Kingdom of Heaven 1000k: part 2 of 3

Day 2

It was a great feeling to be able to start day 2 feeling ahead of schedule and with a good night’s rest. I had figured that day 2 would be the hardest day of the ride, with 5373 meters of climbing over 312 km of distance. Day 1 only had 1522 meters of climbing over 341 km of distance.  Day 3 was mostly descending, but not without its fair share of work at 3018 meters of climbing over about 350 km. At least, this was according to how things were intended to go, which for better or worse, did not turn out that way. This might have been another lucky break for me, but we’ll never know… Anyway, on with day 2.

The thought had occurred to me to leave Oroville as early as possible, and put an extra hour in the bank for the next night. But Bryan didn’t want to do too much climbing in the dark, and Steve and Tom seemed to want to sleep a bit more. I deferred to their judgement, since they had all done PBP and multiple other long rides, but this was my first of anything longer than a 600k. When we finally left Oroville, it must have been around 0430. I was full of beans again, ready to take the Sierras, sprinting out for the city limit signs in the purple, marshy darkness south of Oroville. On our way out of town, Bryan had an issue with his new rear brake he’d just installed prior to the ride, so we all paused for a moment while he fixed it, and I got this picture of an accountant’s office at the edge of town.

We're now in Ishi Country

We’re in Ishi Country now

I only read the story of Ishi after moving to my adopted hometown of San Francisco, but did not remember that Oroville was the town to which he walked when he was “discovered”. He had walked from Mount Lassen to Oroville, a distance which could have been as much as 100 miles. Seeing this sign reminded me of where my grandma lived in northern Wisconsin, near the Lac du Flambeau reservation.

We continued on after Bryan fixed his brake, and the roads were very peaceful at that hour. Just a few speeders to Oroville… going to work? Couldn’t figure that out. I remembered Eric noting on his Worker’s Ride he had taken a wrong turn around here, so I was very careful to keep an eye on the cue sheet. We got to the info control, and stayed several minutes trying to figure out the answer. Definitely one of the more mysterious info control questions I’ve had to answer, even with the four of us putting our heads together. We eventually just gave up and moved on. Steve’s Garmin kept beeping at us, and we missed a turn in the dark. Turning around, we finally found the road we were supposed to be on. Bryan and I started to speed up as gradually the sky lightened. It was foggy and gray out, and we were moving from marshes to peaceful pastureland. The Pennsylvania riders passed us along with a couple other people. It was nice that we all got to regroup at the controls somewhat. I was always amazed that in spite of being such a long course and with only 27 riders, I often saw other people from our group throughout the ride.

At some point, Bryan wanted to stop and wait for Steve and Tom. I was starting to get an eerie feeling about the fact that we hadn’t seen them for so long. I took it as an opportunity to eat some snacks, since I didn’t eat too much for breakfast at the hotel. We had pulled to the side and were looking backwards when after about 15 minutes, Tom rode around a corner alone. He rode up to us and said that Steve had decided to call it and return to the hotel. My mood sank. Tom said that Steve just didn’t feel up to the climbing we had to do today and couldn’t even keep up with us on the flats. My mood sank further. I knew that Steve’s work schedule had been pretty harsh lately along with other stuff he’d had going on. He and I had started doing weekday evening training rides around the time of the SFR 400k, but he couldn’t keep them up due to work. I was looking forward to his sense of humor to get me through what looked to be a hard day. Ah well. We finally pressed on, starting the climb up Loma Rica, then Marysville Road.

The climbing was not too bad actually. It wasn’t like Joy Road or anything. The grades were pretty gentle overall with a few short spots at 8-9%. And overall, the pavement was smooth and in excellent condition. Rough roads and dirt climbs tend to take their toll on me even more than steep grades at times, but this was all buttery smooth. The route took us off Marysville Road onto a wicked road called Texas Hill that was a little more like the SFR climbs. Then one more hard part on Marysville, and a nice descent down to Bullards Bar Dam. This was totally unexpected for me. I hadn’t known there would be a huge dam on the route!

Bullards Bar Dam

Bullards Bar Dam

It was a dam/reservoir on the Yuba River, and I found a fascinating video of it from above, linked here. This video was taken after all the intense rains this season, probably why the spillway is raging! If you can see the road in the video that curves around just at the top of the dam, that’s exactly where we were riding. It was cloudy out when we rode over it, but it was still pretty cool! After the dam, we got on CA-49, named after the (18)49ers, and also nicknamed the Golden Chain highway. More climbing, and a swoopy, delicious descent. The descent made me a little nervous, because I knew I’d be climbing back up all those meters, but I tried to relax and enjoy (it was not that hard). Smooth pavement on the climbs also made for smooth descending, so I hardly had to use my brakes. It reminded me of Andrea S’s description of the Old Santa Cruz Highway descent, which she says brings a tear to her eye. Some descents do that! At the bottom was a little parking lot, and I noticed a brown Westfalia van–Eric! Apparently there was a secret control there. We pulled in and chatted with Eric for a short time, explaining what had happened with Steve.

