When I first saw the announcement for the Kingdom of Heaven 1000k, I thought, “That would be a nice route for someone who’s in shape, fast, and a good climber.” i.e., not myself. Then I did the SFR Mount Hamilton 200k in February, and thought, wellll, mayyybe I could Attempt the 1000k if I train a lot and work hard at it. Then John told me he had been enlisted into the elite cadre of supervolunteers for the 1000k, and if I wanted to ride it, that would be fine with him. Okay, now this is getting interesting… I had Significant Other Buy-in! There were a lot of enticing things about this ride. Number One: a local brevet over 600km. Traveling to out of state or out of country events is cost prohibitive for me, not to mention it’s hard for me to take the time away from work. But I’ve been wanting to try a longer distance for a year or two, for it seemed like a natural progression. Number Two: Areas close to the start and finish were familiar to me, but the rest would be a brand new adventure. I’d never been to Lake Tahoe before, though I’d camped in Plumas Eureka State Forest and Desolation Wilderness. These areas were close enough to give me a vague idea of what to expect (steeeep! for a long time! and scenic and remote!). So in spite of the little voices telling me Larsenneuring was for other people, I started to study the route and bulk up my climbing routine.
Some of the best training I think I did was simply the full series of SFR rides. These routes are old cap to me by now, but they are still challenging enough to keep me trained up. The SFR 600k has approximately the same proportion of meters of climbing to kilometers of distance that the 1000k would have. According to my rough study of potential weather situations, it seemed like the 1000k would have similar weather and temps as the series of SFR brevets: could go up to high 60s or slightly higher in the day, low 40s or dip into the 30s at night; showers and headwinds likely at some point. It seemed like the 400k Workers’ Ride could be a similar model, though in the mountains anything was possible. Which brings me to another aspect of the ride that gave me some comfort: my fellow workers’ riders from the 400k were registered too! And so were many other riders I knew from SFR: Megan A, Jon B and Angela N, Dan B, Brad W, Greg M, and others. It seemed like a great group, and I was becoming excited. I decided to do a climby, not-for-credit 200k training ride based on Eric Larsen’s Diablo Terrritory permanent, and Bryan C joined me. That was another piece of training that helped me feel more confident. Bryan, an excellent riding companion in so many ways, had some very helpful route improvements based on road closures due to that season’s washouts.
As the weeks and days ticked down, there was still a fair amount of uncertainty in some parts of the route. The original intent was to ride Ebbetts Pass, but in late May, it was still snowed in. What does that even look like, I wondered.
Sooo… wait, whuuut? We’re riding in that? OK, I’ll bring some extra layers! I hate to play the Wisconsin card, but half my house was buried under a snowdrift when I was in second grade. I sure hadn’t ridden any brevets in those conditions, but I wasn’t too shocked by the idea as some seemed to be. It didn’t look like it would snow, just that there might be freezing rain on the west side of Lake Tahoe. Mountain weather can indeed be dangerous and can change quickly, so I wouldn’t judge anyone negatively for dropping off the roster. However, there was a fair amount of weatherpocalypse chitchat on the email list of riders that I sort of ignored (fools rush in…) mostly because of the true weatherpocalypse 300k I rode in only last year (and survived!)… with Tom and Steve, two of the same palz I would be riding with in June.
We did not get to ride Ebbetts Pass anyway, because as Eric found out prior to his solo Worker’s Ride, Ebbetts would be closed at the time of our ride, not even open to bikes. This signaled to me that we were not going on a normal ride, so I prepared myself mentally to deal with that. There were still a few route related details that were up in the air the week before the brevet, making route study a little confusing, and weather predictions changed by the moment. I just figured I would do my best. I was ready for the adventure. I obsessively tried to calculate my projected times at the various controls with an elaborate spreadsheet from John’s cousin Russ, but for some reason, all the finish control times weren’t loading correctly, and the amount of time lost due to climbing seemed impossible to predict. Lines on an elevation profile only tell part of the story, as I have learned over and over again. I had trained for the ride, and I felt stronger, but I wasn’t totally sure I could make all the control closing times. I didn’t have any backup or bailout plans, had not investigated alternate transpo from any of the towns en route should I need to abandon. I kind of prefer not having contingency plans, because I find that when people have them, they’re more likely to use them instead of finding ways to continue the ride. I did put my knitting in my drop bag, in case I got stuck on a Greyhound somewhere. But finally, like I had so many times before, I committed to the adventure and off I went.
Because John was working the start control and had to do bike check the day before, he got to stay in the volunteers’ hotel room at the start location, and by extension, so did I. That was kind of a lucky break for me, and I got an excellent night’s sleep prior to the start of the event at 5 am the morning of Thursday, June 8. Another lucky break was that I would be riding John’s bike, a titanium frame built by Steve Potts to John’s specs (using Pelican geometry as a starting point). Some have called this a wonder bike, and I can’t quite psychologically process why I got to ride a bike this nice. Fast, comfortable, lightweight, and the excellent Pelican handling with which I am so familiar. It is pretty amazing. I rode it on the SFR 600k last year too.
Despite all the dire weather predictions, the skies were clear at the start. Most of us were wearing shorts or knickers, and no rain jackets. We had a relatively easy warm-up spin from Pleasanton to Winters, about 75 miles into the ride. The Carquinez Bridge was a nice change from the usual Al Zampa bridge, and had less climbing, allowing the group of us to stay together slightly longer.
