Some days, I’m very happy for a coastable drivetrain and a multitude of gears. I knew Monday would be bad, but even yesterday, my legs ached and bitched most of the way to work and back. All because of the phone call I got on Sunday.
“Hey! Where are you?”
It was a trick question really. It was my wife. And there was really only one reason the question was being posed - because I was not where I should have been.
Y’see, cycling is one of those things which tends to dislodge me from linear time. During brevets, there have been hours of purgatory which only took a couple of minutes. Minutes of tricky, technical descents which took merely seconds.
What tricked me is that the usual direction is towards expansion. Like yoga, acting or meditation, you seem to find the time within the seconds to observe, ponder and react. You see the way a hawk tweaks its tail before changing direction, how a bee scrambles to stay attached to the fabric of your jersey before releasing and disappearing aft. There have been distinct moments when my front wheel slid out on loose trails, and somehow I sat back, looked up, picked up the front of my bike, lofted the front wheel and brought everything back upright. A quick flick of the second hand that took minutes.
Occasionally though, it works the other way.
“We need to leave in about thirty minutes.”
Now, that couldn’t be right, thought I. Somehow, I’d lost an hour out on the breezy, sunny Sunday right. I’d swooped the trails and hummed over the roadways. I’d enjoyed a double espresso while watching sailboats navigate the Racoon Straits. There had been plenty o’ time to spare the whole day.
But, as Peter Sellers once observed, “Nit Anymere…”
From where I was, still climbing the tail end of Camino Alto, it was a 45 minute ride to get home, via the MDR*.
“I’ll be there in about 30.”
Rolled up the gear on the Quickbeam, used every trick I knew and made every light except one. And just to toot my own horn, I rolled up to the porch 31 minutes later. Showered like there was water rationing and was dressed and ready in record time. I wasn’t particularly popular for a while, but we did arrive on time, at least. Though I think it might have taken another hour before my heart rate dropped back down. Really hadn’t planned on Beryl Burtoning my way home, and things were stiffening up as we sat through the play that evening.
Monday’s commute? Well, as I mentioned, tiny gears and seated, easy pedaling. Goddess, I was sore.
And yesterday? Hit the first climb and my ox-brain let me shift up and come out of the saddle.
Uh. No. That h’ain’t a-gonna work. Big gear, meet burning thighs. Eased up and sat down, finding a gear that worked a bit better. But clunky with a capital “K”… Yoga helped last night, so we’ll see how things are today.
*MDR = “Most Direct Route”
Decent mileage finally. Nothing wow-inducing, certainly. Just a nice solid month with regular rides. The thing I was most happy with was notching 319 with minimal longer rides. The longest loop was around 45 miles mid-month. On the downside, that means that I haven’t ridden “long” in a while - hmmm…. quite a while… - but it means that I ended up riding 21 days out of 30. Consistency is a good thing.
It hurt a bit, too. A little stiffer here and there and a few muscle aches. Regular riding puts a bit different stress on the system, and I’m still screaming home on the commute at a pretty good clip most nights. (That whole shorter ride/higher effort thing.) I’m feeling better when I do have to go for more throttle. But, then one weekend of marginal weather, I just couldn’t raise the gumption to go a-ridin’. Had to honor that, too. Yoga still keeping things loose and restored.
Also wore my last Pasela down to the threads - which I only realized by flatting while on a lunchtime errand. Danged fenders tend to obscure the visual check. But, I do like wearing stuff out.
Bikey Miles in 2010 so far: 3768
This put the biggest smile on my face* -
*For some reason, this video is a little wonky in Firefox, so if you don’t see anything, try this link -
A lot of little threads and thoughts today. Some of which will probably be edited out in the interests of coherency.
Got a decent ride in yesterday, after weeks and weeks of too-short, too-fast commute rides. Rolled out on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday - the kind of mid-November SF Bay Area weather which we who live here get very quiet about as our cycling brothers and sisters are discussing winter gloves and studded tires. First ride in memory where I didn’t have my bag strapped to my back, and things felt light and smooth. Steered the Quickbeam over road and trail, enjoyed a freshly paved section of Paradise Drive, felt cosmically blessed when the surface turned back to bumpy and cracked and ripply, and all the race-folks fell behind on their high pressure 23C tires.
As a general rule, it seems to cause some consternation when a single-geared bicycle with tweed fender flaps goes past them over a rough and broken surface. Perhaps it’s the head-slap enlightenment. Just one of the many services we offer.
Just realized that I didn’t make a mileage post for the meager October tally. (tap, tap, tappity, tap) There.
Or rather here.
Finally upgraded my phone (the Razr that wouldn’t die), which means that I spent a couple evenings dinking around at the app store, up too late distracted by mostly less-than-useful technology. Was reasonably impressed by Pandora radio, which immediately knew about a couple of less-than-popular bands that I thought of. Only downside with them is the commercials. But, hey, nothing is “free”… Other than that there have been a few things, but I think I’m going to keep things reasonably austere for a while. (Maybe some folks will make some suggestions - so far the Photoshop, Sketchbook, Hipstamatic, StarWalk, Dragon Dictation and Evernote apps are all aboard and being used. Oh, and RedLaser, which is pretty much the end of retail as we know it. The one time waster I’ve allowed myself is Labyrinth.) None of which has to do with cycling.
For the past 30 days or so, rides have been of a different flavor. Busy times at the day job, more auditions now that I’ve got representation for voiceover work, and a few gigs have had me trying to compress more stuff into less time, and I often end up blasting home on the commute - curiously enough, often in time to get to yoga. Which must be some sort of a zen koan.
The whole practice of screaming homeward on a tallish, non-coastable gear seems to be paying off. On yesterday’s loop, there was a little lapse at about an hour, I suspect as that’s been the upper end of most of my rides of late, but then things started to notch into place. My legs and hips decided that they weren’t going anywhere, and decided to help out for a bit longer, and the back and arms started to relax and act like springs rather than shock absorbers. And when I felt like ratcheting up the pressure a bit, it actually felt like there was some latent speed in there. I don’t think I’m ready for the BASPS this year, but at least things aren’t feeling entirely monovelocic.
It’s also the time of year when everything suddenly gets darker an hour earlier. Which isn’t all that bad, as it takes my home commute out of the time of dusk, when people don’t seem to see anything and places it squarely in the night, when bright LED’s and USCG-approved reflective tape seems to catch their eyes. Indeed - the worst event riding recently was coming back from a noontime sandwich run, in broad, bright daylight, when someone entering from a side street decided they didn’t need to stop at the sign and tried to slide through it. Luckily my “HEY” horn seems to have appropriate volume and “cut through”…
Speaking of unaware drivers, I finally got a check from the insurance company to settle up property damage and expenses from the accident last June. It was a lesson in polite and helpful responses leading to no actual results, and a steadily stream of “oh, you know, we don’t have a copy of …. ” which had me re-faxing, re-emailing, and re-requesting medical clearances. For those of you keeping score at home, that was 15 months from the day of the accident. Just to clarify, this was the driver’s insurance company who redefined methodical slowness - my auto insurance was spot on, helpful, going to bat for me and quick to point out what I should do (get copies of police report, photograph damages, etc.). CSAA really rocked, and this year was one of the few times that I re-upped with them that I was actually happy about it. Of course, I’ve been with for freakin’ ever. But, in this day of online comparative pricing, and racing to the cheapest possible solution, I do wonder what the response would have been if I’d changed companies annually.
