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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.