Kingdom of Heaven 1000k: the exciting conclusion

Day 3

On the morning of the third day, I overslept my alarm by a few minutes. The accumulated fatigue was starting to affect me, I knew. And my comfy hotel bed and pyjamas were pretty difficult to leave behind. But I also knew that we were still riding a timed event, so there was no time to waste. I got up and started to reassemble my belongings into their various niches: handlebar bag, stuff sack, drop bag. This was the final overnight control, so this was my last chance to restock supplies from my drop bag. I made sure I had all the malto, other snacks, sunscreen, and other supplies I needed.

When we arrived at the control the night before, Eric was there, giving instructions to the volunteers regarding our route. Since I was so tired, it all sounded like gibberish to me. Eric also drew a map for us on a large tablet of grid paper before he left.

Look for the gold microbus!

Look for the gold microbus!

I figured it would make more sense to me in the morning. In the morning, it still didn’t make too much sense, but John had assured me as soon as we got out on the road, we’d see signs for where we needed to go to find Eric. The reason for all this was the fact that due to bad weather conditions yesterday and our need to reroute, we had to add on mileage today. So we would need to do a short out-and-back trip that was cooked up by Eric and John G, the SFR Routemaster. John had figured out exactly the amount of distance we would need to cover in order to ensure we would make our final distance of 1000 kilometers. I’m so amazed that they were able to figure this out on the fly! I was also extremely grateful, since without that, we would not have gotten credit for this most arduous and long ride I’ve done so far.

The way to Eric’s station couldn’t have been easier, and contained a long, enjoyable descent (after climbing Luther Pass out of South Lake Tahoe). I seemed to lose track of Tom for a long time, and so I pulled to the side and took a few pictures.

We all got to the spot where Eric had parked his van and prepared a big spread for us of fruit juice and all kinds of food. After I had been there just a few minutes, he handed me an egg sandwich, just cooked on his camp stove! It was super tasty.

Good cheer and morning sustenance

Good cheer and morning sustenance

Tom changed into his warmer clothes, and we observed Jeff changing his tire, which he had a slash in the sidewall. Eric’s dog Arthur wandered across the road a few times, chasing gophers, but always came back. I tried to digest the egg sandwich as fast as I could, because I knew there was a lot of climbing coming up: Carson Pass, the highest pass of this ride at 8574′.

Finally, I left with Bryan and Tom. They dropped me fairly soon, but I was just amazed I didn’t feel excessively tired, considering. I figured it was okay at this point if I couldn’t keep up with them all the way back home, because I had made it pretty far. Going into the climb of Carson Pass, I knew I was moving a little slower than the day before, but I was happy to be there. Eventually I did see Tom and Bryan, so I knew they were not too far up ahead. I could feel the sun’s higher intensity, and since Luther Pass, I could feel the thinner concentration of oxygen in the air. I pedaled steadily on. The scenery was amazing. Water continued to be a dominant feature on the landscape, creating small cateracts and streams on the valley surface.

Traffic was not bad here, though it increased as I climbed higher toward the pass. Like other climbs on this route, there were no steep grades, but it was just relentless. As I was climbing, it didn’t look like it should be that much work, but it sure was! Perhaps that was because of the strong headwind. Oh yeah, did I mention the wind? Uggghhh that was tough! I remember thinking it was exactly like it feels when you ride around the pylons of the Golden Gate Bridge–when you turn the corner to face a gust full force. But this was a wind of that force, throughout a 1500 ft climb for 6 miles! As I neared a left curve around the mountainside, I just had to stop and pull over for a moment to catch my breath. I had been using my novelty gear (John calls it the bailout gear)–the lowest gear available, but was still just too exhausted to continue. There were some hikers who had parked there, and normally I would have chatted with them, but I just couldn’t. It didn’t take too long before I was moving again, though, and just as I made it up to the left curve around the mountain, the headwind abruptly and radically changed direction, pushing me as if someone had given me a shove from behind! Mountain weather! That was as unexpected as it was welcome. The other unexpected and welcome thing was the sign indicating Carson Pass–the summit! I could hardly believe it. I felt a strong mix of emotions: excitement, relief, exhaustion… I looked to the left and saw a small parking lot. An SFR volunteer was there with a minivan, and my friends were there too! Wow. AND! A ranger station, and you know what that means: patches!!

I pedaled every inch

I pedaled every inch

I went into the ranger station and talked to a lady working there who said her husband is a randonneur! She asked me how many other women were on the ride. (I think there were 5 others, out of 27 starters). She said she does ultra hiking and backpacking. It was so great to finish that climb and find someone who kind of knew what we were all doing. While I talked to her I started to realize how tired I was, though. I felt myself slowing down. Which to me meant it was time to move on. I had encouraged Bryan and Metin to ride on when I arrived at the summit, but Tom had stayed with me, and he was out sitting in the luscious bucket seat of Volunteer Mike’s ultra-comfy van.

Tom, my bike, Volunteer Mike

Tom, my bike, Volunteer Mike (thanks Mike!!!)

