S1: 200K, Point Reyes Light House

Back for more to the wild seashore

Back for more to the king of seashores

From identifying my rides with the code “R” and the number in whatever R-12 I am doing, I have now graduated to the next letter of the alphabet and the next level of randonneuring accomplishment: S for Super, as in Super Randonneur Award. I also considered identifying the rides this year in terms of what installment of the Qualifying rides for the Santa Cruz 1000K, but I don’t want to go backwards alphabetically, so Super it is.

My sweetheart did this brevet as a Workers’ Ride on the same day as the rainy Populaire this year, and pretty much got dumped on as soon as they passed the sign in the picture above. He said they did not have too much traffic, but there was also a nasty headwind from Point Reyes Station to the turnaround in Marshall, California. My ride was exactly the opposite: the weather was delightfully clear, with temps low enough not to feel overheated or sweaty, and calm wind even on the way to Marshall, which is rare. Car traffic was heavy on this beautiful day, with everyone deciding to visit our national seashore and escape/recreate their own personal rat race by flooring it on scenic country roads and punishingly passing, honking at, or tailgating any violator of their own idea of the low end of the speed limit.

But anyway… did I mention the cows? One day, many lifetimes from now, if I’m reeeeeally good, I will be reincarnated as a Point Reyes cow. These cows have the shaggiest, glossiest coats of any cows I’ve ever seen. Here again, as I do every year, I will share with you some of my favorites. I did not take as many cow pictures this year–there were some beautiful brown Jerseys I wish I had photographed.

Has it been a whole year since I last saw this cow?

Has it been a whole year since I last saw you, baby?

Thistles and wildflowers are dry; the ocean waves are loud!

Thistles and wildflowers are dry; the ocean waves are loud!

I started off the morning by volunteering at rider check-in, something you can do even if you’re planning to ride. I love to volunteer because I get to have a reason to put on my cheerful morning face for everybody. I love to see how smiling at people makes them smile too. In truth I am so ready to get this brevet season started; I haven’t ridden a 200k for almost two months, and it is time for me to get back on my bike, and not just for a fun social ride.

This is an easy ride to have time goals since there are only two controls. I think my first year on this ride I got to the lighthouse at 11:49 or so (it rained in the late morning then); this year I made it by a cool 11:14. I had a big grin on my face upon checking in with the SFR luminary Bruce Berg and didn’t stay too long.

me n the raging surf

me, my new design SFR jersey, n the raging surf

Esteban and I leave the control together and are able to chat for just a bit and admire more cows. As we head back, we encounter a peculiar figure in green, howling down a descent and taking our picture. Esteban is nursing a slight hangover from pre-brevet festivities, and I am feeling an overwhelming yen for Marshall Store chowder, so I pull on ahead through the climb and descent to Inverness, back along the bay to Point Reyes Station, and Highway One to Marshall.

As I mentioned, there was little to no wind on the way to Marshall, so I got there in record time (for me), too. When I got there, I saw the two volunteers staffing the control–a new feature for this year, and thank goodness. Normally the Marshall Store clerk stamps our cards, but with the beauty of the day, the line even in remote Marshall, California for oysters and clam chowder was formidable. It’s also nice to have a choice of eating (the mindblowing chowder & ginger beer, yahoo!) at the Marshall Store or having more food choices in Point Reyes Station, though for me there is no question. I rarely get up to Marshall, so I eat there. While in line in the Marshall Store I chat with my fellow lineholders about bicycling and traffic and one lady comments that people honk at her if she slows down to wait for a safe place in the road to pass cyclists. I try to stay on the positive side with this complete stranger and say what a beautiful day it is to ride out to the Lighthouse, and she changes the subject to the fact that she’s been staying at the hostel in Point Reyes and how much she loves it there. The guy next to her in line is impressed with the bike riding and asks more about our route. The two elderly ladies ahead of me in line take the last of the chowder, causing some consternation, but I smell something better. After a thorough huckabuck, they move toward the cashier and I step up to the steam table to ladel out the only solid food I will eat all day, something I have not yet tried… FISH STEW! Wow. I take my portion and my ginger beer and a seat at a table with fellow rando Heath Allen, and we both bask in the glow of the really good stuff. The great thing about the stew and chowder is the self-serve aspect as you can get back on the road much faster than if you have to wait for the kitchen to make you a sandwich.

