Category Archives: Brevets

Presentation about my exploits at the 2011 edition of Paris-Brest-Paris

After a very long hiatus, it is time to start posting again.

Much of my bicycle riding in 2011 was directed toward participating in Paris-Brest-Paris from August 21-25, 2011. PBP is a 1,200 km randonee in France. Riders get up to 90 hours to complete this timed event. For those that use miles instead of kilometers, that is about 750 miles in 90 hours. Another way to look at it is that you only have to average about 8.3 miles per hour to complete the event within the 90 hour time limit. Of course, if you ride at 8.3 miles per hour, you don’t get to sleep for 90 hours. What could be simpler?

Here is a link to a PowerPoint presentation that I gave to a bunch of my friends in early December 2011. They politely sat through the whole thing and only a few dozed off:

Paris, Brest et retour 2011-12-13

Note that the download is a VERY large file, so it will take a while before you see anything happening. You will need MS-PowerPoint to view the presentation (which is a .pps file, for those that care). Also, note that there are some links and embedded video in the presentation. To activate the videos, you may need to hold your pointer over the video and then click the arrow that appears.

Rob Hawks (the Regional Brevet Administrator for San Francisco Randonneurs) originally pulled together a presentation that formed the basis for this presentation. Rob appears in a number of photos. Rob and I gave a longer version of this presentation to the Grizzly Peak Cyclists in November 2011.

My first brevet

January 24, 2010. 5:00 am. Getting ready for my first brevet. If you want to see the photos and skip the text, click here or watch the slideshow below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was supposed to ride my first brevet today, from the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge to the lighthouse on Point Reyes, then to Marshall, and then back to the Golden Gate Bridge. I have never done one of the mysterious events, which seem to have lots of rules for participation. It is pouring rain.

The rain in Richmond was not promising. I had my “normal” bike prepped for the ride (based on the NWS info from two days before). When I heard the rain, it was time to decide whether I wanted to get my normal ride soaked or to ride my “rain” bike. After a bit of mental back and fourth, I opted for the rain bike. Upside: fenders. Downsides: heavier, not a very good seat, double chainring, and I had to transfer stuff from one bike to the other. This put me a little behind schedule. (Since I had never ridden a brevet before, the whole starting protocol seemed a little daunting, so I wanted to have plenty of time to get things right).

Driving westbound on I-80 toward the start in San Francisco, I got stuck behind a pretty big accident at Golden Gate Fields. Another delay. Still raining. Were the powers-to-be trying to tell me something?

When I finally got across the Bay Bridge, through SF, and to the official parking lot near the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge,  it was nearly full: I got one of the last few spots. Yanked out the bike, the Camelbak with all of my spare clothes, and headed to the starting point. No rain! There were a ton of folks standing around, with Coordinator Rob giving out last-minute instructions. I found the sign-up sheet, got the card, and felt a little more under control. I immediately noticed that my rain gear was nowhere near as elaborate as most of the other riders about to start the brevet (I had a a non-breathable Performance-brand yellow rain jacket with a velcro “zipper” and a vintage ONCE bicycle cap).

Suddenly, it was time to go. I usually don’t try to ride in the rain. I don’t hate it or anything. It just seems like the rain amplifies certain riding-related risks. However, if caught out in the rain, I don’t dive for cover, either. Since the weather speculators were saying that it would be scattered showers, I could live with that risk, so off I went, trailing a long string of riders crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the sidewalk on the east side (normally, riders stay on the west side but at this hour, there were no pedestrians, so almost everyone used the east side).

I have lived in the SF Bay Area for almost my whole life. I have been a road rider since 1994. However, in all that time, I had never ridden from the Golden Gate Bridge through the little towns in southern Marin County and continued on to Point Reyes. Today would be a first.

After crossing the bridge and descending into Sausalito, I hooked onto the back of a group and soon we were on the bicycle path heading toward Mill Valley. The group was quite diligent about stopping at traffic signals (yes!), so after a little waiting, we got off of the bike path and started the climb up Camino Alto. At this point, the group broke up, with me falling off the back, struggling a bit with my lack of gears. Once over the top, it was a slow descent into Larkspur, given that the road surface was quite wet. At the bottom, I caught on with another group and hung with them through the twists and turns through Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo, and Fairfax, finally popping out onto Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

As we rode through these sleeping little towns, there was lots of talk about the vigorous enforcement of traffic laws, especially when (1) it was early in the morning, (2) there was almost no traffic, and (3) bicycles were involved. Everyone was still on their best behavior, stopping (or at least slowing down significantly) as we hit traffic signs/lights.

After climbing and descending the hill outside of Fairfax, it started to drizzle, which quickly progressed into full-on rain. I would now see how my cobbled-together rain gear would perform. Pulling on my jacket and cap, I continued past the turn to Nicasio, toward the coast on Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

I had never ridden on Sir Francis Drake through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. I had heard the horror stories about the road surface and was pretty sure that I would opt for the bike path that Rob had discussed at the pre-ride briefing. The surface seemed fine to me, at least until I got past a little market on the north side of the road, where some randonneurs had stopped for a snack, some warm beverage, and a little respite from the rain. As I made the left-hand bend, the road surface changed from smooth to a pot-holed nightmare. Given the rain, I was not riding very fast but the holes in the road slowed me down even more. After hitting my fourth or fifth deep hole, I was CERTAIN that the bike path was in my future. The only question was: where was the thing?

After a few miles of the silliness on SFDB, I saw a rider turn left and head into Samuel P. Taylor Park. Figuring that they probably even knew what they were doing, I followed them and, after weaving around a bit, finally found a restroom, some water, and the bike path.

What a joy it was to ride on this bike path! There was some tree litter on the path but, aside from that, it was smooth and nicely graded. I understand that this bike path was an early example of converting abandoned railroad grade to a bike path. The path followed Lagunitas Creek, gradually descending through the redwoods. Given the recent rains, the creek was gushing. I could see why many ride organizers decide to ride on this bile path when coming back toward Fairfax: no cars, no pot-holes, and a chance to enjoy the scenery.

All good things come to an end, however, and the bike path ended at Platform Bridge Road. After a little maneuvering, I got onto SFDB again and headed over the hill to Olema. Another first for me. The climb wasn’t as hard as I had anticipated and the descent into Olema was a blast.

Since this was my first attempt at a brevet, I really didn’t have a great plan for eating or drinking. I had filled my bottles in Samuel P. Taylor. However, I couldn’t think of what kinds of resources would be available on the road to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse (which was the second  controle of the ride). So, when I passed the Pt. Reyes ranger station, I stopped with J.T. and a couple of other riders to try to find water for the next leg. In retrospect, this stop was probably unnecessary, since there are a couple of markets in Inverness. However, between the rain, the lack of sleep, and the newness of the experience, I wasn’t thinking so clearly.

After topping off my bottles and shedding my rain jacket at the ranger station, we headed off toward the next controle. The previous summer, Gail and I had ridden from Terra Linda out to a beach on the northern side of Point Reyes (our destination today was at the southern tip of Point Reyes) so I knew that there would be a fun section of flat roadway along the western edge of Tomales Bay, followed by a real hump of a climb over Inverness Ridge. After that, the route would be all new to me.

The climb up Inverness Ridge was tough, especially with my double chainring and lack of a real granny gear. Also, the sun had popped out, causing me to start pouring sweat as I climbed. At this point, I realized that in my haste to move equipment from one bike to the other, I didn’t have a cycle computer or heart rate monitor. Thus, I knew I was working hard as I climbed but I didn’t know just how hard.

After cresting the top of the hill, I started down the other side. About halfway down to the turnoff toward the lighthouse, I noticed a couple of riders standing on the side of the road. Pulling over, I asked if they needed a hand. One rider pointed to his wheel and grumbled something. He had ripped a spoke out of his wheel. This was NOT good, since his wheel had a relatively low spoke count. Because the spoke was ripped from the wheel, the wheel was really out of true. I took out my Topeak Alien multi-tool and tried to true the wheel as best I could.  In true randonneur form, the rider with the trashed wheel was weighing the possibility of finishing the ride (we were about 40 miles into a 125 mile ride). After a little back-and-forth with his riding buddy, he decided that it would make more sense to return to Inverness, call his spouse, and get a ride home. A good decision.

Getting back on the road, I caught up with Alfie and Lisa, who I had first met while riding the Knoxville Fall Classic staff ride in 2008 and then rode with quite a number of times in 2009 as we all earned our finisher jerseys in the California Stage Race. Alfie and Lisa ride everywhere and are really helpful and friendly. Thus, it was good to hook up with them. I peppered them with questions about  what was coming up over the next 12 miles.

I had an inkling about what was in store. I assumed that there would be great views, rolling hills (some quite steep), cows, and wind. I completely underestimated how much of each there would be. First off: the views are just great. From the top of some of the hills, you could see for miles (especially since the wind and rain had cleared the air). Unfortunately, to GET to the top of some of the rollers was really tough: some of those suckers are STEEP. It didn’t help that I had no granny gear. It also didn’t help that my shorts/knee warmers were pretty soaked (even though the sun was out and they were starting to dry) and I had a wet jacket in my jersey pocket. The road surface was just OK except for a couple of spots where there were either cattle guards or cattle crossings, which were just caked with cow shit. However, those are minor complaints. The riding was fine and we had a stoic audience of cows as we climbed and descended toward our goal, the lighthouse at the southern end of Point Reyes.

It was a long 12 miles but after one last tough climb, we were at the controle. It was well-worth it. Between the clouds, the sunshine, and the rough surf, the views to the north were breathtaking. Also, the volunteers at the controle had water and candy! I was tempted to walk over to the lighthouse but felt that I should keep moving, since I didn’t really know how my body was going to react to riding 125 miles on a bicycle that I had been using for commuting, rather than for long distance riding.

The ride back to Inverness was OK. I rode with Alfie and Lisa for a while until I went over a cattle guard and heard a horrible scraping noise. Slamming on the brakes, I realized that my rear fender was rubbing against my wheel. What was going on? After a little head scratching, I realized that I had lost a mounting band for my fender while going over the cattle guard. Walking back up the road, I found the bugger and put it back on. However, I was not confident that it would hold (ultimately, I had to tighten it up two more times on the ride). Also, after about 60 miles, I realized that my butt was really hurting. The bike I was riding had, at one time, been my main road bike. We had ridden Death Rides, the great cols of France, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. However, in 2007, this bike morphed into a commuting bike when I got my current road bike. As a result, I didn’t pay much attention to the saddle, since almost all of my rides were 10 miles or less. I knew that I was going to be paying for that lack of attention later on in the day today.

After getting over Inverness Ridge, I zipped along into Inverness, where the market was open. I was pretty hungry (a bad sign…the cardinal rules are to eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty). So, I pulled over and joined a bunch of riders, buying food and drink and just lounging about a bit.

I was kind of surprised by the generally mellow tone of most riders. They were in no particular rush to get going. They acted like they were out on a Sunday ride with some friends, not a 125 mile brevet, for god’s sake! I sort of liked this. The riders didn’t seem as driven as lots of the folks that ride double centuries. “I could get into this,” I thought to myself.

From Inverness, we headed back to Highway 1, where we turned north, rode through Pt. Reyes Station, and then continued on to Marshall. This section of road can be fun, it can be tough, but it is always pretty, since it hugs Tomales Bay with views across the water to Inverness and the ridge. I was feeling OK but started to see riders returning from Marshall not long after I left Pt. Reyes Station, so I knew that I was nowhere near the front of the pack. Nevertheless, I felt like I made pretty good time up Highway 1.

It was good to finally roll into the third contole at the Marshall Store. It had rained off and on from Pt. Reyes Station but not enough to warrant putting on a jacket, so getting inside was going to be nice. Also, people had been talking up the clam chowder at the Marshall Store as something not to be missed.

The store was full of riders. The woman working the cash register knew the drill: take the cash and card from the sweaty rider, sign and stamp the brevet card, give the rider their change, and move onto the next person in line. She was very friendly and tolerant of the stinky riders filling up the place. I got chowder and water. Both were excellent. Some randonneurs opted for beer. I didn’t have the nerve to try that but it sure looked like they were enjoying it.

After a long stop (where I got a chance to get off of my bike seat and onto a chair), it was time to go. There were about 42 miles left and they wouldn’t get done if I didn’t get to it. The ride back toward Pt. Reyes Station was quick and uneventful, which allowed me to enjoy the scenery along the way.

We didn’t return to the start/finish the same way that we came out earlier in the day. Instead, we turned inland on Platform Bridge Road, past the Nicasio Reservoir, through Nicasio, and then ultimately hit Sir Francis Drake Blvd. With the favorable winds, the trip from Pt. Reyes Station to Nicasio just flew by. However, once we hit the climb on Nicasio Valley Road, things slowed down considerably. The climb was tougher than I recalled it being but that was probably due to the higher gearing of my bike. As I rolled into Fairfax, I was feeling pretty good, ready to zip through the little southern Marin towns and get the ride over with.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Since I didn’t have an odometer and since I was unfamiliar with the route, I got a bit lost between San Anselmo and Ross. It wasn’t like I was wandering around in the wilderness or anything; I just took a couple of wrong turns and meandered around for a bit while mentally flogging myself for not bringing an odometer.

