Thursday, February 18, 2010

Endless repetition or endless variety?

The climate in the Bay Area has been described by some as boring, and lacking seasons. My initial response to that is a bit more forceful, but really it depends on your level of granularity when looking around you. This last week we've been treated with an intense taste of coming spring, and while the general pattern of how the day plays out is the same from day to day, it's really not the same day to day, not really at all.

This past weekend was a long weekend, and a few days before it arrived, the forecast included the 'R' word, but come Friday the forecast was pretty nice. Afternoons were clear, with a hint of being warmer than it had been for months. By Monday, a holiday for most of us, the pattern for the week emerged. Overnight the skies were largely clear, but just before dawn, fog would roll in off the bay and creep it's way up into the Berkeley and Oakland hills. By late morning, clear skies fought back and forced the fog back to the coastline and through the afternoon the air would warm up nicely.

I took advantage of this pattern by planning a ride with my son and a friend of mine out to Stinson Beach from The City, meeting our respective families for lunch, a little time walking the beach, and then my friend and I rode home, taking a very indirect way back to The City. Tuesday was a day of simple commuting straight to and from work, but Wednesday and Thursday, I took the long way. Each day the night sky would be clear as I went out to get the paper, and during the time it took to complete (or goof up) the sudoku puzzle, the fog would arrive. I'd leave the house just before the sun came up, riding into and out of fog banks. As I climbed up Spruce, I'd clear the fog. Today it took a bit more climbing and the edge of the fog was not nearly as distinct. Yesterday I left the fog behind early on the ride. Both days, I'd ride back into the fog as I came racing down Claremont.

I've been trying to get a grip on the food I consume, and the reasons I consume so much of it, and after whittling down my vices one by one (long way to go still overall), I've managed to cut out a number of really bad food habits. I've managed to replace those with practices I hope will become habits, one of which relies on seasonal food. Around the produce markets near here, it is Satsuma orange time. Boy howdy, I just love those things. They are so easy to peel and so very tasty, and in my mind they are like candy. I crave them and can pop one after the other down the old pie hole. In too short a time though, they will be out of season. Right now, I'm folding this little fruit into as many emerging habits as I can. I've taken to keeping a few of these handy on my desk at work so I can eat them in the morning after my ride into work, and in the evening I take a walk after dinner at a brisk pace, and often end up at the local Natural Grocery store and pick up a few more.

As spring arrives, the source for my all time favorite treat will work it's way north. Right now, the strawberries are coming from near San Diego, but there are a great number of way more local strawberry farms and they will show up regularly at the farmer's markets and grocery stores. I'll find them well into the summer and touching into fall at the markets. Wish me luck as I try to keep to that habit and not retreat backward toward the $.25 sodas in the kitchen at work.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Two Rock Valley 200km

When the idea of using the Jittery Jaunt permanent at the basis of a new SF Randonneurs brevet route first began, it was July and the grasses on the hillsides of the Two Rock Valley, and all other valleys were dry, and more brown than anything else. When the idea became fixed and a place on the 2010 calendar was being considered, it was September and the only clouds expected on any horizon were those of the overnight the fog of the marine layer. Some aspects of the route remain regardless of the time of year: headwinds through the Two Rock Valley, a landscape dominated by rollers from Petaluma all the way back to Nicasio. On February 6th, however, the winter rains that had fallen throughout January, and the winter rain that was falling on us as we left Crissy Field had changed and was still changing this route in a number of ways.

In order to make route measure up to the 200km standard, the Golden Gate Bridge was only now an intermediate point on the route and not the starting location, as is tradition with the SF Randonneurs core SR series. More than eighty riders gathered in the gloom near Crissy Field to sign in, meet old riding friends, and finish the task of preparing their bike and themselves for the ride ahead, a task just a little bit more complicated owing to the falling rain. When the route was submitted to RUSA for approval, the start location had a nice, large, and mostly unused parking lot where volunteers could work out of the back a station wagon. A few weeks before the brevet, cyclone fencing and a green privacy screen surrounded the lot, and now we were crammed on to the sidewalk underneath Doyle Drive. One wag suggested it looked less like a brevet start control and more like the location for a drug buy. Perhaps, but it served it's purpose for that morning at 07:00 the riders were off.

Unlike other SFR brevets, riders straggled away from the start control, and I was one of the stragglers furthest toward the back. Bruce B. waited for me near the Bridge and we crossed over to Marin as the rain was seemingly deciding whether to fall harder or quit. Going downhill into Sausalito, we passed the first casualties of mechanical issues as two riders bent over the task of replacing a blown inner tube. Bruce and I managed to catch up to a number of riders as we left Sausalito and crossed Bothin Marsh Preserve on our way to the first climb of the ride. While indecision seemed to be the rule for the rain, on my part I finally stopped to put on my rain jacket at the top of the Camino Alto climb. Even a light rain, if consistent, will get one soaked. The trip down hill at this point isn't technical but does offer reason to be alert where driveways and departing cars can surprise a rider rounding a curve at speed.

