Mother Nature Returns: SFR 300k

For the past year or so of randonneuring, I’ve had that sinking feeling that results from getting something you haven’t earned. The weather has just been wayyy too good. Sunny, clear skies all winter long when there should have been rain. I grew up in a region with real (and yes, that meant at times dangerous or at least uncomfortable) weather: lightning storms, blizzards, ice storms, frozen roads blocked by excessive ice or snowfall, tornadoes. So in addition to the concern over California’s drought, during the past year I felt a sense of unease building, waiting for the pendulum to swing back.

As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried: Mother Nature would not abandon us! The forecast for last Saturday’s ride was beyond grim: lots of rain throughout the day (could be uncomfortable, but temps looked like they would stay relatively warm) and 20mph+ headwinds on the coast from the afternoon through to the night (the discouraging part). A roster of 70+ riders shrank to 30- when people started voicing their concerns on the club listserv. Granted, some people voiced their excitement or just plain neutrality (the position I shared), but I couldn’t read anymore when it was suggested that the ride be cancelled or rescheduled. Fiddlesticks! I am glad that those who did not want to ride had a chance to transfer their registration to another, perhaps sunnier, brevet. In randonneuring, we are all responsible for knowing our own limits and what we want to deal with. For me, the prospect of bad weather brought back memories of my childhood! Kind of funny. In any case, I’m glad the ride was not rescheduled, because it was an extraordinary experience.

Start control

Check-in felt like a sparsely-populated Adventure Series ride, not like the SFR 300k I’m used to. In past years, riders have filled the Golden Gate Bridge plaza to start this brevet; the lack of participation gave a slightly chilling reminder that the day would be hard. Rob came up to me and subtly or not so subtly asked me if I had made any plans to ride with anyone. In fact I had: Steve H had found out from John that I was riding, and wrote to me asking if I would want to ride with him and Tom H. This invitation was easy to accept, having ridden with them before in the rain and finding them to be ideal riding partners. I explained further to Rob my thinking in attempting this ride in this particular weather: I had done this route 5 times, and it is an easy route for me, one I’ve completed successfully as a solo perm more than once. I also did a 318k ride that had 50% more climbing two weeks ago, so I felt confident of my training level. Furthermore, according to the forecast, the first part of the ride to Healdsburg should give us a tailwind, thus being easier than in past years, so we should still have energy in reserve for the tough part at the coast. Apparently he was convinced by my rambling and moved off while I went over to fulfill my volunteer duties and do some gear checks.

Rob reluctantly administers the oath "not to do stupid stuff"

Rob reluctantly administers the oath “not to do stupid stuff”

At this point, I was a little nervous, but no more than for a typical brevet. The weather would be an added source of uncertainty, but I was looking forward to the challenge, because I had done this route many times. As my riding companions were to comment later, it was the one route they had done the most, which was true for me too. The key factor giving me more optimism was that temperatures were forecast to be relatively warm, which if it’s raining, can be a big help.

The Easy Part: 85 miles to Healdsburg

It was not raining at the start control. I didn’t need to put on my rain jacket until the Marin wiggle. We saw the sun after Camino Alto.

Jack Moonbeam in his fluorospendor

Jack Moonbeam in his full fluorospendor

 

The only time we saw the sun that day

The only time we saw the sun that day

Rain was softly falling as I rode through the usual San Anselmo, Fairfax, up and over White’s and through Samuel P. Taylor Park. Tom H and I chatted pleasantly up until the secret control, noting that not a single car had passed us. The views of Black Mountain in the light rain were luxuriously green.

In Petaluma, we picked up Jack Moonbeam, and I still felt a lot of energy. I had finally begun to memorize the layouts of all the Safeways on the SFR routes. I moved quickly through the control, getting exactly what I needed and consuming it fast.

Perky in Petaluma

Perky in Petaluma

We got right back on the road and proceeded to the next stretch. As I anticipated, we had a tailwind, and though it rained steadily, it was never cold. The farmlands between Petaluma and Healdsburg looked pretty great, and due to the lack of glare from the sun, I saw outbuildings of the farms that I had never noticed before. I wanted to take tons of pictures of these, but it was already feeling risky to keep taking out my camera and putting it back, since there was a lot of traffic and I was riding in a relatively close group. A couple of times, I couldn’t resist…

Yellow and green and gray

Yellow and green and gray

Wildflowers

Wildflowers almost as bright as hi-viz (and hey, check out that paceline-friendly mudflap!)

