R7: Brevet/Camp

Randonneuring and bike camping are both terrific activities, though different. They nourish each other, as I see it. Randonneuring keeps me in shape so I can go on tour and not feel too exhausted; bike camping lets me stop and smell the flowers, so to speak, so I feel a greater sense of adventure to apply to my brevets as well as learn more about the areas where I ride.

Camping is especially important to me in retraining myself to be a better occupant of the place where I live. In the city, thanks to modern civil engineering, we generally take things for granted such as constant sources of potable water, plumbing, electricity, and communications channels. As a result, these resources are pretty often overused. When I camp, a 5 minute shower seems excessive. I use a trickle of water from the spigot to wash dishes. I don’t use any electricity to speak of, and as for communications, they are of course enhanced by the lack of extraneous media. When I return from camping, I do return to my old bad habits to some extent, but much less. It’s a great exercise. Living in the wild also allows you to appreciate the myriad purposes of biodiversity, and understand the impact of the extinction of so many species of plant and animal life, while at the same time enjoying the aspects of nature we do have. I grew up in a fairly rural area (in the same state as John Muir!), so these are things I do often think about. Maybe if more people went camping they’d understand the reasons to avoid “disposable” plastic grocery bags (or anything else intended for disposal!), shorten our showers, or (gasp!) stop using cars for transportation… or maybe not, some people just don’t get it. I have plenty of bad habits as well, though. Anyway, enough ranting, on to the ride.

Day One: 200K brevet from San Francisco to Cloverdale

July is the month for the SFR Cloverdale double brevet overnight, something I love to do since it’s like a rando-sleepover: ride a 200k to a place far from San Francisco, then everybody stays in the same hotel & has dinner together, then we all ride a 200k back the next day to San Francisco. Funnn! This time around, Gabe E sent out a general invite about an idea to use the outbound leg of this pair of rides as a springboard for a camping trip: stay in the hotel with everyone the first night, then instead of going back to town the next day, spend a couple nights camping at various spots in the area. Yes please! Great idea. Even better was the fact that SFR coordinates drop bag service for those who would not want to carry their pyjamas on the bike throughout the pair of rides. Originally I intended to tough it out and carry all my camping gear on the brevet (randonneurs are self-reliant!), but when I arrived at the start and noticed that most riders had left, yet there was plenty of space in the car, I caved and tossed almost all my stuff in the back. Why suffer? My campmates Carlos, Gabe, and finally Ian also put their gear in the car. My sweetie John P would be camping with us, but had decided not to ride the brevet in order to design his own route and not be bound by RUSA’s controlling helmet requirement, which meant he would be doing a loaded 200k.

We got a bit of a late start (30-40 minutes), but the four of us settled into a nice and easy pace to Point Reyes Station, making the control in decent time.

Pelican convention

Pelican convention

On the rollers north of PRS, I lost the three of them, but we regrouped in Valley Ford. There was a woman with a farmstand in Valley Ford selling blueberries.

IMG_2346

Roadside blueberries farmed by a randonette

Fruit is a huuuuge boost to me on a long bike ride, especially early in the ride, so I stopped and bought a half pint. While chatting with the woman, she revealed that she’d ridden some SFR populaires before! How cool. I shoved the entire half-pint in my mouth while standing there talking to her, and gave her back her plastic container, which she was happy to have.

Glad to rejoin my friends, I kept up a good spin with them through the countryside on this warm day. I wondered how John was doing: no brevet, no drop bag service, so he was essentially riding the same mileage as we were, yet with a much greater load. He carries the tent we share as well.

Underway

Occidentally

The next control was Guerneville, which we also made in decent time, though having started later and stopped in Valley Ford, we did not see too many other riders. In Guerneville I had some tomato soup, chips, and more fruit from the Safeway. I thought more about John and wanted to get back on the road, anticipating meeting him in Cloverdale. John is a pretty strong rider, and even with a camping load I knew it was entirely possible he would arrive at a similar time. I led the train out of Guerneville on West Side Road and Dry Creek Road etc, and surprised myself by keeping a fast pace on that stretch.

pretty pretty vineyards and hills

pretty pretty vineyards and hills

I must have surprised Carlos, too, because he asked me what they put in my soup at the Safeway! Eventually we made it to the next control and took a good solid break out of the sun. I really wanted a popsicle, but that store is so expensive, I just didn’t feel like buying much. I had accumulated snacks in my handlebar bag anyway, so I just ate them instead and got some soda and water.

The final stretch of this route is pretty flat, but it was getting hot, and we were all ready to be at the hotel.

How many chimneys? Or shutters? I wonder when they will run out of info control questions to ask about this farmhouse

How many chimneys? Or shutters? I wonder when they will run out of info control questions to ask about this farmhouse

That rarest of photos of Gabe: smiling! Totally busted.

