S3: Hopland 400k

The rainy season is dead. Long live the rainy season! Yes, folks, after a long drought, California is wet again. I fully jinxed myself and everyone in SFR by my joyous posts regarding the beautiful weather on the Light House and Russian River 300k brevets. You’re welcome…

Rain at the beginning of a ride is more difficult than when showers show up at the end, for obvious reasons: you and your gear get soaked, then you have to ride through miles and miles with wet clothing even when it’s no longer raining. Most people were sensible on this ride and started out wearing their rain gear. I decided to tough it out, not wanting to overheat, but also feeling smug after riding through several rainy days early in the season and getting the hang of it. Though dry at the start, rain began to fall about 7-8 miles in (depending on where you were), for me on the north side of the hill between Camino Alto and Mill Valley. Prolonging the inevitable, I did not stop to put on my rain jacket until I topped White’s Hill. My wool arm warmers and jersey were pretty soaked at that point, but I wasn’t cold, so I just put on my jacket because, well, I like it. I figured that descending into chilly Nicasio without it would be unwise.

wet on White's

The rain continued all the way to the first control in Bodega. It only started to bug me about then. It made the valleys and hills between the Nicasio Cheese Store and Bodega so beautiful. For some reason I started to get fixated on all the country schools out in the boonies, and took a couple pictures of them.

ejt 008 ejt 011 ejt 012 ejt 013

The first people I saw in Bodega were Ian K-B and Carlin E, who assured me that, according to forecasts, the rain would disappear by the time we all got the Guerneville. It mostly stopped before I left the control, where I also saw Theresa L. Some people were getting soup and slices of pizza, which smelled really good and looked so warm, but it was too early in the ride for me to eat a big meal. I had some fruit and juice and got more water to top off my Max-Mix shake, and was off toward Joy Road.

'till next time, Bodega!

’till next time, Bodega!

Joy Road and I are on decent terms, believe it or not. It’s pretty slow going, but something I like about it is that I feel like I’m really sinking my teeth into the ride at this point. I picked up the pace a bit and rode alongside Mike B and Deb B, not able to chat and climb at the same time, but I enjoyed their pleasant company.

going up...

going up…

good company!

good company!

happy chatting

happy chatting

One thing that was great about Joy Road for me this time is I tried hard to eliminate any unnecessary items when packing my bike, and it was noticeable as I climbed. I felt the difficulty of the steep grade, but no drag on my bike. Maybe it also had something to do with the Ensure I downed right before leaving the Bodega control! Two valuable tips from Boyfriend John, who was not there to ride with me as he did last year, but still provides support in the form of good advice.

From Joy Road through Occidental, Monte Rio to Guerneville I descended, still mostly with my jacket on and feeling a bit clammy. In Guerneville I encountered Clyde B, recovered from an unfortunate run-in with a puddle in Ross or thereabouts and forecasting the absence of rain for the remainder of the day. I ate a yogurt, a pastry, some caffeinated tea, and again refilled my Max-Mix. Straight maltodextrin, soy lecithin and concentrated whey protein are the “Max-Mix”, a powerful and elegantly simple (not to mention muy cheaper) shake powder that keeps my engine running lately.

road dirt yecch

road dirt yecch

countryside still bright green

countryside still bright green

In spite of Clyde’s rosy weather predictions, I was becoming concerned about my wet clothing come nightfall. There was no rain at the moment, but no sun either, so nothing was drying out too much. Heading toward Hopland, I decided to take off my arm warmers and rain booties, and hang them from the various outside pockets of my handlebar bag. I’m sure it looked pretty comical going down the road, but it did eventually work, which even though it didn’t get very cold at night, eliminated a large source of anxiety for me about the night ahead. My jersey being soaked was another thing entirely: even by the time I got to Cloverdale, it was still wet enough that when I sat down in the oh-so-comfy armchairs at the Starbucks, the satin stitching of “SAN FRANCISCO RANDONNEURS” seeped into the upholstery…



Sitting on something wider than a saddle produces smiles

Sitting on something wider than a saddle produces smiles

leg stretching yeah!

leg stretching yeah!

Oh well. That was a nice non-control, spent with Mike B and Theresa L. I’ve always loved even a bad breakfast sandwich: there’s something about eggs, cheese, and bread that seems twined with my very core; maybe my long-ago French ancestry? Who cares, it got me back on the road, where the three of us climbed 128 out of Cloverdale.