I sat inside the van for a little while after getting my patch, eating some of the great snacks there. Normally when I do a big climb, I consider the descent as the resting period, but Carson was different apparently. Finally I felt I could go, and Tom came too. The descent was long and the pavement was smooth. Like the other descents on this route, I never felt like I had picked up too much speed. It was all really fun. At one point, I passed by a lake covered in chunks of ice–still, in June! This was Caples Lake, as I was told by ancien Mark B who took some photos of it:

Caples Lake

Caples Lake

caples2We still had some climbing to do, Carson Spur and one other pass. The scenery continued to amaze me as I passed through climbs and descents.

Beauty of a day

Beauty of a day

Tom and I stayed together through this section of mostly descending, though there were several small bumps in there too. It felt like a massive roller coaster ride, the beauty of the mountains, the forests, the unbelievable amount of snow cover. I think the thin mountain air was probably getting to me too. At some point we passed by Ham’s station, which our group had roundly decided not to visit when we found out they had refused service to a black person. A couple miles later, Tom pulled over for a nature break and to adjust layers. We talked about stopping at Cook’s station, a few miles down the road. Not too much further, we saw a sign for Cook’s, and Bryan’s and Metin’s bikes were out front! Yay!

mmmmCook's

mmmmCook’s

Even better was when we walked in and there were two plates next to them on the table with burgers and fries on them! Did I die and go to heaven?? Bryan had already ordered food for us, what an extraordinary act of thoughtfulness. They had already finished eating, but they patiently waited for us, then took care of putting on more sunscreen and washing up etc. A few other riders came in, once again making me impressed at how close we all were on the course.

I can’t say enough good things about Cook’s. They were so nice to us, and the food was super! They refilled my water bottles, kindly rinsing them out as well. I guess it’s a stopping point for bike campers, because Bryan said he saw one arriving while he was eating, and he decided to stay there for the night (they have space for pitching tents out back).

Cool mugs at Cook's

Cool mugs at Cook’s

When we left Cook’s, I felt totally refreshed and excited. I didn’t even know there was more to be excited about shortly!

The four of us left together from Cook’s and before long met the turnoff for Shake Ridge Road. There were signs indicating Road Closed and a big barricade: practically an open invitation to us veterans of the SFR Adventure Series. It turned out the road had few hazards other than the soft pine needles that had accumulated while the road was closed to cars. What an amazing find, though! No pics, since it was a smooth, fast, well shaded descent where I needed to pay attention to the road surface. There had to be some reason why it was closed… (there was a washout where the road was down to one lane) We passed a nice, friendly older couple walking their dog who smiled and waved at us. I was in bike heaven (again)!

Flatter part of Shake Ridge

Flatter part of Shake Ridge

I was reminded of the riddle, How can you tell a happy cyclist? By the flies in their teeth! Ha. Anyway, Shake Ridge did come to an end and gave way to Ram’s Horn Grade, a twisty descent faintly reminiscent of the shape of a ram’s horn. Then there was the comparatively flat Sutter Creek, which ran next to a lovely creek. We passed through some cute towns where we considered pausing for a snack or beverage, but the riding was so fun, and I think we just wanted to keep the momentum going, so we didn’t stop. The big highway descents had been fun, but I was happy to be on local roads again, traveling through smaller towns that had a lot of character. This route just kept on giving, and there were several more sections of beautiful roads to come. One of those was Amador/Turner/New Chicago, a set of rough farm roads where I felt so at home…

Wheee

Wheee

more and more beautiful

more and more beautiful

some stream crossings (not pictured)

some stream crossings (not pictured)

...and steep parts

…and steep parts

kindly waiting for us

kindly waiting for us

After the info control at the junction of CA-16 and CA-49, we had to turn around to the south toward the town of Ione. I had not realized what a great tailwind we had been enjoying until we had to turn around. That was pretty tough! But at that point, we had collected another rider, so we had a group of five of us to work a paceline. Bryan even counted the mile markers, and rang his bell when it was time to switch. This spirit of collectively taking on the headwind made the entire remainder of the ride much more doable, all the way back to Pleasanton. I was so grateful to ride with this group.

We arrived in Ione, where Volunteer J.T. had parked outside a gas station. We decided to make a brief stop just for some snacks and beverages. Unsure of what I wanted but feeling very hungry, I bought a bunch of stuff I did not end up being able to eat in a reasonable amount of time… ah well. While I was chewing, I noticed there were some chickens outside the gas station, pecking around our bikes. We were informed we could buy them if we wanted.

Chickens for sale!

Chickens for sale!

After Ione was Lake Amador, then the Pardee Reservoir, and the Camanche Reservoir–all gorgeous nature reserve lands that went on for miles. I felt pretty good after eating a bite in Ione, but Bryan all of a sudden was on fire! I want to know what was in the food he ate in Ione… Even Metin noted that the pace had taken a significant upswing. It was a lot faster, but strangely doable, and I thought it would be a good thing to knock out some mileage. It actually felt great to know we were all riding so well at this late time on the third day. The terrain reminded me a lot of the driftless region of Wisconsin, and even some areas of eastern Wisconsin with which I was so familiar: lots of rollers, very steep at times but never too long, sweeping golden farmland as far as you could see. More, though completely different, eye-popping beauty.

Before long, we were starting to look for the penultimate control, which was to be at a rural intersection. A little before we expected to see it though, we saw a telltale minivan by the side of a different intersection, with Eric’s van parked nearby.

Incredible Volunteers!