I saw a group of riders heading toward Ross and I took a chance to follow them. Sure enough, they were randonneurs, heading for home. Even though they were behind me, it was clear that they were faster riders, so I had to pick up the pace to keep up. Once I got through Ross and into Larkspur, I knew where I was and slowed down, letting my guiding party cruise off.

There are two hills left once you get to Larkspur: the climb over Camino Alto and the climb up to the Golden Gate Bridge south of Sausalito. I was feeling the miles when climbing Camino Alto, so I took it slow and steady. There was plenty of time to finish, so there was no need to hustle. When I got on the bike path from Mill Valley to Sausalito, I noticed that the path was littered with driftwood and other stuff that had washed up on the bike path earlier in the day. Avoiding that, I rode through Sausalito, struggled up to Highway 101, rode across the Golden Gate Bridge, and was done.

What did I learn on this ride?

  • You have to think about things a LOT more on brevets than on double centuries.
  • Keeping fed and hydrated is important, especially on days where the weather changes from rainy to warm and sunny.
  • A good seat is a good thing.
  • Making last minute changes to equipment is a good way to forget something important (e.g., a cycle computer).
  • Knowing the route really, really helps make the riding easier.

Ride Statistics:

Distance:  125 miles

Elapsed Time: 10:54

A great 200k but a sad day

On July 24, 2010, I rode the Santa Cruz Randonneurs’ Moss Beach 200k. This ride took me through some parts of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties that I had not seen before. It also was just a downright fun but, ultimately, was overshadowed by events of the previous day. The cue sheet for the ride is here. The ride profile is here. If you want to skip the text and just see the photos, click here or watch the slideshow below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a drive down from Richmond on the morning of the ride and a fine breakfast of pancakes from McDonald’s, I dropped my car near the end point of the ride and rode to the start of the ride (about 1.7 miles) with Joe, who was riding his first brevet. The start was at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, which is the home of the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, Santa Cruz Lighthouse, so as we headed for the start, we rode past Steamer Lane and saw a group of surfers out waiting for some tasty waves. It was good to know that there were other crazies out at that time of the morning, doing their thing.

The ride had quite a turnout, probably because the weather was supposed to be great and the course was not a killer. While checking in, I ran into Steve, who I rode with for a while on the SF Randonneurs’ Davis Night 200k. About five minutes before the start, Bill gave a short introduction to the ride, providing any last-minute details. After he had finished, it was time to roll.

The parcourse is very straightforward: head north from Santa Cruz on Highway 1 along the coast, turn inland at Gazos Creek and then ride along Stage Road to avoid a nasty stretch of road from south of Pescadero to north of San Gregorio, and then return to Highway 1, where we would continue north to Moss Beach, turn around, and head back to Santa Cruz (with a little detour to La Honda and a nice ride on Pescadero Road to the outskirts of Pescadero, followed by a quick run down Cloverdale Road and Gazos Creek Road, which returned us to Highway 1).

As we rolled out of Santa Cruz, there was the normal sorting out as riders figured out who was going at their pace. Even though this wasn’t going to be a brute of a ride, it still seemed prudent to keep my pace under control at the start so that I would enjoy the last part of the ride (rather than straggling in like a whipped dog). That being said, I knew that there might be a headwind on the northward leg from San Gregorio to Moss Beach, so getting in (and staying with a group) would make life easier in the long run, too.

Heading north toward the first controle at Pescadero, a small group formed, consisting of Clyde, Kevin, Joe, Patty, and a couple of others. It was early on Saturday morning and the traffic wasn’t heavy, so it was possible to ride in not quite a single file line and chat. Joe, who was riding a very nice-looking Rivendell, told me that he had been a racer in the distant past but had recently started riding more. Kevin, who I had ridden with on the SCR 1000k, filled me in on his background as a jeweler and business owner in San Luis Obispo. Since Gail had worked at Fisher’s Custom Design Jewelry for about 20 years as a designer and sales person, he and I had a fine time talking about the joys of retail and custom jewelry sales.

Before I knew it, we rode into Pescadero. And we all know what that means, right? ARCANGLI GROCERY COMPANY!!! I grabbed two pastries out of the case, a bottle of Fruit Punch Gatorade, and went outside to chow. However, my compatriots had a different idea: they were planning to ride and eat at the same time. I wasn’t ready to go, so they rode off up Stage Road, while I sat down with Don and enjoyed my cheese pocket, which is an amazing combination of a cheese danish and a croissant. Oh my! Did I ever enjoy it.

After the first pastry was history, I was eying the second but started to feel like if I sit for too much longer, I would start to tighten up. So, I tucked my cinnamon roll into my bag and headed north on Stage Road toward San Gregorio.

On the SCR 1000k, we had ridden south on Stage Road, so this was my first time going north. The first bit is kind of flat and I could see small groups of riders up ahead on the flats or on the hill. However, as you hit the end of the valley, the road turns hard left and starts to climb over the first ridge. Not a tough climb at all but it was definitely the first true “climb” of the day. It felt good to get out of the saddle to stretch my legs while climbing. After cresting the first hill, I started to wind down the other side. Stage Road really twists and turn at this point. In fact, as I started up the next hill, I caught a glimpse of a road over my left shoulder that appeared to be heading off toward the ocean. Stopping for a second, I got off the bike and wondered if I had missed a turn. It seemed unlikely but I didn’t want to end up lost in the Santa Cruz mountains. As I looked back down the road, it became clear that the road “heading off to the ocean” was in fact the road I had just ridden! At that point, feeling totally turned around, I just got back on the bike and kept heading up the hill. Perhaps getting up so early to drive to Santa Cruz was having some effect on my perception. I hoped not…

After reaching San Gregorio, I caught up with Kevin. From that point to the next controle, he and I either rode together (or I could see him ahead of me up the road) all the way to Moss Beach. I had to make a couple of unplanned stops along the way (such as taking a picture of a hay bale maze on Highway 1), so he would keep riding and I would do my business and then work to catch up. The wind was blowing but not too badly, so riding alone was not a problem. Also, since the traffic was getting heavier, it was almost easier to ride alone, since I didn’t have to worry about touching wheels with another rider.

After arriving at Moss Beach, which was controle #2, I purchased my Gatorade in the Coastside Market, put my receipt into my baggie, and headed back out onto Highway 1. Before I did, I took out my other pastry, deciding that the tailwind would make it easy to eat while riding. Kevin, Clyde, and Pat had left before me, so I just started to cruise on my own with a nice tailwind toward Half Moon Bay. Along the way, I rode a bit with Joel, who is a member of the San Francisco Randonneurs. We compared notes on ride preparation strategies, with Joel being a “physical list” person and me being a “mental list” person. I could see the attraction of having physical lists (grab the items on the list and then and cross them off). I will have to put that goal on a list!

Because of the tailwind, the ride south to San Gregorio was a quick one. I linked up with Kevin for a bit as we climbed the big roller away from Tunitas Creek. Once over the top, it is a quick zip down into San Gregorio via Stage Road. In town, it was time to strip down, since the fog had lifted and we were turning east on Highway 84 and heading toward La Honda. Having never ridden Highway 84 in this direction, I couldn’t remember how much climbing this involved or how much the wind from the ocean would help, so shedding some clothes at this point would save me from a potential stop along the road.

When Kevin rolled into San Gregorio, he offered to take my picture. As he was framing the shot, he said that I should stand next to the cute woman that was fussing with her bicycle next to me. When she heard this, her head whipped around and she immediately walked away. I can’t say that I can blame her.

The road from San Gregorio to La Honda is a mixed bag. The “plus” side of the ledger: The grade is easy, the wind normally helps push you along, the scenery is nice, and there is food in La Honda. There “minus” side of the ledger was not as long but was still important: There is a good amount of fast traffic and there are some really aggressive moto riders. As a result, I tried to get up to La Honda as quickly as possible, which meant that I didn’t stop to check out the rodeo at Driscoll Ranch.

La Honda is a wide spot on Highway 84. There are a couple of bars, a gas station, and some kind of camping/lodge. Our controle was at the La Honda Country Market, which had a large banner proudly announcing that it was under new, local management! The sandwiches in the case looked good but I wasn’t that hungry, so I just had a couple of cookies, which were just great!

The downside of using this market as a controle is that they do not have a restroom for their customers. However, the bar/restaurant across the parking lot was supposed to have one, so I strolled over. My policy regarding using a restroom at a commercial establishment is that you need to buy something in exchange for using the facilities. I didn’t want food. I also didn’t think that having a beer and a bump was a good idea, since I didn’t really know what was ahead except that there was some climbing, so I asked the barkeep for a glass of chocolate milk. She looked at me like Nick the Bartender looked at Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when he asked for hot mulled wine. However, she saw that I was riding my bicycle, so she knew that I had some loose screws. I told her that I was going to use the restroom and would be right back. Well, there was only one restroom and it seemed like there was a convention in town, so it took me about 30 minutes to get in and out. I went back into the bar, where I gulped down the chocolate milk (whole milk mixed with Hershey’s syrup…YUM!) and headed out. When I had entered the bar, there had been a throng of randonneurs at the market. No more. Once again, my snail-like pace at the stops had left me in the dust.

As I got ready to go, Lois rolled in. Since I had never ridden the next bit (Pescadero Road and Pescadero Creek Road), I asked her what was in store. “Not too steep and not too long,” she said. Sounded good to me, so off I went, back down Highway 84 until the left turn onto Pescadero Road.

What Lois didn’t tell me was that, aside from the hill, the road is just fabulous! The climb isn’t too bad (a couple of miles…not more than about 600 feet of climbing). However, you are in the redwoods while climbing, so it is shady and pleasant. Once you get to the top of the hill, the fun really starts. You have a very long gradual descent toward Pescadero, first through the redwoods and then along Pescadero Creek. What a great road! I have to admit that I got a little carried away riding down here but it was just too much fun! Can you tell that I had a great time (and made great time) heading down toward Pescadero?

The route doesn’t actually take you back through Pescadero. Instead, you turn left at Butano Cut-Off, pass Pescadero High School, and then start to retrace the route from the morning along Cloverdale Road, Gazos Creek Road, and Highway 1. I could see a group of four riders up ahead on Cloverdale Road and was feeling frisky, so I put my head down and, aided by a nice tailwind, busted to catch them. There was no need to do this, since it was clear that there was going to be a great tailwind on Highway 1 into Santa Cruz. However, when you want to go, sometimes you have to, regardless of the consequences down the road.

As I caught onto the back of the group a bit before the turn onto Gazos Creek Road, I discovered that it was the remnants of my group from the morning: Clyde, Joe, and Patty. The forth rider was Art, who I had ridden with at the end of the SFR 600k. I was a little winded when I finally caught them, so I just tucked in behind and took a little break. We turned down Gazos Creek and rolled to Highway 1, where we turned south for home.

There is just about nothing nicer than having a sunny day on the coast, a nice tailwind, and a good group to ride with. We zipped along, letting the coastal highway show off its best attributes: lovely fields, hills, creeks, and beaches. One example: at one beach, there had to be about 20 people sail-surfing. These maniacs would be tearing along on broad reach when, all of the sudden, they would hit a wave and get airborne, soaring what appeared to be 30 feet into the air before landing and continuing to sail! It was quite a sight to see.

The group held together for quite a while. South of Davenport, Art started to pull off the front. I was torn: do I stay with Clyde, Joe, and Patty or do I catch Art and work together to power to the finish? After hovering in between the two groups for a while, I decided that I was feeling strong enough, picked up the pace, and latched onto Art’s wheel. We worked together, enjoying the tailwind, and suddenly we were in Santa Cruz, where we found Bill and Lois’s house, which was the final controle of the day.

The post-ride fare was excellent: chocolate milk, soda, chips, cookies. It was nice to sit for a while and chat with Bill, who was running the controle, about how one actually gets to live in Santa Cruz, which is a great beach town (FYI, many people try to live in Santa Cruz but few succeed).

Overall, it was just a great ride but, ultimately, a sad day. The ride was a joy: a fast time (for me, anyway), excellent weather (minimal headwinds riding north and sweet headwinds on the return), and fun riding company. Unfortunately, the joy of the ride got trumped when I found out that Daniel Schorr, the great radio and television journalist, had died the previous day. The rememberances that I listened to that day (with the best, in my opinion, by Scott Simon on Weekend Edition) were moving. Gail and I made listening to Mr. Schorr’s segment at 6 or 8 am an integral part of our Saturday mornings. He was a brave, principled, hard-nosed, iconic figure in the news business and he will be missed.

