Mount Tam to Moscow 300k: Going Nowhere, Getting Nothing

It was recently announced to RUSA members that there would be a (hopefully) temporary suspension of the RUSA Permanents program. I had a strong immediate and emotional reaction to this of dismay, disappointment, even slight panic. RUSA Permanents have been a source of joy, excitement, and sense of achievement for almost seven years for me.

When I recovered from my first reaction, I realized this presented an opportunity to me to explore some routes that weren’t formal perms, yet could be. Or I could ride some routes that weren’t suitable to be RUSA routes, yet were good for just fun riding. In an effort to keep expanding the perms I own, I have been wanting to create longer versions of Mount Tam to Marshall. I have had the route worked out for many months, but due to work and other stuff, I haven’t been able to pre-ride the route before submitting it to RUSA.

Mount Tam to Marshall is not the hardest 200k route I’ve done, but it’s not the easiest either, and the 300k version continues that trend. It starts by climbing Mount Tam all the way to East Peak (kind of the top), then there is a little more climbing on East Ridgecrest Boulevard. If you’re at the top when you get to East Peak, how can there be more climbing? Don’t ask… Anyway, then you drop down on Ridgecrest, all the way down to Alpine Dam, up again and then down to Fairfax. The climbing is definitely front-loaded in this route. The 200k version then goes out to Marshall-Petaluma Road, climbs and descends to Marshall, and goes back to SF via CA-1 and Sir Francis Drake. The 300k version would go up Wilson Hill instead of to Marshall, then through Chileno Valley, Freestone, Occidental, Monte Rio, Moscow Road, and finally to the jewel of the route: Willow Creek trail. Then it goes back to San Francisco via CA-1 (at night, when traffic has calmed down), following the same return as Old Caz through Stinson Beach and Tam Junction. When describing these roads and tiny towns that are not more than a crossroads, a lot of people might say, “There’s nothing out there.” Fine with me! When there is no desirable destination other than the road itself, fewer cars will be there, at least. I prefer the peace of empty roads that go nowhere.

I had been wanting to ride the 300k version for many months, but whenever I started out, I ended up bailing and riding the 200k version instead. It felt like such a huge time commitment to go that much further. Always something else that needs to be done at home. Finally last week I set my mind to completing the 300k. Since perms have been suspended, no randobucks are available anyway, so I might as well do this ride that is not official in any way. Going nowhere, getting nothing.

It may seem punishing to ride the hardest climb of the route first, with not too much opportunity to warm up, but riding up Old Railroad Grade is pretty amazing first thing in the morning. It is really worth waking up for! As I have said before in the blog, Old Railroad Grade is my Trail One. It was the first place I went on New Bike Day when I got my Pelican, and I can almost recreate in my mind every berm, dip, and turn, many of the trees along the way, the streams that rush by the trail in the rainy season, the past and present ruts and slick rocks. Friday’s ride was typical…

Pure golden morning light

Pure golden morning light

Couldn't help but stop briefly for a snapshot

Couldn’t help but stop briefly for a snapshot

Looking backwards down the trail

Looking backwards down the trail

Sourced from the mountain

Water at the community tool shed is sourced from the mountain

Twin trees at intersection of Old Railroad and Hoo Koo E Koo

Twin trees at intersection of Old Railroad and Hoo Koo E Koo

Looking southeast at the Bay Bridge and financial district of San Francisco

Looking southeast at the Bay Bridge and financial district of San Francisco

Mount Diablo to the east

Mount Diablo to the east

Trails have drained well; seems like someone has been doing a lot of work here. There were lots of areas with medium-sized gravel placed in previously rutted areas

Trails have drained well; seems like someone has been doing a lot of work here. There were lots of areas with medium-sized gravel placed in previously rutted areas

Finally arriving at West Point Inn

Finally arriving at West Point Inn

At East Peak I finally encountered some people and we mutually commented on how beautiful the day was. I went on my way to East Ridgecrest, the highest paved road in Marin County, then West Ridgecrest.

Rolling hills of Bolinas Ridge from West Ridgecrest Blvd

Rolling hills of Bolinas Ridge from West Ridgecrest Blvd

Looking down on Bolinas Lagoon from West Ridgecrest

Looking down on Bolinas Lagoon from West Ridgecrest

Best intersection ever... No bad choices here

Best intersection ever… No bad choices here

Then downdowndown to Alpine Dam.