Incredible Volunteers!

This control was run by Julie N and her family. She also had a camp stove and lots of food to choose from. I was still in hammer-mode, and I couldn’t really fathom stopping to eat, so unfortunately even though we had plenty of time, I didn’t eat too much here. I should have considered eating more, because it negatively affected my mood later, but nevertheless I was so honored to meet Julie. All of the volunteers for this ride had long histories with randonneuring and other long distance rides, and Julie is no exception. I guess that is why someone would want to spend an entire weekend hanging out for hours by the roadside, bringing just the right snacks, even on a ride with only 27 starters. It is kind of an amazing experience to receive hospitality from someone who really knows what you need right then. Eric was there, too, and it was also heartwarming to think that he had probably spent every waking moment the entire 75 hours of this brevet making sure we were all ok, driving his camper to various locations where we would be passing by or where a control needed to be.

When we left, we only had about 75 miles left in the whole ride. That is about the distance of a populaire. hardly worth discussing for most of us, but after all the riding we’d done that day and the two preceding, not insignificant. After Julie’s control, we would be moving into suburban Modesto: Manteca, Tracy, then finally Livermore and Pleasanton. I had been anticipating it to be pretty icky, and a lot of it was, but I had anticipated this stretch to be much longer, so I was pleasantly surprised about that. I started to bonk pretty badly somewhere between Eugene and Manteca… we won’t go into that… but we ended up in Manteca thankfully before the In n Out Burger closed. I desperately wanted to sit down, nap for a little bit, and have something to eat. What I ate didn’t sit too well with me, but the nap did me well, and I hung on with the group until we got to Altamont Pass. I think the hardest part about this stretch was riding next to Tom when he pointed far, far off into the distance at the red lights up on Altamont Pass, and said, “Hey, why don’t we ride there?” It just seemed so impossibly far. But we made it, eventually. I dropped back while climbing the pass, but had a peaceful time under the moon and stars and, uh, more wind. Climbing into the wind again?! So much about this day had been squarely beyond belief, so much beauty and placid countryside, thick forests, wide grassy valleys, and even snow and ice! I just didn’t know what to think about all the places I’d ridden, even in the past 24 hours, much less 72. I couldn’t get too upset about the wind, I just put my head down and pedaled through it as best I could.

We finally made it to the finish control at 4:20 am, making a finish time of 71:20. Volunteer Brian had an awesome spread of delicious food laid out for us. I was so hungry at that point, I just gobbled up anything and everything in front of me. I had thought I would be finishing the ride much closer to the control close time of 8 am, which was when BART opened, so without BART being open, I wasn’t sure how to get home. We discussed sharing a cab, but with so many bikes it didn’t seem feasible. I asked the volunteers if I could take a nap in one of the volunteer rooms until 7 or so, and they said it would be ok, so I had a delicious nap for a few hours, and then took BART home.

Epilogue

This was an excellent route for a first 1000k.The pacing made it feel doable, since it was relatively easy to get to each overnight control within a normal sleeping timeframe. The first day was mostly flat and with a tailwind–easy enough for me to get myself into trouble, or so I thought. But in spite of all the climbing on the second day, we still got to the hotel in South Lake Tahoe by 10-ish. The tradeoff came on the last day, which was much longer, since we rode straight through for almost 24 hours. I only took one 10 minute nap at the In n Out in Manteca. It was a tough slog at the end, into a headwind besides. It was helpful to be in a group at that time and rotate through a paceline.

I owe my finishing it completely to my rando compadres Tom H, Bryan C, Steve H, Metin U, and Gavin B, though mostly Tom and Bryan, since we rode all three days together. Having good friends to ride with really made all the difference in this long ride that had a few unpredictable moments. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the volunteers, home (John G) and away, who all put an extraordinary amount of time and energy into making this brevet a success. I normally don’t like the idea of follow cars or sag wagons, but it was a huge boost, especially on the third day, to see volunteers along the route with water, food, and encouragement. Eric was so wonderful as well, mysteriously appearing at the roadsides from time to time with his cool Westfalia camper, Arthur the dog always within shouting distance. Those unforgettable breakfast sandwiches on the third day… Eric’s ability to respond to conditions as they were happening was brilliant, and gave us the sense we were on a true adventure. Sweetheart John helped in some very tangible ways as well; he gave me the initial idea I could do it, he was there at every overnight control (yes, it was his job to be there anyway), and oh yeah, he loaned me his most precious Wonder Bike (how is it I am dating someone with whom I can swap bikes anyway?? I guess I am just the luckiest girlfriend ever). Some things I need to work on for longer rides: more training in advance, more eating along the way, maybe more ensure, being more organized at controls, especially the overnight ones. Less time faffing around means more time sleeping. Sometimes it can’t be helped, because of fatigue, but I do want to work on that.

But overall, this ride reminded me of so many things I love about long-distance bike rides. They are a great way for me to get out of my tiny studio and explore the world. There’s so much out there I’ve never seen or considered. I had no idea how much variation there was in the geographical and geological forms in the areas around this route. Experiencing the landscape on a bike is such a great way to do it (and I don’t have a car anyway). Bikes are quiet, and you can see 360 degrees of sky, land, water, whatever Mother Nature presents. It is a truly grounding experience. It was crazy to see how many different types of terrain there could be in a single ride. We were so far away from our homes, all completely human powered. I guess one could see the same terrain on a longer bike tour as well, but that requires taking off much more time from work. It is exhausting to do this kind of distance in the short time we have available as randonneurs, but in the case of this ride, it was also exhilarating for me to discover I could actually accomplish it! I look forward to the next one. If and when that happens, you’ll surely read about it here on mmmmbike!

