Thursday, October 1, 2015

The third time around

I had been planning this trip to participate in Paris, Brest, Paris (PBP) since August of 2011, and back then, still buzzing from the experience of completing the full PBP route for the first time I had no idea of what would change for me before PBP 2015 would arrive and what I'd have to go through to get there. On the departure day for the trip, I found I was way behind in preparing despite ample time to get ready, and a mountain of good intentions to be ready. That left me feeling very stressed and uncomfortable.

Elaine Astrue had promised to do all the route finding for a pre-PBP shake down ride out to Rambouillet (a destination I hadn't visited on past trips, despite trying) once I arrived in France, and Jim Bradbury joined us for the day. That ride was fantastic. All the built up stress washed away and the route took me on entirely new-to-me roads and had the advantage of getting us out into rural landscape so much more quickly than does the official PBP route.

Despite that wonderful ride, plus another short ride over to Versailles (checking off another new experience) during the days leading up to PBP I felt off, so much so that I skipped joining the big group that rode out to Gambais along the official route on the Friday before the start. I had noticed some small bumps on my arms which at first I thought was poison oak or the French version of that and over the next few days those spread to my ankles and shins. I found out much later that there is no such French equivalent to poison oak, and at the time I did not directly connect this to my feeling "off". Mid-afternoon on Friday I finally roused myself from the torpor I was in and got out on the bike for my own short, Garmin directed recon of the first part of the course.

I was treated not to the sunshine of earlier in the week but instead to a passing storm cell, but it was timed such that I could wait it out in a small bus shelter out near Jouars. I was not alone in taking a late ride that day and ended up sharing the bus shelter with another rider, Robert, who was also from the Bay Area. I didn't mind the rain so much because I could see it would pass in minutes and I also had noticed that I wasn't enjoying direct sunshine so much anyway. Another data point that I'd fail to connect.

As in 2011, the bike check on Sunday was dramatically calmer than that the day before held for the 80 and 90 hour riders. The 84 hour riders are a much smaller group, and all the details of processing the riders had been worked out by then. I would spend the day resting, watching the day time starts for the 80 and 90 hour groups, eating a leisurely meal and then packing and getting a full night's sleep before my own 05:00 start on Monday. All the excitement of that Sunday was something I could watch and record but I was not compelled to participate, which was just fine with me.

Early Monday, a fair sized group of SFR riders gathered for the first wave of 84 hour start. Todd Teachout, Metin Uz, Gabrielle Friedly, Barry Schwartz, Rafael Gernez, Grant Haidinyak, Kris Jones, Elaine Astrue and possibly others were all in the same group, all close together, not quite at the front. In the dark we rolled out of the Velodrome driveway, on a tangent off of the traffic circle and through a sleeping St. Quentin and were cheered not by the hundreds and perhaps thousands of spectators of yesterday but by a few scattered dozens of spectators. I know this lack of fanfare will pay many dividends later, but while I see this as an advantage others see it as missing out on the very nature of what PBP has grown to become .

Despite best intentions of riding as a group, our knot of SFR riders got spread out among the other 300 riders in our start wave and we lost contact, then found only a few miles down the road that we were within yards of each other all along. I felt ok, but not great. I could certainly roll along and keep up with others but there was  no spark to my riding. My legs weren't dead or leaden, just lacking an ease of motion that should have been present on a peak event.This didn't alarm me because I knew that on a ride of this length, there will be many low points all followed by high points, both emotional and physical. There is always a high point ahead. I could have used more to eat early on that morning  but I made it to Mortagne-au-Perche where riders wouldn't need to get a stamp in their brevet card but where I knew there was food. A bowl of Purée, a plate of Potage and a Jambon and I'm topped off. Barry and Kris were outside ready to roll and I hurried to join them and we three rode together for many more miles.

I'm not really keen on the segment between Mortagne and Villaines la Juhel (seemingly busier, less rural roads) and I found I needed to work just a little harder to keep the pace but it wasn't above a level I couldn't manage. One thing on my mind was the anticipation of the food. On a particularly hard ride my body may burn up to 10,000 calories a day. Food, and tons of it, will be very important for the next several days on PBP. In 2011 I had arrived in Villaines with the memory of 2007 and expected not to find anything to my liking. In 2007 I had left there not having eaten enough by half and it made the rest of the ride harder. Well no, it made it impossible.
In 2011, to my utter delight,  I found the food to be fabulous and (discreetly) ate piles of it. The difference between 2007 and 2011 was me of course, by 2011 having set aside my narrow food tastes in favor the need for fuel. In 2015 I was so looking forward to eating well again there and that is exactly how it turned out.

Up til then I had only handed out one or two of the SFR pins but from this point forward I kept a supply handy in a pocket and took the opportunities to pass them out when they came. In Villaines the dining hall set up is that local school children are tasked with carrying the tray for the rider and finding them a place to sit and using the opportunity to practice speaking English. I look forward to the controls as a place to interact and observe riders from around the world and Villaines has become my favorite control town for this reason of course but also because of the interest the town shows toward the riders.

Between Villaines and the next control in Fougeres I knew the terrain would get hillier but it also got much more scenic. Cost and reward. Before leaving town I had to stop though to put on a cover for the leather saddle as it had started to lightly rain. I never did don full rain gear, only the saddle cover. Leaving Villaines after a few kilometers there is a pretty long climb and I was happy to trade a small amount of being damp for the freedom of not wearing rain gear. Before Fourgeres I got caught in about 45 minutes of very mild rain, never falling hard enough to convince me to stop to put on a jacket or rain shoes.

I could tell that the rain would stop soon if I could just get out from under the edge of that little rain cell. The rain gods just toyed with me for some reason. I recalled as I tried to ride out from under that cloud that for three editions running, I had experienced rain on that same segment, but this time was the easiest to deal with. 2007: hours of dreary, wet skies before and after with the rain never heavy, never light. 2011: Biblical level downpours with enormous rain drops vaporizing upon impact with the pavement and black clouds and lightening showing you exactly which way the route would turn. 2015: light rain and the clear edge of the rain cell just 200 meters ahead. An ever moving 200 meters. It took 45 minutes to ride those 200 meters, as if Lucy Van Pelt controlled the clouds.