Alpine Lake as still as glass

Alpine Lake as still as glass

Up a little more, then down to Fairfax for a bite to eat. I always stop at the Coffee Roastery for their fresh beet juice and tasty, filling frittatas, but something was off in frittataland that day. I still ate it, but heading up White’s Hill from Fairfax, I didn’t feel too hot. I started to formulate bailout options. Hmm I could just go to Freestone and get a scone, then turn around, or I could go to Freestone and then do Barnett Valley, or… Okay stop. Just keep going and you don’t have to figure anything out. Easier that way! So I kept going, but in the back of my mind, or more often the front, I kept thinking I would not go the whole way. I just felt really tired, one of those days you are pedaling squares for hours. After being on Hicks Valley for a while I remembered that I hadn’t checked the air in my tires before starting out, and thought maybe the air pressure could be a little higher, so I stopped and added some air, which helped me feel a bit lighter. Chileno Valley Road, once I got there, was gorgeous that day, and I saw even more calves and cows than usual. The swans were mostly on the far side of the lake, but there was one closer to the road that had its head all the way down in the water. I thought it might be a pelican, but it drew its long, graceful neck out of the water and I saw that it sure was a swan! There were also a lot of red tail hawks and peregrine falcons in the air. Although I was struggling, I noticed I was making up time, and since I didn’t have any control closing times to meet, why worry? Rando without boundaries was liberating!

The Valley Ford Market was busy, but not like it was on weekends. There was a steady trickle of customers, mostly local. There was one tall, clean cut guy at the deli counter ordering sandwiches by saying loudly, “Let’s do the turkey etc etc etc…” So weird when people ordering food say they are doing something. Oh well, my sausage roll was excellent, not exactly the kind of thing I would have advised myself to eat at that moment, but I inhaled it and my chocolate milk, and refilled my water. I thanked the cashier on the excellent vittles, and she said yes, they were made in house. I have to say lately I’ve been really impressed with the old Valley Ford Market.  In one of my bailout fantasies I had been thinking I would not eat in Valley Ford but instead get a scone in Freestone or one of those wraps they have at the market in Occidental, but I’m glad I made the full stop in Valley Ford. It made it easier to keep riding through to Jenner/Russia House. One nice thing about this route, though, is that it does have several food options along the way.

Zooming along toward Monte Rio, traffic was light on this Friday. I love riding on weekdays, because local traffic is usually much more polite than the weekend out of towners, busy to get to their kayaking or wine tasting adventures. This route uses Moscow Road instead of River Road as well, further reducing encounters with crappy drivers. It did not disappoint.

View from Moscow Road of bridge crossing Russkaya River

View from Moscow Road of the usual bridge leading to 116

View across Russian River from Moscow Road

View across Russian River from Moscow Road

Moscow Road is a little like Cherry Street

Moscow Road is a little like Cherry Street: lots of redwoods… though nearly flat!

Sunlight from the west bursting through the trees

Sunlight from the west bursting through the trees

Russia House #1 is welcoming, its door wide open

Russia House #1 is welcoming, its door wide open

Russia House #1, the turnaround control, is a pretty interesting place. It used to be an Indian restaurant. It is situated in kind of an odd spot on Highway One, right at the junction of Willow Creek and CA-1. It’s sort of a dead spot though, on a stretch that doesn’t have too many other businesses. I have been wanting to try it out for a long time, since John and I both love Russian food and what seems to be the national beverage of Russia: kvass. Russia House #1 has a porch at the back where you can sit and look at the last bend the Russian River makes before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. On this day, the view was amazing, right at sunset with the light filtering through the clouds.

View from Russia House to Russian River

View from Russia House to Russian River

The food at Russia House #1 consists of a buffet with 4 or 5 items, with a sign saying “Please help yourself and pay according to your WISDOM”. You can pay in cash or with a credit or debit card. Apparently some Russian tourists have reviewed the place: in the original Russian or translated. The restaurant has lots of handmade wooden toys made in Russia, other Russian handicrafts on display, a large chess set and samovar, and an upright piano next to a harp.

Buffet with all home made vegetarian food

Buffet with all home made vegetarian food

Chess set and interesting sculpture on the main table

Chess set and interesting sculpture on the main table

There are lots of posters for some kind of spiritual healer up in the bathroom… I wasn’t too interested in that, but the apparent caretaker and I had a scintillating conversation about local Oakland politics, since he said his son lives in Oakland and I do too. I had a lovely bowl of borscht, making two out of three of my meals containing beets today. Can’t go wrong with that. Also got some dark rye bread, a hard boiled egg, and some Russian tea from the samovar. Perfect rando food for a chilly day.

Bowl of vegetarian borscht with lots of potatoes and sturdy broth

Bowl of vegetarian borscht with lots of potatoes and sturdy broth

One thing I was happy about in arriving at Russia House #1 was that it was not dark yet. Riding this as I was in December, there was very little daylight to be had that day. I think I made the most of it, but I had a suspicion that I would be riding Willow Creek, and the rest of the route, in the dark.

