Sadboiz 200k

Dan B and I had been trying to work out an east bay 200k perm route for a while, and I had spent a good deal of time on RidewithGPS hashing out possibilities. My sweetheart John P had created a route for the Davis Dart years ago that went through Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. I had ridden that route and a variation of it three times. I liked the route, but I wanted one that would start and finish in the east bay instead of finishing in Davis. Black Diamonds is one of my favorites of all my favorite East Bay Parks, is excellent for bike riding on road or MTB machines, and is remote enough that not too many people ever go there. The only problem with it is that it’s ringed with crappy ten-lane suburban roads with fast traffic, peppered with freeway interchanges and now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t bike lanes. This is true for a lot of the parks in the east bay, not just Black Diamonds. It makes creating a 200k perm route quite a challenge.

After hashing out a couple ride ideas, I finally stopped editing and sent what I had over to Dan. I was still concerned about areas around San Ramon and Castro Valley, towns with busy shopping centers that were sure to present problems, but they seemed to have bike lanes throughout, so why not try it? Dan tried a pre-ride with Eric M but didn’t make it to that section. I encouraged Dan to submit the route to the RUSA perms coordinator anyway, and it got approved. Dan and Eric had found a bunch of graffiti along the route (the secret control…) and decided to name the perm after some of it. OK cool. Dan had made some nice edits himself as well, like the addition of the East Ridge trail on the return leg. I had to go out of town for a conference the next weekend and was working the weekend after that, but we planned to ride it the following Friday. OMG weekday East Bay perm?!? If this works out, I’m in heaven, though it seemed risky.

7 am we agreed to meet at La Fournee, the start control. One of our friends had thrown down a course record challenge over email, and Dan answered by stating he would set a course record for the amount of calories consumed during the ride, intending to fill up on croissants in Black Diamonds and DNF. Silliness aside, I was feeling barely up to the ride much less set a course record. I was out of my usual training regimen, and even had a minor wipeout on Wooden Valley the week before during the Davis 300k. Somehow I banged my chest on something and it felt like a broken rib, though I had a visit with my awesome primary care physician (thank you Obama!) and she declared there was nothing broken. Anyway for my own part, I was looking at the route for potential points of bailout, and being an east bay route, there were several areas of close intersections with BART. Hey, it’s a tough ride, as Dan was to point out to me later.

La Fournee opens at 7, so it took us a minute to get rolling after purchasing at least one croissant each. The start control is right across from the Claremont Hotel, known to many cyclists as being at the base of Claremont Avenue which is a fun descent or kind of a hard climb if you happen to be going in the direction we needed to go. My original route had Claremont as the return, but for some unknown reason Dan changed it to use it going uphill. Hey, whatever… This way, just in case you were wondering if the route would be some work for you, you discover right away that it will be. Because of my small physical issue, I couldn’t climb out of the saddle without it being painful. I wondered aloud how riding this route was going to work. Dan said generously, “There aren’t that many spots where you would need to do that…” and his voice sort of trailed off. I just laughed, thinking of John’s old dart route in Black Diamonds. Well, I made it up Claremont without keeling over, so might as well keep going. On to Bear Creek and Briones. I’ve been riding in Briones in the evenings occasionally, which is quiet at that time of day, and the sunsets are nice. It was different in the morning, with the bright eastern sun in my eyes blotting out all the beautiful hills. There were some hikers there that morning; usually it’s just the huge, docile black cows sharing the trails with us. There was one nice mountain biker lady who came through the gate at the top with us and affirmed my greeting of, “nice day.”

