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!

mmmmCook's

mmmmCook’s

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…

Wheee

Wheee

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.

Epilogue

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!

 

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