The nice thing about this route was that - like last year’s Fairfax Cross Race - it’s just too danged close to home to ignore. I opted for the “Traditional” 100 Miler. It covers some parts of southwestern Sonoma county that I haven’t ridden in a long time. Once upon a time, when we lived out of Petaluma near some llama farms, those were the roads that I finally ventured out to when returning to cycling. If you aren’t familiar with them, there are a wide number of connections which criss-cross the agricultural stretches between the Highway 101 corridor and the coast. Sadly, civilization continues to backfill and encroach upon them, but when you get out there, you realize just how much area still doesn’t have a trendy name and only minorly varying home designs. Thank goodness. But, I digress.
My hope was to cover the distance without resorting to using the freewheel side of the Quickbeam. I wasn’t trying for some big manly-man kinda thing, It actually has more to do with perspective and timing: flipping the flop to get a coastable gear takes a couple of minutes. But, sometimes walking for 20 or 30 steps can let the drums stop beating in my ears and recharge me enought to take another shot at pedaling. Since walking for that distance only takes about a minute, the effect can be equivilent to gear-changing. On a long, steady uphill, especially something followed by a tricky downhill that requires a bit of pedal-leveling and coastable techniques, grabbing the freewheel is a good thing. But for short, sharp climbs, sometimes a bit o’ the hoof is in order. Besides, sometimes I even suprise myself with what I can climb when fixed.
But, the key thing was to enjoy the ride. Centuries or other organized rides haven’t really been something I’ve done. So, in one sense, this was a very new experience and I wanted to see what it was all about. The Marin Century had been rated very highly, both in terms of the courses and the support along the way. And it started close enough to ride to the start.
Which is why, at 6:45 am on a Saturday morning, after feeding the dogs and myself and leaving the coffee ready for my still-sleeping wife, I was rolling easily towards the hub of the day’s adventure - the Vallecito School in Terra Linda, CA. The sun had just edged over the hills and threw a golden morning light on everything it touched. The morning chill held on pretty well though, and arm and knee warmers, plus a vest made me feel slightly underdressed. It’s been an oddly cool mid-summer around these parts.
As I neared my destination, a parade of bike-totin’ cars edged through the right turn lane which would land them at the start. From the left, a pack of cyclists got their green light and turned before me as I waited for the turn light. Turning on my spidey-sense, I avoided wrong-way riding folks, cars edging towards the curb and a few spacey pedestrians. Nothing really egregious, but enough to snap my attention a bit.
If you’ve ever wondered who buys all that stuff you see in the catalogs, you just had to wander inside the quad area of the school. Expensive and absurdly expensive rigs littered the playground and leaned against all manner of props. The density of riders increase within the MP room, where volunteers were checking registration rolls and dolling out numbers, stickers and wristbands. For some reason, the the line for C - F had only a couple people in it, while all others stretched 20 or more. I really have to thank my parents for my last name…
Before I knew it, my stuff was in my hand, then slapped and pinned and stuck to the appropriate bits. Looking around to see if there was anyone recognizable in the sea of people, I wheeled my bike back to the front of the school and gathered into the next wave of riders to be sent off. I looked at my clock to see it was 7:10 am, pulled out the pencam to snap a few shots and then promptly dropped it to the ground - which is why I use a $19 pencam for taking photos. I scooped it up and it seemed to still be functioning - it beeped and incremented when I pushed the shutter. A flurry of motion brought my attention back to my immediate surroundings and realized that they were releasing my “wave” of riders. Stuffing the camera back in my pocket, I rolled out for the day’s ride.
The route began by jumping over to Lucas Valley Road and then heading for Marshall on the coast by way of Nicasio and Hicks Valley Road. These mileposts are pretty familiar to me and so I was happy to tuck into the group and get pulled along for a while, while avoiding a few folks who missed shifts or got overtaken . My plan was to warm up nice and slowly, underdoing things on the first couple hills. A couple weeks before, I’d ridden out to Marshall and just felt kinda awful a few times along the way, and didn’t want that to recur.