Feeling no pain

Feeling no pain

Santa Rosa Selfie

The classic SFR group selfie looks slightly different today

It felt like we arrived in Healdsburg in no time at all. I found the excellent sushi I’ve enjoyed there many times, got some other stuff to eat and drink, and sat inside at the Starbucks cafe tables to chow down. My riding companions joined me, Tom looking at and showing us adorable videos of his son saying “I love you Daddy” on his phone, what would become a regular feature at every control. So far, the ride did not feel epic whatsoever. Sure it was raining, but no big deal. Sufferfest cancelled, right? Actually, I knew that the hard parts lay ahead. I wanted to split from this control as fast as we could. I finished eating and went outside to make some slight adjustments to my bike and pack up. Apparently my riding companions were confused and stayed inside waiting for me, only wasting a few minutes, but then as we rolled out of the parking lot, Steve noticed that Tom’s rear wheel was flat. Amazingly, he had the offending tube out on the sidewalk before I turned my head around, but said we should go on ahead and just soft pedal until he caught up. Jack had already left the control, also saying he would soft pedal and wait for us. Caught in between, Steve and I headed out on Westside Road.

More easy: Westside Road, River Road, Hwy 116

It was gorgeous that day. Being outside in the rain when it’s not cold is amazing. Like when it’s snowing, human-made sound is mollified by the raindrops. And once you’re wet, you can neither become significantly drier nor wetter, so the fact that it kept raining didn’t bother me. Traffic was not too much lighter, unfortunately, but the colors of the fields were quite beautiful.

Fields and skies

Fields and skies

Luscious green

Luscious green

Nearing the end of Westside Road

Nearing the end of Westside Road

Steve and I finally caught up with Jack, but at that point Tom was not yet with us again. We pulled to the side to decide what to do. I used the opportunity to eat a little snack. We decided to keep going and wait in a more sheltered place for Tom. Almost at the intersection of River Road, I decided to pull over and take a snapshot of the Russian River from the end of Westside Road–always a beautiful sight, but today more unique.

Russian River

Russian River

Steve and Jack had decided to wait under the River Road overpass, and while there, we made sure we had each others’ cell phone numbers. Before too long, Tom showed up and we hooted at him to let him know where we were. Nature breaks ensued (almost) all around, Steve made some brake adjustments, and finally we were off again. River Road was trafficky but relatively uneventful. Tom pulled most of the way, and before long, we arrived at the point of my greatest weather-related fears: the mouth of the Russian River.

The Coast

We climbed the first steep pitch, and the wind was surely there to greet us as I feared. Each gust reminded me to keep my eyes on the road, my hands firmly braced against the handlebars, and my butt squarely on the saddle. I learned how to drive on ice at a relatively early age, so I am no stranger to adverse weather conditions, but no doubt about it, this was tough. It took just as much power to pedal as it took to hold my bike steady. Though it would have been nice to paceline, it was too dangerous to do so, since the wind was so variable. Sometimes the gusts would blow more from the west than south, and one such gust could blow you right into the rider in front. I did my best to keep a safe distance, hold my front end stable, and stay focused. It was not easy. There were times when the full force of the storm was directly upon us, like when the road climbed to an exposed rise. Those of you who have ridden this road on a bike know that there is no shoulder here, and only a few iceplants between the edge of the road and a steep dropoff. I rode further in from the edge here, possibly a risky tradeoff since there was still a fair amount of car traffic. But the cars out were probably locals and gave us a wide berth that day, and I think that was due in no small part to Jack Moonbeam’s full-coverage reflecto.

On a day with more reasonable weather conditions, this is the most beautiful part of the route. Majestic sea stacks, rock outcroppings, natural arches, grottoes, and rocky beaches are fair to see for miles of coastline. On that day, however, we were witness to the other side of the coin. In its own way, it was majestic too, dangerous as it was. I did not look at the ocean too much (remember: target fixation!), but when I did, it looked unfamiliar to me. Usually the water is a clear, luminescent dark turquoise, calmly though inevitably crashing on the rocks. On that day, the water was gray, opaque, swirling, only slightly blue and angrily throwing its weight around with strong intention. We, too, felt tossed around. The rain shot at us by the bucketful, stinging our faces, chests, and arms. Finally we arrived in Bodega, exhausted from putting up such a fight.

