Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two Rock/Valley Ford 200K

I'd been interested in doing a randonneur (long distance) brevet ride for a while. But for one reason or another, hadn't gotten around to it. Besides commuting by bike, I'd been doing 30-40 mile rides on weekends and occasional 70-90 mile rides to the coast and back from where I live in Palo Alto, CA.

In California, we’ve been having a lot more rain this winter, (thankfully, helping to curtail a four-year drought). But after recent storms, Saturday, February 11, looked to be clear and the timing seemed right for me, so I signed up for the Two Rock/Valley Ford 200K, one of a series of brevet rides organized by the San Francisco Randonneurs club. Founded in 1990, San Francisco Randonneurs was formed to help create qualifying rides for one of the largest brevet events of all, the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K, that takes place every 4 years in France.

A brevet is a long distance endurance ride with a time limit. The word brevet means certificate and refers to the card used to verify completion of control points along the course. Brevets are non-competitive endurance rides, each rider competes against the terrain, conditions, the clock and their own personal best time.

The Friday before this 200K, that would be my first, it was raining. But I got out at 6:30 am and did a 30 mile ride on a local rolling hills loop (Portola Valley/Woodside) to check my bike, an Ebisu all-arounder that I’d set-up for touring including aluminum fenders, a short front rack, handlebar bag, front dynohub, LED headlight and 700×32 tires.

I had the bars too low and the saddle, a used Fizik Arione was not the best choice for a 200K ride. I swapped the saddle with a vintage Avocet and adjusted the bar height higher. I had made two handlebar bag supports out of stainless steel struts, that looped over the bar in a “p” clamp shape and a “u” shape on the bag end so the flap would clear where the support connects to the bag, that I bolted to the supports, a "bolt-aleur" hack as opposed to the more refined decaleur brackets with two vertical tube mounts that you can easily remove and remount the bag. I replaced the bolts with quick-release pins made out of aluminum binding posts I drilled to secure with R-clips. The handlebars needed to be raised about 1/2 inch, but the bag base still was on the front rack so I didn’t have to make new supports for the higher bar position.

It was a busy day at work Friday, but late in the day I got my gear together and rechecked my bike. Rather than drive to San Francisco very early on the morning of the ride, Friday night I took CalTrain to San Francisco and stayed with friends in the Excelsior district.

On Saturday morning, fueled with two rice crackers topped with almond butter, I left at 5:30 am and rode 8 miles to the brevet starting point at East Beach, Crissy field. It was strange to ride through mostly empty San Francisco streets in the dark early hours. I thought I might get a coffee along the way, but nothing was open, not even Four Barrel coffee on Valencia.

While on Van Ness, another rider came up alongside on a vintage Specialized Sequoia with fenders and a front bag. I asked him, “SFR?” He said yes. I had a nice chat with Eric W. for a bit while he led me to a short cut to East Beach. In the parking lot, riders were pulling bikes out of their vehicles and getting set-up, the glow of a full moon shined just above the Golden Gate bridge that was lit-up against a clear, dark sky. After checking in and signing the release form, I got my brevet card.

Riders gathered for a special announcement. San Francisco Regional Brevet Administrator, Rob H., presented the American Randonneur Award of the year to long-time SF Randonneurs member Bruce Berg, for his service, support and welcoming of all riders, no matter what level of experience.

Since it had been raining the last few days, an update of the course road conditions was given: a small landslide on the road into Sausalito from the Golden Gate bridge, possible flooding on the road near Valley Ford and alternate routes, water running over Highway 1 in a few places towards Tomales Bay and in general more, debris on the road. Then we were all asked to raise an arm and repeat an oath: (Raise your right hand or your other right hand and repeat after me) "I, Insert my name here, promise not to do stupid stuff".

Shortly after, we set-out at 7:00 am from East Beach towards the Golden Gate bridge in the cool morning light. The riders quickly set a brisk pace, we ascended the small climb and looped around under the massive Golden Gate bridge and rode across on the west side span. As we rode I could see the distinct shadows of riders right behind me on the left railing in the morning sun. We continued through Sausalito, then to a bike path and onto the first modest climb at Camino Alto, continued down a snake like decent and though a series of bike lanes on the way through Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo on the way to Fairfax. I saw Eric on the Sequoia, again, stopped to fix a flat. He seemed to be back quickly though as he passed and rejoined the group ahead not long after. A few miles into the ride I could see the lights of a police car. Hopefully not an accident! Fortunately not. An officer was giving a cyclist a ticket, presumably for running a stop sign.

