After topping off my bike’s tires, I rolled off at 5:19am. As I began riding in the twilight hours towards the start at the Golden Gate Bridge, I remembered that last month, on the 200k ride, I’d met up with a couple of other riders who passed my house on their way to the start. Today there was no one else, and I was a little worried that I’d be late. Then, as I reached the end of the Panhandle, I spied the tell-tale red blinking lights that can (at least to the trained eye) only mean another cyclist. As I caught up to them, I recognized a couple of guys from the 200k: one on a Rivendell Atlantis, unusually adorned with three tennis balls wedged in the spokes of the front wheel (nothing like a mid-brevet game of tennis, perhaps?) and the other on a dark-colored Ebisu with a large Berthoud handlebar bag, I think. I passed ahead of these two on my way through the Presidio. I remembered that, due to some construction, Todd the RBA had moved the check-in point to the north parking lot on the other side of Highway 101. I got in line behind a half-dozen other riders, signed my name and took my card, and then headed back up the road towards the starting point at the Visitors’ Plaza at the foot of the bridge. There were about 85 other riders there and I immediately began walking around looking for folks I knew. Fruitlessly looking at helmeted heads and bespectacled faces instead of bikes, Rob H. walked right up to me and I didn’t even recognize him until he said hello. We chatted briefly and wondered if Carlos D. had arrived yet, since neither of us had seen him.
I remembered to re-zero the trip distance on my bike's cyclometer, so that it would match with the miles on the cue sheet. I looked at the display and it reported that I'd gone 1.38 miles that morning, when it should've been more like five, so I knew something was wrong. I lifted the front of the bike off the ground and gave the front wheel a spin, and the speedometer read "0". I jiggled the wheel-sensor and magnet closer together, gave things another spin, and this time the speed was correctly reported. Whew! I'd need all the help I could get to navigate the unfamiliar roads north of Petaluma, and a broken cyclometer would've been a major hindrance.
Unlike last month on the 200k’s start, I found myself much closer to Todd as he began his pre-ride speech and announcements, so this time I was able to hear him clearly. I also finally spotted Carlos who’d arrived a few minutes prior, and said hello. Todd finished his announcements and gave the command to “GO” and we were off again. I purposely held back because there were a lot of people riding and it was still dark. It was a nice calm pre-dawn as we rolled across the east side of the Golden Gate (east side, because it was still dark out), a few riders chatting but most of us quiet, just turning the pedals. At that point I felt pretty good; I hadn’t been on a major ride in a couple of weeks, and I had been having some nagging knee pain the weekend before from a running injury last September, both had me worried about how I might do on the day’s big ride. Crossing the Bridge proved uneventful and we dropped down through Sausalito and onto the Mill Valley Bike Path. Someone must’ve not had their coffee yet that morning – there was a group of 3-4 riders in front of me dangerously spanning the width of the path, and the leftmost rider narrowly missed a head-on collision with another cyclist headed the other way. The approaching rider cursed loudly and he was probably in the right, but if I recall correctly he was dressed in dark clothing and was unlit, and it wasn’t full daylight yet, so it’s entirely possible that the other group didn’t even see him. At any rate it was a wake up call to stay alert!
Soon we were climbing up Camino Alto. Rob and Carlos were off ahead somewhere. I climbed at my usual steady pace, neither the fastest nor the slowest, I think I passed a couple of riders going up but that’s it. I noticed that again my bike's computer was acting up -- it wasn't reporting the correct speed! Hoping that it was just a bad contact, I released it from the handlebar mount and then clicked it back into place, and that seemed to clear the issue, but now my mileage was off, and I didn't know by how much.
The winding suburban route brought us to Fairfax where I saw a lone bike parked at the Fairfax Coffee Roasters and I was envious that someone was getting a coffee! On my first brevet I spent quite a bit of time outside this shop when I got a flat tire, and didn't want to linger there again this time. White's Hill came and went uneventfully. I sped down Sir Francis Drake in a pace line with another rider, but I don't remember any details about rider or bike. Shortly we were in Sir Francis Drake Park...I was glad that I'd not stopped to shed my outer rain jacket, since the temperature always drops a few degrees in the park. I went past the first footbridge leading to the dirt-road shortcut since I was riding skinny tires and the trails were slick from recent rains. A mile or so further into the park, I followed a couple of riders into the campground entrance and on to the Marin Cross Valley Trail, while a few other cyclists continued on the main road through the park. Riding through the park on this trail is always a pleasant experience since it's flat and quiet -- however I was careful to dodge all the fallen sticks and branches that littered the trail -- on a recent trip through here I caught a stick in my rear wheel and ripped off a fender, and I certainly didn't want a repeat of that action that day!