That rarest of photos of Gabe: smiling! Totally busted.

Well, it just so happens in randonneuring and in life that if you just keep moving toward your goal, however slowly, you will make progress. We made it to the Cloverdale Quick Stop, got our popsicles and receipts, and made our way to the hotel. As much as I had thought I would want to jump straight into the pool as soon as I reached the hotel, I just took a shower and tried to relax. Unfortunately for the second year in a row on this ride, by the time I reach the hotel, there is not much food left from the catered dinner. Ian and Carlos went out and got burritos from a cute Mexican place in town, but they went while I was turning in my brevet card and I didn’t know they went… Next year I am skipping the catered food entirely and just getting myself a burrito on the way back from the Quick Stop. There is not much worse than ending a ride and not having any food to eat!

I did end up having a vegetarian sandwich and some beer later, but it kept me up all night with a stomach ache and finally had to come out at about two in the morning. Ugh. Not the most auspicious way to start a 3-day tour: hardly any sleep or food in the bank, and Fish Rock Road the next day.

Day Two: Cloverdale to Gualala Campground via Fish Rock Road (50 miles +/-, 6600 ft. elevation gain)

We were all looking forward to Fish Rock, having heard tales of it from Brian O’s fleche team, and from the fact that Max P would be including it in his Adventure Series 600k. So, the next morning we set out. A big diner breakfast at the Owl Cafe in Cloverdale finally put some good, healthy carbs and proteins in me to restart my system. And while sitting in the enormous corner booth there on Cloverdale’s main street, we got to watch all the SFR riders go by the windows as they began to wend their way back to San Francisco.

Our route took us in the opposite direction, northward past the Mendocino county line through Yorkville.

Our bikes: Carlos, Gabe, John, me, Ian. Lots of front-loading except for John and Carlos, who were more balanced.

Our bikes: Carlos, Gabe, John, me, Ian. Lots of front-loading except for John and Carlos, who were more balanced.

Bustling downtown Yorkville

Bustling downtown Yorkville… note to self: there is water at the Yorkville post office

We pause before ascending and Ian tries to mentally prepare us

We pause before ascending and Ian tries to mentally prepare us

Fish Rock Road paved section

Fish Rock Road paved section

View aat the top

View at the top

A view on the way up

A view on the way up

Lunch

Lunch

Fish Rock was tough for me. During the climb, John and I fell back significantly from the others, and I got a flat tire from a staple in the road, which set us back yet further. I think I had expected this trip would be more like our trip with Jake and Leah was, when we rarely all lost sight of each other. On the way down from the summit, I got another flat tire, this time a pinch flat due to all the loose and fixed rocks in the dirt road, and since John helped me pump up my tire both times, we both got behind. It sure was pretty, though, and (at least I thought) was well worth the difficulty. We had no problem reaching our campsite with plenty of time to set up before nightfall, even with a lengthy stop in Gualala for groceries (tamales from the deli counter, yumm!).

Back on the road after the descent into Gualala, it is c-c-c-cold

Back on the road after the descent into Gualala, it is c-c-c-cold

mouth of the Gualala river

mouth of the Gualala river

Canopy of trees in Guala-la-la-la-la campground

Canopy of trees in Guala-la-la-la-la campground

It was the first time trying out John’s new MSR Hubba Hubba tent, and it was super! We loved it. John had set up our tent on a little spot under a tree which had a slight incline, and we ended up setting up our sleeping bags with our heads on the low part. The blood went out of our legs overnight, and we felt terrific in the morning. There had been some pretty weird dudes bicycle camping at Gualala that night; we thought we would avoid them by getting our own site away from the hiker/biker site, but unfortunately they invited themselves over to our site and bogarted our campfire. Ugh. One of them, upon seeing me, shouted, “A female?!?!? I haven’t seen a female bicycle camper since I was in Germany blah blah blah…” He also shared with us, in the light of our campfire later, that “It was my first tour in 1979 that I found Jesus.” He was the more normal one of the two. Eventually we let the two lame-os battle it out at our fire and went to sleep, but it was a bummer that we couldn’t have more communal camp time for ourselves. John had brought more brevet cards to discuss and burn, and I got to burn the one for John’s 2012 400k (the hot 400), for which I had been the volunteer signing him in. That was before I really knew him, but my initials were on his card. In the morning, Ian brewed us some coffee with beans he had roasted himself, and he explained the process to John, who has been toying with the idea of getting a coffee roaster. After some nice camp time only intermittently interrupted by the annoying people, we packed up and made our way back on the road toward a taqueria Ian wanted to go to in Gualala for breakfast. It turned out to be fantastic, and we ran into a very nice couple, bicycle camping along the coast. They were impressive in what they were doing, funny, and the lady had made her own merino wool shrug out of old sweaters, just like I like to do.