Hills have a way of stripping away the artifice, and the first real climb of the day brought everyone up to the temporary stop light at Big Rock. It was a little hectic, as the pitch seemed to bottleneck things a bit, as some earlier riders drifted back and faster folks veered around them. It wasn’t too tricky - you just had to keep your eyes up a bit and forecast who was going to overtake whom. My timing was pretty lucky, as I hit the summit just as the light turned green for our direction. There were a number of stopped riders and a few of us threaded through the backup with a couple of cars. As we edged over the crest, I was suprised by the gauntlet of people watching from the roadside. Then I realized they were other riders who had decided that was the best place to regroup. We continued out Lucas Valley, enjoying the net elevation loss down this shaded and still-cool valley. At the of the road, I noticed the bank of painted arrows on the pavement - color coded for the various routes. Green for me, which meant a right turn towards Nicasio, little jog around the church and the baseball diamond and into the fog that lay near the lake. Before I knew it, the second climb of note lay before me.
This one looked a bit worse than it was - one of those inclines that you can see almost the whole route ahead of you. Plus, the hill it climbs looms even larger than you will go, so it messes with your mind before you even have to push the pedals harder. So, I chugged upward, trying to do as little work as possible. There were some riders I caught up to and passed some photographer sitting in a chair, snapping photos of folks to commemorate the event. Once on the descent, a few light’n'fast folks whisked by me, enjoying the benefits of bringing along a Big Honkin’ Gear. The ridge we’d climbed seemed to contain the fog that had appeared down by the reservoir, and brilliant sunshine again illuminated the morning.
A roving party had convened at the Lincoln School Rest Stop on Hicks Valley Road. Tables presented cookies and bagels and a variety of food snacks. As this was about 20 miles into the ride, and I did nothing more than shift fluids, refill the fluid-in vessels and hit the road again. I’d brought along a toasted sandwich from breakfast and munched a bit on that to keep the calories coming in. I was starting to feel decent and warmed up as we headed for the Marshall climb, and just felt it would be better to keep rolling. My plan was to drain two bottles between each rest stop and I was more or less on track for that. The last couple rides, I’d noticed that my water intake wasn’t all that high, and though I might be able to get away with it for shorter rides, it concerned me a bit for this one.
I’d gotten a couple of “nice bike” comments on the way there, and another rider noted the shiny and washed Quickbeam as we moved away with the rising sun at our backs. It looked pretty gorgeous - nothing like low morning light and a good cleaning. The new cog continued to hum happily and the drivetrain seemed light.
The Marshall climb seemed to be there again - same place as last time. I’ve written before about the variety of gears which are applied to fixed gears and singlespeeds, and had run through all of them on this climb a couple weeks earlier, ending up whimpering and walking, talking to the cows. But, on this day, momentum remained my friend, and with a few switchback turns on the worst of it, the Quickbeam and I climbed into the fog and topped out. The descent was pretty solid - nothing breeds confidence like rolling over country pavement with a pair of Pasela 32’s. I’d skirted some slower riders near the top and had nothing before me but the road and a curtain of fog. Enough visibility to see just fine, mind you….
Some big-geared folk zipped past me as I pedaled like mad, trying to keep momentum through the little rise midway down the descent. I’m always a little hyper-attentive when heading down noticeable inclines on the fixed gear. You have to line up turns a little differently than the coastable riders, and if you do it wrong, recovery can be tricky. So, I’m flicking looks back to make sure I’m not cutting anyone off, and taking slightly odd lines through the turns. And all of a sudden, I’m down at Highway One on the coast, and squeaking the brakes to make a legal stop at the stop sign. Many riders hung out near the turn, awaiting riding companions who got split off on the climb or descent. The temps were reasonably cool, and though I had doffed the vest earlier, the wool I’d retained was a welcome layer on both the knees and arms. Both had a layer of dew upon them from the fog, but it looked cool in a kinda Andy-Hampsten-over-the-Gavia kinda way.
As I had the Steve-Martin-in-The-Lonely-Guy-table-of-one group thing going, I tacked on with a few riders who were easing north on the coast highway. The coast highway then immediately reminded us that it liked to undulate, and I grunkled* my way up the rise and remembered that particular road is not the same as, say, a walk on the beach. It’s the nor-cal coast - it undulates.
