Monday, October 26, 2009

Countdown to R-12: ten out of twelve down

For my October 200km I was busy on the day of my club's Winters 200km brevet (I worked the ride instead) but with so many local permanents to choose from, I still had lots of options. I chose the route that started the closest to my home, RUSA Permanent #555. I happen to know quite a bit about this route, including it's genesis. Bruce Berg, the permanent owner based the route largely on a club ride with the Grizzly Peak Cyclists, the Berkeley to Davis route. I've liked this route from the first time I ever rode it with friends from the GPC, and I've always felt it had an element of adventure to it. What adds that element is that the route is not an out and back or a loop route. It's a one way route. Return is almost always by Amtrak, which when the group is big lends an opportunity for everyone to get a chance to talk to other riders that they may not have ridden near all day, or when the group is small a chance to compare notes on the day.

What sets the Berkeley to Davis permanent apart from that favorite club ride are two things: overall distance and terrain. In order to reach the minimum 200km distance an out and back leg was created where riders leave Berkeley and head mostly south to Castro Valley, and then work their way back north reaching a total of 50 miles at a point where the more direct route from Berkeley would be maybe total 10 miles. As for terrain, those extra miles are anything but flat. This changes the ride from 90+ miles to 129 miles and the latter version has 6855' of elevation gain, with 4500+ of that coming in the first 50 miles. The GPC club version of the ride is often listed as an early January century and would attract riders who like the distance but maybe have been less active over the previous month or more. After doing this route a second time (first time was in August) I'm convinced this is no mellow club ride, and under the right conditions, it can be a butt kicker.

On Saturday I met Bruce just before 7am at the original Peets on Vine in Berkeley and after scarfing a fudge brownie we rolled off toward Tunnel Avenue and the first climb of the day. The weather the day before had been very mild and with a forecast high near Davis of 79F we were expecting a pleasant day. So far the morning was proving to be just that: very pleasant. While the whole route save for the very last few miles has become very familiar to me, the first miles of this route are even more familiar. This is my cycling 'back yard'. Once reaching the top of Tunnel Road and Skyline, the route more or less follows the crest of the ridge formed by the East Bay Hills. The route alternates between residential sections and Regional Park land and finally descends toward the watershed for the Upper San Leandro reservoir. A somewhat quick stop at the Peets in Castro Valley to acquire proof of passage and we head back north on Redwood Road making our way toward the San Pablo reservoir where we'll turn northeast, aiming for the Zampa Bridge where we cross the Carquinez Strait.

By the time we've reached Vallejo, all the serious climbing is behind us, and what remains are grades more toward the gentle end of the spectrum. With Vallejo as point A, and Fairfield as point B our route is not the most direct and straight line. The area in between lacks roads and would be a series of canyons to cross. Instead we take the E Ticket ride down Lake Herman Road which culminates with a grand view of Suisun Bay and the Mothball Fleet, and from there we skirt along Interstate 680 with the wetlands that feed into Grizzly Bay on the opposite side of the freeway. The second control on the route is in Cordelia, which largely offers a selection of kwik-marts and fast food outlets. We chose the Burger King for the high calorie to dollar ratio, which comes in handy when riding for 10 hours or more, and because it had seats and tables (something lacking in the kwik-mart). The lunch did not make me feel over full, which often happens on long rides, and I was happy for this.

Even though we had long ago passed a sign announcing the city limits of Fairfield, it was quite a few miles before we were really within the city limits. What we passed before was simply marsh land that was annexed to the city for some unknown reason. The stretch from Cordelia to the outskirts of Vacaville is intermittently rural and suburban, and a good deal of it is cheek-to-jowl with Interstate 80 and as a result, pretty noisy. Pleasants Valley and the turn north bring silence and a rolling terrain with the beginnings of the Vaca Mountains immediately on our left. Bruce had ridden this permanent four weeks before and I had ridden it a bit more than two months before, and for each of us, this time was in milder weather than before. The route takes us across the west, northwest and north edge of Vacaville and quickly we are out in rolling countryside and winds from the north begin to pick up immediately. We no longer have the protection of the Vaca Mountains and our trajectory is more northward than it has been. Our goal was the 3:50pm train if we were having a great day, and the 4:55 train if we were having a good day. Estimating the distance left, the time it would take to cover that distance and the need to acquire receipts before getting train tickets leaves us with little room to play with. The first time I had covered this ground was on the SFR Davis Overnight brevet. On that ride I was trusting to luck that I could eventually catch the lead pack, or at the very least keep their tail lights in view. They had riders among them that knew the route and the area, and I did not. Traveling over that same ground now for the 3rd time this year, I had a lot more confidence in my route finding and it wouldn't be until much later in the day where I would be a little unsure and unfamiliar with the exact turns. The advantage then though would be that if on my own, I could eventually get into Davis with little trouble even if I didn't take the most efficient route. The central valley is extremely flat and Davis and the UC campus there are marked by a tall water tower. Naturally, we did make a wrong turn, heading south instead of north and we added at least two miles to our total that we didn't need to add, and worse, put ourselves about 8-10 more minutes in the hole in trying to make the 4:55 train.

