I had been avoiding major rides for a few weeks: the cold air had been painful on my throat, and I didn’t want to risk burnout after my R-12. I tell my friends I might not do the Lighthouse brevet, but they don’t buy it. “You really think you won’t do it? Come on,” two people replied on separate occasions. OK then! I’ll sign up! In that case I have to do some practice rides, so I drag myself out on the bike and away from the swimming pool where I’ve been for the past couple weeks, and gingerly ride a couple test rides by myself to see where I ended up.
I rode up to Point Reyes Station in the late afternoon, following Mr. Potis’s suggestion, in order to become more comfortable riding in darkness– part of the long-range strategy to do the 400k. This ride had the added benefit of beginning later in the day when the air was warmer. I’ve also been concerned about riding through drastic temperature swings, which happen a lot on the 400k according to various reports, and that day had them. Wearing the right amount of clothing to a ride and packing the right extra layers is something with which I still need some practice.
Then I got to do another lackadaisical, cyclotour-paced ride with John to Point Reyes Station which included a break with biscuits and gravy at the Pinecone Diner! Yum. No pictures of the biscuits and gravy, sorry but I don’t want to make everyone salivate, thus forcing my entire readership on the ill-equipped staff at that quirky and eclectic small-town establishment. That ride included a fair amount of frost, and a few sightings of black ice along Sir Francis Drake as late as 10 am.
The following weekend was the 200k to the Lighthouse. Everyone (particularly me) is complaining that they are sick and undertrained, it is cold, and yet it is time for the signature brevet of the San Francisco Randonneurs season. Along with 125 or so 200K riders and 40-odd populaire participants, I set out for what is predicted to be a rather breeze-blown day out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, the town of Marshall, and back to San Francisco. I was volunteering at check-in, and arrived quite early after a solid night’s sleep to take some pictures of the moonlit ocean.
I was the first to arrive, followed shortly by a pert Alice Stribling, also checking in riders. So far our brand loyalty has not let us down, and I take a quick snapshot of our trusty bikes standing together.
Lots of riders all show up at once in the few minutes before Rob’s talk and the world-famous oath. I finally hand over the clipboard and remaining brevet cards to my partner in check-in Ron Lau, grab my bike, and hold up my right hand, or my other right hand, for the oath.
Finally it is time for us all to set out. It is truly a critical mass of randonneurs through the bridge, Sausalito, and the bike path. I see French Clements for a moment and have just enough time for a hi-how-de-do before he speeds off ahead. He is riding the Populaire route today, and will ride it in enough time to make it back to town before work (?!) at Huckleberry Bikes! Crazy!
On the way up Camino Alto I chat with Gabe for a moment, but I let him go on ahead and take it easy up this standard wake-up slap in the face. I recall when I first started training for brevets how I would do reps of Camino Alto and think that might not be a bad idea to take up again. I always get dropped by one group after another on this stretch, and one of the turns on the downhill side is still a bit of a knuckle-biter. But then again, I am the kind of rider who doesn’t get warmed up until the fourth hour, so maybe it’ll just always be a slow stretch for me.
I made a departure again from some riding folk to ride on the cross-marin bike path through Samuel P. Taylor park, which may have set me behind some more, but I felt pretty good about the decision anyway. The portion of smooth new road through the park is so small, and the cool trees beckoned. I remembered riding through the path on the populaire last June with Sarah Burke and Greg Beato, kind of hauling ass! Whew. Not doing that on this ride, just taking it easy. Emerging out of the path on the climb toward Olema, I run into Greg Merritt and his friend Myra, and a snatch of pleasant chatting ensues until we reach the brisk downhill into Olema.
