Tuesday, April 8, 2014

and mere oblivion, sans teeth ...

Photo above copyright Jim Hsu

Additional photos by Patrick Herlihy

With a longer sweep of time as a yardstick, perhaps the second most popular brevet route for the San Francisco Randonneurs is the Russian River 300km, an event and route hosted every year since 2003, and first held as a RUSA brevet in 1999 and there is reason to believe the route was used as a Paris, Brest, Paris qualifier before even that year. The 300km distance is the first level of selection, where most but not all of the riders successfully completing the introductory 200km events move up a notch on the difficulty scale. Half again as long as the 200km, that third 100km tests riders in a way the first two do not. The route the Russian River 300km follows is not in and of itself a difficult one, with barely more climbing overall than some of SFR's 200km routes have. Instead, the late February or early March date when the ride is held often has dished up weather that can severely challenge riders. Most notable of the 'weather' dates was the 2007 version of the ride, where riders left the start under cloudy skies and only as the first riders approached the 'mental' half way point in Healdsburg did the skies open up, tentatively at first and then with gusto. By ride's end, participants had to dismount and cling to the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge in order to keep from being blown down. The event in 2011 narrowly missed a snowstorm by 24 hours and instead faced 100-year record cold temperatures. In other years, it was merely hours-long rain, or simply strong winds.

Through 2013, I have done this route seven times, missing the event owing to illness in 2009 to break what would otherwise be a long string begun in 2006. In the early years for me, with only one outlier, the route would take me well over 15 hours to complete. Sometimes early season lack of fitness or a winter respiratory illness would be the defining reason, other times the weather, and still other times I would put myself in a hole from the start through some stupid move such as the time I left my wallet on the dashboard of the car and then 8 miles into the ride it dawned on me that I had done that, then having to return to the start and throwing away more than an hour. In 2013, all the usual impediments fell by the wayside and I had an outstanding ride, finally finishing a 300km on any route in under 13 hours. Best of all on that ride, second only to the company I had all along the route, was the way I felt at the finish, which in a word was fantastic. Approaching the 2014 version of the Russian River 300km, I had zero expectation that I could meet or exceed my experience in 2013. In fact I had doubts I'd even be able to keep up with Michael and Matt along the way.

At the start, held at the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion plaza, under the watchful eye of Joseph Strauss an SFR record turnout of riders gathered, ready for the day. The weather is and will be wonderful for this day. I'm feeling a little bit more frazzled with all the pre-ride duties and with a little more confusion than is usual we get started late. Mike and Matt asked me to join them but they left with the first riders and I'm off the back. Once off the west sidewalk of the bridge there is more room and I'm able to work my way further up the pack, looking for Mike and Matt and checking in with riders along the way. The first fifteen miles of the route are ubran/suburban with way too many traffic controls to really get and keep a good rhythm. Somewhere around Ross I've finally caught them and shortly after that our trio finds Jason, riding fixed, and Carl. For roughly the next 200km some permutation of these five riders will be together. In order to reach 300km, the route follows Sir Francis Drake Blvd. out past Samuel Taylor Start park to Platform Bridge Road and then to the not-so-secret control.

This is no hardship at all. After so many years of brutal pavement surfaces through the park, the State found some money to reconstruct the roadway and the experience now is dreamlike: a smooth, undulating and winding road through Marin redwoods. Our group, which has picked up Steve along the way is the second pack to reach the control, where things are calm for now. Later reports noted that very large groups converged on the control, even with it being over 30 miles into the route. We pushed on toward Petaluma and the Safeway control on the east side of US 101.

This stretch, between the Petaluma and Healdsburg controls suffers by comparison to what precedes and follows, and has been mentioned as front runner for the least favorite portion of the route, largely because of the transit of Santa Rosa and Windsor. Still, there are scenic portions and our group worked well through this flatish section and managed to catch (with the help of that great leveler) the lead group on the edge of Windsor and we arrived in Healdsburg together. Many riders, especially in the lead group, chose to make short work of the control at the Safeway, grabbing something to eat and drink on the fly. Others still decided to sit down on something other than a bike saddle and take a bit more time to partake of 'lunch'.

I'm feeling pretty good at this point, perhaps better than I have a right to feel, but there is no need to complain. The wind is light, skies clear and Westside Road and River Road will take us through vineyards and redwoods out to the mouth of the Russian River at the coast just south of Jenner, CA. Though not nearly as extensive as the rebuild of Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Westside Road featured a mile long section of reconstructed road where there once was the most notoriously bad pavement. Quite likely because our strict attention was no longer required in avoiding potholes and cracks in the pavement, each of us now could enjoy looking across the vineyards with the Mayacamas Mountains as a backdrop to the east. Paralleling the Russian River downstream, there was little in the way of climbing as you might expect, but the mileage and that last, annoying bump before the river crossing tends to split up the group. I'm left in no-man's land between the faster, stronger riders I just can't seem to catch, and a trailing group who perhaps have more sense than I do as I still try to bridge up to Carl who disappears on the climb up toward Goat Rock State Park. This stretch of coastline always gets a reaction from visiting riders from out state, or out of state and even from me as I have yet to tire of landscape and views here. Ten miles further south is our next control in Bodega Bay, and the fragemented group only temporarily reassembles. Not wanting to lose the flow I've reached on the ride so far, after a very short break I roll off, promising to soft pedal. Why is this a promise so often broken? On the way toward the Valley Ford mega-rollers, in the canyon just south of Bodega Bay Carl blows by me and it is the last I see of him until after he has finished and turned around to ride the last bit of the route in reverse. 300km won't be enough for him this day.

