day on Eric W‘s flickr.

-one other thing was… my gear woes. Actually, my amazing good luck despite some gear woes. The condition of my rims, which had well over 15000 miles on them at the opening of this brevet season, took a stark downward turn as a result of the rainy 300k in March. They prompted the following comment from at least two mechanics at Box Dog on the occasion of the most recent tune up: “rims are super done!!!!!” But there wasn’t enough time to get the wheels rebuilt before this ride. Knowing it would be rainy, my Most Frequent Riding Partner advised me to wipe my rims throughout the ride to keep grit from getting stuck in my brake pads. This led to the unfortunate situation of me not aiming correctly when wiping, and wearing down the sidewalls of my second-hand and already-well-loved Challenge Eroica tires. I did not realize that this was case until quite late at night when I got the flat, but I had been hearing a disturbing thwap-thwap sound all day, the origin of which neither Ben nor I could not find. But when I was fixing the flat, I noticed that the sidewalls were delaminating! I pretty much assumed that would be a ride ender at some point, but they actually held up for the entire rest of the ride and even getting home from BART the next day. Just in case you’re curious about what that might look like…

peeling sidewalls for ??? kms hmmmm

peeling sidewalls for ??? kms hmmmm

-still working on the sleepiness on the bike problem. successfully napped in the Petaluma Safeway for a good 15 minutes (never napped in public before!), but about half an hour after leaving the Safeway, was still drowsy on the bike. Ben and I tried to keep each other awake with chatting and stories, but I felt pretty uninspired to spin yarns at that late hour, and the pace was pretty low.

In spite of the difficulties, this was a great ride. I am definitely not sick of the standard SFR series. I enjoy how the rides build on each other and share some of the same roads. The Hopland 400k has the most departures from the others which makes it pleasurable. Joy Road, Occidental, Wilson Hill, Chalk Hill, and my favorite, Chileno Valley–all in one ride. I don’t care if it rains throughout every brevet this season, I still get so much enjoyment out of the rides. The sense of freedom I get from being on my bike all day, riding through all kinds of countryside, even in all kinds of weather, is really worth it!

Next up: SFR 600k, from San Francisco to Fort Bragg. Will I repair my ailing rims? Will I really be lanterne rouge this whole season? Will I nap at the Fort Bragg Safeway, or even want to? You’ll only find out here on mmmmbike!

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.


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.


Los Photogs


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


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


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


Stream crossing! We’re feeling Epic!


Goats on a farm, many in the shade today


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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!!!!!


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 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.


The old oak tree


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.


Looking back from the top of the climb


Looking forward toward the interior



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.



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.


The road is a ribbon


The old farm, the old fence


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.


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.


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!

Another R1: Pierce Point 200k

The season opener for SFR brevets this year began with a beautiful and dramatic corkscrew dive by a pelican (white or brown, I couldn’t tell) about 40 feet above the water surface at the waterfront in Sausalito as I passed through early in the morning along with 92 other intrepid randos on January 30, 2016. Whew, that was breathtaking! The Brevet Wildlife Report for this ride is filled with two-, four-, and zero-legged creatures, some seen, some only heard, but the first one (the pelican) was the best! I think it bodes well for this year, let’s hope anyway!

I must admit I was not totally sold on this route based on my experiences last year. Losing the Light House route was traumatic, and adding more mileage to the out-and-back on highway one was not appealing. The traffic on the highway was busy last year to say the least. But I am pretty loyal to my home rando club, the season opener cannot be denied or shied away from, and heck I might as well since it’s time to start another R-12 if I wanna be like Willy N.

Another de-motivating factor popped up the week before the ride: I got a mysterious and painful earache, making me wonder whether doing this ride is quite sensible. But I made my preparations either out of habit or who knows why; you just have to get out there and try your best. I often think about PBP stories I have read in which the rider is 2 days away from the ride they’ve been dreaming of and planning for in some cases for years… and the rider has something go wrong with their bike, or some random slip and fall happens, or a bad case of jet lag leads to catching the flu or something. Although I obviously don’t have as much invested in the garden variety SFR brevet, I do cherish each ride, since you never know when you truly cannot go out there.

And I was well rewarded for my attempts to get out there! The day was gorgeous, the beauty of Point Reyes National Seashore was ravishing, I got to spend a good amount of time riding with friends but also some peaceful time on my own, and because of the two out-and-back legs of the route, I got to wave at all the riders passing by. Just perfect for a season opener! The route is definitely growing on me. Though I still miss going to the Light House, this route has far fewer cattle grates, an advantage which can’t be denied. My earache pretty much disappeared, confirming my belief that randonneuring is the cause and the cure of all my physical challenges.

As for the wildlife of note, I got to see the Tule Elk this year! One perk of the Pierce Point route is that it passes through the Tule Elk refuge. Just scanning over the Wikipedia page for Tule Elk, I felt fortunate to see the healthy populations of this species once thought to be extinct. Another wildlife sighting was less exhilerating but still unusual: a big, fat banana slug in the middle of the shoulder on White’s Hill outbound. I was just amazed that no one had run it over! Haven’t seen one of those in a while, but I guess because of the increase in wet weather, probably something I’ll see more of. Another great wildlife non-sighting was hearing frogs throughout Inverness. They were singing their little guts out! And finally, in addition to the diving pelican on the waterfront in Sausalito, I saw a seal in the water there as well as a lovely Western Grebe, a bird of the loon family native to my birthplace in Wisconsin.

And finally, for some pictures!

The bends

The bends


Thick coatings of moss and/or lichens coated everything in sight! It was like someone sprayed green foam all over the trees, ground, concrete

If you lived here, you'd be home now

If you lived here, you’d be home now


Wetlands near Inverness



Pierce Point Road

Pierce Point Road is steep

Ocean View

Ahhh the ocean!

Top of the climb

The Road Below

Pierce Point Cows

Happy, shaggy cows

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay

Pierce Point Control

Peace and Serenity (and Lisa’s Cookies!) at Pierce Point Control

Tule Elk

Once thought to be extinct, Tule Elk are now protected on Point Reyes and a handful of other locations in California

The Golden Gate

Passing back through the Golden Gate