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

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That one ride, that one day…

Hi there good people of the bicycle persuasion, believe it or not, this is not a dead feed yet! Sorry it’s been so long, yes the time does go by rather quickly these days.

Pretty soon the year will be over, and another R-12 with it, with any luck and/or possible blessings from the Spirit of Randonneuring, my collection of guardian angels, etc. I have been extremely lucky so far this year. I have been able to go on some really fantastic rides. My local cycling club happens to be one of the most active randonneuring groups in the U.S., with several great rides to choose from every month. It’s been fairly easy to keep up my R-12 pattern with such an active calendar. In October, I did three different randonnées!

I decided not to go to PBP this year, which freed up my schedule for a lot of relaxed-pace fun rides. I will probably end up riding to Brest one day with thousands of other like-minded riders; it seems like it is my fate as a cyclist of Gallic ancestry. Instead this year, I spent some time on the local mountainsides with my sweetie:  climbing…

Seaview Trail/Tilden Regional Park

Seaview Trail/Tilden Regional Park

descending…

Wildcat Canyon/Havey Canyon Trail or Mezue

Wildcat Canyon/Havey Canyon Trail- or possibly Mezue Trail

climbing…

Deer Park Fire Road, Muir Woods

Deer Park Fire Road, Muir Woods

descending…

Rock Springs Trail

Rock Springs Trail…after the steep part

and eating excellent burritos in Fairfax.

Casa Manana

Casa Manana

John’s much better at climbing and descending than I, but I try to be good-natured about getting off the bike and walking if I have to, and anyway, I’m much better now than I was a year ago. I’m pretty excited about these new adventures and the new skills I’ve gradually been honing.

Writing about randonneuring has gotten a bit complicated this year. Early in the year, one of my dearly cherished amigas was crashed into along with 4 other riders by a drunk driver. They all survived, but sustained serious injuries. Last summer, a young, sweet-sounding, and experienced randonneur was crashed into and killed by an underage driver. The litany of frightening things that can happen while “sharing the road” goes on. I try to be upbeat in this blog, but sometimes it doesn’t feel honest. I know that I am not alone among randos and non-randos in that human suffering such as this affects me deeply. There is a further feeling of injustice about it, since bicycling would appear to be such an innocent activity. The muse does not like the situation, does not like it at all. I guess the muse went on strike for a while. I did not stop randonneuring, but I definitely started orienting myself away from automobile-friendly areas. Sharing a trail with hikers, runners, and other people walking at a relaxed pace instead of “sharing” the road with stressed out texters feels good.

I think my most memorable ride this year was also the hardest (isn’t that always the way?). John, Eric W, and I rode up Railroad Grade nearly to the top of Mount Tamalpais, then rode the Bolinas Ridge trail

Bolinas Ridge Trail

Bolinas Ridge Trail

to Shafter, skirted around Kent Lake,

John and Eric edging the lake

John and Eric edging the lake

and then ascended again up San Geronimo Ridge

John and Eric at the top of San Geronimo Ridge

John and Eric at the top of San Geronimo Ridge, looking at Pine Mountain

to Pine Mountain,

Looking at Mount Tam from the north

Looking at Mount Tam from the north

finally descending via Bolinas Road into Fairfax, and routing home via the usual roads. The beauty, the remoteness, and the difficulty of this ride was surreal. I didn’t bring a camera, but I did have my phone with me, so the photos are from that. More here. I’m not sure if we rode even 50 miles that day, but it was the hardest ride of the year without question. And it wasn’t a formal ride of any kind (thus the title of this post).

Off-road riding seems to be gaining popularity with randonneurs lately. More people are enjoying the “mixed terrain” experience, and in the most recent SFR pair of populaires, more randonneurs chose the mixed terrain option. Many thanks to Carlos D for designing that very enjoyable route. I often think that bikes are only partly-suited to be on roads, and that trails are better designed for the scale and size of a bike. However, trails are also made for hikers, families, and sometimes horses, not just bikes, so bikes are not always entirely suited to be on trails either. Practically speaking, in order to get to a given trail, I ride to the trailhead, so it’s good to be able to ride both on roads and trails. Conversely, the skills developed in mountain biking help a lot in randonneuring. The brevets on narrow country roads with winding descents and highly charactered pavement definitely recall the tougher trail descents for me. Climbing rocky, uneven trails can be more difficult, which makes climbing on pavement seem a lot easier.