But, I felt pretty good - especially at having stayed upright and pedaling over the first three hills. I even remembered to take a look at the time on my camera phone - 9:24 am. The road heading north-ish, and under the cover of the coastal fog, there was little wind to speak of - maybe a slight crosswind. But, I was happy to have started reasonably early.
As the road veered inland to follow Walker Creek, the sky cleared up. At the edge of the fog, the crosswind became a noticeable tail, and I dug out the last bites of my sandwich, sat up straight to catch the wind and pedaled as quickly as comfort allowed. While digging the pencam out to take a photo, it feels odd, and I sneak a good look at it - the housing has bulged where it fits together, and I realize that must have happened back at the start. I give it a good squeeze and it pops back together, seemingly none the worse for the impact. (I did find out later than many of the early shots are way off in focus, even though the lens was set correctly.)
We crossed over the creek and huffled** up the incline towards Tomales, some riders falling back and others sneaking away. By the time I got into the town, there wasn’t anyone immediately around me. For some reason, the CHP officer directing traffic at the intersection failed to register, and I rolled straight on Hwy 1. Finally pulling back on the reins when I realized no other riders were up the roadway, I looked back and saw the flash of a green wristband on some riders making the left turn toward Dillon Beach. Rolled back, made the (now right) turn towards the coast, saw the array of painted arrows on the roadway and for some reason, remained desparately unconvinced that I was going the correct way. There is certainly something to be said for (a) riding with the route map accessible, (b) having a cyclometer on the bike and (c) paying attention.
I decided to start with (c).
This turned out to be a fortuitous decision.
The road climbed and edged upwards - nothing grunkle- or even huffle-worthy, but enough to require a little bit of gear changing between seated-and-butt-kicked-back and out-of-the-saddle-using-body-weight. At this point, riders were scattered up the roadway in singles and pairs, which gave me some carrots to keep going. I couldn’t actually recall ever having ridden this road before, and it seemed to gain a bit of height before a Y intersection edged things back in the general direction of Valley Ford. I was happy to feel the pull of gravity again. The fog had receeded and there were noticeably wet sections on the roads under the trees, but the mid-morning sunshine gave a hazy, happy glow to everything - the golden hills to the north, the farmhouses and barns tucked down into the valleys. It was gorgeous.
The roadway began a definite drop now. As speed increased, I ramped up my cadence and even began scrubbing a little speed with the hand brakes. Ahead to my right stood a stand of oak trees at the edge of a farm fence, and I could see a dark patch of moisture on the roadway. But, the road was straight and the pavement seemed pretty good, so I wasn’t worried about skidding out, even though my rpm’s had reached an edging-past-comfortable level. Then a big-eyed head popped up in the shadows under the tree. A good sized doe (a deer, y’know, a female deer) had been feasting in the deepest shadow and chose that moment to become aware of my presence and decide to decide to be completely freaked out by it.
Now, if I’d been a predator, it would have been a textbook case of bad-choice-by-prey = lunch-for-me. The doe bolted on a vector that did everything except put her between two slices of bread.
I’m veering, trying not to overcorrect on the wet road, feeling my rear wheel start to skid which reminds me to KEEP FRICKING PEDALING, looking only only only only only at where I want to go - the desparately skinny dark thread ahead of me that used to be a two lane country road, feeling my rear wheel start to turn again and come back underneath me, while making some weird primordial gutteral vocalization which sounds something like “Buh-YUH-ooo-WEE” which, in addition to scaring me, frightens the doe, which, I realize as I glimpse briefly down at the bicycle, can be seen easily through the gap between my forearm and thigh, as my ears also pickup a horribly cartoonish, trying to get away, clattery scuffle-scuffle-scuffle of hooves trying to find purchase on damp asphalt, which suddenly seems to happen and the doe arcs suddenly away to the right again, putting enough distance between the two of us that we are no longer lambada partners and become once again separate observers of one another in the world.
Now, I’m still racked up at about 130+ rpms as the road has continued to steepen. I start working the brakes again, carefully now, as the road is turning and there are more broad wet stretches. I wait to start shaking. The incline begins to lessen and my speed drops. I’m trying to figure out if I’m riding a surge of adrenaline that will suddenly dissipate.