In many controls, the actual recording in the cards (handwritten times and a control specific stamp) is done in one place which might have a small cafe adjacent, but the main cafateria and dining for larger crowds of riders would be elsewhere. The Fougeres control might be where there is the most physical separation between those key locations. Most riders would get stamped first and then ride back to the cafeteria, but not all. I did not keep that in mind and on the slight down hill roll back to the cafeteria I began my left turn into the bike parking area just as another rider was speeding up to pass on the left. A small nick on my elbow and scuff on my shift lever was all that resulted from my fall, with the other rider staying upright. In the middle of his apology he stopped to say 'hey, nice bike by the way'. The collision was certainly half my fault and I feel I got off easy with the nick and minor scuff. Once upright and sorted out, I went in to the cafeteria and through the food line, ate and then decided to go through once more. Doing that allowed me to eat with Elaine, Michael Sokolsky, Barry, Kris, Gabby, Eric Norris and others who all arrived in Fourgeres a bit later than me.

Eric and I left together after what was for me an 2+ hour stop and we picked up Elaine at the edge of town and we three kept more or less together till well past dark. Fougeres is a long way from the half way point and yet very quickly we 84 hour starters (frame plate groups X, Y and Z) began to pass a number of riders from the S and T groups which had started 9+ hours before us. There were quite a number of them and they all were wearing what must have been every garment they had with them. They did not acknowledge us as we passed. The 'Thousand yard stare' would have been an improvement over the expressions they carried on their faces. And yet they rode on, and we would see many more of them later as we put Brest in our rear view mirror the next day. By Tinténiac, the weather had cleared more completely and I stopped just short of the control to perform a costume adjustment and to don reflective gear, letting Eric and Elaine go on while I got picked up by Kris passing by moments later in the last kilometers before the control. Another meal, of slightly larger than modest proportion, and we kitted up for night riding and set off in twilight with a very slight crescent moon setting.

We all skipped stopping at the non-control food stop in Quédillac and in the darkness a larger, international group formed. Conversation died off as both the group grew larger and the darkness became more complete. Riding at night always feels faster than you actually travel and I kept invoking the back light on my Garmin just to be sure. We did have a fairly nice pace going though, thanks in large part to two members of the group that filtered up to the front and were content to stay there and pull the pack at a pretry good clip. I credited Elaine for finding just the right peleton for this leg of the route. Robert Sexton had joined us earlier and after Eric had stopped to shift fluids Robert dropped off too and I tailed off the back where I felt a little safer and less of a hazard to others, but keeping Elaine in sight the whole while. Things would get a little chaotic when our pack would catch another and we would need to sort things out as we passed. This always required a short sprint each time when I would suddenly realize a gap had formed. In 2011 this segment was the scene of very intense and troubling thunderstorms for the group I was in (Jack Holmgren, David Walker, Ed Yu and myself) but this time the sky was littered with stars. Four years before this segment hammered me, but this time I rolled along much more at ease. Around about La Chèze Kris and Barry caught our group. First Barry and then Kris would roll off ahead and then fall back and rejoin us. We were much nearer to Loudeac now and I was content to maintain a steady pace for the rest of the leg. Part of that contentedness mentioned was because I knew I was well ahead of 2011's pace. Once in the control at Loudeac we split up with Barry and I getting drop bags and heading off to rooms at the Hotel Voyagers, spotting Andrew de Andrade and Anton Brammer before leaving. Those two were on their way out of the control around 01:30. This arrival time for me was several hours earlier than four years before and I intended to spend all that time gained by sleeping longer this time.

After nearly six hours off the bike I returned to the control just after dawn to see if I could find any familiar faces and Eric and Elaine were there and we left town as a group. I continued to use my arrival and departure times from 2011 as a yardstick of my progress and while I was leaving Loudeac a little later than in 2011, I felt confident that I'd make back all the extra time that I had spent sleeping. Perhaps the hardest leg on PBP is the segment between Loudeac to Carhaix in either direction, because the hills are more frequent and while never long using Bay Area standards, they are steep. Our group handled them well. In Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem we needed to stop as this was anot outbound  secret control and I took the opportunity to have another Jambon. Finishing up business before departing I ran into Theo Rolfe who was on his return to Paris. Theo gave me an update on several other SIR riders that I knew and after wishing each other well we each went our own way.

For what seemed to me to be the only time on the entire ride it began to warm up a bit as the fog of the morning began to clear. Carhaix, the next control, was another chance to eat which we took and our group left town and passed the point where the outbound and inbound routes separated. Though hillier, this portion of the route was a big (and welcome) change from the agricultural landscape we had traveled through before. From Carhaix we went northwest toward and through Huelgoat which passes park land along the way. Elaine challenged me to pronounce the name Huelgoat, but I knew better than to even try. Chris Selby Smith from the UK, who had joined us earlier came through though and nailed the pronunciation. The route would later rejoin the inbound leg as the outbound leg began the modest climb up to Le Roc Trevezal in the Monts d'Arrée. Earlier in the day I had finally noticed the return of the spark in my riding and I decided to let it fly on the climb and then descent into Sizun. On the climb and descent is where the 84 hour riders can catch a glimpse and yell hello to friends doing the 90 hour start. I saw quite a number along here including Lois Springsteen, Peg Miller, Kitty, Gabe and Ian riding together, and several others whose jersey I could spot but I wouldn't make the connection until comparing notes long after the finish.