Then we descended to Reliez Valley and over to the Contra Costa Canal Trail. Dan had told me at the start that his battery headlamp wasn’t working and we briefly discussed the possibility of taking a slight detour to Rivendell so he could buy a new one. But I wasn’t sure if their store was open that early even though I thought the level-headed staff had decided to shift their hours to begin the day earlier. So we kept rolling, and Dan said there might be a bike shop at the control in Blackhawk.I was still wondering if I would make it that far today and wasn’t sure how the day would end for me. However, I wanted to follow the lesson I learned from King Ridge this year. I DNFed that ride, mostly because I didn’t have confidence I would get through it, and took a long break early on. I wasn’t thinking things through very well, and it didn’t occur to me that I could have gotten through it if I hadn’t taken that break. So the lesson is to just keep riding as if you’re planning to finish. No more abandoning the ride before giving it a chance! So I picked up the pace a little on the CCCT where possible. There were lots of people, dogs, elderly, and children out on the trail though (a good thing!), so I didn’t want to push it. I had a lot of experience riding this particular trail, so I had a good feeling for how to ride around all the pedestrians politely without losing too much time on it. Before long, we made it to the turnoff for the Ygnacio Valley trail–good views!–and Ygnacio Valley Road. The road has wide shoulders, and a prolonged climb though at a low grade. Once on the Davis dart I got John to hang back with me on the climb and snuck up from behind to take the Concord city limit sign, which is at the summit. Not so today. I don’t think I took a single city limit sign all day! Bummer but given my fitness condition, I was just happy to be out on my bike.

After Concord was Clayton, where we stopped at their ornamental town hall park with water and bathrooms. A guy rolled up who was on an electric assisted tricycle. He was fun to talk to so we chatted with him for a while. He said he had taken that bike “all over, ahh, what’s it called, the old mines, you know…” “Black Diamonds?” Dan asked. “Yeah!!,” he said, as he waved his arm up and down to indicate the shape of the trails there. Color me impressed by this guy in casual sneakers and a golf shirt, 72 years of age by his own admission. But he said the handling of the bike wasn’t to his liking and he had tipped it over once, so he wanted to try something else. Dan suggested an electric assisted mountain bike… We had to get back on the road, so we rolled on and left him to his bike dilemma. On to my heart’s desire, Black Diamonds.

In many ways, it was just like I remembered it from the dart. So scenic, so steep!

This time, the trail was a lot more dusty, with the dust forming deep patches of powder. I pushed my bike in the same spots I had pushed before, and Dan waited for me in the same place my team had waited for me before.

This time though, instead of going up on the stupid-steep road, we went down when the trail turned to a paved path. I liked not having to do the stupid-steep part, but I had enjoyed the descent that trail affords.

This time was also different in that we got to continue on the dirt and pass by the ranger station, instead of passing through the parking lot and going to Brentwood on suburban roads. In the new section, there was a beautiful golden valley and huge rock outcroppings above us. It went on forever and it could have gone longer as far as I was concerned. But all of a sudden there was a short steep descent and it was all over, we were on Empire Mine Road. The sun was warm, the grass was dry, but I still had plenty of water in my pack. I started to go fasterfasterfaster to get to the next control but noticed Dan was not with me and heard him calling out to me so I turned around. The secret control! With all the graffiti on the road. So we photodocumented the moment and then moved on. I looked at the rusty old building of the mine and bid farewell to Black Diamonds this day.

The Brentwood control is a huge shopping center with tons of food possibilities, but I was feeling overwhelmed by the choices, and just opted for the simplest thing: tomato soup and a bagel at the Safeway. Sometimes Safeway controls are boring, but they can sometimes be simple and fast, and I wanted to do this ride like I was going to finish, even though I still wasn’t convinced.

We slipped out of that control relatively quickly, and started up Marsh Creek Road. The last time Dan rode this part, he said it was the most dangerous riding he’d ever done, but today the mood was mellow and courteous! Bonus! Sometimes drivers just do what they’re supposed to. Dan got ahead of me on Marsh Creek, but waited for me at the turnoff to Morgan Territory. Dan had waited for me at the top of each climb so far that day and I tried to show my gratitude for this by being able to roll through when I reached the top of each climb and not waste time. Unfortunately, Morgan Territory kind of sacked me and I had to take a break at the top of that one. My chest hurt (though I could climb out of the saddle now!), I was out of shape and Morgan Territory was the highest elevation of the route, soooo I just needed a little breakie. That done, we started the wild descent down, down, down the other side. I think you can see all the way to Fremont Peak, and it feels like being in an airplane. I don’t think I’ve ever taken pictures of the scenery here because I need to focus on the road, and I don’t feel like stopping. So you’ll just have to do the ride yourself to see!

