Friday, March 25, 2011

A fine and pleasant misery revisited

Water is a chemical substance that is vital to life. Without it, humans and all other terrestrial life forms fail. Applied to seeds planted in the ground it promotes growth. How vital is it though to the sub-species of humans known as randonneurs? Is it really necessary to apply water to a randonneur to promote 'growth'? More to the point, on last week's Santa Rosa 300km Brevet, was it necessary to apply so much of the stuff to all the participants?

In 2005, as a freshly minted randonneur, I enjoyed a wonderful run of spring weather when I completed my first SR series. In fact, all those brevets were definitely on the warm side as spring weather goes. Ah, but in 2006, right from the start, things changed. The first brevet of that year was the 200km, and I chose the San Francisco Randonneur's 200km for the first time. To put it mildly, that 200km was wet. Along the way on that ride, I doubted many times that I was doing the right thing by continuing. Each moment of doubt was separated from the next by actual thoughts of 'gee, this is kinda fun. Who'da thunk!' As a still newbie brevet rider though, most of the doubting moments were fed by the knowledge that I was riding by myself most of the time which, forgive me, diluted my confidence. I did learn a lot on that ride, mostly that I could persevere, and if not finish in style, at least I could finish.

What I learned on that 2006 version of the SFR Point Reyes Lighthouse brevet came in darn handy when in 2007 the SFR 300km became a ride that now lives in club lore. The growing body of knowledge regarding riding in the rain alas was not enough later that year when I attempted Paris, Brest Paris 2007. As a club, we in the San Francisco Randonneurs have been dodging rain storms since 2007, and until last year we didn't really have rain on a ride that warranted mention. For that stretch of time, it seemed the rain would abate the night before or arrive the next day, but wouldn't end up soaking the ride or riders.

Ok, so it is now 2011 and I have a few more years of experience, and I'm coming off a pretty good 2010 as far as brevets go. It's a mid March Saturday and I'm driving up to Healdsburg for my 2nd 300km of the year, on my way hopefully to a double SR series and every 5 minutes of the hour plus drive up the weather changes and at one point the rain is so fierce that I have to cut my speed in half due to the downpour. Nevertheless, I checked in to get my brevet card, and set up my bike and in a fit of optimism I stowed my rain jacket and rainmates in my handle bar bag, trusting that the intermission in that day's programmed rain will be a lengthy one. We left the City Hall parking lot in a loosely organized group, with more than a few riders still suiting up, and still others just pulling in to park. A few sprinkles and I still hoped for a break. Alex and I begin to chat but less than a mile from the start he decided to pull off to put on a jacket and I don't see him again for many hours. The first ten miles for me are punctuated with a stop to shift fluids and then another one to put on the rain jacket when the sprinkles just refused to go away and instead got better organized into a rain shower. I finally caught the two groups of riders that had passed me as I was stopped, just as those groups are beginning to fragment. In the end, Kevin S. and Thomas V. arrive at River Road at the same time as I do and we form a loose trio on the trip out to the sea at Jenner, CA. River Road/CA 116 is the usual mine field of sharp rocks fallen from the hillsides of the Russian River valley, and the climb up to Goat Rock State Park from the Highway One bridge over the river is just as slow as I expected it to be. Once at the top Thomas begins to pull away and then Kevin passes me and pulls ahead as we experience a brief gap in the rain.

The first control is at Diekmann's Store in Bodega Bay, and it is dismaying to arrive there just ahead of a group of riders that had started the brevet up to 20 minutes late. They all look fresh, in opposition to how I'm feeling, which is leaden legged and lethargic. Kevin and I rolled out together though I knew that I would shortly be dropped despite Kevin's plan that we should stick together to better work against the wind. I just did not have the legs to keep up with Kevin on the Valley Ford rollers and that last nasty southbound roller before Tomales, CA put Kevin out of sight. Thomas and his friend Sean caught up to me just south of Nick's Cove and I pushed just a bit to hang on with them as we passed through Marshall, CA and picked up Clayton. The terrain along Highway One has been described as the closest around to that which matches PBP terrain: lots of rollers, no seriously big climbs. The advantage that Highway One enjoys though is a near constant view of the Pacific north of Bodega, and of Tomales Bay south of Tomales all the way to Point Reyes Station, CA. I've ridden it many times and in all kinds of weather, yet on this Saturday there is a new element: Frequent casual streams rush across the lanes trying to find the lowest ground. In fact, that is the sound track for the whole day: running, rushing water.