 

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Kingdom of Heaven 1000k: part 2 of 3

Day 2

It was a great feeling to be able to start day 2 feeling ahead of schedule and with a good night’s rest. I had figured that day 2 would be the hardest day of the ride, with 5373 meters of climbing over 312 km of distance. Day 1 only had 1522 meters of climbing over 341 km of distance.  Day 3 was mostly descending, but not without its fair share of work at 3018 meters of climbing over about 350 km. At least, this was according to how things were intended to go, which for better or worse, did not turn out that way. This might have been another lucky break for me, but we’ll never know… Anyway, on with day 2.

The thought had occurred to me to leave Oroville as early as possible, and put an extra hour in the bank for the next night. But Bryan didn’t want to do too much climbing in the dark, and Steve and Tom seemed to want to sleep a bit more. I deferred to their judgement, since they had all done PBP and multiple other long rides, but this was my first of anything longer than a 600k. When we finally left Oroville, it must have been around 0430. I was full of beans again, ready to take the Sierras, sprinting out for the city limit signs in the purple, marshy darkness south of Oroville. On our way out of town, Bryan had an issue with his new rear brake he’d just installed prior to the ride, so we all paused for a moment while he fixed it, and I got this picture of an accountant’s office at the edge of town.

We're now in Ishi Country

We’re in Ishi Country now

I only read the story of Ishi after moving to my adopted hometown of San Francisco, but did not remember that Oroville was the town to which he walked when he was “discovered”. He had walked from Mount Lassen to Oroville, a distance which could have been as much as 100 miles. Seeing this sign reminded me of where my grandma lived in northern Wisconsin, near the Lac du Flambeau reservation.

We continued on after Bryan fixed his brake, and the roads were very peaceful at that hour. Just a few speeders to Oroville… going to work? Couldn’t figure that out. I remembered Eric noting on his Worker’s Ride he had taken a wrong turn around here, so I was very careful to keep an eye on the cue sheet. We got to the info control, and stayed several minutes trying to figure out the answer. Definitely one of the more mysterious info control questions I’ve had to answer, even with the four of us putting our heads together. We eventually just gave up and moved on. Steve’s Garmin kept beeping at us, and we missed a turn in the dark. Turning around, we finally found the road we were supposed to be on. Bryan and I started to speed up as gradually the sky lightened. It was foggy and gray out, and we were moving from marshes to peaceful pastureland. The Pennsylvania riders passed us along with a couple other people. It was nice that we all got to regroup at the controls somewhat. I was always amazed that in spite of being such a long course and with only 27 riders, I often saw other people from our group throughout the ride.

At some point, Bryan wanted to stop and wait for Steve and Tom. I was starting to get an eerie feeling about the fact that we hadn’t seen them for so long. I took it as an opportunity to eat some snacks, since I didn’t eat too much for breakfast at the hotel. We had pulled to the side and were looking backwards when after about 15 minutes, Tom rode around a corner alone. He rode up to us and said that Steve had decided to call it and return to the hotel. My mood sank. Tom said that Steve just didn’t feel up to the climbing we had to do today and couldn’t even keep up with us on the flats. My mood sank further. I knew that Steve’s work schedule had been pretty harsh lately along with other stuff he’d had going on. He and I had started doing weekday evening training rides around the time of the SFR 400k, but he couldn’t keep them up due to work. I was looking forward to his sense of humor to get me through what looked to be a hard day. Ah well. We finally pressed on, starting the climb up Loma Rica, then Marysville Road.

The climbing was not too bad actually. It wasn’t like Joy Road or anything. The grades were pretty gentle overall with a few short spots at 8-9%. And overall, the pavement was smooth and in excellent condition. Rough roads and dirt climbs tend to take their toll on me even more than steep grades at times, but this was all buttery smooth. The route took us off Marysville Road onto a wicked road called Texas Hill that was a little more like the SFR climbs. Then one more hard part on Marysville, and a nice descent down to Bullards Bar Dam. This was totally unexpected for me. I hadn’t known there would be a huge dam on the route!

Bullards Bar Dam

Bullards Bar Dam

It was a dam/reservoir on the Yuba River, and I found a fascinating video of it from above, linked here. This video was taken after all the intense rains this season, probably why the spillway is raging! If you can see the road in the video that curves around just at the top of the dam, that’s exactly where we were riding. It was cloudy out when we rode over it, but it was still pretty cool! After the dam, we got on CA-49, named after the (18)49ers, and also nicknamed the Golden Chain highway. More climbing, and a swoopy, delicious descent. The descent made me a little nervous, because I knew I’d be climbing back up all those meters, but I tried to relax and enjoy (it was not that hard). Smooth pavement on the climbs also made for smooth descending, so I hardly had to use my brakes. It reminded me of Andrea S’s description of the Old Santa Cruz Highway descent, which she says brings a tear to her eye. Some descents do that! At the bottom was a little parking lot, and I noticed a brown Westfalia van–Eric! Apparently there was a secret control there. We pulled in and chatted with Eric for a short time, explaining what had happened with Steve.

