This year’s NorCal Fleche Velocio was a terrific experience. Lots of the typical ups and downs of any rando ride, a few surprises here and there (mostly pleasant), and beer and delicious breakfast at the finish! We encountered so many milagros along the way: the miracle of spring was evident on the hillsides and in the ditches; rain has returned and the countryside is loving it! It also seemed there were more baby farm animals than last year. Growth, rebirth, and multiplication were everywhere. We even saw some jackrabbits hopping around (and some, sadly, no longer hopping around), just to give it the true Easter flavor.
I love to visit Madera, our start location, because it is so different from the bay area. It feels like a border town and has many many more Spanish speakers per capita. I miss my old Mexican neighborhood of Chicago, so I feel right at home in Madera.
It is definitely a working class town where the day starts and ends early. Not too much going on in downtown Madera on a Friday night other than a few souped-up low-riders patrolling the strip. There is a thrift store on the strip that we went to last year, and we had fun checking it out this year too. We ate dinner at Maya, a restaurant we missed last year unfortunately, but was tasty and had great local beer.
Our team all turned in early the night before the ride. I slept fitfully, never stressed, but it took me an uncharacteristically long time to get to sleep, and I woke up numerous times throughout the night. Captain also woke up throughout the night, hearing Teammate Russ coughing more each time… uh oh… We all woke up on time, at which point Russ made the sad announcement that he would not be joining us for the ride. He said he felt feverish, achey, and had a bad cough, and that’s all I needed to wish him a safe trip back home on Amtrak. He obviously felt very bad about it, but he had given it a try by coming out to Madera with us, and unfortunately was only able to continue the ride with us in spirit. Ah well.
We had only started out with four on our team. Now down to three (the minimum required to receive credit), we started out for the Black Bear Diner, our start control. I usually don’t have a big diner breakfast before the start of a brevet, so this was nice. We had plenty of time to eat, fill our water bottles, and take care of other morning business (such as the important task of conveying the news of the loss of one teammate on Instaspam) before saddling up.
Our new route is easier than our old route through Eureka Canyon and San Juan Bautista, still beautiful, and one sweet perk is that we never have been buzzed by impatient or inattentive or hostile drivers. No matter how big the jacked-up 4×4 pickup, they all swerved way over when they passed, and some even waved at us! Two guys driving tractors out in the fields wildly pumped their arms like they were riding a bicycle and shouted “Andale, andale!!” Velocia and I also tried to get some of the semi truck drivers to honk their horns at us, and 3 out of 3 did! Such childish pleasures, but there you go. Hey, it’s Easter (almost), and we were on a bike ride far from home, so we all felt unfettered and fancy-free. This is one of the great things about team rides, especially when the team all know each other well.
And yes, there were occasional semi trucks out there! This is the heart of large-scale farming, the Central Valley of California. If you ever wondered how it is possible that millions of people can be fed by stuff sticking out of the ground periodically, kind of a milagro in itself, you should visit this area. We passed a farm growing grapes for wine production, we passed acres of leafy greens of some kind (broccoli?), almond orchards, fields of oats and winter wheat, and even a gin-producing facility. We also saw a small airfield for crop dusters… thankfully not spraying anything the day we rode through. Just one of the many ways cycling can be good for your health sometimes, sometimes not so much. I do enjoy seeing the hand lettered signs in Marin County saying “Organic Farm No Spray”.
After an easy warmup though the flat, friendly farm roads, we got to Foster’s Freeze for a malty pause before entering Panoche Road. Last year, Panoche was very very hot and sunny, so it was great to have a little ice cream shake before the hot part. Captain almost deleted this stop but I insisted on retaining it. When we got there, we were slightly ahead of schedule, so we got to relax going into our favorite part of the ride.
The ride through the Watsonville area, coastal communities, and up through Aptos (Hi Cousin Lise!) to Santa Cruz was pleasantly quiet, with the stars and the moon to guide us. At Jeffery’s, our Santa Cruz control, we were somewhat expecting or hoping to see a couple other Fleche teams come in, but nada for us. Hmmmm my phone was too low on battery to check if any other teams were posting their status. Last year we saw 3 other teams at Jeffery’s. I guess it was nice that Jeffery’s was quieter this year since I was making a serious attempt at napping, but it didn’t work anyway.
When we leave Santa Cruz, we have about 85 miles, almost all on Highway One, all in the dark, and usually with a light tailwind. Unfortunately for us this year, the weather roll of the dice gave us a strongish headwind and light rain… yes, more rainy riding for me. Sure the wildflowers are nice but can’t it rain some other time, like when I’m inside… and where is that rain jacket I left at home because there was no rain in the forecast? Hm. Well, nothing to do but pedal through it. I did not feel too fatigued, but around 4 to 5 in the morning I sure was feeling sleepy. The sleep demon would not be denied. It was just the three of us on our team, although we did periodically run into members of Rob’s team, who seemed to be suffering from multiple instances and types of mechanical issues. At least it was something happening, and it periodically woke me up from my drowsiness. I remember trying to keep a safe distance from my teammates, since I kept nodding off and was worried I would crash them. I think the wise thing to do at this point might have been to stop and try to ditchnap, although in the rain I’m not sure how that would have worked. As it was, I took advantage of the cushy nature of my sweet sweet Eroica tires that would sort of hop and wake me up when I steered into the fogline. Bizarro coping mechanism perhaps, but I got through it without crashing. Probably somewhat due to my sleepiness and thus lower speed, we didn’t have much time to spend at our penultimate control in Pacifica, which is fine I guess now that the Denny’s is gone and all we have is the cold, cold floor of the Safeway entrance to sleep on. At that point, I woke up and smelled the coffee, and we practically ghost pedaled the way back from there. I will never forget the view of Mount Tam from the southern corner of the Great Highway! It was so misty and all shades of pastel in the reluctant sunrise. We did not have a whole lot of time left on the clock, but at that point I realized the ride was almost over, with a mixture of sadness and anticipation for my pint of beer at the finish. It had been a long 24 hours.
Milagros in Mexican culture are little silver or tin tokens used for praying for curing ills of all kinds: you can see some here. One of my teammates had a sort of milagro in her handlebar bag… you can see her randonneur version here. It was definitely a lucky-socks-fueled miracle we finished within the time limit, given the horribly annoying wind and rain in the last stretch on highway 1. Also a miracle I was able to keep my bike upright from 4-5 am when I was so tired and drowsy. Since then I resolved to work on my public napping skills. I’ve always felt like sleeping in public is just not normal, but I guess randonneuring has tested the limits of normal in so many ways, why not one more? I know I’ll have to figure this out somehow as the longest rides of the year still lie ahead… oh–was that a pun? Ha. I need to come up with some good jokes too, to keep me awake in those wee hours of the 400k and 600k… If I come up with any good ones, you may see them here on mmmmbike!