I was leap frogging with two riders, Ethan and Manny who I struck up a conversation with. We stopped for espresso in Ross, which was welcome, because I hadn’t been able to get coffee before the ride start. I ordered a machiatto, bought a small breakfast burrito that hit the spot, and we we’re on the road again, Ethan mentioned they’d ridden the Pierce Point 200K recently, that has about 1000ft more elevation gain (~7400') than Two Rock/Valley Ford (~6300') and was very cold and wet. I mentioned it was my first brevet and they offered some tips and encouragement. Manny mentioned a lot of it is fighting your level of discomfort towards the end.

I’d tried to prepare by bringing the right gear. I brought rain pants, a gore-Tex shell, extra gloves and shoe covers, even a small first aid kit. I’d put foam shoe pads in my cycling shoes anticipating foot pain over extended mileage. It was a clear day and I could have taken less gear.

We got to Fairfax and continued on Sir Francis Drake boulevard. The last I saw of Ethan and Manny was on the climb after Fairfax, I rode most the rest of the course, solo. I had done the Fairfax climb before out to Roy’s Redwoods and remembered how steep it was. This descended into the pastoral San Geronimo Valley and then a right on Nicasio Road and more climbing, it leveled off past Nicasio reservoir. There were many road cyclists also out for a Saturday ride, that was turning into a spectacularly clear sunny day with very little wind. Next up was White’s Hill a very steep climb probably steepest of the ride and on to Petaluma. Approaching Petaluma I noticed along the side of the road, instead of beer cans, kombucha bottles!

In Petaluma, I stopped at the 7-11 where I bought sports drink, a bag of plain potato chips, two protein bars, and kept the receipt to verify reaching the control point. I’d made the time limit for Petaluma with 30 minutes to spare and clearly now riding last. On White’s Hill with the steep climb and a large group of road riders quickly dropping me I was having second thoughts, that maybe I’d turn-around at Petaluma. But I felt pretty good, and it was such an amazing day. I looked at the brevet card time limit for the second control at Valley Ford, the cue sheet indicated was only 20 miles away. Doable! So for the rest of the ride, I tried to focus only on the next control/time limit and keep up a steady pace.

The ride to Valley Ford was an ocean of undulating green hills and fields of yellow mustard flowers. I could hear birds and the occasional moos of cows. There wasn’t too much traffic and a very wide shoulder which was great. I didn’t have a cyclometer, and hadn’t charged my phone the night before, so with only half a charge, I left my phone in my jersey pocket. It was interesting to pass connector roads I’d ridden on before in the Petaluma area.

Closer to Valley Ford I started to get pain in my feet, I’d kept my shoes on the loose side because I know feet tend to swell on long rides. I still had shoe covers on so this wasn’t really helping and it was getting warmer, so I removed these. Once I got my foot out my old school quill pedal, toe clip set-up, my feet were good.

I had some saddle discomfort earlier but it went away. One thing I knew, my 10 cm handlebar stem was a little too long in length. I periodically brought my fist to my shoulder while rotating my arm to make up for holding my arms extended on the brake hoods much of the ride, that helped.

I had only had a couple of minor mechanical problems. The front derailleur had somehow gotten bent previously and would not align in some of the highest gears, it was either ticking as inside of the crank arm touched the derailleur plate or the inside plate rubbing on the chain. Somehow I missed this on my test ride the day before. Also, while on a rough section of a climb on Highway 1 from Valley Ford I noticed some rattling, it wasn’t anything up front. It turned out the bolt for the rear fender bridge bracket was loose. I’d brought a Campy T wrench, so was able to tighten the bolt on the inside of the fender with a quick removal of the rear wheel.

The ride to Point Reyes Station was one of the longer segments at 21 miles, but was also one of the most memorable riding in the rolling hills along the water's edge. After a few climbs the road passed through the small town of Tomales. The road had new asphalt and was relatively flat as it wound along Keys Creek that turns into a wide river as it meets with the northern end of Tomales Bay. The road had three or four short sections that had flooded, but not deep so easy to cross on a bike. I just had to avoid crossing while cars were also crossing on the other side to avoid getting splashed. Most of the major flooding had seemed to have subsided. Highway 1 to Point Reyes Station had very little traffic, with only the sound of waves lapping the shore of Tomales Bay riding the rolling hills along the bay in the afternoon sun was an absolute joy.