Randos

Randos

Eric offered us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I should’ve eaten, but instead we kept going. We got to Downieville and stopped for a late breakfast/early lunch. String cheese, yogurt, fruit, and pretzels. There was only one business open in the town at that time of day (10:00 or so?), and it was a small grocery store with lots of touristy junk food. Tom had wanted a hot pocket, but the clerk said “The freezers broke, and they took away all the frozen food.”

Downieville

Downieville

While we were there eating on the porch, Bob B and Sergio G rolled up. Volunteer Scott also was there, and he helped me top off my water. From there the route followed the Yuba river, which was rushing forcefully. It was amazing! I could hardly take my eyes off it. And the sound… unforgettable. One great thing about riding a bike is you can hear things in nature that you can’t hear while driving or riding a motorcycle.

Yuba 1 Yuba 5 Yuba 4 Yuba 3 Yuba 2

This was a very pretty section of highway, which mitigated the further climbing we had to do. There were also a lot of jerks for drivers out, several jacked up 4x4s hauling ATVs and the occasional coal-roll, and one logging trucker that seemed to have it in for Bryan. I had been pretty worried about traffic behaviors on these stretches of road, but fortunately nothing bad came of it. Along this part we rode with Jeff and Yu a lot, and we got to chat with them. Apparently both Yu and Bryan had done a lot of hiking, so they got to talk about that. I remembered having ridden a short part of the SFR 600k with Jeff and Yu a couple years ago, very nice guys.

As we continued to climb, a light rain set in. The rain became heavier, and I wished I had my rain jacket on. We eventually stopped and put our jackets on; it was getting chilly, too. We rode past Sierra City, and saw where the Pacific Crest Trail crossed the highway. Later we heard that some riders had decided to stop at a cafe in Sierra City and met some hikers there. We continued on. We saw the “ELEVATION 5000FT” sign yet again. Those elevation markers seemed to keep coming back like a bad penny… up to 5000, down to 4000, back up to 6000, down again. We took it all in stride, though. The area was so beautiful and different from what I was used to, it didn’t matter. It was actually why we came. The day still felt young. I was also anticipating the climb up Gold Lake Highway, which had looked much steeper than where we were at that moment.

The rain kept coming down. We were getting very close to the turnoff for Gold Lake Highway. I was hoping we would stop at the turnoff so I could put on another layer. I saw the big store at Bassetts: our turn!

Bassetts Store

Bassetts Store

I looked to the left, and saw Eric’s van. Hmmm, again? Something was up. We rode up to the van and Eric explained to us that the weather conditions were too treacherous on Gold Lake Highway, and we’d have to re-route. I remember thinking… are we Larsenneuring yet? Ha. But seriously, I was grateful to Eric for paying such close attention that he was able to catch us all before we navigated into a bad storm, and in any case we might have had to backtrack down after climbing up then-blocked Gold Lake Highway. And, he had warm food for us, which was very welcome. I usually don’t like the idea of sag wagons following riders around, but in this case, it was nice to see Eric at various points along the way, and it was also quite magical to see volunteers along the course at unexpected places. I was cold at that point and wanted to get out of the rain and wind, so I went over to the shelter/bathroom structure off to the side. I wasn’t sure if Tom and Bryan wanted to stay and have something to eat; I think someone was having cup o’noodles Eric had made, and I probably should have eaten something too. I wanted to keep going, just to stay warm. I was bummed about not going to Graeagle, since I had been there before with a friend whose grandfather lived there. But it was ok with me; it was all part of the adventure.

So instead of Gold Lake, we would continue on 49, climbing Yuba pass (which had the same elevation as Gold Lake: 6701 ft.), and then rejoin the original route. This would include descending down to Sierraville before climbing again (and descending again!) to Truckee. There we could have a big meal before climbing Brockway, another big pass of the ride, at 7179 ft. Then we’d descend to Lake Tahoe, ride the length of the lake, and hit the sack in South Lake Tahoe. Eric explained we would have to add some mileage onto the third day to make up for the mileage lost from not riding Gold Lakes Highway. That was not great news, but I figured we would cross that pass when we came to it.

As we left Eric and continued up to Yuba pass, the weather continued blustering. Bryan crept ahead on the climb and Tom got ahead of me too. We all regrouped at the top, where it was hailing! When Bryan had arrived, it was brightly sunny. Mountain weather! One of the many nice things about riding with Tom and Bryan was that they always waited for me at the summits. I kept pushing as best I could, but I never felt pressured. We all got to climb at our own pace, yet we stayed together. Riding with them was another lucky break for me of sorts. We started the descent and paused at a small vista point. We had emerged from thick forest to an overlook of a vast and gorgeous meadow.