Ride statistics:

  • Distance: 125 miles
  • Climbing: 5,300 feet
  • Profile:
  • Rolling time: 8:27
  • Overall time: 9:57

The cue sheet for the ride is here. The ride profile is here.

“What would a smart randonneur do now?”

Beware! This is a very long story. If you want to just look at the pictures, click here or watch the slideshow below. The cue sheet is here. The ride profile is here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This has been a year of change for me on my bicycle. I have been riding double century rides for the past 4 years and had heard about a brand of events called brevets from various riding friends and acquaintances. The San Francisco Bay area has a very active community of participants in these types of rides and I wanted to give one a try. Earlier this year, I dipped my toe in the water and tried a 200 km and 300 km brevet. Not too painful, given that they were shorter than my normal double century rides (FYI: a useful fact known by all randonneurs in the US: 1 km = 0.62 miles…thus, a 200 mile ride is about 320 km). This prompted me to try a much longer brevet: the San Francisco Randonneurs’ 600 km ride. My exploits on that brevet are described in horrible detail here. My relative success on the 600 km brevet (i.e., I survived and finished in less than the maximum time limit of 40 hours with all body parts still attached), prompted me to consider riding the next longer brevet: 1,000 km.

How does one decide to ride 1,000 km, that is, one million meters, on a bicycle in one fell swoop? My approach was to poll several knowledgeable people who had either completed such a ride or had attempted one and lived to talk about it. The statistician would say that this is a very biased sample but these folks knew me, had a fair sense of my capabilities on the bicycle, and would (hopefully) give me some frank feedback about trying such an event. Not surprisingly (given that misery loves company), all were very supportive of the idea of me taking a shot at a 1,000 km brevet. In addition, the Santa Cruz Randonneurs were sponsoring their first-ever 1,000 km brevet and the course looked just spectacular. That was about all that I needed…I was in! June 24-27, 2010, was when this adventure would occur.

When thinking about riding a really long ride like this, there are a number of reasonable questions that come to mind. Let’s answer some of those right here and now:

  1. While some randonneurs or randonneuses might ride 1,000 km without sleep, that was out of the question for me. Based on my experience with the SF Randonneurs’ 600 km brevet, I knew that I would never survive without sleep. Fortunately, the thoughtful folks from the Santa Cruz Randonneurs that organized this brevet, Bill Bryant and Lois Springsteen, designed the course so that there were cities with motels at logical stopping points in the ride. So, while I might not get to sleep much, at least there would be a place to sleep if I were to make it in time. In other words, there was little or no chance that I would have to sleep in a ditch on the side of the road. This was a good thing.
  2. One does not need to wear the same riding garb for the entire event. At two of the controles, the organizers would deliver a bag of your clothes, food, bicycle parts, and any other junk you could put into a reasonable-sized bag. Thus, you will at least smell and look clean for a small portion of the brevet. As an added bonus, you can make as many peanut butter, honey, and raisin sandwiches as you can stomach in the morning before departing on the day’s adventure (and have more in the evening when you finish!).
  3. One does not need to be a speed demon to complete such a ride. The organization that establishes the rules and regulations for these events, the Audax Club Parisien, set up time limits for rides that are longer than 600 km such that the time limits for the first 600 km are more stringent than those for later in the ride. Thus, if you make it past 600 km, you can get some sleep, eat some food, and still make the time limits at the later controles without needing to ride at racerboy speeds. This was a big psychological boost for me because I knew that the last part of the ride would by necessity be slower than the first part.
  4. One can eat on brevets. In fact, one can eat just about anything that is tastes good and agrees with your stomach on these rides, since caloric intake is a pretty critical element in trying to ride 620 miles in 75 hours or less. This point was driven home to me at one stop, where Gabe touted the caloric content of one of those individually wrapped Hostess pies, after which he gobbled it down (with a big smile on his face). Pancakes in the middle of the day? No problem. Cookies, eclairs, donuts? Tres bon!

This is not to say that I didn’t have some misgivings. Even after dealing with the basics for survival, the fact of the matter is that I was still going to have to ride a bicycle for 1,000 km (i.e., 620 miles). That is like driving from our house in Richmond, CA to Portland, OR. For those with a more East Coast view of things, it is like driving from Boston to just short of Philadelphia and back. Clean clothes, unlimited food, and a little sleep might be pretty cold comfort on such a ride, especially if your legs or other parts of your anatomy failed at inopportune times. Nonetheless, even with the misgivings, I sent in my money and got registered.

Some vital statistics about the brevet itself:

  • 620 miles.
  • About 30,000 feet of climbing.
  • A one-way course (i.e., the ride ended at a place that was different than where it started).
  • 75 hours to get done, starting at 5: 30 am on 6/24 and ending on or before 8:30 am on 6/27.
  • 17 controles.
  • 7 counties (not counting the return trip to one county).
  • 47 riders.
  • 2 amazing organizers.
  • 12 volunteers.

The start of the brevet was approaching and there were certain logistical decisions that had to be made. Where to stay? How to get to the start? How to get back after the brevet? What to bring in my drop bag?

The sleeping spots, as discussed above, were easy calls. I would definitely stay in San Jose the night before the ride (so that I would be “fresh” for the 5:30 am grand depart). The controles established by Bill and Lois defined the other logical motels, so I reserved rooms at the Courtesy Inn in King City for the end of the first day and the Best Western Royal Oak in San Luis Obispo for the final two nights (since Day 3 was a big loop that returned to San Luis Obispo). I even set up a room sharing arrangement with Bob, a randonneur from the Denver area, which kept costs down for both him and me. Check one item off the list. (For those that care about such things, my motel in San Luis Obispo was located almost literally in the shadow of the world-famous Madonna Inn.)

Transportation seemed pretty easy until some unexpected options started to crop up. For quite a while, I expected to drive to the start in San Jose, leave my car there for the duration, and have Gail pick me up in San Luis Obispo. Simple, direct, minimal planning, muss and fuss for me. However, Rob, Bruce, Jack, and other members of the San Francisco Randonneurs (and Grizzly Peak Cyclists) had a different and much more exotic plan: take the Capitol Corridor train to San Jose, ride the brevet, and ride the famous Coast Starlight train back from San Luis Obispo to the Bay Area. When Gail and I found out that Ricki, our friend in San Luis Obispo, was going to be out-of-town, it became clear that the best plan overall was to take the train. Transportation issues resolved (with a mini-adventure thrown in there, since I had never ridden the Coast Starlight or the Capitol Corridor to San Jose).

Finally, the drop bag. Since I was taking the train to the start, I would either have to snag a ride to the train station (in the middle of the day…not likely) and get a ride from the San Jose train station to the Holiday Inn in San Jose (a hassle with a bicycle) or I would need to be able to carry my drop bag with me while riding my bicycle. This limited the amount of stuff I could bring along. However, as noted above, I wanted to have 3 full sets of riding clothes as well as some food for the ride. Thus, I jammed my stuff into my REI bag (which converts from a backpack to a carried piece of luggage). I am not positive, but based on my quick perusal of the drop bags that were loaded in the truck carrying the drop bags, I may have won the award for largest and heaviest piece of luggage. Quite an honor…but that is getting ahead of the story.

Naturally, work was hectic leading up to the ride. As a result, I didn’t manage to get stuff prepared as early as I had hoped. I took the day off on the Wednesday before the ride to finish packing, prep the bicycle, and fret about what I was about to do. At about 1 pm, it was time to ride to the train station in Richmond to catch the Capitol Corridor. Avery offered to drive me to the train station but I knew that that would only postpone the inevitable, so I strapped on the backpack and slipped into traffic.

The short ride to the train station was relatively uneventful until I got within 3 blocks of my destination, when a driver in a parked car tossed open his door and I had to swerve to avoid getting “doored.” Normally, this is not a big deal but with tens of kilograms of junk in a sack on your back, the bicycle doesn’t respond as quickly as normal. As a result, I just barely missed the door. For the rest of the ride to the station, I decided that “taking the lane” was the best strategy, even in downtown Richmond. The drivers could just go around.

The train arrived on time and I hopped on with my stuff. What a civilized way to travel! I rolled my bicycle into a bike rack on the lower level of a car, lugged my bag up the stair, and sat back and watched the scenery. This was the first time I had taken the train south from Richmond. Rolling through the towns of my youth (San Leandro, Hayward, Union City, Fremont) on a train gave me a different perspective on these places, allowing me to see the once-critical role that rail played in the development of the industrial/heavy commercial parts of these towns. It was just plain cool to ride through Niles (a district of Fremont), seeing the tracks that head up Niles Canyon to the Tri-Valley, and then rumbling through Centerville and other districts of Fremont on relatively narrow rights-of-way that were squeezed in between tracts of houses.

In Emeryville, Rob and Bruce got on the same car and we shared a table on the ride down to San Jose. These guys had ridden many, MANY brevets (in fact, Rob is the Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) for the San Francisco Randonneurs). We chatted about the upcoming adventure, about our “goals” for the ride, and the route for the ride (my only stated goal was to finish…they had many other more complex and interesting objectives). We all agreed that if the weather cooperated, this would be a fantastic parcourse.

After we arrived in San Jose, we rode together to the Holiday Inn. As we arrived, we saw Kitty and other riders arriving. We checked in, went to our respective rooms, and I started the pre-ride fussing that I guess all riders go through. Once I was done getting food ready, clothes arranged, lights mounted and checked, sartorial choices made, clothes arranged and rearranged, and a whole bunch of general messing around, I laid down and turned on the TV. What was on? The World Cup match between the US and Algeria! I celebrated Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal in the quiet of my room. Soon, it was time to eat dinner.

Rob had arranged a dinner at a nearby restaurant for as many riders and friends as wanted to show up. This was a great way to see old friends, meet people who would be riding, and generally BS a bit about riding and other adventures. I sat at a table with a very nice couple from Cayucos, one of whom was going to be riding (and had ridden Paris-Brest-Paris, the big kahuna of brevets, 3 times) and a fellow who had ridden PBP on a RENTED bicycle (because his bicycle had disappeared on the flight from the US). I was feeling pretty out of my league. However, folks were generally friendly and interesting.

After a fitful night of sleep, it was time. Strapping my huge backpack on my back, I walked my bicycle out of the hotel and to the drop truck, where a number of riders had already gathered. There were flashes going off as people documented the start of the ride. General nervous chatter abounded.

Finally, Bill stood up and gave us the pre-ride talk about the special features of the ride. There would be “information” controles, where the randonneur would have to answer a question printed in the brevet card that related to the controle (e.g., Who is the restaurant in Skylonda named after?). It wasn’t supposed to be a test so much as a way to make sure that the rider actually passed through the controle. There was one controle at Gaviota Pass and Bill noted that he didn’t think that there was a sign denoting that the place was, in fact, Gaviota Pass. After the talk, we trooped over to the starting line and, at the stroke of 0530 (brevets only use military time notation), off we went. Next stop: King City (in 227 miles!).

The group held together really well for about 20 miles, even though there were a bunch of riders that I knew were much faster than me. I kept saying to myself: “Not too fast…not too fast…you have 3 days of this…Bruce said that you should start off somewhat slower than a double century…uh-oh…they are getting away…gotta catch up!” We rode west and north from San Jose, through Palo Alto and into the coastal range to the famous Old La Honda Road. According to Meg, this is the proving ground for riders in the Palo Alto: you ride Old La Honda and compare your time to your buddies for bragging rights. This was supposed to be the highest climb of the brevet and, as a result, I decided to take my advice and SLOW DOWN!

Dropping into my lowest gear, I started the climb behind Kitty, who is about the friendliest person I have ever met on a ride. She is funny, has interesting stories, and has a huge amount of experience on ultra-distance rides. We rode together to the top, along with Susan from Phoenix. These would be a couple of my riding partners at different times over the next 3 days. At the top of Old La Honda, we turned north on Skyline and headed toward Skylonda, which was the second controle (the first was the start). For those that don’t know, the restaurant at Skylonda is named after Alice (which started the song “Alice’s Restaurant” spinning through my head for the next 40 miles or so!). I forgot to take a photo because I had pledged to myself that I wouldn’t dawdle at controles. From there, we headed down Highway 84 to the coast with almost no traffic, a little bit of headwind and a LOT of downhill. What a fun descent, especially at 8 am on a Thursday morning!

As we got closer to the coast, the weather turned a little ugly. It had been clear and cool on the east side of the Coastal Range. Being a native of the SF Bay Area, I should have known that the fog and the wind would be laying in wait for us. They were. Once we hit the coast, the fog had turned into drizzle and the wind was blowing pretty good out of the northwest. I wasn’t too concerned about the wind, since we were going to be turning back to the south after about 20 miles or so and the headwind would suddenly become a not-so-gentle hand, pushing us south. The rain was a different thing: I didn’t have a jacket with me, only a vest and arm warmers, so if it rained for a few hours, I was going to get pretty wet.

