“I don’t know where that is, but it sure sounds far away!” or “Randonneurs 52, Mountain Lions 0”

A warning up front: This is a very long ride report.

I decided to ride the San Francisco Randonneur’s (SFR’s) 600k pretty much on the spur of the moment. My wife was uncomfortable with me riding Willy’s permanent 400k to SLO on my own so I decided that the 600k was the best available option. Let’s just say that it was an eye-opening adventure.

Having never ridden a 600k (or, for that matter, a 400k) before, I had more than a little anxiety prior to the event. What do you do when you are stressing about something? Send out e-mails to knowledgeable people! I dropped an open-ended note to Rob and Bruce (both of whom I know through Grizzly Peak Cyclists, SFR, or California Triple Crown events) asking for information. Without hesitation, they filled me in with some really useful details regarding the logistics of a 600k. I had heard the term “bag drop service” before but they clued me in about the how and why of the thing. Also, their advice about getting a room in Cloverdale was spot-on (although, as discussed later, while I was was struggling over the climbs out of Booneville and Yorkville, I had a few choice words for the wisdom of my choice). But that is getting ahead of the story…

My anxiety manifest itself in an inability to sleep the night before the ride. Thus, after futzing around with the bike (fenders? new bag? enough batteries?) the drop bag (cookies? M&Ms? Powergel in the Hammer Flask or not?) and my clothing choices (which arm warmers? which bib shorts? knee warmers or tights? vest or jacket?), I finally hit the hay at 10:45 pm and didn’t fall asleep until 1:30. The alarm went off at 4 am and I was on the road by 4:45 am, arriving at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, drop bag in hand, at 5:40 am. I probably should have slept some more…

These brevets are similar but also very different than double century rides that I ride. There are fewer riders on brevets, which mean that keeping up with a group and timing your eating/drinking to the group’s collective needs and wants is important, otherwise you might be left with long stretches with no company except for headwinds or (alleged) mountain lions (thanks for that fun bit of info, Lisa-Susan!).  On this ride, the controls were well-spaced until that long haul from Healdsburg to Ft. Bragg. Also, since I am a relative newcomer to randonneuring, I didn’t have a built-in cadre of friends that rode at the same pace. Thus, there was always a bit of calculus going on as you rode, deciding whether to stop and possibly lose the group (or have to haul butt to catch up with them) or keep riding possibly beyond your comfort range (and risk bonking). This is not a bad thing: it is just a new dynamic for me.

The start was great! Not a cloud in the sky. Cool, crisp air. A little wind from the north. Riders nervously chatting. After Rob gave us the low-down and had us make our pledge to “not do stupid stuff” (which at that time seemed like an immediate contradiction in terms, given that we were about to ride all night in the company of mountain lions), off we went. The sun was reflecting off of the bay as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and dove down to Sausalito. While on the bridge, I decided to take some photos, which put me near the back of the pack in the first 2 miles.  This is a place that is comfortable to me and was my home for the next couple of days.

The first part of the ride involves lots of stop signs and city/town riding until you reach the western edge of Fairfax. At that point, I met up with JT, who explained that he had ridden the 400k brevets of the SFR, Santa Rosa Cycling Club, and Davis Bike Club. When I asked him to compare and contrast them, his main response was “SFR’s was hardest and expected the riders to be very self-sufficient.” I understood the self-sufficient part but got a little nervous about the “hardest” label. Anyway, JT and I rode together until I peeled off at Samuel P. Taylor State Park to use the facilities and ride on the bike path. Once I emerged at Platform Bridge Road, it was a quick run over to Olema and Pt. Reyes Station, which was the Control #2.

Although I get a good deal of grief about it, I drink Gatorade when riding. There…I admitted it. This gives me enough calories and electrolytes that, when supplemented with Endurolytes, I can usually avoid cramping. Thus, at the Pt. Reyes Station control, I skipped the Bovine Bakery (sob!) and dashed into the market to get some drinks. Having filled bottles and stripped off some clothes, it was off to Petaluma.

The wind was starting to pick up a bit once I turned left onto Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road but nothing too serious. One of my goals on this ride was to try to limit my time off the bike at the controls. I succeeded at Pt. Reyes Station since a number of riders that had passed me on the first leg were starting to pass me again on the leg to Petaluma. No worries…at this point, I just wanted to keep my heartrate at a reasonable level, enjoy the scenery, and keep moving. After a nature break at the Cheese Factory and reaching the top of Red Hill Rd., I stopped to admire the lovely scenery and noticed a wind turbine to the south. It was a good sized machine and was spinning at a pretty good clip, which meant to me that the wind was freshening. Thus, it would be important to get through the next control at a reasonable pace so that I could catch on with a group for the slog to Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.

The “descent” into Petaluma surprised me on this ride (and on the SFR 300k). It seems to have more climbing than I remember from riding this road in the opposite direction in the Mt. Tam Double. Also, the road seems to be turning a bit toward the north, which is making the headwind more of an issue. Once I saw the Peet’s on Petaluma Blvd. I stop amongst a good crowd of riders and head inside to get some food. I say hi to Veronica who, as always, has a friendly greeting. The line is somewhat slow but I get my lemon scone and wolf it down, trying to keep an eye on the group so that I don’t miss them leaving. Of course, I managed to forget to bring my bottle in with me and didn’t get any water, so I have to grab the empty and go into the deli to get it filled. By the time I am done, the whole group has taken off! After a little more fussing, I am back on the bike and in hot pursuit of the group.