Each year, riders new to this route worry about arriving at the next control before the Marshall Store closes. Tony's just south in Marshall is open later but it isn't nearly as inviting as the Marshall Store and it's chowder (and beer!). Both options are favorable to the last option of mailing a postcard from the post office across the road. Having stopped along the way from Bodega Bay to eat, Matt and Mike have caught up and we arrived at the Store well ahead of closing time, the earliest I've ever reached the store, and this allows me to relax as I enjoy what I consider a well earned bowl of chowder and a cold Blue Moon. On my first visit to the store as a control on a brevet, I was skeptical about indulging in that menu. Now however, I've elevated the choice to a requirement for the ride. The store management has agreed to stay open a bit later than is normal to allow later riders to stop and eat, offering just the chowder and what packaged foods there is usually for sale and nearly all the riders today make the 'cutoff'. Jason and I rolled off at a leisurely pace to allow the food to better settle, and this becomes a crucial smart decision for me. Without the need to try to match a faster pace for the next so many miles, I'm in a better position to enjoy the last 40 miles without stomach issues.

Upon reaching the turn off, before Point Reyes Station, returning riders are faced with the following climbs: Nicasio Reservoir (mild, short), Dixon Ridge (double climb, annoyingly placed), White's Hill (in the easy direction), Corte Madera Grade (newly repaved on the uphill, still potholed and ragged on the downhill) and lastly the climb up Alexander to the Golden Gate Bridge. Steve, Jason, Mike, Matt and I roll along ticking off these climbs, each with our own reaction to each hill. For my part, all the climbs through the Corte Madera Grade are painless in a relative way. While some are tiring as we inch closer to 300km, we regroup more than once so that the pack stays together. Until that final climb however. I think because I had managed the other climbs with somewhat relative ease, the others assumed Alexander would pose no problems for me. On the first part of the climb while still in town too many wheels were too close together and in order to stay upright I had to pull off and the other riders moved along. After restarting I made it most of the way up toward the final road cut before I gave in to the need to eat one last time before the finish. Matt too had fallen off from the others but on his part it was by design as he needed to stop at his car parked on the north end of the bridge and he waved me on as I called out. Saved from meltdown by my brief stop, I regrouped and crossed the bridge feeling much better even though I lost sight of the riders I had been with all day. A milestone of sorts for me was having to cross the bridge on the west sidewalk, required because the sun had not yet set, and after looping under the bridge on the south side, I pulled in to the finish only a minute behind the others, at 18:04 for a ride time of 12:04. Despite the unplanned stop in sight of the bridge towers, I felt great, better than I've ever felt after finishing this route. From the beginning of the string of times I've done this ride, it has presented itself to me in a progression of stages as first new and full of promise, then at times raging in an adolescent way with stormy behavior, then later still with a more reasoned expression with a hint submerged threat, and finally without the teeth to bite. Still, the climate at the bridge at sundown nearly always includes a cold breeze if not a hint of fog and I was chilling fast so we all broke up to get our cars and head to the post ride meal at Marin Brewing Co.

Ride date: 3-9-14

Host Club: San Francisco Randonneurs

Total km: 300

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 8,700

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Two rocks, no waiting

Photos courtesy of Patrick

In the gentle landscape between the growing town of Petaluma and the coastline, there is a small, and perhaps mostly forgotten community named Two Rock, CA. Two Rock never became a commercial center, never became the western seat of finance, and in fact the road doesn't even widen as you pass through. Most people can travel along the highway here and never realize they've passed through a town, and never even notice the three rock outcroppings that gives Two Rock it's oddly singular name. An oft quoted American author once commented on the attributes of cycling and the resulting understanding of the true contours of the landscape, and should you be riding west on Petaluma-Valley Ford road in the early months of any year, you'll have time to look around at the rolling green hillsides and wonder what it must have been like 100 or 200 years ago, and if this is where the photo for the Windows XP desktop was taken. (No, but darn close.)

Each year since 2010, the San Francisco Randonneurs (SFR) have held the Two Rock-Valley Ford 200km brevet in Feburary. The original motivation for creating the event was to take pressure off of the Point Reyes Lighthouse 200km (PRLH) event, always held a few weeks earlier and which is unique for SFR in that there is a rider limit. Riders who couldn't make the roster for the PRLH could then get their early season 200km in a few weeks later. What came to be instead though for this event is that many randonneurs sign up for both rides, and more often than not, there are more names on the Two Rock roster than for the PRLH. On this day in February, my busman's holiday (two SRCC brevets in a row) is now over, and I'll be both administrating and riding the Two Rock 200km for the club. We have nearly 160 riders on hand at the start at East Beach in The City, and it is already shaping up to be a great day. The pre-ride meeting covers various notes about the route and who will be riding this day, and as a bonus we learn from a local just what the rabbit should have done upon arriving in Albuquerque. This latter bit could be wisdom one can barely live without.