The trip north through Lower Marin is full of stop signs and traffic lights, turns and traffic and progress can never be quick, so it is with a feeling of some relief that we reach the far city limits of Fairfax, where open country side and White's Hill begin. I managed to put some distance on Bruce so I stopped at the top of the hill to clean my glasses and then descend into the San Geronimo Valley. Passing a few of the rides that passed me when I stopped, I reached the turn on Nicasio Valley Road where Dixon Ridge separates the two valleys. Shortly after the crest, I caught up to Bruce B. and we passed first through Nicasio and then by the Nicasio Reservoir. The climb up the southern flanks of Hicks Mountain separated us again and I rode alone until catching Bruce M. just outside of Petaluma where after a well enjoyed break, the rain began again, though this time falling harder than it had all morning. Bruce M. and I chose the first option for control locations where I bought chocolate milk (proof of a benign and loving creator), salted cashews and AAA batteries, the last item as insurance against a late return to SF. Stopping to find Bruce B. stopped at the Peets, I got behind Bruce M. and left town once again riding solo, though I caught Bruce M. not far outside of town.

Compared to the route from Fairfax to Petaluma, the terrain west of Petaluma has quieted down considerably and is free of the climbs up and out, and dashs down and into the canyons crossed during mid-morning. The rain had stopped and as if only to break up the clearing patter, returned only once and then only shortly on our way to Valley Ford. During the crossing of the Two Rock Valley, I could neither catch the rider who stayed a half mile ahead of me, nor could I be caught by the rider a half mile behind, and this pattern was only broken up when Matthew F. appeared from a cluster of Eucalyptus trees on the north side of the road. Matthew provided a faster wheel to chase and we both did catch that rider ahead, but I had to fall back just after reaching Highway One. There was quite a crowd of riders waiting at the Valley Ford Market so I chose a cup of chowder for lunch along with yet another chocolate milk. Mojo was there at the store but was preparing to leave only as I arrived, but we chatted briefly about all the flat tires we both had on a rainy SFR 300km in 2007.

I had told Bruce B. I'd see him in Valley Ford, but only word of his progress arrived before I left. While the sun shone and warmed those of us in the lee of the Market building, the north side where our bikes were was exposed to the wind and while packing things away I began to get the shivers. I left town then once again on my own, though minutes after and minutes before groups of other riders. We'd pass each other on the way to and through Tomales and chase each other along the always windy leg next to School House Creek. Gabe, John, Bryan, Chris and Ricardo stayed just ahead of me until the climb away from the creek and then I only briefly caught them and had to fall back into chasing mode. Along came Jack and I hung on his wheel as he upped his pace through Marshall where a prolonged flat stretch let us catch our breath before the coastal rollers resumed. Just as we caught Gabe's group once again, Jack slowed and dropped off the back. Thanks to his pull, though I was able to adjust to the faster pace and I chatted with Gabe and John as we neared Pt. Reyes Station. On the worker's ride the week before, I was reminded of the peanut butter blondies at the Bovine Bakery and my monomania for that treat increased as we closed in on town. Fate is often cruel and I could only take one bite before my appetite disappaeared. No matter, I felt pretty good, great if you compare it to my status at this point one week before. Jack hadn't shown up in Pt. Reyes before I left and Gabe's group had found a couch and coffee so they were staying for a bit. I'd no doubt find more riders along the route around the reservoir and back toward Fairfax.

It wasn't until I reached Fairfax though before I caught Dwight and we were joined moments later by Mojo who had stopped to deal with chain issues on White's Hill. Lower Marin again totally screwed with our pace and the many stops caused us to yo-yo rather than ride as a tight group. The climb up Corte Madera toward Camino Alto broke us up completely and I caught Crow waiting at the traffic light in Mill Valley and we rode the bike path back across the marsh by our selves. Crow could really spin on the flats but each incline would drop him back. The climb out of Sausalito toward the Golden Gate Bridge split us up completely. I passed Rita before the tunnel under Highway 101 and found my legs on the mostly empty west side path. The Presidio is undergoing all manner of reconstruction and the old, tried and true path down to Crissy Field was no longer open but I managed to go a block past the old left turn and take McDowell back to Mason and the flat run to the finish.

There was a large crowd of riders still at the finish, some of the very early arrivers and even more that had just finished before me. My time of 9 hours and 28 minutes was much, much better than the week before when it took me 10 hours and 15 minutes, and that time I had to really struggle to finish. I suspect I was already fighting the bug then that later had me in bed all day the Thursday before the Two Rock 200km, but on this day no hint of that cold was lingering. Oh yes, I can live with that. My treat upon finishing was a renewed appetite which allowed me to eat the remaining three quarters of that peanut butter blondie, and yes, it was goooood.