Another R1: Pierce Point 200k

The season opener for SFR brevets this year began with a beautiful and dramatic corkscrew dive by a pelican (white or brown, I couldn’t tell) about 40 feet above the water surface at the waterfront in Sausalito as I passed through early in the morning along with 92 other intrepid randos on January 30, 2016. Whew, that was breathtaking! The Brevet Wildlife Report for this ride is filled with two-, four-, and zero-legged creatures, some seen, some only heard, but the first one (the pelican) was the best! I think it bodes well for this year, let’s hope anyway!

I must admit I was not totally sold on this route based on my experiences last year. Losing the Light House route was traumatic, and adding more mileage to the out-and-back on highway one was not appealing. The traffic on the highway was busy last year to say the least. But I am pretty loyal to my home rando club, the season opener cannot be denied or shied away from, and heck I might as well since it’s time to start another R-12 if I wanna be like Willy N.

Another de-motivating factor popped up the week before the ride: I got a mysterious and painful earache, making me wonder whether doing this ride is quite sensible. But I made my preparations either out of habit or who knows why; you just have to get out there and try your best. I often think about PBP stories I have read in which the rider is 2 days away from the ride they’ve been dreaming of and planning for in some cases for years… and the rider has something go wrong with their bike, or some random slip and fall happens, or a bad case of jet lag leads to catching the flu or something. Although I obviously don’t have as much invested in the garden variety SFR brevet, I do cherish each ride, since you never know when you truly cannot go out there.

And I was well rewarded for my attempts to get out there! The day was gorgeous, the beauty of Point Reyes National Seashore was ravishing, I got to spend a good amount of time riding with friends but also some peaceful time on my own, and because of the two out-and-back legs of the route, I got to wave at all the riders passing by. Just perfect for a season opener! The route is definitely growing on me. Though I still miss going to the Light House, this route has far fewer cattle grates, an advantage which can’t be denied. My earache pretty much disappeared, confirming my belief that randonneuring is the cause and the cure of all my physical challenges.

As for the wildlife of note, I got to see the Tule Elk this year! One perk of the Pierce Point route is that it passes through the Tule Elk refuge. Just scanning over the Wikipedia page for Tule Elk, I felt fortunate to see the healthy populations of this species once thought to be extinct. Another wildlife sighting was less exhilerating but still unusual: a big, fat banana slug in the middle of the shoulder on White’s Hill outbound. I was just amazed that no one had run it over! Haven’t seen one of those in a while, but I guess because of the increase in wet weather, probably something I’ll see more of. Another great wildlife non-sighting was hearing frogs throughout Inverness. They were singing their little guts out! And finally, in addition to the diving pelican on the waterfront in Sausalito, I saw a seal in the water there as well as a lovely Western Grebe, a bird of the loon family native to my birthplace in Wisconsin.

And finally, for some pictures!

The bends

The bends

MOSS

Thick coatings of moss and/or lichens coated everything in sight! It was like someone sprayed green foam all over the trees, ground, concrete

If you lived here, you'd be home now

If you lived here, you’d be home now

Wetlands

Wetlands near Inverness

Marshes

Marshes

Pierce Point Road

Pierce Point Road is steep

Ocean View

Ahhh the ocean!

Top of the climb

The Road Below

Pierce Point Cows

Happy, shaggy cows

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay

Pierce Point Control

Peace and Serenity (and Lisa’s Cookies!) at Pierce Point Control

Tule Elk

Once thought to be extinct, Tule Elk are now protected on Point Reyes and a handful of other locations in California

The Golden Gate

Passing back through the Golden Gate

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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.

R5: The Jittery Jaunt

By all projections, this should have been an easy ride, but it ended up being a tough one. Both Ely and I had done the route before, and it’s not a difficult one– there is little climbing, only a couple short stretches with no shoulder or uneven pavement, and good opportunities for water and amenities along the way. Ely had projected we should be able to finish in nine or ten hours. This seemed reasonable, though slightly ambitious, to me. When I did essentially the same route as a brevet in February, I finished in 10:40. Since it was no longer a new route to me and I have kept riding and training since then, I thought it would be easy to shave off at least that forty minutes!

Ely waiting patiently for me at my corner. A good friend is he!

How did we make it to Safeway in under 15 minutes??

Well, the fates were just not with us that day. After fighting a nasty headwind all along Point Reyes- Petaluma Road, we fought some more headwind all the way from Petaluma to Valley Ford and beyond to the coast. We had tried pacelining to conserve energy, but traffic along the highway was thick that day, and in several stretches the shoulder was too narrow.

Hip-hop comedy flavors of Ely “mousetail-on-your-booty” Rodriguez… Singing Missy Elliott all the way to the Marshall Store is how we roll.

The bright sunny day was wonderful and exhilarating, since I was diligent in applying plenty of clown makeup (a.k.a. sunscreen:  I am learning a bit about the California sun in relation to my WASPy Wisconsin- bred skin). There were gorgeous green hills, deep blue skies, and lazy black and white cows everywhere I looked. I now have a completely different perspective on ‘pink’, ‘purple’, and ‘yellow’, having seen the bursts of roadside wildflowers in May. Ely pointed out the stretch of road where, when he did the same route last year, the embankments next to the road were covered with blackberries. Yet… I felt my energy severely sapped in sections where no shade was to be found, and where the wind was as diligent in pushing against us as we were diligent in pressing forward.