Randos

Randos

Eric offered us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I should’ve eaten, but instead we kept going. We got to Downieville and stopped for a late breakfast/early lunch. String cheese, yogurt, fruit, and pretzels. There was only one business open in the town at that time of day (10:00 or so?), and it was a small grocery store with lots of touristy junk food. Tom had wanted a hot pocket, but the clerk said “The freezers broke, and they took away all the frozen food.”

Downieville

Downieville

While we were there eating on the porch, Bob B and Sergio G rolled up. Volunteer Scott also was there, and he helped me top off my water. From there the route followed the Yuba river, which was rushing forcefully. It was amazing! I could hardly take my eyes off it. And the sound… unforgettable. One great thing about riding a bike is you can hear things in nature that you can’t hear while driving or riding a motorcycle.

Yuba 1 Yuba 5 Yuba 4 Yuba 3 Yuba 2

This was a very pretty section of highway, which mitigated the further climbing we had to do. There were also a lot of jerks for drivers out, several jacked up 4x4s hauling ATVs and the occasional coal-roll, and one logging trucker that seemed to have it in for Bryan. I had been pretty worried about traffic behaviors on these stretches of road, but fortunately nothing bad came of it. Along this part we rode with Jeff and Yu a lot, and we got to chat with them. Apparently both Yu and Bryan had done a lot of hiking, so they got to talk about that. I remembered having ridden a short part of the SFR 600k with Jeff and Yu a couple years ago, very nice guys.

As we continued to climb, a light rain set in. The rain became heavier, and I wished I had my rain jacket on. We eventually stopped and put our jackets on; it was getting chilly, too. We rode past Sierra City, and saw where the Pacific Crest Trail crossed the highway. Later we heard that some riders had decided to stop at a cafe in Sierra City and met some hikers there. We continued on. We saw the “ELEVATION 5000FT” sign yet again. Those elevation markers seemed to keep coming back like a bad penny… up to 5000, down to 4000, back up to 6000, down again. We took it all in stride, though. The area was so beautiful and different from what I was used to, it didn’t matter. It was actually why we came. The day still felt young. I was also anticipating the climb up Gold Lake Highway, which had looked much steeper than where we were at that moment.

The rain kept coming down. We were getting very close to the turnoff for Gold Lake Highway. I was hoping we would stop at the turnoff so I could put on another layer. I saw the big store at Bassetts: our turn!

Bassetts Store

Bassetts Store

I looked to the left, and saw Eric’s van. Hmmm, again? Something was up. We rode up to the van and Eric explained to us that the weather conditions were too treacherous on Gold Lake Highway, and we’d have to re-route. I remember thinking… are we Larsenneuring yet? Ha. But seriously, I was grateful to Eric for paying such close attention that he was able to catch us all before we navigated into a bad storm, and in any case we might have had to backtrack down after climbing up then-blocked Gold Lake Highway. And, he had warm food for us, which was very welcome. I usually don’t like the idea of sag wagons following riders around, but in this case, it was nice to see Eric at various points along the way, and it was also quite magical to see volunteers along the course at unexpected places. I was cold at that point and wanted to get out of the rain and wind, so I went over to the shelter/bathroom structure off to the side. I wasn’t sure if Tom and Bryan wanted to stay and have something to eat; I think someone was having cup o’noodles Eric had made, and I probably should have eaten something too. I wanted to keep going, just to stay warm. I was bummed about not going to Graeagle, since I had been there before with a friend whose grandfather lived there. But it was ok with me; it was all part of the adventure.

So instead of Gold Lake, we would continue on 49, climbing Yuba pass (which had the same elevation as Gold Lake: 6701 ft.), and then rejoin the original route. This would include descending down to Sierraville before climbing again (and descending again!) to Truckee. There we could have a big meal before climbing Brockway, another big pass of the ride, at 7179 ft. Then we’d descend to Lake Tahoe, ride the length of the lake, and hit the sack in South Lake Tahoe. Eric explained we would have to add some mileage onto the third day to make up for the mileage lost from not riding Gold Lakes Highway. That was not great news, but I figured we would cross that pass when we came to it.

As we left Eric and continued up to Yuba pass, the weather continued blustering. Bryan crept ahead on the climb and Tom got ahead of me too. We all regrouped at the top, where it was hailing! When Bryan had arrived, it was brightly sunny. Mountain weather! One of the many nice things about riding with Tom and Bryan was that they always waited for me at the summits. I kept pushing as best I could, but I never felt pressured. We all got to climb at our own pace, yet we stayed together. Riding with them was another lucky break for me of sorts. We started the descent and paused at a small vista point. We had emerged from thick forest to an overlook of a vast and gorgeous meadow.

Meadow Overlook

The meadow beyond

It reminded me of passages from John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra. Another vista, of ones that seemed to be constantly unfolding, that was so beautiful it almost brought a tear to my eye. It seemed entirely possible that this valley looked the same to us that day as it did to John Muir 100 years ago. We continued down into the sunny meadow, where muscular, shiny brown horses grazed peacefully. Old farmhouses stood firm there, against the tests of time and weather. I didn’t take any pictures; I was too tired and hungry, so you’ll have to go there yourself… We looped around this heavenly valley to reach Sierraville. Kingdom of Heaven indeed! There happened to be a cafe there, and I was starving, so we agreed to make a quick stop.