familiar bike, and I introduced myself to Willy, a name I recognized from the SFRandon mailing list. We chatted a bit about the usual (bikes) as we left the park and turned up Petaluma-Point Reyes Road. Just before the turnoff to Nicasio Valley, RBA Todd was waiting with a secret control. A short line of riders formed as we all checked in, and then we were off again towards Petaluma. Then we passed by the Marin French Cheese Company (aka "The Cheese Factory") -- which produces an apparently fine set of cheeses under the "Rouge et Noir" label, always makes me smile, especially today because I was riding my Austro-Daimler "Vent Noir" bicycle. A black cheese and a black bicycle? Why not!
Then the left turn onto Hicks Valley Road -- a very nice, low traffic cycling route that leads to the infamous "Marshall Wall", but we were not to pedal there today, we were going to Petaluma...
lightweight cable lock and snapped it through my bike's frame, just for some added piece of mind while I was inside the store (like I said, I'd never been to Petaluma and didn't know what kinda town it might be...). As I walked into the Safeway, I saw many riders queuing at the Starbuck's coffee counter inside -- I suppose a receipt from there counts equally well as the usual Safeway receipt, but I wanted some real food and my favorite riding drink, chocolate milk. I saw a couple of other cyclists ordering sandwiches at the deli counter, but that seemed like a slow way to go. I rummaged through the deli display and grabbed a small pre-packaged hoagie, then snatched a single donut from the bakery case, and a choco-milk from the cooler, and I was back outside pretty quickly. I wolfed the donut, guzzled the pint of milk, and before I tore into the sandwich I saw Carlos near the store's entrance, so I walked over to say hello and see how he was making out. He was just readying to leave and I didn't want to hold him up, so after a quick chat he was off again. I walked back over to my bike, and used the mailbox it was locked to as a crude lunch counter while I ate half of my sandwich. I stuffed the other half into a jersey pocket, unlocked my bike, and set off again.
Jim and Elaine, and also with a tall gentleman on an unusual twin-top-tubed frame (whom I later learned was Bill R.). Other riders stopped near us to also don rain gear, and we all set off again together in a largish pack of at least a dozen riders. We rode mostly together the rest of the way through the driving rain. Several times, I found myself behind fenderless bicycles, getting a spray of gritty road water in my face and puddling on my handlebar-mounted cue sheet. Several times, I wished that fenders were always mandatory on brevets! The group continued towards the second control at the Healdsburg Safeway, where I got caught at a red light. That light felt terribly long since I was looking forward to another break! It finally turned green and I turned left at this busy, multi-way intersection. None of the streets were labeled and I wasn't certain which way the other riders had gone, but I soon found my way and arrived at the Safeway.
I saw Mike B. out in front locking his bike with a small cable lock, and I did the same with mine. Another guy was cursing his broken mini-rack/seat-bag combo -- apparently the seat post mounting clip for the rack had snapped, leaving him with no way to carry the bag. I wished him luck and went into the store, where I made straight for the restrooms. After taking care of business, I glanced in the mirror and realized why everyone in the Safeway had stared at me when I walked in...my face, helmet, and yellow rain jacket were all covered in black grit. I grabbed a handful of paper towels and wiped off as much of the stuff as I could, to make myself at least a little bit more presentable as I went about my business in the store. Just then, I happily bumped into Carlos -- he'd arrived earlier, bought a sandwich and went back outside to eat it, and had only returned to the store to visit the restroom. What luck -- a few seconds' difference either way and I would never have seen him! Carlos had been riding with Dan B. but had lost him during their lunch stop, and graciously waited for me while I bought another donut and chocolate milk and hurriedly ate and drank. We saw the guy with the broken rack, who'd cleverly utilized several zip ties as a quick fix, and seemed OK to continue. Carlos and I remounted our bikes and took off on the final leg of this journey...
I could tell by the skinny tire tracks down the side of the wet shoulder that we weren't the first riders to get bogged down here.