That spark I now felt in my legs would stay with me the entire way back to Paris, and I flew on the way into Brest. It all seemed downhill but it was a little maddening being able to see the destination from the hills outside of town and then have it take an eternity to finally reach the control as the route seemed to meander through the outlaying villages. Crossing the foot bridge with the landmark Pont de l'Iroise to our right was a kick but there was still more miles to ride before I could stop. In 2011 I was pretty disappointed with the control set up in Brest, and even though this was a new location (I think actually a return to a location used in the past) it was a lackluster dining experience. The food was the most expensive at this control, and by far the least appealing (though keep in mind I did say I was a fussy eater). I found Kris and Barry there, just ahead of me in the food line and Eric, Elaine and Chris S.S. came in just a bit later. The latter three and I left the control as a group and climbed back out of town together. After a few miles though it was clear we weren't climbing at the same rate so I let my legs find their comfort zone and I pushed ahead. I had a motive for doing so. In 2011, riding with Ed Yu, I had stopped in the town of Sizun and had a beer at the Cafe. I had arrived in town with that one thought which baffled me then but it turned out to be the perfect thing. This time, I was unsure I could convince any of my fellow riders to stop for beer so going ahead allowed me to zip in, down a glass and hopefully exit in time to catch them for the climb up Le Roc. Chris and Elaine managed to get by as I stopped but Eric was outside when I came out of the cafe. He wasn't quite ready to drop into the rolling pace so I went ahead to catch the others. By the time I reached Elaine though I had a good head of steam going and I just kept at it. The climb was just as easy this year as in 2011, but this time I knew where the summit was whereas in 2011 the ease of the climb was a surprise.

On the descent I passed a group of riders and noticed one I had supported when I worked the last DBC Gold Rush Randonee two years back. I had set as a goal the objective of seeing more, interacting more, doing more on this PBP so I slowed down to let the group catch up and I chatted briefly with the rider from St. Petersburg. It was only much later that I realized that a couple of riders in her group were from Ukraine (make of the mixing of Russians and Ukrainians in today's Eastern European international climate what you will) but down the road when I next saw the iconic Ukrainian trident on a jersey I slowed down again to chat. (My wife is Ukrainian-American, and had only days before returned from a trip to Ukraine). Yaroslav informed me that owing to my wife's heritage she must be the perfect wife. We exchanged information about the groups we were with and I then rolled on.

Going into Carhaix I finally caught Chris S.S.. We rolled into the control together and then exchanged intel on the other riders we had spotted that we both knew. Chris decided he really wasn't hungry and took off and Kris, Barry and I later rolled out together to ride across a landscape painted in the light of the golden hour. Four years before it was full on dark when I left this control so I had regained time those extra hours I spent sleeping the night before. The stretch ahead was the reverse portion of what many consider the hardest section, which would be made harder by it being dark. I was still feeling really good and after a time our group spread out and lost contact with each other, first as we caught other packs of riders, then as our respective paces became out of synch. As the rollers hit and then got bigger I left behind a number of packs and for a while I'd be concerned that the groups behind were using my tail light to inform them of the route while I myself was only 80% sure I was going the correct way, so I had to pay much more strict attention to the route markers. After a while I bridged the gap between the large clumps of riders and could then follow their lights. There became so many riders that it was slow going trying to pass. In the dark tired riders began to let their guards down, too much in my estimation. Very often, I'd see a rider far to the left, well over the center of the road and invariably they'd turn out to be from the UK, Japan, Australia or some other country that drives on that side of the road. Perhaps in their weariness they sought comfort in that placement on the roadway, forgetting they were no longer home. Other riders, too tired to think properly, would just stop in the middle of the road and become the boulder in the middle of a stream as the current of moving riders flowed around them.

I arrived in Loudeac at 00:40, nearly four hours ahead of my 2011 pace and headed straight to the hotel. I was surprised to find Kevin in our shared room. With Kevin in the 90 hour group, and me in the 84, we assumed we'd never meet. Coming into town I had noticed that there was a welt on the back of my neck and one on my right cheek. I thought Kevin said it looked like a sty which confused me as I thought those were related to eyes. Either way, it was getting painful. Once he left and I set about cleaning up I found that I had red welts all over my arms and legs and across my lower back, basically anywhere there were gripper bands on my cycling clothes or a particular point of close contact with clothing. I wasn't happy about this, but the thing was I still felt strong and was riding well so I crashed for the night.

The next morning I dropped off my bag and rolled out of town feeling pretty good. I mis-played a couple things with my Garmin and had to restart it once more (restart in Brest because I thought I had very little power left but in fact had 82% charge, and a reset in Loudeac when I hit the stop button in error and could not remember how to back out of that). I passed Kris and Barry along the way and heard they had gone off course the night before adding 9 miles to their total. Our paces were not a great fit so I rode on. Early in the day I came across Yaroslav, the Ukrainian rider from the day before. He was looking very forlorn and was convinced he would not make the finish. We spoke for a while and I offered him a caffeine pill which at first he declined and then realized it was silly to pass on that. Within about 15 minutes I could tell he was a different rider. In a short while were were hopping on to pace lines and he had much more spark in his riding. We stopped at the food stop in Quédillac and while topping of the tanks we were interviewed by Damon Peacock, again this year making a video of PBP. He recalled my name as a Facebook friend and we spent some time chatting. A short while after leaving the control we were passed by him on motorcycle filming along the way.

Yaroslav and I parted company after the Tinteneac control and from there on I would ride solo though I'd see other SFR riders along the way. I had hoped to have a meal with someone at Fougeres but no luck, and took a quick nap on the berm between the bike parking and driveway outside the cafeteria. This need for a nap happened much earlier than in 2011, but I felt it would do me good. I recall from 2011 having a huge burst of energy leaving Fougeres and charging up the hills as the route leaves town. It took a bit longer but that same fire came back this time too. I looked forward to the unofficial crepe/postcard control up ahead, and even though I wasn't hungry it was a chance to mingle and interact. A crowd of riders were there and I convinced Andy Stockman and Elaine to stop and enjoy it. I found the SFR postcard I had sent years before among the other US postcards. That was sort of a kick spotting that.