We had stayed together (as far as I could tell) all the way through the east bay suburbs, forming a critical mass at every intersection that most drivers patiently respected. A misty cloudiness developed as we watched the city-bound traffic pile up on Mankas Corner, a road familiar to SFRs from the Winters and Davis night brevets. Yikes! I had never seen that many cars on that rural farm connector road. But soon we were out of the fray, and zooming down lovely Cherry Glen and Pleasants Valley. The mist dampened all sound as we rode under the oaks and through the cow pastures.
We got to Winters, and there was John and Volunteer Phil to greet us! A group of half a dozen or more riders had arrived at a cafe in downtown Winters before us and were enjoying a full breakfast, which looked enticing. Our small group decided to just have some beverages and pastries, and took kind of a surprisingly long break. I got to eat some very yummy pastries there and had a juice or two. I’m working on eating more solid food (as opposed to nutritional shakes, gels etc) on rides, so I got a couple pastries. Part of an oat bar I had to pack for later, I gave John a smoochie and we were off again. Still no rain jackets among any of us, though there was still some pesky mist hanging around intermittently. It was pretty warm.
The next 30 miles or so to Guinda were pleasant and relaxed. It was getting toward late morning, and most farmers were not out driving, so we didn’t have to deal with too much traffic. We got to the Guinda Corner Store, a place that held great anticipation for me since my friends had stopped there on their fleche route this year. It was pretty cool, with a beauty shop next door.
I always wish I had more time in the small towns I visit on brevets, and I wished this time I could stop and get a haircut and hang out with the people there. The cashier at the Corner Store complimented me on choosing an apple as one of my snacks (of course, she didn’t know I’d just ploughed through 1.5 pastries in Winters). I love eating apples and carrots on brevets. A little sweetness, a little hydration, a little something different for your stomach to work on, and they clean your teeth as you chew! We all had a nice time briefly sitting on the porch in Guinda; I love Steve’s deadpan sense of humor, which was out in full force that day.
We were still making pretty good time, and finding other riders at the various stops. A group left ahead of us from Guinda, but eventually we caught up to them around where 16 follows Cache Creek. That was one of the prettier sections of the day. Bryan informed me that at one time, there was an SFR 400k route to Williams through here, though it was too windy one year, so it was discontinued. On this day, we had a nice tailwind, so apparently we got lucky.
The road was down to one lane in parts as it went through the Cache Creek Regional Park, and we had to wait with a few RVs and other cyclists for our turn. Since the intense rains we’ve had this season, we were accustomed to this process of having to wait when a road goes down to one lane. We chatted with the construction worker on the scene, with some of the RV drivers, and each other for what seemed like a long time. Finally we were waved on through. We all stayed together, about a dozen of us, through this lovely area reminiscent of Mines Road (minus the climbing!).
All good! Next up was a turn onto CA-20, which was not quite as nice as 16, but we made it… Lots of speedy and/or mean-spirited drivers and no room on the shoulder, which was strewn with trash and broken glass anyway. Stressful. There was also a mean crosswind that showed up out of nowhere, making more work for us. I tried to get the small group I was in to form an echelon, but I don’t think anybody could hear me. I took a pull, then dropped off the back. There was one bridge just before arriving in Colusa that looked so sketchy, Bryan pulled over and we waited for all the cars and trucks to go by before we could cross. There was just not enough room, and no one was moving over six inches to pass us, much less changing lanes as they should have. Bryan and I pulled into Colusa having lost Steve and Tom, so we stopped to pause and wait for them across the street from a little burger and shake joint. When Steve and Tom rolled up, it didn’t take long for us to decide to stop there. I had a dreamy root beer float and some fried chicken fingers with fries; Tom had a chili burger which seemed to be an island of burger floating on a sea of chili… Steve’s deadpan humor had me belly laughing as we discussed the following sculpture on the wall:
We left Colusa in a much better mood than how we arrived. After Colusa, the route turns onto CA-45, and begins to follow the Sacramento River. Here the terrain felt more like being on the delta, with occasional levees and lots of greenery. It was refreshing after that awful (though short) stretch of CA-20! There was much less traffic here, too, and wider shoulders. Birds were flying all around, and a large common egret flew high over us by the side of the road for a couple minutes before peeling off to catch some fish in the river, most likely.
We got to the staffed control at Ord Ferry, and chilled out with Volunteer Phil and Volunteer DHK just as another couple of randos were taking off. This little county park was not much more than a public boat launch, but it was a great place for us to relax. Only about 35 miles remained in this, our first day.
After this, the route took us on a loop of the rice fields in this region. I was initally excited to see the fields that produce the Lundberg rice I’ve been eating so much of lately, but Bryan reminded me that since California has so little water, there is not a small amount of controversy about growing rice here. It was pretty nice to ride around the area, though; still more waterfowl and a great sunset.
As the sun set, we looked over the bright green fields and I was amazed by what a great day we’d had. I’d had enough energy to sprint for some city limit signs with Bryan, and though I never garnered any, I usually don’t even try so that was a marked improvement. I hoped I wasn’t burning matches I would need tomorrow… But in any case, we would probably arrive in Oroville several hours ahead of the schedule I’d estimated, probably affected by the tailwind we’d had. I got to see Sweetheart John again in Oroville, who nevertheless did not give me any special treatment with regard to the lasagne ration (one piece only!) we all received. I did get to see the large stack of paperbacks he found at the local used book store in Oroville, which of course he visited while carrying out his volunteer duties, giving me a hint of the normalcy I did not have while on a long bike ride. And I did get an excellent few hours’ or more sleep, and a hot shower. So far, so good.