So… that’s what I did. I chatted a bit with Brian O., and then geared up for the return trip. Time and wind direction were on my side, and I found Esteban again along Highway One.

Pelicans of a feather flock together

Pelicans of a feather flock together

We rode together for a little while again, but I was in a hurry to get back home where my sweetie would be at the finish control to greet me. Up and over the final five climbs I went: Point Reyes-Petaluma to the Nicasio Reservoir (so dry this year you can now walk across much of it),

Was: Reservoir. Is: Soccer Field?

Was: Reservoir. Is: Soccer Field?

Nicasio Valley Road, White’s Hill, Camino Alto and Sausalito Lateral. I had been hoping to finish the ride this year in ten and a half hours, and thanks to the spotless weather, good company, fish stew, and new SFR jersey, I did. It sure would be nice if the rest of the rides of this series go as smoothly as this one. I did have one mini-mechanical: I heard one of my fender bolts working its way loose on the way into Inverness, and I stopped and had to flip my bike over and remove the rear wheel to tighten it. I did not see any way I would make it over five cattle grates and all the ups and downs of Sir Francis Drake out to the Lighthouse without losing the bolt if I didn’t tighten it, so I did. But that was pretty much it.

Hanging out at the finish control this year was a lot of fun. John was volunteering, so he flitted around in an official way and I didn’t get to hang out with him too much, but I did get to chat with some friends old and new. Steffan P. and I realized we both rode our first brevet on the Point Reyes Light House route two years ago! And it was great to see Brian O. and his new 650b Pelican. John got to sell some of his bike pieces and parts and some of the mudflaps we made together on Christmas Day.

Thanks again to Rob, all the volunteers–especially those who staff the remote controls like the Lighthouse and the Marshall Store, and to all the other riders who populate these rides and make each brevet a special and unique experience.

January: the blog is back, and I am out brevet-ing again

I had been avoiding major rides for a few weeks: the cold air had been painful on my throat, and I didn’t want to risk burnout after my R-12. I tell my friends I might not do the Lighthouse brevet, but they don’t buy it. “You really think you won’t do it? Come on,” two people replied on separate occasions. OK then! I’ll sign up! In that case I have to do some practice rides, so I drag myself out on the bike and away from the swimming pool where I’ve been for the past couple weeks, and gingerly ride a couple test rides by myself to see where I ended up.

Sun going down near Olema

Sun going down near Olema

I rode up to Point Reyes Station in the late afternoon, following Mr. Potis’s suggestion, in order to become more comfortable riding in darkness– part of the long-range strategy to do the 400k. This ride had the added benefit of beginning later in the day when the air was warmer. I’ve also been concerned about riding through drastic temperature swings, which happen a lot on the 400k according to various reports, and that day had them. Wearing the right amount of clothing to a ride and packing the right extra layers is something with which I still need some practice.

Then I got to do another lackadaisical, cyclotour-paced ride with John to Point Reyes Station which included a break with biscuits and gravy at the Pinecone Diner! Yum. No pictures of the biscuits and gravy, sorry but I don’t want to make everyone salivate, thus forcing my entire readership on the ill-equipped staff at that quirky and eclectic small-town establishment. That ride included a fair amount of frost, and a few sightings of black ice along Sir Francis Drake as late as 10 am.

The following weekend was the 200k to the Lighthouse. Everyone (particularly me) is complaining that they are sick and undertrained, it is cold, and yet it is time for the signature brevet of the San Francisco Randonneurs season. Along with 125 or so 200K riders and 40-odd populaire participants, I set out for what is predicted to be a rather breeze-blown day out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, the town of Marshall, and back to San Francisco. I was volunteering at check-in, and arrived quite early after a solid night’s sleep to take some pictures of the moonlit ocean.

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I was the first to arrive, followed shortly by a pert Alice Stribling, also checking in riders. So far our brand loyalty has not let us down, and I take a quick snapshot of our trusty bikes standing together.

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Pelicans rule!!!