It turned out the Dixons were there, eating sandwiches. We chatted with them a little, but I was feeling kind of overwhelmed by the experience, so I just ate my apple so we could be on our way. I think I also had one of my Ensures and started to feel better. The cafe was filled with lots of kooky paintings of farm life that I liked a lot.

I totally fell for this painting!

I totally fell for this painting! I liked the quail one too.

Cow painting...for my dad

Cow painting…for my dad

I wished we could have stayed for lunch, but we needed to keep moving. We were aiming for a full dinner in Truckee. Before we got there, though, we had some work to do. From Sierraville, we climbed through the warm sunlight of the bright afternoon. We returned to the forest and rocky terrain.

Welcome to Heaven...

Welcome to Heaven…

just because it's heaven doesn't mean there isn't more climbing

just because it’s heaven doesn’t mean there isn’t more climbing

We got into Truckee just before the dinner hour, and it was jarring to be around so much local traffic. We made it to the restaurant Eric had been to on his Worker’s Ride and parked our bikes outside. Tom and Bryan shared a pitcher of beer and I had another glorious root beer float. They shared a large pizza, and I got spaghetti and meatballs! This has been my favorite meal since I was a child. The spaghetti did not disappoint, though the meatballs were not quite as good as my own, ha.

Don't get the pizza

Don’t get the pizza

The pizza was unfortunately not totally cooked… but we were just all glad to sit down and relax. Tom face-timed with Grant and Alayne, Bryan texted to Emily, and I sent some messages to Volunteer Sweetheart John. As we were finishing our meal, Eric showed up! Yay! It was great to see him. He took pictures of us. Some other riders came in too: Bob B, Sergio, Tom V, and some of the Pennsylvania crew. They were all very happy to be there, and we were happy to give them our table so they could sit down and rest.

We continued on again, climbing up to Brockway summit. The long break had been good for me, and I felt strong enough to tackle the last major climb of the day. Bryan got ahead of us again, and Tom got ahead of me again too, though I could usually see him from where I was. We made it to the summit, regrouped, and started the long descent toward the north end of the lake.

Lake Tahoe and sunset in the distance

Lake Tahoe and sunset in the distance

The lake was amazing, ringed at the far shores by snow capped mountains. It was mostly covered by cloudy skies, but there were small spots where powerful rays of sunshine broke through the clouds to shine on the lake. It was something unusual to behold. I pondered the interplay of water and land throughout the day so far, from the soft marshes of Oroville at sea level or slightly above, to the rushing Yuba River,  the man-made dam, the rain and hail, the snow still piled up by the roadsides in spite of all the bright sunlight, the water running over the meadow we saw, and now this gigantic lake.

The next element to be in awe of would be wind, as we fought against strong headwinds all along the eastern shore of the lake to get to the final control of the day. I had noticed the surface of the lake was choppy, so I knew what was in store. But I also knew we were closing in on a decent finish time for day 2, and kept going. Some of the areas were heavily trafficky, but I kept pressing on, riding mainly single file with Tom. I’ve invested a lot in my reflecto profile over the years, and Tom has good reflecto as well, and I felt pretty confident that drivers would see us–if they were paying attention to the road. There are some things in life we can’t control. But every driver behind us changed lanes to pass around the lake, and it was fine. I made it to the hotel by 10:20, still several hours ahead of my projections. I got to see John at the control, eat plenty of food, take a nice hot shower, and fall into bed. It had been a long day with a lot of ups and downs. Even if I had to abandon the next day, I made it through the hardest day, and that was all that mattered to me. But was it the hardest day? We would see…

 

 

Kingdom of Heaven 1000k: Part 1 of 3

Pre Ride

When I first saw the announcement for the Kingdom of Heaven 1000k, I thought, “That would be a nice route for someone who’s in shape, fast, and a good climber.” i.e., not myself. Then I did the SFR Mount Hamilton 200k in February, and thought, wellll, mayyybe I could Attempt the 1000k if I train a lot and work hard at it. Then John told me he had been enlisted into the elite cadre of supervolunteers for the 1000k, and if I wanted to ride it, that would be fine with him. Okay, now this is getting interesting… I had Significant Other Buy-in! There were a lot of enticing things about this ride. Number One: a local brevet over 600km. Traveling to out of state or out of country events is cost prohibitive for me, not to mention it’s hard for me to take the time away from work. But I’ve been wanting to try a longer distance for a year or two, for it seemed like a natural progression. Number Two: Areas close to the start and finish were familiar to me, but the rest would be a brand new adventure. I’d never been to Lake Tahoe before, though I’d camped in Plumas Eureka State Forest and Desolation Wilderness. These areas were close enough to give me a vague idea of what to expect (steeeep! for a long time! and scenic and remote!). So in spite of the little voices telling me Larsenneuring was for other people, I started to study the route and bulk up my climbing routine.

