SF Cyclotouring

Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.


SFR Davis Night 200k

Distance: 230km / 145miles
Bike: Kogswell 700C P/R
Time: 10:52, 8pm to 6:52am

Last fall (2008), our RBA Rob, announced the 2009 SFR brevet schedule, which included an all-night 200k brevet in June that coming summer. Since I've spent the past few years geeking out over DIY LED bicycle lighting, to say I was excited might be a minor understatement! I spent the next few months tinkering with a couple basic light designs, and even acquired a long-desired Schmidt dynohub which I built into a wheel. I had an idea to build The Ultimate Dyno-Powered Headlight, which festered in my brain for a lot longer than I care to mention. "I have time to get this right" I kept telling myself, noting the many months until this particular brevet's due date. I pondered several designs before beginning actual construction, and sure enough, I found myself frantically finishing said light the week prior to this brevet! So, with only a few short trips up and down my street to test their workings, "No better way to put a new light and wheel through their paces!" I thought.

My BikeThe Friday before the brevet arrived, and as soon as I got home from work I set about laying out and packing up needed items: clothing to wear, extra layers to pack, food , fluids, toolkit, first aide kit, cue sheet, spare copy of cue sheet, ride info, backup battery head light, spare batteries for multiple lights, camera, and more. By the time I was done, my bike felt like it weighed 50 pounds!

I went to bed late, and slept fitfully due to nervousness about many things: I hadn't ridden longer than about 60 miles in one go for several months, I hadn't ridden any real distance on that new front wheel, I was utterly unfamiliar with this course -- let alone navigating it in the dark, and I had no idea how my body would react to staying up all night. On top of that, my left knee had been giving me problems while riding for a few weekends prior to this ride. The next morning I slept in, but I suspect that drastically interfered with my plan to nap that afternoon. At 3pm I tried to nap for an hour, but sleep just wouldn't come. Carlos and I had agreed to carpool to the ride's start, and I offered to drive since my car has a roof rack (and because he drove for our last outing). Our plan was to assemble early, grab some burritos for a quick dinner, and then head up to the start in Hercules. The burritos we got from a neighborhood taquería were tasty and large, and though I wanted to eat mine up, I followed Carlos' lead and saved half for later.

The ride was scheduled to start at 8pm, and we arrived (as planned) with plenty of time to spare. I didn't want to have to rush while I strapped my various bags, lights, and other gear onto my bike, plus it's always nice to have a few minutes to chat with the other riders -- I recognized several familiar faces and noticed a few new ones. I discovered that my tires were a bit softer than I like, so I quickly topped them off with strokes from my frame pump. Then, I rolled over to the check-in table for a quick equipment inspection (lights: check, reflective sash and ankle bands: check) and joined the 16 other riders already assembled.

Start ControlAfter getting everyone's attention, Rob gave the traditional pre-ride speech. Because I wasn't familiar with the specific street and road names on the route, I didn't grasp much of what was said. This was my own fault -- I hadn't studied the cue sheet, nor had I "previewed" the course using an online map. Most of the brevets SFR does start and finish at the Golden Gate Bridge and traverse roads I am very familiar with -- this makes me lazy when it comes to navigating new routes. Fortunately I got lucky this time for reasons described later, but this is something to take note of!

Rolling OutTaillights winking, we rolled out as a group right at 8pm, with the setting sun. Riding nearby, Rob asked me "Jim, do you have a plan?" I wasn't sure what he meant, so I jokingly replied "Um, I'm going to ride with Carlos -- if he lets me!" Carlos and I ride together regularly most weekends, but during brevets he usually pedals much faster than I. Rob was wise to ask -- for in fact, I didn't really have a plan, and this was one of the things that had made me lose sleep the night before. I'd been complacent in thinking that this ride was "just another 200k" which didn't call for any extra preparations, and the reality of what I'd gotten myself into was starting to sink in. Graciously, Rob offered to ride with me if I found that I needed company. I thanked him, and since by then all of us were still riding in a single group, I wasn't sure if that'd be needed. (A bit of foreshadowing: I was dead wrong!)

