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.
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.
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