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

    Sheeeep

    Sheeeep

    The tree tunnel...photos 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.

 

S4: Fort Bragg 600k

Sorry for the long absence. This entry has taken me a long time to write. Writing my bike blog has had to take a back seat on the loong Xtracycle of my life already full of work and bicycling stuff. This being my first 600k ride, it has taken me longer to think about how I want to record it. To release you all from the suspense I will come right out and report that yes, I finished with over two hours to spare (the results have already been posted to the SFR website for some time now anyway!).

feeling adequately rewarded

feeling adequately rewarded

But as we all know, there is much more to a ride report than the binary fact of finish/did not finish, so for the really important stuff, read on… (and I will try to keep it brief with lots of pictures!)

This ride did not have an auspicious beginning. Though I got a solid night’s snooze time and got out the door more or less on schedule that morning, I discovered several blocks from my house that I had left sans bidons–without my water bottles! Put in the embarrassing phone call to Rando 411 (day of ride contact) to relay to the start control volunteers that I would arrive after the official start of the ride, then head back to pick up these essential items. Once I finally reached the bridge, Volunteer Roland tested my lights and approved my (improved) reflective vest, and Volunteer Kimber handed me my card. With smiles and waves, they shooed me off over the bridge and there I went.

a demain, pont de la porte d'or!

a demain, pont de la porte d’or!

I was too busy trying to catch up to the others to be nervous, and luckily before long I did begin to see other randos. I passed a few at the roadside on Camino Alto, the first big climb; going through Samuel P. Taylor park I encountered one of those again as Brian C, and he said he had broken his chain and Todd T stopped to help him fix it. Brian and I rode together all the way to Point Reyes Station, the first control, where I saw several others of my kith. Still feeling slightly behind schedule, I made my purchase as quickly as possible and took off for Petaluma.

mmmmorning!

mmmmorning…the day opens

On the way to Petaluma, I began to enjoy the ride and feel my pace. The 600k is a route comprising sections of all the previous rides of the season, adding an out-and-back from Cloverdale to Fort Bragg. On this familiar stretch to Petaluma, I experienced a powerful feeling that the two 200ks, the 300k, and the 400k were all leading up to this one monumental ride. I was able to finish all of the others, and rode with wonderful people each time. I began to feel that whatever happened on this ride, it would be all part of the wonderful adventure.

When I arrived in Petaluma, I was already feeling the effects of the strong wind that day. There were several other randos I knew milling about in front of the Safeway, and hoped I might be able to leave with a group. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it happen. I got totally disoriented in the Petaluma version of this ubiquitous store that is a central feature, though in varied iterations, on all SFR rides, and couldn’t find the yogurt or the bathrooms. I also thought I would be eating a huge meal or something, and bought way too many items. When I got outside, I saw a group leaving, but wasn’t ready to go. Such is the result when too much time is taken at controls! I knew the consequences could be dire. The wind was just awful that day, and riding alone in it can really sap one’s energy. So I sorted out what I needed to do and saddled up ASAP with the aim of catching up with them. One important lesson randonneuring has taught me is to never give up!

just me all the way to Santa Rosa

just me all the way to Santa Rosa

I always end up solo for this windy stretch

I always end up solo for this windy stretch

Just in the middle of Santa Rosa, I did it! I caught up with them. It was a great big group: John Guzik, Gabrielle, Sarah, Kaley, Alex, Deb, and many others. They were all stopped on a sidewalk while John fixed something on his bike. Unfortunately this was not the first mechanical for this group, but I was so happy to have joined them, and also glad to stop for just a moment, that it didn’t matter.

IMG_3848

les poseurs sont heureux

IMG_3861

Alex and Deb led the charge for most of the way… along this stretch, we picked up Steffen, but lost John G.

IMG_3851

Typical crappy California weather… don’t hate us

Amazingly, this group stayed solid all the way to Fort Bragg and all the way back from Fort Bragg to the Indian Creek campsite.  I was so gratfied to ride with this group of accomplished randos. At some point during this ride, Deb earned her Mondial–she has now ridden the distance around the Earth in ACP brevets, 40,000km. I’m sure that Alex is getting close to earning that award as well. Kaley was impressive in riding a fixed-gear bicycle the whole way through this 600k, according to some the most challenging 600k in the region. We did have a lot of little “bumps” (one of the northern Clifornia slang terms for hills), and we tried to slow our pace on the climbs to make sure Kaley did not get dropped from the group as darkness approached.