Oddly, nothing seems to happen. My pedaling continues on the now reasonably flat roadway, and I know that was the closest I have come to direct collision at high speed, but it doesn’t seem to generate fear or anything remotely resembling it. In fact, the most definite reaction I have is at the oddity of having no reaction. It’s a little disquieting. I find I’ve pulled the pencam out, as though I can take a photo of what had taken place. I opt for thanking whatever forces guided us through that interaction safely and continued pedaling towards Valley Ford. Sometimes, I am an extremely lucky bastard.
One little sharp cruncher remains, and as the road steepens and others make clunky shifts as we all get compressed again by the grade. My cadence slows and there are too many people around me to start doing switchbacks, plus there’s been more auto traffic here. And then, there’s really no decision to be made: it’s hoofin’ time. The grade finally lessens a bit and I’m able to swing back on and roll downhill to the rest stop. Which, I’m really ready to see at this point.
And - bless the organizers and volunteers - there it is! Just up a little side road on the inland side of Valley Ford proper (which isn’t the largest burg in Cali-fa). A goodly-sized gang of riders milled around, with easily half a million bucks worth of hardware in the immediate area. It seemed that this whole carbon component thing may really catch on… A shop had set up a tent and some stands, and their wrenches were working fast and efficiently on boutique wheels and drivetrains that had proven to be a bit more finicky than their ad copy had stated. I found an empty patch of field, lay down the Quickbeam and then worked my way through the sea of jerseys towards food (chocolate chip cookie as big as a chainring!) and drink (cold, cold, cold, cold, cold water and gatorade). Over to one side was a VIP tent to provide shade and chairs to those who were doing the Mt. Tam Double - the most adventurous route of the day that had started at 5 am, turned south, climbed Mt Tamalpais, headed up the coast, came into Valley Ford, then looped back out to climb Coleman Valley Road (you may have seen it on the Tour of California broadcast this spring) into Santa Rosa, then tie off loop back at Valley Ford before finishing up the same path as the rest of us. For those of you playing along at home, that’s 200 miles and somewhere above 15,000 feet of climbing. Yeah, it’s a long day.
But, back at the wonderful, wonderful rest stop, the smiling volunteers entertained us and doled out sugary and salty snacks, wrangled yellow jackets and acted as great hosts. You get a tremendous recharge from that energy. I chatted briefly with some riders who were up from the Peninsula, who wondered about how bad the climbs were that remained. They had been challenged by some of the gradients, but felt that the longer climbs down their way were a bit of a different animal. Like me, they were enjoying the route.
I rolled back out again, and after picking up the right turn to Middle Road, had brief delusions of catching a group of riders up the road. Though gaining on them for the flattish first mile or so, there was this feeling of foreboding that I couldn’t shake. Indeed, the road arced away from the fields and started climbing. As things pitched upwards, the meat-based drivetrain parts did not match my bouyant mood and began making clunking sounds before saying “Ha!”…. Clearly, my real legs were back at the rest stop. I walked for a bit to see if they would catch up. With a few iterations of the pedal/grind/walk dance, they seemed to floppily reattach and became moderately helpful - almost as helpful as the actual downhill rollers which rolled under my wheels.
That was the worst of the vertical suprises for a while - as we headed eastward-ish again, the coastal breeze was a slight tailwind, and the roads remained in the valley rather than trying to jump the intervening hills. I actually felt pretty good, though not quite ready to start my sprint to the finish. As the miles continued, I passed some riders who ranged from spinning/enjoying to grinding/private hell, but tried to chat a bit as we remained close. Of course, the fast-and-swanky groups buzzed past me a few times, one matching-team-kitted group managed a frightening speed differential as they hummed past. This stretch of the ride might have been a little boring for some, but I enjoyed the cows, pastures and open vistas of this area.
Continuing towards Petaluma, the route went past cows, cows, chicken farms and cows, pulled a right to go by the gun range - which is always a little unnerving, especially this time of year when folks are sighting in the big bore stuff. After the percussive boom of the shot, the echo bounced back to your ears like the whooosh of a small jet. All the while, the arhythmic crackle of small arms fire continued and stopped, began again and ceased. You could see eruptions of dirt and dust where the bullets hit the backdrop, and it all helped me to hurry up the rise which would take us away from this.