Day three: Gualala to Jenner, then Cazadero/Austin Creek

We had planned to camp the next night at Bodega Dunes, so we made our way south along highway 1. Lots of beautiful vistas, and we stopped at the wonderful Stewarts Point store, which had beer on tap and a very sweet poochie in the side lot whom we all took turns petting.

Our Gualala site, getting ready to leave

Our Gualala site, getting ready to leave

Poochie!

Poochie!

He was happy to see us

He was happy to see us

Coast rocks

Coast rocks

Coast road

Coast road

Toward Jenner

Toward Jenner

We pause to take in the scenery

We pause to take in the scenery

Las bicicletas de Gabe, John, y mi

Las bicicletas de Gabe, John, y mi

Steep dropoff

Steep dropoff

grotto

grotto

Ian takes yet another city limit sprint

Ian took most of the city limit sprints on this ride

Ian phones the 'rents from Jenner

Ian phones the ‘rents from Jenner

Begin scenic route

Begin scenic route

Mysterious Lamborghini in the bushes... but who is that creeping toward it?

Mysterious Lamborghini in the bushes… but who is that creeping toward it?

Carlos had been feeling sick to his stomach for some time, and by the time we reached Jenner, we decided to take Ian up on his previous offer to us to stay at his parents’ home in Cazadero that night instead of camping at Bodega.

Ian’s parents treated us like royalty. They ordered us a pizza, made us an excellent soup from scratch, Ian’s dad talked to John about bikes for hours, it was amazing. We all took brief showers and Ian’s dad put our clothes in their washer. They have a gorgeous home in the woods, in a lovely setting on a steep creekside. They love bikes too, and even named their cat after Eddy Merckx. Ian’s dad was very interested in our trip and was really excited to hear our stories. That was incredible.

Day four: Cazadero to Larkspur Ferry

And so, we reached the final day of our tour. Waking up at Ian’s parents’ home was fantastic. His dad made us breakfast, and took a group portrait before we set off. The way back to SF was familiar territory for Gabe, John, and Carlos, as it traced various segments of other brevets long finished. I wasn’t so sure myself, and got a little nervous when our group started to spread out. After some time, I could see no one ahead of me nor behind, and stopped to wait for anyone to show up, hoping I hadn’t somehow missed a turn and gotten myself completely lost. Dadblame experienced randonneurs… Eventually Carlos showed up, and we regrouped with Gabe. John showed up and we set out again. We climbed and stopped to snap some photos, though the cloud cover was fairly somber. We discussed hopping on the Larkspur Ferry back to town, which sounded like a great idea.

Waking up at Ian's parents' house

Waking up at Ian’s parents’ house

Eddy Merckx, the cat

Eddy Merckx, the cat

Now we are four

Now we are four

We pause at Duncans Mills

We pause at Duncans Mills

Russian River still somber

Russian River still somber

We toodle along. Pretty houses on this road

We toodle along. Pretty houses on this road

Old friends

Old friends

I pause to see if anyone will show up and notice a tree marked by a fence

I pause to see if anyone will show up and notice a tree marked by a fence

Where is everybody?

Where is everybody?

Topping off

Topping off

Larkspur Ferry, first time for me. John and I snuggle against the chilly wind

Larkspur Ferry, first time for me. John and I snuggle against the chilly wind

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

I’m really glad I went on this trip. For a long time I’ve wondered about combining  randonneuring with loaded touring, and now I know more about it (possibly… why you do not do it? doing all the usual hills with a load was indeed noticeably harder…). Fish Rock Road was an amazing experience, and so was the coast road. Camping at Gualala was terrific, and a place I would love to visit again. Staying at Ian’s parents’ home was a lucky break for all of us (THANK You Ian and folkses!!), yet my appetite for bike camping is still unsatisfied. I can’t wait for the next camping adventure.

p.s. check out this nifty and cool video Ian produced about our trip.

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R7x2

For my July contribution to the R-12, I humbly submit the Double Brevet Ride Report: To Cloverdale Best Western Swimming Pool and Back in a Jiffy.

The work week prior to this ride was very busy, not to mention all the hill sprints I’ve been doing in the Presidio with Ely, Gabrielle, and Alice, so I started out already feeling pooped. In fact, I was nervous about this ride and questioned whether it was a good thing to attempt.

Foggy and a bit blustery starting out… Not feeling great about this ride so far…

I’ve come to recognize the feelings of anxiety about doing these long rides, though, and now that I’d successfully completed six of them, I let those feelings pass and just showed up, open to whatever might happen and willing to do my best. And in the end, I completed both the weekend’s 200k rides successfully this time too, one in record time for me.