The last receipt control is Blackhawk. I was not looking forward to climbing Redwood, but when I thought about the possibility of taking BART back from Castro Valley, it seemed too depressing. It’s a long BART ride, much longer than climbing Redwood Road would seem anyway. Dan and I stopped at a juice bar that was next to a Starbucks, and I was able to gulp down a fresh beet-apple-lemon juice. Dan looked up the bike shop on his phone, and said he’d only be a moment if I’d stay at the juice place. I sat down on the cement and drily chawed on an energy bar. When Dan came back, we were still poised to leave the control well before the closing time–always good for a penultimate control. That was my cue to identify whatever would help me finish this ride and consume it immediately! I picked an espresso from Starbucks, some kava and an ibuprofen from my bag. We were out of that place like a shot, and moved along with the fast suburban traffic in the fast bike lane, turning off where the route directed to use a quieter road. Late in a brevet is when I get my energy most often, one reason why randonneuring is a good sport for me. Even after all the climbing that day, I still had something left. I was anticipating riding the East Ridge Trail in the dark and was getting pretty excited about it.

On the northern edge of the town of Castro Valley, Dan and I regrouped for the last time that day. I wanted him to ride ahead because I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish within the time limit. I did have plenty of energy, but my chest still hurt and I was climbing well below my usual pace. Dan admitted he did want to get credit for the ride to put toward his R-12. I was just thrilled I had made it that far, and was ok with taking it easy through the final 20 miles. We rolled on together for a few more minutes and he explained to me where the trailhead for the East Ridge trail was: a key piece of information since I’d never ridden the trail before.

As I climbed Redwood Road at my ponderous pace, I considered skipping the trail and just taking Pinehurst all the way home (forfeiting my chance at getting credit). But Pinehurst has a steep, winding, thickly forested descent where I’d seen many creatures of the night popping out of the bushes before. Riding the trail definitely seemed like a safer alternative. I suspected the trail stayed up on the ridge instead of dropping down and then having to climb back out as I would have to do on Pinehurst. At the trailhead, there were maps, and I saw that there weren’t any turns that might get me lost. It was completely dark by this time. So I proceeded up the trail, which had a huge rut on the right side that loomed even larger as my headlamp cast shadows beyond it. In the past couple years, I’ve been riding trails at night with random randos. It’s been fun, and a good learning experience. I’ve learned that my headlamp makes little bumps look big, so not to worry, and I’ve learned that if I can keep my head together, riding trails in the dark is a transcendent experience not to be missed.

That night was quiet; the trail was completely empty. No bunnies, no skunks. There was a short section with some frequent owl hooting, but other than that, the woods were still. Thanks to Dan who patiently waited for me throughout the day, and thanks to my putting off the decision to bail always until the next control, I made it to this quiet trail in the woods. This trail following the ridgeline, surrounded by cool night air.

I got to the end of the trail and started descending my usual training-ride roads: Skyline, Old Tunnel. Usually I am cautious and slow here. Potholes, off camber curves, wild turkeys, drivers coming uphill are all hazards on which I fixate while riding Old Tunnel. But I calculated I didn’t have a lot of time left, so I descended with dispatch this time… and finished… with only seven minutes remaining on the clock! Getting credit for the ride was a completely unexpected bonus, but when I told Dan I had finished and he offered to file my results, I accepted graciously. I guess I will be the CR holder on the low end probably for some time, which I also accept graciously. I can still see the landscapes of Black Diamonds from that day in my mind when I close my eyes, and I know I’ll be out there again soon.

-typed while listening to fellow rando Pete Dixon’s Monday night radio show on kfjc

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2017 Randonneur Recap

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

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

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

Just another 200k

Last month, I completed a 200k. It was a permanent route, my own in fact, and it was pretty uneventful. I rode with John, as I have so many times before. It was rather cold, which made it different than other rides. But it was sunny, the route was nice and quiet, and despite being practically catastrophically out of shape, it was a fantastic day on the bike. Many, many times throughout the day, I caught myself thinking, “this is soooo niiiice.” We encountered very few cars, and even fewer riders; only one other cyclist did we see on Mount Tam, and it happened to be another Box Dog customer, judging by the water bottles and frame. We got to go to my favorite brewpub at the finish and toss back a bit less than a pint (those dang artful brewpubs!), eat a fancy empanada, and go home for a shower.  Here are some pictures.

ta ta for now, SF!