Many of the SFR brevets that start in San Francisco start more specifically at the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB) Pavilion plaza but this route today only reaches that location after a northern transit of the former Presidio and warm up climb to Lincoln Blvd. Some how I end up as the first rider onto the west sidewalk on the Bridge so it falls to me to lead a group through Sausalito on toward Bothin Marsh and Mill Valley. The climb up Camino Alto does its usual task of spreading out the riders, only some of which will regroup into smaller packs on the way to Fairfax and the next climb on White's Hill beyond. I made the climb up Dixon Ridge, away from the San Geronimo Valley ahead of the tandem. My plan was to get far enough down hill to be able to grab on to the tail end of the tandem-led paceline on the far side. It is a near thing and I just make the last position for the run past Nicasio and on past the reservoir. Between here and Hicks Valley and beyond to Petaluma there is a minor climb and along the way I gamble that I can jump ahead, take a bio break, and then catch up again to the pack. I lose that bet and the Paul and Paul manned tandem pulls the pack over the crest ahead of me, and I end up riding solo all they way through Hicks Valley and over the climb toward the Petaluma River watershed.

Though I kept a few of the riders in sight along the way into the first control at the 7-11 store, when I roll into the parking lot Max and most of the other riders were already leaving, rushing to catch Paul and Paul, and Carl who were already gone. I still boggle at this, how quickly they are in and out of the control an I only see the stragglers. One rider, Craig, is not rolling out with the group and instead he waits for me to be ready and we are joined by Brian, who was stalking me along D Street on the way into town. We three chat a bit as we finish the ride through town and then settle into a rotating paceline past the turn to the inland Coast Guard Station and on out past Dos Piedras. On the last rotation before Valley Ford I tell (beg) Brian not to surge. I'm beginning to feel the effort and I'd get dropped if he upped the pace at all. Still, I feel great and enjoy the sun on the porch in front of the Valley Ford General Store. Lunch here was potato salad washed down by some mineral water. A few riders come in and then leave ahead of us, and the first riders, including Matt, Vidas, Gintautas, the aforementioned tandem, Max, Morgan and still more, were long gone before we ever stopped at the control here. Brian plans to ride off course and on up to Sebastopol for an art exhibit with a couple other riders before returning to the course and resuming the ride. My goal is to take it a bit slow at first to let lunch properly settle. A brief moment of wooziness surprises me but it passes along with the climb up the first roller on Highway One. By the time we pass Tomales I'm feeling my old self again and under the sunshine of a perfect riding day we finish the run south to Point Reyes Station (PRS), Craig telling me stories of long ago brevets along the way.

We haven't seen many riders on the run south but out front of the Palace Market Erik, a rider from Gothenburg shows up, looking for a bike shop to deal with a mechanical issue. Erik is a much stronger rider than I am, and it is only because of his mechanical, and my tagging along with Craig that I leave before he does. The route from PRS takes us east toward the canyon that holds the spillway that drains the Nicasio Reservoir. The climb is a modest one and the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road here frequently has a tailwind in the afternoon. The right turn south on Nicasio Valley takes us further around the reservoir and two things, the preceeding drought which has lowered the reservoir, and the clear skies combine to give us a view of the partially submerged old bridge on the former road through the valley. Dixon Ridge, usually a problem for me isn't such of one this day and the west side of White's Hill isn't one either. Now that we are in the suburban section of the ride there will be plenty of traffic controls. Through this area we picked up several riders: Matt, Steve and Vernon. Some how they managed to get in and out of PRS much quicker than Craig and I. It must be their youth.

From Fairfax to the finish at East Beach the major impediments are the Corte Madera climb (aka Camino Alto from the south side) and the climb out of Sausalito to the GGB sidewalks. The cracks in the edifice begin as leg cramps as we climb up the Corte Madera grade and though the road is rough on the downhill, that and the long flat path across Bothin Marsh allow me to stretch my legs out and overcome the cramps. I think I am feeling pretty good here as we make the trek past the tourists in Sausalito and begin the climb out. The climb is not fabulously steep, and is broken up into several segments by a series of 90 degree turns. I make the first turn fine but at the point of the second one going left I crack. Matt checks on me here and offers me a homemade rice cake from the batch he has used to fuel his ride. Like spinach to Popeye, the rice cake does it's magic while Craig patiently waits for me to recover and then we tackle the next 90 degree turn and the longest segment of the climb up to the tunnel under US 101 and the west sidewalk across the bridge. Craig and I negotiate the short trip through the Presidio and down toward Crissy Field and the finish picnic at East Beach. We arrived at 14:58, for an elapsed time of 7:58. This was the first time ever that I've finished an SFR 200km brevet under 8 hours.

And because the whole point of these write-ups is really Jason, I am honor bound to mention that Jason came steaming in to the finish a short while later.

Ride date: 2-22-14

Host Club: San Francisco Randonneurs

Total km: 200

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 9,000

Pushing the plow

All photos courtesy of Megan

To date, the 2013-2014 winter in Northern California has been a very dry one, and with only one or two notable exceptions January was dry in a worrisome way all month. By the end of the next month, February 2014 would be saved from being the driest on record, though barely, by what has now become rare rainfall. So, what then would be the odds that the 'R' word would be in the forecast for the date when the SRCC would hold it's second 200km brevet for 2014? As the day drew nearer, the forecast (though not the weather) became clearer: Overcast, fog, with the chance of rain spiking around 3pm. So the plan now becomes: Ride, of course, but do what can be done to be near the finish not long after 3pm!

Despite the irony of rain during a drought not one of us participating in this brevet, it should be pointed out, would ever begrudge the rain if it came to be. While the rest of the country dealt with prolonged cold spells, huge snowfalls and all manner of other nasty weather, we would be faced this day with at worst, uncomfortable riding conditions. Plus, we all knew too well that the region needed the rain. The year before, when Bob first presented the route to the randonneuring community here, I had planned to ride but instead spent the weekend in bed with a cold. The route components were familiar to me for the most part, but the exact configuration was all new. Bob was brief in his pre-ride presentation and a few miles down the road I could now say I'd ridden all of those roads at least once.