The route from Fougeres makes its way back to Villianes via the same big hills encountered out bound and this terrain had a tendency to first bunch up the riders and then spread them out on the ensuing descent. I had passed and called out a hello to Greg Merritt along the way who looked to be having a fine ride. The closer I got to the control though, the more my thoughts turned to food and once there I found Ryan Thompson and Bill Green in the dining hall and sat with them for the meal. Upon leaving, I decided I needed some sleep even though it was full daylight out. I had a big time buffer over my schedule so spending an hour sleeping was an easy sell. In 2011, I left that control in the dark along with hundreds of other riders. This time I was nearly alone in the late daylight. After a modest climb there are a couple of small villages that we passed through, each with hand made signs of support for the riders, some offering a cot or refreshments. There were also groups of locals clapping as riders passed by. Like all the other spectators I had seen before, I waved and greeted them which always caused an increase in their animation. It was like magic and it gave me energy right back. I rode up the somewhat steeper hill leaving the second of those small towns and partway up the climb realized that there were a couple of things I could address back in the village that I might not get a chance to do for a long while. So I turned back down hill and upon arriving I totally confused the group I had just waved to minutes before. I tried to convey to them my needs, totally botching the pronunciation of Toilette, but I really knew where to find it from passing through moments ago and I went there as I heard them tell me Paris was in the other direction. Once all that was taken care of I rode past once more and this time simply said "doublivee say" and this time there was mutual understanding.

I didn't like the stretch ahead when outbound because of the traffic, and even with out the traffic I didn't much care for it in the darkness so I focused on finding a good pace and interacting with other riders when I could. The latter proved unattainable as conversation diminished the later and more dark it became. I knew it would get hillier the closer I got to Mortagne-au-Perche but this time there were many more locals on the side of the road, which I attributed to it being earlier in the evening than when I passed there four years before.

Along this stretch I figured I passed 30-40 riders for each rider that passed me. It was only upon reaching the control and stopping that I realized the cool night air was what kept my skin from driving me nuts. I spent quite a while at that control eating a pile of food, chatting with Tim Woundenberg, Ron Smith, and Jenny Oh and trying not to scratch my arms and legs. This control was packed and there was a line for cots and simply no space on the floor in the cafeteria or hallways to lay down. I did two circuits of the entire indoors before I finally found a spot at all and it really turned out that it was perfect: no light and enough space for me to lay down and still be well out of the way of foot traffic. I got a fairly long nap and that plus all the food was plenty to get me to the next control. I recall being pretty hammered upon arriving in Dreux in 2011, as well as having an extremely tender behind. This time though I was far more alert and energetic relatively speaking and I had no saddle issues, just this maddening rash and welts to deal with. That was beginning to get the better of me, and is what prompted me to ride on with out eating (I wasn't hungry at all but wasn't turned off by food). I had bought two big cans of Orangina, but only drank one and gave the other back. I returned to my bike and left Dreux before daybreak and got outside of town before it became light enough and just outside of town I was up high enough to spot a weather cell chasing us. I could tell it was rain and wanted so badly to outrun it but that didn't happen. The drops were minimal at first and took a long time to build but build they did.

Just before Gambais I came up on a group of SFR riders, including Jenny, Eric Larsen, Metin, Theresa and perhaps someone else. My skin and the rashes were ruining my mood and if I stayed with them the only thing I'd talk about would be the rash and who the hell would want to listen to that so I sped around and decided to try to reach the medical tent at the finish as soon as I could, thinking that might provide relief. I met Jon Beckham along the way and we briefly chatted before I rolled on again. The closer to the finish I got, the more it began to rain and the more we'd go through villages with cobbles and traffic islands and other hazards so I slowed down a bit to better and more safely traverse those sections. At one traffic circle I had caught up with a group and knowing full well they were going off course I still followed them as if I were linked to them, but with just a little uncertainty that I might be wrong. Nope, they were, and my impulse was right. They all turned around when they saw me do so but I never saw them again after I regained the route. Out once more in open fields on straight roads I noticed the motorists passing the other way would wave and salute the riders they knew were so close to the finish of a very long ride.

The final section into the finish is considerably different than in years past, and considerably better. The route heads through a park of sorts and uses a closed road to reach the velodrome from the backside. At the very end, down a gravel path on the way to the bike corral was the chip reader that would record my finish but just as I turned on to that path I saw Julia Walker. It was good to see a familiar face and know that someone I knew would see me finish. Beyond the chip reader the bike parking area was chaos. It was raining hard and everyone was trying to find a place under the roof to park their bike. I could only find a spot on the sloped ramp for the BMX bikes and didn't know first what to do. I solved that dilemma by sitting down to have a good cry. Getting that out of my system, I went over to the velodrome, got my stamp, surrendered my card and looked around for someone I knew. Gabby and Carl and several others were on hand but soon I was on my own again and after figuring out how to get out of there I found the medical tent. Earlier, I had been told by others that what I had were bed bug bites and that I'd need to boil my clothes if I wanted to save them and toss out my luggage. I had dark visions of all the work I'd be doing before leaving for home and the hassle I'd have in getting a new room and the worry I'd have thinking I was just exposing myself to more bed bugs. The rash turned out to just be an allergic reaction, possibly triggered by stress (remember the departure from the Bay Area?) and heat and humidity which I'm unused to in the Bay Area.
Days later, the welts are healing and I only had a few marks to show for that small misery, but all the good memories of my riding companions over the days and even more so all the people I interacted with along the way will last a lot longer. Seeing the kids out there supporting the riders was a huge boost. I loved that. I also got a big charge out of waving hello to *all* the spectators along the way.
I posted on Facebook that I think I'm cured, cured of wanting to do PBP again. Nobody bought that then, and less than a week later I was pretty sure I'll be back for at least one more go at it. Today, I'm certain of it.