And, I am still of the opinion that it’s not a good idea to arrest the forward motion of a bicycle by sticking your index finger between your brake lever and a truck door. Just in case there’s any question about that.
Finally, I’m looking forward to today’s ride - we’re getting together with some friends who have a very energetic son who has been itching to go bike riding with us. Certainly, H.G. Wells observed
“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
…but it’s always great to remind the next generation.
Saturday came and went, a day full of errands and preparations. Riding for distances other than the too-short doses of commutes have for a number of reasons has been hard to come by of late. Mostly good things, but they all compound to create a certain absence of time.
With Sunday came the rain. First real rain to speak of in a long time, as is the way in this part of California. It stuttered for a bit and then increased as though the weather had to remember how to do it right. I bumped around with a high degree of inefficiency, finding saddle covers and warmer gloves and hats which had been stowed months before.
Hit the road on the Quickbeam, which has been proudly sporting fenders and flaps all summer long. In fact, I was actually enjoying the rain-induced dust removal from the insides of the fenders. But, a few miles from home, the rain increased a bit, and the dampness began to seep into my shoes. Stopping to pull the shoe covers from the bag, I unrolled them to find that “them” was in fact, “it”. Oh, my lucky right foot. Somehow in storing things, I’d managed to separate the pair, which I didn’t notice when tossing them into the bag.
Dilemma time - I wasn’t far enough away to just say the heck with it and keep riding. In fact the distance was too danged short to feel anything but lazy if I didn’t head back to procure the left cover. So, I did. Kinda pissed at my own error, I clomped into the house and found the other cover. Put it on and headed back to the bike. Started rolling it away until the unmistakable feeling of rim rolling on rubber made clear the now-flat rear tire.
And I was just ready to say, “Aw, Chuck it!”
Y’know, strip off the gear, hang the bike back up and fall into the couch.
It’s funny how that goes, and how the minor frustrations of the past couple weeks and days - rushing here and there, but mostly the not riding - just came to an ugly, cresting peak. And all I could think about was that I was about to get wet for a few hours, would probably just flat again since all the glass bits always get drawn out by the first rain, and how it just wasn’t worth it.
Luckily, I made myself just change the tire first. Wheeled the bike around to the back porch, removed the tire, pulled the tube, found the glass shard and got things back together. Six or seven minutes. And sometime in that period, I managed to reset whatever valve wasn’t right.
Realized that the rain had eased slightly. That I got to use a floor pump to get everything back to the right pressure. That the tube had been airtight. That I got to do the work under the cover of the porch roof rather than off to the side of the road somewhere.
And I wanted to ride. Which I did.
And it was wonderful. I’d forgotten how the first rainy days suddenly make everyone a homebody. Virtually no other riders to be seen and few cars on the road. Just the hiss of tires of wet pavement and the rush of air in my ears. Pedaled around to improving conditions and eased home. At a stop light, a driver took a moment to say what a nice rig the Quickbeam was. Kinda tied the day up in a big ribbon.
Funny how close you can come to undermining your happiness. But, it ended up good.
Lighthouse 200K Ride Report - Pt. 2
“Pt Reyes Lighthouse to Marshall and Return”
(continued from Part 1)
The beauty of the scene at the Lighthouse parking lot was compelling. I could have sat there for an hour, soaked up the sun and been totally happy. It was a rare and gorgeous day. Other randonneurs - One Happy Cog, The Box Dog Boys and a few others I recognized rolled up to the control and all was well in the world.
Luckily, the flow of riders in and out of the lot set off my “get moving” alarm, and after half-filling my empty water bottle (the big SFR thermoses were getting low), I commenced the pre-flight ritual. On the return leg, those little pitches that climb up to the main mesa always seem to bite after the short time off the bike at the control. Plus, the initial downhill from the Lighthouse has an incline and surface conditions that fixed-gear nightmares are made of. So, I elected to keep the rear wheel flopped onto the coastable side of things for a few miles, though I did notch it back up to the 40T chainring, assisted by a helpful guy in a Freewheel SF vest, who has riding a really nice Hunter.
It’s pretty disorienting to be able to suddenly coast. Sort of mucks things up for the first few hundred yards, but I got spinning fairly quickly, dropped down to the first ranch and got stuck in a scrum of oncoming cars, farm equipment and randonneurs. We sorted things out reasonably quickly and commenced cussing our way up the first climb. While it’s good to use the lower gearing of the freewheel, you do lose the momentum of fixed-gear climbing. However, it did seem prudent to allow my legs to rest a bit.
I even dropped back down to the low/low for the final pitch up to the mesa. Then misjudged the QR setting when I reclamped it and immediately pulled the axle forward on the first pedal stroke. Ack! It’s the simple things that catch you. Just as I was messing with it for the second time, another rider on a Miyata checked to make sure there was nothing wrong. Admitting to user error, I got spinning along again.
Reaching the mesa, where Drake’s Beach Road angles off to the south, I commenced to reflipping the gearing. The next section is a fine dividend for the suffering bits encountered earlier. While there are still a few inclines to resolve, the road drops down ever downward in a series of steps, limited solely by how fast you want to pedal. The smooth road surface hummed under my tires and I enjoyed every moment.
As things leveled out, I had a curious feeling - that of being very hungry. I’d had oatmeal at breakfast before leaving the house, and I’m not sure if this happens to everyone, but for me, oatmeal just evaporates. I go from full to empty in about a second and a half.
Here’s the other thing. I’ve been writing and erasing, rewriting and chucking out those sentences for a while now - which is why the second half of this ride report has been so damned tardy in getting posted. It’s been very hard to write about the second part of this ride, because things are about to go really well and very poorly. In the hopes of smoothing things out for the future, I’ve been thinking about where things really bottomed out, and tried to backtrack to the point where I wish I’d done something a little bit different - where I’d been alert enough to recognize I was making an error and smart enough to do something about it.
And here is one of those places where I should have recognized a budding issue. All the articles I’ve ever read encourage pretty much the same thing - eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty. And I was hungry - growling-empty-stomach, “dang I gotta get some food” hungry. Luckily, I’d packed a sandwich, and as the roadway stayed roughly level, I commenced to dig it out of my Zugster Rando Bag and nibble away. It made me feel very rando-ey. I tried to take reasonably small bites, as it seemed as though there wasn’t too much extra saliva in the system, and the reasonably dry food was not doing anything other than sucking up any moisture to be found. That would indicate that I was also a bit thirsty. After getting about a third of the sandwich into me, things felt OK, and I stowed it back into the bag.
Wearing the stylin’ Elvis glasses of hindsight, this was the time not to be dainty, foodwise. While it might not have been the brightest move to cram the whole thing down my throat as quickly as possible, it may have been prudent to keep nibbling away, a bite or two every five minutes or so until I’d finished the whole thing.
As it was, I worked my way upwards towards the Inverness Ridge pretty steadily. During my first time on this course back in 2007, I’d used the distraction of standing and sitting to go up this longer but easier incline to the crest. 20 standing pedal strokes, followed by another 20 in the saddle. It had been a grind then, but it broke things up and kept the pace up a bit. Today, I did the same thing, but had some oomph and was able to do “40’s”. That result was more than likely a direct benefit of the recent caloric intake. Before the top, I managed to catch up with Franklyn again, after he’d eased past while I was flopping my wheel back on the mesa.
