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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Getting back to the point of this blog

(Photos courtesy of Masayoshi Kobayashi)

In looking back over 'recent' postings to this blog, I noted that while entries became sparse after last summer, on top of that the last entry that had to do with a specific ride was in early October, and the ride it chronicled was a month before that. I began this blog as a way to record and ruminate on my preparation for Paris, Brest, Paris 2011. So before I provide a new entry that recounts my most recent brevet, I might as well at least mention all those brevets I did do but didn't write or comment about.

The cycling year 2010 for me was a very good year. There was room left for it to have been great, but very good is still a lot of progress. High points for 2010 were the longest rides of the year: The Fl├Ęche Norcal, the Fort Bragg 600km and the Central Coast 1000km. On all those rides I had a great appetite, and energy through out the ride. Those rides only take me through the first half of the year though. I filled out the rest of the year with mostly 200km brevets and permanents, plus I traveled with Bill Monsen down to Santa Cruz in early September to do the SCR 400km. My cycling year did not end in September though. The San Francisco Randonneurs had the annual Winters 200km which I got to ride with all the other riders for the first time (in the past I've worked the brevet at various controls). Like a dope, I forgot vital cycling equipment and had to miss the November Two Rock 200km, but I filled in November and December with 200km permanents, the latter being the Del Puerto Canyon 200km perm, ridden with a bunch of friends.

Coming off that very good year of 2010, January looked to be a great status check to see just where I'd be starting as I ramped up for PBP in August. For 2011, two other brevet clubs joined SFR in listing January brevets so there were three different 200kms to choose from. I rode the Santa Rosa 200km from Healdsburg to Napa and back on the 15th. That route is one of my favorites for a lot of reasons, and it has some features that ordinarily I'd dislike (it isn't very hilly and after a while flat terrain can cause certain problems). I rode that brevet at the pace of my friend Bruce, who was returning to riding after a long layoff imposed by construction projects. The weather was fantastic, and I felt pretty darn good all day. I didn't feel so darn good the next day, and on the Monday after, a holiday and day off from work, I was spending the day in bed with a head cold. At the time I didn't know that cold would end up lasting the better part of four weeks. Yes, four weeks. Seems that cold was in fashion and lots of unlucky people had a version of it. ugh.

Due to the aforementioned head cold, I missed our inaugural 2011 Lighthouse 200km brevet, run during fantastically wonderful weather with an SFR record crowd of riders. As the three weeks until the Two Rock 200km passed I wondered if I'd be healthy in time, or even healthy again. As it turned out I managed a grand total of one ride of 15 miles that whole span before riding the Two Rock. My time on that ride didn't totally suck, though it should have given what nearly four weeks of no riding should have done for my form. There were then two weeks until the SFR Healdsburg 300km and I got what riding done that I could to prepare for that. The arrival of the date for the 300km brought with it 100 year cold temps and the threat of snow at sea level. I didn't believe it would be that bad, and it didn't snow that weekend. Instead, it was bitterly cold for the Bay Area. We still had a huge crowd of over 100 riders complete the brevet.

Oh, that 300km. The cold sucked the life out of me and even though I had put the first head cold in the rear view mirror and managed some training rides and a couple of mid-week lunch time rides in the hills, I did much worse and had my slowest ever 300km time of nearly 16 hours. I was the last one to Marin Brewing Co. for our traditional late dinner after the 300km and everyone had been there for over an hour by the time I arrived. By Wednesday after the Healdsburg 300km, I had a new head cold but thankfully this one lasted only five or six days. To be sure, you don't recover from nearly four weeks of a head cold in a week or two, and when you get yet another cold things just don't progress at all.

Since the SFR 300km, I've had a few signs of progress finally: a little bit less of a feeling of exhaustion when I complete the climb on a lunch time ride, and a small bit of spark in the legs when riding the flats and getting up out of the saddle. I've noticed some benefits of the resumption of a stretching routine too. Stretching just seemed too onerous when I was dealing with a three week old sore throat and headache and I guess I convinced myself that since I wasn't riding I didn't have to do the stretching. Wrong. One bonus during this recovery was getting back to a Sunday morning hill ride with Bruce M. and Rich. It had been six months since Rich could join us for an early morning Sunday ride in the hills. That was a treat to have him back with us, smiling all the time. Now, though, head colds are not what is keeping me and many of my fellow riders off the bike. Northern California is dealing with quite a lot of rain, and it's not the 30% POP kind. Today's storm had high winds and high rainfall totals and there were rain storms right before and more lined up behind it taking us through the next couple of days with wet weather. No weather window involved here.