It’s nice to be well-rounded so you can take advantage of the best qualities of each option. Lucky for me, I have a bike that is well-rounded too. Now I have two Pelicans (bought one of John’s older ones): the one I keep clean for brevets, and the muddy one…

Hello? Bike cleaning fairy??

Hello? Bike cleaning fairy??

I guess that is the only disadvantage of mixed terrain riding that I can think of… but the views sure make up for it.

The view from Rock Springs Trail

The view from Rock Springs Trail

R12: The longest mile

The day before my last (hopefully the last!) 200k of this R-12 series, my dad called me on the phone. “We got about ten inches of snow yesterday, and it’s about thirty degrees today,” he informed me in a cheerful voice. My mind’s eye flashed on my own local weather forecast for the next day: low 50s and showers. Although that looks warmer than Wisconsin on paper, I knew by now that the dampness and chill in the bay area often made Wisconsin’s snow seem appealing. He asked me how I was doing, and when I planned to do my final 200k. “Tomorrow,” I said, my voice dripping with equal parts dread and fear. He let out a sympathetic laugh and said, “Well, you know which mile in a race is always the longest?” I was not in the mood for riddles and kept silent. A mile is a mile is a mile, and I would be struggling through 125 rainy, cold specimens of them twenty-four hours from now. “The longest mile is the last mile, Juli. It’s always the hardest. Dad knows you can do it, though.”

“I’ll be riding with a great group of guys, they really know what they’re doing,” I said, trying to look on the bright side. Having been quite sick for the past month, although I felt much better, my training regimen was down to about nil, and I was having more than the usual pre-ride doubts. I emailed Tom Haggerty, who had graciously invited me to join him, Keith Beato, and Steve Haas (yes, the guy who had a heart attack in July had fully recovered and would be riding with us… though he had also been hit by a car in November, and now was riding a new bike). I wanted to be sure my slower-than-normally-slow pace wasn’t going to drag them down. Tom said it would be ok, and he wrote emphatically, “First of all, No DNFs.”

Les anciens: Keith, Tom, and Steve say "We like bikes!"

Les anciens: Keith, Tom, and Steve say “We like bikes!”

Of course, little did either of us know how close to the limit we would be pushing our luck! Riding with Tom, Keith, and Steve was the one bright spot I was looking forward to about this ride, and was relieved and heartened by Tom’s response. And despite all the self-effacing comments made in jest by each of them about me wishing I had ridden by myself, I was so glad for their company! They were funny, teasing each other throughout the day. I could easily tell the three anciens had ridden many, many miles together. To get an idea, look at Tom’s pictures on flickr from the ride. Hilarious!

Another great thing about riding with them was that over the course of the day, we all traded pulls in a sense. We didn’t ride in a paceline, but in the early part of the day, Steve and Tom rode up front… Steve was way up front! This is usually my weakest part of the day. I took my turn at the front after the Ugly Mug, on the climb up Soquel-San Jose Road. In the final stretch through Cupertino, Los Gatos, and Mountain View, Keith blasted ahead of us, really pulling us all toward the finish through his childhood home turf.

The three fellas had only done this route once, a bit eccentrically as an overnight ride Tom had crafted as a commute to his job in Mountain View (attesting to his fitness level, he said when he showed up for work, none of his coworkers could tell he had just ridden his bike on a 200-kilometer overnight “commute”!). For me this would be my fourth time on this course.