Some days the ride just flows and on other days the air feels thicker, every incline is magnified and you are disappointed to find that your tire pressure isn't too low and your brake pads aren't rubbing because that would have meant that it wasn't just you as the reason. The route today begins in Novato and like all other SRCC routes, it quickly reaches rural terrain. Over the whole of the course there is only one significant climb, Wilson Hill, and one set of mega-rollers to challenge you (though we'll do them both in both directions). The rest of the route is made up of relatively gentle grades of short duration. So I could not blame the route profile nor could I blame the bike for this ride to shape up as the latter type.

As is usual, the only thing that breaks the group of nearly 80 riders into smaller segments in the early miles is first traffic controls, and then later an incline, and the gaps caused by those aspects could have been only temporary if not for the option some riders took to push the downhill. On the approach to Wilson Hill, the first notable climb, I decide to fuel up while riding but I do an awkward job of it and get dropped as a result. Everything seems to be slightly more work today than usual. I can't seem to gain on the group on the Hicks Valley rollers, but I know Wilson Hill just around the next corner will shake things up. That it does and though I do gain a little ground here, I couldn't close all of the gap and the riders ahead are out of sight over the crest.

The descent ahead includes one spot that if I don't control my speed it will cause me at least a moment of mild panic so I don't push it here to catch up. Well above that tricky spot though, I come across a rider down in the ditch on the far side of the road, his bike further down hill than he. The rider is alert and we do an inventory and when it is clear nothing is broken or even cut I walked uphill to warn the next riders approaching. Martin is next and he pulls off to take over traffic control and Bob shows up as well. Most of this day's riders pass by before we all get on our feet. Once upright e can see an ugly bulge on the back side of the injured rider's right knee. Martin, Bob and I all get on our bikes and guide the rider downhill only to stop at the next crossroad to work out a plan for his return to the start. It is clear he should call it a day. (Later on we found out that he was able to ride all the way back to the start, reversing our outbound route and by the next day he was sore but otherwise fine.) While we were stopped making those alternate plans the very last it seems of all the riders have now passed and Martin, Bob and I once again start riding and we quickly catch up to Deb and her rolling Salon. I would have been happy to hang for a bit but I was also happy to follow Bob's wheel around the pack and off the front and Martin hesitates only for a moment before he bridges up to us and Bob pulls us past Laguna Lake and through the valley named for the son-in-law of the first European land owner here.

The first control for the route was in Tomales. Most of the riders made a bee-line to the bakery but a few of us chose the general store instead. In the general commingling of riders in town, Bob hears some intel that suggests it is much better to not assume our fallen rider had made it back to his car safely so he calls the volunteer who had earlier agreed to come pick the rider up and it then that we learned he rode back with her following him. The extra time here helped me feel less rushed once we finally push off toward the rollers between here and Valley Ford.

Despite feeling off, when I thought I'd fall off on the first huge roller north of Tomales, instead I pulled a bit ahead, but several miles later on what is at best a puny roller before the turn toward Freestone, I run out of oomph and truly do fall off but Bob and Martin slow a bit and I catch back up. A few riders pull off in Freestone to pick up a little somthing at the Wild Flour Bakery but our group rolled on. I know that for myself, I'd crash upon the rocks if I heeded the siren song of a stop there. From here Bohemian Highway meanders for a while before reaching the redwoods and the town of Occidental. Along the way we happened upon a rider who tells us he is a cast off from the Grasshopper training ride. He looks spent but in good spirits, having gained some useful experience to build upon and happy with some conversation with us. As we passed through town though I began to worry that I had acquired a slow leak but annoyingly I can't confirm that. The Bohemian Highway from Occidental is downhill so riders can hold a pretty good pace, unless of course they lose tire pressure and eventually it is clear I should pull off and mentally prepare to swap out the rear tube. What I find isn't definitive. The tire pressure is not so low that I need to take the wheel off, so to avoid delaying Martin and Bob who stopped with me, I pump up the tire and trusted that we could then do the 15 miles to the turnaround control. I'm not too far wrong and only need to stop once more to re-inflate with a plan to do the full repair at the control.

Sure enough there is a large crowd on the porch at the Cazadero General Store when we get there and while Bob and Martin head inside, I set to work on my task which I finish as Bob and Martin are ready to go. As Martin rolls his bike toward the roadside he finds his tire is completely flat. With a chuckle he insists we roll off (we later found out it was the tire change from hell as he broke 3 plastic tire 'irons' and nearly some of his fingers in finally defeating the tire). A few riders join us as we head south back toward Highway 116 and the Russian River, but along the way into Monte Rio they pull back and let us go.

Two centuries ago, a French mathematician defined work as weight lifted through a height. There is no doubt I am feeling the weight today and to get to Occidental then, we need to do some work as that town and the next downhill are a ways uphill. Earlier, the skies were overcast and once past Freestone they look more than that. The landscape from Freestone until Wilson Hill has changed from the wooded and closed in feel back north of us and now is open and rolling, offering the chance to glimpse features of the land many miles distant. Any chance we get to look across the landscape shows what looks like rainfall as a backdrop. We've gathered up a couple more riders past Valley Ford but the monster rollers before Tomales break up the group again.