On Highway 1, heading toward Moss Beach (controle #3), I tucked in behind Nicole and Jim. They are both very strong riders and I was not shy about sucking wheels in the headwind. Nicole and I talked about riding in the Bay Area (she had recently moved to Ventura) and various other subjects. She is also a woman of action and had tried to organize a breakfast at the hotel before the ride (Thanks for trying, Nicole!).I eventually took a turn at the front, but it was clear that I was going to slow the group down, so I helped the group go faster by keeping out of the way and not riding at the front.

We rolled into Moss Beach and got ready to make a right turn into the Coastside Market. The traffic on Highway 1 had steadily increased and I saw a bunch of riders taking their lives into their own hands, trying to make a left turn out of the market to head south on Highway 1 as traffic was whizzing past in both directions. We went into the market, where we had to get a receipt to prove that we made it to the northernmost part of the ride. I had planned to make this a quick stop but after I got in the store, I realized that I was kind of muddle-headed, which made it hard for me to (1) find Gatorade, (2) get checked out, and (3) find the toilet. As a result, the stop lasted longer than it should have and when I got back outside, Jim and Nicole were rolling out of the parking lot. “That is probably the last time I will see them,” I thought to myself. That was OK, though, since we now had a great tailwind and my wide profile would act as a sail while riding down Highway 1 toward the next controle in Pescadero.

That wind was a marvel! I thought back to when Gail and I rode down the coast on our tandem. It seemed like it took forever to get from Moss Beach to Half Moon Bay. Today, I was to and through Half Moon Bay in nothing flat. Just south of town, I saw a bunch of emergency vehicles on the side of the road and a Highway Patrol officer putting a bicycle in the trunk of his cruiser. This didn’t look good, especially after the Devil Mountain Double, where Tom Milton had died on the backside of Mt. Hamilton. Later, I learned that Louise had touched a wheel, fallen, and had abandoned. That was much better news than the many alternatives I considered while riding down Highway 1.

By the time I was ready to turn onto Stage Road for the “back road” to Pescadero, Lothar and I started to ride together for a bit. Neither of us had ridden this section of road before (Lothar is from the East Coast and I am from the East Bay). Thus, when we hit San Gregorio and the cue sheet said to continue straight, we both kind of gulped and pushed ahead.

Stage Road is just GREAT! Almost no traffic, great hills, and wonderful views are a part of the whole package. However, not knowing the road and not being exactly sure what was around the next bend, as well as being a little hungry and starting to realize that I had ridden a bit faster than I should have, meant that I was watching my odometer and counting the tenths-of-miles to Pescadero. I was sure glad when we got there.

Pescadero (site of controle #4) is a cute town about a mile inland from Pescadero Beach, the site of many adventures in my mis-spent youth. Norm’s Market/Arcangeli Bakery is the real reason enough to stop in Pescadero. I knew that this was going to be a good spot when I saw several riders sitting outside the store, smacking their lips and smiling contentedly. I wasn’t too hungry yet (I had gulped down a PBH&R sandwich as I was heading out of Moss Beach) but I knew that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity, so I grabbed what was labeled as an “apple fritter” and sat down next to the others. Oh my goodness! This somewhat crusty, soft, sweet, and generally fantastic pastry bore no resemblance to the “apple fritters” that I have consumed at too many donut shops over the years. I was about to go back inside and get another when it hit me that if I had another, I might be sitting there for an hour in a sugar/fruit/dough stupor. Snap out of it! Get back on the bike! Sadly, I left Pescadero, vowing that I would be back again, perhaps to have the famous artichoke soup.

I hadn’t studied the cue sheet too carefully before the ride and, as a result, I was surprised to find that we didn’t head back to the coast and roll down Highway 1. Instead, Bill and Lois routed us down Cloverdale Road, which is where Butano State Park is located. Many years ago, Gail and Joan had taken their Girl Scout Troop (Troop 503!) to Butano for an overnight adventure. As I rode past the entrance, I had to laugh as I thought about those city gals out roughing it in the redwoods with 8 sassy 4th graders. My trip down memory lane was broken when Kitty and Susan pulled up behind me. We rode through green fields, down Gazos Creek, and hit Highway 1, where we turned south toward Davenport and Santa Cruz., (aka Surf City).

More often than not, I ride alone. Thus, riding with Kitty and Susan was a nice change. Kitty told me a great story about getting stuck behind a cattle drive on Morgan Territory Road. Susan, who lives in AZ, told me about how riders train in the summer (up at 4:30 and back by 9). We speculated about the potentially warm weather in store by the Pinnacles and about how she would find it cool and I would find it hot. We rode together more or less all the way to Santa Cruz, with the winds out of the northwest stiffening and blowing us along at a very good clip. As we approached Santa Cruz, I saw the flip-side of our good luck with the wind: three riders with fully-loaded touring bikes were riding north on Highway 1. If I hadn’t seen their cranks turning, I would have sworn that they were standing still because of the wind. “Poor blighters,” I muttered under my breath, not realizing that the headwind would be my fate in the not-too-distant future.

As we entered Santa Cruz, Kitty started to show us tricks about how to strip off clothes at stop lights, where to stash arm warmers without stuffing them in your jersey pockets, and how to avoid dawdling with the mundane aspects of clothes changing and such. She was a wonder, ripping off clothes, rolling down knee warmers, tying off arm warmers, and generally getting changed while waiting for stop lights. I sure couldn’t do that, which is why I was always the last one to get moving at stops.

After getting water and some snacks in Santa Cruz, we navigated across town and headed south on Soquel Blvd. After a number of miles, we were going to turn east and head through the Coastal Range again, with the next waypoint being Hollister, after we skirted around Watsonville. Somewhere between Soquel and Hollister, controle #5 was lurking. As we were heading toward the controle, I started to feel the effects of riding a little too quickly up to Skylonda and down the coast, as well as not eating enough. When we hit the controle, my head was swimming and I knew that I had to take a break. As Kitty, Susan, Jim, Nicole, and a couple of others got ready to go, I told them to go on without me. I needed to just chill out a bit.

Standing at that remote intersection, staring at the cue sheet, a little bit of self-doubt started to creep into my head. We were at mile 137. The hotel was at mile 227. Even in my weakened state, I could still do the math: I still had 90 miles to go before sleeping. It was about 3 pm. I had overcooked on the fun segments coming down the coast. I had no idea where I was, what was in store ahead of me, or when I might get to sleep. As these thoughts flashed through my head, a large group of riders pulled up to the controle. They were chatting animatedly, laughing, and having a pretty darn good time. I realized that Willy, Todd, and Gabe members of this clan. I had ridden the SF Randonneurs’ Davis Night 200 km brevet a couple of weeks before and these riders had finished at least an hour ahead of me. Now I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had been riding WAY TOO FAST and that if I didn’t slow down, I was going to be toast (and possibly mountain lion chow) out on Airport Highway.

As the group got ready to go, I told one of the riders that I was going to wait a few minutes. He gave me a puzzled look, asked if I was OK, and then headed off (after I assured him that I would be fine). Let’s just say that I wasn’t feeling fine at that moment.

Sanding there, I realized a pretty simple fact: every minute that I delayed at that corner was one minute less that I was going to be able to sleep at King City, since I had pretty much made up my mind that I needed to leave the motel at about 5 am. In equation form, the relationship is:

Sleeping Time in King City = Hours until 5 am – riding time – screwing around time.

Since I knew I was going to have to ride slower (if for no other reason than for self-preservation), I was going to have to reduce the “screwing around time” in the equation to maximize my sleeping time in King City. Enough standing around. It was time to go.

I don’t have much recollection of the next section of the ride. There was a creek (babbling, unless that was me talking to myself). There were some redwood trees. There was some climbing. There was some fields. I was running out of Gatorade and needed a market and a restroom. After riding on farm roads for a bit, I hit the Highway 152, which had the requisite facilities, where I added to the screwing-around time part of the equation a bit. After a bunch more farm roads and one left turn across a really fast four lane highway, I arrived in Aromas, which is something called a census-designated place that has the border between Monterey and San Benito counties running through the heart of the town.

When I rolled into town, I didn’t really need water or food but felt like I should might want to relax a bit, because the next instruction on the cue sheet said “Get ready to climb.” At the market in the center of town, who did I see but Willy, Gabe, and several of the riders that I had seen at the last controle. Willy appeared to be fixing a flat and the others seemed like they were waiting for him. After a couple of minutes, I remembered my previously derived equation for sleeping time and I pushed on into the hills of San Benito County.

This area was all new to me (as would be the next 150 miles or so). After I left Aromas, climbed up Carr Road, and got into the country outside of Aromas, I came across the strangest looking industrial facility I had ever seen: it looked like a huge conveyor system of some variety that passed under Anzar Road. Suddenly, it hit me: this was the Graniterock conveyor system! I knew of this facility because Graniterock had called me during California’s Energy Crisis and had asked about ways to ensure reliable energy service. I am sort of embarrassed to admit this but seeing this facility really perked me up!

For the previous 20 miles or so, I had been wondering how I was going to get across US Highway 101, since the section of 101 that passes through this part of San Benito County is a nightmare: very fast, very curvy, not limited access (i.e., not a freeway) meaning that there is cross-traffic. I suspect that there are LOTS of accidents on this stretch of road. After watching the randonneurs dodging cars on Highway 1 in Moss Beach, I was hoping that there would be a more civilized way to get across the highway that had traffic going 60 mph. I shouldn’t have worried because Bill and Lois had it wired: there was a very nice downhill section from the Graniterock conveyor to an underpass under Highway 101, which then put me onto a relatively fast but wide country road, heading toward Hollister.

As I stood at the corner, three of the riders from the market in Aromas caught up with me. They rolled on down the road at a very fast clip, taking full advantage of the brisk winds out of the northwest. I was tempted but cooler heads prevailed: I rode my own pace and let them go down the road. After some zigging and zagging through the fields to the north of San Juan Bautista, I missed a turn and went too far down one road (almost to Highway 156). When I realized my mistake, I turned and headed back in the wind, only to see Willy, Gabe, and Sol making the correct turn. Given that I would soon have a tailwind (or, at worst, a cross-wind), I didn’t think that it would be imperative to catch this group. Instead, I kind of hung out behind them by about 100 yards or so for about 10 miles, until we rolled into Hollister and headed south on Highway 25, also known as “Airline Highway.”

Because I didn’t know this area at all, I was sort of nervous about getting lost in the dark on the various farm roads between Santa Cruz and Hollister (and, given my performance during the daylight hours, I was correct to be worried). Thus, I had made it a goal of mine to make it to Airline Highway before dark. Why such a goal? The route would stay on Airline Highway for another 50 miles or so, making it relatively more difficult to miss a turn (even in the dark and with diminished mental facilities). Also, I was intrigued by the name of the of the road. Were there airline facilities on the road? Was the road a means of navigating for airplanes? Who knows? Regardless, I wanted to at least see some of this strangely-named road. Using Willy, Sol, and Gabe for pacing, I made it to Airline Highway in plenty of time and even made it to Tres Pinos (the last food and water stop for 25 miles) by 7:20 pm. As I rolled in, I saw Rob, Bruce, Veronica, and a number of other riders. They were hanging out, touting the opportunities for 5 tacos for $5, and getting ready for the next section on what, from all evidence to date, appeared to be a very lonely road.

Tres Pinos was a find! The market had amazingly good food (I had a chicken salad sandwich that seemed risky at the time but was most excellent) and really low prices (the sandwich cost $3 and chocolate milk cost $0.75!). One rider got a bag of peaunts for $0.50! It seemed like this town had not heard about inflation. Even though I was willing to take a chance on the chicken salad sandwich, I didn’t opt for the “5 for $5” special on tacos. There was road up ahead that I didn’t know and I didn’t want to face it with a stomach full of roiling tacos.

Kevin rolled in a little after me and he immediately started riffing on the town, the food, and life in general. He even asked me, in a very serious voice “If you die on the next segment, can I have your bicycle?” What a funny guy!

Time to ride! Kevin left a little before me and so I rode alone to the next controle. The tailwind made the riding quite pleasant, the fading light made the fields lovely, I got to see a marker for a California Historical Landmark #324 (the New Idria Mine, which ranks among the most famous quicksilver mines in the world!), and the sunset was excellent. After night had fallen, there were lots of critters just off the road, including some raccoons, jack rabbits, and field mice. I saw either a very large fox or a fairly small coyote run across the road about 30 feet ahead of me. The temperature was cool but not cold. However, as always happens, once it got dark, everything seemed to slow down, making the last 10 miles pretty slow going, especially since (unbeknown to me) the road was slowly but surely climbing toward the high point of the brevet with a bunch of rollers thrown in for good measure.