Before I knew it, it was high alert mode, zig-zagging down the descent towards the Tomales Bay side of things, dodging sketchy pavement patches and howling through the turns. Again at bay level, if I’d been clever, the sandwich would have come out again. But I wasn’t and it didn’t.
Here is the benefit of consideration after the fact. At the time, I was spinning along strongly over the rolling roadway with a specific goal in mind: stopping once again at the grocery in Inverness Park for some fluids. While it may have been considerate to not drain the common igloo of water at the Control back at the Lighthouse, it would have been smarter to walk a ways up the path to the actual water source and refill my bottles completely before shoving off. They were both pretty empty at this point.
And if I, Current Self, could time travel back to chat briefly with the slightly under-watered and low-caloric Randonneurring me, I think I might have suggested that since Inverness Park was only about 2 miles away from the Bovine Bakery, it might have been a better move to suck it up, stick it out and proceed to the sunnier destination (passive solar recharge), which has high caloric hot pizza (thermal/caloric assistance), in addition to coffee (”Hi, I’m Jim and I am a Caffeine Addict…”), which would give me access to their sink for water refilling (hydro-sustenance), just to name a few points of concern. Which, if I’d been smarter and eaten up my whole damned sandwich back a while before that, would have been a simpler idea to come up with, rather than the too-easy decision of “Stop. Buy water now” which cycled through my brain.
Also, my brain for some reason thought Pt. Reyes Station was a bit further away. So, I pulled on the reins and stopped.
Got some water and such, spread out and nibbled away, listening to the bleating goats and watch the odd randonneur ease past. The rider I’d seen earlier on the Miyata had stopped and opted for a run on the bakery next door. We chatted a little bit and I think I was able to form reasonably coherent sentences. At this point it was about 12:45, and I was happily within my “good” time for the day. I finished off my sandwich, but didn’t really want to do too much more eating.
There is a difference - stop me if I’m wrong here - between a 5 hour ride and a 10 hour ride. One big difference is the whole refueling aspect, which I mentioned earlier. At the former, you can push the gas tank needle past the half-full mark, even let it drop down until the warning light goes on. On the latter, the trick is to keep the calories coming in while the exertions of the day are using them up.
And that trick strikes me as one I have yet to really master.
Which is, of course, a thought that I wish had occurred to me quite that clearly as I was sitting there as the clock edged into hour six, nibbling the slices of tangerine I’d packed along. I’d marveled a bit at the way that the sandwich seemed to fuel me over the ridge coming back - just didn’t seem able to draw any larger conclusions from that behavior.
I packed up and rolled out again, coming up on a couple of riders on Rivendells as we reconnected to Highway 1. Another half a mile up the road in the town of Pt. Reyes Station, the familiar figure of One Happy Cog appeared before me. I caught up to him as we finished the rise to get out of town, and chatted a bit on our way north to Marshall. The winds had remained reasonably still, and though a few clouds sat to the west, the sun shown on our path.
It was good to share the miles with another rider. Even better, it was a chance to ride with him a bit. Although we’d crossed paths a few times, we had not ridden together before. Our pace seemed well suited to one another, his range of gears helping to entice me up the rollers on the way to the second Control. We traded the lead now and again, chatted a bit and hailed the randonneurs who had reached the turnaround point and were heading back to San Francisco. At some point, he dropped back and snagged a little video footage of me.
Can’t quite recall what was hanging out of my back jersey pocket…
We rolled up the final bit to the Marshall store, and upon stepping inside, found a goodly line of sweaty brevet riders all queued up to buy some food and get their card stamped. With the gorgeous weather, a fair number of folks had driven out there as well, and were seated along many of the outside tables, sampling the chowder. The place was about as busy as could be, and I tried not to fret about time being lost while standing in place. As it was, my purchase time was 13:45, frighteningly spot on to where I’d hoped to be for the day. This whole having a timepiece easily accessible on the bike was not at all bad.
It made me realize too that I’m normally not very time or distance oriented when riding. Riding without a computer, as I’d been doing for recent years, you become a bit reliant on your own, highly fallible, internal clock. Segments of a ride which required the most effort often times felt like it also took the longest. Putting a timepiece against it makes you realize that while mentally you range from “all hope lost” to “dang, I’m good!”, it may have only taken 2 or three minutes to move from one place to the other. (One of the reasons that Kent P’s “Keep Pedaling, It Will Get Better” mantra works.) There are times on that some stretches of roadway and incline become endless, relentless cycles of turmoil. But, then you can’t replicate that combination of exhaustion and timelessness ever again, rolling over the spot that held you for hours, according to your recollections. There’s a tendency of the mind to become a bit unhitched sometimes, and when doing so it tends to assume the worst. Recognizing that the last year of purgatory took only 2 minutes can sometimes snap you back a bit.
Back on this ride, what was assuming the worst was my taste buds. I don’t know if it was the sudden thump of boiled oysters and seafood on my nostrils, or just the combination of a few too many Clif Blocks combined with Vitamin Water, but when I tried to drink the fruit juice I’d bought, my throat was having none of that. One the one hand, I wanted to trust what my body was telling me, but felt like I needed to get some calories somehow. I didn’t really think that hanging around in Marshall was an ideal game plan - so I used the facilities, failed once more at sipping more than a smidgen of juice and then just decided to roll on out of town.
There was a small group of three riders ahead, so I eased my way up to them. Unfortunately, the curse of the fixed-gear system raised it’s head, as they - equipped with a range gears and coasting mechanisms - tended to climb and descend at a considerably different pace than I did. I’d ease off the front on the short rollers, and they’d zip past me on the sharper downhills. It was actually nice, though, as it took my mind off of the effort being made. Then they all pulled off the road together, and I noticed that there was a strong pitter-patter sound of raindrops hitting my helmet.
Ahead I could see sun on the hills. Behind I could see the sparkly white clouds to the north. But, for some danged reason, there was a reasonably thick cloud overhead intent on doing nothing other than pissing down big wet drops of rain. The only concession I made was to quickly stash the camera into the front bag, choosing to focus only on the sunny bits in the distance. When the splashing started coming up from the roadway as well, I finally decided to protect my saddle and stopped to haul out the cover which was rolled up in the back bag.
Leaning over the saddle to keep it out of direct rain, I positioned the cover, worked out the slack and tightened down the cord to keep it in place. One Happy Cog rolled past with a wave. I remounted and tried to find momentum once more.
About 20 pedal strokes later, the rain stopped for good. Nature has a heckuva sense of humor. But, it did get me laughing.
The last little pitch on Highway One is near the Pt. Reyes Vineyard. This one bit a little harder today, and for the first time for the day, I got the distinct negative message from the legs when encouraging them to give it a little more. Luckily, the group of three caught up with me just then, observed politely that fixed-gear riders might be a little off their nut, and eased ahead just slowly enough to give me a carrot once again. I cut down the distance a bit on the flatter mesa that followed, and by the time the left turn came up for the Petaluma-Pt. Reyes Road, we were more or less nearby.
At this point again, I started thinking a bit about food. I suspect that somewhere down in the operating system, the word had gone out that the reserves were getting a little thin. The wind had freshened slightly, and the last molecule of boiled seafood had removed itself from the olfactory system. As we rolled along the river valley, the clear thought manifested that I should dig out something and eat it. I couldn’t figure out what to eat however, and somewhere the big dumb animal instinct that seemed to be taking over was getting a bit transfixed by the idea of pedaling strongly, rather than opening up the front bag and rooting around for calories. The Hunter/Gatherer was not strong with this one.