There are a number of lights between downtown Petaluma and McDowell Blvd., most of which I manage to miss, which lets the group get away even more. I put my head down (not quite “on the rivet”) and try to catch a group of about 4 riders that I can see hovering about 3/4 mile ahead of me. I am slowly reeling them in when a rider shoots past me. Grabbing his wheel, he pulls me up to the group (thanks!!!) about 1/2 mile after turning onto Petaluma Hill Road. I am glad to be in this group because this section of road is pretty lousy. There is a great deal of traffic, lots of honking and yelling by passing motorists, and a stiff headwind. The fellow that pulled me up to this group went straight to the front of this group and pulled for 5-7 miles. We were all trying to hang onto his wheel but when we hit the first rise, the group exploded. I didn’t want to try to hang on, so I slowed down and a new group of 4 from the prior group re-formed and rode together into Santa Rosa. At a stoplight, one of the group said that I looked familiar. It was Amy, who I had ridden with on the SFR 300k! She and I are very compatible pace-wise and she has a ton more experience than I do with these long rides, so I knew that I had a “rando-friend” for the duration. Matthew, who recently graduated from law school in San Diego, was also in the group. This group rode together more or less the whole way to Ft. Bragg.

After we rolled through Santa Rosa, we started to catch up to other groups. Rather than blasting past, we just hooked onto these groups and ended up with about 10-15 riders rolling together into the Healdsburg Safeway (Control #4). This store has a typical deli with soup and pre-made sandwiches. Of course, this large a group all immediately went to the deli and ordered food, which really slowed things down. I had a very tasty warm turkey and havarti sandwich, some chips, and my obligatory Gatorade and then it was time to head on to Cloverdale and points northwest.

Amy, being the voice of reason, said that we should ride at a “digestive” pace. Good call! Matthew, Amy, Veronica, Tina, and possibly a couple of others headed north on Healdsburg Ave. Matthew and I got to the front of the group and rode along while chatting about the energy scene in San Diego and the highly controversial Sunrise Powerlink transmission line. These stimulating topics are always a good way to digest food 🙂 The wind was really picking up at this point and we didn’t have much cover from it, so after pulling for a while we dropped to the back of the group for a bit. This sharing of the work at the front is very important on a windy day but it seems like some randonneurs don’t choose to take turns. Rather, one rider might get at the front of the group and just pull and pull, which is very nice of them but completely unnecessary. From my experience on double century rides, the riders there tend to be more willing to alternate time at the front, which keeps everyone fresher and doesn’t result in bad feelings for not sharing the load. We got to Cloverdale and I had to leave the group to check into my motel (good advice, Rob!). It took me longer to find the Super 8 motel than I had hoped (it was off Cloverdale Blvd. and in a mall) and after a nature break I got onto the road again but was all alone.

After navigating through Cloverdale, it was time to turn toward the coast. Our friends Nick and Colleen have a ranch in Yorkville, so we have driven the next section of Highway 128 a number of times before but I had never ridden it. According to the pre-ride information, this was “the climb” of the ride so I geared down and slowly started to climb. The traffic on the road was not bad at all and most drivers were willing to hang back until it was clear to pass. This made the climbing much more enjoyable. It was getting pretty cloudy and had been cool in Cloverdale, so I had pulled on a jacket, which I shed almost immediately once I started climbing. When I finally hit the Mendocino county line, I  thought that I was done with the climb and would roll down into Yorkville. Wrong! There is another climb after the county line before starting the descent into Yorkville. It was on this second climb that I caught up with Amy and Matthew. I was glad that I found them because the winds were coming straight out of the northwest and were really strong. Amy said that Tina, who is training for the Furnace Creek 508, flew away at the start of the climb. We didn’t expect to see her again.

I was really worried about riding this section of road. Nick, who started me on long-distance bicycle riding in 1994, said that he felt that Highway 128 was pretty dangerous. Also, it was clear that there would be no services at night when I would be riding back toward Cloverdale and my soft bed at the Super 8. I hadn’t found the traffic too scary but I knew that I would need water or something to drink on the way back. Thus, when we saw the Yorkville Market, we decided to pull over, get out of the wind for a while, and stock up. Matthew snagged an ice cream out of the cooler, which seemed like a great idea, so I got an Its-It and a couple of bottles of Gatorade. The very nice store owner said that I should hide a bottle under the stairs in the back and it would be there when I returned late that night, which is exactly what I did. Several riders sat in the shelter of the store, ate, drank, and just relaxed a bit. We knew that the next 60 miles to Ft. Bragg would be tough and since none of us had ridden that section of road, there seemed to be some general apprehension about what was coming up.

