Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pushing the plow

All photos courtesy of Megan

To date, the 2013-2014 winter in Northern California has been a very dry one, and with only one or two notable exceptions January was dry in a worrisome way all month. By the end of the next month, February 2014 would be saved from being the driest on record, though barely, by what has now become rare rainfall. So, what then would be the odds that the 'R' word would be in the forecast for the date when the SRCC would hold it's second 200km brevet for 2014? As the day drew nearer, the forecast (though not the weather) became clearer: Overcast, fog, with the chance of rain spiking around 3pm. So the plan now becomes: Ride, of course, but do what can be done to be near the finish not long after 3pm!

Despite the irony of rain during a drought not one of us participating in this brevet, it should be pointed out, would ever begrudge the rain if it came to be. While the rest of the country dealt with prolonged cold spells, huge snowfalls and all manner of other nasty weather, we would be faced this day with at worst, uncomfortable riding conditions. Plus, we all knew too well that the region needed the rain. The year before, when Bob first presented the route to the randonneuring community here, I had planned to ride but instead spent the weekend in bed with a cold. The route components were familiar to me for the most part, but the exact configuration was all new. Bob was brief in his pre-ride presentation and a few miles down the road I could now say I'd ridden all of those roads at least once.

Some days the ride just flows and on other days the air feels thicker, every incline is magnified and you are disappointed to find that your tire pressure isn't too low and your brake pads aren't rubbing because that would have meant that it wasn't just you as the reason. The route today begins in Novato and like all other SRCC routes, it quickly reaches rural terrain. Over the whole of the course there is only one significant climb, Wilson Hill, and one set of mega-rollers to challenge you (though we'll do them both in both directions). The rest of the route is made up of relatively gentle grades of short duration. So I could not blame the route profile nor could I blame the bike for this ride to shape up as the latter type.

As is usual, the only thing that breaks the group of nearly 80 riders into smaller segments in the early miles is first traffic controls, and then later an incline, and the gaps caused by those aspects could have been only temporary if not for the option some riders took to push the downhill. On the approach to Wilson Hill, the first notable climb, I decide to fuel up while riding but I do an awkward job of it and get dropped as a result. Everything seems to be slightly more work today than usual. I can't seem to gain on the group on the Hicks Valley rollers, but I know Wilson Hill just around the next corner will shake things up. That it does and though I do gain a little ground here, I couldn't close all of the gap and the riders ahead are out of sight over the crest.

The descent ahead includes one spot that if I don't control my speed it will cause me at least a moment of mild panic so I don't push it here to catch up. Well above that tricky spot though, I come across a rider down in the ditch on the far side of the road, his bike further down hill than he. The rider is alert and we do an inventory and when it is clear nothing is broken or even cut I walked uphill to warn the next riders approaching. Martin is next and he pulls off to take over traffic control and Bob shows up as well. Most of this day's riders pass by before we all get on our feet. Once upright e can see an ugly bulge on the back side of the injured rider's right knee. Martin, Bob and I all get on our bikes and guide the rider downhill only to stop at the next crossroad to work out a plan for his return to the start. It is clear he should call it a day. (Later on we found out that he was able to ride all the way back to the start, reversing our outbound route and by the next day he was sore but otherwise fine.) While we were stopped making those alternate plans the very last it seems of all the riders have now passed and Martin, Bob and I once again start riding and we quickly catch up to Deb and her rolling Salon. I would have been happy to hang for a bit but I was also happy to follow Bob's wheel around the pack and off the front and Martin hesitates only for a moment before he bridges up to us and Bob pulls us past Laguna Lake and through the valley named for the son-in-law of the first European land owner here.

The first control for the route was in Tomales. Most of the riders made a bee-line to the bakery but a few of us chose the general store instead. In the general commingling of riders in town, Bob hears some intel that suggests it is much better to not assume our fallen rider had made it back to his car safely so he calls the volunteer who had earlier agreed to come pick the rider up and it then that we learned he rode back with her following him. The extra time here helped me feel less rushed once we finally push off toward the rollers between here and Valley Ford.

