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.

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R7x2

For my July contribution to the R-12, I humbly submit the Double Brevet Ride Report: To Cloverdale Best Western Swimming Pool and Back in a Jiffy.

The work week prior to this ride was very busy, not to mention all the hill sprints I’ve been doing in the Presidio with Ely, Gabrielle, and Alice, so I started out already feeling pooped. In fact, I was nervous about this ride and questioned whether it was a good thing to attempt.

Foggy and a bit blustery starting out… Not feeling great about this ride so far…

I’ve come to recognize the feelings of anxiety about doing these long rides, though, and now that I’d successfully completed six of them, I let those feelings pass and just showed up, open to whatever might happen and willing to do my best. And in the end, I completed both the weekend’s 200k rides successfully this time too, one in record time for me.

I don’t think I could have done it without all the super people I rode with intermittently along the way. After having missed a turn, becoming totally lost on the wrong road on the first day, I ran into Kimber Guzik and her crew, also having missed the turn… We logged a few more bonus miles together and then finally, she was able to get reception on her mobile phone and get us back in the right direction to make it to the penultimate control.

Westside Road… Beautiful, if a bit too much of it

They had sandwiches at the control, but I just refilled my water, ate some food from my pack, and kept going. I don’t know what fire got under me on this ride, but I surely wasted no time at any of the controls.

In fact, because I got through the first control of the day on day two so quickly, I somehow had the good fortune to catch up with another super person with whom I got to ride for a bit, Gabe Ehlert. Gabe designed my bike frame, recommended the parts for the build, and assembled my bike, something I have gotten many happy miles out of, so I have a lot of respect for the guy. Oddly enough, I rolled over something spiky right after we started riding together and blew my front tire. This was the first flat I’ve had on a brevet. I felt a little self- conscious about my repair skills, but Gabe was cool as a cucumber about it and we got back on the road in short order to enjoy an uneventful stretch to the next control.

Heading out along 116 to the coast… the fog awaits

Another unusual thing that happened during this double brevet series, though on day one, was that I came upon a rider I knew who turned out to be having a mild heart attack. A very strong rider, he had just finished riding his bike with two others across the US via the southern tier through Arizona, Texas, Louisiana etc. I had followed his blog as he went and even posted a link to it here on my own blog– you can still read his account of that ride. Anyway,  I was just leaving Guerneville on the morning of the first day, and saw him walking his bike by the roadside. Just to check, I asked him if everything was ok, and he said he wasn’t sure, and that his chest hurt. Once I stopped, he also told me his right arm and hand felt numb for a moment. Of course at that point, I encouraged him to sit down in the shade. By all appearances, he seemed perfectly normal, but I knew this was not a normal situation. He told me how worried he was about not finishing the brevet since he had had to ditch the 1000K a couple weeks before, to which my kneejerk response was, “F*ck that!” All I could think was, “This guy just rode his bike from the Pacific Ocean all the way across the continent to the Atlantic Ocean, and he’s worried about not finishing a 200K?” From his point of view, though, I can see that it is hard to accept that one moment, you’re enjoying a beautiful day of cycling on the Russian River… and the next, you have to give up the brevet and find the nearest hospital. Especially when you’re not sure what’s wrong with you, or if the feeling will simply pass. Personally I have a lot of mistrust of the medical profession and he seemed to as well, but I was pretty firm in the feeling that he get checked out, and did my best to talk him out of continuing the ride until he get checked out. I walked him the few blocks back to the center of town where we thought there was a clinic, but it turned out to be closed. By that point, he had repeatedly said he felt bad about taking up my time, and wasn’t I worried about my finish time (obviously he didn’t know me well, I could not care less about my time!) etc etc. I actually started to feel I was infringing on his time– I didn’t want to tell him what to do. He did seem to be less shaky now, so we talked about him finding a place with air conditioning to cool down for a while, and he said that he could call Brooks, who was driving our drop bags, to come get him if necessary. That sounded like a good plan to me, so I left him there. Once I got to the Best Western in Cloverdale, I heard that he had in fact had gone to the hospital, had a blockage in his heart which resulted in a mild heart attack, and they were holding him there until Monday. So it turns out that going to the hospital instead of trying to finish the brevet is a good idea.

There is no sag service for these rides, so in my view, we all have to provide a sort of sag service for each other to some extent when necessary. I do not enjoy the idea of a sag wagon following me around while I’m just trying to have a good day on the bike, but then again, I felt grossly unprepared for the situation I just described, particularly if the situation had been more urgent. When I got to the hotel in Cloverdale, some people said to me that it was a nice thing I did for him to convince him to seek medical attention, but I felt guilty for not staying with him until he left for a hospital. Of course, if the situation had been more immediate, the way to respond would have been more obvious. Maybe a first aid class is in order.

Okay. One more shout out to some fun randonneurs. After the Point Reyes Station control on the second day, I ran into two riders with whom I finished the first day, and we agreed to finish the second ride together as well. One was Chris Eisenbarth, a very seasoned randonneur, the other was one for whom Saturday was his first brevet (Doug… ? Doug E Fresh?)! Fun! As we rode into Fairfax, I caught sight of the inimitable John Potis, probably heading back to San Francisco from an afternoon of holding down the couch at Black Mountain Cycles in Point Reyes Station.

Chris and John sprinting to the bubbler

John is the captain of my dart team, so we had a lot to discuss along the way! More on that to come in the August installment of mmmmbike!