Riding dirt trails in the dark has become one of my winter passions lately. I’ve been fortunate to find some friends who enjoy it too, and we’ve ridden some trails I never would have thought possible to ride in the dark without crashing. It is a new challenge and made much easier by riding in a group, and it makes me feel rewarded for investing in good lighting for my bike, although when the moon is full, sometimes you don’t even need a light.

There was still some gloam by the time I left Russia House #1, but after the long road to Willow Creek trail, that had faded. I began climbing the soft trail strewn with pine needles. The woods were quiet and completely dark. At sections where the trail opened up, I could see bright stars in a deep blue sky. This was why I wanted to make the route longer, not so I could check a box for RUSA saying “yes, I did a 300k.” A route that includes Mount Tam’s Old Railroad Grade, Chileno Valley, and Willow Creek in one day? Yes or yes??

I got to the top of Willow Creek and paused to put on my jacket and mittens for the descent. There would still be some climbing to get to the top of Joy Road, then the descent down Joy. The rest of the route involved familiar territory: Bodega Highway to Freestone-Valley Ford Rd, then Valley Ford and CA-1 most of the way back to Sausalito. It was a tough slog, quite cold and I was drowsy. I took quite the tour of local post offices to nap along the way.

The post office in Marshall was the best one I found, the warmest and with the added bonus that I was able to access the free wifi of the Marshall Store all the way across the street! I took my phone out of airplane mode, and opened my email. Amazingly, there was an email from the RUSA board advising members that the perms program had been reinstated!

So, did I feel like my route scouting had been a waste? Of course not. The ride had been just what I needed: a way to get back into shape after a forced break due to smoke in the air from the Camp Fire. It was a tough ride, an excellent training opportunity, and my body remembers even if my RUSA stats don’t show it. I felt well rewarded. It was good to know I enjoy randonneuring with or without paperwork, and that I have the discipline to get through a ride of that length without the imposed restrictions of the brevet card.


The Dao that can be trodden
is not the enduring and unchanging Dao.
The name that can be named
is not the enduring and unchanging name.
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching



Sadboiz 200k

Dan B and I had been trying to work out an east bay 200k perm route for a while, and I had spent a good deal of time on RidewithGPS hashing out possibilities. My sweetheart John P had created a route for the Davis Dart years ago that went through Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. I had ridden that route and a variation of it three times. I liked the route, but I wanted one that would start and finish in the east bay instead of finishing in Davis. Black Diamonds is one of my favorites of all my favorite East Bay Parks, is excellent for bike riding on road or MTB machines, and is remote enough that not too many people ever go there. The only problem with it is that it’s ringed with crappy ten-lane suburban roads with fast traffic, peppered with freeway interchanges and now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t bike lanes. This is true for a lot of the parks in the east bay, not just Black Diamonds. It makes creating a 200k perm route quite a challenge.

After hashing out a couple ride ideas, I finally stopped editing and sent what I had over to Dan. I was still concerned about areas around San Ramon and Castro Valley, towns with busy shopping centers that were sure to present problems, but they seemed to have bike lanes throughout, so why not try it? Dan tried a pre-ride with Eric M but didn’t make it to that section. I encouraged Dan to submit the route to the RUSA perms coordinator anyway, and it got approved. Dan and Eric had found a bunch of graffiti along the route (the secret control…) and decided to name the perm after some of it. OK cool. Dan had made some nice edits himself as well, like the addition of the East Ridge trail on the return leg. I had to go out of town for a conference the next weekend and was working the weekend after that, but we planned to ride it the following Friday. OMG weekday East Bay perm?!? If this works out, I’m in heaven, though it seemed risky.

7 am we agreed to meet at La Fournee, the start control. One of our friends had thrown down a course record challenge over email, and Dan answered by stating he would set a course record for the amount of calories consumed during the ride, intending to fill up on croissants in Black Diamonds and DNF. Silliness aside, I was feeling barely up to the ride much less set a course record. I was out of my usual training regimen, and even had a minor wipeout on Wooden Valley the week before during the Davis 300k. Somehow I banged my chest on something and it felt like a broken rib, though I had a visit with my awesome primary care physician (thank you Obama!) and she declared there was nothing broken. Anyway for my own part, I was looking at the route for potential points of bailout, and being an east bay route, there were several areas of close intersections with BART. Hey, it’s a tough ride, as Dan was to point out to me later.