Each of us were now pretty weary and pulling into the wind trying to maintain 17+ mph was draining. With about four miles to go, I began to slump noticeably and for the first time all day I was dangling well of the back of Bruce's rear wheel. I managed to regroup just as we passed under I-80 for the last time, but I could hear what I thought was the train whistle of our departing train. We still pushed on to the train station just in case, but upon arriving there we had it confirmed that we had missed the train by minutes. While we each didn't want to be on a later train, at least we had the opportunity to relax over a dinner that would be much better than what the 'dining car' would serve on Amtrak.

Having completed this ride twice now, it seems to be a 10 hour ride for most of us. We finished in 10 hours, 3 minutes compared to the August time of 10:08. My total mileage for the day once I arrived back home was 139.85 miles. My total climbing including the commute to the start, and back home from the train station was 6900'+.

Just two more to go to the R-12.

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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Too early to plan 2010? Heck no!

In Northern California, we brevet riders are lucky in that we have four 'local' clubs putting on brevets which gives us lots of options. There are no less than 24 brevets on the tentitive calendar, a sortable table can be seen here as well as the static one below:

Tentative 2010 Northern California Brevet Schedule
Club Date Distance Start Location
San Francisco Randonneurs 1-23-2010 200km Golden Gate Bridge
2-6-2010 200km Golden Gate Bridge
2-27-2010 300km Golden Gate Bridge
3-27-2010 400km Golden Gate Bridge
4-3-2010 360km+ Various
4-25-2010 200km San Rafael
5-22-2010 600km Golden Gate Bridge
6-12-2010 230km Rodeo, CA
7-17-2010 115km Golden Gate Bridge
10-09-2010 200km Rodeo, CA
Santa Cruz Randonneurs 6-25-2010 1000km San Jose to Oxnard
7-24-2010 200km Santa Cruz
8-7-2010 200km Santa Cruz
8-21-2010 300km Santa Cruz
9-4-2010 400km Santa Cruz
9-25-2010 600km Santa Cruz
Santa Rosa Cyclists 3-13-2010 200km Healdsburg
4-10-2010 300km Healdsburg
5-8-2010 400km Healdsburg
6-5-2010 600km Healdsburg
Davis Bike Club 3-6-2010 200km Davis
3-20-2010 300km Davis
4-17-2010 400km Davis
4-30-2010 600km Davis

There should be something for just about every rider next year, and there is a possibility that there will be more events to add (think at least a Populaire or two). Interesting aspects to the calendar are: a night time 230km, a populaire, a brand new 1000km, a fall SR series which of course includes a 600km, a Sunday 200km for those that can't make Saturday starts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Progress report

I began this blog first as a place to record my notes on my attempt on PBP 2007 and going forward as a place to note my progress toward preparation for the 2011 version of Paris, Brest et retour. One milestone on the brevet season would be completing the Super Randonneur series of 200, 300, 400 and 600km brevets. I was able to complete that in late May when I finished the SFR Fort Bragg 600km. Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, it took me completing the June Davis Nighttime Brevet before I realized I had a string going and another marker of progress was underway: one half of the RUSA R12 award.

