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.
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.
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.
(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.
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).
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…
Please Continue to Part 2