This banner absolutely worked! (photo by Jenny Oh Hatfield)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Model ride

It is now April and I've managed to go more than three months without riding a permanent route. That is three months in Winter! The San Francisco Randonneurs and Santa Rosa Cyclists offered nearly a dozen different rides in those months, keeping me so busy I didn't need to ride a perm to get any RUSA events in. A while back Kirk had suggested a camping weekend up in Mendocino to ride a perm route along with a bunch of other friends. That never came to be, but we kept the idea of riding a perm together alive and in the end we settled on the one way route from El Cerrito to Davis via St. Helena and the Model Bakery,and a return via Amtrak. The route first began life as a DART route when The Davis Bike Club hosted their first ever DART event in November of 2012. The route morphed into a permanent route later that year and in the coming year it will be a brevet route, part of another SFR double brevet weekend (used mostly to help train up for PBP).

The route has some nice stretches, once it clears the residential sections of the East Bay and Vallejo, CA. Wooden Valley for one is a gorgeous stretch, and Napa Valley can be scenic. CA 128 from the Valley all the way to Winters, passing by Lake Berryessa is both challenging and a treat for the eyes. Food wise, the center piece is the Model Bakery in St. Helena. Fantastic pizza there, to be sure.

On April 12th, Kirk, Marisa, Barbara, Erik, Mark and myself met up at the Starbucks in El Cerrito and with a slightly late start we rolled off under cover of the marine layer of fog. Barbara and Mark both signed up just days before as RUSA members in order to participate. Mark took things at face value, but Barbara took most of the ride to convince her there was a point to these rides. At one point she and we too pretend we've done so. The group was a revolving array of riders with some riders rolling off in front, others tagging behind and then a reshuffle. The Bakery is met with enthusiasm and everyone found something on the menu that met their needs and after a long lunch we rolled off to tackle the more remote part of the ride.

Estimating what time our current pace would deliver us to Davis, I figured we'd miss the next to the last train and then need to wait around for a bit and not arrive home until 10pm or so. Barbara had other plans and the tougher part of the ride was tackled with more ease than anticipated, so much so that we had extra time to hang out at Berryessa Brewing Co. for a pint or two. Even with this stop our pace had quickened enough that we had just enough time to catch the early train after first grabbing some food in downtown Davis to take on the train.

Ride date: 4-12-14

Host Club: RUSA

Total km: 212

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 7,888km

It might not be raining up ahead

Despite the threat of rain, 75 riders lined up to do the 2014 version of the SFR Hopland 400km. As per usual, my goal is to ride with someone for the day rather than spending time alone, and yet in the hubub of the start I can't locate my intended riding partners. In the early miles of the Lower Marin maze I follow Max and Aron through the chain of small towns but various traffic controls work to set me back and they speed on ahead. The threat of rain became more ominous as we climbed Camino Alto and turned into a reality as we were still in the very early miles of the route. By the time most riders cleared White's Hill, the rain was pelting down pretty good. So much for skirting by the weather cell.

Northwest Marin is mostly open grazing land and without the obstructions of suburbia we can often catch glimpses of the other riders on the brevet. I was impressed by Jon who seemed to not even notice the rain and powered along Chilenos Valley Road not yet wearing a rain jacket as most others seemed to have put on. In that regard, today was an experiment for me in that I was using a Mavic Vision rain jacket. The rain jacket version of this garment has the same reflective patterns but is intended to be water proof. Alas, instead this kept water from leaving my body as well as keeping the rain out and instead of heating me up, I felt chilled all during the rainfall. As we splash along there is far less chatting and far more focus in staying out of the rooster tails of water coming off un-fendered bikes in the various pacelines. Beyond mile 50, the Valley Ford rollers even on nice days never make me all that happy and this day I was not getting any less grumpy at the one-two punch of rain and pointless climbing.

Food is a magical substance, hot food doubly so, as it has the power to change moods and the Bodega Country Store serves a nice bowl of chowder. I sort of lingered here quite a while and the loose group of riders that arrived at the control has fragmented and a much smaller group leaves for the roll up to the signature climb for the day: Joy Road. This road always seems to just go on and on and today is no different. I wondered as I always do if I'd reach the top without stopping. Today: yes. As most hills do, Joy Road spread out our group and I ended up alone for the long run into Guerneville where the next control and lunch was. The rain had slowed almost to a halt as we had reached Bodega, and on the early part of the climb up Joy, before the trees closed in, we could see of to the west that the weather would be improving and this left us with a rain free descent and general drying conditions all the way to G'ville. The Safeway deli was not yet overrun so the wait for Spicy Asian Chicken and potato salad was not overly long. Michael and I joined up again at this point and ended up riding the rest of the event together.

Once clear of River Road and now on Westside Road we are afforded views well off to the north and east. The skies don't look so bad. Not clear mind you, but we so no evidence of active rain cells and the cloud ceiling seems to have risen nicely. Our stop in G'ville was not that long ago but nevertheless I can't seem to go through Cloverdale without stopping at the mini mart just north of the city limits. Erik was fixing a flat at that very city limit sign as we passed, and alas, we'd pass him at least once more as he dealt with flat tires. The climb up CA 128 is going fairly well, but at one point I had to stop to eat rather than doing so as I rolled along. Despite the stop back in C'dale I seemed to have gotten behind on my fueling, not hard to do on rainy rides. We regrouped as we began the segment on Mountain House Road. Just a few weeks before we had passed through here in the opposite direction and the landscape showed all the signs of California's drought. On this day, though, water was gushing everywhere with impromptu water falls dotting the climb up to the ridge and infusing the landscape with green. I wouldn't kid myself though that this rain fall would do anything to put a dent in the drought, as wet as I had felt earlier.

Somewhere along the way before Hopland Michael and I caught up to Todd, who would be part of our group all the way to the finish. As we arrived at the Hopland Valero, the third group was making noises about saddling up and leaving. There seemed to be a lead group of two (Max and Aron), a chase group of two (Carl and Bob) and then this sizeable next group with Jesse, Megan, Metin, Greg, Matthew and Roy. I could not get through there without consuming some of the cheese pizza they sell and keep warming on racks at the checkout counter. The stuff is crap and is always just want I need at that moment: warm, salty and full of calories. I am not the only one falling off the nurtitional bandwagon here, but Jason, who arrived just behind us, is not one of those joining me. He heads off on his fixie as we clean off our plates. South of Hopland there is a very short warm up run along another River Road, then a crossing of US 101 just where it transitions into a town road, but in our southward direction it is a limited access highway with a wide paved shoulder and a general downhill slant.