After departing the Yorkville Market, I had to take a couple of photos along the way (Yorkville Cellars, the road to our friends’ ranch) so I would yo-yo on and off with the group. It was also during this section that I hit my first “wall”. Somewhere between Yorkville and Boonville, it dawned on me that I had only ridden about 125 miles, was feeling a little tired, and still had over 250 miles to go! I had never ridden 250 miles in my life, which really started to freak me out. As a result, I spent a good deal of the next half-hour thinking about whether the whole idea of trying this ride was a mistake and if I should cut my losses now and turn back to Cloverdale (and that nice soft bed). A conversation I had a couple of weeks before with a member of the Grizzly Peak Cyclists weighed heavily on my mind. This person, who is an amazingly strong rider, had told me in no uncertain terms that it was a bad idea for me to try the 600k. He made good points: (1) a 400k is much harder than a 300k and a 600k is much harder than 400k, (2) once you get past Healdsburg, there really isn’t any public transportation options to get back to “civilization”, meaning that you would get stranded on the road if you had to abandon, and (3) riding all night is crazy.  All of this was swirling in my head as we continued to slog into the headwinds, not making great time when we were fresh. At the same time, I reminded myself that it is very easy to talk oneself out of finishing a ride just by having negative thoughts. So, I hung in with the group, taking turns at the front and hiding from the wind whenever possible.

After the climb out of Yorkville and the long descent into Boonville, the terrain opened up somewhat, which made the wind even more challenging. Tina had stopped in Boonville and caught on with us as we headed out of town. It was good to have a fourth person in the group to share the load. There were little (and not so little) rollers all along this section and, in order to keep my legs stretched, I had to get out of the saddle on the climbs, which would cause me to inadvertently pull away from our group, which is really lousy etiquette (sorry, gang!). Amy told us that we would hit a section of dense forest and not long after that, we would reach the Paul Dimmick campground, where Bruce, Jack, and others had set up a camp and had the drop bags. Somewhere between Boonville and Navarro, we saw a rider that looked like he was on the brevet riding in the other direction!  Matthew had the best perspective on this: he said that the fellow had to have abandoned, since he couldn’t be 80 miles ahead of us at that point. It seemed to take forever but we finally got into the woods and started to haul butt down the gentle downhill grade paralleling the Navarro River toward the campground. Finally, we rolled into Paul Dimmick, where there was a hubbub of activity. Riders were putting on lights, heavier clothes, grabbing food, and generally milling around. There were still 27 miles to go to Ft. Bragg but nobody seemed to be in a hurry (myself included).  I saw next to Mary Anne, who was having stomach problems and had decided to abandon. She told me about 24 hour adventure cycle races that she had done in the past. This didn’t help my confidence, since I had never ridden 24 hours before and had a history of stomach problems on long rides. Also, Bruce asked me if I was abandoning. Did I look that bad already?

Finally, Amy rallied the troops and off we went. About a mile down the road we saw the first riders coming back toward Paul Dimmick (this continued all the way to Ft. Bragg…we weren’t dead last but were certainly in the last quarter of the riders on the road). As we passed each group, we exchanged cheers and congratulations on a job well-done. After about 7 miles, we emerged from the woods, the winds started up again, Highway 128 ended, and Highway 1 began with a stiff little climb toward Albion. Tina said that her wedding had been in an inn in Albion, so she knew what we were heading into. We rode in silence as we climbed up toward Albion, finally seeing the inn (at the same time getting slammed by a strong headwind). It was getting dark fast and we still had about 19 miles to go before Ft. Bragg. Near the Stevenswood resort south of Mendocino, Amy said that she was starting to bonk and needed to stop to get some gel to eat. We all pulled over and had a short break, after which Amy was completely revived and took off like a shot (even with the stiff headwind). She and I somehow got separated from Matthew and Tina and we pulled into Ft. Bragg at about 10:30 pm. Half way home! (Not really…the return route was about 10 miles longer than the outbound route…but at least we felt that we would have a tailwind for a while).

The Ft. Bragg Safeway was quite a scene: smelly, glassy-eyed bicycle riders in reflective garb standing in line to get food and drink next to young Ft. Bragg hipsters buying beer and munchies. The youth looked a great deal like kids from Camp Winnarainbow with Budweisers in their shopping carts. It was really fun talking with them about what we were doing, what the night held in store, and about the whole brevet scene. The riders took over the deli (which was closed) and we had a grand time chatting and relaxing. Amy pulled out her iPhone and asked who wanted to know about the results of the Tour of California. A couple of randonneurs slammed their hands over their ears, shouting “I am recording it!!! Don’t spoil it for me!!!” So, Amy passed the iPhone around to those that wanted to know what was going on (Michael Rogers held the yellow jersey after the time trial). Amy wanted some soup but since the deli was closed, she was going to eat it cold. Veronica, a woman of action, said that there had to be a microwave in the deli (there was), took the soup, and skipped behind the counter of the deli and started warming the soup. This caused a bit of ruckus, as Safeway employees came rushing over, worried about an industrial accident. Amy ultimately got her warm soup (I had the second of my peanut butter, honey, and raisin sandwiches from my bag along with some cookies and M&Ms (as well as some more Gatorade)). It was quite a scene at 11:30 on a Saturday night. At least it was warm, out of the wind, and light. Soon all of that would change.

