SF Cyclotouring

Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.


SFR 200k Brevet

Distance: ~135 miles
Bike: Kogswell 700C P/R
Time: Overall 6:15am - 6:30pm; Course 7am - 4:40pm

Today I rode the San Francisco Randonneurs 200k brevet, the inaugural event for the 2009 season. After getting to bed an hour and a half later than I'd planned on Friday night due to various last-minute preparations, I was rudely awakened at 4:30am by loud voices and pounding techno bass provided by an inconsiderate next-door neighbor, who often seems to think her flat is an after-hours rave club (often until late the next morning; c'mon, grow up, yer over 30 fer chrissakes!). I'd planned to wake at 5am anyways, so the noise mostly served to jump-start the return-to-consciousness functions in my brain. After changing into the cycling "uniform" and some quick coffee and granola, Gabe rang to say he was on his way. I slipped downstairs to get my bike out of the garage just as he, Brian, and a third guy named Chris -- who'd they'd picked up on the way -- rolled up. We'd agreed the previous day to ride together up Polk Street and through the Presidio to the ride start at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pre-Ride Meeting We got to the bridge swiftly, and finding the check-in table in the parking lot was easy -- just follow the stream of yellow-jacketed riders and their blinking lights! After signing in and getting our brevet cards, we rolled up to the GGB Visitors' Plaza where other riders had already started gathering, waiting for our RBA to give the pre-ride speech. Somewhat to my surprise, since he mentioned to me earlier in the week that he felt like he was coming down with something, Gino arrived in short order. He continued on to sign in, and then promptly returned again. We strained to hear the speech over the rumble of a nearby early-morning bus and a garbage truck making its rounds...but the gist of it was that nothing had changed from the previous year. This is my fourth time riding this particular course, and I ride many of the route's roads on a regular basis, so I was just trying to glean any important or new bits of info, and there weren't any.

Gray Skies Overhead7 o'clock came, and riders started flowing out. I purposely held back and let everyone else go. In prior rides/years, I've rolled out with the main group and gotten caught up in the excitement of cruising in a fast pack of bikes, only to burn out early and then suffer for the rest of the ride. This year, I'd planned to pace myself better and focus more on riding at a steady, comfortable pace. I waited a moment longer for Gino, who'd paused to adjust something on his bike, and then the two of us continued on, hanging on to the tail of the group. We rolled across the east side of the bridge under pre-dawn gray skies, and I worried about that as-forecast rain...

Mill Valley PacelineWe passed a few riders as we headed into Sausalito, and ended up in a nice group on the Mill Valley Bike Path section out towards Tiburon Ave. Brian was in that group on his new BDB Pelican, and I snapped a pic of his new bike. We climbed up and over Camino Alto, finding Gabe stopped on the other side, fixing a flat. Brian dropped back to wait for him, and Gino and I soldiered on. We navigated the extended wiggle through the many small communities before Fairfax, finally reaching White's Hill, which -- in addition to being a long climb -- serves as the climate barrier between Fairfax and Point Reyes and northward. Any rain that's gonna fall usually starts at the top of this peak, but as we rolled down the other side, amazingly there wasn't any! Gino and I cruised on Sir Francis Drake Blvd towards Samuel P Taylor State Park, where we opted to leave the paved road for a bit and instead take Inkwells Bridge and the Cross-Marin Trail. SFD Blvd through the park is a dark, bumpy, rutted, narrow-shouldered, twisty road that weaves through the park, often with speeding auto traffic. CM Trail is quiet, peaceful, flat, and straight in contrast. Plus, it's a dirt road for the first few miles, giving us bragging rights to riding a mixed-terrain brevet!

Jim Gourgoutis
Originally uploaded by Gino
We made a quick restroom stop in the park, before tackling the climb out, up, and over to Olema. We connected with a couple of other riders at that point, and together we rolled uneventfully through Inverness Park and Inverness (proper). I guess the folks there just couldn't let their town get too big, so they had to split it into two? Or maybe it's some obscure zoning law -- who knows? I think somewhere along here I felt five or six rain droplets, but nothing materialized fortunately. The climb up to Point Reyes National Seashore splintered our group somewhat, but a few of us regrouped as we headed out onto the peninsula. Working in a paceline, we made decent time before finally splintering for good on one of the four (I counted, but don't quite remember now) rollers out towards the lighthouse. Amazingly, there was no rain and very little wind! During this time, I had a particular song from the band Fugazi stuck in my head, and I passed the time and pedal strokes humming it to myself and drumming on my handlebars -- it made for some excellent climbing accompaniment!