Things got worse as we made the turn up towards the Nicasio dam. The problem was that I was actually feeling rather good, and the bike was moving well. The three riders pulled off for a natural break out of sight of the roadway, but momentum pulled me forward. Even though I stood on the pedals for a portion of the incline to the reservoir level, things felt strong. Once on the flat, there was just a hint enough of a headwind that I could push the speed up towards 20 mph. Meanwhile, my voice of reason was tapping me on the shoulder, saying, “Hey! Dummy! Eat something!”
The Rouleur brain was saying, “yeah….got it… uhhh…just a sec….ummm… in a minute…” Maybe it expected the team car to ease up next to it and pass over a croissant and some other goodies. Its non-linear counterpart was egging it along, saying we’d be in Nicasio before too long, and that would be a good place to stop and recharge.
If I find myself in this situation again, I hope I will recognize it for the error that it was.
Somewhere on the way out to the Lighthouse, the phrase of the ride popped into my brain - “Discomfort is Temporary.” Typing that now makes it sound a little bit like the more macho statement, “Pain is Weakness leaving the body” and I really want to distinguish between those two ideas. Discomfort is the condition when you ask yourself to do a little bit more. It pushes the needles a bit into into the red zone, but you are within what you can do. Pain comes from telling your body to do something. It’s your brain asking for more than you can reasonably do.
This isn’t to say that you should let your lazy body off the hook. It’s knowing the difference between enabling what you can do versus doing damage.
This phrase, “Discomfort is Temporary” had cropped up a few times so far since then, helping me to remember that the roadway would crest out soon, and though I’d be a tad uncomfortable for another minute or so, that would soon end. Here though, as I spun past Nicasio Reservoir with some momentum, the phrase misled me, and I continued to keep both hands on the bars and pedal along. I wonder if I wouldn’t have been more cautious if the sun hadn’t been out and the winds so moderate.
Reaching Nicasio, I parked, used the blue plastic phone booth and dropped into the store to get some water.
Nothing I had seemed too appetizing. Maybe I should have trolled through the store once more, looking for crunchy/salty. Finally, in anticipation of the rise and pitch to get back over to the San Geronimo Valley, I squeezed a GU-analog into my mouth and followed it up with some water. I chatted briefly with a couple of other riders, one of whom was riding a tan Bob Jackson rigged up as a fixed-gear. He was talking about a group of single-geared who were doing various centuries together. They rolled out a minute or two before I did.
Even though the sun still shone, the temperature felt cooler, and with the next few miles under the redwoods, I added my windvest underneath my flecto vest. At some point, I’d also put on my wool gloves, and correctly reckoned that this was a good time to switch out of the cotton cap back to the wool, and add a little ear coverage.
Oh, and for those of you playing along at home, feeling suddenly cold is a good indicator that you are not eating enough.
Now, I’d made Nicasio at around 15:25, and was hoping to get back into Fairfax at around 16:10 or thereabouts. Though it felt like I was crawling up the first incline, I didn’t have to walk. In fact, when I hit the pitch that crests out at the Cecy Krone Memorial, I only stopped once. With auto traffic at zero here, I managed to tack my way through the steepest section while remaining on the bike, and just like that, was looking down at the valley below.
I always like this point in the ride. My feeling has always been that I can limp home from here. Clipping back in, my cadence got a hair past the second “hop” in my technique - one goes through right at 25 mph, and the second one comes in at about 32 mph. Perhaps someone with more of a math background can explain why. By the time the road ended back at Sir Francis Drake, a few of us had collected waiting for a gap in the cross traffic. We were finally beginning to truly backtrack on the initial course we’d headed out on this morning. Chatting a bit as we swung left and eastward onto SFD, the Cooper rider noticed that we were non-coasting kin. I hung along with them for a while, but was feeling the unmistakable condition of marshmallow legs setting in.
Things were OK as long as the roadway was dead flat, but as soon as any topography introduced itself, there was just nothing there. The slight rise near the treatment plant got to me, and the incline up to White’s Hill bit pretty well. The two riders I’d met in Nicasio had stopped here as well. One set off again pretty quickly, but the other hung back. Here, I took a few moments to focus a bit before the descent. Auto traffic back from the coast had picked up a bit, and I wanted to make sure that my brain was going to be ahead of me. Riders have been hurt here on brevets, and I did not want to break my earlier pledge to “do nothing stupid.”
It proceeded without fanfare, avoiding several nasty spills of loose gravel to the right and taking the lane when conditions and speed warranted. Squeezing every bit of momentum out of the slight decline into Fairfax, I kept the pedals turning, hooked into the town proper with a quick right and left, avoiding a driver who didn’t understand STOP when applied to their direction and rolled down Center Ave again. Though I looked longingly at the Java Hut, the lure of momentum and progress kept me on the path. I slugged a little Vitamin Water down and immediately felt the worse for it. It started doing the slappy dance with whatever bits of GU (technically “Honey Stinger”) were attached like moss to the inside of my stomach.
Log that combo for a definite “No, Thank you.”
As already admitted here, I know better than that. Once you start the GU packs, you need to keep chaining them. Or, you need to throw some real food in there to absorb the artifacts. And you need water, not more sugary sippy juice. By the time I was halfway to San Anselmo, my helpful brain was trying to recall the last time I actually threw up. Swallowing and breathing helped a bit, as did focusing on not hitting pedestrians or getting run down myself. Finally, I took a small sip of water, and things calmed down slightly. This seemed to reactivate some shard of logical behavior, so when the stomach started churning again a half mile up the road, I sipped a little more water.
I’d like to apologize to anyone who passed by me, or rode near me between San Anselmo and Corte Madera. If you said something cheery or encouraging and I just sort of stared past you, I’m sorry. It was just that I didn’t really want anything other than air passing in or out of my mouth.
That’s really the way I got to the base of the Camino Alto hill - sipping and hoping that I wouldn’t get sick. As the road began easing upward, I pulled over and tried to assess things a bit. I remembered that I’d tucked a package of dark chocolate into the front of the bag, and finally decided that a couple bites of that would send me one way or the other very quickly. The funny thing is that it wouldn’t really melt when I put it in my mouth (how’s that core temperature workin’ for ya?), and when I finally started chewing on it, the bits just kept seeming drier and drier (see Dehydration: symptoms of). There was about thirty seconds of “hmmmmm” when it hit my stomach, but by then I’d remounted and was leaning on the pedals in a slow-motion effort to get the Quickbeam moving once again. Considering I’d been standing in front of a pizza restaurant, it seemed that barfing while moving would be a better option.
Happily, my stomach started to settle. Less encouragingly, my legs felt like dry capellini. It was about the ugliest climb I’ve ever done up that hill. I might have stopped once or twice. Must have once, because I recall biting off a little more chocolate. A couple riders passed me on a turn, said something upbeat and eased passed. If my eyes were focusing correctly, my speed was somewhere in the 3’s. “Walking speed” thought I. “Faster than stopping!” suggested another voice. “Discomfort is Temporary,” offered another.
I just concentrated 10 feet ahead of the bike, shifting all my body weight onto each pedal in succession. I knew that would get me to the top.
Sometimes, a brevet is about faith.
At this point, it was not about optimism. Optimism implies a future. My brain was having none of that. The moment was just lean, weight, pull with the arm, shift to the other side and repeat.