We wandered back to our bicycles and started fussing with lights, reflective garb, and clothing, getting ready to head out into the night. I was chatting with Clyde and when I looked up, Amy was gone! Had I blown it again? Had I lost my riding partner? I grabbed my bike and got out in the parking lot. Looking left and right, I didn’t see her, so I decided that she must have headed back toward Paul Dimmick. Thus, I took off down Highway 1 toward Albion, looking out ahead to see if there were any tail lights of bicycles on the horizon. The headwind that had punished us on the way to Ft. Bragg was a friend now, pushing me to a great pace. Ernesto, who had been heading south on Highway 1 when Veronica was heading north had yelled “It is much easier in this direction.” How right he was! However, I was riding alone and didn’t see anyone up ahead. When I finally arrived at Paul Dimmick, I hadn’t caught Amy (or the others from our group) and asked if they had already arrived and started sleeping. They hadn’t. Thus, I had busted my tail trying to catch someone that was not ahead of me!

It was cold on the road. It was dark. It was damp. But not at the Paul Dimmick campground, which was a true refuge. When I rode in, I was greeted with cheers and assistance (“Can I take your bike?” “Do you want some soup?”) There was a fire. There was entertainment (Bruce and Jack seemed to be working on a comedy act…perhaps it was must my state of mind at the time but they sure were funny!) There were tents and sleeping bags for riders to catch a little shut-eye before continuing on (in fact, there was one rider that was snoring up a storm in one of the tents, to the amusement of all in the camp). It was very comforting to have this bit of heaven in the redwoods.

At this point, I didn’t want food, I just wanted to sit down, warm up a bit, and then change my clothes to get ready to ride through the night to Cloverdale (where I would sleep for a bit). I plopped down in a chaise lounge next to the fire, Jack handed me a blanket, and I just vegged out for a while (that is me in the yellow jacket in the photo to the right). The fire warmed my feet, the lounge soothed my legs, and the blanket kept the cold night air at bay. After sitting for quite a while, a group of riders rolled in. In my mind, I knew that these were the folks that I wanted to ride with to at least Boonville. I struggled out of the warm chair and grabbed my drop bag, which had a change of clothes, tights, and extra gloves. I crawled into a tent to change, which was sort of a comedy act, given that it was dark and freezing in the tent. As I struggled to get on my bibs and tights, I realized that it was really comfortable to be lying down. Perhaps I should catch a few minutes of sleep here. 30 minutes wouldn’t hurt. I would get up and make it to Cloverdale with plenty of time to sleep. Just a few minutes.

When I caught myself starting to doze off, I knew that I had to get going or I would NEVER make it to the next control in time. Jumping out of the tent, I tossed my drop bag back in the pile and started to get the bike ready to go (water, food, lights on). However, the camp seemed a little less full than when I had gone into the tent…Clyde’s group had left! As I hustled up, Amy came rolling into the driveway. I didn’t want to disturb her (she told Bruce that she wanted to sleep until 3:15 am and then get woken up, which was only about 1:45 hours), so I finished up with the bike and headed out onto the road (after thanking Bruce, Jack, et al). It was time to try to catch the group ahead of me.

I leaned into the pedals and started up the gradual uphill toward Navarro, Philo, and Boonville. However, as I did, something really felt strange in the front end of my bike. I got about 1/4 mile up the road and pulled over to see what was going on. The front end really seemed loose. I was able to flex the fork a great deal and get the brake shoe to touch the wheel. This was NOT good. Given my mental state, I felt that it was best to get the opinions of the “pros from Dover” at Paul Dimmick. Rolling back into the camp, I asked Bruce and Jack to check out the frame and fork, since I didn’t want to end up in a ditch during the descent into Yorkville. After much talking and some flexing of the frame, Jack took the bike for a test ride. He came back and said that the front end seemed a little loose but was perfectly safe. That was good enough for me, so off I went again.

As I turned onto Highway 128, I realized that there was no way I was going to catch Clyde’s group. That meant I would be riding to Cloverdale on my own (unless someone caught me from behind). This was not a very comforting thought since I had never ridden all the way through the night (and had heard stories of mountain lions on this road). However, I told myself that I would at least have a tailwind, which should push me up the hills that I remembered riding down so many hours ago. Unfortunately, once I got out of the redwoods, the wind had died down quite a bit and, as a result, I only got a small push, not a big shove up the hills. Add to that the fact that the temperature was falling rapidly (the low for the night was 34 degrees F). Add in my 4 hours of sleep from the night before and I knew that it would be a long, cold, slow slog to Yorkville (where my Gatorade was stashed) and Cloverdale (where my warm, comfortable bed was waiting). Having only ridden this road once before (earlier in the afternoon), I had almost no recollection of the hills, which were numerous but not stunningly large. I kept trying to see the B&B in Philo (where some riders were planning to sleep) but every time I thought I saw it, it was some houses in the distance, often on the wrong side of the road. The headlight was swinging wildly across the road on the climbs, which meant that my bike was all over the road. It was time to dose up with some caffeine (thanks for the advice, Bruce!). Since I don’t drink coffee, this really perked me up and helped get through Philo and up to Boonville.

As I rode through the deserted streets of Boonville, I started to think about the big hill that we had descended earlier. 8%. 2 miles. That wasn’t going to be fun. Suddenly, I saw a strange sight: a bunch of bicycles leaning against the wall of the Post Office. As I rode by, I looked inside and, to my amazement, I saw a bunch of randoneers sacked out in the lobby! The place looked packed. I had my doubts whether I would be able to sleep on the floor or not, so I kept going, thinking that any rest I got there would have a high cost later in the ride.