HAWKS, Rob | San Francisco Randonneurs | 905030

Cert No. Type Km Date Organizing Club / ACP Code Medal
RUSA-P03830 RUSAP 114 10-03-2009 San Francisco Randonneurs / 905030 n/a
278244 ACPB 200 01-24-2009 San Francisco Randonneurs / 905030 N
279233 ACPB 200 02-28-2009 Santa Rosa Cycling Club / 905048 N
285105 ACPB 200 04-26-2009 San Francisco Randonneurs / 905030 N
287506 ACPB 200 06-13-2009 San Francisco Randonneurs / 905030 N
RUSA-T06954 RUSAT 203 07-25-2009 Jittery Jaunt 200km / 249 n/a
pending RUSAT 203 09-30-2009 Jittery Jaunt 200km / 249 n/a
RUSA-T07045 RUSAT 207 08-15-2009 Berkeley to Davis / 555 n/a
101760 ACPB 300 03-14-2009 Santa Rosa Cycling Club / 905048 N
67678 ACPB 400 04-04-2009 San Francisco Randonneurs / 905030 N
51360 ACPB 600 05-30-2009 San Francisco Randonneurs / 905030 N
Award status: Super Randonneur, RUSA 2624 km

The chart above doesn't tally a September permanent (Willy's Jittery Jaunt), finished with 8 spare hours remaining in September. Heck, I could have nearly dashed off another 200km. I'm planning on also repeating the Berkeley to Davis permanent later this month, then I'll ride the San Francisco Randonneurs' Point Reyes Lighthouse 200km in early November, and probably the Del Puerto Loop, which adds an out and back to one of my favorite Grizzly Peak Cyclists fall rides.

The chart above is also a pretty dry rendering of 2009's cycling events. What it doesn't convey of course is the experience of climbing Highway 128 toward Mountain House road north of Cloverdale in the heat of a Saturday afternoon westbound, and 12 hours later climbing it eastbound into the fog in the early morning, or chasing the taillights of the lead pack in the dark where the Central Valley flatlands transition from the undulations of the Vaca Mountains north of Vacaville. It also can't convey the experience of climbing out of the fog settled in the chilly Nicasio Valley in early April, or the return to the 100F heat on the 2009 version of the Davis Double in May. A chart can't warm you in the same way that sitting around a roaring camp fire in Paul Dimmick park on the return leg of the Fort Bragg 600km, chatting with a handful of your fellow brevet riders can, nor can a tally of miles demonstrate the dual beauty of riding with your son in the Sierra surrounded by granite themed beauty can. We use these charts and photos as triggers for those memories though, and it is a good start.

Early arrival

The Bay Area pretty much has only two seasons, each with plenty of variations, but it's really just the Rainy Season and the rest of the year. The rainy season by most estimations begins on November 1st and depending on who is defining it, runs through the end of January or sometime in April. Today's storm is therefore just a bit early.

Sometime overnight, the rain from this storm began and we can usually tell the nature of the storm by which window the rain splats against. This storm has wind and rain coming from the south-southeast and it seemed pretty mild then given the weather alerts. I got a late start out the door on my commute to work, and riding though my neighborhood the storm didn't seem all that bad. Lots of twigs and leaves on the roadways, but otherwise not much. However, as I made my way south toward Emeryville, the wind and rain began to intensify. My preferred route takes me along the Bay Trail and around the west side of Golden Gate Fields race track on Flemming Point, where the pavement runs right up to the bay shore. Climbing the hill that connects the two parking lots, I got hit full on with the rising wind and I watched with amusement as the rainwater runoff was pushing fairly large sized gravel down hill.

While there were no other cyclists on the trail, I could tell that car traffic on the adjacent Interstate was a bit higher than usual. Crossing the Berkeley Bike Bridge with the wind rising even more, I got to feel the wind as a tail wind, though only briefly, as I rolled down the east ramp into Aquatic Park. The park is in fairly low laying terrain and with major storms the east side multi-use path is often underwater in several places. Flooding like that often causes egrets, great and little, to congregate and loiter on the grassy areas nearer to the train tracks, and I scared a flock into flight as I made my way south toward Shellmound.

My daily route takes me along one of Emeryville's Bicycle Boulevards, mine being the Horton Street boulevard and all the buildings built in the last decade provide shelter from the wind. Upon arriving at work, that is when the winds really picked up and the sound on the metal roof of our saw-toothed building is amplified, making the storm seem more intense. On my ride in I had a warm shower, dry clothes and a bowl of hot oatmeal to look forward to, and for my ride home I look forward to a hefty tailwind.