As it was on the outbound run, Tomales is a control inbound which suits me. I want a rest. Every so often now it begins to rain, and then abruptly stops but this pattern gets more pronounced back on Chileno Valley Road. Jason and then Becky, both on fixed gear bikes, have joined us on this stretch but everyone gets spread out on the climb back up Wilson Hill. That sinking feeling of a slow leak is the blackest cloud on the horizon along Hicks Valley Road and finally it feels too much like I'm pedaling a plow. This time the slow leak is my front tire and 10 miles out from the finish I stop to pump it up, and luckily that lasts the rest of the ride. Each time the light rain begins again I am sure it is here for good, but as quickly as it starts it then stops and once we are within the Novato city limits we actually catch a glimpse of blue sky. That is merely a tease though. Our group finishes at 16:29 for an elapsed time of 8:29. We ducked inside the pub for some warm food and cold beer and outside the skies opened up and a rainfall settled in after threatening all day. Many riders are already at the table when I made it inside and it is good to hear the stories of how their ride played out, and I contemplate how having great company on a ride when I'm not feeling the flow can really put that part well down the list of what I'll remember about the day. It really was a good day after all.

And I guess Bob *doesn't* get all the good weather.

Ride Date: 2-15-2014

Host Club: Santa Rosa Cycling Club

Total km: 200

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 9,200

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bob gets all the good weather

RUSA's (unnamed) route # 300 is one of the Santa Rosa region's most popular routes. The route has routinely been offered each year in January and for the last so many years the turn out has always topped 100, sometimes going well beyond that. What is the attraction? The topography of the route is perfectly matched for legs in early season form, which is to say there is a dearth of hills. The route also is short on controls. The start is in Healdsburg near the City Hall, but the turn around is less than 100km so the morning route does some 'bonus' miles to the west and north before heading to the real destination to the southeast in the outskirts of the town of Napa, CA. Those bonus miles require a control and Bob Redmond, the Santa Rosa region's RBA usually makes it an info control and one that relates to, well, lets say it is one of his other passions while off the bike and a seeming competitor to the main agricultural product of the terrain we'll pass through all day. Also a plus for attracting ridership is that there is a staffed lunch in a quiet park in the rolling hills to the east of town. Few hills, and those are small. Few controls, and those are easily processed. All there is left for riders to manage is turning the pedals.

As luck always turns out for this ride, the 2014 version was also held under the threat of fabulous weather, and except for the very early morning chill, the threat became reality. I always worry that with this ride consistently a week or two before the San Francisco Randonneurs opening season 200km, that Bob will have stolen all the good weather because he always gets it for this ride, but this year both dates and clubs lucked out. At check-in that morning I'm joined by 115 other riders all ready for a great ride, and at 08:00 the pack rolls out. The previous year, I found myself still with the lead group led by a tandem and I was able to draft behind the pack that was led by that tandem all day, finishing a 200km brevet for the first time ever in my life in under seven hours, and more to the point finishing hardly feeling taxed by the day's exertions. While I feel good again on this morning, I have no expectations that I can repeat the experience of last year, but even still I work my way up toward the front on West Dry Creek Road and settle in behind the tandem with Mike and Matt on it. As always happens there is a group that turns right way too early and this breaks up the group a bit and strings out the riders, which really isn't a bad thing as it leaves more room for each rider on what is a narrow road. Finally we reach Yoakim Bridge Road and we cut east over to Dry Creek and the zig-zag over to Canyon road and the only hill of any note in the first 30ish miles. This hill is not long and not steep but it is sufficient to further spread out the pack of riders. Today the riders are more than spread out, they are actually separated into many much smaller groups with huge gaps between each group. Mike and Matt have dropped off on the incline but tide turns at the crest and they fly out to the front with riders frantically taking position in the lee behind them.

Just before Geyserville, we gain CA 128 which we'll stay on til well past Calistoga. Further on as we pass by the entrance to River Rock Casino, the casino itself well hidden behind the oak forested hills, I take stock of the group I'm with. Many of these riders are well above my skill level, and I wonder what the hell I'm doing here with them. But the happy fact is that I'm feeling great and not at all outside my riding abilities on this day, so I settle in and chat with Todd or Mike or Matt as we roll through the Alexander Valley.

The pack stays intact and protected behind Mike and Matt as we dip down to cross over Maacama Creek, but on the climb up from there trouble begins for the tandem and a short bit further on they pull over to inspect things, and it is only much later we find out what befell them mechanically speaking. The pack rolls on, no doubt assuming it was simply a nature break on their part and that we'd see them later on. The old saying goes that one man's ceiling is another man's floor, and this pace I decide is my ceiling while others in the group decide to dance ahead on their floor and a sub unit of our pack organizes to up the cadence at the county line climb. Surprisingly though I stay near the front up the climb until I decide I will only be in the way over the crest and four riders sprint off. An equal number of others are just as content as I am to remain at our current comfortable pace, but the hill has done it's work and save for that lead group of four everyone else ends up spread out and alone. No worries, though as I know this route so very well and what it will take me to reach the lunch stop control.

Graham and Todd are up ahead in sight, but I decide they are not reachable even if I hammer for a bit, but later I see Graham all alone and looking back to spot other riders to join him, and it is only because he eases off that I catch up to him. We chat for several miles and negotiate the left on to and right off of Bale Lane. Despite the enjoyment of conversation on a bike under superb skies, I decide I'd be much more comfortable after a bio-break and I let Graham ride off. He later caught up to Todd but would suffer a mechanical just before the turn around control. Just as I return from the bushes on a side road Carl comes rolling along and invites me to grab his rear wheel. Carl, another rider well above my skill level is happy for the company and while he does most of the work leading us south, I jump out front to pull several times along the way until we start the last set of miles before lunch along the left-right-left-right path into the foothills.