Meadow Overlook

The meadow beyond

It reminded me of passages from John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra. Another vista, of ones that seemed to be constantly unfolding, that was so beautiful it almost brought a tear to my eye. It seemed entirely possible that this valley looked the same to us that day as it did to John Muir 100 years ago. We continued down into the sunny meadow, where muscular, shiny brown horses grazed peacefully. Old farmhouses stood firm there, against the tests of time and weather. I didn’t take any pictures; I was too tired and hungry, so you’ll have to go there yourself… We looped around this heavenly valley to reach Sierraville. Kingdom of Heaven indeed! There happened to be a cafe there, and I was starving, so we agreed to make a quick stop.

It turned out the Dixons were there, eating sandwiches. We chatted with them a little, but I was feeling kind of overwhelmed by the experience, so I just ate my apple so we could be on our way. I think I also had one of my Ensures and started to feel better. The cafe was filled with lots of kooky paintings of farm life that I liked a lot.

I totally fell for this painting!

I totally fell for this painting! I liked the quail one too.

Cow painting...for my dad

Cow painting…for my dad

I wished we could have stayed for lunch, but we needed to keep moving. We were aiming for a full dinner in Truckee. Before we got there, though, we had some work to do. From Sierraville, we climbed through the warm sunlight of the bright afternoon. We returned to the forest and rocky terrain.

Welcome to Heaven...

Welcome to Heaven…

just because it's heaven doesn't mean there isn't more climbing

just because it’s heaven doesn’t mean there isn’t more climbing

We got into Truckee just before the dinner hour, and it was jarring to be around so much local traffic. We made it to the restaurant Eric had been to on his Worker’s Ride and parked our bikes outside. Tom and Bryan shared a pitcher of beer and I had another glorious root beer float. They shared a large pizza, and I got spaghetti and meatballs! This has been my favorite meal since I was a child. The spaghetti did not disappoint, though the meatballs were not quite as good as my own, ha.

Don't get the pizza

Don’t get the pizza

The pizza was unfortunately not totally cooked… but we were just all glad to sit down and relax. Tom face-timed with Grant and Alayne, Bryan texted to Emily, and I sent some messages to Volunteer Sweetheart John. As we were finishing our meal, Eric showed up! Yay! It was great to see him. He took pictures of us. Some other riders came in too: Bob B, Sergio, Tom V, and some of the Pennsylvania crew. They were all very happy to be there, and we were happy to give them our table so they could sit down and rest.

We continued on again, climbing up to Brockway summit. The long break had been good for me, and I felt strong enough to tackle the last major climb of the day. Bryan got ahead of us again, and Tom got ahead of me again too, though I could usually see him from where I was. We made it to the summit, regrouped, and started the long descent toward the north end of the lake.

Lake Tahoe and sunset in the distance

Lake Tahoe and sunset in the distance

The lake was amazing, ringed at the far shores by snow capped mountains. It was mostly covered by cloudy skies, but there were small spots where powerful rays of sunshine broke through the clouds to shine on the lake. It was something unusual to behold. I pondered the interplay of water and land throughout the day so far, from the soft marshes of Oroville at sea level or slightly above, to the rushing Yuba River,  the man-made dam, the rain and hail, the snow still piled up by the roadsides in spite of all the bright sunlight, the water running over the meadow we saw, and now this gigantic lake.

The next element to be in awe of would be wind, as we fought against strong headwinds all along the eastern shore of the lake to get to the final control of the day. I had noticed the surface of the lake was choppy, so I knew what was in store. But I also knew we were closing in on a decent finish time for day 2, and kept going. Some of the areas were heavily trafficky, but I kept pressing on, riding mainly single file with Tom. I’ve invested a lot in my reflecto profile over the years, and Tom has good reflecto as well, and I felt pretty confident that drivers would see us–if they were paying attention to the road. There are some things in life we can’t control. But every driver behind us changed lanes to pass around the lake, and it was fine. I made it to the hotel by 10:20, still several hours ahead of my projections. I got to see John at the control, eat plenty of food, take a nice hot shower, and fall into bed. It had been a long day with a lot of ups and downs. Even if I had to abandon the next day, I made it through the hardest day, and that was all that mattered to me. But was it the hardest day? We would see…

 

 

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Kingdom of Heaven 1000k: Part 1 of 3

Pre Ride

When I first saw the announcement for the Kingdom of Heaven 1000k, I thought, “That would be a nice route for someone who’s in shape, fast, and a good climber.” i.e., not myself. Then I did the SFR Mount Hamilton 200k in February, and thought, wellll, mayyybe I could Attempt the 1000k if I train a lot and work hard at it. Then John told me he had been enlisted into the elite cadre of supervolunteers for the 1000k, and if I wanted to ride it, that would be fine with him. Okay, now this is getting interesting… I had Significant Other Buy-in! There were a lot of enticing things about this ride. Number One: a local brevet over 600km. Traveling to out of state or out of country events is cost prohibitive for me, not to mention it’s hard for me to take the time away from work. But I’ve been wanting to try a longer distance for a year or two, for it seemed like a natural progression. Number Two: Areas close to the start and finish were familiar to me, but the rest would be a brand new adventure. I’d never been to Lake Tahoe before, though I’d camped in Plumas Eureka State Forest and Desolation Wilderness. These areas were close enough to give me a vague idea of what to expect (steeeep! for a long time! and scenic and remote!). So in spite of the little voices telling me Larsenneuring was for other people, I started to study the route and bulk up my climbing routine.