La Fournee opens at 7, so it took us a minute to get rolling after purchasing at least one croissant each. The start control is right across from the Claremont Hotel, known to many cyclists as being at the base of Claremont Avenue which is a fun descent or kind of a hard climb if you happen to be going in the direction we needed to go. My original route had Claremont as the return, but for some unknown reason Dan changed it to use it going uphill. Hey, whatever… This way, just in case you were wondering if the route would be some work for you, you discover right away that it will be. Because of my small physical issue, I couldn’t climb out of the saddle without it being painful. I wondered aloud how riding this route was going to work. Dan said generously, “There aren’t that many spots where you would need to do that…” and his voice sort of trailed off. I just laughed, thinking of John’s old dart route in Black Diamonds. Well, I made it up Claremont without keeling over, so might as well keep going. On to Bear Creek and Briones. I’ve been riding in Briones in the evenings occasionally, which is quiet at that time of day, and the sunsets are nice. It was different in the morning, with the bright eastern sun in my eyes blotting out all the beautiful hills. There were some hikers there that morning; usually it’s just the huge, docile black cows sharing the trails with us. There was one nice mountain biker lady who came through the gate at the top with us and affirmed my greeting of, “nice day.”

Then we descended to Reliez Valley and over to the Contra Costa Canal Trail. Dan had told me at the start that his battery headlamp wasn’t working and we briefly discussed the possibility of taking a slight detour to Rivendell so he could buy a new one. But I wasn’t sure if their store was open that early even though I thought the level-headed staff had decided to shift their hours to begin the day earlier. So we kept rolling, and Dan said there might be a bike shop at the control in Blackhawk.I was still wondering if I would make it that far today and wasn’t sure how the day would end for me. However, I wanted to follow the lesson I learned from King Ridge this year. I DNFed that ride, mostly because I didn’t have confidence I would get through it, and took a long break early on. I wasn’t thinking things through very well, and it didn’t occur to me that I could have gotten through it if I hadn’t taken that break. So the lesson is to just keep riding as if you’re planning to finish. No more abandoning the ride before giving it a chance! So I picked up the pace a little on the CCCT where possible. There were lots of people, dogs, elderly, and children out on the trail though (a good thing!), so I didn’t want to push it. I had a lot of experience riding this particular trail, so I had a good feeling for how to ride around all the pedestrians politely without losing too much time on it. Before long, we made it to the turnoff for the Ygnacio Valley trail–good views!–and Ygnacio Valley Road. The road has wide shoulders, and a prolonged climb though at a low grade. Once on the Davis dart I got John to hang back with me on the climb and snuck up from behind to take the Concord city limit sign, which is at the summit. Not so today. I don’t think I took a single city limit sign all day! Bummer but given my fitness condition, I was just happy to be out on my bike.

After Concord was Clayton, where we stopped at their ornamental town hall park with water and bathrooms. A guy rolled up who was on an electric assisted tricycle. He was fun to talk to so we chatted with him for a while. He said he had taken that bike “all over, ahh, what’s it called, the old mines, you know…” “Black Diamonds?” Dan asked. “Yeah!!,” he said, as he waved his arm up and down to indicate the shape of the trails there. Color me impressed by this guy in casual sneakers and a golf shirt, 72 years of age by his own admission. But he said the handling of the bike wasn’t to his liking and he had tipped it over once, so he wanted to try something else. Dan suggested an electric assisted mountain bike… We had to get back on the road, so we rolled on and left him to his bike dilemma. On to my heart’s desire, Black Diamonds.

In many ways, it was just like I remembered it from the dart. So scenic, so steep!

This time, the trail was a lot more dusty, with the dust forming deep patches of powder. I pushed my bike in the same spots I had pushed before, and Dan waited for me in the same place my team had waited for me before.

This time though, instead of going up on the stupid-steep road, we went down when the trail turned to a paved path. I liked not having to do the stupid-steep part, but I had enjoyed the descent that trail affords.

This time was also different in that we got to continue on the dirt and pass by the ranger station, instead of passing through the parking lot and going to Brentwood on suburban roads. In the new section, there was a beautiful golden valley and huge rock outcroppings above us. It went on forever and it could have gone longer as far as I was concerned. But all of a sudden there was a short steep descent and it was all over, we were on Empire Mine Road. The sun was warm, the grass was dry, but I still had plenty of water in my pack. I started to go fasterfasterfaster to get to the next control but noticed Dan was not with me and heard him calling out to me so I turned around. The secret control! With all the graffiti on the road. So we photodocumented the moment and then moved on. I looked at the rusty old building of the mine and bid farewell to Black Diamonds this day.