When I hit the climb out of Boonville, I realized that I might be in trouble. I hadn’t been drinking or eating much since Paul Dimmick because my stomach was not feeling too good (I have had stomach issues on long rides in the past and found myself unable to keep down food or liquids at the end of hard rides…I didn’t want that to happen this ride, which was why I had abstained from eating or drinking). I started to feel my legs getting ready to cramp and my energy level waning. It was either eat and drink something or stop and try to rest, which would have been a really bad mistake, given the temperatures. This was one of those “gut check” moments where one can turn back to the “comfort” of the Boonville Post Office, try to find shelter, or can keep plugging ahead. I decided to gamble and put something in my stomach. I gulped down some Powergel, drank some Gatorade, said a little prayer, and started up the climb. After a few minutes, my stomach started to feel a little better, my legs didn’t feel like they were going to cramp, and I was riding pretty strongly (relatively speaking). When I made it to the top, things were starting to look up.

From the “top” of the climb out of Boonville, I had thought that it would be a quick descent to the Yorkville Market, where I would grab my Gatorade (well-chilled!) and dash to Cloverdale. This was not the case. The rollers between the summit and the Yorkville Market took a heavy toll on me. On the other hand, it was starting to get light, which I felt would perk me up. Also, someone at the Ft. Bragg Safeway had said that once you hit mile market 43 on Highway 128, you had “nothing but downhill” to Cloverdale. This sounded comforting but I remembered a couple of climbs that I had ridden earlier that day and those hills occurred either after mile marker 43 or in Sonoma County. Thus, I was holding out hope for an easy ride into Cloverdale but deep inside of me I knew that I still had some climbing to do. Yorkville Market was right about at mile market 43 and, sure enough, the road DID turn down. The sun was coming out, I was flying downhill. All was right with the world. That soft warm bed in Cloverdale was just around calling to me like a Siren…until I hit the first climb to the Mendocino-Sonoma line. The lowest gear I had didn’t seem low enough. I had to get out of the saddle to keep going. And you could see that the climb kept going up…and up…and up.

At the first summit, I pulled over, gulped down some Gatorade, and considered my options. It was about 6:00 am. I had a climb of some uncertain length in front of me before the sweet descent to Cloverdale. I felt that I had to leave Cloverdale by no later than 9 am to keep on schedule and give myself enough time to make all of the subsequent controls (this was all speculation, since I had no idea how I would feel after less than 2 hours of sleep). It was warming up a bit. The options were: (1) sleep by the side of the road for a bit and blow off the motel; (2) walk up the hill, which would leave perhaps only 45 minutes of sleep; or (3) get back on the bike and get over the damned hill. Option 3 was the only one that made any sense to me, so I got back on and slogged up to the top of the hill. Never has a 400 ft. ascent seemed so tough. But once I got over the top, I knew that it would be a fast ride into Cloverdale and it sure was. I have do keep checking my speed, not wanting to wash out on a tight curve (or have my shaky front end let go). I rolled into Cloverdale at about 6:55, bought some Chex Mix (why, I will never know!) at the Chevron station, and headed to my motel across the street.

The Super 8 is not luxury accommodations. However, it sure felt like the Mandarin Oriental when I got in the room that morning (checking in earlier in the afternoon was a great suggestion…I don’t think I could have coped with the check-in at that point…and Art, who I chatted with later, got a bunch of guff from the innkeeper, who claimed that since he didn’t check in on Saturday, he had lost his room!). I set the alarm on my mobile phone for 8:30 am, double-checked to make sure that I had turned ON the alarm, and climbed into bed (I did at least take off my shoes but that was it). In about 5 nanoseconds, I was asleep…

The phone rings. Is it  a dream?  I find the phone and realize that it is my “wake-up call.” I hop up, head to the lobby (after double-checking to make sure I have a room key) and grab the most excellent continental breakfast, which consisted of Svenhard’s pastries and OJ. This really, REALLY hit the spot after so much Gatorade and road food. Back to the room I realize that I need to make sure that I have everything with me, that I can’t make any stupid mistakes at this point, and that it is time to go. My Detours bag is chock full of cold weather gear from the night before (thank goodness for the expanding top!). Being careful, I decide to put the heavier stuff in the Novara handlebar bag, rather than risking breaking the mount for the rear bag. The handlebar bag is bulging but accepts everything I throw at it. I check and double-check the room, wash off and fill my bottles, flip the map for the next segment, and roll the bike out the door and down the hall to check out. Unfortunately, the innkeeper has decided to take a break at this point. I grab a pen, write a note with my room key, and step out into the sunshine.

What would I feel like when I got back on the bike? Sore and angry? Sleepy? Ready to ride? Fortunately, the wind had come up and was blowing right out of the north, which helped me get going. Once on the road, the breakfast from the Super 8 kicked in and I had a great ride back to Healdsburg. There were a couple of small rollers but nothing that the tailwind wouldn’t take care of. I saw a number of riders coming in the other direction and thought “Good luck, you poor blighters,” remembering the headwinds from 18 hours before. After riding through the parking lot for the Healdsburg Safeway it was on to Westside Road and the road to Guerneville. Life was great!

