A number of years back, I recalled hearing stories of a 200km night time brevet run, I think, out of Davis and organized by Bill Bryant. The concept of a night-time brevet stuck with me, the main appeal being acquiring the experience of riding through the night, but being fresh at the start plus also knowing that come sunrise the ride would be done. So in 2009 I shamelessly stole the idea from Bill and created SFR's Davis Nighttime 230km. As I created the route I wanted to route it to go past some services and thereby allow for bailout options, but to also include as much rural terrain as possible. Davis was chosen as the turn-around point because of all the services there late at night, including hotels and public transportation for the return the next day should one need that.
That first year, there were 17 riders and every year since we've had a few more each time. This year we had 38 starters and 35 finishers. At 20:00 we rolled from the Park and Ride lot on Willow and as the group passed through the town of Rodeo (and also later in Vallejo) many of the locals, out enjoying the balmy weather called out and hooted as the pack of brightly lit cyclists rolled by. As we crossed the Zampa bridge between Crockett and Vallejo we could see a slight finger-nail shaped moon just setting behind Mt. Tam across the bay. The lack of a moon later would mean prime star gazing past midnight out away from city lights.
The group began to spread out as we climbed Columbus Parkway and then more so was we hit the descents on Lake Herman road. Bicycle lighting itself has improved so much in the last 4 years or so in terms of the products on offer, and it was pleasing to see that the riders this night were serious about seeing the road as well as being seen. The better lighting helped pick out the bad sections on the middle portion of Lake Herman where longitudinal cracks present some hazards. The remaining riders in the lead group were down to 8 riders, and once the turn onto Lopes appeared that group then split into four groups of two each, and then accordion-ed back into two groups, one of four and another of five when Richard had bridged up to the 2nd pack. As usual though many more riders were on hand at each of the controls as over the course of only a few minutes the various packs would arrive.
The Cordelia to Vacaville stretch alternates between suburban and rural landscape several times and the suburban stretches were well lit, largely car-free and quieter than in the daytime. Once past Vacaville, the terrain itself quiets down too and becomes mostly flat all the way into and then back out of the Davis Safeway control. Out in the agricultural area away from town and after making the turn off of Meridian on to Silveyville we began a double paceline and immediately conversations sprung up, punctuated briefly as we spotted and avoided a large wolf-like dog wandering in the road. The pup seemed startled and frightened by us and kept to the tall grasses on verge and we all resumed our conversations once past. Remembering the turns on this stretch always give me a little worry, but that worry was for naught as it all came back to me correctly. Along the way here I recounted the story of the first time I rode that section in the dark, guided only by the distant taillights of the group I was trying to catch.
While I know those next roads well enough, at night I'm still not 100% certain we've made the correct turns where Road 95 crosses Russell from the north but once past the painted bridge I know we are on course, and I'm more certain of where I am and can enjoy the newish pavement on Putah Creek Road. The revelers outside the bar on Winters Road were the source of the last man made sounds we would hear, other than our own for many miles. We saw no cars on Putah Creek nor on Pleasants Valley (or at least that is how I remember it). The Pleasants Valley stretch seems to be over in a heartbeat which I think is the result of being in the large group. Constant conversation and the benefit of a draft are what makes that so.
The only event that interrupts the steady nature of our pace was on a slightly down hill section past Cantelow Hollow where our temporarily increasing pace alarmed a puant into thinking we were more than a passing oddity, and the visible white strip disappeared behind a raised and bushy tail. Either it was a particularly bad aim, or the gesture was only meant to threaten us, but we evaded any spray and any bad odors on our part were of our own doing.
The route leaves Pleasants Valley where it ends at Cherry Glen and Cherry Glen leads us to Lyon Road and the return to Fairfield surburbia. Before we can reach Fairfield though the route was blocked first by an amazing amount of man-made and natural debris, then by the hulking presence of an overturned SUV quietly ticking as it dissipated heat. The path to it's temporary resting place clearly marked by a gouge in the earth and a section of destroyed fencing and guardrail between Interstate 80 and Lyon Road. A group of maybe three bystanders who had arrived first on the scene warn us in time not to ride through and as we pass on foot several of us turn on headlamps to search the brush on the side of the road and the inside of the wrecked vehicle. We are solemnly told that the driver first walked, and then ran away from the scene, the latter action prompted by the trigger word 'police'. The police arrive and we are excused from the scene when it is clear we have not witnessed the crash.
The terrain north east of Suisun Bay offers nothing to slow or block the winds and riding south on Abernathy gives us all the clues we'll need that the right turn onto Suisun Parkway and Business Center Road will be windy. Being in a large group though mitigates the wind and we arrived at the penultimate control in Cordelia shortly after 03:00. The ridge of hills along Lopes somehow turns the winds into less of a detriment and nearly an advantage but it could also be that the lack of a strong headwind seemed like a tailwind to us. All that ended though with the right turn onto Lake Herman. The climbs there plus the winds caused the group of 10 to split up into 6 different groups but we were able to reassemble most of the original group as we rolled into and through Vallejo.
This was the first time that I finished this ride in darkness, pretty much 30 minutes faster than the only other time I've finished it in less than 10 hours. Bruce, Tim and Vidas were waiting for us at the finish with a spread of bagels, danish, juices and coffee. For all the other runnings of this ride, I would stay until the last rider arrived. This time though I had not remembered to bring the bag I packed with a change of warmer clothing. The sun still was not up yet and I was cooling off quickly so I left for home. I got brownie points for arriving home three hours sooner than I said I would and a 3 hour nap had me up before noon to enjoy the rest of the day.
Thanks to all the volunteers (Libby Subers, Jack Holmgren, Roland Bevan, Michael Bloomfield, Bruce Berg, Tim Houck, Vidas Placiakis and Richard McCaw) for making the ride happen. Thanks as well to the large group of riders with whom I spent nearly 10 hours of riding (Barley Forsman, Greg Merritt, Jason Pierce, Bryan Clarkson, Masa Kobyashi, Toshi Tajima, Richard McCaw, Roland Bevan and Jim Poppy).