The Brentwood control is a huge shopping center with tons of food possibilities, but I was feeling overwhelmed by the choices, and just opted for the simplest thing: tomato soup and a bagel at the Safeway. Sometimes Safeway controls are boring, but they can sometimes be simple and fast, and I wanted to do this ride like I was going to finish, even though I still wasn’t convinced.

We slipped out of that control relatively quickly, and started up Marsh Creek Road. The last time Dan rode this part, he said it was the most dangerous riding he’d ever done, but today the mood was mellow and courteous! Bonus! Sometimes drivers just do what they’re supposed to. Dan got ahead of me on Marsh Creek, but waited for me at the turnoff to Morgan Territory. Dan had waited for me at the top of each climb so far that day and I tried to show my gratitude for this by being able to roll through when I reached the top of each climb and not waste time. Unfortunately, Morgan Territory kind of sacked me and I had to take a break at the top of that one. My chest hurt (though I could climb out of the saddle now!), I was out of shape and Morgan Territory was the highest elevation of the route, soooo I just needed a little breakie. That done, we started the wild descent down, down, down the other side. I think you can see all the way to Fremont Peak, and it feels like being in an airplane. I don’t think I’ve ever taken pictures of the scenery here because I need to focus on the road, and I don’t feel like stopping. So you’ll just have to do the ride yourself to see!

The last receipt control is Blackhawk. I was not looking forward to climbing Redwood, but when I thought about the possibility of taking BART back from Castro Valley, it seemed too depressing. It’s a long BART ride, much longer than climbing Redwood Road would seem anyway. Dan and I stopped at a juice bar that was next to a Starbucks, and I was able to gulp down a fresh beet-apple-lemon juice. Dan looked up the bike shop on his phone, and said he’d only be a moment if I’d stay at the juice place. I sat down on the cement and drily chawed on an energy bar. When Dan came back, we were still poised to leave the control well before the closing time–always good for a penultimate control. That was my cue to identify whatever would help me finish this ride and consume it immediately! I picked an espresso from Starbucks, some kava and an ibuprofen from my bag. We were out of that place like a shot, and moved along with the fast suburban traffic in the fast bike lane, turning off where the route directed to use a quieter road. Late in a brevet is when I get my energy most often, one reason why randonneuring is a good sport for me. Even after all the climbing that day, I still had something left. I was anticipating riding the East Ridge Trail in the dark and was getting pretty excited about it.

On the northern edge of the town of Castro Valley, Dan and I regrouped for the last time that day. I wanted him to ride ahead because I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish within the time limit. I did have plenty of energy, but my chest still hurt and I was climbing well below my usual pace. Dan admitted he did want to get credit for the ride to put toward his R-12. I was just thrilled I had made it that far, and was ok with taking it easy through the final 20 miles. We rolled on together for a few more minutes and he explained to me where the trailhead for the East Ridge trail was: a key piece of information since I’d never ridden the trail before.

As I climbed Redwood Road at my ponderous pace, I considered skipping the trail and just taking Pinehurst all the way home (forfeiting my chance at getting credit). But Pinehurst has a steep, winding, thickly forested descent where I’d seen many creatures of the night popping out of the bushes before. Riding the trail definitely seemed like a safer alternative. I suspected the trail stayed up on the ridge instead of dropping down and then having to climb back out as I would have to do on Pinehurst. At the trailhead, there were maps, and I saw that there weren’t any turns that might get me lost. It was completely dark by this time. So I proceeded up the trail, which had a huge rut on the right side that loomed even larger as my headlamp cast shadows beyond it. In the past couple years, I’ve been riding trails at night with random randos. It’s been fun, and a good learning experience. I’ve learned that my headlamp makes little bumps look big, so not to worry, and I’ve learned that if I can keep my head together, riding trails in the dark is a transcendent experience not to be missed.

That night was quiet; the trail was completely empty. No bunnies, no skunks. There was a short section with some frequent owl hooting, but other than that, the woods were still. Thanks to Dan who patiently waited for me throughout the day, and thanks to my putting off the decision to bail always until the next control, I made it to this quiet trail in the woods. This trail following the ridgeline, surrounded by cool night air.

I got to the end of the trail and started descending my usual training-ride roads: Skyline, Old Tunnel. Usually I am cautious and slow here. Potholes, off camber curves, wild turkeys, drivers coming uphill are all hazards on which I fixate while riding Old Tunnel. But I calculated I didn’t have a lot of time left, so I descended with dispatch this time… and finished… with only seven minutes remaining on the clock! Getting credit for the ride was a completely unexpected bonus, but when I told Dan I had finished and he offered to file my results, I accepted graciously. I guess I will be the CR holder on the low end probably for some time, which I also accept graciously. I can still see the landscapes of Black Diamonds from that day in my mind when I close my eyes, and I know I’ll be out there again soon.

