Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The paceline is diminished

There is a hook that catches us all, and pulls us into randonneuring. It isn't just being on the bike. There are many things that pull me toward riding brevets, and there are many things that have delivered rewards for having joined the paceline. I certainly love pushing myself to complete longer distances, or to overcome a headwind, or to defeat a hilly course in a time I only dreamed of a year or more ago. Of all these things, however, the biggest draw, the surest hook, is the camaraderie I've found between the start and finish controls.

On the 2009 Davis Gold Rush Randonnee, I had been riding alone for a bit more than 50 miles. The water stop at mile 50 was busy in a way that the road leading to it had not been. I wondered where all the riders had been and how it worked that I couldn't gain on them and they could not gain on me. I left the water stop alone and in just a mile or two noticed a rattle that was more than annoying. After fixing a problem that verged on but was not entirely cosmetic (loose mud flap on my fender) a group of riders passed me as I mounted my bike. 'Hey, Rob!' It was Don Mitchell, whom I had met through previous San Francisco Randonneur brevets. I pushed to catch him and we settled into a pace agreeable to both.

Don and I decided to see how far we could go riding together and it took very little discussion. Hearing back from others today, I found my experience was not unique. Don was upbeat, friendly, basically a sunny guy to every rider I've found who spent time on the road with him. The timing on this ride was perfect. Don had passed me just as the sun was setting. Riding through the night with company was the perfect development and Don had ridden much of this leg before and shared the knowledge of what was to come ahead. We tackled Yankee Hill and the Jarbo Gap after leaving the Central Valley and reached the Tobin control as a team. As the sun finally rose we left Tobin headed for Indian Valley and the next control. On the climb up it was becoming clearer that my energy was fading and Don was finding his legs. He kept his pace down so that we reached Taylorsville together and shared a breakfast.

On that ride and on others later when we'd find our selves in the same group, we would talk bikes, and talk bike rides, and talk about future bike events. We just never got to the point of exhausting the bike topic. Today, finding out about his passing and through that tragic news, details about his life off the bike I find that my hunch that he was a kindred spirit was right. I didn't find out earlier that Don was an avid reader, that he was more than just interested in the environment, that he only used his television to watch DVDs.

The manner of Don's passing angers me. It seems such a pointless way to have lost a fellow randonneur, with the further sting of now losing the chance to get to know someone whose outlook and perspective and greater interests could have expanded my own. Being an RBA, one of my tasks is to review all the brevet cards turned in by the riders at the finish control. When ever I do this task, there is a certain joy to it supplied by finding common finish times. I see two or three or six or seven riders all with the same finish time, and I imagine them having ridden many miles together, swapping stories, taking pulls at the head of the paceline, just making the ride easier and better by being there too. In sharing this sad and tragic news today, those stories are being shared. Just like my time riding with Don, I've found that he was a reliable and steady wheel to follow on the SFR 600 back in late May. His fellow finishers also found him to be ideal company, and I imagine they got a boost from his upbeat outlook.

As I said, I'm angered by this. I will try, I will, to not think about how my own character may fall short of his example when a dark mood overtakes me. I did have the good fortune to have shared some time with Don doing something that we both found paid back a reward many times greater than the investment. Good bye Don, bonne route. You made an impression on many, you will be missed greatly by many.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The weather window

(Note: I started this blog entry nearly two months ago. One thing that makes it ok that I waited to actually finish it, is that well, what I was trying to say is pretty much true for me.)

As I approach two decades of living in the Bay Area, I've seen enough of the change of the seasons to have a working, rough idea of what each season means, and sort of when to expect it to arrive. The transition from summer to fall to winter here is nothing like what I knew back east, and there can be years when you never know if is truly fall or if the fall season happened overnight, and within less than 24 hours summer has morphed into winter. Winter living within the California version of a Mediterranean climate of course means not drastically colder temperatures but still colder temps. More obviously though, there is a greater possibility of rain. Rain is something a Bay Area local just does not think about from sometime in May until sometime late in October. After October of course, rain could show up any time, any day.

Each October I find I need to reacquaint myself with the online sources of weather knowledge. This year, that need came earlier than I anticipated and only partway through October I found forecast rain threatening a long planned bike ride. My adaptation? Fit the rides in where I can. As a result, I've taken to planning more lunch time rides in anticipation of a too wet weekend. Several SF Randonneurs from my club work nearby so I can find riding partners at least half the time when I leave work behind for a slightly longer than one hour trip physically no more than eight miles away, but mentally many leagues away.

In the image above, you can see the Percent Chance of Precipitation spike in the afternoon on that Thursday. On that ride that day I could see the weather changing to the west over the Pacific, and I did manage to get home before the rain began. The lunch time route is barely more than 15 miles, but does include some nice climbing on relatively quiet roads, once it clears the more inhabited areas. Emeryville, where I work is something less than 100' above sea level (probably much closer to 1' than to 100' above sea level). The ride takes me and my companions to roughly 1200'. In October, the more exposed sections of the climb are often hot. Now, in December, those same areas are always chilly. Once the main climbing is over, there is a short run along the ridge line and then a E-Ticket ride down Claremont back to reality. In late November, we had an early cold snap and that descent was often wicked cold. Regular rain now falls and we are more than willing to accept cold instead of rain on the rides.

Now it is late December with a long spell of forecast and actual rain just beginning. I'm still looking for the gaps in the weather, and with luck, another Thursday escape from work at lunch time will have to tide me over for what is expected to be a wet holiday weekend.

Stay dry friends!