I don’t think I could have done it without all the super people I rode with intermittently along the way. After having missed a turn, becoming totally lost on the wrong road on the first day, I ran into Kimber Guzik and her crew, also having missed the turn… We logged a few more bonus miles together and then finally, she was able to get reception on her mobile phone and get us back in the right direction to make it to the penultimate control.

Westside Road… Beautiful, if a bit too much of it

They had sandwiches at the control, but I just refilled my water, ate some food from my pack, and kept going. I don’t know what fire got under me on this ride, but I surely wasted no time at any of the controls.

In fact, because I got through the first control of the day on day two so quickly, I somehow had the good fortune to catch up with another super person with whom I got to ride for a bit, Gabe Ehlert. Gabe designed my bike frame, recommended the parts for the build, and assembled my bike, something I have gotten many happy miles out of, so I have a lot of respect for the guy. Oddly enough, I rolled over something spiky right after we started riding together and blew my front tire. This was the first flat I’ve had on a brevet. I felt a little self- conscious about my repair skills, but Gabe was cool as a cucumber about it and we got back on the road in short order to enjoy an uneventful stretch to the next control.

Heading out along 116 to the coast… the fog awaits

Another unusual thing that happened during this double brevet series, though on day one, was that I came upon a rider I knew who turned out to be having a mild heart attack. A very strong rider, he had just finished riding his bike with two others across the US via the southern tier through Arizona, Texas, Louisiana etc. I had followed his blog as he went and even posted a link to it here on my own blog– you can still read his account of that ride. Anyway,  I was just leaving Guerneville on the morning of the first day, and saw him walking his bike by the roadside. Just to check, I asked him if everything was ok, and he said he wasn’t sure, and that his chest hurt. Once I stopped, he also told me his right arm and hand felt numb for a moment. Of course at that point, I encouraged him to sit down in the shade. By all appearances, he seemed perfectly normal, but I knew this was not a normal situation. He told me how worried he was about not finishing the brevet since he had had to ditch the 1000K a couple weeks before, to which my kneejerk response was, “F*ck that!” All I could think was, “This guy just rode his bike from the Pacific Ocean all the way across the continent to the Atlantic Ocean, and he’s worried about not finishing a 200K?” From his point of view, though, I can see that it is hard to accept that one moment, you’re enjoying a beautiful day of cycling on the Russian River… and the next, you have to give up the brevet and find the nearest hospital. Especially when you’re not sure what’s wrong with you, or if the feeling will simply pass. Personally I have a lot of mistrust of the medical profession and he seemed to as well, but I was pretty firm in the feeling that he get checked out, and did my best to talk him out of continuing the ride until he get checked out. I walked him the few blocks back to the center of town where we thought there was a clinic, but it turned out to be closed. By that point, he had repeatedly said he felt bad about taking up my time, and wasn’t I worried about my finish time (obviously he didn’t know me well, I could not care less about my time!) etc etc. I actually started to feel I was infringing on his time– I didn’t want to tell him what to do. He did seem to be less shaky now, so we talked about him finding a place with air conditioning to cool down for a while, and he said that he could call Brooks, who was driving our drop bags, to come get him if necessary. That sounded like a good plan to me, so I left him there. Once I got to the Best Western in Cloverdale, I heard that he had in fact had gone to the hospital, had a blockage in his heart which resulted in a mild heart attack, and they were holding him there until Monday. So it turns out that going to the hospital instead of trying to finish the brevet is a good idea.

There is no sag service for these rides, so in my view, we all have to provide a sort of sag service for each other to some extent when necessary. I do not enjoy the idea of a sag wagon following me around while I’m just trying to have a good day on the bike, but then again, I felt grossly unprepared for the situation I just described, particularly if the situation had been more urgent. When I got to the hotel in Cloverdale, some people said to me that it was a nice thing I did for him to convince him to seek medical attention, but I felt guilty for not staying with him until he left for a hospital. Of course, if the situation had been more immediate, the way to respond would have been more obvious. Maybe a first aid class is in order.

Okay. One more shout out to some fun randonneurs. After the Point Reyes Station control on the second day, I ran into two riders with whom I finished the first day, and we agreed to finish the second ride together as well. One was Chris Eisenbarth, a very seasoned randonneur, the other was one for whom Saturday was his first brevet (Doug… ? Doug E Fresh?)! Fun! As we rode into Fairfax, I caught sight of the inimitable John Potis, probably heading back to San Francisco from an afternoon of holding down the couch at Black Mountain Cycles in Point Reyes Station.

Chris and John sprinting to the bubbler

John is the captain of my dart team, so we had a lot to discuss along the way! More on that to come in the August installment of mmmmbike!