Lots of riders all show up at once in the few minutes before Rob’s talk and the world-famous oath. I finally hand over the clipboard and remaining brevet cards to my partner in check-in Ron Lau, grab my bike, and hold up my right hand, or my other right hand, for the oath.

Ready to go

Ready to go… my camera is not quite awake yet

Finally it is time for us all to set out. It is truly a critical mass of randonneurs through the bridge, Sausalito, and the bike path. I see French Clements for a moment and have just enough time for a hi-how-de-do before he speeds off ahead. He is riding the Populaire route today, and will ride it in enough time to make it back to town before work (?!) at Huckleberry Bikes! Crazy!

On the way up Camino Alto I chat with Gabe for a moment, but I let him go on ahead and take it easy up this standard wake-up slap in the face. I recall when I first started training for brevets how I would do reps of Camino Alto and think that might not be a bad idea to take up again. I always get dropped by one group after another on this stretch, and one of the turns on the downhill side is still a bit of a knuckle-biter. But then again, I am the kind of rider who doesn’t get warmed up until the fourth hour, so maybe it’ll just always be a slow stretch for me.

Mmmmount Tam up ahead

Mmmmount Tam up ahead

I made a departure again from some riding folk to ride on the cross-marin bike path through Samuel P. Taylor park, which may have set me behind some more, but I felt pretty good about the decision anyway. The portion of smooth new road through the park is so small, and the cool trees beckoned. I remembered riding through the path on the populaire last June with Sarah Burke and Greg Beato, kind of hauling ass! Whew. Not doing that on this ride, just taking it easy. Emerging out of the path on the climb toward Olema, I run into Greg Merritt and his friend Myra, and a snatch of pleasant chatting ensues until we reach the brisk downhill into Olema.

On Bear Valley Road, I hear some whistling up ahead, and find that it’s Manny Acosta! I tell him about the time when I had just started riding for anything more than just commuting. I would venture boldly over the bridge to Sausalito, Tiburon, and the Paradise loop, then would get lost trying to find my way back to the Golden Gate Bridge. “I was so clueless then!” (of course, I am still clueless), I told him, laughing. I would get sooo lost. I explained to Manny my then-new strategy to avoid getting lost not by stopping, looking at maps on my (stupid) smart phone, waiting for a signal, waiting waiting… but instead by looking around me for other cyclists who look like they know where they’re going and following them. Worked without fail! Anyway, one day I was really perturbed about how to get back to the bridge, and I heard a guy behind me whistling a happy-sounding tune which reminded me of Django Reinhardt. Eventually he passed me, and I hopped up the pace to follow him. Sure enough, I was back at the bridge plaza before you could say Honeysuckle Rose! Thus I have a special fondness for people who whistle or sing while riding. I think Manny liked my story and we rode for a while until we met up with Esteban and a small group around Inverness. I pulled hard with them but finally had to let them go on the climb out of Inverness. I enjoyed moving through the tall pines which reminded me of being at my grandmother Roz’s house in northern Wisconsin. I did not find out until later that Manny had cracked his right shifter before the ride with no time to fix it, and was riding the entire brevet on just a few gears! Manny is a good, strong rider– it’s not an easy route to do without a wide selection of gears.

Get ready to see some more cows

Get ready to see some more cows

After the big climb out of Inverness was accomplished, I began the long road to the lighthouse through Point Reyes. I was alone now, and after the happy ruckuss of riding through Sausalito and little Marin towns, the familiarity of the bike path and Olema, and the hard work of the climb, I set into a meditative mood. It was still mid-morning, and there was not a lot of car traffic yet. The weather was beautiful with plenty of warm sun and just a few puffy clouds, and the wind wasn’t too bad. This road is remote enough that I had not ridden it since the brevet last year, so it was an especially profound experience. Before long I started to encounter other riders: Doug Ray, Manny, a couple of recumbent riders, and a group I had ridden with earlier. I saw Doug and the pair of recumbent riders take the wrong road off toward South Beach! Uh oh… but they were too far off to hear me yell or ring my bell.

The Beautiful Pacific Ocean

The Beautiful Pacific Ocean

See you ladies again next year!

See you ladies again next year!