At Diekmann’s I ate a small cup of roasted potatoes and half a breakfast burrito, and drank a nice beet ginger juice. It was great to have some warm solid food. Our clothes dripped on the floor and made a huge puddle as we commiserated about having ridden through that mess and watched another Grant video. Tom explained that the weather couldn’t be that bad because the rain didn’t wash away the dirt on his arm from changing his tube. Ha! But as I looked down at Jack’s shoe covers, previously spattered with road dirt, I noticed they were perfectly clean now and back to normal. We had gotten a thorough washing, indeed. Feeling humbled, I lingered, not able to conceive of getting back on my bike. Eventually, we all did. This time we went through the spin cycle until we got to Marshall. At that point, the wind died down significantly, replaced by soft rain.

Marin Post Office Tour

On the way to Valley Ford, Steve and Tom dropped off the back. I would get to the top of a hill and look for them, but didn’t see them. Jack also dropped off a little bit, so I stopped and got off my bike for a short break. Night had fallen, and I was worried about getting cold. Once Jack caught up, I suggested we wait for Steve and Tom in the Valley Ford post office.

It was warm in that post office… delightfully warm. Jack was reaching for his phone, and was saying something about “calling this in”. Whaaa??? I was shocked. “You mean DNF?!”, I asked. I couldn’t believe what I heard. To ride through all those wind gusts and then give up seemed terribly pointless. Completing this ride was of the utmost importance to me now. It had been tough, but the finish was in reach, and we were still well within the time limits. It was also critical to me that our group stay together. I think I convinced him to keep going, because he put his phone back.

Before long, Steve and Tom rolled up, explaining that Tom had gotten another flat. Someone came into the post office to check his mail, saying that he didn’t blame us for hanging out in there–it’s where he used to wait for the school bus when he was a kid! Now, he said, the kids have to wait on the porch of the supper club next door. The guy hopped into his black truck outside that had US Zombie Outbreak Response Team stickers on it, and drove off. Reunited, our group filled our bottles at the back of the post office, and took off for Point Reyes.

Valley Ford Post Office

Valley Ford Post Office: Storm Chasers

It was tough getting there, with all the climbing on CA-1 seeming much more steep than usual. Traffic was almost nonexistent at this hour–even the locals won’t go out now, I remember thinking. Once we got to the rollers on the coast, we got a hero’s tailwind, and were in Point Reyes at a comfy 8:30, at least to my mind. The Palace Market was still open and the deli counter worker gave us free cups of hot water to drink (THANK YOU, sweet, sweet man!), we bought some stuff, and went over to the post office to warm up and make some minor wardrobe changes. I called John and was glad to hear his voice. I also tried to message Eric W who I knew was working the finish control, to let him know the four of us were leaving Point Reyes. I’m not sure if he received it, but I thought it was a good idea anyway.

heated post office

…wait. did you say… THE HEATER IS ON???!!!

The Final Chapter: just one. more. little. obstacle

At this point I didn’t even notice the rain anymore, though it was still pouring. Being pushed around by the wind on the coast made any other weather seem just not worth noticing. We rode over Olema Hill, also insignificant, Whites Hill, boring. I started to notice myself feeling sleepy around Larkspur, and tried to open a bag of Gu chews, but my fingers didn’t seem to be working from the cold and I had to gnaw through the bag. Agh! Let’s just get this thing done. Up Camino Alto. I had considered proposing to the group that we sneak in via Camino Bajo instead, but didn’t want to be a cheater… But then we had to take it anyway when there were crews working on a downed tree on Camino Alto. Back up and down and over to Meadowsweet, and finally ended up on the bike path. It seemed endless. I think we were all beyond tired, just numb. I mean, of course, after this entire day, we would have to detour around a fallen tree…

But we did it! We finished with an hour to spare. When we arrived at the Bridge Plaza, Eric and Megan greeted us warmly, and thus we were returned to the world of the living. The last time I did this route as a brevet, I finished in 14:36, with an average time of 16 hours over five times ridden. This time it took 19 hours, and I was grateful to finish at all, in fact. I owe this completely to my compadres Jack, Steve, and Tom. Thanks guys, next time we will try for better weather.