Carlos and I found ourselves riding down this next stretch of Highway One with a couple of other riders. We were in the trees a bit more now, and the headwinds had quieted down somewhat. We were around ten miles from the final control -- the Marshall Store, home of the famous clam chowder, which I desperately wanted to warm me up. There was a catch: RBA Todd had inserted pre-stamped postcards into two-thirds of the brevet cards, based on his estimation of whether a rider might make it to the Marshall Store before it closed that day, at 6pm. If we didn't make it to the store in time, we were to note the time on the postcard and mail it at the Marshall post office across the street from the store. I checked my watch and it reported the time as 5:30pm, my flaky cyclometer reported the distance at 135 miles, so I had around 30 minutes to go around 10 miles, maybe less. I really wanted that chowder, and when you're doing endurance events like these, food can become a major motivator. I overheard the other two riders... "I'll go on ahead and try to get there before they close, what do you want?" "Get me a sourdough chowder bowl, and a receipt if you can!" and one of them took off like a shot. I was amazed -- after riding nearly 140 miles, to see that guy take off so fast. And I wanted chowder! And I didn't want to have to deal with writing on a postcard, in the rain, with cold soggy fingers, in the dwindling light. So I took off too, not as fast, but I gave it what I could. I felt bad for leaving Carlos but I knew he'd catch up. I rode hard for a bit and the store was nowhere in sight...I checked my watch, ten minutes to 6!
"You're going to pay for this later" I warned myself, and decided that I'd ride hard for another five minutes and if I didn't see the store I'd ease up. Well, around the next bend I saw boats and remembered that the Marshall Store is next to a boatyard, and there it was! It was 5:53pm, the store still had lights on and people moving inside, and I knew that I'd at least have time to dash in and get my brevet card stamped, and perhaps a bottle of water. I'd made it! I was so relieved and happy, the rest of the ride almost didn't matter at that point!
I parked my bike in front of the store and quickly ran inside. I grabbed one of the last bottles of water from the cooler and quickly ladled some delicious chowder into a small cup, then took my place in line at the register. Fumbling for my wallet and brevet card with cold, shaky fingers, I heard the front door open and in walked Carlos. Knowing he'd made it to the store as well boosted my mood even further. Carlos grabbed some food and drink, we both paid and got our cards stamped, then we went out to the covered patio alongside the store to sit and eat and relax for a bit. Even though it was after 6pm at this point, the staff at the Marshall Store graciously kept their doors open and allowed latecomer riders to come in, get a drink, and get their cards stamped. Everyone seemed to agree that it was a welcome respite from the cold and rain. Thank you Marshall Store!
Once we finished our food, we both started getting cold again and knew that we had to keep moving, both to fend off the chills and because the clock was ticking. By this time the sun had completely set, so as we remounted our bikes all the lights were switched on. We set off into the night with a large group of several other riders. I'd read stories of how riding as a group at night can instill a feeling of camaraderie in the group and was looking forward to that, but frankly I was mostly just frightened. Here we were, a large group of riders bunched up over a whole lane on curvy Highway One, in the dark and rain, on slick roads with wet wheels and dim lights and soggy brakes, with random SUVs zooming by at high speed -- horns blaring and drivers obviously confused by the herd of wet night-cyclists. Fatigued riders were unpredictably jostling for position and chattering amongst themselves, seemingly not paying strong attention. I know my brakes were barely working at that point, and I'd guess everyone else was in the same boat. I remember thinking to myself "It'd only take one guy at the front hitting a large pothole and losing it to take us all out, domino-style." All the flickering lights were really wreaking havoc with my (apparently poor) night vision. In my overtired state, it really started testing my better judgment, and my "something bad's gonna happen" senses just started tingling.
At that moment, there was a slight uphill rise, and I pushed forward a bit to get at the front of the pack to get ahead of the flickering lights so my eyes could adjust to the darkness. The road continued to rise and I noticed that no one else was on my wheel, so I just kept pushing, hoping the group would string out a bit so we weren't clogging up the road. Still no one was on my wheel. Carlos zipped forward and the two of us ended up riding the last stretch of Highway One slightly ahead of the rest of the group. I wanted to get the heck off Highway One as soon as I could. We came around a bend in the road and there it was, the sharp left-hand turnoff onto Pt. Reyes - Petaluma Road. I've been on this road many times and it was a welcome sight. Carlos and I began the slight climb up the road, and we found it easier than normal due to a slight tailwind. This road was much easier than riding on Highway One due to much less traffic (and lower speed limits!) plus there's a nice wide shoulder much of the way...however there are a few random potholes that were difficult to make out on the slick roadway, plus there's often fist-sized rocks alongside the road that could easily take out a tire. I was riding along in the center of my lane, watching intently for these hazards as a group of 3 cars approached us. As the cars passed alongside one of them suddenly swerved and stopped in the middle of the road! After a second the car continued on its way. I can only imagine the startled driver inside, probably yammering away on a cellphone or fiddling with the stereo, glancing up at the roadway and suddenly noticing our lights and reflective gear, not comprehending what we were, and reflexively hitting the brakes. It was strange behavior indeed and only reinforced the unsettled feeling I'd gotten back on Highway One.
