SF Randonneurs 2007 200 km Brevet - 1/27/07
Start to Pt. Reyes Lighthouse - Approx 54 Miles
Update 2/7/07 - The expanded version of this report is now here
Through a misty and hazy pre-dawn my tires rolled southward over the asphalt of the Golden Gate Bridge walkway. Normally, bicycles are restricted to the western side of the span, and it is only in darkness hours that we get herded over to the “City Side”, so it’s a treat to see the first glimmers of the day illuminate the outlines of San Francisco. Not another person walked or rode, and even the auto traffic was reasonably light. The bridge seemed as deserted as it could be. It was odd then to roll onto land at the other end and see a large moving cluster of reflecting, glowing, blinking and lit cyclists, gathered near the Strauss statue, chatting and conversing admist all variety of bikes - a virtual oasis of reflective gear and protective headwear which confirmed that this was the gathering for the San Francisco Randonneurs 200 km Brevet.
Skirting the gang, I took the road under the toll plaza and found my way to another small knot of riders, clustered around Todd Teachout’s white pickup. Out of the darkness, JimG appeared, and introduced me to another rider who was planning to cover the ride on a fixed gear. I promptly forgot his name, as I had to remember mine so that they could sign me in. Normally I’m not quite that mentally challenged, but it was still around 6:45 am, and I was recovering from losing my car key at home and the nervousness about just what the heck I had gotten myself into.
During the runup to the event, weather reports kept decaying during the week preceeding the ride, and rain had fallen in measurable amounts on Thursday and Friday. It began to seem pretty clear that there might be some less than perfect conditions, but nothing on the scale the of last year’s deluge. I managed to miss that ride (though I’d heard about it from JimG and Carlos and read through Rob H’s writings more than once). In fact this would be my first brevet attempt. Cleverly, I also had decided to ride it on my Rivendell Quickbeam, rigged with a 14T fixed gear cog and an 18T freewheel on the flip-flop hub.
The Quickbeam had gotten the nod as it seemed to be my most comfortable and versatile bicycle. Of my other bikes, the open-wheeled racer didn’t have much room for fenders, my cross frame (probably the bicycle I would’ve ridden) had cracked it’s headtube welds and was awaiting a new fork, and my commute beasts were fine for the basics of to-and-from-work, but I ultimately didn’t trust them for the full circuit. I’d been doing segments of the planned route over the last month or so, and knew I could get up and over the topography with the Quickbeam’s manual gearing. The worst of the bits could always be covered by foot, if it came to that, and I knew of a couple stretches where it probably would.
JimG accompanied me back to the start, and we found an open spot near the curb, and looked around for Carlos, who rolled up just moments later. I had to leave the hustle bustle to pass back some coffee rental, and took the opportunity to swap my jacket for a wind vest. Although cool, the temperatures were nowhere near where they’d been during previous weeks, which had meant ice on the roadways.
Returning to the gang, all were reasonably quiet as Todd gave warnings and instructions to the riders. Couldn’t hear a thing. Too much rock’n roll as a youth. Oh well. I caught some bits about stop signs in Ross and following traffic rules, figured that if anything was really important and different, someone would’ve asked for clarification. Of course, I do get these recurrent dreams of stewardesses plucking the oxygen mask off my face and saying, “You didn’t LISTEN, did you? NO oxygen for you…”
And with nary more than a cessation of the speech, plus a “Good Luck”, riders rolled away towards the bridge. It was 7 am and the brevet had begun.
JimG & I immediately lost site of Carlos, who had gotten swept forward with the tide of the riders. The two of us threaded through some other cyclists, avoided the odd runner and daybreak pedestrian on the bridge. Nothing but courteous riding and clear hand-signals in the group. We stop-n-go’d our way around the two bridge towers and rolled clear of the span. As we were still riding on the east side, our route took us through the Vista Point parking lot on the north end of the bridge. Some poor but patient couple in a car got to watch us all roll through the crosswalk, and most people gave them a kind wave. Even by this point, the lead riders were well clear of the bunch, and JimG posited that Carlos was probably already over Camino Alto hill.
Riders spread out as we dropped down into Sausalito, came together as we hit traffic and signals, and stretched again as we worked our way north. JimG and I took turns in finding good wheels to follow, as folks hit the end of their initial adrenaline and eased into the rythmn of the day. I could tell that Jim was feeling pretty frisky, and we motored a good pace until the end of the Mill Valley Bike Path. From there, we found Carlos, who had been caught up at the light, and hopped up and over the Camino Alto hill. Mounting fenders on the Quickbeam had already paid off, as the roads were damp and splashy in places. The miles passed quickly to Fairfax, which was the first of my time checks for the day. According to Carlos’ clock, it was 8:08 as we waited for the light to change - pretty much right on target. We had coalesced into a group of about 12-15 riders as we continued to the first real climb of the day - White’s Hill out of Fairfax.