Not having a cyclometer, I tried to measure the distance in my mind based on familiar rides I’d done. Many years earlier I had ridden a motorcycle with a friend from Oakland to Marshall at dusk, so remembered this town, not much had changed. Today deck patios in a few places were filled with people feasting on oysters and enjoying the pristine afternoon. Once reaching the base of Tomales Bay the road shifted East and I remembered of few land marks. A cheese farm and a former dairy, now a winery. I dropped into the idyllic town of Point Reyes Station and got a coffee and Bovine Bakery, making the time limit by 5 minutes. Only about 39 miles left.

I got a sandwich at the market across the street and watched the tourists while I ate, then back on the bike south on Highway 1. I realized later I did not top off my water bottles. I knew there would be a few climbs, but was hoping they wouldn’t be as hard as some of the others. I turned left on Sir Francis Drake and ascended the first climb. I was feeling OK, I was worried on rolling hills along Highway 1 next to Tomales Bay because I was feeling a twinge behind my left knee that felt like I my cramp. But I kept drinking fluids and it never materialized. The road entered a beautiful section of Redwood forest on Sir Francis Drake Road that winds along Lagunitas Creek, that was flowing abundantly from the recent rains. The road surface was smooth, but with a little more traffic now, with people returning from the coast late in the day. I could see the water flowing west, so yes, there was going to be another climb, it was just a matter of when. I passed through Lagunitas, then the beautiful San Geronimo Valley. It was starting to get dark now and my water was dwindling. I passed Nicasio road where the course had turned right on the way out. Then, as if by magic, I noticed a fountain about 20 feet from the road next to a golf course. So I filled up, had the rest of my sandwich, and headed for the climb into Fairfax.

The climbs coming back were more gradual than heading out which was good. I was glad I had a front dynohub and a bright LED headlight especially on fast descents in the dark on roads with narrow shoulders. I got to Fairfax and had only ridden the series of bike paths once before. Now that it was dark, how was I going to read the cue sheet directions? Fortunately I brought a bar mounted battery powered light as backup and used that to read the cue sheet I had in the top sleeve of my handlebar bag. I made my way through the towns and bike paths leading back to the Golden Gate bridge and realized I may not make the event time limit. I tried to pick up my pace. I was feeling it in my knees, but no cramping, so, all good.

On the final climb to the bridge and with time running out I wasn’t familiar with the exact route and the directions were not that simple. Then, out of nowhere, an older rider on a mountain bike zipped by me and went left, clearly headed towards the bridge. I followed him to the locked gate, he pressed the button and after a few seconds the gate opened with a loud buzzing and we proceeded across the two mile bridge span as the moon hung in the sky against the San Francisco skyline. Mid-span I had 10 minutes to go, I passed the mountain biker and went as quickly as I could, got through second gate. I asked the rider who caught-up with me at the gate, how to get to Crissy field and he directed me to the path. I followed the cue sheet directions and got down to Old Mason and back on the path along Crissy Field. In the dark it was hard to see East Beach, I got to Alviso, I had gone too far and checked my phone. A voice mail had been left checking my status. I had missed the cutoff time by ten minutes. I called the number gave an update, apologized for not calling sooner, he said some members were still at East Beach and about to leave, and I met up with them. They were extremely friendly, glad I was OK and very encouraging.

When I got receipts at Valley Ford and Point Reyes Station I realized the registers didn't print the correct time so, in an act of randonewbieness, I photographed my watch, which was basically, silly.

Valley Ford

Point Reyes Station

Then after I finished, in an endorphin induced euphoria, I wrote 18:40 instead the correct finish time of 20:40 on the brevet card, having finished at 8:40 in the evening

Even though I had very slow times, I made all the control cut-off times except the last one, so I knew the ride would not officially count. But I finished the 126.5 mile course and on a spectacular, unforgettable clear day. Afterwards, I rode back to CalTrain with the days journey lingering in my mind. No one could have experienced this day I had on a bike, while driving a car. Between the 200K brevet and riding to and from CalTrain, I rode just over 142 miles, the most I’d ever ridden in a single day.

Being my first brevet, I learned a lot. I knew from longer rides I’d done, it’s partly a mind game. Looking at the cue sheet and focusing on the next control point and time limit was helpful, breaking the ride down into manageable sections without being overwhelmed by the entire distance.

Next time I would do more long distance riding in preparation. Make sure the bike is completely dialed-in. Try to stay with the group and/or work with other riders to ride more efficiently trading off leads/drafts. Only bring what’s absolutely needed. Use a smaller handlebar bag. Go with lighter weight tires, I had used Panaracer Pasela TG tires, good and durable, but can be a bit sluggish. Bring an extra digital camera battery, a manual camera and lip balm.

With more training and better prep, I’ll definitely be back for more.