The first half or so of this ride was pretty rote, although there were a few tactical errors we made early on from which it was difficult to recover. One was that we did not leave Peet’s until about seven o’clock, almost a full half hour after our scheduled start time. The other was my fault: I had grown accustomed to taking the oceanside path along Sharp Park beach instead of taking the road past the golf course clubhouse, and I really like this way. The guys seemed into taking the path, as they weren’t familiar with going that way, but I think it added several minutes to our time. In any case, somehow we only made it to Arcangeli’s with 45 minutes to spare. I’m also accustomed to hanging out for a while in the lovely creekside back yard they have there, so when Tom announced it was time to hit the road shortly after Keith and I sat down to eat our half sandwiches, it was shocking! But he was right, there was no time to lose– not a pleasant feeling so early on in a ride.

It did not start raining until we were about midway through Santa Cruz, but we were all soaked and feeling frigid by the time we got to the Ugly Mug, with only half an hour to spare at that control. As we rode through Santa Cruz, the guys all asked me questions about the little cafe. I forgot they had used an all-night Safeway as their Soquel control, and had stopped at a diner in Santa Cruz for late-night sustenance. I didn’t want to give anyone high hopes about the Ugly Mug since they usually just had one or two things they could heat up (Birthday chicken pot pie aside), and it being almost three o’clock on a rainy day I figured they’d probably be out of them. Some of my favorite moments in randonneuring have occurred at the Ugly Mug, but today I just wasn’t up to the mellow vibes. I ended up buying a green juice to get my receipt (which, although their register was never on time, now that they’d switched to using a scientifically calibrated, precisely accurate iPad as cash register, they could no longer print receipts at all and had to email my receipt to me! whither the future of randonneuring without cash registers??), and hung out in the back hallway of an adjacent office building (it was warm!) where we parked our bikes, eating the remainder of my sandwich from Arcangeli’s and trying to figure out how on Earth we were going to finish this ride within the time limit. Rain + climbing + wet, dark descent + stoplights, stoplights, stoplights through Cupertino etc. = DNF any way I looked at it. All I could do was try to eat as much as possible to give myself some energy to put a smile on my rained-on face and keep plugging away.

When we got back on the road, I was very much cheered by the climb up Soquel-San Jose Road. I felt warmed by the body heat generated by physical activity, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Tom about radio stations in San Francisco and other rides we’ve done or would like to do. By the time we reached the top, it was quite dark, wet, and chilly. I went ahead to the Summit Store to see if I could find some shelter or warmth while waiting for the fellas to regroup. As the rain steadily fell, my Pelican and I got a whole range of puzzled, sympathetic, and even some terrified, looks as I stood in the vestibule of the store next to the cords of firewood.

Diametrically opposed to the advantages of climbing in the cold and wet stand the disadvantages of descending in the cold and wet: you are not pedaling, so no body heat is generated; and you also move 6-7 times as fast, so the cold air affects you that much more. Luckily, Keith reminded me to put on my extra sweater before we left the Summit Store, the one I had brought in order to have a warm, dry layer to put on for the Caltrain ride home. Eesh. Another difficulty of descending in the rain and cold in this particular route was that the road has lots of switchbacks, yet no streetlights in many stretches– it is utterly rural, in the middle of a thick, dark forest. And as we left the Summit Store, I heard that Steve’s headlight had been shorting out! Luckily it seemed to start working again just as we got back on the road.

The last time the three of them had done this ride, they descended Old San Jose Road and Aldercroft Heights Road in the dead of night. What an amazing challenge and incredible experience to make this beautiful descent in the still of the night. Andrea Symons said that stretch of road “brings an tear to one’s eye,” and I agree. Tom said the group would do that ride again next year as an overnight, and I hope I can go along! Hopefully next time it will be less chilly, wet, and harrowing for me. I did ok by staying focused on Tom’s and Steve’s head and tail lights as they cornered up ahead of me to give me an idea of where the road would bend. Fortunately the wet pavement was not as much of a concern as I would have thought. The night before the ride, I had installed a fresh set of rear brake pads, knowing they seem to wear down faster in the rain.