Some of the best training I think I did was simply the full series of SFR rides. These routes are old cap to me by now, but they are still challenging enough to keep me trained up. The SFR 600k has approximately the same proportion of meters of climbing to kilometers of distance that the 1000k would have. According to my rough study of potential weather situations, it seemed like the 1000k would have similar weather and temps as the series of SFR brevets: could go up to high 60s  or slightly higher in the day, low 40s or dip into the 30s at night; showers and headwinds likely at some point. It seemed like the 400k Workers’ Ride could be a similar model, though in the mountains anything was possible. Which brings me to another aspect of the ride that gave me some comfort: my fellow workers’ riders from the 400k were registered too!  And so were many other riders I knew from SFR: Megan A, Jon B and Angela N, Dan B, Brad W, Greg M, and others. It seemed like a great group, and I was becoming excited. I decided to do a climby, not-for-credit 200k training ride based on Eric Larsen’s Diablo Terrritory permanent, and Bryan C joined me. That was another piece of training that helped me feel more confident. Bryan, an excellent riding companion in so many ways, had some very helpful route improvements based on road closures due to that season’s washouts.

As the weeks and days ticked down, there was still a fair amount of uncertainty in some parts of the route. The original intent was to ride Ebbetts Pass, but in late May, it was still snowed in. What does that even look like, I wondered.

what, indeed: Caltrans photo from late May, 2017

Sooo… wait, whuuut? We’re riding in that? OK, I’ll bring some extra layers! I hate to play the Wisconsin card, but half my house was buried under a snowdrift when I was in second grade. I sure hadn’t ridden any brevets in those conditions, but I wasn’t too shocked by the idea as some seemed to be. It didn’t look like it would snow, just that there might be freezing rain on the west side of Lake Tahoe. Mountain weather can indeed be dangerous and can change quickly, so I wouldn’t judge anyone negatively for dropping off the roster. However, there was a fair amount of weatherpocalypse chitchat on the email list of riders that I sort of ignored (fools rush in…) mostly because of the true weatherpocalypse 300k I rode in only last year (and survived!)… with Tom and Steve, two of the same palz I would be riding with in June.

We did not get to ride Ebbetts Pass anyway, because as Eric found out prior to his solo Worker’s Ride, Ebbetts would be closed at the time of our ride, not even open to bikes. This signaled to me that we were not going on a normal ride, so I prepared myself mentally to deal with that. There were still a few route related details that were up in the air the week before the brevet, making route study a little confusing, and weather predictions changed by the moment. I just figured I would do my best. I was ready for the adventure. I obsessively tried to calculate my projected times at the various controls with an elaborate spreadsheet from John’s cousin Russ, but for some reason, all the finish control times weren’t loading correctly, and the amount of time lost due to climbing seemed impossible to predict. Lines on an elevation profile only tell part of the story, as I have learned over and over again. I had trained for the ride, and I felt stronger, but I wasn’t totally sure I could make all the control closing times. I didn’t have any backup or bailout plans, had not investigated alternate transpo from any of the towns en route should I need to abandon. I kind of prefer not having contingency plans, because I find that when people have them, they’re more likely to use them instead of finding ways to continue the ride. I did put my knitting in my drop bag, in case I got stuck on a Greyhound somewhere. But finally, like I had so many times before, I committed to the adventure and off I went.

Day 1

Because John was working the start control and had to do bike check the day before, he got to stay in the volunteers’ hotel room at the start location, and by extension, so did I. That was kind of a lucky break for me, and I got an excellent night’s sleep prior to the start of the event at 5 am the morning of Thursday, June 8. Another lucky break was  that I would be riding John’s bike, a titanium frame built by Steve Potts to John’s specs (using Pelican geometry as a starting point). Some have called this a wonder bike, and I can’t quite psychologically process why I got to ride a bike this nice. Fast, comfortable, lightweight, and the excellent Pelican handling with which I am so familiar. It is pretty amazing. I rode it on the SFR 600k last year too.

Despite all the dire weather predictions, the skies were clear at the start. Most of us were wearing shorts or knickers, and no rain jackets. We had a relatively easy warm-up spin from Pleasanton to Winters, about 75 miles into the ride. The Carquinez Bridge was a nice change from the usual Al Zampa bridge, and had less climbing, allowing the group of us to stay together slightly longer.