Along the way here we catch glimpses of the Russian River, a river we've crossed many times during the day. The river is hugely swollen with rain water runoff and rocks and stony shores normally in view are all under rushing water. The skies still haven't yet cleared and yet we can still see what seems to us as progress in that direction. After 8 miles we leave the wide paved shoulder and resume riding on country roads that finally flatten out near Cloverdale. It is in these miles that I have two flat tires, and after the second one Michael and Todd insist I change out the tire with Todd's spare and use a cartridge to inflate the tire. I seem to gather they can't stand the old man noises I make as I use a pump on the tire. Past Geyserville, we leave CA 128 once more and head up Chalk Hill. At this point we are treated to the best light show of the day. The setting sun and clearing skies to the far west have joined forces and cast golden hour light on the still wet hillsides north of Windsor. This display is just stunning.

Chalk Hill has some climbing before a final run down toward suburbia and Windsor where we begin our circumnavigation of Santa Rosa. Michael can't get his headlight to work as he rides along and even with stopping to deal with it it proves problematic. I've ridden this route each year since 2007 and this is the first time I have made the outskirts of Santa Rosa in daylight. Considering this is a March date, and not April there would be even less daylight so the accomplishment is not lost on me. The sun does indeed set though and after getting pipped for the Petaluma city limit sign, we cross the freeway and head toward McDonald's for more calories. Jason rolls in after us, shoves food down his piehole, and then leaves ahead of us. Our group makes the stop in Petaluma official by stopping at the control at Safeway where we once again meet the same fellow we've met each of the last several years who is just getting off work, stopping off for a few things along the way and chatting about riding with us. The last 50 miles until the finish begin with a double climb out of Petaluma and the climb once again spreads us out. From the top of the climb before Hicks Valley I can see a large swath of sky dotted with stars and yet on the run down to the valley we are pelted by ice cold rain, lasting long enough to chill us. Nicasio Valley allows us to regroup as we roll and Dixon Ridge causes no problems this night. As we roll toward White's Hill we tell stories of past rides in the dark through that area. Despite having close to 20 miles yet to ride, the crest of White's Hill signals to us all that we are done. I'm not sure why this happens because there is the little matter of Corte Madera Grade and the climb out of Sausalito, each long enough and steep enough to more than get your attention.

Todd, Michael and I finish after Midnight, after 19 hours and 15 minutes of riding. This is the best I've done on this route, and I'm sure the rain added significant time to our day, not to mention the multiple flat tires.

Ride date: 3-29-14

Host Club: San Fancisco Randonneurs

Total km: 400

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 8,100km

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cycling mileage spreadsheet (using google docs)

Several years back I was looking for a good way to keep track of my annual cycling mileage and a little Googling resulted in finding this website and it's link to a downloadabe Excel spreadsheet for keeping track of cycling mileage. Mark Pankin, who created that Excel doc annually updates the document and makes it available to the public. I think the document is great and I've used it for several years. One issue I did have with it though was gaining access to the document remotely. I kept it on my computer at home but sometimes I wanted to update it when I was not at home or just pull data from it, again when I wasn't at home.

I had had some email exchanges with Mark to ask about certain features of his document and this led to a discussion about porting the document over to Google Docs. Mark was not a Google Docs user but he didn't mind at all if I created a document using his Excel spreadsheet as a model. While there is some ability to import and export Excel format documents on Google Docs, Mark's spreadsheet was too complex to import intact, so I started from scratch, but as mentioned used Mark's Excel version as a model. I've added a number of features to the Google Docs version on top of what Mark had in place, and for a number of other functions, I had to recreate them using the Google Docs syntax. While Google Docs spreadsheets are not as robust as Excel, I think a very functional document emerged from the work.

In the Google Docs spreadsheet I created, there is a tab for 2014 mileage, and also I've gone ahead and created the 2015 tab as well with links between the tabs so that the previous year and previous best columns are auto populated beginning with 2015. It is fairly easy to create a new tab for each year. There are a handful of functions to either move from one cell to another, or to update. The demarcation between months was done by using thick borders in the Excel version, but on the Google Docs version I've used shading. Either works, but for each new tab I'll need to edit the shading for each month first (as Mark did with the borders).

The enhancements I've made include the table and chart of average weekly mileage at the bottom of the document, as well as some automatic shading in column A, the current monthly totals column.

I retain all rights to the document. You are free to make personal use of a copy of the document. No commercial use of this is allowed without permission.

Below are some details about the document and how to use it.

The Google Docs Spreadsheet is presented in view mode to anyone with the link. You can copy the document to your own Google Docs and begin test driving it. You only need to add your daily mileage under the appropriate dates (except columns C and D on the '2014' tab where you'll enter some historical data if you have it). All the rest is automatic.

Take a look at the two tabs, '2014' and '2015', that come with the initial version of the document. Both tabs will initially have all the formulas and functions active, but no data has been entered. On the '2014' tab, find cell H4 (this is where your mileage for January 1, 2014 would go), and enter the value 52 there. Note that not only did the contents of that cell change, but also all of the following:

  1. the weekly total for that week (cell M4)
  2. the running totals for the year (columns N and X)
  3. cells A7, A8 (current month's tally and # of rides)
  4. values in column B (cumulative miles)
Note also that the shading of cell A5 is now Yellow, and A7 is now Green. In Column A, the name of the Month is highlighted when the total for that current month exceeds the total for the same month in the previous year. The total mileage for the month is highlighted green when it exceeds the previous best total for that month. In this case, the previous year's total for January (column c) and the historical best (column d) were both initially set to zero. Take a quick look at tab '2015' and you'll see that columns C and D have changed, with the data from tab '2014' carried over to tab '2015'. If you change those zeros on tab '2014' in cells c7 and d7 to 53, you'll see the highlighting in column A disappear and cells in columns C and D change on tab '2015'.