Riding through Vallejo, we were still forming an oblong group when someone flatted. A few riders at the front kept rolling, while a few of us held back to wait for the repair. I chatted with Todd and another rider, and soon enough we recognized the array of bicycle headlights approaching from behind. Regrouped and rolling again, we made good time to the second control, the Tower Mart in Cordelia. At this point I was feeling good, and I quickly entered the store, bought a pack of mini doughnuts and a Starbuck's Double Shot, noted the time in my brevet card, and got back out to my bike. I was just sipping my drink when I saw Carlos packed up to leave. "Are you ready to head out?" I asked him. "Yep" he said. "OK, give me two seconds" I replied. I chugged the rest of my drink, turned around, and discovered that Carlos had left, along with the rest of the group. Apparently he hadn't heard me, and thought that I was ready to go too. I hopped on my bike and gave chase for the next few miles, finally catching up at a red light. That effort tapped my reserves somewhat, I feared!

Third ControlWe seemed to arrive at the third control quickly. I still had some doughnuts left, so I just grabbed another Double Shot in order to get my receipt as proof-of-time. I drank that quickly, thinking "...This time, I won't be left behind!" My knee had started acting up again, and I remembered to take some ibuprofen to manage the discomfort. We were back on the bikes and rolling within ten minutes. There was a ways to go before the fourth control at Davis, which also was the turn-around point. The riding here was fast and fun: a group of about 15 riders moving together under the starry sky, lights blazing up the roadway, over easy-rolling terrain with little wind. I noticed I was in the company of several PBP-veterans and other fast riders! Our lead riders apparently knew the route, so individual navigation wasn't needed -- it was just a game of follow-the-leader. Happy with my dyno-hub lighting system (in fact it was working great!), I thought to myself "Ah, this is what it feels like to be a real randonneur -- moving easily through the night with the other fast riders!" I took a few moments to look around, relishing in the stars visible overhead and the cool-but-not-cold temperatures.

My reverie was interrupted with calls of "car back!" from behind. I was already riding over towards the right-hand side of the roadway, so I had little to do but to be alert and toe the line. Although the call was passed forward, I noticed that a few of the lead riders didn't take corresponding action by moving into single-file formation. I could see multiple sets of auto headlights queueing behind our group of riders, and as soon as the opportunity came up, they accelerated past us, horns blaring loudly in the night. This event repeated itself as we approached a confusing traffic circle: a single car veered into the opposite lane and passed us; it turned out to be a Solano County Sheriff out on patrol. Then, suddenly as we approached the circle itself, a second car abruptly accelerated and veered into the oncoming lane as well! That car was trying to pass us, but ended up getting cut off between our lead riders and the dividing median in the center of the roadway. I was certain that there was going to be an accident, but the driver slammed on his brakes before impacting that median. Looking back, I saw that this second car was another Solano Sheriff's patrol car! I was certain that they were going to pull us over for some reason, but as we gingerly made our way around that traffic circle, the officer switched on his PA speaker and announced "Please make sure to ride to the right-side of the roadway!" Yes sir, Mister Officer sir! That's what I'd been doing anyway! The odds of encountering two sheriff vehicles out in the middle of the night like that are small, and I'd bet that someone called 911 proclaiming "there's a bunch of crazy bikers out blocking the roadways!" and they came out to investigate. Hopefully all of our lights and reflective gear assuaged them. At any rate, that encounter got the blood pumping and served as a good reminder to stay sharp!

Fourth ControlSomewhere along in here Rob caught up with our group. He'd been spending time riding with another group of riders, and decided to push on up to catch up to us. At one point, I thought I heard his voice, so I turned around but didn't see him, so I decided it was my mind playing tricks, but then there he was! I guess I was getting tired at this point -- it was around midnight after all. We arrived at the fourth control, the Safeway in Davis, in -- for me -- record time, covering around 70 miles in just over 4.5 hours! Here things weren't quite as rushed as they'd been at the other controls. I followed Rob inside the store, found a second set of restrooms where there was no line (thanks again Rob!), bought a banana and some water, and headed outside. My stomach was starting to feel a bit off by this point, and I'd hoped eating some food might settle it a bit. I thought "MMmmmm burrito" remembering the tasty bomb of rice, beans, and chicken I'd saved and hauled all the way from San Francisco. It sure tasted pretty good, but I couldn't eat the whole thing, as my stomach just didn't like it very much. I ate the banana, drank some water, popped another Advil, and started getting ready to roll out into the night again.