Todd and Graham are stopped on the side of the road just off of the Silverado Trail figuring out Graham's mechanical predicament but they wave us on. Five or so miles on we roll into the control, and I'm greeted by shocked volunteers, each wondering what the hell I am doing arriving so early. References are made to PEDs as the explanation but that is of course meant as a left-handed complement and I take it as such. After years of riding brevets and all to often battling stomach issues and paying the price of carrying extra baggage it is a joy to be 70 miles into a ride and feeling just great. I have an appetite, I'm barely tired and I know I have plenty in the tank still for the 55 miles back to the finish control. Bobbi chats with me as I finish a turkey sandwich and before I get back on the bike I grab a dixie cup full of nuts and raisins. That smidgen of food will play a vital role 25 miles down the road. I decided I didn't want to eat it right then so I stuffed it in my back pocket and head to the bike. Todd is there and Carl and another rider is there ready to go and I mention to Jason that the train is leaving. Jason just laughs at the idea of joining us and 20 miles down the road I will know exactly why.

After five or six miles the other rider drops off and Todd and I settle in behind Carl. When Carl first began riding, he set in on a paceline and asked the group how it would work. The simplicity of the answer surprised Carl, but he held to that principle. At the time, he was told that 'a turn at the front' lasted until you felt you needed a break, and on this day, with a tailwind behind us Carl just never needed a break all the way to the outskirts of Calistoga where we came up on a really large group pulled by a tandem. I had missed that group coming in to the lunch break and then leaving ahead of us. Catching a tandem-led paceline is just a little unreal just thinking about it, but the reality was that we had a locomotive at the head of our train that was pulling us along on the Silverado Trail at speeds ranging from 21 to 28 mpph. Once we hit Bale Lane for the run across the valley I heard Carl tell Todd he was headed for the front to pull for a while. In my experience tandems had never benefited from or wanted other riders to pull the paceline and few riders really could get out there and stay out there. Carl proved to be the exception here, and while Carl pulled the group, I sat in back munching the trail mix I had stashed in my pocket when leaving lunch. Calistoga and the most obvious place to pull off to rest is just past the 100 mile mark on the route and I have always stopped there because I always needed the break. Not so today though and with Carl at the front we rolled on through town and off to the county line climb where Carl takes off uphill. Only two riders tried to go with him and only one rider managed it and everyone else spread out, with the tandem and one other rider at the back. I passed the tandem with Paul and Sarah on it partway up the hill, with the thought in mind that if I was behind them at the top, I'd never hold their wheel. I raced down the back side trying to get a lot of space between us so that they wouldn't be going quite so much faster than me when they passed. Amazingly, that strategy worked, but largely because Paul and Sarah slowed partway down when they spotted Paul's brother riding along. The whole group save for just a few riders regrouped before the re-crossing of Maacama Creek, and I settled in at the back to try to hang on. The smell of the barn took hold just before we passed Jimtown when Todd jumped out front and upped the pace to 28mph! and four times I fell off the back of the pack and three times I made it back, so I rode solo the last four miles or so.

Certain decisions are the telltale signs of pure genius, and the mind that concluded that the finish control of this particular brevet should be at the Bear Republic Brewery is one that qualifies as belonging in that category. I arrived in six hours and twenty four minutes after the start, feeling like I had earned (though just barely) a post ride pint plus burger and fries. Mike and Matt are there and I'm momentarily puzzled until they tell me their freehub failed and they had gingerly rode back to town and rented a loaner rear wheel to get 80 miles in for the day.

Ride Date: 1-19-2014

Host Club: Santa Rosa Cycling Club

Total km: 200

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 9,400

Add water and mix

In the interests of chronological accuracy, this addition to the 'chasing K-hounds' series will be about the Worker's Ride version of the San Francisco Randonneurs (SFR) Point Reyes Lighthouse 200km, held the same day as the SFR Point Reyes Populaire. The latter is a subset of the former and covers the same routes save for two different out-and-back legs, one to the lighthouse which lends it's name to the 200km route and the other up to Marshall, CA on Highway One. Worker's Rides, according to RUSA rules, are held sometime within 15 days prior to the main event, to allow those volunteers that make the main event happen a chance to ride the brevet themselves. Trying to pack in enough rides to reach 10,000km this year will be a challenge. I can't justify riding two days out of the weekend on all day rides and there were only two weekends prior to the main event, and on the 2nd weekend in this time frame was a ride I really did not want to miss (more on that in the next post).

After much too long a time without any significant rainfall in California, Saturday the 11th day of January began under the threat of rain. Given the forecast detail I was hoping the rain would hold off until at least after the Populaire riders had finished and maybe I could sneak in later in the afternoon before the rain might begin. John had volunteered to work the start of the Populaire ride to check in riders and I had a number of things to cover with the riders before they left on their ride and all that, combined with Carlos being a few minutes late we three could not leave with the Populaire riders, but this was completely expected. Nevertheless, John, Carlos and I began to catch up to Populaire riders somewhere after going through Ross. Given the generous time allowances on brevets and populaires, there is no need to hurry if you really don't want to and the riders we passed were all in great spirits enjoying the socializing that a large crowd of riders presents. Many SFR brevets run the route from the Golden Gate Bridge out to Fairfax and beyond White's Hill but only a few go further on Sir Francis Drake Blvd past Platform Bridge Road. Those that do get to climb Bolinas Ridge where from the crest of the ridge you can get a full 180 degree view across the valley to the near side of the land mass of Point Reyes across the San Andreas Fault line.