At the very bottom of the spreadsheet, there is a table and a chart which include data about weekly averages. When tab '2014' cell H4 was set to 52, you saw that the table had averages calculated through the end of the year and the chart showed the graphical representation of those averages. While cell H4 is 52, go to cell G4 (the last day of the previous year) and enter 10. If you look at the values in M4 and N4 (total for the current week and cumulative total respectively) you'll see that those still show 52. However, on the table of weekly averages beginning in cell B61, you'll see the averages start with 62 miles. It only makes sense that any given week for the weekly averages is comprised of 7 days, so we will count mileage from December 30th and 31st, 2013 for the first 'week' in the table and chart at the bottom of tab '2014'. For these weeks that split over two years, I include the 'week' in with the year which has the most days of that week, so for the last two days of 2013 and the first 5 days of 2014, the 'week' is included on tab '2014'.

Please feel free to comment. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Early repolarization, or, in other words, a change of plans

Yes, I admit, I'm way behind on entries for the K-hound series on this blog. I plan to catch up, and maybe even continue. About that maybe part. Well, there has been a change of plans forced on me. Here is the deal. In late May I rode a permanent on the 24th with a bunch of SFR club members. The next day I came down with a very bad cold that kept me from work a full week, and worse still, I then missed the SFR Dart (and a great opportunity to ride with Deb and Drew and Ken and Daryl), then I was still too sick to even volunteer, much less ride, the Santa Rosa 600km. Right there 800km of planned RUSA events missed and the clock ticks on.

Finally I get close to healthy again, and then the bottom really drops out. Last Saturday I went to volunteer for the Santa Rosa Terrible Two Double Century. My son and I have volunteered there every year since 2008, and I also volunteered in 2006, all at the Fort Ross rest stop, just across CA Highway One from the historic fort. This year we were all set up and the first riders had come and gone, and then I had a terrible pain in my lower abdomen, followed by nausea, profuse sweating and dizziness. Next thing I know my vision is closing down like the screen fades in silent movies and I'm on the ground surrounded by people, one of which is an EMT who is giving me a saline IV and is hooking me up to an EKG machine. I'm later told my BP dropped to 60 over 30 and I had no distal pulse (nothing in the wrists but of course a pulse in my neck). The EKG readouts alarm him and a med-evac helicopter is called in to transport me to a hospital with a heli-pad and Cardiac Center. Once at the hospital a 5th (at least) EKG test is done and the cardiologist reads it and sees this event for what it is. I have an abnormality in my heart that displays itself in an EKG as early repolarization. The condition apparently (after some Googling) is present in 1% of the population, and more commonly found in athletes (a group in which I do not feel I number) and is benign.


Nevertheless, there is still cause for close medical observation of the condition because I also have aortic valve regurgitation, but I've had that all my life. I was released about 2 hours after I got to the ER and was home by 8pm. Not surprisingly though, I just didn't feel like riding the SFR Lucas Valley Populaire on Sunday. Now I'm 900km short of my planned rides and a full month has disappeared from the calendar, and after tests and dr. appointments on Monday and Tuesday, I know I'll be missing another full month of riding when I have (minor) surgery to fix the source of the abdominal pain in August. I'll miss at least 900km before I get to the point of regaining the fitness I will lose during that layoff. Hopefully the stone I'll be pushing up hill toward the goal of the K-hound award will weigh less than 15 lbs, because that is what I'll be limited to in mid-August. Wait, I'll need to get a new and very lightweight bike for medical reasons!

The work toward clarifying the heart conditions is just beginning. I had an echo done today and tomorrow I'll get a Holter Monitor for a 24-hour EKG. I'm guessing I'll be cleared, but we still need to confirm that.

UPDATE: The Holter Monitor and Echocardiogram results have come back and all is clear. I've had a heart murmur all my life and that will continue to be monitored but is *not* an issue. I'll have an echo done every two years or so going forward, but there was no 'cardiac event' that happened. I'll have surgery to fix the abdominal issue, but not until August and until then I'm clear to ride.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Boontling can't describe it

Certain hills are forever defined by your first experience climbing them by bike. Try as you might to overcome this, each subsequent climb of that hill is (at least a little) ill flavored if that first experience did not go well. Irony is often best illustrated when the hill in question is a simple one for fresh legs but fate always provides you with a set of tired ones. Dixon Ridge, the final climb on Nicasio Valley Road, a feature of so many San Francisco Randonneurs brevet routes is a case in point. I never know if that mere bump will crush me. The Santa Rosa Cyclists brevet calendar for the last three years has featured a ride affectionately known as the 'Hubba' that is nothing if not heavy on long climbs, traversing twice the mountains that separate the Anderson Valley from the middle landscape of the Russian (nee Slavyanka) River Valley. Upon first hearing of the new route from Bob, the Santa Rosa RBA, I felt more than a little intimidated.

The first two versions of the event passed without my joining in or even considering riding it. I knew too well that in February, when the ride was usually held, I'd not be in very good climbing condition, and I'd be over-matched by the west bound climb on CA-128 and by Mountain House, let alone the Boonville-Ukiah climb (in that direction). In 2007, I was having a pretty good year on the bike, better than in the previous years. That year I did the Davis 600km, which traversed Boonville-Ukiah in both directions, and it wrecked me. I remember, with over 200 miles in my legs already, nearly passing out on the return to Ukiah, twice feeling lightheaded and wobbly on the climb up 'homebound', so my 'Super Randonneur' series that year ended with a less than stellar ride. (This was my last shot at the final PBP qualifier in 2007, so there was no second chance.)