TTFN,SF

 

base of railroad grade

base of railroad grade

 

mmmm forest at dawn on Tam

mmmm forest at dawn on Tam

 

adjusting layers on Old Railroad Grade

adjusting layers on Old Railroad Grade

 

West Point Inn

West Point Inn

 

Bronze model of Mount Tam

Bronze model of Mount Tam

 

Top of Mount Tam visitor area

Top of Mount Tam visitor area

 

cold, cold sunlight

cold, cold sunlight

 

Alpine Dam is spilling

Alpine Dam is spilling

 

Little Free Library in Samuel P. Taylor campground

Little Free Library in Samuel P. Taylor campground

 

Black Mountain off to the left

Black Mountain off to the left

 

Nicasio Reservoir, also full to spilling

Nicasio Reservoir, also full to spilling

 

Marshall wall inches closer, farmland is utterly at peace today

Marshall wall inches closer, farmland is utterly at peace today

 

not likely driving while texting

not likely driving while texting

 

at least it's warm on the climb

at least it’s warm on the climb

 

1000 shades of green

1000 shades of green

 

Mount Tam and Black Mountain align with the top of Marshall wall

Mount Tam and Black Mountain align with the top of Marshall wall

 

the new cockpit

the new cockpit

 

tip of the hat to another excellent year in rando adventuring

tip of the hat to another excellent year in rando adventuring

This ride wasn’t remarkable in any way except it was the 60th consecutive 200k or greater I’ve completed, beginning with my very first brevet to the Point Reyes Light House in January 2012. Yay for me! Whoop de doo! Next month, the series will continue. I hope. As I’ve said before, I never take randonneuring for granted. But I like doing the R-12s, because these days, being consistent seems more of an interesting challenge to me than being fast. I’ve always preferred having a good time to getting a good time, and that’s what I’ve done. In the past few years, I’ve really worked on finishing with a smile on my face, and I look forward to continuing that trend. But who knows? Everything changes. I might get faster and enjoy my rides, fancy that! If I do, you’ll surely read about it here on mmmmbike!

Del Puerto 200m

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

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

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

Mount Diablo sunrise

Mmmmount Diablo

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

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

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

Tesla-Road

The old oak tree

The-Old-Barn

The old barn

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

Tesla-looking-back

Looking back from the top of the climb

Toward-the-Interior

Looking forward toward the interior

 

Sheeps

Big, burly sheepses must be broiling

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

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

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

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

Mmmmineragua

Mmmmineragua

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

DPC-Road

The road is a ribbon

The-Old-Farm

The old farm, the old fence

Trees-in-rocks

Living wall

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

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

Adobe-Spring

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

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

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

Welcome-Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Route of One’s Own

Hey, I have my own perm now! Pretty exciting!!!! The route idea originates with my cool boyfriend John P, and is based on a route he and I have been talking about for a coupla years; I just finally got around to doing all the work to make it official. Here is his blog post about riding it from a few years ago. The first part (to Fairfax) is from a Box Dog shop ride from 2008.

Part of the route was also the same as my first ride out with my blue Pelican, at least the climb of Old Railroad Grade. Funny how things go. I will always be grateful to RideOn member/rando Nick B for taking me out that day. I really had no clue where we were headed, but I was ready for adventure and loved Old Railroad Grade trail right away: it was the new norm, naturally. It feels like completing a circle to now manage a perm using that trail. It is in my bike’s DNA as well as mine. Sooo it should be easy, right? Wellll… ha.

I started working on the route in late October, hoping it could be approved for me to use as my December 200k this year. The application and approval process took a lot less time than I anticipated, and Mount Tam to Marshall, Route #2867 was made available to RUSA members to ride for credit in early November. Ten lucky randos enjoyed the ride before I finally scheduled a day for myself to ride it in December. Due to lots of rainy days in the forecast, teaching work on weekends and so on, I settled on an apparent break in the wet weather: the 16th (my lucky number!) as my big day.