One of the bigger climbs is on CA-128 after leaving Cloverdale. I had done this climb a month ago for the 400k, so I knew what was in store. Our group spread out a bit, but afterward on the way to Booneville, I saw Alex and Steffen again. Alex wanted to stop at the Booneville store, where I found a nice kitty.

mmmmeow

mmmmeow

We also found Deb at the Booneville store, kicking back on the front porch for a spell with Glenn. With Alex and Steffen we hatched a plan to make an brief stop at the Indian Creek campsite where our drop bags were, to pick up some nighttime items such as warm gloves and sweaters, eat a quick bite and take off from there together as a group to our route’s turnaround: Fort Bragg.

our wonderful volunteers yeah!!!

our wonderful volunteers yeah!!!

stopping for cup o' noodles, chips, and Led Zeppelin at Indian Creek... things I don't usually have a taste for except when on a brevet

stopping for cup o’ noodles, chips, and Led Zeppelin at Indian Creek… things I don’t usually have a taste for except when on a brevet

For you non-randos out there, drop bags are the allowed support we riders can have during a ride of this length. Randonneuring is based on the philosophy of self-sustained riding, with no follow cars and no services (not even any arrows or chalk on the road telling us where to turn!). However, for the longer rides (600k, 1000k, 1200k, 1400k), we are allowed to bring a small bag such as a backpack to the start, containing extra food and/or fresh clothes for resupply at a convenient point during the ride. And for these longer rides, the hosting club will often get a hotel room and offer a few beds for riders to get a few hours’ rest and perhaps a shower. Our resupply point would be the Indian Creek campground, a shady area with a bubbling creek, giant redwoods, and a crackling and warm campfire to sit around. Volunteers also brought tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads for us to crash on, and a stove to make soup and pancakes! I knew I would need to get at least a couple hours of shut-eye on the way back from Fort Bragg, and checking out the campsite made me excited about that.

Taking highway 128 out to the coast and riding the final miles on highway 1 to Fort Bragg would be the only part of this route I had never done before.  It did not disappoint. The ‘tree tunnel’ was amazing and mysterious as the light waned. I don’t have any photos from this part of the ride. Just too beautiful for pictures. While we were riding through it, we began to see the first SFR riders returning from Fort Bragg!!! I was so excited and happy to see them, I don’t know what was going through my mind at the time but I started ringing my bell and cheering, and our group all cheered for them and rang our bells when they went by: Max, Jason, Rob, Bryan, and others.

Once we got out to the coast, we all stopped to turn on our lights and put on whatever reflective or warm garments we hadn’t already.

Steffen dons the rainbow mittens

Steffen dons the rainbow mittens

Happy to be here, we made it to the coast!

Happy to be here, we made it to the coast!

Mouth of the Navarro River at dusk

Mouth of the Navarro River at dusk

Many more riders passed us coming back from Fort Bragg, and we rang our bells to greet them all. Highway one at this point began to wear me down. By the time I got to Fort Bragg, I didn’t have anything left. My stomach hurt, I was cold despite all my layers, and the safeway did not have anything I wanted to eat (anything warm!). I got a kombucha for my stomach and had some candied ginger, which I also gave to Alex. Some of the faster guys in the group started to take off, and I was ready to get out of there. I heard someone say McDonald’s and that perked me up right away! We all left the Safeway for the McDonalds a ways back down highway one. Yeah…fries, coffee, and a frozen custard! That magic combo that has now worked its charms on me the past few rides. So many things I do during a long bike ride that I would never do otherwise! We all set out from Mickey D’s feeling fuller and refreshed. The night was dark, the surf was loud, and the tailwind was luscious going back down highway one. We all minded each other to make sure we multiplied our visibility on that busy highway with the switchbacks and dips.

When we got back to CA-128, we stuck together like glue. This was the most memorable part of the ride for me. Steffen and I were out in front, Deb and Alex in the middle telling gripping and humorous stories of encounters with hippos, wildebeests, and lions. The tree tunnel had faded to black, so the stories were an essential part keeping us all alert and moving together. The pavement on this stretch is smooth and the turns are gradual, and very few cars were out. I felt myself getting a bit drowsy, but I knew the campground was not far away. Before long, we arrived there and there were plenty chairs by the fire, plenty bowls of potato soup to go around. Deb and I discussed crashing in one of the tents for 2.5 hours–oh, the luxury!–and leaving together in the morning.

cammmmpfire

cammmmpfire

pancakes and espresso!

pancakes and espresso!