I passed a couple of randonneurs on Westside Road (Art had stopped on a hill and was having trouble getting started again).  The fields were beautiful, the sun was out, and there wasn’t much wind or traffic, so it was about ideal riding weather. I wasn’t hallucinating since there were a bunch of riders riding on Westside Road in the opposite direction and all of them were smiling, too. After hitting River Road, it was a quick jaunt to Guerneville, which was where I expected to see Amy and some other riders.

There was a slug of riders at the Guerneville Safeway. They were finishing up their lunch as I rolled in. Veronica, Clyde, and about 8 others were sitting around outside, enjoying the weather, and loving life. No Amy. No Matthew. I assumed that they had already left, although that seemed unlikely since Clyde and Veronica’s group had left ahead of both of us at Paul Dimmick. I sat down, grabbed PBH&R (peanut butter, honey & raisin) sandwich from my handlebar bag, and chowed down. Art rolled in and we shared some cookies and M&Ms. A local volleyball team was having a bake sale to raise money to go to the regional tournament. LEMON BARS! Naturally, I had to try one and support the youth sports program. It was excellent! Finally, Art and I decided it was time to roll. We headed out of the parking lot and onto River Road, toward Monte Rio and the climb to Occidental. Art got across the street before me and I told him to go on and that I would catch up in a bit. What a mistake…

POP! Not 400 yards out of Guerneville, my front tire blows! Not only does it flat, but it blows out the sidewall of my tire, too. Of course, I don’t have a spare tire with me (Idiot!). However, I do have a tire boot, so I pull off the wheel, boot the tire, and grab a new tube. It is getting warm here (quite the change from the day before). I wrestle the tube into the booted tire and pump it up. Check to see if the tire is mounted straight (check!) and I put the wheel back on the bike. Gather up all the tools and double-check to make sure I hadn’t left anything on the ground (e.g., pump, extra tube, tire levers (check and double-check)).  I am ready to go when I notice that there is a bulge on the sidewall of the tire I had just fixed. DAMN! I hadn’t covered the entire cut in the sidewall. So, take out everything again, take off the wheel, the tire, adjust the boot, and button it all back up again. It is getting hotter, my crummy mini-pump is taking forever to inflate the tube, and time is ticking away. I check the booted tire BEFORE I mount it on the bike again (it is OK) but I decide to keep the tire pressure a little lower (for some reason that isn’t totally obvious to me at this point). Probably, I was just too tired of pumping the tire up and rationalized that lower pressure would be a good idea. Anyway, I got the wheel back on the bike and finally started riding. This whole exercise had taken me over an hour, which had put me very close to the time cut for the ride. I was not a happy guy…

Down River Road. It seemed like the shoulder had more potholes, junk, and cracks than any other road I have ever ridden. Given the booted tire and low tire pressure, I tried to avoid all of these hazards in order to avoid another flat. This slowed me down on the leg to Monte Rio. Also, I noticed a pretty good headwind coming up River Road. Strange, I thought that the wind was out of the northwest…

I have never ridden up to Occidental from Monte Rio. The descent down from Occidental is really fun. The climb is not. I saw that the cue sheet said that the climb was 8.9 miles. That couldn’t be right (it wasn’t…the 8.9 miles is to Freestone)! I remembered that the road was pretty steep in places and, unfortunately, my memory was correct. Also, the temperature was going up (into the mid-80s). It was a long, slow climb. Once I got to Occidental, I recalled mention of a vending machine that sold bicycle parts. I even recalled that there was supposed to be one in Occidental. Since I had no faith in the booted tire, I started to search for the vending machine. No such luck. People looked at me with compassion (or pity) but couldn’t help. So, I headed down the Bohemian Highway to Freestone, riding very slowly and trying to avoid the holes and cracks in the road. This was a bummer, since that descent is a real joy, especially on a warm day. After getting out of the woods, I rode along with a tailwind to Freestone Bakery. At that point, it was time to re-assess the tire. It looked like the boot was holding, the tire pressure seemed OK, and nothing was bulging, so it was time to head to Valley Ford (no stop at Freestone Bakery…I was still nervous about the time cuts).

Turning west onto Bodega Highway, I got slammed straight in the face with a stiff headwind. WHAT??? Why is this wind out of the west?!? When I finally reached Freestone-Valley Ford Highway, I realized what I was in for…no tailwinds at all and, in fact, a pretty vicious cross-wind while riding down the coast. That exposed the folly of counting on the weather. As with the night before, I had planned on a tailwind, only to have the weather gods thumb their nose at me. Thus, it was a fairly slow ride to the junction with Highway 1. Turning onto Highway 1, I zipped through Valley Ford, and continued west toward Petaluma and the point where Highway 1 turns south again. At that corner, I realized what I was in for a rough patch without having much cushion on time.

The wind was screaming. It was blowing so hard that the wires were whistling and singing. Eucalyptus trees on the leeward side of the road were getting whipped. The high grass and weeds on the windward side of the road were slapping my legs as I rode. I have NEVER ridden in wind like this before. This crosswind stayed with me all the way to Tomales. Fortunately, the traffic was light, so when I got blown into the road by a gust, usually there wasn’t a vehicle bearing down on me.