Clayton and I ended up losing Sean and Thomas and made the long arc around the marshy southern end of Tomales Bay and pushed north through Inverness, CA. Mt. Vision's northern flank presents a ridge that must be cleared before Sir Francis Drake Boulevard enters the rumpled, treeless and windy landscape of the Point Reyes peninsula proper. Unlike the SFR Lighthouse 200km, the Santa Rosa 300km route does not go all the way out to the lighthouse. I call it a toss up as to whether that is a good thing or not, as it still goes out most of the way and is still way, way hillier than you think it should be or even is. The SRCC group had enlisted a friendly and really helpful couple that staffed the control and handed out warm cups of cup-o-noodles. That control was the one spot on the route where it seemed the most riders intersected. Clayton and I left together and once again I found my self gapped immediately and trailing behind. I managed to close the gap by the top of the Mt. Vision ridge on the way back, only to be riding alone as Clayton needed to stop for water. I figured he would catch me by Point Reyes but instead I rode solo all the way to Valley Ford before he caught me. I peeled off at the Valley Ford Market to quickly shift fluids, and I could see Clayton way off in the distance as we both tackled different parts of those Valley Ford rollers. The penultimate control on the SR 300km is a repeat visit to Diekmann's Bay Store and Clayton was already there ordering a basket of cottage fries. I felt the need to keep moving in order to stay warm so my visit there was short and this was the last I saw of Clayton on the ride. Once again riding solo with no other riders in sight ahead, I worked my way north past the CalTrans workers dealing with a washout, passing the still arriving heavy machinery on the way.

The run down the hill from Goat Rock State Park to the Russian River was the last free ride I got. Gone was the tail winds I enjoyed heading north (unusual as those winds are for northbound travel on Highway One). Highway 116 and River Road was largely vacant of traffic which I know was the trade off for such bad weather. Full dark had already hit before I made the turn off onto Westside Road, but the darkness there was in stark contrast to what I had on River Road. Westside's uneven and irregular pavement was littered with hundreds of branches and leaves from the overhanging trees which was only one factor that made those last 17 miles such slow going. The only rider I saw since leaving Diekmann's Bay Store back at mile 146 was James C. walking along in the dark just two miles from the finish. James had gotten a flat tire, but his hands were so numb from the day long rain and now dropping temperatures that he decided that walking three miles was better than stopping in the dark to fix his flat. I knew he was staying warmer walking along so with his permission I rode on toward the finish. From having done the route in 2009 with my friend Bruce, I knew where the hotel/finish control was, but not which room. Upon my arrival there I met Cro who was doing circuits of the hotel looking for the control room. He finally went to the front desk oddly located at the back of the building to find out which room it was and naturally it was the first room we passed coming in, but the furthest room from us at that point.

After checking in, returning to my car to get a change of clothing and then taking a hot shower, I had a fit of shivers that lasted about ten minutes. It was nice to finally feel warm once the shivers ended and to hang out and watch the later riders finish. Thinking back a week later and contemplating the ride, I have to say that without a doubt, I was never once miserable on the ride despite nearly 13 hours of rain on a nearly 15 hour ride. I may be stingy with that figure as other riders felt the gaps in the rain lasted much less than an hour over the course of the day. I know that it was my past experience riding in the rain that let me know what I was in for and that I could deal with it if I wanted to. My time of 14:55 (not sure exactly but I know it wasn't 9pm until some time after I checked in) was really not so bad considering the conditions and the day long inability to climb any of the rollers with any verve. I won't go out of my way to ride many hours in the rain, but this ride tells me that I can get through the dark weather and remember better the things I would not have seen or experienced if I had decided not to ride.

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