Getting to the top of the Ridge is not that long of a climb but is made to seem longer because the crest is around a curve near the top and out of sight during most of the climb. By this time I had caught up to a number of riders, spending a little time with Deb as the route ducked under the redwoods and later on the climb up the Ridge along with Roy. Shortly after we would reach the bottom of the descent off the Ridge, my route would go left out past Inverness and on out to the point itself where the Lighthouse was, but the Populaire riders would continue north toward Point Reyes Station and the delicacies found at the Bovine Bakery in town. I did not get a big enough gap ahead of the next riders. Roy and another rider must have figured that since I was RBA I should know the populaire route and the best ting was to follow me. They followed me a short bit until I slowed and called back that I was on a different route this day. I thought Carlos and John were somewhere very close behind and riding together and that they should catch me soon, but for the moment I'd be alone headed out toward the Point. I stopped briefly in Inverness to eat and readjust some things but during that time Carlos and John did not roll by. Just after Inverness the route climbs the Inverness Ridge on it's way out toward the beaches and the Lighthouse. The mist that began near Olema was now drizzle in Inverness and the drizzle became more than drizzle on past the Life Saving Station Cemetary. On such a day as this, tourist traffic fades to next to non-existent so I largely had the road to myself. The few cars that passed by had me wondering what they might think as they passed me on my bike as rain blatted against their windshields. Charged with being stubborn at this point, I would have to plead guilty as I never stopped to put on rain gear. I could claim that the rain was just drizzle and would pass but the fact is that by the time I reached the Lighthouse parking lot calling myself damp wouldn't even qualify as an understatement.

The only overhead protection out there was the eaves of the roof over the restrooms but they did offer room enough there to get out of the wind and the rain while I pulled gear from my front bag. I ended up wearing the Showers Pass rain jacket the rest of the ride. Rain was falling in the Bay Area, finally, and I was happy for that and pretty well content at the moment too. I pushed off for the return run back toward the North American Plate. Along the way I first see Carlos on his way out to the Point and as we are stopped John comes along too. Like me, they both seem in fine spirits, barely noticing the rain, so after a few moments discussion we each head off in our own direction. The climb over Inverness Ridge is quiet and simple, with none of the difficulty I've experienced on past versions of the ride and on the way to Point Reyes Station (PRS) I only slow down enough to eat a bit while riding along. On this day, with the weather as it is, PRS is empty of the usual crowds of tourists and cyclists. Between me now and the next control are a series of mild rollers as CA 1 travels north in sight of the shores of Tomales Bay. I often wonder about the upheaval that could create this body of water and how what I see is only a piece of the long string that travels far to the north and south from this point. All that upheaval is in both the past and the future, and as I near Marshall, CA, the immediate present is that tiny little sliver of blue sky off to the northwest that portends clear weather and maybe even dry roads.

The Marshall Store is one of my favorite places and linked directly to cycling in my memories. Even on this lackluster weather day, the store is busy and I find only a place to stand to eat at the counter inside. That is fine with me though as I concentrate solely on the bowl of warm chowder and the bottle of Blue Moon in front of me, surrounded by the empty cellophane packages of oyster crackers littered all around my bowl. With no one to chat with, no one to slow down by my dithering and no one to slow me down with a belated run to the porta-johns, I am gone and heading south just 12 minutes after arriving. The sun has in fact started to poke through the clouds with a little more determination and as I near PRS once more I see Carlos, and then a while later John still heading north toward lunch and the Marshall Store control. My route will go inland before PRS and will then circumnavigate the Nicasio Reservoir before dog-legging through Nicasio itself on the way to Dixon Ridge. Dixon Ridge has always been at best a question mark for me, and at worst a hill that will make me crack. In terms of grade and length it is puny, but it's threat to me lies in its placement on the route, too near the end and always coming between the peaks of my energy on the ride. The roadway is dry here and there and traffic is no worse than otherwise so the climb is done and I'm back on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. heading toward Fairfax. The lower Marin cycling maze is next and though it is well after noon, it seems the area is on the verge of both coming to life and packing it in for the day, with people just trying to get some outdoor time in before sunset.

The climb out of Sausalito is once more counter-flow to the stream of tourists on Blazing Saddles rental bikes both on Alexander Road and also on the west sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge. I arrive at the finish control location 8 hours, 41 minutes after our start. Elapsed times often don't tell the full story of how well the ride went and on this day I recall having taken much, much longer to complete the course and felt much, much worse than this. While this is my second shortest elapsed time for the route, it is perhaps one of the best rides in terms of how I felt at the end: happy, comfortable and hungry for a good sit down meal earned by the day's exhertions.

Ride Date: 1-12-2014 (worker's ride for main ride on 1-26-2014)

Host Club: San Francisco Randonneurs

Total km: 200

Km needed for K-hound: 9,600

Saturday, March 1, 2014

First chance, first step

Way early on a Wednesday morning on the first day of the new year, I'm waiting and shivering in a shopping center parking lot along with 47 other riders. We're all there to ride the Davis Bike Club's (DBC) First Chance 200km brevet which will take us from the western edge of Davis, itself on the western edge of the great Central Valley up through the Vaca Mountains over to Calistoga where we'll retrace our steps back to Davis. Earlier in December the Bay Area had experienced a longish stretch of really cold weather and on this day it seemed to have come back for a curtain call. Despite wool gloves under my cycling gloves my hands are painfully cold on the first few miles out. Out of the parking lot, the pace was very sedate and only gradually picked up. I had made my way up to the front of the first group and hung around there, sitting in comfortably (pace wise) with the group.