Once we left Davis and were back out on the rolling rural roads, I started to worry. The combination of the late hour, my sour stomach, my knee pain, and the fast pace of the group I'd been with started to take its toll. As we hit each subsequent roller, I found it increasingly difficult to maintain pace over the uphill side, and a gap was forming in front of me. I don't know if he can read minds, but just at that moment Rob slid up next to me and quietly said "Jim, if you need to take the pace down a notch, I'd be happy to drop back with you." I gasped something like "I'll need to take you up on that offer in another minute or two!" and with that I dropped off the back end of our group. I'd been desperately afraid of getting dropped by this group, since I'd made the grave error of not paying attention to where we where on the cue sheet! If I got dropped, I had no frame of reference from which to navigate, and I didn't want to get left out on the dark, lonely roadway all by my lonesome! (I did have my iPhone, and if it came to that, I'd hoped that I could locate myself using the mapping application -- but then again I didn't know if there was even cellphone service out where we were!)

I found myself in the company of another rider, who introduced himself as Jaime from San Diego. We were both relieved to learn that we weren't the only one who was suffering a bit under the fast pace! Rob had moved ahead to alert the other riders to our intentions of slowing down, and that we were going to pause for a breather. Jaime and I stopped at the side of the road, and watched everyone else roll on ahead. It felt dark and lonely out on that road, and I was glad for the company! After a bit, Rob turned back to rejoin with us, and we sat there for a minute or two longer to catch our breath. My knee was starting to really bother me at this point, and I was glad for the break. I knew it was late, but I didn't want to know the exact hour in hopes that my body would continue on in ignorance -- but Jaime mentioned that it was 3:30am. My morale sank a bit at that point, honestly, for I expected it to be an hour or two closer towards sunrise. We three started rolling again, and just around the next few bends in the road we came across three riders who'd pulled off to fix a flat. Carlos was one of them; it was good to reconnect with him even just for a few minutes. The repair complete, we set off again into the darkness...

We watched the tail lights dwindle as the fast group moved off ahead. It was just Rob, Jaime, and me, and we maintained a pleasant speed as we pedaled through the quiet night. My knee pain was manageable, as long as I didn't push too hard, and the terrain was gently rolling, as if to accommodate. Three headlights lit the way and there wasn't a car out for miles, so we had pretty easy going at this point in the ride. Rob relayed riding stories and experience to us, and I took it all in. I'd known Rob for a few years, but had never really gotten a chance to ride with him, so finally getting to do that was really nice -- not to mention his willingness to help Jaime and I make it back to the finish!

Arriving at the penultimate control in Cordelia, Carlos was still there and asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was struggling and that I felt like I needed to puke! He joked that there was a nice spot out behind the ARCO store where we'd stopped, and I nearly took his advice, but instead opted to go inside where it was warm, and try to find something to calm my stomach. I'd regretted drinking too much coffee-type drinks too early in the ride, and remembered that chocolate milk has always sat really nicely in my tummy. But I was chilly, and didn't want to put anything cold in my system! I saw someone working the coffee machine, and suddenly realized that they might have hot cocoa -- which immediately sounded good! They did, and I extracted a cup from the machine, paid for it, and then sat on the floor, huddled with my warmth-in-a-cup. Rob suggested that I might beg a couple of No-Doze tablets from Todd, who was just about to leave, so I hobbled outside and nicely-as-I-could begged the caffeine from Todd, who kindly gave me two. Those pills, coupled with the cocoa, worked some minor magic, and I felt better in short order. Note that I said better, not well, for I was still struggling. We lingered at this control for a bit longer, and finally decided to saddle up for the last push home. The early morning temps had dropped, so we all donned an extra layer, and I was glad for the rain jacket, neck gaiter, and full-fingered gloves I'd packed in my bag.