Long, wet, dark, scary, white knuckle descent handily accomplished (at least, that’s how I felt once it was over!), all of us knowing we had very little time in reserve if any, we entered the short trail section to Los Gatos. We all got down the steep, rocky part, started to gain momentum over the smooth, pleasant, fine gravel surfaced trail that parallels the river, and… Keith called out to let us know he had a flat tire. Now when I look back on it, I can only laugh, but at the time we did not see the comedy in the situation, least of all poor Keith, who had already suffered one flat tire that day. We had about 15 miles to go, and 40 minutes remaining on the clock. Tom suggested we could split up, with Steve and I going on ahead to make sure I would get credit for the ride. Though I appreciated the offer, I didn’t feel good about doing that– I didn’t like the idea of breaking up the group, I felt that we should be able to replace a tube in a few minutes anyway, and I also knew that Keith was doing installment eleven of his own R-12. So, we all set to work. Steve and Tom had headlamps mounted on their helmets, so they helped Keith find his tools and tube. Keith had some trouble getting his tire off the wet rim, so with my ever-unfailing fine motor skills from years of benchwork, I was able to get his tire off. Once Keith got the new tube in, Steve helped him use a CO2 canister to fill it (much faster!). We reassembled ourselves within minutes, and set out again with new resolve.

There are two sections of this route I don’t like: riding through Santa Cruz to Soquel, and riding through Los Gatos, Cupertino, and Mountain View. They both happen to be urban or suburban streets with lots of stop signs, stoplights, and turning lanes of car traffic that awkwardly merge with bike lanes, and they both also precede controls (i.e., stretches where I’m bound to be hungry and possibly slightly just a little bit cranky). I don’t know why every time I do this ride I expect these sections to get shorter, but having done this route a few times now, they stunningly have stayed the same distance. “Okay then,” I said to myself as we entered the heavily trafficked shopping district of Los Gatos, “This is just going to take as long as it takes.” I reached for one of the honey stinger energy goo things my dentist told me to avoid, just to be sure I wouldn’t end up snapping at one of my new-found friends out of a lack of carbs. Steve and I eye our watches, then our odometers. Our odometers, then watches. Steve does some brief mental calculations, and looks at me reassuringly. “We’ll make it,” he says. I try with wet gloves to flip over my cue sheet, but I lose the wrestling match and just get ink and shreds of soggy paper dragged over the sheet. So much for fine motor skills… All the while, Steve, Tom and I are racing to catch up with Keith, who had a three-alarm fire under his saddle all of a sudden!

Which was awesome, because we ended up getting to the 7-Eleven with only five minutes to spare. Five minutes! Think of all the things that take only five minutes. Microwave popcorn? Cup o’ Noodles? Third Uncle? That length of time made the difference between getting credit or not for this ride. What a suspenseful and dramatic finish to my R-12! Thanks Tom, Keith, and Steve for another heroic, epic, comical, entertaining, and challenging day on the bike.

As promised, I bought a bottle of 7-Eleven’s best champagne for us all to drink on the train ride home. Tom had brought cups, so we wouldn’t even have to drink it out of our water bottles! I even offered some to a crazy person on the train who said he had been a bike messenger in New York. Steve presented to me a Real R-12 Medal (in fact belonging to, and borrowed from, Jason Pierce), which was kind of touching, if anything involving Jason Pierce can be described as “touching” without seeming really icky… ahem. As I have mentioned earlier, it was kind of his fault I got wrapped up in this R-12 business anyway, so it seems fitting he was somehow insinuated at the end.

And now, we have come to the end of our tale entitled mmmmbike: appetizing rides carried out while pursuing the RUSA R-12 award. There will be more tales, to be sure, and possibly an entry recording what I think I learned. I’m not sure yet what form my future ride reports will take, since my only goal for the new year is to ride a 400k. Perhaps the blog needs a new subtitle. Writing blog entries about my rides has helped me review what I’ve learned throughout the year, so I definitely want to keep writing. Reading others’ ride reports is endlessly fascinating to me as well, so I want to continue to contribute to the form.