Then, on one pedal stroke, it was just a hair easier. And again.
This is the blessing of the fixed-gear - the intimate connection with incline, traction and gravity. I looked up just a bit to confirm my location. The hiking path on the right meant the top was near. I could even sit for a few pedal strokes now, using different muscles and finding a slight glimmer of momentum. And suddenly, at the top, there was only the pull of the descent.
Looking at the above photo, I see a couple of things. First, my recollection had been that I looked at the camera when taking the photo. But, the image shows a weird thousand yard stare. It also shows another inattention to detail item - my wind vest is clearly unzipped. It’s even a bit outside of the flecto bib. And I was wondering why I felt cold at this point… I wouldn’t zip it up until after I’d finished and hung around for a few minutes at the final control.
Though the climb was disheartening, the descent brought my spirits back once again. Since I don’t get to coast on the downhills, there’s little chance of letting my mind wander. Working the rough pavement and easy curves of the descent into Mill Valley sharpened up my outlook a bit, and upon reaching the bottom I remembered how close I was to my goal. The pie-in-the-sky hope had been for a sub-10 hour finish, and that had pretty much evaporated when I crested on Camino Alto at 16:56. The realistic goal had been to match my 2007 finish time of 10:31.
Back in Nicasio, I’d rigged up my headlight - a NiteRider MiNewt USB - so when the sun dipped behind the clouds at the horizon while rolling over the Mill Valley Bike Path, I flicked a switch to stay as visible as possible. At the traffic light on the far end of the path, I bumped up with a couple of other randonneurs. We all rolled out when we got the green, and I saw that One Happy Cog had slipped into our midst. I was in serious pit bull mode at this point - clamping down with a death grip on anyone’s wheel and trying to hold it.
Between chocolate kicking in and the vagaries of the Bridgeway traffic and lights, I held on almost to downtown, when a gap appeared and half the group made a yellow that we didn’t. We threaded our way through increasingly erratic drivers and then swept uphill for the final climb to the Bridge. Unfortunately, the combination of sugar, cacao and enthusiasm was not a match for the realities of the incline. The first pitch upwards did me in, so I eased over and caught my breath, crammed another bite of chocolate and focused for the next and steepest bit. Here also, we were begining to intermingle with the return migration of light-less, bike-renting tourists.
Slaloming and grunting, I got up the worst bit, then just tried to be a machine for the rest of the climb. Reaching the Bridge level, I saw a few riders ahead pull left to cross on the east side. I continued under the narrow tunnel, whooped my way up the final insulting pitch, eased over and dropped down to the west sidewalk. By midspan, I could see several randonneurs learning the hard lesson about crossing on the east walkway - the folks on that side can’t hear you and don’t care. On the west, it was cool runnings.
Enough light remained from the setting sun that it felt like daylight on the Bridge - an extremely uplifting condition. Before I knew it, I swung below the roadway and chicaned down to the Final Control. A couple other riders were negotiating paperwork with RBA Rob Hawks, who aimed his pen at me and said “16:43.” Signed my card when he finished with them and passed it back to Rob.
I would have loved a strong espresso or even a scalding hot chocolate. Alas. None to be found. Nibbled on some pretzels and potato chips which seemed to turn to dust in my mouth. Dug out all my layers and zipped everything up. About that time, One Happy Cog appeared, stood me up and we posed for a photo:
Unfortunately, the flash didn’t fire, and I misjudged the 1890’s era portrait exposure timing, so my features are slightly doubled.
But, the act of standing together in a photo reminded me that brevets are about camaraderie. We’d passed some beautiful miles together on the roads today, and now we had both arrived at roughly the same time where we’d left some ten and a half hours earlier.
I whooped and hollered for a few more folks easing in under the dwindling light before realizing that heat was escaping like air through a nicked tube. Said a few goodbyes, and rolled back onto the Bridge, in search of a car with a heater that would soon be blasting.
Rolling down towards the north tower, I think I glimpsed Franklyn again as he made his way on the other side walkway. I waved but could tell he hadn’t been looking. I can’t imagine riding that course with a cold.
I reached the car, sore and chilled. Recontacting the saddle on the way back had not been a positive experience. My feet hurt a bit and I was just really happy to be done for the day. This ride had gone both very well and reasonably poorly in spots. A few more miles, a bit more concentration on climbing, a lot more awareness about food all would have helped.
Brevets are about learning too, I reckon.
The one last thought I had, before calling my wife to let her know I was done and heading home, was that after brevet number three, I feel as though I’m more of a beginner than before my first one.
Not really sure what that means, but it was clearly in the jotted down notes from later that evening. It will be interesting to see where that thought leads.
San Francisco Randonneurs - Lighthouse 200K - 1/23/10
~125 miles - finishing time: 10:43
This report will be edited and posted to the brevet section of cyclofiend.com
Lighthouse 200K Ride Report - Pt. 1
“San Francisco to the Pt Reyes Lighthouse”
Brevets are sometimes about faith and confidence.
I had faith - and I was confident - at 5:30 am on Saturday morning, that the rain pounding the roof would pass. I was so confident, in fact, that I turned on the computer - something I said I wasn’t going to do - to check the Doppler radar image of the sky above the SF Bay Area. The screen showed several big clumps of green and yellow moving east and south. As near as I could tell from the resolution, the trailing edge was directly over our place. And almost just like that, it stopped raining. In the range of signs, this had to be good.
There really wasn’t all that much to do. Quaff some strong coffee and stuff down some oatmeal. As I have been more or less obsessively documenting, this past week has been a series of short checklists and scribbled notes. The bike was ready, the clothing had been laid out, the options winnowed down and items that made the cut packed. Nothing to do but ride, really.
So, I sipped the last bit of coffee, loaded the bike and got out the door. It was pretty clear from the standing puddles on the roadway that a good deal of rain had fallen in the night. Not a lot of other cars on the highway, but up ahead, I noticed a small white car with a bike on a roofrack.
Just guessing here, but I thought possibly, the only other auto on the roadway splashing through large puddles towards the Golden Gate Bridge at 6 am with a visible bicycle strapped on just might be another randonneur. As I got near enough, it was even more odd - the bicycle on the roof rack was clearly a Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen. My Quickbeam was lying down out of sight in the back, so the poor driver probably never quite figured why someone was shadowing him so closely down the freeway at that early hour. Still, it seemed another good sign.
He continued over the Bridge, while I turned off to save the toll and ride the last couple of miles to the start. A couple other reflective outfits flashed from across the otherwise vacant lot as I angled in. Again, a pretty safe bet we were all heading to the same place.
The only thing left was to change into proper riding shoes and get going. I ended up opting against wearing my new rain booties - the only piece of gear I’d brought that was untested. The clearing skies made me think that they were just not necessary, and I’d just end up carrying them for the whole day. Did pop on the toe covers, though.
This year, the gate was open on the west side crossing, so I didn’t have to use the pedestrian subway. Rolling along felt good, especially after a week of virtually no on-the-bike time.
The solitude of the crossing ended as soon as I rolled down the ramp to the area around the Strauss statue. Bikes and riders were everywhere. Somewhere in the scrum, volunteers were checking folks in as fast as possible, but for some reason that didn’t register in my brain. Ended up rolling past that gang down to the dirt parking lot, seeing no one and turning around again. This time I saw an obvious line in the middle of the sea of yellow jackets and reflective gear, stowed the Quickbeam and worked my way in. Within a few easy minutes, I confirmed my information, had my brevet card stowed in a fresh ziplock bag and was only 200K or so short of my goal for the day.