Something about heavy climbing gets me envigorated, and I attacked the hill with all of the (once again, Ensure-fueled) energy I could muster.


oh yeah baby

Mike pulled ahead, Theresa lagged behind for a short time, eventually pulling ahead of me, and we all regrouped after the lovely descent into Hopland.

I think I would be willing to do two Joy Roads on this route if I could have some other turnaround point than the Hopland Valero. I don’t know what it is about that place; the pizza is great, but my morale as I eat it has taken a serious nosedive both times I’ve been there. Even after hanging out there for half an hour, when Theresa and Mike were ready to go, I just couldn’t pull myself together to leave with them. They offered to wait a few more minutes, but I sent them ahead. Finally after another twenty or so minutes, I started to pack up. Sarah B was gathering a large train of riders which consisted of pretty much anyone still at the Valero, and barked out, “Coleman! You with us?” That snapped me out of my stupor, and I was ready for action. THANK YOU, SARAH! Night riding alone is not a really great idea, and I was excited to be a part of this group.

fun group woo hoo!

fun group woo hoo!

yellow light

yellow light

Once we all made the 101 crossing safely, I noticed all my clothes were dry, and I was in the middle of a big, cheerful group, my spirits rose. There was still some sun left in the day (though I knew I wouldn’t get to Chalk Hill before sunset as I hoped in my ride planning); the Russian River was absolutely gushing past us, thank jehovah for the rain; and I was flying down the road with a nice tailwind.

Our big group splintered and reunited, with me riding with Deb B and Phil A most of the way through 128, Chalk Hill and Santa Rosa, stopping for a long pit stop at a McDonald’s in Windsor. I had been looking forward to stopping at the Denny’s in Petaluma just before the control, but after I led the three of us astray for a good mile due to misreading my cue, Phil made a beeline for a nearby McDonald’s and we all ate the same thing I would have had at the Denny’s: coffee, fries, and milkshakes. The lady at the counter very graciously filled my water bottles and we were back on the road.

Phil was an absolute machine of a pacesetter. That was amazing. We made great time through the quiet farmlands and outskirts of Sonoma County suburbs. I feel so grateful to both Deb and Phil for allowing me to join them for this stretch.

After Petaluma, my energy definitely waned, and I was able to keep up with them only until Fairfax or so. My drowsiness started to take over around Larkspur, and I decided to get off my bike and walk off my sleepiness. At one point under a canopy of trees over the road, I saw a gray blur move over the road with a rhythmic beating of wings. A complete absence of sound meant that was an owl, wow. Some of the riders who had ended up behind Deb and Phil and I started passing me: Gabby, then Peg, Sarah, and others. They asked me if I was ok, and I waved them all on, telling them I was just sleepy. We had all seen another randonneur loaded into an ambulance around the Nicasio reservoir (apparently due to dehydration), so I understood their concern. I walked a little further, thinking about how great it was to ride with Deb and Phil, and suddenly it occurred to me they had been listening to headphones… I don’t usually do that myself, but I remembered I had some music stored in my phone, and turned it on to softly play through the speaker. It perked me up right away! I got back on my bike and pedaled up Camino Alto and the inclines to the Bridge. So…there you go, I never know what odd thing will save me on a brevet. I guess I would have finished regardless, but it sure was nice to wake up and be able to ride.

This is the second time finishing this brevet for me, and it has not been easy either time. The weather is always an issue for this one: if not howling winds, then rain or extreme temperatures. Both times I’ve arrived at Hopland, I would have fiercely argued that there was no way I’d be able to make it back to San Francisco by bike. But I have to remember that it’s a front-loaded route: all the difficulty is in the first half, then you generally get pushed back home by kind tailwinds. It’s still not easy, though: after doing two years of 200k rides every month, I can assert with confidence that the 400k is more than twice as hard as two 200ks. I look forward to the time when a 400k is as natural to me as a 200k. Then perhaps you will see some pictures from later in the ride instead of just me yakking about it. Now that would be an improvement…


SFR Hopland 400k: Snack to win??