Switching off our lights with the early-morning sun, we loped along the roads into Vallejo, Rob literally pushing me up some of the tougher hills (again, thanks Rob!) -- I was wiped out and my knee was screaming. Those No-Doze should've kept me awake for a few hours at least, but I swear their effects wore off in just over an hour. We wound our way through the small towns before crossing the Zampata Bridge, and I knew that the climb up from the bridge past the oil refineries would be the last task to complete before the finish. As we rolled in, I was amazed to learn that we'd completed the route -- in spite of everything -- in under eleven hours! I'd predicted that it'd take me about 12 hours to finish, especially since this wasn't really a 200k route, it was actually 230k! My average speed for this ride was among my highest ever -- due in no small part to the group I was able to ride with out to Davis, and also to the quick exchanges at the controls (normally I take much longer breaks). I was dead tired -- too tired to take advantage of the doughnuts, pastries, and coffee that were spread out for the finishing riders. I managed to drink four glasses of orange juice, and then Carlos -- who had been waiting at the control, since I was his ride home -- suggested that I take a nap in my car. I climbed into the seat and closed my eyes for awhile, but I never really slept...I was too cold. As I stirred, Carlos came over to see how I was doing, and he suggested that I put some dry clothes on. "Why didn't I think of that?!" I said, and dug some fresh clothes out of my gear bag. Dry and comfortable, I sat in a chair and warmed in the sunshine while the others chatted and waited for the final riders to wheel in. I finally felt alert enough to drink some chocolate milk and eat a bit of pastry.

All the riders in now, we helped pack up the equipment and supplies, and Carlos and I loaded our bikes onto my car and headed home. I spent the rest of the day napping, and my wife and I headed out for a nice pasta dinner with friends, making a hearty close to an adventurous weekend!

Lots of lessons were learned on this ride! Randomly...

Riding with a fast pack of riders, at night, demands extra attention -- making it tough to remember to eat and drink frequently enough. Carlos has started using a watch with a repeating count-down timer as a reminder to eat, and I think I should try that out as well.

Clearly I still need to do a better job of pacing myself -- I was riding above my ability and knew it all along, and then it drastically caught up with me. If Rob hadn't been around to bail me out, I honestly don't know how I might have ended up!

I had no idea how my body would react to staying up all night, and now I know that it doesn't respond too well.

I need to learn to always pay attention to where I am with respect to the cue sheet, even if someone else knows the route and is leading the way -- this is extra tough at night when it's difficult to even read your cue sheet.

Carlos had sent me a copy of his reformatted, easier-to-read version of the cue sheet, which worked quite well -- remember to use his format for future brevets.

A few days after the ride, Rob asked me if I'd do it again next year. I told him that, overall, I'd learned that riding at night is fun, but I wasn't sure about riding all night. ;) I need to figure out how to coax my body into behaving during the wee morning hours before I attempt that again....



Blogger Unknown said...

Oh Jim I know you'll be there next year :) Or sooner...

I think you can do this an any other overnight brevet without a problem. You carry enough stuff to get you out of most emergency situations. In the worse case that there is nobody riding behind and you find yourself alone and exausted just open a space blanket, you carry one right?:) and wait for a while for your body to recuperate. And of course pace yourself and maintain a positive outlook.

If you don't know where you are at a given time just check your computer and can approximate your location on the cue sheet, then ride to the next intersection and compare the names to to cue sheet. That will put you back in track.

There is nothing wrong with riding alone or with different groups in the same ride, it is all part of the fun and you learn something from all that. I really hope this experience does not discourage you from participating other events that include overnight riding. Hey if you where able to go for pasta later that day that means you did not surfer enough :)


10:35 AM  
Blogger Jim G said...

Hi Carlos, actually I do not have a space blanket -- it's something I should pick up I guess. Your tip about estimating your location on the cue sheet using the mileage off your bike computer makes sense, I'm not sure I would've thought of that, especially with a tired mind head that late/early. I will have to remember that! Don't worry, I'm not discouraged from doing rides like this in the future, I just need to practice staying awake all night!

12:14 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Nice write up Jim. And it was nice to formally meet before the ride.

Another thing you might like to keep in mind on a ride like that is the number of people you have behind you. I love to ride with others, but when it doesn't work out for whatever reason, it is comforting to know there are others behind me and if the need arises, I know I could count on them to help me out.

If you had lost Rob and Jamie with the rest of the fast group, I would have come along eventually, happy to find new company.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Jim G said...

Hi Tom, you are absolutely right!

12:54 PM  
Blogger rob hawks said...


Like Carlos, I have full faith that a repeat of this ride is well within your abilities. As I wrote to you previously, address the fast pace issue and it's likely that *all* the other issues disappear.

On a personal note, this brevet rates up near the top of my favorite ride experiences. No ride has ever been perfect and there things about this ride I wish had gone differently but those are minor. I had a great time overall and really enjoyed the time riding with you and Jamie. Once we cleared Fairfield, the car free roads were a dream.


4:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home