Cattle CrossingGino and I continued on, encountering first the flat straight roads, many bucolic cows (and their odor), a couple of coyotes hunkered down in the grass, and later the muddy roads and cattle crossings of the working ranches out on the Point. At the last ranch before the light house, we endured a forced pause whilst several dozen head of cattle were herded across the road by a rancher on a muddy ATV. As we continued on, we saw what looked like a scene from a Mad Max movie -- a large battered tanker truck came roaring down the road towards us, sans-mufflers and belching smoke that peculiar color of blue which only emanates from a badly over-worn engine that burns more oil than gasoline. It drew nearer and I could see that at some point in its history, someone thought it a good idea to chop off the cab's roof, turning it into a convertible or sorts... At any rate, I figured that the liquid cargo it contained was probably of bovine origin, so I didn't linger...

First ControlWe and I made it to the first control, where I focused on getting my card signed and refilling my water bottle. Gino had mentioned on the way up that he was starting to feel sub-par, and it looked like it was hitting him hardest then. We lingered, ate some more, and agreed to make our way into Point Reyes Station where we'd re-evaluate. After munching a bit more, we turned back down the hill we'd just climbed. I hit a particularly nasty pothole, my bike went "THUNK", and -- as if in a slow-motion comedy scene -- I watched a Clif bar eject from the side pocket of my handlebar bag in a graceful arc over my head. U-turning back to retrieve my lost property, Gino pulled ahead, and it took me awhile to make my way back to him. We pressed on, making our way back over the ranch roads, cattle grates, and rolling hills back to the mainland. On the fast descent into Inverness, I had a minor scary moment when I was going too fast to complete a turn and crossed over the double-yellow line. I felt like I couldn't make the bike stop enough, but I think this was due more to rider error than mechanical problem; I just lost my timing a bit I think.

We quickly slipped back through Inverness, and made the right-then-left turns into Point Reyes Station proper. We pulled up across the street from the Bovine Bakery, where I spied a few other intrepid randonneurs making a fuel stop before pressing on to the next control. Gino said to me "here's what I'm thinking" and proceeded to explain that, in his best judgement, he'd decided to bow out from the rest of the ride. "Stomach cramps, and I feel feverish" he explained, and I agreed that he shouldn't do anything to make himself ill. He called in for a ride, and told me to press on, assuring me that he'd just hang out on the nearby park bench, rest, and wait for his pickup. I felt bad about leaving him there, but after assuring me multiple times that he'd be OK, I realized that the clock was ticking, and headed up the coast towards Marshall.

Flying solo now, I pushed on up Highway One against the headwind that had developed. Many riders who had already checked in at Marshall passed me from the oncoming direction, already headed back towards SF and the finish. Even after 80 miles, I felt fairly good and was in decent spirits. I waived "hello" to as many riders as I could. An unidentified pro cycling team was out on a training ride (probably for the upcoming Tour of California), 20-30 members strong dressed in white, followed by a team car with some spare bikes on top -- of course they didn't acknowledge my wave! Oh well, they didn't look like they were having much fun anyways...

I'd hoped to perhaps catch up to Carlos at the Marshall Store, but I knew that if I couldn't, Gabe and Bryan were behind me somewhere, and if I needed to, I could wait for them there. Sure enough, Carlos was one of the riders who flew by me a few miles before reaching the next control! He was making good time today! The Marshall Store has graciously served as our checkpoint on this route for many years, and while they were busy when I arrived, they happily stamped my card as I paid for a helping of their tasty clam chowder and a Coke. I sat with a couple of other randonneurs and ate hurriedly, and then took my drink outside whilst I prepped to remount the bike. As I set off again, I caught up with four other riders who looked like they were trying to form a pace line, but didn't appear to be working well together, so after a little while, I accelerated past them. The left turn onto Point Reyes - Petaluma Road came up sooner than I expected, and I turned left onto it, heading up towards Nicasio.