As for riding, ideally I would like to give the Pelican the month of January off, but the Lighthouse brevet beckons. In the meantime, to keep from getting restless, I’ve been enjoying indoor activities such as lap swimming and yoga. I used to love lap swimming in Chicago in the winter months, especially in the mornings when the sun would hit the beautiful indoor pool at the park district near where I lived. Lately I’ve also enjoyed a couple short social rides, and another bike camp to rejuvenate my excitement for riding. Other than that, who knows what the future holds for me and my Pelican? To find out you will just have to stay tuned for the next exciting installment of mmmmbike!

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

IMG_2457

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.

R4: Coastal Cruz

Fourth installment in the R12 series for me: San Francisco to Mountain View Permanent route #1288: the Coastal Cruz. Ely Rodriguez invited me to ride with him and his friends Omar and Sean. When Jesse Marsh, the route owner, issued me my brevet card and route sheet, he kindly reminded me to do my taxes before the ride. I did, so without a care in the world (well, mostly no cares), I set off on the morning of April 14 for Peet’s Coffee on Geary.

This ride was a great skill-builder for me. The route has a lot to offer: beautiful views of the ocean along highway 1, some nice climbing along Stage Road, a technical descent or two (a good chance to practice the lessons learned in the SFR bike handling skills class, which I feel becoming more habitual), a chill cafe atmosphere at Ugly Mug in Soquel (another new and important skill for me to learn: this practice of “chillin'”. wish me luck), more road climbing along Soquel- San Jose Road, and even some climbing and descending on a dirt trail! Whew. It was all completely new territory for me, as all my riding thus far has been in Marin County.

Another new experience for me on this ride was pacelining. Most of my training rides I do solo, so I haven’t had the chance to learn this. I still have a lot to learn about it, but toward the end of the segment when we were pacelining, I think it started to click for me. Ely gave us some helpful tips about it, which I tried to put into practice as much as possible.

When we were about 20 miles north of Santa Cruz, Sean’s bike started to shimmy dramatically on a steep descent, and his rear tire blew.

Right where the cloud is shadowing the highway in this photo is where Sean’s tire blew out.

I was behind him, and could smell the rubber burning– he ended up with a skid hole through tire and tube about five inches long! He handled the situation amazingly well, and was able to control his bike enough to move off the road and come to a safe stop. Unfortunately he did not have a spare tire, only a spare tube, and the tire boots that Ely had brought were not long enough to  cover the hole. However, Sean “made do”, as we say, and was able to make it for about ten more miles before blowing out the spare tube. We were all close enough to the next control that Sean told us to go ahead while he waited for the patch glue to set, and he would catch up with us at the Ugly Mug control.  Poor Sean ended up having to jog with his bike part of the way to Santa Cruz to reach a bike shop to get a new tire. Sean is a really strong rider, and he finally caught up with us on the ascent to Summit Road. Once I got home I read the Lennard Zinn interview in the latest Bicycle Quarterly about tall riders and frame fitting issues– as Sean is indeed a tall rider, I wonder if that had something to do with the blowout.

In spite of that unfortunate incident, our group made good time overall– 11h16 from start to finish. We had a fantastic meal near the train in Mountain View (meatloaf with mashed potatoes and spinach for me, yum!) and hopped on Caltrain for the return home. Beautiful weather had prevailed for us throughout the day, and once again I feel so lucky to be able to spend so much time on the bike.

Peace out dudes!!… (did I say that right??)

As we were riding with Ely the Bagmaker, I had to document the bags we all used. For more photos, visit my flickr page (linked at right). Mine is still in somewhat of a testing phase. I added a strip of leather and bookbinder’s board to the rider side to be able to attach my decaleur at the correct height (which had been set for my other bag). I love the orange brocade on the inside of this bag, and the burgundy outer color and heart shape on the front pocket work for me too. It’s a good bag for me to take on a warm 200k, since it’s smaller and lighter than my other one. In cold or rainy weather, I might need more room for spare socks &c, but on a ride like this one, I didn’t have to worry about that.  Ely was road- testing his bag as well. It’s a new design he’s been working on that can attach to the handlebars without a rack for shorter brevets. The perfect thing for an R12!  Next up for R5 is the Jittery Jaunt. To be continued…