I had only ridden the whole route once before, with John as a pre-ride and not particularly for time. We putzed around that day, even running into perm owner Mark G on the Cross Marin Trail on his fixie! We stopped and chatted with him for some time. What a great day that was. We had our traditional early dinner in Point Reyes at the Whale of a Deli, mmmmmeatball sub for me and carnitas torta for John. I amply photographed all the controls, poring over the details to come up with good info control questions. I now have almost three complete sets of different questions to ask in case someone rides more than once.

Overlooking Muir Woods from Mount Tam

From the pre-ride: overlooking Muir Woods from Mmmmount Tam in the early mmmmorning

 

Donkey on Fern Canyon Road

Also from the pre-ride: my buddy who lives on Fern Canyon Road. Don’t be stubborn, just keep pedaling!

Anyway, I was pretty nervous leading up to my first riding for credit of this challenging route. On paper, there’s a lot of climbing. And the climbing is all loaded into the first third or so of the distance, so you start off feeling behind the clock. I know in my mind that I can make up the time later on the flatter sections, but it was still a cause for worry for me. Would I be able to make it to the Point Reyes timed control in time? Wouldn’t that just be too annoying if I created my own perm and wasn’t able to finish it??

I had brought my nice camera, but ran out of battery in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge, so I just took snapshots of my bike at the info controls. There are a total of ten controls on this route, six of which are info controls. I didn’t really stop worrying about making good time until I got up Red Hill… then, even with Marshall wall, I started to truly unwind and enjoy the ride. Hicks Valley Road is soooo quiet and beautiful! Shh don’t tell anyone… At that point, the clock unwound too, and as I covered the quieter backroads, time seemed to stand still. I’m glad I got to make the tiny schoolhouse on Hicks Valley Road a stopping point.

Golden Gate Bridge is extra Orange

Last picture before the nice camera ran out of battery–Golden Gate Bridge is extra Orange!!

Control 1

Control 1, yes, Starsucks

Control 2

Control 2: Base of Old Railroad Grade, always a good time to down that Ensure

Halfway Up

About halfway up Mount Tam, always brilliant–and quiet!–in the morning

West Point Inn Surprise

When I rounded the last corner before the West Point Inn, I see a hugely tall figure with his hands in the air calling my name!! When does that ever happen?! Turns out it’s these cool cyclists, coming home from camping on the Mountain of Tam.

Control 3

Control 3: Top of Mount Tam! Too bad the Visitor Center is closed, because I bet they have some great patches!

I never tire of this view

I never tire of this view from Ridgecrest Boulevard

Control 4

Control 4 is at the junction of the Bolinas Ridge trailhead, Ridgecrest Boulevard, and Bolinas-Fairfax Road. You can’t go wrong with any of these choices, but this route takes you downhill to Alpine Dam and the town of Fairfax, home of mountain biking and the Coffee Roastery, the suggested receipt control

Cross Marin trail

Control 6 is at the end of the second dirt section, the Cross Marin Trail. The trail surface is usually covered with soft pine needles, and the air is filled with the aroma of either wet redwoods or campfire smoke from the Samuel P. Taylor campsites nearby. Again, not a losing proposition either way.

Lincoln School

Control 7: The little white schoolhouse, built long ago. Still quite small, and still a functioning schoolhouse for the farm families who live out here. I can’t take a picture of it, because I’d be giving away the control question!

Marshall Wall Tree

Oh sweet lord, the tree at the end of the Marshall “wall” climb. It’s really not that bad of a climb, just looong.

The long stretch of remote, quiet road is over. Now the route turns south on CA-1, a very familiar stretch of road for SFR brevet riders.

The long stretch of remote, quiet road is over. Now the route turns homeward on CA-1, a very familiar stretch of road, and destination in itself, for SFR brevet riders.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes Station, the timed receipt control I was so worried about. I made it with plenty of time to spare, having made up lots of time on the flat Hicks Valley and Marshall Roads. Now I am smelling the barn!