Staying together on the Carquinez Bridge

Staying together on the Carquinez Bridge

We had stayed together (as far as I could tell) all the way through the east bay suburbs, forming a critical mass at every intersection that most drivers patiently respected. A misty cloudiness developed as we watched the city-bound traffic pile up on Mankas Corner, a road familiar to SFRs from the Winters and Davis night brevets. Yikes! I had never seen that many cars on that rural farm connector road. But soon we were out of the fray, and zooming down lovely Cherry Glen and Pleasants Valley. The mist dampened all sound as we rode under the oaks and through the cow pastures.

Pleasants Valley is pleasant as usual

Pleasants Valley is pleasant as usual

We got to Winters, and there was John and Volunteer Phil to greet us! A group of half a dozen or more riders had arrived at a cafe in downtown Winters before us and were enjoying a full breakfast, which looked enticing. Our small group decided to just have some beverages and pastries, and took kind of a surprisingly long break. I got to eat some very yummy pastries there and had a juice or two. I’m working on eating more solid food (as opposed to nutritional shakes, gels etc) on rides, so I got a couple pastries. Part of an oat bar I had to pack for later, I gave John a smoochie and we were off again. Still no rain jackets among any of us, though there was still some pesky mist hanging around intermittently. It was pretty warm.

The next 30 miles or so to Guinda were pleasant and relaxed. It was getting toward late morning, and most farmers were not out driving, so we didn’t have to deal with too much traffic. We got to the Guinda Corner Store, a place that held great anticipation for me since my friends had stopped there on their fleche route this year. It was pretty cool, with a beauty shop next door.

Beautiful Guinda

Beautiful Guinda

I always wish I had more time in the small towns I visit on brevets, and I wished this time I could stop and get a haircut and hang out with the people there. The cashier at the Corner Store complimented me on choosing an apple as one of my snacks (of course, she didn’t know I’d just ploughed through 1.5 pastries in Winters). I love eating apples and carrots on brevets. A little sweetness, a little hydration, a little something different for your stomach to work on, and they clean your teeth as you chew! We all had a nice time briefly sitting on the porch in Guinda; I love Steve’s deadpan sense of humor, which was out in full force that day.

We were still making pretty good time, and finding other riders at the various stops. A group left ahead of us from Guinda, but eventually we caught up to them around where 16 follows Cache Creek. That was one of the prettier sections of the day. Bryan informed me that at one time, there was an SFR 400k route to Williams through here, though it was too windy one year, so it was discontinued. On this day, we had a nice tailwind, so apparently we got lucky.

The road was down to one lane in parts as it went through the Cache Creek Regional Park, and we had to wait with a few RVs and other cyclists for our turn. Since the intense rains we’ve had this season, we were accustomed to this process of having to wait when a road goes down to one lane. We chatted with the construction worker on the scene, with some of the RV drivers, and each other for what seemed like a long time. Finally we were waved on through. We all stayed together, about a dozen of us, through this lovely area reminiscent of Mines Road (minus the climbing!).

CA-16 plus 2 riders from PA

CA-16 plus 2 riders from PA

Chatting and pedaling: so far, so good

Chatting and pedaling: so far, so good

Cache Creek

Cache Creek

All good! Next up was a turn onto CA-20, which was not quite as nice as 16, but we made it… Lots of speedy and/or mean-spirited drivers and no room on the shoulder, which was strewn with trash and broken glass anyway. Stressful. There was also a mean crosswind that showed up out of nowhere, making more work for us. I tried to get the small group I was in to form an echelon, but I don’t think anybody could hear me. I took a pull, then dropped off the back. There was one bridge just before arriving in Colusa that looked so sketchy, Bryan pulled over and we waited for all the cars and trucks to go by before we could cross. There was just not enough room, and no one was moving over six inches to pass us, much less changing lanes as they should have. Bryan and I pulled into Colusa having lost Steve and Tom, so we stopped to pause and wait for them across the street from a little burger and shake joint. When Steve and Tom rolled up, it didn’t take long for us to decide to stop there. I had a dreamy root beer float and some fried chicken fingers with fries; Tom had a chili burger which seemed to be an island of burger floating on a sea of chili… Steve’s deadpan humor had me belly laughing as we discussed the following sculpture on the wall:

"Creepy dude"

“Creepy dude”

We left Colusa in a much better mood than how we arrived. After Colusa, the route turns onto CA-45, and begins to follow the Sacramento River. Here the terrain felt more like being on the delta, with occasional levees and lots of greenery. It was refreshing after that awful (though short) stretch of CA-20! There was much less traffic here, too, and wider shoulders. Birds were flying all around, and a large common egret flew high over us by the side of the road for a couple minutes before peeling off to catch some fish in the river, most likely.

We got to the staffed control at Ord Ferry, and chilled out with Volunteer Phil and Volunteer DHK just as another couple of randos were taking off. This little county park was not much more than a public boat launch, but it was a great place for us to relax. Only about 35 miles remained in this, our first day.

Blue skies smiling at me

Blue skies smiling at me

After this, the route took us on a loop of the rice fields in this region. I was initally excited to see the fields that produce the Lundberg rice I’ve been eating so much of lately, but Bryan reminded me that since California has so little water, there is not a small amount of controversy about growing rice here. It was pretty nice to ride around the area, though; still more waterfowl and a great sunset.