I was never brought up to eat between meals. I know that potato chips, cheetos, doritos, M&Ms, and so on are a major part of most every American’s way of life, but it just was not in the program for my family when I was growing up. My grandmother was a stubborn home cook who eschewed processed food of every type, and was suspicious of the growing tendency of people towards snacking. When I first started doing randonnees, a friend loaned me a book: Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, which I vaguely remember had a passage encouraging endurance athletes to engage in snacking. Whaaaat?!?! Three regularly-timed square meals seemed like the axis on which the entire world spun. Well, unfortunately for me on the Hopland 400k this year, I discovered that snacking is the axis on which my axels spin, and in the future I will avoid it at my peril. That was one lesson I learned on the ride, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy myself; this route has some amazing scenery unlike the other rides I’ve done, and I got to spend most of the ride quite unexpectedly with my sweetheart– the real bonus. Not least, I successfully completed the only ride goal I had set for myself for this year.

I arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge plaza a few minutes after Rob began his pre-ride talk. I had read the info docs emailed to all riders before the ride, so I didn’t miss too much. I quickly checked in with volunteer Steve H, fresh off the flat-tire-plagued worker’s ride the week before, and decided to spend what I thought would be the last few minutes I would see my sweetheart that day standing next to him. We had decided not to ride together that day. I wanted him to enjoy riding at his own pace, and I wanted to take my first 400k slow. He had stationed himself and his gorgeous black Toei right at the entrance to the bike path over the bridge, so as soon as the RBA called time, he would ride out in front of the crowd. Randonneurs sometimes ride like a pack of lone wolves, and when confronted with a narrow passage and a crowd of us, you can never be quite sure what you’re going to get. Anyway, since I happened to be standing next to John to give him a smooch before the ride started, I ended up at the front of the pack. Somehow I held with the lead group, or maybe the second-to-lead group, all the way to Fairfax.

Dizzying array of reflectivity and tail lights' behinds; green lights ahead!

Dizzying array of reflectivity and tail lights’ behinds; green lights ahead

I got dropped on White’s Hill by Theresa L, my flèche teammate, and others, but I was pretty happy to be starting the brevet so much farther ahead than I am when I employ my usual strategy of letting most of the riders go by before starting out. I had no idea what the day would bring, and had been startled to pass John when I was riding with the fast group in Ross. Some riders advise to keep in mind the phrase “This too shall pass” while going through bad or difficult stretches in a ride. I would modify it slightly: “As ye pass, shall ye too be passed.” So, I had a feeling I would see John again. I knew I would get tired before too long and he would pass me.

We saw each other on Petaluma-Point Reyes Road, on the way to Hicks Mountain. I fell in with John’s cadence for a while, a cadence to which I’m well-accustomed by now. He wanted to take a nature break at the top. While he did, I got some snapshots of the beautiful view.

Misty morning Hicks Mountain

Misty morning Hicks Mountain

Walking back to his bike, he said, “Why don’t we ride together for a while? It might be nice to ride the whole day together–it’s going to get windy, and you can draft me.” So I did. We rode together for the entire remainder of the ride, which was fantastic. He was right; before too long, we began to encounter some massive headwinds. The winds were not as strong as the ones on the fleche outside of Salinas on the way to the Great Artichoke. They were a lot more constant, though, and persisted through the next near-hundred miles.

Bodega Bay, CA, home of The Birds

Chapter the First: Bodega Bay, CA, home of The Birds

Me 'n John at Control 1: the Bodega Country Store

Me, John, and our fashionable sunglasses at Control 1: the Bodega Country Store


Happy cows near Joy Road


Yes, it is called Joy Road. Another one of life’s little ironies? Well, I like a climb, so not for me

John valiantly allowed me to draft him nearly the whole duration of the rest of the day, Velocio bless him. I attempted to do my part by speeding up my necessities at controls and, um, laughing at his jokes. I also tried to ride out in front for a while, but I couldn’t keep a constant speed due to an equipment malfunction in my cyclocomputer having something to do with putting fresh batteries in it.

I did pull a little bit of the way through Westside Road, when Willy N. started drafting us.

Lookin good today, Westside!

Lookin good today, Westside!