There are three big rollers between the turnoff and Tomales. Normally, the ride up these rollers is not much fun but the descent makes up for it. However, given the cross-winds, it would have been foolish/insane to descend really fast, since the crosswinds were so strong. Also, given my tire issues, I didn’t want to get a pinch flat out there, so I descended slowly and surely. Thus, the climbs were no fun and neither were the descents. And, all the while, I knew what was coming…the ride to Tomales Bay.

For those that have never ridden south on Highway 1 out of Tomales, there is just a great section of road that runs next to an inlet off of Tomales Bay. When heading north, this section almost always has a tailwind and you just fly. When riding south, there can be a headwind. That was the case today. However, the wind was blowing in strange directions. As the road winded back and forth, I got blown (1) into the traffic lane (when the wind was coming from my right side), (2) into the shoulder and weeds (when the wind was coming from my left side), and (3) almost completely stopped (when the wind was hitting me straight on). Getting into the rollers just south of this section was a relief since the road was somewhat protected by trees, although one would still get blasted by a cross-wind at breaks in the trees. Fortunately, the drivers generally slowed down and let me hold the lane until I got past the wind zones. This continued until I staggered off of my bicycle at the Marshall Store.

Although the Marshall Store wasn’t an official control, I really needed to get out of the wind and get some food in my stomach. The self-serve clam chowder really hit the spot and the smiling, friendly staff made dawdling a while pretty easy. When it was time to go, I ruefully stepped outside into the wind. At that moment, Charles and Klay rolled up. Charles had his brevet card out and was ready to get checked in when I told him that this wasn’t the control. He looked a little crestfallen and explained that his rear derailleur cable had snapped and he was now riding a 2-speed (using his 34- and 54-tooth chain rings as his shifting options). He asked if I had a cable (no joy…sorry, Charles) but I touted the clam chowder. Klay nixed that idea, saying that the time was tight and if they had a mechanical, they would be screwed, so off they went. I didn’t see them again until after Nicasio.

Looking out onto Tomales Bay, it appeared like the waves were not heading straight onto shore but were angling a bit toward the south. This was a good sign and as I started riding, I realized that Marshall was the “turning point” for the ride down the coast. From there on to Pt. Reyes Station, the tailwind just shoved this tired rider along. The clam chowder kicked in and I made pretty good time to the next control.

Given that I had a bum tire and was a little tight on time, I had planned to ride into the Wells Fargo in Pt. Reyes Station, get some money from the ATM (and use the receipt as proof that I had arrived there), and bolt toward the end. Everything went according to plan (got $, got receipt, put receipt in baggie with rest of stuff) until I looked at my front tire, which had a huge bulge. Not another tear! It turns out that the bulge was from the original tear in the sidewall…the boot had slipped AGAIN! At least there was a bench in front of the bank that allowed me to sit while working on the tire. I repositioned the boot, pumped up the tire again, and thanked my lucky stars that I had noticed this BEFORE I got out on the road (or before it blew on a descent). All buttoned up, I headed for home…

The wind had become my friend. It patted me on the back along Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road. It shoved me up the hill by the dam at Nicasio Reservoir. It really gave me a hand as I turned onto Nicasio Valley Road and flew past Rancho Nicasio. However, once I started to climb the hill on Nicasio Road, the wind disappeared and it was all me again. This climb is never a friend but I just shifted into my lowest gear and eased on up it. Along the way, I met up with Art (from the Guerneville Safeway) and Charles and Klay (from the Marshall Store). Charles was RIDING up that hill in his little chain ring and his 3rd cassette ring! Amazing…I would have been pushing the bike at that point. In my mind, he wins “Le Stud de Brevet” for this effort.

I also noticed that I was having a hard time keeping my head up, which meant that I couldn’t see very far in front of my bicycle, especially when riding fast. After cresting the hill, I sat bolt upright so that I could see a little way down the road and slowly descended to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. After making the left turn onto SFDB, the wind reappeared and blew me over the top of the hill outside of Fairfax. However, since I was having trouble lifting my head, I really had to go slow on the descent, since the road surface on the shoulder of that section is quite poor (I never noticed this before because I have always been in the traffic lane flying down the hill).

I knew that the last section from Fairfax to the Golden Gate Bridge would require a fair amount of navigating. Unfortunately for me, I was unable to read the street signs, since I couldn’t lift my head enough to see out of my glasses. Most of the turns were pretty obvious but when I got to Ross, I just about missed a turn. Fortunately, Charles, Klay, and Art rolled past me at that exact moment and I grabbed onto their wheel (not to draft but for guidance!). They made good time going through Ross and Larkspur and, as a result, so did I. We hit the Corte Madera hill and poor Charles started to slow down. I was feeling pretty good (and knew I wouldn’t be able to descend as quickly as the rest of the group) so I made pretty good time going up the hill. The thought that this was the next-to-the-last hill on the ride and that it was only about 7:20 pm lit a fire under me. Over the top I went and I started the slow descent to Mill Valley. I adopted an unusual riding position so that I could see what was ahead of me while descending: I straddled the top tube and bent my legs, sitting almost upright, and kept my hands on the brake hoods. Not pretty but it kept me from hitting some potholes and potentially flatting. At the bottom of the hill, we were reunited and off we went on the bike path to Sausalito.