SFR colors... sort of

SFR colors… sort of

Rice field

Rice field

Day 1 with great friends almost in the books

Day 1 with great friends almost in the books

As the sun set, we looked over the bright green fields and I was amazed by what a great day we’d had. I’d had enough energy to sprint for some city limit signs with Bryan, and though I never garnered any, I usually don’t even try so that was a marked improvement. I hoped I wasn’t burning matches I would need tomorrow… But in any case, we would probably arrive in Oroville several hours ahead of the schedule I’d estimated, probably affected by the tailwind we’d had. I got to see Sweetheart John again in Oroville, who nevertheless did not give me any special treatment with regard to the lasagne ration (one piece only!) we all received. I did get to see the large stack of paperbacks he found at the local used book store in Oroville, which of course he visited while carrying out his volunteer duties, giving me a hint of the normalcy I did not have while on a long bike ride. And I did get an excellent few hours’ or more sleep, and a hot shower. So far, so good.

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)

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

R36: Uvas Gold 200k

Yes, it’s true, despite my predilection against accumulating stats, my last ride has resulted in a consecutive streak of 36 monthly rides of at least 200 kilometers in length. Whoops! Never meant to do that, and so now what do I do if I want to get lazy and break my streak?? Oh those pesky rando-world problems… Actually at this point it’s no longer a question of lazy or bold. I start to notice when I haven’t done a long ride in a few weeks, and it’s not pretty. The call of the Pelican must be answered.

And speaking of the call of the Pelican, a few days after the Uvas Gold 200k marked my third year with ‘er. How I lucked into getting a bike as nice as this, I will never know and I do not want to know. I just know I feel this way about it… A bike can be a pal, an extension of our personality, a vessel into which we pour all our efforts to elevate ourselves, a simple (or complicated) machine that works (or does not), a vehicle which brings us closer to where we want to be. In bookbinding we say, “Use the best tool you can afford,” and I think I’ve applied this rule to my bike as well.  Anyway, I realized during the Uvas Gold 200k that if I finished the ride it would be my 36th consecutive monthly 200k, and one person asked, “And you did it all on that bike?,” and “Yes” was the answer. Even Old Caz, twice! Yes.

So anyway. Uvas Gold. This is a new route for SFR, and was promised to us to be a mellow year-ender. I believe the term ‘flat’ was used publicly. Good thing I do not pay attention to such terminology when it is bandied about in relation to an SFR route. Just pointless. The week before the scheduled brevet, our RBA rode the route as a permanent and reported an elevation gain figure in the neighborhood of the old Point Reyes Light House route. I’m not sure if anyone would describe that route as ‘flat’, maybe ‘flattish’? One enlightened person made the comment that a ‘flat’ route should avoid such roads with names including the following: Hill, Mount, Mountain, Valley, Grade, View, Ridge… which Uvas does not. But, like I said, when someone tells me an SFR route is flat, I have the same reaction as when someone tells me, “We will get to the top of this climb right around the next corner.” Heard that one before…

It was the rain, however, which gave me pause on the morning of the ride. It sounded like buckets of nails were overturning at the moment I got out of bed, and after eating breakfast, it hadn’t let up. Walking outside to the balcony hallway, it felt cold as well. Not the most encouraging scenario, making for the first time I ever questioned starting a brevet. I had ridden in a downpour the weekend before, but it was a 25-miler. Even that ride took my shoes 3 days to fully dry out. Finally when I decided to try it anyway, it was getting close to the time the BART train to Fremont would be leaving my station… I sprinted to the station, not having the time to put on my rain jacket, gloves, or hat! But I made it with plenty of time to spare as the train was stalled in the station, probably waiting for a connection. Taking BART was fun, since we now get ourselves organized to all hang out in the last car if possible. I got to chat with Therese C about her bike; I rode some parts of Old Caz and El Paseito Mixto with her, so it was nice to see her. Greg M and some others were also there, and Brian O and Alex P also showed up. Rando BART party!

There was light rain when we got off the train, causing us to put off walking across the wet parking lot for a few minutes… But we eventually trudged over and signed in, took the oath, and started off. By that time, there was barely enough rain for me to keep my rain jacket on, but the roads were still wet. After the first ten miles or so, the rain moved off and stayed away for the whole day, making me very glad I came out to ride. Some other great things about the Uvas Gold 200k: I liked the idea of riding all the way to Gilroy, which seems really, really far, even though we started in Fremont. I liked the Coyote Creek Trail, and the bright green early morning views from Mount Hamilton were spectacular after the rain. The post-rain forest aroma from San Felipe still lingers in my notsrils.