I eased a bit to complete the climb up towards Nicasio, where I caught up with a woman sporting a Grizzly Peak Cycling Club jersey. I didn't think she was a randonneur, but I wasn't certain. Just as we made the right turn onto Nicasio Blvd, she called out to me "Hey, are you doing that randonneur thing?" "Yep" I replied, "are you?" She wasn't, but she knew several folks that were. I led here part of the way towards Rancho Nicasio, when I spied a familiar rider up ahead. I struggled to catch up to him, but started faltering, and the woman launched ahead and pulled me the rest of the way. "Jon" I called out, finally getting in range of the familiar face and bike, and we greeted each other. The three of us continued on, rolling past Rancho Nicasio and on towards the turnoff to Lucas Valley Road. Our female companion joked and offered us a Powerbar to draft her up and over Lucas Valley Road, but we politely declined -- I don't think either of us wanted to push the pedals any more miles than were necessary to complete our task!

Final ControlJon is a stronger rider than I, and he pulled ahead over the winding road from Nicasio. We rejoined on Sir Francis Drake Blvd, where we chatted and cruised on towards White's Hill, which came and went in due course. Over the hill, we took the bike route on the quiet side streets leading into Fairfax, and I munched the remaining half of my sandwich to refuel for the last few miles. We retraced our route from the early morning, winding through the little towns, up and over the Camino Alto hill, and back through Sausalito, stopping only briefly so I could refill my water bottle near the Mill Valley school. Jon pulled away from me on the climb up to the bridge, and I rolled into the final control about a minute after he did. Carlos was still there waiting on finishers, and "Cyclofiend" Jim was there as well, snapping many photos. It was quite nice to be greeted by friendly, smiling faces after a long day on the bike! My finish time was recorded as 4:40pm, making my overall time 9:40, which is a personal best for this route. I'm pretty happy with that result, and I think that it proves that if I pace myself during the early part of the day, I can improve my overall speed.

After my card was turned in, I started shivering, and ironically -- for it hadn't been needed during the day -- I donned my full rain gear to ward off the evening chill. After hanging out a bit longer to see other riders finish, I remounted the bike and turned the pedals to cover the few miles back through SF towards home.


Blogger blackmountaincycles said...

Nice report. There were a lot of groups out that day.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Gino Zahnd said...

Good to read the other half. :-)

I had actually forgotten about the Mad Max truck in my state of pain; I had zoned out, just focusing on the pedals and repeating a Shins song in my head. That thing was AMAZING. I want to try driving it!

Funny, I talked to those white-clad pros for a second just as I headed out of Pt. Reyes. They had driven there, parked downtown and were gearing up as I headed out.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Gino Zahnd said...

Oh, and I totally saw you doing your best Brendan Canty on your handlebar drum kit. I was just in no mood to comment. :-)

10:11 AM  
Blogger blackmountaincycles said...

...and that descent off Ottinger's hill is tricky with the decreasing radius turns. Glad there was no vehicle heading up.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Jim G said...

Mike, yep, that's the one. Didn't know it was called Ottinger's Hill though! I just had a moment of panic where I realized that I was going too fast on damp roads, and wasn't sure whether the tires would grip for both braking and carving the turn. I might need to adjust my straddle wires a little lower for some extra mechanical advantage, too...

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the same thing happen to me on Ottingers Hill! I think the crappy pavement combined with poor banking of the road surface causes one who is not that familiar with the road to not get a good line while going too fast. I did the same thing last year too, one would think I would remember, but...it also happened to Brian.

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim - great write up! you need to send it off to the RUSA for consideration for the newsletter.

Also, there probably is not any paint markings on that stretch of the road at Ottinger's Hill, but in general if the centerline paint or the far edge of a turn is NOT moving away from you as you approach a curve, slow down until it 'runs away' from you. if the centerline or far edge of the pavement 'runs away' from you, chase it! That is, you don't need to slow down.

Another basic thing would be to never pick your apex in a turn unless you can see all the way through it.

Those 'reading a road' tips work for driving a car or riding a motorcycle as well. try them out on your next descent on a familiar or new road and you will see what I mean.

10:40 AM  
Blogger blackmountaincycles said...

There's paint, but the road in some sections is pretty beat up in the area where the big milk trucks drive. The line is pretty much in the center of the lane. There's a lot of the road that is in shadows so if you have sun glasses, it's difficult to pick out road obstacles going from light to dark to light to dark...

Once you know the line, that hill is a hoot to descend.

1:48 PM  
Blogger rob hawks said...


The Grizzly Peak Cyclists you saw that day were on a ride they refer to as the Two Bakeries ride, which as I understand it is a shorter version of the Three Bakeries ride (itself shorter than the Five Bakeries ride.) It's not the first time I've seen GPC riders out on their own ride, while doing an SFR brevet.

12:16 PM  

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