On Bear Valley Road, I hear some whistling up ahead, and find that it’s Manny Acosta! I tell him about the time when I had just started riding for anything more than just commuting. I would venture boldly over the bridge to Sausalito, Tiburon, and the Paradise loop, then would get lost trying to find my way back to the Golden Gate Bridge. “I was so clueless then!” (of course, I am still clueless), I told him, laughing. I would get sooo lost. I explained to Manny my then-new strategy to avoid getting lost not by stopping, looking at maps on my (stupid) smart phone, waiting for a signal, waiting waiting… but instead by looking around me for other cyclists who look like they know where they’re going and following them. Worked without fail! Anyway, one day I was really perturbed about how to get back to the bridge, and I heard a guy behind me whistling a happy-sounding tune which reminded me of Django Reinhardt. Eventually he passed me, and I hopped up the pace to follow him. Sure enough, I was back at the bridge plaza before you could say Honeysuckle Rose! Thus I have a special fondness for people who whistle or sing while riding. I think Manny liked my story and we rode for a while until we met up with Esteban and a small group around Inverness. I pulled hard with them but finally had to let them go on the climb out of Inverness. I enjoyed moving through the tall pines which reminded me of being at my grandmother Roz’s house in northern Wisconsin. I did not find out until later that Manny had cracked his right shifter before the ride with no time to fix it, and was riding the entire brevet on just a few gears! Manny is a good, strong rider– it’s not an easy route to do without a wide selection of gears.
After the big climb out of Inverness was accomplished, I began the long road to the lighthouse through Point Reyes. I was alone now, and after the happy ruckuss of riding through Sausalito and little Marin towns, the familiarity of the bike path and Olema, and the hard work of the climb, I set into a meditative mood. It was still mid-morning, and there was not a lot of car traffic yet. The weather was beautiful with plenty of warm sun and just a few puffy clouds, and the wind wasn’t too bad. This road is remote enough that I had not ridden it since the brevet last year, so it was an especially profound experience. Before long I started to encounter other riders: Doug Ray, Manny, a couple of recumbent riders, and a group I had ridden with earlier. I saw Doug and the pair of recumbent riders take the wrong road off toward South Beach! Uh oh… but they were too far off to hear me yell or ring my bell.
After that intersection I began to see the faster riders coming back toward me from the lighthouse control: Tom H, Carlos D, and as I neared the control, Gabe and Jake, Esteban, and others. The excitement mounted, and my Pelican and I did too! I ultimately reached the control at 11:05, forty minutes earlier than my time last year! woo hoo! I poked around at this control though, chatting for a long time with Mrs. Walker with whom I had waited out the final control at the 600k last year. There were only 28 riders participating on that ride, and in the duration of our volunteer shift only a handful of them arrived, so we got to know each other fairly well that morning!
While I was at the control, Manny (among others) arrived. He parked next to my bike with his handlebar bag wide open, and while he was in the restroom, his brevet card flew out across the parking lot! I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I chased after it anyway, and picked up his brevet card, placed it back in his bag, and closed the bag. Doug arrived, looking a little out of sorts probably due to the bonus miles. I tried to eat one of the empanadas I had brought with me from the Chilean place by my house, but it felt like chalk in my mouth and I could only eat about half. I was a little worried about this, but I finished my shake, refilled my bottles, and finally set back out. The ride back from the Lighthouse is lusciously rewarding. To me, it feels like a victory lap.
The wind out of the north on the way to Marshall from Point Reyes Station was brutal that day. I rode with Irving and Carlin for a little while, then behind a tall guy on a mountain bike for a little while, and though we could have all pacelined together, for some reason we all just stayed on our own. For a while it was all I could do just to hold on to my handlebars I was so tired, but when one is in that kind of situation on a brevet, there is really no good alternative than to keep going. At least that is the way I see it– if you stop, you’re just prolonging the inevitable. And so I made it to Marshall. Chowder and crackers awaited me there, and I happily gulped it down.
I have gotten a little better about getting through controls quickly– I choose to eat whatever is the first thing that comes to mind, no more lengthy debates over ginger beer versus gatorade. The value of being able to trust my instincts, make a decisive move, then move on is an important lesson that randonneuring has taught me, one of many.
Lucky for me, I ran into Jake Mann at Marshall. He had diligently kept up with Gabe and his group until the Marshall control, then needed a rest, so let Gabe go on ahead. I’ve ridden with Jake before, so when he asked if he could leave with me from the control, I was psyched. Having ridden by myself much of the ride so far, I was ready for a little company, and Jake and I did very well from Marshall all the way back to the final control at the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza.
We happened to see the moon rise, though we finished before darkness set in, and Mr. Potis was there to greet us at the finish *and* inform us of our excellent finish time according to Tamagachi. An auspicious beginning to the brevet season!