Finally, at 9:44 pm, I saw the controle! Food! Water! Chairs! How civilized out here in the middle of the wilderness (we were to the east of the Pinnacles…it was REALLY desolate)! It looked like Kevin had been there a while. I checked in and grabbed some snacks and some water but decided that more Gatorade was not in the cards (my stomach wasn’t feeling too swell at that point). As Kevin started to get ready to go, I thought that it would be a good idea to ride with him, especially since he had ridden this area before, I had absolutely NO idea where I was and I sure didn’t want to miss a turn and end up in Bakersfield, Oildale, or some other Central Valley hot spot.

One would think that reading cue sheets (the sheets that tell you how far to ride until the next turn, the name of the road to turn on, etc.) should be pretty straightforward, especially after having ridden organized bicycle rides that use cue sheets for the last 16 years. Even though I had been staring at the cue sheet while riding toward Controle #6 on Airline Highway, I thought, for some unknown reason, that we were just about to Bitterwater Road, which was the road to King City and sleep. When I started to roll out of the controle, I stopped and asked how far to the turnoff and was told 12 miles! Talk about a kick to the gut! It was 12 miles to the turn and then another 16 to the motel in King City. Well, time to suck it up and get the miles done. I caught Kevin and then we rode together over the notorious climb up Bitterwater Road (it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it). Actually, Kevin hauled my sorry butt along for a good bit of the ride to King City, since he kept slowing down and letting me stayed with him (Thanks, Kevin!). After the summit of Bitterwater Road, the descent into King City was just about as much fun as advertised. It was a great way to end a long day in the saddle.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t as pleasant as I would have hoped. Once we started down the 15 mile long descent to King City, the fog turned into a light drizzle, which then turned into a pretty reasonable impersonation of rain. This lasted a few miles, which made me ride a little slower than I would have wished. It wasn’t that cold and I had gloves on, which made the riding OK. More ominously, we noticed that there was still a very strong crosswind out of the northwest. I noted this to Kevin, who said that the wind normally dies at about 2 am and that it would be fairly calm when it was time to head back north in a few hours (i.e., 5 am). I put the wind out of my mind, put my head down, and hung onto Kevin as we wheeled through King City and rolled into Controle #7, the Courtesy Inn, at 12:08 am. Lois and Sterling were there, signing in riders, passing out drop bags, and being generally cheerful. What a nice way to end the first day.

Prior to the ride, I had arranged to share my motel rooms with Bob from Denver. The question now was: Is Bob in the room, soundly sleeping or am I there first? The desk clerk had a little trouble with the concept of two people sharing a room but arriving at different times but once we got that straightened out, she informed me that Bob had not yet checked in. That meant I had the room to myself at least for a while. I hustled (actually, it was more of a stumble) over to the room, dumped my stuff on the bed, gulped down some food, jumped in the shower, and got prepped for the morning, thinking that it was a better idea to get my stuff ready before I went to bed, rather than having to be quiet and try to get ready in the dark after Bob arrived). This all took much longer than it should have, which meant that my head didn’t hit the pillow until 1:30 am. I was asleep by 1:30:05.

The mobile phone alarm went off at 4:00 am and I was totally disoriented. I thought that I heard someone in the next bed, so I grabbed my clothes and snuck into the bathroom to get dressed. When I came out, I noticed that there in fact wasn’t anyone in the other bed. “Where was Bob?” I wondered. He had said that he usually only slept 90 minutes, so perhaps he had slept and left while I was in the bathroom getting ready (this seemed unlikely but it was also unlikely that anyone would be up at 4 am getting ready to ride another 200 miles). Since Bob wasn’t trying to sleep, I threw on all the lights, got my Gatorade mixed up, packed my drop bag, and was about ready to head out when the door opened. Hello, Bob! We exchanged pleasantries but I knew that he wanted to get in the shower and I wanted to get rolling, so I told him I would see him in San Luis Obispo (the next motel stop), shouldered my drop bag, and headed out to give Sterling and Lois my gear, get signed out, and get on the road.

I can usually tell when I am tired by my inability to do things in the proper order. For example, when I am tired, I will have to retrace steps that I normally do without thinking because I have missed something. Like brushing my bottom molars. Or putting on a belt. Well, after I gave Sterling my drop bag, it took me about 5 minutes to figure out that I was reading the gauge on the floor pump incorrectly and that I had managed to pump my front tire up to 150 psi! I am glad that I didn’t pop the sucker! Now knowing that I was officially tired, I let a bit of air out of the tire, I said my goodbyes to Lois and Sterling and headed out of the motel parking lot.

The first thing I noticed when I got out on the road was the wind, which was supposed to have died down. Wrong: it was howling. When I hit Metz Road (which was the first long road going northwest toward Greenfield and the next controle), I realized that it was going to be a real slog for the next 60 miles (i.e., until the route turned the corner at Fort Ord in Seaside and started heading south again). I put my head down and tried to go. 8 mph…maybe 9 mph. Ugh.

The other surprising thing was that King City was hopping at 5 am. There were people on the street, cars driving around, and just a general vibrancy that I hadn’t expected. The only explanation must be that the farming community gets moving pretty early.

As I rode into the headwind, I started doing some arithmetic in my head. 60 miles divided by 8 miles per hour equals 7.5 hours of riding time to get to Fort Ord. That was without any stops! I left King City at about 5 am. The controle at Fort Ord closed at 12:46 pm, which was 7.75 hours after I left King City. This REALLY didn’t look good. I knew that the road had to cross the valley at Greenfield, which would be faster, but it generally be heading northwest, straight into the teeth of the wind. I was nervous, to say the least.

I noticed a bicyclist coming up behind me. Since it was just barely after sunrise, he still had his light on and I could see he was making pretty good time. When he pulled in behind me, I realized that it was Tom, whom I had dinner with in San Jose (Tom is the fellow that rode PBP on a rented bicycle)! How weird was that (since I also ate with Kevin, who had pulled me into King City a few hours earlier)? Tom was happy to go to the front and I was happy to suck his wheel and chat a bit. We hit the turn to Greenfield, rode through town, and set our sights on the Controle #8: the Green Bridge. As we approached the bridge, we were swept up by Rob, Bruce, Veronica, Gabe, and a couple of others. The last little rise before the bridge spit me out the back of the group and, as a result, I arrived a few seconds after the others.

Everyone was in good cheer (except for the general muttering about the wind). Time to strip off some clothes, write down the info on the brevet card, and take some pictures. I was still in my addle-headed state and it took me a little longer than the others to do the basics, so when I was finally ready to go, the group was a good quarter mile up the road. At this point, I knew that if I let this group get away from me, I would be riding in the wind alone for many miles. Thus, I got “on the rivet” and took off after the group, knowing that once I caught them, I would be able to relax a bit.

It took a really long time but I finally caught onto the back of the group. At that moment, it was as if someone had unclipped a bungee cord from the back of my bicycle. What a relief! I rode with these “lifesavers” all the way to lunch.

Not only was it easier riding in the group, but it was sort of educational as well. To wit:

  1. Rob, Bruce, and the others had all ridden in many pacelines in their time, so they had the signaling and communications down pat. Thus, I wasn’t worried about running into a storm drain when riding in the line. Also, they understood that the goal of a paceline is to keep a pretty constant pace, so we rode at a fair clip but not a killer speed.
  2. Sometimes, the wind was at an angle, so some of the riders tried on occasion to create a mini-echelon., at least as traffic allowed. This made the wind somewhat more tolerable.
  3. One thing I learned was that riders like to know when the person in front of them is about to stand up (since the rider usually changes speed). Rob and Bruce would both announce when they were going to ride out of the saddle.
  4. I had a chance to talk with Gabe about our various exploits in France. He told me about riding PBP and then taking a fully-loaded tour in the Alps immediately afterward! It made me fondly remember my time riding in the Alps and the Pyrenees in conjunction with watching the Tour de France in 2003-2005.
  5. Finally, when we stopped for food at the Buena Vista Market for some food and drink, I learned that randonneurs are pretty careful about consuming adequate calories. I normally don’t keep track of such things and, as a result, have sometimes found myself getting close to bonking on some long rides. Gabe pointed out to the group that his Hostess Chocolate Cream Pie had 570 calories. After hearing that, I went inside and grabbed one, too!

Given the fine organization of the group, we made great time to the northern end of the remnants of Fort Ord and found Controle #9 with plenty of time to spare. This was the place where we were turning toward the west and exchanging the headwinds and cultivated fields of the Salinas Valley for the tailwinds, rollers, and stupendous coastline of Big Sur. After a little discussion about where to have lunch (Ken was the local expert on food and he recommended the Safeway in Carmel), we headed off toward Highway 1 and food.

I didn’t exactly know the route that we were going to take but I did know that there would be a fair bit of climbing involved to get over the hills that make up the spine of the Monterey Peninsula and into Carmel. In September 2009, when Gail and I had ridden from Santa Cruz to Carmel-by-the-Sea, we found out first hand about these hills. However, we had hit them from the Monterey side; today, we were coming at them from the Salinas side. Gabe said something about how once we hit Olmsted Road, the climbing would start. He wasn’t kidding: it seemed like we were climbing for hours, just to get to the top of the hills. We would climb up some steep pitch and then plunge down the other side, only to hit yet another up-pitch. I knew that if I tried to stay with the group, I would blow up before lunch, so I just slammed into my lowest gear, watched my heart rate monitor, and eased up the hills, all the while humming “Nice and Easy” by Frank Sinatra. After what seemed to be a really long time (but was only about 4.5 miles), we were at the top, got on Highway 1, and screamed down into the Carmel Valley to Rio Road, Safeway, and lunch.

Safeway is a pretty good place to stop on a ride such as this. The sandwiches from the deli are OK, they have relatively clean toilets, and you can get just about anything you want to eat. The store in Carmel was great: they allowed us to bring our bicycles into the store, so that we didn’t have to lock them (or sit outside while eating). The place was pretty crowded with the lunch trade, so it took quite a while to get our food, which wasn’t such a bad thing from my perspective. The sandwiches were huge, which allowed me to stash some in my bag for later. Our group (Rob, Bruce, Veronica, Gabe, Theresa) was joined by another group of riders, so we kind of took over the sitting area at the deli, yacking and stinking up the place.

When it was time to go, I told Rob that he and the others should not wait for me on Highway 1. I remembered the rollers between Carmel and Big Sur and knew that I was fairly sure that I would need to ride at a slower pace than the rest of the group. Thus, on the first big roller heading up to Carmel Highlands and the Highlands Inn, I watched the large group of riders pull away. This was OK: I had a tailwind, a belly full of food, and was feeling pretty good. I knew that I had ridden a little faster on the leg from King City to Fort Ord than I should have, but the trade-off was worth avoiding riding alone in the wind. It was now time to consolidate, ride within myself, and click some photos.

The weather on the coast was spectacular! Clear blue skies, sunshine, a great tailwind, and warm but not hot temperatures. After a few rollers, I had to start stripping off my arm- and knee-warmers, much to the shock and dismay of the people in the vista point where I stopped (they probably had a fair gripe, given the horror of seeing my bare thighs as I rolled up my shorts to get the knee warmers off). Because it was so clear, I had to stop and take photos along the way (when Gail and I had ridden this section in 2009, it was thick fog almost all the way to Big Sur). This also gave me a chance to get off of the bike and dawdle a bit, too.

I was sort of nervous about the section from Carmel to Big Sur. When I rode it with Gail, it seemed to go on forever, with long, hard climbs interspersed with steep descents to river crossings. Today, things were different. The tailwind pushed me up the hills (which didn’t seem so big or steep) and there were not as many rollers as I recalled to get over the Bixby Bridge, to Little Sur, and to Point Sur, where the road turned away from the water and headed toward Big Sur. The roaring tailwind pushed me along at a great clip and I rolled into the Big Sur market area in no time at all, even having time to sit and chat with Veronica for a bit before she headed out.

Given the large lunch I had in Carmel, I didn’t want to eat too much in Big Sur. This was a mistake. The next 25 miles to Lucia are hard miles and I had forgotten just how hard they were.Veronica recommended the burritos from the burrito bar. I should have had one.

After an ice cream and some Gatorade, I started the climb up to the Post Ranch Inn, Ventana, and the other high-end spots at the very top of Big Sur. This climb had nearly killed Gail and me last year. It is a really steep 3 miles, with relatively fast traffic and little shade. Unlike my experience riding from Carmel to Big Sur, this climb didn’t seem significantly easier than I remembered it being. Fortunately, the flowers were blooming along the road and all over the hillside, so at least I had something to look at while struggling up the hill.

Once over the top, there was a great descent but it was not as long or as fast as I recalled. The fog was starting to come in a bit, so the temperatures were changing significantly as you went from up- to downhill. And was there ever up- and downhill on this section of road! It seemed to continuously plunge down to a creek and then kick back up the other side of the canyon wall. These rollers went on for hours (literally).