While on the bike path, I kept to the back of the group, while Art and I chatted a bit. He had wondered where I had gone after Guerneville, so I explained that I had a blowout and some problems fixing the tire. He had had some “issues” too (getting lost a little bit when trying to find Bohemian Highway for the climb to Occidental). Once we hit the streets of Sausalito, the group decided that they should stop and put on lights and vests, just in case it was dark by the time we made it to the final control. I was already vested and lit, so I continued on up the final hill to the bridge. It is really quite a tough little hill, especially at the end of a long ride, but my main concern was to avoid glass and to not flat. Cresting the hill, I decided that it was still light and, as a result, I should ride on the west side of the bridge. Thank goodness the gate was still open when I got there.

As I rode onto the bridge, the sun was setting, it was getting cold, the wind was howling, but it didn’t matter:  I had a stupid grin on my face. It looked like I was going to finish. A very friendly “racer boy” rode up behind me on the bridge and asked where I had ridden that day. I sort of chuckled and said that I had started at the bridge the day before and rode to Ft. Bragg and back. He was quiet for a second and then said “I don’t know where that is, but it sure sounds far away!” We both laughed at that. After we made it around the first tower, I said that he shouldn’t wait for me, since I was probably slowing him down. He said that given what I had just ridden, I was riding pretty darn fast. As he rolled off, I was alone with my thoughts, thinking about the things I had seen and done, the adversity I had overcome, and the great people I had met along the way. This reverie was broken when I just about got blown off my bike while riding around the south tower of the bridge. OK, Bill…keep your mind on the business at hand. This is no place to have an accident.

I managed to get “lost” after leaving the bridge and ended up in an area where there was no path to the parking lot, where I saw Jason and the other volunteers. So, off the bike, carry the bike down the stairs, and roll into the finish. Congratulations, signing the brevet card, and a container of chocolate milk brought the ride to a close.

What did I learn (or re-learn) on this ride?

1.  Riding all night is possible but would be more pleasant with company.
2.  Don’t count on weather…it will only break your heart.
3.  Peanut butter, honey, and raisin sandwiches taste good at any time of the day or night.
4.  Be slow and steady when repairing tires and remember the old adage “Why is there always time to do it right the second time?”
5.  Safeway can be fun no matter what time of day it is.
6.  Riding with nice people sure makes the miles go by quickly.
7.  Don’t ignore it when your cycle computer beeps at you…it does mean something (most likely that it is turning itself off after 24 hours).
8.  Sticking with it overcomes a lot.
9.  Don’t screw around too long at controls or you may pay the price later in the ride.

Statistics:

Distance: 372 miles (estimate…my computer turned off right after the Mendocino-Sonoma County line after 24 hours and I didn’t realize it until I was rolling into Healdsburg)
Riding time: 28:40 hours (also an estimate)
Overall time: 38:05 hours (measured by an atomic clock at the finish control)
Average rolling speed: 12.6 mph (an estimate)
3 tire removals
1 tire boot (set three different times)
11 quarts of Fruit Punch Gatorade
4 PB, H & R sandwiches
2 Hammer flasks of Powergel
A great lemon bar for a worthy cause
Too many cookies, M&Ms, and corn chips to count

Respectfully submitted,

Bill Monsen
RUSA # 6009

Advertisements

11 responses to ““I don’t know where that is, but it sure sounds far away!” or “Randonneurs 52, Mountain Lions 0”

  1. Sterling Hada

    Bill,

    What a great write-up. Congratulations on your first 600km brevet! And a really tough one at that! I enjoyed following you as you struggled and persevered through the long and often lonely miles of this ride. Sorry I wasn’t at the Finish Control to wish you well in person. I left at 5:30, just a bit before you arrived. Looking forward to seeing you on future brevets.

    Sterling

    • Sterling,

      Thanks for the kind words. It was a toughie but was really worth it. I had never been north of Cloverdale on a bicycle, so this was some new territory. Hope to see you out there.

      Bill

  2. great story and congrats on a great accomplishment!

  3. Wow! It’s a good thing you warmed up with King Ridge and the Geysers back in April.
    It sounds like you had a good time, but remind me that I am not interested in PBP or anything else over 200 miles.

    • The King Ridge and Geysers rides were just great. No climbs like that on the brevet (thank goodness!). Overall, it was a really good time and I am very glad that I did it. Many of my friends are looking at me with more fear and loathing, not sure if I am sane or not 🙂

  4. Bill,
    I just finished reading about your ride. It was most enjoyable. It felt like reading a great adventure travelogue.

    Sandy

  5. Pingback: First Foray into the Foothills and Gold Country « California's Historical Landmarks

  6. Pingback: “What would a smart randonneur do now?” « California's Historical Landmarks

  7. Pingback: A great 200k but a sad day | California's Historical Landmarks

  8. Pingback: “No Country for Old Men” or “A Curmudgeon’s Death Ride” | California's Historical Landmarks

  9. Thanks for this writeup. Like you, I’m about to move from doubles to brevets and was looking for some detailed recaps to see what I’m getting into.. much appreciated!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s