Nice looking weather data from the day here

20 finishers ranging from 14h0m to 19h0m; 6 DNFs (compared to 126 finishers in 2015 with an average finish time of 15h2m)

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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…

visions

visions

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.

yessss

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…

Workers’ Ride: Two Rock/Valley Ford 200k

I had not originally intended to ride this brevet. After two years of R12s, I wanted to break the chain and focus on my first SR series, and ultimately the Santa Cruz 1000k this summer. But since I would be Volunteer Coordinator for this event, and I invited my friends to volunteer, a bunch of us ended up riding together. In the end, I am really glad I did the ride. I had always been a bit scared of workers’ rides–even though I have become a serial volunteer, I never did a workers’ ride. People who work finish controls have often been the more experienced (read: faster) randonneurs. If there’s one thing I do not enjoy on a brevet, it is struggling to keep up, so I generally stay with the brevet and ride my own pace. Lately, there have been some no-drop workers’ rides that have functioned more like a team ride, with everyone staying together regardless of pace. That is how we did this one, lucky me! It was very sweet of Mike T-G to offer to hold back from his usual rapid pace and wait for us on the longer climbs of this route. He brought his camera along and took some great shots of the beautiful landscape along the way. Mike has an awesome bike with a relatively light setup, so when it would start raining, he didn’t have anywhere to put his camera to keep it from getting wet. But no worries: we orchestrated a couple mid-ride camera pass-offs so I could stow it in my handlebar bag for him. Ah, friendonneuring!

Starting out, it is warm and misty

Starting out, it is warm and misty -photo swiped from Mike

cardamommmm knot

cardamommmm knot -photo swiped from Mike

espressooohhh woah

espressooohhh woah -photo swiped from Mike

coffee stop in San Anselmo = best thing about a workers' ride!

coffee stop in San Anselmo = best thing about a workers’ ride! -photo swiped from Mike

funnn! Thanks Mike for the picture

funnn!
Thanks Mike for the pictures!

The Two Rock route is flatter than most of the SFR routes, and much of it traverses well-known territory for SFR regulars. According to the comments on the SFR google group in the week leading up to the brevet, it has become a bit like a populaire in that seasoned riders look for additional ways to make the ride harder, just to make it interesting. One group decided to take an extra detour to Sebastopol in order to visit a gallery show by one of our members. As for me, I was aiming just to practice riding on the roads that make up some of the longer rides later in the season. This route shares sections with the 300k, the 400k, and the 600k, though not necessarily in the same direction. Not to be a total randonnerd, but it is a great feeling when wrapping up a long ride to come to a section you’ve ridden many times before. Fatigue becomes Familiarity… and that means Finish! So even though this ride is not going to count toward my SR series, it will help me with it.

One other perk that happened on this ride was I met a Girl Scout who recognized my Girl Scout pin that I keep on my handlebar bag! That was fun, and the second time that has happened on a ride. She was with her parents in the Petaluma Peet’s Coffee, our first control. I didn’t stop to talk to her for too long since we had to stay on the move, but I am always amazed anyone sees that pin since it’s kind of hidden. I got so much out of being a Girl Scout and am so thrilled to see young gals still interested in it.

Something that got me thinking while riding through the farms of Marin and Sonoma Counties was the signs you see by the roadside stating, “PROTECTED AS FARMLAND FOREVER”. What do they mean, protected by whom and from what, etc. When I got home, I looked into it just a little and found MALT. Lately there has been so much discussion about the cost of living and price of real estate in our lovely little town of San Francisco… Imagine if real estate developers had their way and divided up all the historic family farms of Marin County into gated communities or suburbs like the old proposed Marincello.

MALT_MAP_small_2013_June

Cycling would not be so fun anymore if Marincello were a town and not a trail. We are so fortunate in the bay area to have so much protected land to enjoy, and yet, it doesn’t come purely through luck. Some find the Two Rock route boring, and it’s true that it doesn’t have the challenges other routes have, but it’s still a good day out on the bike. Compared with the endless roving suburbo-power-grid of places like Chicago (where I used to live), it’s really nothing to complain about.