Last year, in 2013, I finally overcame my hesitation in doing this ride and signed up, traveling up with Kevin and Jack. It likely was the fantastic start to the year on the bike I had had up to that point that convinced me the idea of finishing this ride wasn't fantasy. As per usual, Bob had great weather for the event and thus a great turnout. Similar to the Napa 200km brevet, this route needed to meander a bit in the early miles outside of Healdsburg in order to reach the 200km distance requirement, so the route heads east-northeast through the vineyards at the north end of the Alexander Valley before any of the climbing even begins toward Cloverdale. Beyond Cloverdale though is the real climbing, first up CA 128 and the county line between Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, followed by more climbing through the Yorkville area on the way into the Navarro River Watershed. Arrival in Boonville leaves the riders perplexed that there wasn't much more of a downhill coast to enjoy and in fact county road crews seem complicit with the fraud, with 'official' road signs suggesting an 8% downhill lasting two miles. Lies, simple lies those. After the control in Boonville riders reverse course for less than a mile and then hang a left past the solar powered brewery where the longest but perhaps not steepest climbing begins over the Boonville-Ukiah road. From early on in the climb riders can look back out over the Anderson Valley, a place rich enough to have it's own language, but ironically the language is not itself rich enough to have the vocabulary to describe the views. The peak of the climb is one that is not clearly defined and in fact the road undulates for some distance before the double descent (the first at 8%, the second at 10%), dumping riders in the southern outskirts of Ukiah, CA. A control at the Safeway in town gives riders one last official stop before the route heads south for good, and the finish 50 miles later back in Healdsburg. Along the way riders first meander downstream on the east side of the Russian River, then cut west through Hopland heading for the ascent of Mountain House. This is where the steep climbing is, but fortunately the scenery is so stunning that you are distracted slightly from the agony in your legs. From Mountain House Road and CA 128, there is the (mostly) downhill run into Cloverdale, followed by a run along Dry Creek Road past vineyards then on to ride's end at The Bear Republic Brewery.

While the ride for me on the 'Hubba' in 2013 was a great ride, maybe some mistakes were made, so this year I wanted to improve upon the success of last year. Out of Healdsburg it was easy to hang with the lead pack which may have had more than half of the riders in in it from the start. On the lead in to Geyserville though the greyhounds took off and I happily let them go. Last year I tried to chase that group all the way to the switchbacks on CA 128 leading up to the county line. This year I kept to *my* pace, and avoided a repeat of becoming overcooked before the real climbing began. There still was a sizable group going through Cloverdale but on the last little bump going out of town I drifted ahead and ended up riding from the turn onto CA 128 and pretty much on into Boonville solo. The pack, led by a tandem, was never far behind and at the end of each long downhill section they would have nearly caught me only to drop back on the climbs. I admit that I knew they were there and I was doing my best to delay when the would finally catch me, but this turned out not to be until the control in Boonville. I did not want to rush through there, and while Matt and Michael were there I chose not to rush and leave with them. My feeling was that trying to keep their pace would overextend me. Patrick and Megan were at the control too and they looked to be ready to leave at about the time I was, but no sooner did I ask them if I could ride with them but they disappeared. I thought they had slipped out but it turns out it was me that slipped out. I missed spotting them around the corner of the building.

Leaving town I trailed Metin past the corner onto CA 253, aka Boonville-Ukiah road. The road name put me in mind of the country roads between small towns in southeaster Michigan, named for the two towns the road connects when between the two towns, but by the name of the 'other' town while the road is within one town.

Leaving the center of town in East Treestump, MI you'd take Boondocks Road, which became East Treestump Road when you reached Boondocks, MI. Of course, the comparison falls apart here as the road in question remains Boonville-Ukiah for its full length. No matter the name, this year I was finally not in over my head on the climb and was able to thoroughly enjoy the views along with Metin's company on the way up. As previously mentioned, once at the top the road rises and falls repeately over the course of a couple miles, then rushes downhill in much more of a hurry with two distinct segments to the descent. Weighing possibly twice what Metin weighs, I was able to fly downhill under the influence of Aristotelian gravity rather than Galilean gravity and I reached the bottom of the hill far ahead of Metin. Mike and Matt had arrived just ahead of me and were just acquiring lunch at the Safeway deli counter when I came in but they turned things around quickly and left while I still sat and ate. Jason pulled in a short while later but he doesn't spend long at controls so he and Bob and a few others organized a small group to leave town and we set up a paceline for the run along River Road with the Russian river just to our west. Partway along there the tandem with Craig and Lori came roaring along with Sue and several others, and we had possibly 15 riders in a pack heading into Hopland. Just past Hopland of course is Mountain House Road, a favorite of mine and a simply beautiful stretch of challenging roadway. Even with the lack of winter rains, this portion of the world looked lovely. The group formed by the two earlier pacelines began to split up and I held back in order to ride with Bob, and Lori on the back of Craig's tandem, in order to form a trio of RUSA RBAs (Bob/Santa Rosa, Lori/Fresno, and me/San Francisco). The conversation was meandering along with the road, often funny, often about the difficulty of the climb. Toward the very end Bob sprung to life, rushing by me gasping 'don't lose, huff, huff, the tandem'. Only a few beats later did I put it together. We wanted to be with the tandem when they reached warp speed on the down hill into Cloverdale, and we especially wanted to be in the lee of the tandem along Dutcher Creek and it's rollers and on Dry Creek for the final run into town.

As we passed the Dry Creek General Store I tried to remember how we would get into Healdsburg and make our way to the finish control, but just could not remember. Bob had to explain it twice before the penny dropped but then I had it. As happened on so many brevets this year, as the group I was with approached the finish, Carl would be riding back out for more miles, having finished long before us. After all my 'hard work' trying not to keep up with Matt and Mike, it turned out our group arrived barely five minutes behind them, with our group finishing the 125 miles in 8 hours, 11 minutes. Despite finishing more than an hour faster than it took me last year, I felt far, far better after this ride than I did last year. Regardless of how I felt after either ride though, Bear Republic beer made everything even better anyway.

Ride date: 3-15-14

Host Club: Santa Rosa Cyclists

Total km: 200

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 8,500

Photos by Metin Uz, and a full gallery can be viewed here.

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