Some of the best training I think I did was simply the full series of SFR rides. These routes are old cap to me by now, but they are still challenging enough to keep me trained up. The SFR 600k has approximately the same proportion of meters of climbing to kilometers of distance that the 1000k would have. According to my rough study of potential weather situations, it seemed like the 1000k would have similar weather and temps as the series of SFR brevets: could go up to high 60s  or slightly higher in the day, low 40s or dip into the 30s at night; showers and headwinds likely at some point. It seemed like the 400k Workers’ Ride could be a similar model, though in the mountains anything was possible. Which brings me to another aspect of the ride that gave me some comfort: my fellow workers’ riders from the 400k were registered too!  And so were many other riders I knew from SFR: Megan A, Jon B and Angela N, Dan B, Brad W, Greg M, and others. It seemed like a great group, and I was becoming excited. I decided to do a climby, not-for-credit 200k training ride based on Eric Larsen’s Diablo Terrritory permanent, and Bryan C joined me. That was another piece of training that helped me feel more confident. Bryan, an excellent riding companion in so many ways, had some very helpful route improvements based on road closures due to that season’s washouts.

As the weeks and days ticked down, there was still a fair amount of uncertainty in some parts of the route. The original intent was to ride Ebbetts Pass, but in late May, it was still snowed in. What does that even look like, I wondered.

what, indeed: Caltrans photo from late May, 2017

Sooo… wait, whuuut? We’re riding in that? OK, I’ll bring some extra layers! I hate to play the Wisconsin card, but half my house was buried under a snowdrift when I was in second grade. I sure hadn’t ridden any brevets in those conditions, but I wasn’t too shocked by the idea as some seemed to be. It didn’t look like it would snow, just that there might be freezing rain on the west side of Lake Tahoe. Mountain weather can indeed be dangerous and can change quickly, so I wouldn’t judge anyone negatively for dropping off the roster. However, there was a fair amount of weatherpocalypse chitchat on the email list of riders that I sort of ignored (fools rush in…) mostly because of the true weatherpocalypse 300k I rode in only last year (and survived!)… with Tom and Steve, two of the same palz I would be riding with in June.

We did not get to ride Ebbetts Pass anyway, because as Eric found out prior to his solo Worker’s Ride, Ebbetts would be closed at the time of our ride, not even open to bikes. This signaled to me that we were not going on a normal ride, so I prepared myself mentally to deal with that. There were still a few route related details that were up in the air the week before the brevet, making route study a little confusing, and weather predictions changed by the moment. I just figured I would do my best. I was ready for the adventure. I obsessively tried to calculate my projected times at the various controls with an elaborate spreadsheet from John’s cousin Russ, but for some reason, all the finish control times weren’t loading correctly, and the amount of time lost due to climbing seemed impossible to predict. Lines on an elevation profile only tell part of the story, as I have learned over and over again. I had trained for the ride, and I felt stronger, but I wasn’t totally sure I could make all the control closing times. I didn’t have any backup or bailout plans, had not investigated alternate transpo from any of the towns en route should I need to abandon. I kind of prefer not having contingency plans, because I find that when people have them, they’re more likely to use them instead of finding ways to continue the ride. I did put my knitting in my drop bag, in case I got stuck on a Greyhound somewhere. But finally, like I had so many times before, I committed to the adventure and off I went.

Day 1

Because John was working the start control and had to do bike check the day before, he got to stay in the volunteers’ hotel room at the start location, and by extension, so did I. That was kind of a lucky break for me, and I got an excellent night’s sleep prior to the start of the event at 5 am the morning of Thursday, June 8. Another lucky break was  that I would be riding John’s bike, a titanium frame built by Steve Potts to John’s specs (using Pelican geometry as a starting point). Some have called this a wonder bike, and I can’t quite psychologically process why I got to ride a bike this nice. Fast, comfortable, lightweight, and the excellent Pelican handling with which I am so familiar. It is pretty amazing. I rode it on the SFR 600k last year too.

Despite all the dire weather predictions, the skies were clear at the start. Most of us were wearing shorts or knickers, and no rain jackets. We had a relatively easy warm-up spin from Pleasanton to Winters, about 75 miles into the ride. The Carquinez Bridge was a nice change from the usual Al Zampa bridge, and had less climbing, allowing the group of us to stay together slightly longer.

Staying together on the Carquinez Bridge

Staying together on the Carquinez Bridge

We had stayed together (as far as I could tell) all the way through the east bay suburbs, forming a critical mass at every intersection that most drivers patiently respected. A misty cloudiness developed as we watched the city-bound traffic pile up on Mankas Corner, a road familiar to SFRs from the Winters and Davis night brevets. Yikes! I had never seen that many cars on that rural farm connector road. But soon we were out of the fray, and zooming down lovely Cherry Glen and Pleasants Valley. The mist dampened all sound as we rode under the oaks and through the cow pastures.

Pleasants Valley is pleasant as usual

Pleasants Valley is pleasant as usual

We got to Winters, and there was John and Volunteer Phil to greet us! A group of half a dozen or more riders had arrived at a cafe in downtown Winters before us and were enjoying a full breakfast, which looked enticing. Our small group decided to just have some beverages and pastries, and took kind of a surprisingly long break. I got to eat some very yummy pastries there and had a juice or two. I’m working on eating more solid food (as opposed to nutritional shakes, gels etc) on rides, so I got a couple pastries. Part of an oat bar I had to pack for later, I gave John a smoochie and we were off again. Still no rain jackets among any of us, though there was still some pesky mist hanging around intermittently. It was pretty warm.