pretty farmland toward Petaluma

pretty farmland toward Petaluma, once again Mike’s picture

windmill

windmill -thanks again Mike for the picture

sheeps near Petaluma

sheeps near Petaluma

more sheep near Valley Ford

more sheep near Valley Ford

Taking a breather in Valley Ford

Taking a breather in Valley Ford…another great phot from Mike

Misty day along CA-1

Misty day along CA-1

We love the Marshall Store

We love the Marshall Store… taken by Ely

Unfortunately we did not all make it to the finish of the route. Ely had to call it quits as we got back toward Sir Francis Drake due to a reaction to some medication he’d been given for a bad case of poison oak. I was pretty worried about him, but we helped him find a way to a bus going back to San Francisco from Lagunitas. While he waited at the little grocery store there, he had some of their homemade beef stew, which he said was “bomber”. I worried about him getting home safely throughout the rest of my ride, but it turned out the bus he took was comfy and direct.

Mike, Jesse, and I continued on toward Fairfax and home. The heavy mist gave way to drizzle, but it never fully rained. The moisture in the air made everything seem more peaceful. I pushed hard to keep up, and only asked once for them to slow down (at least, that’s how I remember it!). We made decent time back to San Francisco where the rain had vanished, and in its place, my boyfriend appeared, eager to meet us for a beer at Rogue. Jesse ditched us, but Mike, John and I had a couple beers and gobbled down some food together. Another brevet in the bag, another rainy ride to make me feel more comfortable with riding in the rain. I almost like it now.

IMG_3744

R12: The longest mile

The day before my last (hopefully the last!) 200k of this R-12 series, my dad called me on the phone. “We got about ten inches of snow yesterday, and it’s about thirty degrees today,” he informed me in a cheerful voice. My mind’s eye flashed on my own local weather forecast for the next day: low 50s and showers. Although that looks warmer than Wisconsin on paper, I knew by now that the dampness and chill in the bay area often made Wisconsin’s snow seem appealing. He asked me how I was doing, and when I planned to do my final 200k. “Tomorrow,” I said, my voice dripping with equal parts dread and fear. He let out a sympathetic laugh and said, “Well, you know which mile in a race is always the longest?” I was not in the mood for riddles and kept silent. A mile is a mile is a mile, and I would be struggling through 125 rainy, cold specimens of them twenty-four hours from now. “The longest mile is the last mile, Juli. It’s always the hardest. Dad knows you can do it, though.”

“I’ll be riding with a great group of guys, they really know what they’re doing,” I said, trying to look on the bright side. Having been quite sick for the past month, although I felt much better, my training regimen was down to about nil, and I was having more than the usual pre-ride doubts. I emailed Tom Haggerty, who had graciously invited me to join him, Keith Beato, and Steve Haas (yes, the guy who had a heart attack in July had fully recovered and would be riding with us… though he had also been hit by a car in November, and now was riding a new bike). I wanted to be sure my slower-than-normally-slow pace wasn’t going to drag them down. Tom said it would be ok, and he wrote emphatically, “First of all, No DNFs.”

Les anciens: Keith, Tom, and Steve say "We like bikes!"

Les anciens: Keith, Tom, and Steve say “We like bikes!”

Of course, little did either of us know how close to the limit we would be pushing our luck! Riding with Tom, Keith, and Steve was the one bright spot I was looking forward to about this ride, and was relieved and heartened by Tom’s response. And despite all the self-effacing comments made in jest by each of them about me wishing I had ridden by myself, I was so glad for their company! They were funny, teasing each other throughout the day. I could easily tell the three anciens had ridden many, many miles together. To get an idea, look at Tom’s pictures on flickr from the ride. Hilarious!

Another great thing about riding with them was that over the course of the day, we all traded pulls in a sense. We didn’t ride in a paceline, but in the early part of the day, Steve and Tom rode up front… Steve was way up front! This is usually my weakest part of the day. I took my turn at the front after the Ugly Mug, on the climb up Soquel-San Jose Road. In the final stretch through Cupertino, Los Gatos, and Mountain View, Keith blasted ahead of us, really pulling us all toward the finish through his childhood home turf.

The three fellas had only done this route once, a bit eccentrically as an overnight ride Tom had crafted as a commute to his job in Mountain View (attesting to his fitness level, he said when he showed up for work, none of his coworkers could tell he had just ridden his bike on a 200-kilometer overnight “commute”!). For me this would be my fourth time on this course.