-typed while listening to fellow rando Pete Dixon’s Monday night radio show on kfjc

W2: Russian River 300k

This is a forgotten draft from my archives from the 2015 season. Somehow it never got published. Too amusing not to publish now, so here goes…

W is for Workers’, as in Workers’ Ride Yeahhh! A Workers’ Ride is a ride scheduled on a different day than the regular brevet so that anyone volunteering to help staff the brevet can get a chance at finishing the ride also. This Workers’ Ride was conducted Audax style, with all of us staying together throughout. However, for most of us, an Audax ride will consist of a team of five riders, occasionally six or seven if there are tandems. This ride had ten of us! The volunteer coordinator, the lovely Megan A, scheduled us for none other than Valentine’s Day, a perfect holiday to be in such great company (ourselves and our bikes!). It was a special ride for another of us–Ann K’s first 300k, and a ride following a tough illness at that. This was only my second attempt at a Workers’ Ride (thus the W2 in the title of this post), which I’ve gotten the impression is more often conducted by riders on a much higher cadence than myself. But it was agreed that this would be a no-drop ride, so I gingerly threw my helmet into the ring.

Megan was great at reeling in all the diverse natures of the participants that day (need I say more than to mention Jason P was one of the natures?), and keeping us all together despite the wide range of paces represented. I only have a few pictures I took on my cell phone, but here they are.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa, where we took a brief pause

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa, where we took a brief pause

Sushi from Healdsburg Safeway!!

Safeway sushi mmmm tasty!!

Mouth of the Russian River

Overlooking the mouth of the Russian River on a beautiful February day, nothing like the beautiful February days where I grew up, but I’ll take it!

Many thanks also to Jenny, who procured some caffeine for me when I really really needed it, to Steffen for hanging back with me on the inbound side of White’s Hill, and after all to Jason for buying us all pizza in Fairfax on the inbound (I imagine requesting forgiveness from us for putting up with him all day???).

However great the ride was, it was my volunteer shift on Brevet Day that really made this 300k memorable for me. I loooove volunteering as most of you know, and I got the best shift, the last finish control. It was during this shift that I finished my first 300k, rolling in with Jim G, so it was fun for me to staff it. I was working with Bruce, our shift following Jason and Patrick and Ann’s. Jason and Patrick stayed long after the end of their shift, and we all had fun watching Jason taunt the raccoons at the plaza with offers of hugs and Sun Chips…it kept us awake, in any case. I also laughed heartily (on the inside!!) observing one exhausted rider saying she would rather write swear words in her brevet card instead of signing it. A few minutes later, after eating a hefty burrito brought for her by her friend, she took it all back and seemed to be looking forward to her next brevet.

Riding brevets is not easy no matter when you finish, and it’s a great feeling to support riders by volunteering in whatever capacity one can. I highly recommend it!


The Miraculous Story of Babe the Blue Townie

A few weeks ago, while working at my bench on a Wednesday late morning, I read the following email from my building manager:

We had another burglary last night or this morning. I didn’t see your bike with the saddle bags when I went down to have a look, so I wanted to check in to see if you’re elsewhere and your bike’s with you, or if you’re here.
Andrew M found that the hide-a-key (for use by a number of people who periodically need building access—washer-dryer repair, fire-extinguisher check, etc.) had been cut off, so I’m assuming that that’s how the burglars got in.

Well! That was chilling. This, only 5 days after a previous burglary of our locked basement space during which at least four bikes had been stolen. I started off at a walk, then ran down the stairs to the basement to discover the awful truth. The thief had left the lock and my helmet behind, but no bike. No Babe. I noticed several other bikes missing, and another broken lock on the ground. There was a spatter of burned, liquifed rubber around the area where Babe had been–had they used a blowtorch?? The lock had clean saw marks, though.

Babe was a godsend of a townie, but sometimes I removed the bags and took her on fun rides, too. Here’s a photo album of a ride John and I did in Coyote Hills just three days before the theft. There’s even a picture of her that John encouraged me to take, laying on a bed of poppies, the California state flower.


Poppies in the marshes at Coyote Hills

When I was looking for photos of my bike to post, to file an insurance claim, fill out the police report, and make flyers, I found that there were several to choose from. This bike was much more than a bike to me. Since John found her in 2014, I often took pictures of her while out riding. I’m not sure how normal this is. I mean, maybe people take shots of their randonneuring bikes or mountain bikes, but do people take pictures of their commuting bikes?