Many riders I recognized by bicycle or face hopped in place a bit to keep warm, or enthusiastically greeted friends and swapped stories. Whatever else, randonneuring is definitely for morning people. I looked around, spotted and greeted Carlos, chatted briefly with our RBA Rob and enjoyed a bit of bike watching, spotting another Quickbeam that was prepped for the day.
I knew JimG was out of town for this ride, but figured I’d run across a few folks during the course of the day. The breezes were still pretty damp, and I kept my rain jacket on, listened to the instructions provided by Rob, fretted that it surely must be past 7 am, put my hand on my heart and pledged not to do anything stupid and we were off, rolling northward under lightening skies.
Since my flash went off (new camera, y’know), it kind of skewed the lighting balance a bit. A more accurate feel of the day’s start can be found via One Happy Cog’s video of the rollout.
I’m always a little hyper-concious during the first miles, as everyone can get bunched and your reflexes may be too taut or not quite grounded enough to react well to the unexpected. But, it reminded me again why I like brevets - folks rode steadily, predictably and alerted one another to their movements. It was 180 degrees difference compared the the sketchy, bunched miles of the Marin Century this past August (a great ride in its own right, but as we moved through the descent on Lucas Valley just a few miles from the start, there was a near-perfect-storm of nervous/erratic slower riders and swarming hyper, “what’s wrong with jumping a double yellow line on a blind curve” proto-racers which went on for too damn long. This year, on that ride, we start earlier! But, I digress…). We skimmed down into Sausalito under clearing skies and wet pavement. Even among the randonneurs, a few folks ran relatively narrow tires and no fenders, and they seemed most ill at ease here. Hopefully, they’d remember to keep their lips together when we passed through the farm effluent on the way to the Lighthouse.
All that lay a bit in the future, of course. As the riders grouped and strung out along Bridgeway, it seemed like I had the traffic light charm, and managed to hit every green light change without losing a bit of momentum. When we hit the Mill Valley Bike Path, I even had the presence of mind to unclip and raise my feet while rolling through the deep, floody puddles in front of the bike shop. The sky continued to gain shades lighter than we’d seen all week, and I felt well rested and better with each turn of the pedals. Even a pit stop at the restroom didn’t knock my mood. I doffed my rain shell, rejoined the route and managed to perfectly catch the tail end of the green light at the end of the bike path, transitioning towards the Camino Alto climb.
Another easy, curving descent on wet pavement, everything feeling rock solid with feather bed comfort on the new Jack Brown tires. As I’ve written before, descending on a fixed gear can kind of mess with your technique, as you can no longer just drop the outside leg and carve. One of the great things about the Quickbeam is that Grant’s designs corner exquisitely for my riding style, even when your feet are whirling about and the pavement is soaked.
As I reflexively twisted my way through the lower portion of the route (which takes up so much of the 200K cue sheet), I’d been mentally ready to feel kinda cruddy. Between the rains and deciding to err on the side of low miles in the week before the brevet, I’d managed to ride pretty much not at all. Yeah, I’d whirled around the neighborhood a bit after installing the new chain and tires back a couple days before the brevet, in that brief moment between the showers. Not much else though. I was not really sure how that would work out, as I’ve always had the feeling that things go better when the riding is more consistent.
For the couple nights before the ride, I’d been having to get up and stretch at o’dark thirty. Maybe they call it excess energy. Whatever. But sometimes, that ends up with a fairly clunky start to the riding day. When work or other commitments has cut down on my rides, the first hour or so of the first ride back can be pretty blocky, and things feel better as the distance increases.
On the other hand, Carlos has written before of taking time off the bike before his long rides - his “not training” training. While I may not have felt super smooth yet, there was a certain amount of latent energy in the system.
As my mind churned these relatively useless thoughts and comparisons, it made me realize once again that using the fixed-gear system of drivetrain does tend to isolate one on a ride. You don’t really climb at the same pace, and you certainly don’t descend in the same manner. I’d been aware of some other riders in the general vicinity, but I wasn’t really going the same pace as anyone.
Until reaching San Anselmo, that is, and finding myself behind a couple of fixed-gear randonneurs.
This was pretty cool. Not only were there others with the same mental affliction as myself, they were moving at roughly the same pace. They were also chatting with the geared, coastable rider seen in the above image, so I held back a bit as we negotiated the stop signs and pedestrian traffic in town.
Then, just as suddenly, they were gone. One of the back road connectors between San Anselmo and Fairfax. They had gone straight and would have to go right a couple blocks up, while I went right and followed the road as it veered left. We’d end up in the same place, but I think they added an extra zig-zag to the route.
On the way out to White’s Hill I came upon a couple of riders here and there, but grunted my way up the first big incline pretty much solo. I recall passing a pedestrian on the way up, which struck me as reasonably odd - probably the first I’ve encountered over the years.
The hill was kind of the first real test of the day. While the riding has been consistent over the past couple months, there hasn’t been a lot of extra climbing involved. This would really be the first goodly chunk in memory, though I’d gone up it a few weeks before when Esteban was in town. Climbing is funny. It gets easier each time you do it. But, it still hurts. Since I knew I hadn’t been doing it, I tried to keep things as throttled back as you can when you’ve elected to ride away off for the day with no shifty bits. It went pretty well, with a pause-for-recharge near the summit.
Dropping down into the San Geronimo Valley, a couple other riders had passed me, and I tried to keep them in sight. Spinning along on the flats here things actually began to feel pretty good. Moving through the straight section of the main valley, then easing into the twisty and narrower sections under the redwoods, it made sense to stay on the pavement until reaching S. P. Taylor State Park. Here, I steered the Quickbeam into the campground, crossed Paper Mill Creek and connected with the Cross Marin Path. Under the towering trees and rushing waters, large drips fell and a consistent mist made it feel as though I were under water in places.
About halfway along, the sun broke through in a meaningful way, adding to the fairyland feel.
And it was damp and drippy, but not rainy.
And I seemed to be making pretty good time. The appearance of the rainbow was just icing on the cake.
(I’ll digress here briefly as I’ve already read a couple of accounts of this ride by others. For some reason, folks are associating rainbows with unicorns. Please, speaking from the strain of Irish blood in my heritage, it’s “pot o’ gold” people! Rainbows and unicorns are an 80’s marketing phenomenon…)
Up until this time, things had been mostly in solo mode, which was ok. But, it did make me wonder if through some quirk of momentum, I’d be spending the day by myself. Rejoining the roadway, I saw the Box Dog Boys a quarter mile up ahead on the climb over Bolinas Ridge. They climbed steadily and disappeared around the dogleg near the crest. On the descent down the over side, I came upon a solo rider on an Ebisu.
This turned out to be Franklyn W, who I’ve “known” for a while via Flickr and his submissions to the Gallery (1, 2, 3). It was great to finally meet in person, especially while out enjoying a day which seemed to be growing more gorgeous by the minute. He said he had been overcoming a cold this week, but decided to roll out on the 200K anyway.
