RUSA's (unnamed) route # 300 is one of the Santa Rosa region's most popular routes. The route has routinely been offered each year in January and for the last so many years the turn out has always topped 100, sometimes going well beyond that. What is the attraction? The topography of the route is perfectly matched for legs in early season form, which is to say there is a dearth of hills. The route also is short on controls. The start is in Healdsburg near the City Hall, but the turn around is less than 100km so the morning route does some 'bonus' miles to the west and north before heading to the real destination to the southeast in the outskirts of the town of Napa, CA. Those bonus miles require a control and Bob Redmond, the Santa Rosa region's RBA usually makes it an info control and one that relates to, well, lets say it is one of his other passions while off the bike and a seeming competitor to the main agricultural product of the terrain we'll pass through all day. Also a plus for attracting ridership is that there is a staffed lunch in a quiet park in the rolling hills to the east of town. Few hills, and those are small. Few controls, and those are easily processed. All there is left for riders to manage is turning the pedals.
As luck always turns out for this ride, the 2014 version was also held under the threat of fabulous weather, and except for the very early morning chill, the threat became reality. I always worry that with this ride consistently a week or two before the San Francisco Randonneurs opening season 200km, that Bob will have stolen all the good weather because he always gets it for this ride, but this year both dates and clubs lucked out. At check-in that morning I'm joined by 115 other riders all ready for a great ride, and at 08:00 the pack rolls out. The previous year, I found myself still with the lead group led by a tandem and I was able to draft behind the pack that was led by that tandem all day, finishing a 200km brevet for the first time ever in my life in under seven hours, and more to the point finishing hardly feeling taxed by the day's exertions. While I feel good again on this morning, I have no expectations that I can repeat the experience of last year, but even still I work my way up toward the front on West Dry Creek Road and settle in behind the tandem with Mike and Matt on it. As always happens there is a group that turns right way too early and this breaks up the group a bit and strings out the riders, which really isn't a bad thing as it leaves more room for each rider on what is a narrow road. Finally we reach Yoakim Bridge Road and we cut east over to Dry Creek and the zig-zag over to Canyon road and the only hill of any note in the first 30ish miles. This hill is not long and not steep but it is sufficient to further spread out the pack of riders. Today the riders are more than spread out, they are actually separated into many much smaller groups with huge gaps between each group. Mike and Matt have dropped off on the incline but tide turns at the crest and they fly out to the front with riders frantically taking position in the lee behind them.
Just before Geyserville, we gain CA 128 which we'll stay on til well past Calistoga. Further on as we pass by the entrance to River Rock Casino, the casino itself well hidden behind the oak forested hills, I take stock of the group I'm with. Many of these riders are well above my skill level, and I wonder what the hell I'm doing here with them. But the happy fact is that I'm feeling great and not at all outside my riding abilities on this day, so I settle in and chat with Todd or Mike or Matt as we roll through the Alexander Valley.Maacama Creek, but on the climb up from there trouble begins for the tandem and a short bit further on they pull over to inspect things, and it is only much later we find out what befell them mechanically speaking. The pack rolls on, no doubt assuming it was simply a nature break on their part and that we'd see them later on. The old saying goes that one man's ceiling is another man's floor, and this pace I decide is my ceiling while others in the group decide to dance ahead on their floor and a sub unit of our pack organizes to up the cadence at the county line climb. Surprisingly though I stay near the front up the climb until I decide I will only be in the way over the crest and four riders sprint off. An equal number of others are just as content as I am to remain at our current comfortable pace, but the hill has done it's work and save for that lead group of four everyone else ends up spread out and alone. No worries, though as I know this route so very well and what it will take me to reach the lunch stop control.