Babe the Blue Townie

Andrew Wyeth on the brain, just out doing a delivery for Book Island: 2015

An eye-catching townie is not actually a desirable thing, because it seems it would invite theft. For better or worse, though, I really adored Babe. A lugged steel 1980s production mountain bike with recently redone cables and housing, cantilever brakes, and perky gel saddle… with John’s later additions of upright bars, shiny steel Berthoud fenders, front and rear racks, kickstand, cool (and humongous) Dutch panniers, and dynamo front hub with wired front and rear lighting (super ultra spiffy tail light was a Valentine’s Day present from 2016!)… everything a commuting bike needs, on the foundation of a tough yet sporty frame with a classy blue paint job! I think my bf is pretty good at building bikes, but with Babe, John took it a step farther somehow. Babe answered a very deep part of my personality. John saw how I hauled stuff by bike, even when I had a bike with no racks at all. How many times did I carry a 30 lb. container of cat litter plus groceries… or huge bookbinding projects… or just the usual supplies for teaching workshops, on my back in my old messenger bag? I’d rather not recall! But no more of that. Now I had Babe.

Or not. Heavy sigh.

But! I was not giving up. I dutifully filed a police report in person. I contacted the insurance company and filed a claim. I planned to go to the Laney College flea market (though it was not being held when I went, so I went to the one at Ashby BART instead). I had a hard time posting the news about the theft because it just felt so depressing. But I went through the recommendations on the Stolen Bikes Bay Area webpage/message board, and did everything there and more.

The Return

Two weeks later to the day Babe was stolen, I got her back. How? Charlie at Lakeview Bicycles on Grand Ave in Oakland (about 1 1/2 miles from my apartment) acted on his suspicion that the new bike his assistant had just bought was probably stolen. He noticed the fenders, the racks, and the dynamo lighting, and told me later he thought to himself, “Someone’s got to be missing this bike.” Charlie looked up the details of the bike he saw on Bike Index, and found the entry I had made on Babe which contained Babe’s description, serial number, and my contact information.

There it is, ladies and gentlemen. Some ordinary person just plain did the right thing. And there was a network in place to allow complete follow-through. Sometimes it happens. You are all going to go and register all your bikes on Bike Index, right? While I go clean off the rest of the gold spray paint the assistant applied to Babe… kind of amazing, though, all the parts are still there. Both racks, head and tail light still work despite the total meltdown on the top tube from the blowtorch or whatever caused the explosion of the rubber on the old lock. Even the bell is still there.

Return of Babe

Return of Babe

Throughout the two weeks when Babe was stolen, I emailed my rando pal Jenny Oh for advice and support. I knew about her involvement in trying to improve the situation for people whose bikes have been stolen, so I naturally turned to her for advice, while trying not to be a burden. She gave me a lot of essential information for my particular situation with Babe, so I thought it would be helpful to ask her a few more questions for the blog here and give her a chance to expound on this topic for anyone who might want to learn a little more.

I’m so grateful to her, to Charlie at Lakeview Bicycles, and to everyone at Bike Index for helping me find Babe again. Now I can go back to carrying tons of crap no other bike could haul and do it in style. I hope for the same for any of you who have lost a bike due to the senseless crime of bike theft. I hope the following will be helpful in preventing theft, too.

Interview with Jenny Oh of Stolen Bicycles Bay Area

How long have you been moderating the Stolen Bicycles Bay Area message board, and how did it get started?

I created the Google group back in 2012, soon after I had my mountain bike stolen ( – and then recovered – in just 4 days. I had spread the word on social media, cycling forums and even created flyers. A mutual friend of mine had spotted it at the Laney College Flea Market (she’d seen my post on Facebook) and recovered it for me.
But prior to getting it back, I realized there wasn’t much available online at the time, in regards to resources, as to what I should do. Some of it was obvious (file a police report, call my insurance company), but otherwise, I just felt rather helpless.
So after I got my bike back, I decided to help create a comprehensive online resource that could serve as both a clearinghouse of information and a place to share info about stolen bicycles. I decided against Facebook since not everyone had an account on there, and this was an easy, free way for folks to post and search for stolen bikes. I did find one website, the now defunct Stolen Bicycle Registry, that had been created by a guy named Bryan Hance. It was another free searchable database where folks could list their stolen bikes. If someone happened to spot it on Craigslist or at a flea market, they could look up the bike to see if it had been listed. If you wanted to get in touch with the owner, the site would send an email to that person and put him/her in touch with the would-be rescuer. It was also auto-tweet out info about the theft on Twitter.
We struck up a friendship and for several years, tried to build a West Coast coalition to tackle bike theft. Unfortunately, our efforts didn’t really get anywhere since the various institutions and companies we’d contacted were mired in bureaucracy, understaffed or had commercial interests. (I also served on the board of Bike East Bay for two years and tried to convince Laney College to ban selling bikes, but that went nowhere as well. Here’s another post where I’m trying to crowdsource ideas: But Bryan ended up retiring his website and merging it with Bike Index, which I highly recommend now as the go-to place for registering bikes (and looking for it there if it’s been stolen. And Bike East Bay, along with other cycling coalitions, share much more info on their websites now about what to do when you’re bike is stolen. BEB even held a few bike registry events in partnership with Bike Index, and they maintain an active page with a ton of resources, too:
I update general info posted in the introduction of the Google group when I can, and I also try and share info pertaining to stolen bikes via my personal Facebook page to my followers time permitting.

