Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crossing the Two Rock Valley

It's funny about all the things that can crop up to complicate a seemingly simple plan to ride ride at least one 200km a month for twelve consecutive months. My own plan began before I was aware of it, when in June of this year I realized I had a string of six consecutive months with a 200km brevet completed in each month (Jan-SFR 200km, Feb-SRCC 200km, March-SRCC 300km, April-SFR 400km, May-SFR 600km, June-SFR 230km). An ambitious plan A did not get met, and plan B had to be put into effect. August's 200km permanent came off with out much drama, but then September rolled around.

There were grand plans for high mileage for the month of September, and completing the SFR Russian River 200km was plotted for the 2nd weekend of the month. Not one, but two big obstacles arose to put the kibosh on that plan. On what was to be an easy 95 miler with a handful of fellow SFR riders, an oddly placed car stop in the parking lot near the Peets in Petaluma interrupted my ride in a painful way. The result of my forward progress being so rudely halted was two bruised knees, slightly loose front teeth from the face plant on the car stop, and worst of all, a one inch gash on my elbow that really should have gotten five stitches. I could not see the wound on my elbow and only when I reached home five hours later did I see just how bad the cut was. Using crudely fashioned butterfly stitches I did the best I could with treating the cut and dealt with the sore knees and elbow as they slowly healed. Later that same week, I ended up in the ER at Alta Bates with what later was diagnosed as EE when I could not swallow anything for about fourteen hours. (The condition is totally under control medically, but less under control financially however.)

By the time Sept. 12th rolled around, I was in no shape to complete a 125 mile ride and I spent the day and weekend on the sidelines volunteering at the start and finish of the ride and completing all the paperwork the day after. The next two weekends were already booked, the first doing the Knoxville Double Century and the next one being on-call for work. With zero weekends left open in September, the plan was now to take a day off of work and do a permanent. I chose Willy's Jittery Jaunt for the route, starting at the Marina Safeway, then going to Petaluma, then Valley Ford and then south on Highway One to Point Reyes and then returning to the City for the finish. I originally chose Sept. 29th for date just to allow one last day should the unforseeable crop up. The first segment of the plan, the route, did work but the second did not when I needed to push the ride back a day to the 30th when I had to undergo a follow up procedure that required anesthesia which would fog my head for close to 24 hours.

All the roads on this permanent route are familiar to me but I've only done this collection of roads as a single ride once before, in July. Bruce and I took just under 10 hours to complete the route that day, so I was wondering how I might manage on my own. One of the first tricks to manage was getting my first control receipt given that I had no one to watch my bike and no lock with me. Things could have gone very wrong here but they didn't as I ran inside the Marina Safeway, grabbed a banana and got in a checkout line that had a good view of my bike and wasn't far from the door. At 7:30am I was rolling out of the parking lot and headed toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The route from the Bridge through lower Marin is an entirely familiar one. The distance from Sausalito to Fairfax is roughly 15 miles, and covering it out and back will be 30 miles which leaves roughly 95 miles on any 200km and more on any other brevet for all the other distance for the full route, and yet that 30 mile section will fill up two thirds or more of the cue sheet. Despite all the turns, I've done this section so many times that I can cruise through on auto-pilot and it serves as a warm-up section. The ride really begins on White's Hill just outside of Fairfax where first the stores and businesses, then the houses disappear and the road tilts up toward the notch in the hill.

The route from Fairfax to Petaluma is made up by connecting a series of valleys that tend more toward canyons. The terrain then is influenced by the climbs up to the road cuts that make car travel possible between valleys and canyons separated by these ridges. My pace will alternate between grinding up the inclines and screaming down the backsides. The only prolonged stretch that can be called flat is the mile plus segment through Nicasio. I have trouble remembering the times I arrived at each control the last time I did the route, so I have little idea of my progress versus that last circuit when I arrive at the Peets in Petaluma. One thing I know I improve upon is my time while at each control. I'm not a gregarious person when among people I don't know so I strike up no conversations with the mid-morning crowd of regulars, but I listen to snippets of the conversations around me for the short time before I roll off toward Valley Ford. The bulk of Marin County is very hilly terrain, dominated in large part by Mount Tamalpias, and Sonoma county to the north includes some very rugged and remote terrain. Where northern Marin County meets southern Sonoma County the topography settles down a bit and the terrain is described with terms such as rolling and undulating. This interface between the two counties is very much an agricultural area and dairy farms are plentiful. Unlike the route from Fairfax to Petaluma, the leg to Valley Ford has no steep or prolonged climbs, but what it does have often is a pretty consistent wind that blows west to east. In July with company on this leg I could take a rest and follow the draft of my fellow rider, but this day I'm alone. The wind and in fact the whole day's weather seems pretty much the same as on my ride two months before. The frequency of buildings diminishes as Petaluma falls farther behind and Bodega Avenue ends where I take Valley Ford road to the northwest.

The terrain I seek out when riding tends to be rural, and like so many other places in California, this area is dotted with small communities. I often wonder why some towns grew and others didn't and why some towns even exist at all, but I often don't even notice where villages and towns once were. North of the junction of Bodega Avenue and Valley Ford Road is the village of Two Rock, California. There are no city or village limit signs to sprint for as you approach it, and in fact it is hard to distinguish Two Rock as a village from any other small cluster of farm and ranch buildings I'll pass. At one time, Two Rock was much more of a going concern and served the agricultural community located there. No doubt the much larger town of Petaluma to the east draws all the commerce now and the area was probably already in a commercial and community decline when the US Army located a top secret WWII base there, which in later years was transferred to the Coast Guard. These days, Two Rock largely exists as a Wikipedia entry, a name given to a local church, a searchable location on Google Maps, and the name of a USGS topographical map for the area, and it has been longer still since the topographical feature that lends it's name to the village was ever called Dos Piedros.