I was so thrilled to reach the buoyant rolling hills on the coast– finally, a tailwind!! But by this time my riding companion was exhausted and out of water. When we reached the iconic Marshall Store, we made a brief stop for water and quickly moved on to Point Reyes Station.

I nearly tip over a bunch of carbon fiber bikes like dominoes at Bovine Bakery while trying to get a glam shot of our rando-rific ones… sigh.

This is about the mile marker in a ride when I discover my second wind. I love to reach the familiar territory of Samuel P. Taylor Park, Fairfax, San Anselmo, and so on, and get the feeling that the finish line is nearly within my grasp. I really haul ass at this point, excited that I’m about to accomplish another brevet.

Unfortunately, Ely was not feeling that way. Riding into tough headwinds for so much of the day under the hot sun had worn him out (and now I feel guilty as I realize he was out in front most of the way; although I wasn’t drafting him, it still takes more effort to be in front), so we took it easy getting back to town. This turned out to be a huge plus, because we took the scenic route through Samuel P. Taylor Park, and took a chill break at the San Anselmo town hall, where the public library was having a book sale that day. Bicycling books, anyone? Aaaagh!

I have never been less tempted at a public library booster sale

I have never been less tempted at a public library booster sale

Now I fondly recall riding through the beautiful park in the afternoon with the soft pine needle-strewn path below and noble redwoods towering above, not to mention all the giant, prehistoric- looking birds of prey swooping around, and I’m glad we didn’t rush to finish. If we had ridden hard in the final section, all I would have remembered of the day would have been solid work, instead of what I understand randonneuring is supposed to be: pushing one’s limits to be sure, but in the spirit of a fun day out on the bike in good company. And in the end, I believe we both rode well, we ate well and drank our water and made sensible decisions about how to spend the day. It was another great learning experience for me, this time about pacing and my limitations. I rode harder than I usually do at the beginning, and I wasn’t able to keep that pace throughout the day. We ended up checking out at the Starbucks across from the Marina Dateway (which was so congested with people on a Saturday night, I guess living up to its nickname, that we had to go to Starbucks for our receipts) at 18h18, finishing in 11h18. I guess it’s going to be some time before I can finish a brevet, even a straightforward route like the Jittery Jaunt, in nine hours. But that’s the point of my doing an R12: just keep at it, and for one year, don’t be attached to the result. Keep riding, keep good company, be mentally as well as physically prepared for anything, and ride just enough that you want to keep doing it. Experiment with different kinds of nutrition and gear– as Rob Hawks says, “Do your homework,” with a view to going even longer in the future. I am grateful that Ely stuck with me through this ride, and thank him for his great company and for sharing ideas about riding.

In that vein, here is a list of what I ate that day, my gear choices, and our rates of speed broken out by section. Just for the record. Who knows when it might be useful?

Food
Breakfast: oatmeal, two scrambled eggs, coffee with hot milk, 1/2 liter water
1st section (before Petaluma): Perpetuem-maca-Inka-honey shake, water with lemon wedges, 1 t. salt & 1 T. honey
Seven Eleven at Petaluma: Breakfast sandwich, small light blue Gatorade
Valley Ford: Clam chowder (pint), dark blue Gatorade, banana, It’s-It (shoutout to Brian Oei!)
Point Reyes Station: Peanut butter and nutella sandwich, dates and almonds, refill water bottles with water and Nuun
Top of White’s Hill: 1 Ensure
Finish Control: One cookie and another Ensure
2 hours after finish: Odwalla protein shake
8 hours after finish: Homemade apple bread pudding, and pasta

Gear
just made a new ss wool jersey for myself & pretty proud of it!
cotton undershirt
cotton shorts with no chamois
soft soled sneakers (yes, still no cleats or toe clips and not really wanting to change that. I hate how toe clips grind on the ground at a stop, and I like having the ability to change my foot position on the pedal throughout a ride. Am I from a different planet?? I feel compelled to change to cleats, but as it feels so akin to mere peer pressure, my stubbornness with the pedal issue reigns for now.)
dollar store sunglasses (since my glasses with changeable lenses fell out of my pocket one day, never to be found again, I have used plain sunglasses on the last two brevets. They’re working just fine so far, and actually those changeable- lens Serfas glasses were really awkward to change the lenses, not to mention them being a safety hazard because they completely cut out my peripheral vision)
head kerchief to keep the sun off my scalp (worked well compared to other rides when I did not wear one)
thin wool socks
cotton arm warmers and blue windbreaker (though these were taken off by 9 am and unfortunately carted around all day somewhat unnecessarily)
Panaracer Pasela 32mm tires, I love you. 1700+ miles and not even a flat. Potholes, sticks, glass, rocks, you climb over it all, thanks to the heavens for that. I know that soon enough I will start the learning experience of roadside repairs, but I am grateful I’ve had some time before those lessons to learn some others.

Speed (mph)
SF to Petaluma &-Eleven: 13.89
Petaluma to Valley Ford: 10.30
Valley Ford to PRS: 11.42
PRS to SF: 9.35
We would have had to maintain an average speed of 13.89 to finish in 9 hours, 12.5 in 10. This includes time at controls, which I need to work on shortening.

Bilenky rig with new dyno wheel. Hm. But check out the swank new kicks!!

Ely’s shooting-from-the-ankle curbside shot. I’m just thankful for not getting a massive sunburn!

I’m not sure yet what my June R12 installment will be. I am really busy with work at the moment, so I’m glad May is out of the way early, so I can get back to work (remember bookbinding?? oh yeah…). Stay tuned!