Graham and Todd are up ahead in sight, but I decide they are not reachable even if I hammer for a bit, but later I see Graham all alone and looking back to spot other riders to join him, and it is only because he eases off that I catch up to him. We chat for several miles and negotiate the left on to and right off of Bale Lane. Despite the enjoyment of conversation on a bike under superb skies, I decide I'd be much more comfortable after a bio-break and I let Graham ride off. He later caught up to Todd but would suffer a mechanical just before the turn around control. Just as I return from the bushes on a side road Carl comes rolling along and invites me to grab his rear wheel. Carl, another rider well above my skill level is happy for the company and while he does most of the work leading us south, I jump out front to pull several times along the way until we start the last set of miles before lunch along the left-right-left-right path into the foothills.
Todd and Graham are stopped on the side of the road just off of the Silverado Trail figuring out Graham's mechanical predicament but they wave us on. Five or so miles on we roll into the control, and I'm greeted by shocked volunteers, each wondering what the hell I am doing arriving so early. References are made to PEDs as the explanation but that is of course meant as a left-handed complement and I take it as such. After years of riding brevets and all to often battling stomach issues and paying the price of carrying extra baggage it is a joy to be 70 miles into a ride and feeling just great. I have an appetite, I'm barely tired and I know I have plenty in the tank still for the 55 miles back to the finish control. Bobbi chats with me as I finish a turkey sandwich and before I get back on the bike I grab a dixie cup full of nuts and raisins. That smidgen of food will play a vital role 25 miles down the road. I decided I didn't want to eat it right then so I stuffed it in my back pocket and head to the bike. Todd is there and Carl and another rider is there ready to go and I mention to Jason that the train is leaving. Jason just laughs at the idea of joining us and 20 miles down the road I will know exactly why.
After five or six miles the other rider drops off and Todd and I settle in behind Carl. When Carl first began riding, he set in on a paceline and asked the group how it would work. The simplicity of the answer surprised Carl, but he held to that principle. At the time, he was told that 'a turn at the front' lasted until you felt you needed a break, and on this day, with a tailwind behind us Carl just never needed a break all the way to the outskirts of Calistoga where we came up on a really large group pulled by a tandem. I had missed that group coming in to the lunch break and then leaving ahead of us. Catching a tandem-led paceline is just a little unreal just thinking about it, but the reality was that we had a locomotive at the head of our train that was pulling us along on the Silverado Trail at speeds ranging from 21 to 28 mpph. Once we hit Bale Lane for the run across the valley I heard Carl tell Todd he was headed for the front to pull for a while. In my experience tandems had never benefited from or wanted other riders to pull the paceline and few riders really could get out there and stay out there. Carl proved to be the exception here, and while Carl pulled the group, I sat in back munching the trail mix I had stashed in my pocket when leaving lunch. Calistoga and the most obvious place to pull off to rest is just past the 100 mile mark on the route and I have always stopped there because I always needed the break. Not so today though and with Carl at the front we rolled on through town and off to the county line climb where Carl takes off uphill. Only two riders tried to go with him and only one rider managed it and everyone else spread out, with the tandem and one other rider at the back. I passed the tandem with Paul and Sarah on it partway up the hill, with the thought in mind that if I was behind them at the top, I'd never hold their wheel. I raced down the back side trying to get a lot of space between us so that they wouldn't be going quite so much faster than me when they passed. Amazingly, that strategy worked, but largely because Paul and Sarah slowed partway down when they spotted Paul's brother riding along. The whole group save for just a few riders regrouped before the re-crossing of Maacama Creek, and I settled in at the back to try to hang on. The smell of the barn took hold just before we passed Jimtown when Todd jumped out front and upped the pace to 28mph! and four times I fell off the back of the pack and three times I made it back, so I rode solo the last four miles or so.
Certain decisions are the telltale signs of pure genius, and the mind that concluded that the finish control of this particular brevet should be at the Bear Republic Brewery is one that qualifies as belonging in that category. I arrived in six hours and twenty four minutes after the start, feeling like I had earned (though just barely) a post ride pint plus burger and fries. Mike and Matt are there and I'm momentarily puzzled until they tell me their freehub failed and they had gingerly rode back to town and rented a loaner rear wheel to get 80 miles in for the day.
Ride Date: 1-19-2014
Host Club: Santa Rosa Cycling Club
Total km: 200
Km remaining needed for K-hound: 9,400