The next 30 miles or so to Guinda were pleasant and relaxed. It was getting toward late morning, and most farmers were not out driving, so we didn’t have to deal with too much traffic. We got to the Guinda Corner Store, a place that held great anticipation for me since my friends had stopped there on their fleche route this year. It was pretty cool, with a beauty shop next door.

Beautiful Guinda

Beautiful Guinda

I always wish I had more time in the small towns I visit on brevets, and I wished this time I could stop and get a haircut and hang out with the people there. The cashier at the Corner Store complimented me on choosing an apple as one of my snacks (of course, she didn’t know I’d just ploughed through 1.5 pastries in Winters). I love eating apples and carrots on brevets. A little sweetness, a little hydration, a little something different for your stomach to work on, and they clean your teeth as you chew! We all had a nice time briefly sitting on the porch in Guinda; I love Steve’s deadpan sense of humor, which was out in full force that day.

We were still making pretty good time, and finding other riders at the various stops. A group left ahead of us from Guinda, but eventually we caught up to them around where 16 follows Cache Creek. That was one of the prettier sections of the day. Bryan informed me that at one time, there was an SFR 400k route to Williams through here, though it was too windy one year, so it was discontinued. On this day, we had a nice tailwind, so apparently we got lucky.

The road was down to one lane in parts as it went through the Cache Creek Regional Park, and we had to wait with a few RVs and other cyclists for our turn. Since the intense rains we’ve had this season, we were accustomed to this process of having to wait when a road goes down to one lane. We chatted with the construction worker on the scene, with some of the RV drivers, and each other for what seemed like a long time. Finally we were waved on through. We all stayed together, about a dozen of us, through this lovely area reminiscent of Mines Road (minus the climbing!).

CA-16 plus 2 riders from PA

CA-16 plus 2 riders from PA

Chatting and pedaling: so far, so good

Chatting and pedaling: so far, so good

Cache Creek

Cache Creek

All good! Next up was a turn onto CA-20, which was not quite as nice as 16, but we made it… Lots of speedy and/or mean-spirited drivers and no room on the shoulder, which was strewn with trash and broken glass anyway. Stressful. There was also a mean crosswind that showed up out of nowhere, making more work for us. I tried to get the small group I was in to form an echelon, but I don’t think anybody could hear me. I took a pull, then dropped off the back. There was one bridge just before arriving in Colusa that looked so sketchy, Bryan pulled over and we waited for all the cars and trucks to go by before we could cross. There was just not enough room, and no one was moving over six inches to pass us, much less changing lanes as they should have. Bryan and I pulled into Colusa having lost Steve and Tom, so we stopped to pause and wait for them across the street from a little burger and shake joint. When Steve and Tom rolled up, it didn’t take long for us to decide to stop there. I had a dreamy root beer float and some fried chicken fingers with fries; Tom had a chili burger which seemed to be an island of burger floating on a sea of chili… Steve’s deadpan humor had me belly laughing as we discussed the following sculpture on the wall:

"Creepy dude"

“Creepy dude”

We left Colusa in a much better mood than how we arrived. After Colusa, the route turns onto CA-45, and begins to follow the Sacramento River. Here the terrain felt more like being on the delta, with occasional levees and lots of greenery. It was refreshing after that awful (though short) stretch of CA-20! There was much less traffic here, too, and wider shoulders. Birds were flying all around, and a large common egret flew high over us by the side of the road for a couple minutes before peeling off to catch some fish in the river, most likely.

We got to the staffed control at Ord Ferry, and chilled out with Volunteer Phil and Volunteer DHK just as another couple of randos were taking off. This little county park was not much more than a public boat launch, but it was a great place for us to relax. Only about 35 miles remained in this, our first day.

Blue skies smiling at me

Blue skies smiling at me

After this, the route took us on a loop of the rice fields in this region. I was initally excited to see the fields that produce the Lundberg rice I’ve been eating so much of lately, but Bryan reminded me that since California has so little water, there is not a small amount of controversy about growing rice here. It was pretty nice to ride around the area, though; still more waterfowl and a great sunset.

SFR colors... sort of

SFR colors… sort of

Rice field

Rice field

Day 1 with great friends almost in the books

Day 1 with great friends almost in the books

As the sun set, we looked over the bright green fields and I was amazed by what a great day we’d had. I’d had enough energy to sprint for some city limit signs with Bryan, and though I never garnered any, I usually don’t even try so that was a marked improvement. I hoped I wasn’t burning matches I would need tomorrow… But in any case, we would probably arrive in Oroville several hours ahead of the schedule I’d estimated, probably affected by the tailwind we’d had. I got to see Sweetheart John again in Oroville, who nevertheless did not give me any special treatment with regard to the lasagne ration (one piece only!) we all received. I did get to see the large stack of paperbacks he found at the local used book store in Oroville, which of course he visited while carrying out his volunteer duties, giving me a hint of the normalcy I did not have while on a long bike ride. And I did get an excellent few hours’ or more sleep, and a hot shower. So far, so good.