My very first ever brevet, save for a team event the prior year was a DBC 200km in March of 2005. The most enduring memory of that ride was how fast the lead group rode right from the start. I was quite green as far as how to ride those events then and I made the effort to try to stay with my riding friends who were determined to stick with that lead group. I just figured that was what you do so I better do that too. Dumb. Really dumb. 20 miles into the ride I was way overheated and way off the back of the pack, and on the return leg that day I really paid the price. This year on this brevet though, the pace was easier, or at least it seemed so. It could be that I had learned a thing or two and as a smarter rider it was easier. I sure wasn't as nervous as I was nearly nine years before.

Around about the point where the route took us through the town of Winters, westbound, I checked back as we climbed an overpass over the Interstate and saw that groups were forming and this lead group had gapped the next group behind. I hung with Todd one or two riders from the front and we chatted and I tried not to think of how painful and immobile my fingers felt. Everything else was fine but I was quite disappointed in the performance of those wool gloves. An old joke from TV sitcoms and old movies has the guy decide to distract his friend from the pain of a bad tooth by stomping on his foot. To distract me from the pain in all my fingers, the fates decided to give me my first flat tire of 2014. I let Todd know that I needed to pull out of the pack and deal with the tire and he is immediately torn between sticking with me and helping me, and hanging with the pack. I let him off the hook immediately and we say our goodbyes because I know I'll *never* catch up with him and the group again.

I used the parking lot of the defunct 95 Food Mart (nee Pardesa Store) to work on the flat and it is quite some time before the next group of riders comes along. I quickly discover though that while I have a spare tube, it is the wrong tube for the tires I have and one I just can't use so I have to instead patch the hole in the tube that punctured. This takes time of course, longer than a simple tube change and amazingly the task allows my hands to warm. A lot of the passing riders don't even see me, but others call out a hello as they roll by. I never see Drew and Deb and only later do I find out that Drew has pipped me in the honors of first flat of the year, which explains why he doesn't roll by as I work on my own. Finally I'm on the road again and quickly catching small groups of riders. It was actually a fun way to get to ride with nearly everybody in the field that day as I would catch a group, chat for a bit and we'd compare notes on where other riders might be. Some of that info would turn out to be pretty off, but mostly it good intel.

I arrived at the turnaround point on the far side of Calistoga while most all the riders were still there. Todd and a few others were already headed back as I came in, but Peter and Russ were still there and agreed to wait a couple minutes more to allow me to roll off with them. The day never really warmed up like I had expected it to, but still this was the best part of the day in that regard. Later a haze would dull the blue sky but at this point it was still clear and we three chatted as we worked our way back to Highway 128 and the trip up past the various reservoirs in the area. Along the way we had caught up to another rider, Jamaica, but not far from the Nichelini Winery but Russ flatted and Jamaica rolled on by. Peter urged me to go catch up to Jamaica as he would stay with Russ so off I went, and it took quite some time before I did catch up. I was able to catch up just before the climb locally known as 'Cardiac'. While the climb itself is over a mile long and steep enough to get your attention it is not the hardest climb in the wider area. I was told though that it got it's name from the fact it appeared late in a race route when riders were particularly tired and spent.

While we chatted we passed the Monticello Dam and dropped down through the rolling downhill terrain where the Vaca Mountains transition to the Central Valley. Along the way we passed Don who had taken a short break and was just getting back on the road. We three rolled along trading off leading the pace line until we neared Winters. Jamaica had fallen off at one point and I could not spot him behind us and at about that time we ended up picking up another rider who was completing his first brevet and longest ride ever. The sky had hazed over at this point and the chill had begun to return as the daylight was fading. With just 6 miles to go, I began to run out of steam and when I pushed harder, cramps would begin to take over my legs.

Our group arrived at the finish control at 16:10 so our elapsed time was just over 8 hours. My son was headed back to Sacramento for the upcoming semester and he and my wife met me for pizza as a post-ride meal. Hard to beat a fun day riding with friends topped off with some hot pizza and a beer.

Ride date: 1-1-2014

Host club: Davis Bike Club

Total km: 200

Km needed for K-hound: 9,800

Friday, February 28, 2014

A simple plan

Quite some time back, I created this blog as a place to record my progress in getting prepared for PBP 2011. The title of course refers to the distance I attained in my attempt at PBP in 2007, which is the distance from the start to Loudeac where I had to abandon the ride owing to a host of issues. The most asked question in late August, early September of 2011 that I answered was 'Are you going to change the title of your blog?' I did not as you can see, and I kept at it, though at a reduced rate of postings. PBP 2015 is drawing near and I have been committed to riding PBP 2015 since before I got off the plane when returning from France in 2011. I've been at work preparing to return and participate in 2015 in a host of different ways, and for 2014 it will be a foundation year. I've let a few people know that I am trying to take a run at the K-Hound award, which will require me to complete 10,000km in RUSA events in the calendar year. In laying out my brevet season, I see that I'll fall far short so clearly I will have to bulk up that calendar of events. In any case though, I hope to add new life to 449km by recording my progress toward 10,000km in RUSA distance.