As the clatter quieted, another rider came up on me, and we rolled together a bit. He’d been seeing me on the hills and had wondered just what the heck I was doing - nothing like watching some numbskull grind away at thirty-something rpms - before figuring it out once he reached me. We passed some good miles chatting about fixed gears, track bikes, the route so far and any surprises to come. We’d reached Chileno Valley Road, one of the really nice stretches between the coast and Petaluma, mingled with other riders now and again, and finally got absorbed by a moderately paced group of riders. It was nice to be among a bunch, but the pace was just a half a notch above where I wanted to be. On the sharpest part of the climbs in and out of Valley Ford, I’d felt the twinges of cramps being born, and just wanted to err on the side of taking it easy for a while. I let them ease up the road and continued onward. Things warmed up noticeably, between the tailwind and the inland heat. My knee warmers were still in place, but I didn’t really want to stop and take them off.
The landmarks became a bit more familiar as town grew closer - certain farms which don’t seem to have changed in the last 20 years, Helen Putnam Park, that housing development in the valley that used to have some good trails. Before I knew it, D Street rolled underneath my tires, and the broad presentations of these original showcase homes welcomed me. A few green-arrow marked turns later, I was queued up for ice water/gatorade refills and platefuls of snackies at McNear’s Park, along with what seemed to be half the cycling population of northern California. The food again top notch - this time with the added culinary treat of Rouge et Noir Brie on artisan baked dark bread. Pretzels and bananas seemed to hit the spot too, and I almost grabbed one of the V-8’s which was floating in an ice bucket. This is one of Carlos’ favorites on long rides, but don’t think I’ve had one in the last 25 years, and didn’t want to chance it when there were still 30 miles to go. I do need to see if it’s a good thing, but this was not the place to experiment.
I sat in the shade in the cool grass for a while, enjoying the vibe of arriving cyclists, departing groups, the upbeat chatter from volunteers and participants. This was probably the time when it would’ve been nice to have others to hang with, but it was still enjoyable. My rest lasted a little longer here, and I stretched a bit. I had finally taken the time to remove my shoes and slip off the knee warmers, but put the shoes back on quickly before having barefeet began to feel too good. I had also laid out my gloves in the sun to make sure they dried out. They had begun feeling a little clammy, and I knew I’d be hauling on them pretty good when the final climbs hit.
Overall, I was feeling pretty good, though my hamstrings seemed a tad tight and knotted. My knees, which had been experiencing odd twinges for the last couple weeks, seemed to feel better the longer I rode, and they felt happier than they had in a while. Way back when the book Running came out, (I think I have this attribution correct), there was a segment which focused on Bill Rodgers and the thing I found interesting was what he mentally did during runs. At the time (grade school for me) sports and running meant powering through pain - ignoring it and hoping you could overcome it. Rodgers, on the other hand, closely monitored how he felt - really looking for the pain. He knew he’d done the correct training beforehand, and the continual evaluation of how he was feeling was a key aspect of knowing how much to push it, or when to recover. Most of the more elite level athletes I have known described similar perspectives, while most of the weekend warrior class can grit their way through pain and effort, but play a significant price for it later.
After a half hour of hanging out, I figured that 1-ish was a good time to get on the road again. Since I’d tried to eat first, hopefully most of the food had a chance to do something useful.
The route headed south on I Street, which meant a huffle-grunkle-huffle sandwich on the rises out of town, before picking up San Antonio Road and a convection oven headwind. As I headed west for a mile or two, pretty much anything resembling moisture got plucked immediately off of my surface area. I was a little worried, as neither water nor gatorade tasted good at that point. The wind wasn’t really even up in the gruntable*** range, but it carried some warmth and was more a mental attack than anything. A few of us cowered into small groups, until, like an oasis, a white tent canopy appeared at the top of the last rise. This, I needed.
Gallons of ice water housed in big orange igloo coolers. Cold was good. I used the now lukewarm water from my bottle to douse my head before refilling. The volunteer was chattering about something to do with where they used to have this mini-rest stop, and I think I thanked him profusely just for being there. It helped.