Roughly speaking, there are four usable climbing gears on a fixed gear bicycle. First, you can kick your tuckus back slightly and drive from a seated position. This is a strong way to climb, but does take its toll on one’s leg muscles. Second, you can hitch your chamois off the saddle and use your body weight. Luckily, I have some of that, and it allows you to rest a bit as you climb. Third, you are standing and pushing, with a tightened upper body to transmit the energy to the pedals. Fourth, you are driving with the legs and wrenching with the upper body. This last method, as the coaches like to put it, means you’re burning matches, and you’ve only got so many in the box.
From my earlier rides, I knew that I needed to minimize the match-burning, and take it easy where others were smart enough to bring along appropriate gears. Carlos moved easily away as we headed upward, climbing with a smooth, seated cadence on the Miyata that looked easy but always meant you were going to be dropped. Further on, the be-fendered RB-1 of JimG eased past me. Jim looked fresh and spun nicely as he headed upwards. There was no question - he was on today.
At the White’s Hill crest, Carlos pulled off to doff a jacket and told us not to wait, and JimG & I hooked into a two-man paceline which took us through the San Geronimo Valley. We work well together when we ride, and this morning it felt even better, trading pulls and moving past a huge flock of wild turkeys, masticating cows and a couple of golfers who got the early-bird tee times for the day. We hit the curvey bits past Lagunitas quickly and found ourselves at Ink Wells Bridge, which was where we planned on picking up the unpaved end of the Cross Marin Bike Trail - a legal option on the route. In the past, Jim has enjoyed a pinch flat and fender-ripping stick on this section of trial, so he said he was going to take it easy as we hit the wet dirt. I rolled onto the spine of the trail, and hit a nice pace. There’s a speed which tends to make the bumps easier, which I maintained until splashing through a puddle which soaked my foot pretty well. Drat. Looking back, I realized that JimG was no longer in sight. Double-drat - I should’ve kept him in sight. Well, at worst, Carlos would be coming through in a few minutes, so I figured that he was covered if something bad had happened.
I decided to pause to use the Samuel P. Taylor Park facilities, refilling my water bottle as well. After remounting the bike, I could hear some voices across on the roadway - riders who had stayed on Sir Francis Drake - but saw no one until reaching the terminus of the trail at Tocaloma Bridge. Popping out of the bike bath, I ended up in the middle of another small band of riders, and we all started sawing away at the climb towards Bolinas Ridge. This one is a nasty “mental” sort of climb, which starts dead straight for its initial pitch and then steepens a touch. It isn’t all that tough, but it tries to psyche you out. Rising out of the Lagunitas Creek valley, the temperature became a bit warmer, with sun breaking through, and my riding apparel felt warm for the first time in memory. We crest out and I enjoy my first real downhill spin-out, hoping to relax my legs for the climbing which remains.
Approaching Inverness, Carlos’ bicycle sits in front of the coffee & pastry shop on my left, with a number of other rides and riders. one of them clutches a muffin that looks as big as his head and waves a cup of coffee at me as I pass by. Just ahead over the next rise, JimG frames up a photo of his bicycle in front of the Inverness store and hails me. By now, I’m starting to look forward to not pedaling, and so step off the bike and we trade notes. They saw my bike back in SP Park. I saw Carlos’ bike at the cafe. Our hands are both nasty clammy from soggy gloves, even though there’s been no rain. I’m not quite ready to take a real break yet, and so ease forward toward the post-Inverness climb. It’s kind of a bitch, one I had to walk when I rode out to the Lighthouse before, and I’m both anxious to get it behind me and aware that they will both probably catch me on it.
The road hugs the edge of Tomales Bay here, rising and falling slightly. The winds have not yet touched the water yet, and for the most part it remains silent and calm. One of those magical times when you feel blessed to be experiencing it.
Further on, the road cuts away from the water, and the upward trend begins in earnest. I’m feeling a little less blessed and more gravitationally challenged as I flip quickly up through the four climbing gears, find a new one called “Seated, Wrenching and Gasping”, then decide to see if the “20 paces and remount” trick will work. I walk my bike and try a cyclocross hop-on trick, then the momentum fades quickly further up the climb. Swinging off into a driveway, I decide that it’s a good time to doff gloves and make sure everything is situated correctly. About that time, JimG and Carlos roll past, make sure I haven’t thrown a rod or cracked the block, and spin upwards. Waving them on, my breathing settles down and I use the slope of the driveway to reenter the roadway and chunk my way to the crest.