Along the way toward Valley Ford I cross into the Stemple Creek watershed, marked at first by the roadside sign near the top of a roller. I'll cross Stemple Creek itself only after visiting Valley Ford first, and when I'm southbound on Highway One where Estero de San Antonio directs the largely coastal Highway One away from the coast. Here though, Stemple Creek is actually out of sight to the south and the nearest watercourse is Americano Creek. The control in Valley Ford is the General Store, a location used on several other brevets as a control and a rest stop on numerous club rides. Stepping outside of my usual introverted character, I chat a bit with the staff in the store and when I mention that the wind was against me on my way into town, I'm told that the wind was pretty fierce the day before. Evidence of that was found in the misalignment of the porta johns out back. The General Store staff had to replace those several times the day before as they drifted eastward as a result of the wind. Southbound toward Tomales is a set of rollers much worse than any of the others in that region, and made worse no doubt by the prevailing winds. There is a payoff ahead and once I make the final run down hill into Tomales and complete the windy run down School House Creek, mentally at least I know I can handle the stretch ahead into Point Reyes Station. Partway between Tomales and Point Reyes is the town of Marshall, a favorite spot of mine and the site of the control on several of the San Francisco Randonneur's brevet routes. This day though I pass through Marshall without stopping and think of my visit to the Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station. The bakery is a magnet that draws nearly every cyclist that stops in town to it's door step, and there is no surprise that mine is not the only bike parked out front. A group of three riders, oozing sunshine from every pore are on their way back home after a trip to the Avenue of the Giants. I can easily tell this was a memorable trip for them just in the way they say the name of their destination.

Olema is the next town I pass through, a very small town best known for having once been thought to be the epicenter of the famous 1906 earthquake. Only highly specialized scientific equipment can measure the creep along the fault line while I pass over from the Pacific Plate to the North American Plate and I begin my climb up Bolinas Ridge. The descent down the Ridge is the last of the good pavement for a while and the detour on the bikeway through Samuel Taylor State Park keeps me off the craptastic pavement on Sir Frances Drake boulevard and away from the motorists whose impatience escalates because of that pavement. Lagunitas, then San Geronimo and finally Woodacre form clusters of habititation along the route before the climb up White's hill begins. Westbound the drop from the summit road cut is more or less straight, but east bound it is full of curves. At one time the upper section of roadway had two downhill lanes but those have been re-striped and there is now ample space for cyclists mostly away from the car traffic. Fairfax is busy at this time of day and the slowed pace is welcome for a short bit. I'm back on the leg with constant road name changes and multiple turns and these 15 miles to the Bridge always take longer than I estimate. I arrive at the bridge after the west side bike curfew has ended and most of the bicycling tourists are still on the east side of the bridge, and I relish the nearly empty path.

It is still early enough that rush hour traffic has not yet picked up and the last leg to the Marina Safeway is easily finished. Once again I'm faced with the dilemma of trying to get a receipt while by bike is left unlocked outside, but the risk is minimized by grabbing a chocolate milk in the cooler right at the checkout counter, which saves me from buying a pack of gum I wouldn't eat. Chocolate milk is heaven at this moment. My finish time for the Jittery Jaunt is 8 hours and 45 minutes, and with the ride to BART and then the trip to my house I'll have nearly 140 miles for the day. Just after leaving the Safeway though I run into Willy Nevin at Fort Mason on his way home from work. Pretty symmetrical running into the route owner minutes after finishing his permanent.

The first time did this route I wasn't wowed by it, and normally I don't like to ride long distances totally alone. On long rides I usually start out with riders and finish with others. This ride though turns out to be the longest ride I've ever done completely solo, and I've come to like this route so much that with Willy's permission I've turned this into RUSA brevet route 809 for the San Francisco Randonneurs. I've made one change, somewhat minor, in that the route returns via Nicasio instead of Olema to avoid having riders on the bad pavement in the late afternoon/early evening. We'll run this for the first time in February of 2010.

3 comments:

velocio1 (at) me (dot) com said...

Thank you for the informative and inspiring write-up, Rob - I appreciated the research you put into the references and background stories, and I am embarrassed to admit that I learned only now of your mishap. But I am very much looking forward to riding this route in February!

oldman said...

Good writeup! Actually, the 1906 quake occurred off the coast of Daly City, not Olema. Speaking of which, it would have been nice to go over Bolinas ridge, as a change of pace from the ol' Nicasio route. I've done this route solo a couple of times (not as a perm., just as a ride) and it is quite nice. Looking forward to the Feb. 200k.

rob hawks said...

Yep, more current estimates do change the epicenter to a spot much further south than Olema, and a lot closer to SF itself. With the idea that it was centered in Olema having persisted for so long, it became somewhat entrenched. Olema itself doesn't have much noteriety except in that now discarded notion, and the village is overshadowed by the booming metropolis of nearby Point Reyes Station.

I toyed with the idea of having the route go over the ridge and then northeast on Platform Bridge but I think this would have required an additional control and one that would have been too close to Point Reyes Station.