After that intersection I began to see the faster riders coming back toward me from the lighthouse control: Tom H, Carlos D, and as I neared the control, Gabe and Jake, Esteban, and others. The excitement mounted, and my Pelican and I did too! I ultimately reached the control at 11:05, forty minutes earlier than my time last year! woo hoo! I poked around at this control though, chatting for a long time with Mrs. Walker with whom I had waited out the final control at the 600k last year. There were only 28 riders participating on that ride, and in the duration of our volunteer shift only a handful of them arrived, so we got to know each other fairly well that morning!

Manny A arriving at the Lighthouse control

Manny A arriving at the Lighthouse control

While I was at the control, Manny (among others) arrived. He parked next to my bike with his handlebar bag wide open, and while he was in the restroom, his brevet card flew out across the parking lot! I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I chased after it anyway, and picked up his brevet card, placed it back in his bag, and closed the bag. Doug arrived, looking a little out of sorts probably due to the bonus miles. I tried to eat one of the empanadas I had brought with me from the Chilean place by my house, but it felt like chalk in my mouth and I could only eat about half. I was a little worried about this, but I finished my shake, refilled my bottles, and finally set back out. The ride back from the Lighthouse is lusciously rewarding. To me, it feels like a victory lap.

The wind out of the north on the way to Marshall from Point Reyes Station was brutal that day. I rode with Irving and Carlin for a little while, then behind a tall guy on a mountain bike for a little while, and though we could have all pacelined together, for some reason we all just stayed on our own. For a while it was all I could do just to hold on to my handlebars I was so tired, but when one is in that kind of situation on a brevet, there is really no good alternative than to keep going. At least that is the way I see it– if you stop, you’re just prolonging the inevitable. And so I made it to Marshall. Chowder and crackers awaited me there, and I happily gulped it down.

Yay we made it!

Yay we made it!

I have gotten a little better about getting through controls quickly– I choose to eat whatever is the first thing that comes to mind, no more lengthy debates over ginger beer versus gatorade. The value of being able to trust my instincts, make a decisive move, then move on is an important lesson that randonneuring has taught me, one of many.

Lucky for me, I ran into Jake Mann at Marshall. He had diligently kept up with Gabe and his group until the Marshall control, then needed a rest, so let Gabe go on ahead. I’ve ridden with Jake before, so when he asked if he could leave with me from the control, I was psyched. Having ridden by myself much of the ride so far, I was ready for a little company, and Jake and I did very well from Marshall all the way back to the final control at the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza.

Sky is pink again

Sky is pink again

We happened to see the moon rise, though we finished before darkness set in, and Mr. Potis was there to greet us at the finish *and* inform us of our excellent finish time according to Tamagachi. An auspicious beginning to the brevet season!

R1: Point Reyes Lighthouse 200k, January 21, 2012

“Our classic event to Point Reyes Lighthouse, Love or Hate it but we all come back the next year for more. About 7500 elevation gain.”
-from the San Francisco Randonneurs website

What more can be said about this ride, really? Just having done this ride one time, at the end of the day I was at a complete loss for words. 7500 feet of elevation gain is not that much compared to most of the permanent routes I’ve ridden this year, so it doesn’t seem like it should be that much of a challenge. When I think about the day of this ride and all twelve and a half hours I was on or off the bike throughout the day, it surely was epic, a day with many chapters. Not quite like a Tolstoy novel, but you get the idea.

For me, this ride actually started back in October of 2011. I volunteered for the SF Randonneurs at the Winters lunch control making sandwiches. I had just put down a deposit on a Pelican, so when Bryan C and Theresa L arrived at the control both riding Pelicans, I asked them about their bikes and whatnot. Bryan asked me if I was thinking about doing the Lighthouse brevet. I said sure, not having a clue what I was getting myself into. When I got home and realized what I was getting myself into, I snapped into action. I knew I was really going to do it, I just had to figure out how. The longest ride I had ever done at that point was under 20 miles, and the brevet was less than four months away. I asked a friend to help me come up with some way to train up for this ride, and he listed off all the major bike routes in Marin: start with a Headlands loop, then Paradise/ Tiburon, then go to Fairfax and San Anselmo, then Nicasio Reservoir. Then go to Point Reyes Station. Every week I kept going farther. By new year’s I was up to 100-mile rides.

my January 2 pre-ride to the Point Reyes Lighthouse

my January 2 pre-ride to the Point Reyes Lighthouse

My friend also gave me a book: Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. I have always had a stunningly huge appetite, so learning that eating more would be helpful was great!