While the views were great, I was starting to drag a bit, which forced me to climb more slowly after each creek crossing. This really slowed me down and, as a result, when I stopped in Lucia at the Lucia Lodge, I saw that it had taken me over 3 hours to ride a mere 25 miles from Big Sur. Granted, in that section of road, I had climbed over 2,300 feet in about 24 miles. However, when I saw that it was almost 6:30 pm, I knew that I had to get focused on the job at hand (which was to get to Controle #10 at Ragged Point). I didn’t really want to be riding on these rollers in the dark, so I set a goal of reaching Ragged Point by 8 pm. This was going to be pretty fast riding but I kind of lied to myself and said that there were only a couple of nasty rollers along the way.

The riding was quite a bit faster between Lucia and Gorda than on the prior section. The rollers abated a bit, the tailwind kicked in, and I made pretty good time to Gorda, where I met Rich (??), who was touring from Canada to San Diego. He was incredibly friendly, had nothing but good things to say about the randonneurs he had met that day, and wanted to chat about life, politics, and the beauty of the world around us. It was about 7:00 pm and I had to get something to drink, some food, and get on the road. We chatted a bit but I finally had to shove off, wishing him well on the rest of his travels.

The rollers between Gorda and Ragged Point are not so horrible. However, they are not easy, either. It seems like each of them (and I seem to remember there being 3 big ones) involves at least 500 feet of climbing after a fast descent. It was getting cooler, which was good, and my legs were feeling better, which allowed me to make pretty good time on these last hurdles before the controle and some food. When I saw the San Luis Obispo County line, I let out a yell, knowing that it was almost all downhill to the controle. I rolled in before 8 pm, which was good since that was when the market closed.

Ragged Point was buzzing with riders. Some had been there for a while, eating and hanging out. I saw Rob, Bruce, Kitty, Susan, and a number of others. Since I had been riding well from Gorda to Ragged Point, I didn’t want to get too cold and let my legs stiffen, so I committed a foolish mistake: I didn’t eat enough and rolled out of Ragged Point toward San Simeon, Cambria, and points south, thinking that I would eat something on the bike. Darkness had fallen while I was at Ragged Point, which meant that I had to ride the great descent and gentle rollers between Ragged Point and San Simeon in the dark. This wasn’t necessarily bad, since I had good lights and there was little or no traffic. However, the wind seemed to have died down a bit after nightfall, which meant that the strong push I had expected didn’t materialize. Thus, I probably rode too fast between Ragged Point and San Simeon. Bruce and a couple of riders had just caught me as we rolled into the business district of San Simeon.

We all needed a natural break, so we tried a couple of businesses to no avail until a motel let us use their facilities. I spent too much time messing with clothes and such and, as a result, the others took off. This meant I would be riding alone to Cayucos and likely to San Luis Obispo, since I was certain I wouldn’t be able to catch (or keep up) with Bruce et al. over the rollers that were coming up.

It was a quick ride to Cambria, since the tailwind was still blowing, albeit less than earlier in the day. Riding out of Cambria and up “Nitt Witt Ridge,” I saw a couple of randonneurs ahead. It was nice to know that others were still out on the road, heading toward SLO. It also gave me something to focus on other than the asphalt I could see zipping under me. Near the southern end of the Cambria suburbs, I passed Gabe and John, who seemed to be riding fine.

The road from Cambria to Cayucos puzzled me in 2009 and it continued to puzzle me while I was riding it in the middle of the night. I had been pushed along by a tailwind all the way to Cambria. However, once I got out of town, the tailwind turned into either a headwind or a crosswind. In retrospect, when I looked at the map, it sure looks like the road is going in the same general direction (toward the southeast). However, there was a definite headwind all the way into Cayucos, which didn’t make me too terribly happy, especially since I needed water, was hungry, and was getting a little sleepy. That was a long 14 mile stretch.

When I finally hit the turn off of Highway 1 into Cayucos, I was a pretty sad sack. My stomach was hurting, I needed water, my eyes were starting to close, and I knew that there was still a good slug to get to the motel in SLO. Downtown Cayucos was deserted until I stumbled upon a group of randonneurs standing outside of a liquor store (and across the street from a club with live music and a peppy clientele). Kevin, who is a resident of Cayucos was helping people interpret the next section of the course into Morro Bay. I ran into the store, hoping to get my water, hit the toilet, grab some food, and get out in time to hook up with the group, since the route would ride on the shoulder of Highway 1 for several miles. I thought I was hustling along but evidently I got lost in the aisles of the store because when I came out, there was no sign of the group. Had I imagined it? I thought I saw Rob, Bruce, Kitty, Susan, and several others. Perhaps it was just a flashback of people I had seen over the past couple of days. As I filled my bottles, I studied the map and chatted up a fellow on a mountain bike, who was wondering what in the hell we were doing out at that time of night. After I was ready to go, he pointed me in the right direction, gave me a push, and off I went, with visions of the Morro Bay Power Plant dancing in my head.

Riding on Highway 1 from Cayucos to Morro Bay isn’t so bad, even though that section of road does its best to impersonate a freeway. The shoulder was wide, there was very little traffic, and the tailwind had reappeared. However, it was starting to mist (i.e., rain) and I was in no mood to get soaked, which meant stopping and pulling on a jacket. My eyes weren’t working too well at that point, so I had to stop a couple of times to reassure myself that I wasn’t going to miss the turn-off, since the route was different than that of the Solvang Double Century and the Adventure Cycling route that I was familiar with.It turns out that Bill and Lois’s route ultimately was MUCH better than those other routes, since it shoved you almost directly onto South Bay Road. However, given my inability to read the cue sheet (see above discussion of the end of Day 1), I didn’t notice that I had to go 0.8 miles on the frontage road before I turned onto South Bay Road. This resulted in a couple of U-turns, some head scratching, and a few choice words for my inability to read cue sheets.

I have ridden South Bay Blvd. a number of times in the past 4 years. For some reason, I can never seem to remember that there are little rollers on that road, which make it much slower than expected. Also, my legs were so trashed that I had to shift into my lowest gear to make it up the little rollers. All of this was likely the result of failing to eat enough over the past several hours, since I was nervous about stomach distress. A classic bonk.

When I hit the corner of Los Osos Valley Rd. and South Bay Blvd., I had to get off of the bike. It was 1 am. The wind was blowing a bit. The mist was swirling around the street light. I knew that I didn’t have much further to go, but there was nothing left in the tank. I dumped the bike on the side of the road and started pacing back and forth, while eating a little bit from my bag and drinking some water. Suddenly, a car whipped a wicked U-turn and stopped next to me. The driver said “You look like you need help. Can I give you a lift? It isn’t any problem.” At that, I burst out laughing, which caused the Good Samaritan to get a puzzled look on his face. After I gathered my wits, I explained that I had another 9 miles to ride to my motel and that I really, REALLY needed to ride it. He asked again if I needed a ride but I gently but firmly declined. I was feeling lousy but I knew that I could even walk the 9 miles if I had to. There was no way I was going to get into a car at that point.

After the driver pulled away, I recalled my Sleep Time equation (see Day 1 above). Standing on the side of the road wasn’t going to get me into my bed any quicker. Also, I wasn’t so far gone that I was going to sleep in the bushes. So, I picked up the bike, got on, and started pedaling. It was time to get done with this madness for the night.

Los Osos Valley Road is a trickster. Sometimes it is the most fun a person can have on a bike, especially when you have a howling tailwind. Other times (e.g., the Solvang Double in 2010), there is a HEAD WIND, which is a crummy thing, especially since there are a few little rollers that you never notice when you have a tailwind. Also, the bloody road seems to go on forever. I didn’t really know where Madonna Road (the turn toward the motel) was, but as I was riding along, I saw a set of stoplights in the distance and assumed that that was it. For the next five minutes, I had the strangest thing happen to me: every time I looked up at the stop lights, they seemed to get further away! The first couple of times it happened, I almost stopped the bike. However, the next few times, it became almost comical. Well, it was comical until I finally reached the intersection and realized that it was NOT Madonna Road. Bloody hell!

Finally, I made it to Madonna Road and was home free. Cruising the last 0.8 miles, I could almost feel the soft pillow, smooth sheets, and firm mattress in the Best Western. Why, I might even get some pancakes before retiring for the evening! When I saw the Royal Oak Best Western up the road on the left, I got tunnel vision again (like with the lights on Los Osos Valley Road). I saw a driveway cut and said “There! Go there! NOW!” With that, I whipped a left turn toward the driveway cut and ran straight into the traffic island (see photo).

I have skied for many years. When skiing, it is pretty obvious when you are going to fall. You can prep yourself and often you can even avoid the fall with some emergency maneuvers. One day, a friend convinced me to try snowboarding and I found that it was a completely different game: when snowboarding, there is no announcement that you are going to fall. Also, there is no time to react: you are DOWN! Well, I sure felt like I was snowboarding when I hit that island. As best as I can reconstruct it, the front wheel hit the island at an angle, which jammed the wheel to the right, thereby throwing me onto the island, where I landed on my left side. Needless to say, this was an unpleasant jolt back to reality. I jumped up, started cursing myself for my stupidity, and took stock. The rear wheel didn’t seem to want to spin. I didn’t see any blood gushing from anywhere. No cars were going to run me down. Thinking that it was best to get out of the road, I scrambled across the street, up the aforementioned driveway cut, and back to the check-in, where Lois and Sterling were waiting. After exchanging pleasantries, I mentioned that I had had a head-on collision with the traffic island. Lois, in a calm but concerned voice, said that I probably needed to get something to eat and then get some sleep. Amen to that, Sistah! I shouldered my drop-bag, which contained all sorts of foodstuffs, and hiked up to the room, dragging my bicycle behind me. It was 1:21 am.

When I got to the room, Bob wasn’t there, so I tore open my bag, grabbed some cookies, M&Ms, and made a PBH&R sandwich. The bike had its own place on the balcony. I would deal with any damage from the crash tomorrow. As I was about to fall into bed, I somehow noticed that I didn’t have my “Take-A-Look” on my glasses. This little mirror is a lifesaver, since it allows you to see what is going on behind you while riding. (It also allows you to check out people behind you in stores and on the street, if you are into that sort of thing). For some reason, I felt that it was imperative to find this mirror NOW and I guessed that it had to be at the crash site. So, I hobbled down the stairs and cross the street to the offending island, where I started to walk back and forth, hoping to see the mirror on the ground. After what seemed like 15 minutes, I was ready to call it quits when I noticed a glint of light off of the ground. There it was! I think that a car had run over the thing but, like the Timex Watches of old, it takes a licking and keeps on ticking. I guess the car must have just flattened the Take-A-Look but not really damaged it (except for some scuffs on the mirror itself…the rest of the thing appeared fine).

A happy man, I took my mirror back to the room, set the alarm for 6 am and flopped into bed without taking off my riding clothes or, as is probably pretty obvious to those of you still hanging in there, taking a shower. I was asleep in about 20 seconds.

6 am rolled around pretty quickly. Bob still wasn’t in the room, which seemed pretty strange. I assumed that he had abandoned and would never get to see him again. Getting up, my legs felt a little stiff, my shoulder hurt, and my hand was cut a bit. However, I didn’t think I was in too bad shape. I looked at my riding shorts and didn’t see any torn material, which convinced me that the ache in my thigh was probably just a little bruise. Of course, I didn’t actually stop to examine my thigh, which, in retrospect, had taken a pretty bad hit in the fall.

One of the brilliant things that Lois and Bill did on this brevet was having the ride end at the same motel that we stayed at on the second night. This allowed me to leave all of my crap spread all over my bed, get ready to go, and get out the door. I probably should have had a big breakfast but I was so excited about riding the last day that I just had a sandwich and some cookies, which I washed down with some Gatorade. Breakfast of Champions! Now it was time to deal with the bike.

I have a carbon fiber frame, which is not the best thing in the world in a crash. If the tubes get dented, the frame might have to be junked. I gave the bike a pretty thorough going over and didn’t see anything that looked problematic. The rear wheel had somehow been knocked sideways a bit in the crash, so after adjusting the wheel in the dropout, it was spinning without rubbing. I mounted the Take-A-Look on my glasses and when I looked into the mirror, I didn’t even notice the scuffed mirror. All systems were go. I put the food for the day into my handlebar bag, decided that a vest would be enough for the day (rather than a jacket, thereby avoiding carrying an extra 0.6 oz), and carried the bike down to the check-in to get going. After a few words of encouragement from Sterling and Lois, I was off.

I knew many of the roads for the last day of the ride. The route essentially made a giant “Figure 8” with a cowlick and a tail (i.e., the Figure 8 had a line off of the top and bottom). I find it very helpful to know what I am getting into, since it helps me to pace myself. However, the sections of road that I didn’t know, I REALLY didn’t know since I had run out of time before the ride and hadn’t studied them at all using Google Maps. Thus, I would be riding blind for some of the ride today.