I’d seen some of the images of this newer bike, but they really don’t do it justice. The Ebisu has such a wonderful, understated quality to it, and seeing them on the road is always a pleasure. In my mythical Barn of Bikes I Want, the Ebisu is definitely on the list. By the way, the Barn is well sealed against the elements, heated, has wooden floors and looks conspicuously like either Peter Weigle’s or Richard Sachs’ places. It does not currently fit in my backyard.
We chatted a bit, separated slightly on the slight rise past the Earthquake Trail, and passed the Box Dog Boys, who had pulled up to fix a flat. They waved us on and we skimmed along the wet pavement, pulling into Inverness Park fairly quickly thereafter.
I topped off and shifted some fluids, anxious to get going again fairly quickly. One of the differences between the 2008 (geared) 200K and the 2007 (fixed) edition had been briefer stops. The time difference had been about an hour between the two years, and although I’d been a bit under-miled in 2008, and there had been strong winds to deal with on the course, my motto this time was to be efficient off the bike as well. I bought some sugar - uh - “Vitamin” water (though I had to ask the clerk to take my money) and got rolling.
The other reason I wanted to get on the move had to do with the climb up from Inverness, which skirts the shoulder of Mt. Vision. It’s deceptively steep and it hates me.
OK. Maybe it doesn’t hate me. It is deceptively steep in a couple spots. You realize this on the way back, when the descent invigorates your senses and fills your sails, but there’s something about the way up which is a bit mind-crunching. It bit pretty well on the first section, and I rolled to a stop to regain my breath. The incline had collected some other riders - most of whom were smart enough to bring a wide array of gearing options - and we chugged upwards, giving thumbs ups or encouragement when we met eyes.
I used the lack of auto traffic to tack my way up some of the pitches, which helped quite a bit. Somewhere in my brain, I wondered what that would do to my cue references, had this been a brevet on an unknown route. But, since realizing I can’t quite focus on the odometer while riding anyway, it’s a bit of a moot point. The crest came a bit quicker than anticipated, and momentum began to work its magic on the bike.
Pedaling down a moderate grade is always such a recharge - it makes me think of the phrase “blowing the ballast” (as in submarines, not fluorescent lighting fixtures). The sun was out, reflecting off the wet pavement and roadside trees. My Jack Brown tires hissed along and the pedals seemed to pull my feet. This was a great section.
I bottomed out at the turn to the Oyster Farms, having skimmed through a section of flooded roadway. This was 0′ elevation once again.
This is also where the route wants to make sure you are serious about going to the Lighthouse. It starts with a couple little pitches to get onto Pt. Reyes proper, then you turn south towards the Lighthouse and it shows you where need to go.
These are not bad climbs, but if you click through and view the full size version, you’ll get a little better sense of the scale. I had worked my way back to The Tandem With the Hypnotizing Tail Light, a couple other riders and Franklyn, who had eased past me on the Inverness climb. We worked our way along, the tandem climbing like, well, a tandem and then descending like a peregrine falcon. The rest of the single cockpit bikes found and lost momentum and we wheezed along the road like an accordian bellows. The pain was temporary and even with the efforts, I was actually feeling pretty good.
Somewhere up on the mesa, a group of 3 + 1 riders came towards us - the Fast Kids moving along to what would be a sub-8-hour 200K. I looked down at the fuzzy font of my odometer, maybe to work out some math or another diversionary project. If I saw it, the number didn’t stick. What ever the equation, they rode fast.
Another rise and fall of the landscape and the point appeared.
…again, the embiggened version is helpful.
This view is always both depressing and invigorating. You’ve been
climbing a bit and thinking you have made some progress. The you come
up a rise and see the far-distant-seeming point of the Lighthouse,
remember the angle of the last pitch and go “unnghh!”. Then you
remember you’ve done it before and realize you have a goal - especially if
you are near the time you’d hoped for.
And as the slow-ly switch-ing, reh-ed, mon-do, home-brew, tail-light mount-ed up-on the-uh tan-dem a-head forced me to admit, my time estimate was pretty spot on. I may have also spewed my social security number, PIN code, various passwords and admitted my involvement in any number of crimes. But, I chomped down on the bit, followed the light up soul-crushing S-turns up from “Historic B Ranch” and made it to through the swill (actually, not bad on this day) at A Ranch, before pulling up a the Y (not a Ranch or a workout locale, an actual “Y” in the road) for the “Rivendell Shift.”
Here, another rider was coming back from Chimney Rock. I figured he was not on the brevet, as that’s quite the wrong direction. Then he laughingly said, “That’s not the right way…” and I had to agree. It’s gotta get better, right?
As I flipped the wheel and rerigged the chain to the freewheel side, riders hit the 20% last pitch to the Lighthouse, grabbed the wrong gear and wobbled to a stop, or motored up cursing Zeus and the gods of topography. A few riders screamed down at what I would describe as dangerous speeds, pebbles skittering and tires scrabbling for adhesion. Most dropped down under control, aware that things get sketchy right there, between autos, bikes, cattle effluent and metal stock guards. Franklyn checked in as he went by, offering to hold the Quickbeam as I went through my ritual.
Soon it was butt down, bars up and try to stay stuck to the roadway. As I wondered inwardly why it was exactly that I liked cycling in any form, another rider edged up to my side. It was Barley, one half of the fixed gear couple I’d seen back in San Anselmo. He was thumping his fixed Specialized upwards, and the effort was evident. As we hit the tougher sections, I eased up a bit faster, feeling like the consummate slacker for bringing a coastable option.
However, this would be an example of the maxim that old age and treachery usually trumps youth and enthusiasm. (Well, only briefly - they would finish a chubby half hour ahead of me on the day).
Before you could say, “Cough up a lung”, I found myself in front of a cheery SFR volunteer, getting my card signed for 11:03.
This was my third time out here under the clock of a brevet. The first was 11:18, after a flat, and I felt like crap and really, really needed to sit for a spell, calm myself and refocus for the rest of the ride. The second was 11:01, after pushing hard into a headwind which wrung me out pretty well. Today, I felt, strangely, good.
The weather was utterly perfect. The bike acted well. I’d tightened up the cue sheet to just show pertinent info for my ride. Since I knew the route, that meant waypoints with Good and Slow times. Plus, as I noted at the start, my bike computer was 15 minutes fast. In other words, optimism was high and I was, well, confident…
I mean, how could it not be, on a day like this?
Please Continue to Part 2
(Still having bloglogon issues at home, so this is a little tardy of a writeup - sorry for the delay. Perhaps it should be retitled “A Previous Weekend’s Fixed-Gear Get-Together”…)
Although we awoke today (12/7) to snow levels as low as 800′ or thereabouts, and I’m fretting tonight about my lemon tree and cymbidiums dealing with projected sub-freezing temps, it was certainly a fine weekend for riding.
Ron L. had been agitating for a fixed gear ride up in Marin, and since it is my home turf, I was looking forward to the opportunity. He picked last Saturday for the date, and announced it on the RBW group. It hit on a good (i.e. no classes or plans) weekend for me, and a few other list denizens answered in the affirmative as well.
I’d been feeling pretty good in the week leading up to the ride, and planned on honoring momentum if I could get up and out on time. I’d done a little tech tweaking, waxed up my Keven’s bag which had been awaiting it’s first use since I received it as a birthday gift and laid out the riding gear in order.
Things flowed well the next morning, and before I knew it, I’d slipped out the door into a brisk day and headed south to the meeting spot at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful time of day to be out, with bright sun for most of the way.