We continued uneventfully up to the turnoff on Nicasio Valley Road, where our pleasant tailwind became a strong cross wind. We slowly moved on, and agreed that we'd stop at Rancho Nicasio to take advantage of the covered porch there and get out of the rain for a minute, use the porta-potties, and take in some nourishment for the final stretch home. I'd purchased a package of chocolate mini-donuts at the Bodega Bay store, and I produced those now and shared them with Carlos, who shared some Cheetos in return. When you're hungry and tired there's no such thing as a bad food combination! Bill R. was also stopped at Rancho Nicasio, and he informed us that he had called for a ride and was bailing here. I thought it odd to call it quits with only about 30 miles to go, but everyone has his own limits and he struck me as a seasoned rider, so I'm sure he had good reason end his ride there.
After a few more minutes, Carlos and I set off into the night again. It was very dark and I was having trouble making out the road clearly. My lighting rig consisted
of a redundant array of 1-watt LED lights from the budget end of the product spectrum: I had a Planet Bike Super Spot mounted on the bike's left fork leg, a Cateye HL-EL500 clamped to the right fork leg, a Cateye HL-EL400 running in blinky mode strapped to the handlebars, and a Princeton Tec Eos velcro'd to my helmet. I'd been worried about having adequate lights the week before the ride, and based on popular recommendation I somewhat reluctantly picked up an Eos to replace the HL-EL400 as my helmet light. It was definitely worth it, it's a great light, easily the best of the bunch at that price point. I was very impressed with its strong clear beam, and I couldn't have done the nighttime sections of the ride without it. My other favorite light is my Planet Bike Super Spot, this is a pretty basic light but it employs engineered optics which give the light a very useful beam pattern. Unfortunately what I discovered is this light is not weatherproof, and the lens over the LED fogged up, weakening the beam and disrupting the optics. Finally, while the Cateye HL-EL500 light is robustly designed and waterproof, it mostly works well as a high-beam light due to the tightly-focused spot beam it emits.
Carlos and I made our way up to the crest of the hill on Nicasio Valley Road, and began the descent down towards the golf course and the intersection with Sir Francis Drake Blvd. I saw Carlos switch his 5-watt Dinotte light into high-beam take off down the hill at daylight speeds. I wanted to follow, but I didn't dare because I simply couldn't see the roadway as well as he apparently could. I met up with him again just after the intersection with Sir Francis Drake, and we trudged on towards White's Hill.
Earlier that night, Carlos had offered me and my bike a ride home, but I had politely declined, figuring I'd just limp home slowly like I'd done for all the other rides. However, I was so cold and it was quite late at this point (11:30pm) that I ultimately accepted his kind offer. We chatted with Todd and waited for his wife to arrive with the car, the bike rack, dry towels, and hot tea. I'm still very thankful for that ride, I really don't know if I could've ridden the final 5 miles home!
I got home and my wife was already asleep, the same as when I'd left at 5am that morning. I peeled off my soggy clothes and shoes and left them in a sloppy pile on the kitchen floor. A hot shower never felt so good. Turns out the black dye from my wool Walz cycling cap bled from all the rain (again), so I had a black forehead and a dark ring completely around my neck...that took a lot of soap to clean off.
It's now been a few days since the ride, and the numbness in my left thumb is nearly all gone and the muscles in my arms and legs are no longer sore, although my left knee is still somewhat stiff. This ride introduced me to the unpleasantries of saddle sores; I've never felt the need to use any type of chamois cream but I will on long future rides now.
I've achieved my randonneuring goals for 2007. Last year I completed the 200k brevet and this year I completed both the 200k and 300k rides. Perhaps next year I'll also attempt the 400k, but based on my experience on this ride I think I've reached my limit of what makes sense and is practical for me. Maybe I'll volunteer to help at a control on the next brevet...
Mileage: approximately 185
Time: 6am-11:14pm (17h 14m)
(photos by Carlos D. and Jim G.)