Despite feeling off, when I thought I'd fall off on the first huge roller north of Tomales, instead I pulled a bit ahead, but several miles later on what is at best a puny roller before the turn toward Freestone, I run out of oomph and truly do fall off but Bob and Martin slow a bit and I catch back up. A few riders pull off in Freestone to pick up a little somthing at the Wild Flour Bakery but our group rolled on. I know that for myself, I'd crash upon the rocks if I heeded the siren song of a stop there. From here Bohemian Highway meanders for a while before reaching the redwoods and the town of Occidental. Along the way we happened upon a rider who tells us he is a cast off from the Grasshopper training ride. He looks spent but in good spirits, having gained some useful experience to build upon and happy with some conversation with us. As we passed through town though I began to worry that I had acquired a slow leak but annoyingly I can't confirm that. The Bohemian Highway from Occidental is downhill so riders can hold a pretty good pace, unless of course they lose tire pressure and eventually it is clear I should pull off and mentally prepare to swap out the rear tube. What I find isn't definitive. The tire pressure is not so low that I need to take the wheel off, so to avoid delaying Martin and Bob who stopped with me, I pump up the tire and trusted that we could then do the 15 miles to the turnaround control. I'm not too far wrong and only need to stop once more to re-inflate with a plan to do the full repair at the control.

Sure enough there is a large crowd on the porch at the Cazadero General Store when we get there and while Bob and Martin head inside, I set to work on my task which I finish as Bob and Martin are ready to go. As Martin rolls his bike toward the roadside he finds his tire is completely flat. With a chuckle he insists we roll off (we later found out it was the tire change from hell as he broke 3 plastic tire 'irons' and nearly some of his fingers in finally defeating the tire). A few riders join us as we head south back toward Highway 116 and the Russian River, but along the way into Monte Rio they pull back and let us go.

Two centuries ago, a French mathematician defined work as weight lifted through a height. There is no doubt I am feeling the weight today and to get to Occidental then, we need to do some work as that town and the next downhill are a ways uphill. Earlier, the skies were overcast and once past Freestone they look more than that. The landscape from Freestone until Wilson Hill has changed from the wooded and closed in feel back north of us and now is open and rolling, offering the chance to glimpse features of the land many miles distant. Any chance we get to look across the landscape shows what looks like rainfall as a backdrop. We've gathered up a couple more riders past Valley Ford but the monster rollers before Tomales break up the group again.

As it was on the outbound run, Tomales is a control inbound which suits me. I want a rest. Every so often now it begins to rain, and then abruptly stops but this pattern gets more pronounced back on Chileno Valley Road. Jason and then Becky, both on fixed gear bikes, have joined us on this stretch but everyone gets spread out on the climb back up Wilson Hill. That sinking feeling of a slow leak is the blackest cloud on the horizon along Hicks Valley Road and finally it feels too much like I'm pedaling a plow. This time the slow leak is my front tire and 10 miles out from the finish I stop to pump it up, and luckily that lasts the rest of the ride. Each time the light rain begins again I am sure it is here for good, but as quickly as it starts it then stops and once we are within the Novato city limits we actually catch a glimpse of blue sky. That is merely a tease though. Our group finishes at 16:29 for an elapsed time of 8:29. We ducked inside the pub for some warm food and cold beer and outside the skies opened up and a rainfall settled in after threatening all day. Many riders are already at the table when I made it inside and it is good to hear the stories of how their ride played out, and I contemplate how having great company on a ride when I'm not feeling the flow can really put that part well down the list of what I'll remember about the day. It really was a good day after all.

And I guess Bob *doesn't* get all the good weather.

Ride Date: 2-15-2014

Host Club: Santa Rosa Cycling Club

Total km: 200

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 9,200

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