There’s a lot to love about this route. There are a couple tweaks I might make if I could redo it, but it’s in the books now, so it has to stand as is. And it was a fair amount of work to create the route, cue, and info control questions, certainly making me appreciate a lot more the dedication, focus, and determination required to create a formal route such as this. A lot of expertise and riding experience goes into making a RUSA permanent route if it’s really good (in the case of Mount Tam to Marshall, the credit for that all goes to John). This one is challenging, though not as much as an Adventure Series ride. It allows riders of normal randonneuring capabilities to enjoy mellow backroads while keeping the amount of climbing doable. It offers a couple dirt trails, though one is flat and the other uphill, so that riders who would like a gradual introduction to mixed terrain riding can have it without any risky technical descents. It also includes three rails-to-trails in their entirety (super duper fancy prize for anyone who can name them in the comments section)! After riding others’ perms for so many years, I am glad I have finally come up with a route of my own to contribute. I can’t wait to come up with some more!

 

R12: Girls’ Ride!

Andrea S and I hatched our plan to ride together on the Davis Dart in November, and decided to follow through with it on the first day of December. I had a heavy workload leading up to the end of 2013, and knew I would not want to worry about squeezing in a ride. Moreover, the weather had been very kind lately, and we did not want to chance our December ride to the (supposedly) rainy season. Last year, both of us had to suffer through rainy, chilly rides for our December R-12 installments.

We also had a sort of tacit agreement we would not invite our boyfriends, and instead have a nice social ride, maybe gossip a little, but mainly just enjoy a relaxing girls-only ride. We picked the San Franciscadero route, not necessarily the most relaxing choice with about 8500 feet of elevation gain, but a scenic route nonetheless. Andrea is a much stronger and more experienced rider than I, but she was nice enough to slow down a bit for me in parts. It was great to get to know Andrea a little better. We had fantastic weather too, as you will see from the pictures to follow. Thanks Andrea for such a lovely day to wind down both of our R-12s, and thanks once again to permanent owner Mark Gunther for processing our cards and stuff.

Ocean Beach (s)miles

Ocean Beach (s)miles

New glasses from JP

New glasses from JP

wheeee

wheeee

fisherman

fisherman

Andrea said the moss grows where there is lots of oxygen... Stage Road

Andrea said the moss grows where there is lots of oxygen… Stage Road

Gazos Creek Road is always gorgeous

Gazos Creek Road is always gorgeous

Eyes like a hawk near Gazos Creek Store

Eyes like a hawk near Gazos Creek Store

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pelicans covering a rock

Pelicans covering a rock

pretty light

pretty light

view at the top

view mid-way

still climbing

still climbing

beautiful summer... er, December weather

beautiful summer… er, December weather

still smiling

still smiling

more typical and majestic sweeping views

more typical and majestic sweeping views

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Getting back toward town

Getting back toward town

Getting close to home, big smile for a nice healthy chunk of a ride

Getting close to home, big smile for a nice healthy chunk of a ride

Another R-12 in the bag… Time to stop and ponder the riding I have done over the past two years of being a RUSA member, and the people I’ve met, the rock formations and forests I’ve ridden through, the cows, sheep, goats, strawberries, and artichokes I’ve seen in fields far and near. Some of the riding I’ve done off the RUSA books has had a deep and lasting effect on me, though the structure of riding brevets and permanents forces a sense of discipline as well. I wonder at how much I’ve learned about bike parts, supple tires (still on Paselas though! ha ha), sport shake ingredients, non-cleat cycling shoes, handling my bike through high-speed descents without spinning out, finding the perfect chamois, and of course, how many miles will I carry that Clif Bar in my handlebar bag without ever even considering eating it. I ponder the rider I was on my first brevet two years ago, and how far I’ve ridden in that time (almost 9000 miles by my bike’s odometer). It sure has gone by fast! Next year I’m raising the bar to do my first 600k, which I’m sure will be a whole new learning experience. Although I am nervous about it to some extent, I do feel a lot more confident now than when I first started. I’m grateful for all the time I get to spend riding, and still never take it for granted. Looking forward to next year… another mile marker for mmmmbike!

R10: Old Cazadero 300K

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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