From there it’s a long steady spin down to sea level again, with the final approach to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse now within realistic consideration. A series of “step-ups” follow, and way off in the distance, someone appears who looks a bit like Carlos, so I pretend it is and try to slowly reel him back. We slinky a bit, as I regain on the climbs and he slips away as I recover on the flatter bits. I dink around with the pencam a bit and take photos of the roadway to distract myself. Rolling upwards, I’m enjoying a gorgeous view and warming sunlight when a new sound suddenly occurs - “Tick-tick-tick-tick” in time with my front tire rotation. I look down to see the front sidewall bulging out enormously, and tube starting to stick out. Crap. Steering quickly to the side of the roadway, I try to dive for the stem to let air out, but the sounds of nature are punctuated by an ear-ringing “BLAMM!” which just as suddenly dissipates with the winds.
Ok. I’ve got tubes and a pump, obviously. What I’m worried about is why the tire decided to lift off the rim. I’d installed new Paselas earlier in the week, did a little test ride, but hadn’t really pushed them too hard before this ride. If the bead was bad, or severed, I could be in a bit of trouble. Removing the tire was pretty easy, as nearly the entire left side bead had come off. The tube had a 20″ split with a clear “X” where the blowout began. I lined tube up with tire and can see no specific flaw in the bead or tire, and the casing seems happy throughout. Upon closer scrutiny, I can see a few little bits of light tan rubber on the tube, near the initial point of failure. It seems that I managed to catch the tube with the bead, and it held on for a while until the stresses of riding finally jostled it to freedom. That’d be “user error”.
Some riders sweep past during the repair, and every group makes sure I’ve got necessary tools and gear. I start thinking about the downhills and swoopy bits already covered and get a shudder at how good my luck really was. Nothing safer than an uphill flat. Heading off again, I descend and then realize after a nice sweeping turn and ascent that I’ve neglected to reattach my front brake cable. I sheepishly pull over, quickly connect things and head off again. I decide that maybe I should stop screwing around with the camera and pay attention to things, and chew through the lettered farms on the way to the final climb to the Lighthouse.
My plan was to flip the rear wheel for the last steep pitch up to the Lighthouse, those extra four teeth on the coastable side being pretty helpful. I’ve done this many times, but with the addition of the rear fender, and my hands being tired-dopey, it just seems to take hours. I get it set and tensioned only to get on, start pedaling and find that the chain is not on the teeth of the freewheel. I fix this and start again, only to realize the rear brake is still disconnected. I get chain grease everywhere. In short, I am doing a succession of Really Stupid Things, and it gets to me.
To top this off, as I get near the top of the climb, the pencam, which has been around my neck on a cord, taps the stem just right and opens the cover, causing the batteries to drop out. I see one rolling back down the road, set the bike down and nab it, but the other is nowhere to be seen. I start foraging around the thick grass near the road edge, and suddenly realize I’ve worked my way 10 or 15 yards back without finding it. Some inner clear voice finally points out that this is not the best use of my time, and I admit defeat, further vexed that I won’t have the camera to use for the rest of the ride.
Coasting (ahhhh….coasting…mmm!) the rest of the way to the Lighthouse, a knot of bikes and riders are around the Control Station, making short work of available water and a Costco-sized box of Nilla Vanilla wafers. They stamp my card at 11:18. I see Jim’s RB-1 against the bushes near the truck, but need to hit the restroom on the other side of the lot and so walk over there. I’m tired, hot, feel like I’m wearing too much and am grumpy about losing the battery. It finally dawns on me, after I scrape the grease off my fingers and munch a Clif Bar, that the efforts had gotten to me a bit more than I’d realized.
By this time, Jim’s bike has gone, though I never saw him (and find out later that he thought I’d already left, and upon catching up to Carlos without seeing me, wondered if something had happened to me.) It dawns on me that my backup blinkie has AAA batteries, so I steal one and get the pencam working again. My arrival time is about a half hour behind plan, so I try to get going with a minimum of additional fuss. Physically, the most difficult sections are behind me, and now that my core temp has cooled and some calories are pinging around my innards, my thoughts clear and calm a bit. The tire has held together and shows no signs of moving now, the bike is working well, and although I’m tired, it seems more as a direct result of the recent efforts rather than any kind of physical cave-in. I snap a photo with my newly-repowered pencam and get ready to roll.