The only mishap was a bloated group ride which forgot to remember that the Mill Valley Bike Path was actually a two-way route. It’s important to remember that just because you are following a few wheels, not to turn off your brain. C’mon kids.. Y’see, if everyone fades slightly out to their left, then you end up spread across the pavement. Yeah. So. Anyway.
Rolled up to the meeting point at the south end of the GGBridge, and when I saw a Quickbeam on a double-legged kickstand, I knew I was in the right place.
Said hey to Ray, and finally met Jim and Tom in person. Ron pulled up a few minutes later and we coalesced into a moving group. As I’d mentioned, the plan had been for a fixed-gear ride, but none of us was going to kick anyone out who wanted to attend. As it was, Ray was running his Quickbeam in coastable mode, and Mike showed up with a full array of gearing options, as well as one of those chain-bending-shifty things to help him choose between him.
Of course, the fact that Mike was running his multi-geared coastable setup on a repainted FUSO didn’t hurt a bit. That was really a fine looking ride. Actually, every bike on the this adventure was pretty gorgeous. Tom runs a “low-key” Della Santa that is just beautiful to behold, even under the plain-wrap paint choice. The-other-Jim had his Gazelle out for a run, and it has seen some miles, but wore it quite well. Of course, you probably know I’m biased about Quickbeams, and it was nice to have 2/3rds of the stock color spectrum represented. Ron rolled along on his Bilenky, which had a “bent” seat tube and curly chainstays. Between the metal work and the rich paint job, it was a stunner. The last rider (whose name I just totally drew a blank on…) had a Steve Rex track bike, which showed off the stunningly smooth fillet-brazed finish work that Rex is known for.
As we went across the bridge, the sea breezes bit in noticeably, and it was a hunker-down-until-the-warmth-builds-up period to be sure. Unfortunately, as we reached the north tower, the-other-Jim’s chain started acting up a bit. This continued to plague us as we dropped down into Sausalito, and we limped a bit until we decided to lose a link from his setup.
Rule One on a Fixed-Gear Ride: Always have a chain tool and at least 4 extra links to the chain you are running.
Luckily, I did have mine, and since we were shortening rather than replacing a bum link, it went smoothly.
At some point, though, we lost Ray. I mean, we didn’t try to ditch him or anything, but he’d gone ahead on a natural break while we were messing with the chain mid-Sausalito, and I thought he’d rejoined us when we finally paused to let Jim-who-I’m-gonna-hafta-give-an-initial-to flip into coastable mode. Then when we turned right at the end of the MV path towards Tiburon, I realized we only had 6 riders. Drat.
Ray-less, we continued onward towards the former rail-spur industrial port turned upscale bedroom community, planning to assault the Paradise drive loop in a counter-clockwise direction. This meant rolling down the Tiburon bike path, which was luckily pretty under-utilized, and then around towards Belvedere, entering downtown Tiburon via Ark Row.
At that point, the siren call of coffee and calories could be heard, so we stopped near the waterfront and refueled. For some reason, I missed the bread pudding that everyone else attacked. Not sure I’m a fan - can’t really recall every having any. As we got to know one another over sustenance, Ray rolled into view. He’d headed out Trestle Glen (the cutoff road mid-Paradise loop) and then backtracked towards the point, figuring that we’d cross paths.
However, our sloth on the road combined with gastronomic necessity meant that he’d had to go all the way down into town. Still, he was refreshed upon finding us, and joined us for some of the chatting and eating.
Now together, we gathered to go, taking time to poke and prod at a gentleman’s orange Bertin with fenders, rear rack, lights and chainguard. He showed up as we were enjoying his bicycle, and said it had been sitting under his house for the past 20 years. He’d just oiled it up and was really enjoying having it out again. I think he got a kick of our excitement at such a practical bicycle, and I’m kicking myself for not nabbing an image of it.
Once on the road again, the wind still had a bit of a bite, and as the group stretched a bit (the Rex track bike seemed to have some speed…) I ended up pulling off to the side and digging my wool gloves back out. Just couldn’t get my hands to warm up. Rejoining the ride, I came up on Ray and (I hereby dub thee) JimM. Ray was spinning out a bit, still running the smaller chainrings he’d rigged up for a planned camping tour. JimM was arguing with his gearing as well, only his was the other direction - I think he called it his “California Blvd” gear and it stacked a goodly 77″ against him, in coastable format.
I slugged along feeling pretty good. Just due to my schedule for the past few months, it had been a while since I’d ridden with other people. Our direction reminded me why I usually like to take Paradise loop in a clockwise direction - in addition to the swooping down into town bit that always reminds me of the finish to Milan-San Remo, there always seems to be some longer stretches of slight decline. I’m certain that the geometrically inclined among you have played ahead, and realized that means a slight incline when heading the other direction.
The faster kids waited for us to collect by Trestle Glen, and then we buzzed the banked 180 and tried to keep the momentum going for a while, finally getting caught up by the first traffic light since we’d left Tiburon.
You do come to appreciate traffic lights when you are riding fixed. After a steady and longish stint of action, not pedaling for a moment is a sublime pleasure.
Rolling up into Corte Madera, Ray and JimM were thinking about vectoring home via the Meadowsweet Dairy. Actually, they were going to roll up Meadowsweet Ave, which has a kinder, gentler grade than the anticipated climb over Camino Alto. At my suggestion, they stayed with us for a bit and I showed them the super-secret-local’s route over Chapman.
Now, our plan here was to enjoy the easier incline of Chapman, then regroup with the others at the summit. I’ve always thought that this alternate route was a bit longer than the traditional Camino Alto climb from the Corte Madera side of things, but thanks to the somewhat suspect mapping feature (the thing that catches my eye is the two “descents” that show up in the elevation profile - I’ve never been able to coast up that particular hill…) of Bikely.com, it seems to be exactly the same distance. Which meant that we figured the fast kids would reach the summit before us.
So, when we popped out into a few gathered groups (it’s a very popular spot for regrouping, for some reason) and saw a sea of coastable many-geared riders, we figured that the others had continued down the other side. We’d circled around a bit first, and tried to get a look down the road to see if anyone was climbing and cursing their way upward. Convinced that we were the laggards, we dropped our way down to the Mill Valley side. At this point, the route options were increasing slightly, so, nudged along by a slight tailwind, we decided to head for the bridge.
And a short while later, we all were standing back where we’d started. At this point, under significantly sunnier conditions. Ray noted that the flags above the parking lot were lying limp, which you can see by looking at the water in the background. Whatever else the Golden Gate of San Francisco is noted for, low winds and clear skies is not necessarily way up there on the list. (Of course, the fall/winter can be a lot nicer than summer months.) (Dang - I’m giving away all the local knowledge today…)
We dispersed shortly thereafter, JimM and I heading north (he had parked in the lot at the north end of the GG Bridge), and just as we picked up speed on the decline of the bridge, saw Ron, Tom, Michael and RexRider coming towards us. Hollering “hey”, we continued past one another. Definitely felt badly at getting separated, and I think I’ll need to work on being more specific about a meeti-up place, should we vector differently in the future.
Rolled homeward, and distracted myself from the “gee-I’ve-been-riding-a-while” feeling by snapping photos of the impressively high tide, large spherical objects, and the pending completion of the Lincoln Avenue bike-ped path tunnel. Just rolled into the 77’s on the computer when I turned into the driveway. First “real” longer ride in a while.
A huge thanks to Ron for kicking this often-talked-about idea into reality.