There were so many things I didn’t know about that a bike owner can do once a bike has been stolen. I think it’s so great that the info on the message board is pro-active, since when a bike has been stolen, you feel powerless. What are some things you wish more bike owners knew about bike theft that would make them feel more empowered to search for their bikes?

The number one thing is to spread the word as widely as possible! Number two, never lose hope and never, ever stop looking. I once helped a friend of mine recover a bike after 6 years: I recovered a wheelset: And there’s many, many more happy recovery stories that I’ve helped with or heard about over the years. Bike Index has a really impressive track record, and Bryan regularly blogs about their stats:
You never know when you might get your bike back, so keep spreading the word! With the advent of social media, it’s much easier to do so. Thieves are actually moving away from Craigslist since it’s harder for them to sell stolen goods on there and using smaller sites or flea markets. And SFPD is using more bait bikes and also promoting their efforts.

A lot of randonneurs have bikes that are virtually irreplaceable. Are there special things one can do for theft of more high-end bikes, aside from prevention and good insurance?

I urge everyone to be proactive beforehand and to register your bike(s), take lots of photos and have a record of your serial number(s). If you’re reading this sentence, step away from the computer and DO THIS NOW if you haven’t already! It will help you so much if you do have your bike stolen. Unique bikes actually have a better chance to being recovered as they have details that stand out, so be sure to make note of any components, markings, etc. It’s much harder to retrieve a stock bike that looks so much like many others from a big box store. (And if your bike doesn’t have a serial number, etch something underneath the bottom bracket that can serve as one, or place a sticker inside the seat tube or someone else that’s hidden on the bike that’s a unique identifier.)
Also, NEVER leave your bike unlocked and unattended. I don’t care how safe you think it is, DON’T DO IT. I can tell you many snatch-and-grab horror stories. DO NOT leave your bike in your car, especially overnight. Don’t leave it locked anywhere in public overnight. There are certain areas in SF that are known “hot spots” (they’re listed in the Google group.) Every city has them, so try and familiarize yourself with where thieves will steal bikes. Bikenapped ( has data for SF.

When buying a used bike, what are some things to look for to ensure it has not been stolen?

Check Bike Index to make sure it’s not been listed as stolen. Try and buy used bikes from a reputable source (like from a bike shop that has obviously vetted their sellers, selling last season’s demo bikes, from a mutual friend.) If a post on Craigslist or another online site has glaring errors in the description, it’s a huge red flag. (One guy had his last name on a decal on the top tube; when it got stolen, the bike thief thought it was the name of the brand and listed it in his ad as such!)

2017 Randonneur Recap

It’s been a full year of rando again, and I haven’t been blogging too much, have I? Sometimes I think that it might be boring to read about the rides, since I keep doing the same ones over and over. Well, I like them anyway! I did do a couple new ones this year, including the longest distance I’ve done so far. Still keeping up the consecutive R-12, which I will continue as long as it seems doable. It would be cool to do 10 years, but that’s a whole four more R-12s away. Life gets in the way sometimes, and that’s gotta be ok. I keep thinking I should give myself a break from it, but then if I don’t do a ride for a while, I get cranky. Gotta scratch that itch!

But seriously, randonneuring has helped me a lot over the past six years. It’s given me a huge sense of accomplishment. Riding gives me the headspace I need to be more effective at my job. Some of the things I have learned are applicable to my work as well, such as learning appropriate pacing, caring for one’s gear, the importance and rewards of perseverance, and so many more things. Of course, there are tradeoffs; long distance riding requires a lot of time away, in the rides themselves as well as in the training rides leading up to brevets, and the recovery time it takes to get back to a normal regime. Striking a perfect balance seems elusive most of the time, but I always try my best.

But anyway, just so I don’t forget where I’ve been, here’s the Year in Rando 2017 edition. Scroll over the photos for captions.

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!



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…



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.


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!


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.



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.”



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…