From SLO, we headed south past the airport and then over to the coast via Price Canyon. This road is really nice: very light traffic, easy grades, and you end up in Pismo Beach! The weather was sort of cool, which made for excellent riding to Pismo and then down the coast road to Oceano, where I stopped for a snack. Remembering Gabe’s advice about caloric intake, I grabbed some Hostess Donut Gems. I hadn’t had those in years and they were just great. From there, the course went up a mesa, past the ConocoPhillips Santa Maria refinery and over to Guadalupe. I needed to take a natural break in Guadalupe and Jim and Nicole pulled in behind me at the gas station. While we were eating and talking, two really fit-looking riders on tour from Canada rode in. These guys had more stuff on their bicycles than I may have in my basement. They were really friendly, wondering about what we were doing. I was wondering the same thing about them. We bid them farewell and headed off toward Casmalia.

Turning right on Black Road and heading into the hills was all new to me. For the Solvang Double, we would continue down Highway 1 toward Los Alamos. Not today: we headed into the hills toward Vandenberg Air Force Base, which borders the town of Casmalia. As I started up the climb, I saw a group of cowboys cutting cattle, which created a huge cloud of dust. The cattle were making all sorts of noise. They must have had some information that I didn’t. The climb to the turnoff to Casmalia wasn’t bad at all since the temperatures were relatively cool. However, I could see how it could get really ugly up there on a hot day.

What to say about Casmalia, which is the site of Controle #12? It is a small town on the edge of a large Air Force base. There is likely a great deal of toxics in the soil nearby (a gift the the citizens from the Air Force). There is one hell of a big railroad right-of-way that runs parallel to Black Road and continues on into Vandenberg. According to Nicole, it is used for transporting missiles but I never obtained independent confirmation on that. The town itself is one main drag and some beat-looking houses.  However, according to its owner, the Hitching Post in Casmalia has the “world’s best bbq’ed steaks.” For some reason, this seemed like a bit of an a stretch.

Jim, Nicole, Gabe, and I sat around for a bit, eating some grub and just enjoying the weather. Nicole didn’t seem to think much of the town and launched into a really funny riff on life in Casmalia.

The controle consisted of mailing a postcard from the Casmalia post office with your name and time of arrival on it. After everyone mailed their cards and we started riding off, I looked down at my front tire and noticed a bulge in the sidewall! I hadn’t hit anything on the ride that morning, so I had to assume that the cut in the sidewall was due to my encounter with the traffic island last night. I turned back to town, found a shady spot in front of the Post Office, and booted the tire, even though the sidewall cut didn’t go all the way through the cord. Seemed like being careful made more sense than having the tire blow out on the open road. Having the cut in the tire didn’t make me too happy, since it was a new tire (replacing the tire that I had booted on the SF Randonneurs’ 600k).

While I was screwing around with the tire and boot, John rolled in. He and I had ridden together for a good chunk of the SF Randonneurs’ Davis Night 200 km ride a couple of weeks before. As I finished up with my tire, he was ready to go, so we rolled away from Casmalia together, with me hoping that the boot would hold.

The temperature had come up a bit and John stopped to strip off some clothes, so I continued the climb into the heart of Vandenberg AFB. It wasn’t a hugely steep or long climb but I did notice that I didn’t have much zip in my legs. From the top of the climb, I tore down a long hill and zipped through a couple of forks in the road. The descent was great, the road surface was good, and we were riding through the AFB with little or no traffic. After riding a half-mile or so beyond the forks in the road, I started to get concerned that I was going the wrong way. I looked at the cue sheet and it was unclear if I was going in the right direction. I couldn’t recall if I had passed one or two “Y” turns in the road. I didn’t want to go back and check, so I continued along, with a nagging feeling in my gut that I had missed a turn. When I finally hit Highway 1, I was totally confused. There was a big hill to the right, which was the direction the cue sheet said to go. Was that correct? Should I go DOWN the hill to the left? Confusion. Uncertainty. What do do? I didn’t want to backtrack, so I turned right and started up the hill. To say that I was disoriented would be an understatement.

At the top of the hill, a SAG vehicle came by and I flagged him down. “Is this the course?” I asked the driver. The SAG driver said that it was, even though he noted that he had been getting lost all morning and that this was the most confusing part of the entire course. That made me feel a lot better, knowing that someone that wasn’t as addle-headed as me was getting lost, too. While I was talking to the SAG driver, John rolled past, so I started riding and caught up with him for the ride to Lompoc, which involved a couple of long downhills while riding on freeway-like roads.

I haven’t been to Lompoc since about 1977, when Nick, Colleen, and I decided in the middle of the night to pile into Nick’s VW Beetle and take a road trip to San Diego, with a stop at Nick’s grandparents’ house in Lompoc on the way back home. As with many of my activities during that time period, my recollections of that trip are foggy at best. Thus, I was navigating based only on the cue sheet. I made the turn at the intersection where the cue sheet noted that there were “services” and kept going toward Highway 1 and Gaviota Pass. After a mile or so, I realized that there may not be any food or water anywhere on the road to Highway 1 and the ride information said that there would not be any services at all on the way to or from Gaviota Pass. Thus, I decided to backtrack and get some food, since I was suddenly feeling REALLY tired. After a “swell” meal from a Circle-K (an egg salad sandwich, some Gatorade, and some cookies), I leaned back against the wall for a few minutes. There was a strong wind blowing from the west but in the sun, it felt like a warm breeze. Being off of the bike felt great. Shutting my eyes and not thinking about the traffic on Highway 1 was a treat. It might have been nicer to sleep in a park (or a bed) but the parking lot of the Circle-K had to do.

Once I got rolling again, I tried to remember something about the “out and back” to Gaviota Pass. While I was planning our tandem trip to Southern California, I thought that the road from Lompoc to Gaviota was all downhill. Thus, once I got on Highway 1 heading out of Lompoc, I thought that I should be flying, given that I was riding downhill and had a roaring tailwind. Unfortunately for me, this didn’t happen. I would try to coast but would at best maintain my speed, which was about 10 mph. Also, I started to see riders coming in the other direction and they seemed to be making good time. Here is the quick calculation I made:

14.6 miles to Gaviota Pass / 10 mph (my speed) = 1.46 hours to the pass going downhill with a tailwind.

This was not good news. If it was going to take me about 1.5 hours to get to Gaviota Pass going downhill with a tailwind, it was going to take me at least 2.5 hours to get back. I only had two water bottles for 4 hours of riding (not even considering the miles on Santa Rosa Road to Buellton). This meant that I would likely have to ride back into Lompoc to get Gatorade for the next section, piling on more time. The temperature was coming up. Things didn’t look good for the home team.

As I continued along, I just couldn’t believe how slowly I was riding. It was downhill, for goodness sake! I had a tailwind. I had ridden about 500 miles so far and was thinking that perhaps my body was breaking down. At least there were no obvious mountain lions out here. That would have been the frosting on the cake. I also continued to see riders coming in the other direction, all looking pretty spry.

While slogging up one particularly long hill, I saw Veronica and a number of other riders coming down the hill. They were riding pretty slowly, given the grade of the hill. In my mind, I thought “They look like hell…that must have been one ugly climb that they just went up.” So, when I got to the top of the hill, I started down the other side. As I crested the hill, I saw one of those “Adopt A Highway” signs. In the back of my mind, I remembered that there was a question on the brevet card for Controle #13 at the top of Gaviota Pass. However, I also seemed to remember that Gaviota Pass was on Highway 101. Thus, I rode over the top of the hill and started down the other side, noticing the “7% Grade next 2 miles” sign as I went. I wasn’t looking forward to climbing back up but if that was the course, then that was the course. No wonder Veronica and the others looked so beat.

After the fast ride down to the intersection of Highway 101 and Highway 1, I decided to take out my brevet card. There was, in fact, a question about who took care of the highway. I didn’t see any signs down here that had any info like this. Taking out my mobile, I called Bill and asked him about the big hill. He said “Don’t go over the hill…the controle is at the top.” “Too late…Too damned late for this fool!” I thought to myself. I thanked him and hung up. Right then, Bill’s speech on Thursday morning before the start of the brevet came back to me, clear as day: “I don’t think that there is a sign denoting Gaviota Pass.”

Crap. This was lousy. I had a 2-mile climb at 7% that was going to be all “extra credit.” After a bit of verbally beating myself up, I realized that standing there was not going to get me to water or the next stop any sooner, so I pointed the bike back up the hill and started pedaling. The wind was howling the whole way. The road had no switchbacks…it just shot straight up the hill. It was a slow, SLOW ride.

When I got back to the top of the hill, I was presented with another dilemma: there were TWO “Adopt a Highway” signs at the top (one on each side of the road). Being fairly new to brevets, I didn’t want to write down the wrong info, so rather than guessing, I wrote them BOTH down, hoping that Bill and Lois would understand my confusion. After putting my brevet card away and getting ready to go, I checked my altimeter to see how much I would need to climb to get back to Lompoc. Much to my shock, I was almost 800 feet ABOVE Lompoc! In other words, the entire ride to Gaviota Pass had been uphill!

We have all seen the cartoon character that has the light bulb go on over his head when he makes a great discovery. Well, I suspect that there was a lightbulb that clicked on over my head when I made that realization. At least I didn’t yell out “Eureka!” or something. It all made sense: riding with a tailwind, I couldn’t make any time because I was going UPHILL. No wonder most of the other riders had looked so chipper. No wonder I was having such a tough time heading toward Gaviota Pass.

Even though I felt like beating myself up for my stupidity, I was relieved, too, since this meant that the ride back toward Lompoc might not take 2.5 hours after all. Pushing off, I started down the hill into the wind. Like the others I had seen, I was going slow at first. However, looking out ahead, it was clear that the canyon was heading downhill and that the rollers wouldn’t be too bad, unless the wind was a killer.

Long story short: the gradual downhill of the canyon trumped the wind. I made very good time heading back toward Santa Rosa Road (which was the turn toward the next controle, as well as Buellton, Solvang and the end of the ride. I didn’t want anyone else to make my mistake, so when I saw Clyde and Lothar riding in the opposite direction (i.e., toward Gaviota Pass), I flagged them down and was babbling about NOT going over the top of the hill. I am sure that they thought I was deranged. Maybe I was…

After the (relatively) quick ride back to Santa Rosa Road, I decided to blow off heading back to Lompoc for water and to make a beeline for Buellton. It was only a little more than 17 miles to Buellton. The valley seemed to lead off downhill. How tough could that be? In fact, I made it to Controle #14 (the Paddle Marker 5.2) in almost no time. I was feeling pretty strong and was climbing well. I had a little tailwind. Things were definitely looking up.

Santa Rosa Road is sort of strange. First off, it is just lovely. There are vineyards, fields, and a river running through the middle of the valley. On the other hand, theroad takes these funny detours up the sides of the valley, only to blast back down to the valley floor. Perhaps the county couldn’t get right-of-way to keep the road in the valley. Who knows? All that I know is that there was more climbing on that road than I had anticipated. I was out of water. It was still warm. And all I could think about was pancakes.

For those that don’t know, Buellton is one of the homes of Pea Soup Andersen’s. They have a very kitch-filled gift shop, they serve soup and big meals. I was really hungry and the food that I had with me wasn’t doing it. I wanted pancakes: a big stack of pancakes with maple syrup and butter. And some orange juice. And perhaps some eggs, too. Or, do I want a burrito? With chicken and cheese and sour cream? Wasn’t there a taqueria in Buellton next to Andersen’s? Maybe some ice cream for dessert? How about some chocolate milk? Or…

If you get the impression that I was in a bad way, you would be right. I still had over 90 miles to ride and already I was ready to gorge myself with carbos. In retrospect, this indicates that I hadn’t eaten enough. At the time, it meant losing focus on the task at hand, which was getting the heck off of Santa Rosa Road and into Buellton. Once I snapped out of my food reverie, the few miles that were left before Buellton went fairly quickly. And what do you think the first restaurant I saw as I rode into Buellton? Ellen’s Danish Pancake House! That decided it!

I was really tired and hungry. However, I didn’t want to leave my bicycle somewhere and come out smacking my lips after a huge meal, only to find that it had been stolen. So, where to park the bike (I had forgotten my cable lock)? Behind the restaurant? Seemed pretty safe until I sat down, at which point a wave of paranoia swept over me. Why not park the bike outside the window where I was sitting? That was the ticket! I ordered my food, dashed out to make sure that the bike was still there, and moved it to where I could see it. In retrospect, it is not clear that this made any sense. Sure, I could see the bike. However, to get to the bike, I would have to run through the restaurant and then back around the outside. If someone was intent on stealing the bike, they probably would have been to Solvang by the time I got outside to try to “stop” them. Thank goodness the hardened criminals of Buellton didn’t try any hijinx.

The food was great, fulfilling my initial food fantasy. Orange juice. Pancakes. Eggs. Syrup. I was stuffed and smiling. The hostess has put me at a table well away from the rest of the patrons (probably because (1) I had a bit of a crazed look in my eye and (2) I was covered with dirt, grime, and perspiration, (3) I smelled like a sweathog, and (4) I was still wearing my bicycle helmet). My nearest neighbors in the restaurant kept looking over at me, wondering why I was smiling, sighing contentedly, and wolfing down my food. Ellen’s is great; I will go back again!