The first half or so of this ride was pretty rote, although there were a few tactical errors we made early on from which it was difficult to recover. One was that we did not leave Peet’s until about seven o’clock, almost a full half hour after our scheduled start time. The other was my fault: I had grown accustomed to taking the oceanside path along Sharp Park beach instead of taking the road past the golf course clubhouse, and I really like this way. The guys seemed into taking the path, as they weren’t familiar with going that way, but I think it added several minutes to our time. In any case, somehow we only made it to Arcangeli’s with 45 minutes to spare. I’m also accustomed to hanging out for a while in the lovely creekside back yard they have there, so when Tom announced it was time to hit the road shortly after Keith and I sat down to eat our half sandwiches, it was shocking! But he was right, there was no time to lose– not a pleasant feeling so early on in a ride.

It did not start raining until we were about midway through Santa Cruz, but we were all soaked and feeling frigid by the time we got to the Ugly Mug, with only half an hour to spare at that control. As we rode through Santa Cruz, the guys all asked me questions about the little cafe. I forgot they had used an all-night Safeway as their Soquel control, and had stopped at a diner in Santa Cruz for late-night sustenance. I didn’t want to give anyone high hopes about the Ugly Mug since they usually just had one or two things they could heat up (Birthday chicken pot pie aside), and it being almost three o’clock on a rainy day I figured they’d probably be out of them. Some of my favorite moments in randonneuring have occurred at the Ugly Mug, but today I just wasn’t up to the mellow vibes. I ended up buying a green juice to get my receipt (which, although their register was never on time, now that they’d switched to using a scientifically calibrated, precisely accurate iPad as cash register, they could no longer print receipts at all and had to email my receipt to me! whither the future of randonneuring without cash registers??), and hung out in the back hallway of an adjacent office building (it was warm!) where we parked our bikes, eating the remainder of my sandwich from Arcangeli’s and trying to figure out how on Earth we were going to finish this ride within the time limit. Rain + climbing + wet, dark descent + stoplights, stoplights, stoplights through Cupertino etc. = DNF any way I looked at it. All I could do was try to eat as much as possible to give myself some energy to put a smile on my rained-on face and keep plugging away.

When we got back on the road, I was very much cheered by the climb up Soquel-San Jose Road. I felt warmed by the body heat generated by physical activity, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Tom about radio stations in San Francisco and other rides we’ve done or would like to do. By the time we reached the top, it was quite dark, wet, and chilly. I went ahead to the Summit Store to see if I could find some shelter or warmth while waiting for the fellas to regroup. As the rain steadily fell, my Pelican and I got a whole range of puzzled, sympathetic, and even some terrified, looks as I stood in the vestibule of the store next to the cords of firewood.

Diametrically opposed to the advantages of climbing in the cold and wet stand the disadvantages of descending in the cold and wet: you are not pedaling, so no body heat is generated; and you also move 6-7 times as fast, so the cold air affects you that much more. Luckily, Keith reminded me to put on my extra sweater before we left the Summit Store, the one I had brought in order to have a warm, dry layer to put on for the Caltrain ride home. Eesh. Another difficulty of descending in the rain and cold in this particular route was that the road has lots of switchbacks, yet no streetlights in many stretches– it is utterly rural, in the middle of a thick, dark forest. And as we left the Summit Store, I heard that Steve’s headlight had been shorting out! Luckily it seemed to start working again just as we got back on the road.

The last time the three of them had done this ride, they descended Old San Jose Road and Aldercroft Heights Road in the dead of night. What an amazing challenge and incredible experience to make this beautiful descent in the still of the night. Andrea Symons said that stretch of road “brings an tear to one’s eye,” and I agree. Tom said the group would do that ride again next year as an overnight, and I hope I can go along! Hopefully next time it will be less chilly, wet, and harrowing for me. I did ok by staying focused on Tom’s and Steve’s head and tail lights as they cornered up ahead of me to give me an idea of where the road would bend. Fortunately the wet pavement was not as much of a concern as I would have thought. The night before the ride, I had installed a fresh set of rear brake pads, knowing they seem to wear down faster in the rain.