Before the final big climb, I pulled over and squeezed my second gel for the day. Goats watched me from the shade, as did the drying carcass of either the worlds largest ex-housecat or bobcat. The attendant decay-process oriented life forms encouraged me not to get too close. Onward and upward.
This seemed to be the longest climb of the day. While on it, I had the distinct feeling of my pedals pushing back at my feet - and winning the battle. Communications with the engine room seemed cut off, and I pulled, pedaled, twisted, grunkled, arched, hoofed, grunkled, blew, hoofed and grunkled upwards. Finally, nearing the last bits of the climb, I’d managed to remount and reach a state of near terflubawaa**** as my cadence dropped to around 11. Still, I could see the crest a hundred yards or so ahead, and the gradient was easing ever so slightly, even while it seemed to be receeding.
Suddenly, my speed increased dramatically and my feet clawed to stay with my pedals. A rider on a Casati pulled up alongside and followed his saddle push with exhortations and said something about deserving a little help if I was riding a fixed gear. The assistance was glorious and with the added momentum, the road seemed to flatten again and I rolled suddenly over the crest, laughing and thanking this nameless person. Crikey, I owe him one!
The downhill took us past Hicks Valley Road, where hours before we’d turned left to start this big loop, and another quick huffle had me spinning like a madman down towards the Nicasio Reservoir, making the left turn towards town and racking my bike at the final rest stop for the day. I looked up to see a stylin’ Bob Jackson next to mine, and after horking pretzels and brownies, prowled around to see if there were any other interesting bikes in the racks. It was mostly peleton-esque fodder, but while I was getting adjusted for the last stretch home, a woman asked if I was on the Rivendell list. This turned out to be list-member Jo, (whose bicycle photo is here) who was doing the Mt. Tam Century route. We chatted for a while (though I think I stuttered and babbled more than conversed) before wishing each other well.
The last stretch back on Lucas Valley had me smelling the barn. These are home court advantage miles, and I know them pretty well. Well, maybe better than that. The homeward leg rose over rollers and inclines, and even at the worst of it, being aware of just how little remained spurred me onward. Once over the crest at Big Rock, I reminded myself not to do something really stupid on the last twisty descent and finally bottomed out on the long, wide steady decline which is the residential end of Lucas Valley Road. I pulled up and soft-pedaled long enough to call my wife, then spun like a trackie down the last miles. A few folks zipped past with their new-fangled high-ratio coastable bikes, and I tacked on with a couple until my hamstrings began chirping. Before I knew it, I had popped over the last incline, caught up with a bunch of riders at the last traffic light, then bumped over the finishing speed hump at Vallecito School while folks cheered us in. A quick time check showed it at 3:16 pm. Almost bang on 8 hours elapsed since the start of the ride.
I rolled around a little, sniffed out a Hagen-Dazs bar from the freezer, then hung out to await my wife’s arrival. Moved once to get awy from some ice cream interested yellow jackets, chatted about Brooks saddles with a couple folks and felt pretty good.
While I was waiting, Jo arrived and we chatted again for a bit. When my wife arrived, we wheeled into the quad, piled a plate high with pizza, pasta, bread, fruit and did some food intake intervals.
Finally filled up, we people watched for a bit and then I began wanting to de-crustify, so we packed up and got set to go. For a moment or two, I thought about riding home, but since I already had my shoes off, it made no sense in going through the whole socks and footwear step… We racked the QB and headed home.
And there it was -
2007 Marin Century - Traditional Route
106 miles - 8 hours total time
About 110 miles on the day
…and we’re done!
*Grunkle - verb - the physical exertion of coming upon an unanticipated short climb or necessary accelleration, when you were mentally ready for a rest or easy spin. Often combined with moderate cursing during the effort.
**Huffle - verb - a shortish, out-of-the-saddle effort to overcome a moderate rise that you can see the end of, marked by short and sharp exhalations. Typically follows a longer, steady exertion on flattish surfaces.
***Gruntable - adjective - act of nature, god or topography that can be overcome by putting your head down and grunting a lot. e.g. - headwinds.
****Terflubawaa - noun - the state of existence during high physical output marked by being able to see through your ears, while making respiratory noises that frighten children.