As usually happens, at the very beginning of the ride I get to chat with a few of the people I never see after the first control: Eric L, Andrea S and others. One of my favorite things about brevets is catching up with the people I know (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively), putting faces to names of people I’ve heard about, seeing peoples’ different gear and bikes… but even though I valiantly took the Milpitas city limit sign, it wasn’t too long before I got dropped by most people, and then it was time to ascend the Mountain of Hamilton! I stopped to drink an Ensure brought specifically for this climb, and let my esteemed comrade Alex P climb ahead. This was the biggest climb on the route. About halfway up, I was confused (as were two other riders) by a twisted street marker, and had to pause to get in the right gear to restart… Along rode Jack H and Brian O. I rode with Brian O on the rest of the climb up Mount Hamilton, and we had fun chatting and mutually bemoaning our being out of shape. I think at that point, or at the first info control, we also ran into Ben G, Eric M and Theresa C, three people with whom I rode Old Caz this summer.

There were a couple wild descents that had been given mild passing notice in the pre-ride talk; Jack H noted to me prior to the ascent that these descents had been understated, and he was oh, so right. I was glad for the extra warning, I was glad I just replaced my front brake pads, I was glad I took the time to go to the bike handling skills classes, and I was glad my bike handles so well. Therefore, I was glad while descending, and I thought it was fun. But wow! Tight turns, those. In case anyone is reading this who is considering riding this route, consider yourself warned: watch those descents on Quimby and Metcalf if you’ve never ridden them before (there are at least a couple 180 degree hairpins) and be sure your brakes are working well. Then you will have fun.

At the base of Metcalf, we entered the Coyote Creek Trail, a very nice (its flatness was quite welcome to us!) multi-use path. There’s a little bathroom/bubbler shack close to the end where we took a break for stretching and replenishing of fluids. Not too much longer and we would be in Gilroy, the lunch stop. A bunch of us left together and made our way through the semi-rural streets of Morgan Hill and San Martin. It was a cheerful group with lots of chatting and a medium pace. I unfortunately have not ridden in a close group like that too often, and a minor calamity resulted when I touched wheels with Brian O in front of me and Dan B behind. I took a little dive and my right shoe came off, I tore a hole in my nice wool knickers (darn it!) and got a little road rash. But the funniest thing to happen was that my left rear fender stay got bent into an S shape… and in spite of that, the wheel turned fine. And I felt fine too. So, I put my shoe back on and we continued down the road, no worse for wear but of course much more consciously on my part.

As we continued riding, I felt pretty hungry. I mentioned to Brian about how my Most Frequent Riding Partner John and I ate sushi from the Half Moon Bay Safeway for Thanksgiving while bike camping, and we both started to look forward to lunch. As it turned out, the Gilroy Safeway had an excellent sushi chef making hand rolls on the spot! I had a giant dragon roll as big as a small burrito that also had one nigiri roll in the package, and I ate it all, no problem! …as delicious as it was large. While I dined at the picnic tables outside the Safeway, I was able to share one of my favorite brevet comestibles, surprising to me that more people don’t drink more of it: sparkling water. I overheard my table-mate say to her riding partner that she was having better luck with her stomach troubles this ride, so I felt compelled to share with her that sparkling water has never failed to ease any stomach sourness I’ve had. She was surprised, and gladly took the leftover of the large bottle I had bought! Woohoo another convert to fizzy water, yesssss.

I left with Dan B and James W, my poor sense of direction almost leading us through a high school football field, and then after not too long on Uvas Road, they dropped me. I knew it would happen sooner or later, and I didn’t mind riding around the Uvas Reservoir by myself one bit. What a beautiful road. Info control: check. Water level since the rains: up, though still very very very low. What is going on here, people?!? I know the Marin and Sonoma reservoirs are filled to overflowing after the recent rains, but inland California is another story. I did not bring my camera on this ride, so you will have to imagine the ring after ring of vestigial water levels left in a formerly huge reservoir.

After Uvas, there is another little bump before rejoining the Coyote Creek Trail in the opposite direction from the morning. I could not for the life of me find where the cue sheet said to enter the trail, and there were several highway on ramps sharing the same space, so I just tried to find the safest way to get the trail that I could. Doing that in near-dark was the least fun part of the ride for me, and something I would look at on Streetview next time. At the end of the trail, I ran across some other randos looking for the entrance to the mysteriously marked (or unmarked?) Road N… Dadblame new route, but we found it.

Sometime during the remainder of the only-medium-sucky suburban streets (mostly with bike lanes, though the disappearing bike lane section raising my neck hairs for as long as it lasted) I ran into Steve H and Tom H, members of the former Gilroy-bound gruppo. Yay! We rode through and through to the penultimate control where we got some life-giving beverages and snacks, and through to the very end. I am always happy to run into these guys, chipper as always even at the very end of a long day of human-powered pedaling.

Even with more climbing than promised, I had a great time that day on my bike. And even in the off season, so many fantastic people were there! The scenery was just amazing after the rains: bright neon green, so fresh and lovely. Uvas Road was quiet, remote, hilly, scenic–just what I love about SFR brevets. I look forward to next year…and may even continue my R-whatever! If I do, you’ll hear about it here on mmmmbike!