Willy is one of the most experienced randonneurs I know, and I’ve had many pleasant exchanges with him in regard to the permanents he owns that I ride from time to time, but when he started heckling John about his mudflap and about the fact that he was riding in his shorts liners, I started to feel a bit turned off by that. Oh well. Before long, John started heckling me about the fact that I can’t take pictures backwards with my camera!

nice shot of my hair... a little out of focus

nice shot of my hair… a little out of focus

nice shot of John's handlebar bag

nice shot of John’s handlebar bag

hm, something is a bit off here

hm, something is a bit off here

OK, maybe he was right. No matter, we were not far from the most beautiful part of the ride: CA128 and Mountain House Road. Quiet and lovely.

treees! wheeee

treees! wheeee

A constant climb through moss-laden trees.



Shady and sweet. Lots of QT with the BF, listening to his silly jokes, but also riding quietly.

This is JP's favorite part too.

This is JP’s favorite part too.

There’s a fun descent in there, a quick stop in Cloverdale, and I know I am confusing the order of things but eventually at the top of a climb we see Hopland in a valley not too far away. I am greeted in Hopland by a table covered in a cool old handmade rug and full of well-treated spokeshaves!!!


Oh. hello?

Spokeshaving is my favorite part of bookbinding, and although I do not need another one because mine is perfect, I’ve often pondered collecting spokeshaves for a potential class I could teach on the topic… John calls out to remind me why we are here at the Hopland Valero Gas Station, and I run over to get my slice of delicious pizza. It really was delicious. However, it was only one piece, and liquids were the only other thing I felt like downing. So I had a few kinds of juices with my pizza, and then our time at the Valero was up. I got back on my bike in somewhat of a daze, eager to begin the portion of the ride with the wind, once in our faces, instead at our backs.

And oh yes, that was a sweet, sweet tailwind. We rode with that tailwind down Highway 101, IMG_1554back through Cloverdale, IMG_1558and all the way down to Petaluma and more. What was even better was we picked up another rider on Chalk Hill Road who was so pleasant, we stuck with him all the way back to San Francisco!

Twilight in the vineyards on Chalk Hill Road

Twilight in the vineyards on Chalk Hill Road, we run into Andy from Mendocino County

Thanks Andy for being so fun. Unfortunately, my stomach had completely soured by the time night fell; I was starving, but no food seemed appealing. We even stopped at Denny’s in Petaluma and got hot coffee, milkshakes and fries (now established for me as a power meal) and I still did not feel better. I remember going to the ladies’ room at the Denny’s and catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and feeling a little frightened. Frightened at how I looked, and frightened that there were still over 40 miles to go! I also remember sitting in the booth and watching the occasional randonneur pass by the Denny’s without stopping, and thinking, “My boyfriend is a genius for having the idea to stop here.” (The control in Petaluma is the Safeway, but at that time of night– 10:00 or so– the Safeway has no deli or soup, and even during daylight hours, no booooths.)

It was a tough shlep for me from Petaluma to San Francisco; I felt really bad about dragging behind John and Andy on that climb out of Petaluma. Usually I try to keep my spirits a bit brighter in spite of difficulty on a ride. Some random cop car slowed down next to me on the climb up Red Hill and seemed to want to make small talk about the fact there were bike riders! on the road! at night! what are we doing! and so on. I really did not feel like chatting in any way whatsoever, and thankfully he rode off. I would have to define that as the ride’s low point.

I believe Andy gave me an Ensure at some point just past Nicasio and I started to feel a little better again. There was no making up for lost calories, though, so by the time we finished I was pretty well-cooked. It is hard for me to imagine, knowing my always-inexhaustible appetite, how I could have had no appetite at the finish for any of the food they had there, but there it was: all I consumed was peppermint tea, thank Jehovah they had it. John and I snuggled for a bit in a double-wide camp chair, but eventually had to part ways.

Another long day with a lot of ups and downs… But seriously, this was an important ride for me, another milestone. Last year when I did the 300k after having done two 200k rides, I felt totally whupped, but I have done two more since then, and now I enjoy that distance very much. I was lucky that first time, in that I met a good friend (Jim G) who also gave me an Ensure around Nicasio! The week after the 400k, John and I went on a short bike tour with some friends, and for whatever reason, discovered some great snacks: pretzels, dried pineapple, and dried mango slices doused in chile powder-mmmm! Snacking is ok if it’s not junk food, right? I just hope Grandma Roz is not rolling in her grave right now.