Long, wet, dark, scary, white knuckle descent handily accomplished (at least, that’s how I felt once it was over!), all of us knowing we had very little time in reserve if any, we entered the short trail section to Los Gatos. We all got down the steep, rocky part, started to gain momentum over the smooth, pleasant, fine gravel surfaced trail that parallels the river, and… Keith called out to let us know he had a flat tire. Now when I look back on it, I can only laugh, but at the time we did not see the comedy in the situation, least of all poor Keith, who had already suffered one flat tire that day. We had about 15 miles to go, and 40 minutes remaining on the clock. Tom suggested we could split up, with Steve and I going on ahead to make sure I would get credit for the ride. Though I appreciated the offer, I didn’t feel good about doing that– I didn’t like the idea of breaking up the group, I felt that we should be able to replace a tube in a few minutes anyway, and I also knew that Keith was doing installment eleven of his own R-12. So, we all set to work. Steve and Tom had headlamps mounted on their helmets, so they helped Keith find his tools and tube. Keith had some trouble getting his tire off the wet rim, so with my ever-unfailing fine motor skills from years of benchwork, I was able to get his tire off. Once Keith got the new tube in, Steve helped him use a CO2 canister to fill it (much faster!). We reassembled ourselves within minutes, and set out again with new resolve.

There are two sections of this route I don’t like: riding through Santa Cruz to Soquel, and riding through Los Gatos, Cupertino, and Mountain View. They both happen to be urban or suburban streets with lots of stop signs, stoplights, and turning lanes of car traffic that awkwardly merge with bike lanes, and they both also precede controls (i.e., stretches where I’m bound to be hungry and possibly slightly just a little bit cranky). I don’t know why every time I do this ride I expect these sections to get shorter, but having done this route a few times now, they stunningly have stayed the same distance. “Okay then,” I said to myself as we entered the heavily trafficked shopping district of Los Gatos, “This is just going to take as long as it takes.” I reached for one of the honey stinger energy goo things my dentist told me to avoid, just to be sure I wouldn’t end up snapping at one of my new-found friends out of a lack of carbs. Steve and I eye our watches, then our odometers. Our odometers, then watches. Steve does some brief mental calculations, and looks at me reassuringly. “We’ll make it,” he says. I try with wet gloves to flip over my cue sheet, but I lose the wrestling match and just get ink and shreds of soggy paper dragged over the sheet. So much for fine motor skills… All the while, Steve, Tom and I are racing to catch up with Keith, who had a three-alarm fire under his saddle all of a sudden!

Which was awesome, because we ended up getting to the 7-Eleven with only five minutes to spare. Five minutes! Think of all the things that take only five minutes. Microwave popcorn? Cup o’ Noodles? Third Uncle? That length of time made the difference between getting credit or not for this ride. What a suspenseful and dramatic finish to my R-12! Thanks Tom, Keith, and Steve for another heroic, epic, comical, entertaining, and challenging day on the bike.

As promised, I bought a bottle of 7-Eleven’s best champagne for us all to drink on the train ride home. Tom had brought cups, so we wouldn’t even have to drink it out of our water bottles! I even offered some to a crazy person on the train who said he had been a bike messenger in New York. Steve presented to me a Real R-12 Medal (in fact belonging to, and borrowed from, Jason Pierce), which was kind of touching, if anything involving Jason Pierce can be described as “touching” without seeming really icky… ahem. As I have mentioned earlier, it was kind of his fault I got wrapped up in this R-12 business anyway, so it seems fitting he was somehow insinuated at the end.

And now, we have come to the end of our tale entitled mmmmbike: appetizing rides carried out while pursuing the RUSA R-12 award. There will be more tales, to be sure, and possibly an entry recording what I think I learned. I’m not sure yet what form my future ride reports will take, since my only goal for the new year is to ride a 400k. Perhaps the blog needs a new subtitle. Writing blog entries about my rides has helped me review what I’ve learned throughout the year, so I definitely want to keep writing. Reading others’ ride reports is endlessly fascinating to me as well, so I want to continue to contribute to the form.

As for riding, ideally I would like to give the Pelican the month of January off, but the Lighthouse brevet beckons. In the meantime, to keep from getting restless, I’ve been enjoying indoor activities such as lap swimming and yoga. I used to love lap swimming in Chicago in the winter months, especially in the mornings when the sun would hit the beautiful indoor pool at the park district near where I lived. Lately I’ve also enjoyed a couple short social rides, and another bike camp to rejuvenate my excitement for riding. Other than that, who knows what the future holds for me and my Pelican? To find out you will just have to stay tuned for the next exciting installment of mmmmbike!