While training, I discovered I really loved my time on the bike. I could feel my lungs getting bigger. I loved studying the scenery and was just agape at beautiful Marin County. What an extraordinary place… coming from rough-n-tough south side Chicago, it was quite a change of scenery, just the boost I needed.

As the days crept closer to the day of the brevet, though, my anxiety grew.  I wrote Gabe an email asking if I should really do this. He was very reassuring and advised, “Just bring enough on bike food and go at your own pace.” That was exactly what I needed to hear, since I was worried about being too slow, though I had worked out that at my current pace, I would be able to comfortably make the times required for each control.

Then the afternoon before the brevet, upon seeing the weather forecast for rain, I decided I needed mudflaps. Oh man, I looked at sixteen different websites, trying to decide what to do and finally went into Box Dog about ten minutes before closing time. Gabe was there, and he showed me all the different ones they had, and I realized that I had a bunch of sole leather at home that I could cut into mudflap shapes, and just make my own. I mentioned this to Gabe and he gave me a set of bolts to bolt them onto my fenders, suggesting I just buy him a beer at the Marshall store (still owe that beer). This was not without some hesitation on his part coupled with the warning that people often do projects like this the night before a brevet and it ends up making them late or lose critical sleep.  Well, I did end up being a few minutes late, just a few. I wanted to start at the back of the group anyway so I wouldn’t feel pressured to go fast.

It did rain while I was going through Samuel P. Taylor Park, and of course I could not find a single person to ride behind who had mudflaps. I was totally shocked that several riders did not even have clip-on fenders on their road bikes! I guess I expected that everyone would have bikes exactly like mine, kind of funny now that I have ridden with people on so many types of bikes.

While I rode through Point Reyes National Seashore, which happened to be enjoying its 50th year as a federally protected seashore, apparently I was fascinated by the cows. I took more pictures of cows than anything else on that ride. Maybe they reminded me of my time spent growing up in Wisconsin? Most riders talk with resentment or dread about the dairy farms in Point Reyes, because the cattle grates are brutal on bike tires and rims.

more cows.

cows…

cows...

cows…

more cows. Thanks, ladies, for coming out to cheer us on!! Not quite like the crowds on the sides of roads in the Tour de France… maybe the California Randonneur version.

Well, I finally made it to the Lighthouse control, and hung out there for just a few minutes before heading back toward the Marshall control.  It’s true that the ride to the Lighthouse and back is hard, but it is exhilarating. It’s impossible to explain the sense of accomplishment coupled with the beauty of the landscape. While I was at the control, I even saw a rainbow to the north.

Rainbow is faint, just emerging form the edge of the coastline above the rider-- anyone care to identify?

Rainbow is faint, just emerging from the edge of the coastline above the rider– anyone care to identify?

The ride to Marshall was very difficult for me; it was the only part of the course I had never ridden, and I was starting to feel pretty hungry, ready for that chowder! Sitting inside the Marshall Store and eating my chowder, though, I started to warm up and feel much better.

Mmmmm chowdah

Mmmmm chowdah

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I sat at a table with a bunch of other guys on the ride, some of whom were changing to their dry socks. I left the control with Ron Lau, riding his Pelican! Ron is an incredibly kind-hearted and generous person, and I was very happy to ride with him. At this point, the whole brevet just seemed like a movable party. Of course, I was bringing up the rear of said party, and most of the riders had long finished by the time I made it back to Fairfax. But even though it had been a long day, longer for those of us at the end of the group, the sense of excitement, satisfaction and good will was enormous.

So enormous, in fact, that somehow at the finish, Jason Pierce convinced me to sign up for the next brevet whaaaa? Wait, I thought I was finished! I met my goal already! Then I somehow slipped and told Aaron Wong that since it was my first year, I would only ride the 200k-length brevets, which he answered by saying, “Oh, so you’re doing an R-12?” I remember just staring at him with a deer-in-the-headlights, you-just-spoke-my-destiny kind of look for only a fleeting moment, then went back to digging around in the pile of salty chips and cup o’ noodles.