And that is exactly what we did… Alex had left by the time we woke up, but Steffen, Glenn, Gabrielle and Peg were still in camp. Volunteer Eric made me a pancake and Volunteer Chris made espresso with his Italian stovetop espresso machine. Mmmm!!! It was hard to get out of there in the morning. I could not decide what to bring from my drop bag; my handlebar bag needed a complete overhaul and repacking; fuzzy teeth the nature of which I have not felt since college hangovers hung in my mouth… knowing Deb wanted to leave half an hour ago (but was also in the same boat) motivated me in getting my act together and ready to roll.

Finally we left the cozy campground and made our way through the heavy fog of Philo and Booneville. We found Gabrielle and Peg, and continued on.

We drop some layers and refill our water at the Yorkville Post Office...water not too tasty though

We drop some layers and refill our water at the Yorkville Post Office…water not too tasty though

We climbed and climbed, and crossed back into Sonoma county.

Welcome back to Sonoma County!

Welcome back to Sonoma County!

We descended into Cloverdale, and decided to pause at the Starbucks in Cloverdale to wait for Kaley. I had a delicious breakfast sandwich and a terrible juice. Kaley showed up, and we continued on. At some point, Glenn, Deb and I separated from the others, Glenn saying he had to make Mother’s Day dinner with his wife that evening. I kept wondering how on earth he was going to make that, but apparently he had everything carefully planned out, and even finished the ride twenty minutes before he told his wife he’d be there!

The miles ticked by…

Deb's still got it! Roll on Deb!

Deb’s still got it! Roll on Deb!

Glenn picks up the pace to make dinner date

Glenn picks up the pace to make dinner date

Hah! Oh, Geyserville.

Hah! Oh, Geyserville.

Geyserville seemed dry; Westside Road sizzled in the afternoon heat. The drought was over, yet we had not really had very much rain. By the time I reached Guerneville, I felt like a dried-out raisin. Tomato soup and another kombucha got me going again, and Steffen arrived at the Safeway; we all headed out to the coast. Wind, wind, and more wind was the recipe for the afternoon. The Tomales Bay wind tunnel was up to its usual nastiness, but we all shared the burden. On Highway One along the coast again, though, my heart sang. Those rollers!

IMG_3891

Once we got into Point Reyes Station, our last control before the finish, I discovered something amazing. I had made my projected times at every single stop within 20 minutes! It is incredibly rare for this to happen, even on a dart or fleche. I had indeed spent a lot of time planning this ride, planning time spent at controls as well as between them–that time really paid off. It was such a great feeling so close to the end of the ride to know that I had ridden according to plan, even with the lost time at the beginning.

still loving it!

still loving it!

Unfortunately, one tragic thing did happen at this control: the Whale of a Deli, my favorite place in Point Reyes Station, was out of meatball subs…I had been looking forward to that since Guerneville. And the cheese sandwich Deb got gave her a stomach ache later. Ah well…

back the way we came

back the way we came

At the finish... we did it! Boyfriend John extended his Volunteer shift to welcome me in and took this picture.

At the finish… we did it! Boyfriend John extended his Volunteer shift to welcome me in and took this picture.

In the final analysis, I’m still in disbelief that I finished a 600k, something I’ve wanted to do for so long. I had thought I would ride most of it by myself and that it would be a much harder ride. If it weren’t for riding with Deb, with Alex, Glenn, and Steffen, I’m not sure I would have finished, who knows. I might still be out there… But as it was, I had a fantastic time. I liked the 600k distance and route more than any of the shorter rides. It took me the entire week afterward to recover, so I decided against the 1000k later this summer. But I guess the honeymoon stage for me and randonneuring is still not over yet, now in our third year together… I’m still amazed by how much I’ve learned by doing these insanely long bike rides. What I learn affects my professional life as well as my personal life. I try not to get too philosophical about the meaning of it all, but I will say that I now understand a lot more about the relationship between humans and our bodies, as well as the need we all have for some kind of physical activity and the positive effect it can have. I’m not sure I can truly say that bicycling is good for your health–we all know too well the dangers involved, not to mention the more banal negative aspects such as having to eat at Safeway or Seven Elevens all the time. Bicycling has been good for me, though. Hopefully it will continue to be…either way you’ll only hear about it on mmmmbike!