R3 (belated post): SFR Russian River 300K

With this ride, I really pushed the boundaries out. I entered into the experience wanting to know how far was too far, and… I think I found out! It was a difficult ride for a good reason, though: work had become very busy in the week leading up to the ride, so I wasn’t able to get enough good food, sleep, or practice-riding to prepare.  As luck would have it, the day before the ride, the choir I sing with had a concert, too! In spite of my higher instincts to go straight home afterward, my friends prevailed upon me to go out with them. I even had a Beer. Whoops. But somehow I managed to make it to the start control early enough to check in and get my act on the road.

I wanted to ride as fast as I could at the beginning to avoid losing time or getting too far behind. On the first two brevets, I took a pace that would allow me to finish within the time limit and no faster. It’s a brevet, NOT a race! Anyway, this time I ran into some very sweet guys toward the beginning of the ride– Brian Oei, Carlin Eng, and Robert… did not get his last name. We rode together until they dropped me on the last hill going into Petaluma. It was terrific riding with them on the trail through Samuel P. Taylor park instead of the bumpy road, and they were so nice to chat with as we rolled along. But their pace was just slightly too much for me, just slightly hung over as I was and a bit sleep and carb deprived.

After passing through the first two controls, riding through the vineyards was just heaven. The weather couldn’t have been better. Rob had warned us all about combustible-engine traffic in the vineyards region due to wine tastings that day, but the traffic was not too bad. I rode with Charlie Jonas for some time, and we got stopped by a jerk in a pickup truck who wanted to take his bad mood out on us by shaking his finger and scolding us. That dampened my mood in turn for several miles. Once we entered the forested area around Gurneville, though, I started to get more energy. I love the fresh air you get to breathe when riding through a forest! I also anticipated reaching the coast before long.

At some point, Charlie and I ran into Jim Gourgoutis. I was glad to see another rider as it was starting to feel like Charlie and I were the only randonneurs left in the world! The three of us continued on until we reached the next control, a small grocery store on the coast. I was starting to feel pretty sapped of energy by this time, yet I did not realize at that control how many calories I was burning– I should have eaten much more. I did refill my water bottles, dropping nuun tablets in each. Apparently the caffeinated tablet went straight to my head, and I’m quite embarrassed to say I dropped both Jim and Charlie on the rollers after we pulled out of the control! Rather stupidly I kept pointing out hazards in the road, thinking they were just behind me. Charlie finally caught up to me just before the Marshall control to say that Jim stopped in Valley Ford to refill his water and catch his breath… I always feel I am the slowest one in any given group, so when it was my turn to pull, I would really pull to avoid letting the group slow down. Well, no more of that! Once we regrouped in Marshall, we agreed we should stick together. It was starting to get dark, and riding alone is much more dangerous.

The rest of the ride from Marshall was familiar territory for us, and though it was getting late, and though we were all pretty worn out from just about 12 hours of riding by that point, I had no doubt we’d make decent time back to the finish. Strangely enough, that actually did happen. The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that we somehow lost Charlie–in Nicasio, Jim wanted to stop and drink some Ensure, but Charlie just kept going. I’m not sure if he missed our cues to turn off or just needed some personal time. In any event, Jim and I had both independently had the expectation from the beginning of the ride that it would take 17 hours, and our official time was 16h20.

In the end I met some really strong riders and had terrific fun for most of the ride. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually did it! The countryside was exhilaratingly beautiful, and riding around Nicasio Reservoir in the dark was so quiet and peaceful. The last few hours, though, were really tough. My hands were aching from resting on the handlebars all day, and road vibration as well as the vibration from the dynamo hub were taking their toll on me. I had worn thick wool socks that day, and toward the end of the ride my shoes started to seem tighter. Most of all, though, I was burning calories faster than I could digest them, and though I didn’t bonk exactly, I felt an incredible gnawing hunger that would not go away. I have a very high metabolism, so I have to be a lot more careful to eat more during the week leading up to a ride of this length. Eating a big meal the night before is not enough.  Jim and I also remarked, as we struggled toward the finish, how it can be difficult to get in enough time to train to accomplish longer and longer rides when work and other responsibilities are competing for one’s time.

Another thing I learned was that front and rear lights and a reflective belt, though helpful and “RUSA Kosher”, are not enough for safe, confident night riding. I was impressed with Jim’s brightness at night– it was really effective. If I’m going to do more night riding, I have to put more effort into the lighting scenario to be seen better. Since that ride, Jack has put his famous Moonbeam reflective material on my jacket, but I know it’s not going to end there.

I did not take any pictures during this ride. I knew it would take all my effort just to complete it. Nancy Yu has a fantastic photo series of this ride on her blog, here (she was riding on a tandem, so she was able to get some great shots!). The next day when my roommate was cutting open a red pepper for her lunches for the week, it caught my eye and for some reason, the shape of it seemed to encapsulate my feelings about the ride I had completed the day before……lots of winding roads, I guess was what I saw.