When I staggered out of Ellen’s and got to my bicycle, I was feeling pretty darn good. I had been sitting for about an hour. I was turning for home (after a short ride to Solvang). And I had 14.5 hours to ride about 77 miles. I knew all (or at least most) of the roads between here and SLO. There was at least 1.5 hours of sunlight. Unless something really unexpected happened, it looked like I might be over the top of Foxen Canyon in daylight and would make it back to SLO well inside the time limit. This feeling of euphoria kept me smiling all the way to Solvang. The wind was with me, the traffic was light, and I was on a carbo high. Turning onto Alamo Pintado, I started to ride toward Los Olivos, Foxen Canyon, SLO, and a soft bed.

After about 4 miles, I saw a sign mentioning Solvang. I don’t know why, but it suddenly dawned on me that I HADN’T GOT PROOF OF PASSAGE FROM SOLVANG! Without a proof of passage, I couldn’t guarantee that I had been to Solvang, which might well have disqualified me from the brevet. A fast U-turn and a quick ride down Alamo Pintado put me back on Highway 246 in Solvang. It was 7:15 pm.

I just needed a receipt with the time and date on it. How hard could that be? This is where the calliope music should start playing. Here is why:

  1. I went to a gas station. Gas stations always have mini-marts, right? I would get some Gatorade and hit the road. No mini-mart at this gas station: he was probably the only gas station in a 100 mile radius that didn’t have a mini-mart. He did have a soda machine, the attendant informed me. No good.
  2. I went into a pizza parlor. Did they have bottled water? Yes. OK, give me two bottles of water and a fountain drink. No problem. The guy gives me a receipt.
  3. I am ready to step away from the counter when I notice that both the date and time are wrong on the receipt! I explain that this won’t work. Can he adjust the date and time on the cash register? No. Can I use a credit card to charge the water and soda? Got to check with the manager. Manager says OK.
  4. It takes him 15 minutes to cancel my prior transaction and to run the credit card. I finally get the receipt, check the date and time, and find that it is OK. After dumping the water and soda into my bottles, and hitting the toilet, I walk out of the pizza parlor and get on the bike.

It is now 8:15 pm. 1 hour to get a receipt. Unbelievable.

What were the consequences of this little (mis-)adventure?

  1. It would be dark when I rode on Foxen Canyon Road, making the descents slower.
  2. It would be colder since I would be in Foxen Canyon after dark.
  3. I had just lost an hour of cushion.

I made pretty good time to Los Olivos, getting through town and onto Foxen Canyon Road before dark. The sunset was beautiful. That was about the best thing that had happened in the last 1.5 hours.

I have ridden Foxen Canyon Road a number of times. It is very pretty, has two significant hills, and, when riding toward the north, it has just a great long (12 miles?) descent to Sisquoc, which was the site of the next controle. However, I have never ridden the steep descents in the dark and was certain that I didn’t want to crash, so I rode those two descents much slower than I had wished. On the other hand, there was very little traffic and whenever a car or truck approached, I could see it a long way away, which let me get over to the side and let it pass. Thus, overall, the riding was pretty darn fine.

It was a very clear night. As promised by Bill and Lois, we had a great full moon, which illuminated the surroundings. However, as we know from our heat transfer courses, a clear sky means a cold sky, which means that you lose heat not just from convection (i.e., heat loss as a result of the wind blowing on you) but from radiative heat loss, too, making you feel much colder. I was still getting cold, even though I had on all of my clothes (including my vest, rather than my jacket, which I had left in the motel room to avoid carrying an extra 0.6 oz). It was only about 9 pm and I was starting to shiver while riding. This was not good. Also, I had tried to clean my glasses in Solvang but had managed to merely smear the lenses. Thus, when I tried to read the cue sheet, I couldn’t see a thing and had to stop and take off the glasses to read directions. Reading the odometer was out of the question while riding, so I didn’t really know where I was. This, too, wasn’t good. Finally, there were a couple of SUVs that decided to play “Ride behind the bicyclist with their high beams on.” This was not so good, either. They followed me for about a mile or so but finally tired of the game and roared around me. Some good news at last!

After several false alarms (where I thought I was in Sisquoc), I finally made it to Controle #16 (Sisquoc Elementary School). I am near-sighted, so I needed my glasses to read the writing on the side of the school. However, since they were so smudged, I was having a hard time making out what the letters said (which is of more than academic interest: I had to write down the name of the school on the brevet card to prove I had been there). It took me about 10 minutes to finally get the card filled out. Part of this was because I was having trouble reading the name and part was because I couldn’t get my hand to write legibly. I was starting to shiver even more violently. It was time to get riding and to try to ride fast enough that I would warm up.

I busted along, heading in the general direction of the lights of Santa Maria. However, since I couldn’t read my odometer while riding, I had to keep stopping to make sure that I didn’t pass the turns that had to be made. At one point, I looked at the odometer, I looked at the cue sheet, and I realized that I had no idea if I had ridden past the turn or not. At this point, I thought to myself “What would a smart randonneur do now?” Stop and freeze? No. Ride back toward Sisquoc, checking the names of the roads? No. Ride toward the lights of Santa Maria and hope to find the correct turn? Perhaps. So, pretending to be a smart randonneur, I pushed forward. When I finally found Philbric Road, an enormous weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I was heading in the right direction and would be in the outskirts of Santa Maria in a few miles. All at once, a car driving in the opposite direction stopped on the road. It was a SAG! He asked me if I needed anything. “Only to get warm” I replied. He suggested going into Santa Maria and finding a restaurant. Good idea (thank goodness he suggested it…I would never have thought of such a novel or innovative solution). On to Santa Maria.

Downtown Santa Maria is not far off the course. I rolled in and saw a Starbucks. Excellent option. Closed. I saw an IHOP. The sign said that they were open until Midnight. It was 11:45. Excellent option. The door was locked. I was about to turn around and head further into town when I saw the hostess. Knocking on the door, I asked if I could come in. She shook her head and said “No food. Kitchen is closed.” I asked if I could at least use the toilet so that I could clean my glasses?  She looked dubious but opened the door and let me in. I thanked her and headed to the toilet to do my business. After that, with clean glasses, I headed outside. It was midnight. It had taken me 3 hours to ride about 30 miles, most of which was downhill. Thank goodness I was in no shape to do arithmetic at that point.

Heading back to the course, I realized that I could see, that I had water and Coke in my bottles, and I knew where I was. I had about 33 miles to go and was feeling OK. I grabbed some Triscuits out of my handlebar bag and stuffed them in my face. The salt hit the spot. Suddenly, I had turned a psychological corner and realized that I was finally, FINALLY heading into the home stretch.

The ride from Santa Maria to Arroyo Grande was uneventful. I stopped before I got onto Highway 166 and pulled my knee warmers down to cover my calves. After I did that, I said to myself “Now THAT was something a smart randonneur would do!” and figuratively clapped myself on the back. Thompson Road was longer than I remembered and some of the climbs seemed longer than I recalled. However, that was just the night playing tricks on me. Los Berros was fast and easy. I hit the outskirts of Arroyo Grande and remembered that the brevet did NOT go the same route as the Solvang Double but, instead, turned north in town.

I rode slowly into downtown Arroyo Grande, where people were pouring out of the bars, making all sorts of noise, and staring at the maniac on the bicycle with the lights and reflective clothing (perhaps wondering to themselves if they should have had that last drink). While stopped at a gas station to get some water and to chow down on some more Triscuits, I chatted with the gas station attendant about the final segment to SLO: Carpenter Canyon Road aka Highway 227. He looked at me and said in a very concerned voice that Carpenter Canyon Road was a bad choice. The road was lonely. There was no support. He suggested the route that he rides when he needs to go to SLO: Pismo Beach to Price Canyon. I thanked him for his input, walked outside, got on the bike, and turned toward Carpenter Canyon. 14 miles to go.

The ride up Carpenter Canyon was fine. Some of the pitches were a little steep but nothing was impossible, which was good, given the state of my legs. In general, the road was a nice, quiet, safe route from Arroyo Grande to SLO that was close enough to Highway 101 that any driver in a hurry could take the freeway.

When I saw Price Canyon Road, I knew I was back. When riding past the airport, the SAG driver stopped his car and started honking his horn. It wasn’t the crowds at the top of L’Alpe d’Huez during Le Tour de France, but it sure felt good to have someone acknowledge getting to the end of this amazing adventure.

After a few more miles in SLO, I finally saw South Street (for a bit, I thought I had missed it), turned left, made another left on Higuera, and then a right onto Madonna, where I saw the motel after I crossed over the freeway. No islands to hit tonight. I rode to the back of the lot and saw Bill, Lois, and Sterling. After handing over my brevet card and various receipts, getting checked in, and having the obligatory end-of-ride photos taken, Sterling handed me a totally cool medal, which was completely unexpected. It was time to eat and sleep.

While sitting in the IHOP next to the motel, I started to reflect on some of the things that had happened on the ride. There were many great moments but one thing just jumped out at me: while riding through the quiet streets on the outskirts of Arroyo Grande on Carpenter Canyon Road, I had realized why this brevet had been so much fun. I was riding in the middle of the night on a road that I had never ridden on before. The stars were out. The only sound I heard was my breathing, the chain rolling over the chainring, and the wind in my ears. While others were sleeping, I was out doing the thing that I love. What could be better than that?

Statistics:

Distance:  621.6 mi (officially), plus some extra credit miles

Climbing: 29,751 feet (using a Ciclosport HAC-4)

Hours in saddle: 48:10 (per Ciclosport HAC-4)

Hours on road (including stops): 59:33 (per Ciclosport HAC-4)

Average speed (including stops): 10.3 mph (per Ciclosport HAC-4)

Hours slept during ride: about 7 (plus an inadvertent nap in a Circle-K parking lot in Lompoc)

Hours spent getting ready before and after each day’s ride:  about 3:30

Total elapsed time:  69:54 (per SCR’s atomic clock)

Hours riding alone:  7.5 + 13.5 + 17 = 38 (estimate)

Counties visited: 7 (not counting return to San Luis Obispo)

Names of counties visited:  Santa Clara, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo (twice!), and Santa Barbara.

Photographs taken:  135 (including train ride from SLO to Emeryville)…see them here

Foods of choice: Peanut butter, honey, and raisin sandwiches, Peanut M&Ms, cookies, PowerGel, Fruit Punch Gatorade, Triscuits(!), pancakes, eggs

Best meal: a tie between Ellen’s Danish Pancake House in Buellton (6/26) and IHOP in San Luis Obispo (6/27)

Incidences of Shermer’s neck: NONE (thanks to all for their good advice!)

The cue sheet is here. The ride profile is here.

Lessons learned:

  1. Tunnel vision is nothing to mess with
  2. On an “out-and-back,” check your odometer early and often
  3. Eat at stops, even if it means getting dropped by the group
  4. Don’t be fooled by a tailwind; you are still working
  5. Riding in a group sure makes the time go by quickly
  6. Bring a clean cloth for cleaning glasses; the back of a glove doesn’t work, especially after 2.5 days of riding
  7. Trusting your stellar memory after riding 500 miles is a risky gamble

Respectfully submitted,

Bill Monsen

RUSA # 6009

P.S. After the IHOP eat-a-thon at the end of the ride, I brought my bike back to the room. When I entered, I was surprised to see that Bob had arrived! After I showered, he and I chatted a bit about our respective adventures until it was clear that I was going to fall over if I didn’t get some sleep.It was about 4:30 am when I fell into bed.

Unfortunately, I was only able to sleep about 4.5 hours. I tried, but I just couldn’t. Bob’s sister was picking him up at the motel in a couple of hours, so we had a chance to get to know each other a little bit (he is a consulting geophysicist in the oil and natural gas biz and I am an energy consultant with degrees in physics and engineering, so we had plenty to talk about).

After Bob left, I gathered up my stuff, packed my enormous bag, and hauled it and my bicycle downstairs for the short ride to the Amtrak station, where I would be boarding the Coast Starlight with a number of other randonneurs for just a great trip from SLO to the SF Bay Area. While not dozing in my seat, I spent a bunch of time in the lounge car, which had huge windows for viewing the scenery. There were two funny volunteers from the National Park Service’s “Trails and Rails” program, who kept up a running commentary about the sites and history of the route from SLO to San Jose.

After leaving Salinas, we veered toward the west, rolled past the Elkhorn Slough, and then started a somewhat tortured route along the Pajaro River toward Gilroy. The great part about this part of the trip was that I got to see some of the places that we had ridden on the first day (e.g., Aromas, the outskirts of Watsonville). As we passed over the San Andreas Fault, we went past the Graniterock loading area, which is where the Graniterock conveyor (that I had seen on the first day) dumps its rock for transport to job sites. How cool is that?

“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