Finally after the months of build up, the day arrives. We're done fund raising, in a difficult year, so all that remains is the actual ride of 150 miles from San Francisco to Healdsburg over two days. Since I am riding this with Jenny on the tandem, it's equivalent to back to back century rides on my single bike.
On Friday I check the weather forecast and see they are predicting showers for Sunday afternoon. Not what I wanted to hear as it might spoil the the end of ride festivities at Lake Sonoma. What they don't predict is the thunderstorm that wakes me at 4am on Saturday morning. Not a good omen. We're up at 5:30 and on our way to San Francisco just after 6am, to the new starting venue at UCSF Mission Bay campus. We are treated to a fine lightning display as we drive north, which looks nice but is a bit unsettling for the ride prospects. The UCSF campus isn't quite as convenient as last year's AT&T parking lot, as it's a lot more congested and has a parking garage. We are fortunate to have a VIP parking pass due to being in the top 150 fund raisers last year, which allows us to avoid the garage, but the VIP lot is tight and almost full already. We see Mary Jo in the same lot, but it's clearly going to be tricky meeting up with the rest of the team. Cell phones do have their uses! We dump our bags on the truck that will drive up to tent village in Cotati.
The teams get a head start and can leave at 7am but, after finally coalescing as a team, we don't get off until 7:15, riding through a fairly narrow causeway onto the streets. Then it's along the waterfront all the way to the Golden Gate bridge. It's not raining but the road is wet and there are plenty of slippery metal hazards on the roads. There are a lot of cyclists; some 2000 registered for the event, a few probably got put off by the weather.
Already the endless parade of cyclists fixing flats has begun; it's always worse in the wet. With the number of riders out and the wet conditions, the path up to the Golden Gate bridge is pretty tricky, especially for the tandem's long wheelbase. I'm glad to get off the bridge. which is over a mile long, as we are constantly being buzzed by faster single riders and there are tricky, slippery, chicanes at the towers. We enjoy the descent into Sausalito and, as typically happens on the tandem, pass a few singles. It seems they have moved the rest stop this year from the mudflat next to Mike's Bikes to a big parking lot a bit further on. This is much better, there are lots of portaloos (crucial for the first rest stop!) and the food is better than last year (so they did hear my feedback)! We lost everybody on the team on the ride to here but meet up with those not doing the 100 mile option, who have raced ahead. In particular we pickup John Pither whose goal evidently is to draft the tandem for as long as he can, which turns out to be the entire two days.
Thunder is rumbling again and I wonder what the next section over the hills to the coast is going to be like. Fortunately it's early, and the weather is not encouraging for a beach day, so traffic is reasonably light, which is good, as the ascent to Ridgeway is really twisty and narrow. We meet Lego Andy, who I rode with on the Solvang double century (it was the first double for both of us), on the way wearing his Tivo ears. Andy is doing the 100 mile option, of course. I'll probably ride some with him next week at the Knoxville double so we part company today. The climb is long enough to get the heart pumping and as we near the crest the clouds come down and the wind picks up; altogether unpleasant. We stop for me to put my jacket back on and head off down to Mill Valley. Once off the top the conditions improve and the road is actually dry so it's fun. After passing the Pelican Inn, the closest thing to an English country pub that I know of in these parts, we start the steepest climb of the ride up to the coastal ridge. It starts raining again but eases off quickly. This climb has some 10%+ sections of grade and it's longer than I remember and I call the summit too soon, to the chagrin of Jenny and John. Most single riders would pass us on the hills even if they match our speed on the flat, but John elects to stay behind us up the hills also, to avoid going too fast and blowing up.
Once on the ridge, it's rollers for a couple of miles before the descent into Stinson Beach. This is usually fast and a lot of fun but today the road is very wet at this point and my legs get covered in dirty road spray and we have to take it slow on the bends. John is honing his downhill drafting skills. There has evidently been an accident at the stop sign in Stinson, but we can't see what happened. The Stinson Beach rest stop is in the beach parking lot and, unlike last year when they had run out of pretty much everything, they are well stocked. We must have been right at the back of the pack last year because there seem to be a lot more riders around us this year.
Long ride from here to Point Reyes with lots of rollers and just one significant climb through Dogtown and then past the section where Garland crashed last year. John is still drafting. We nearly get cut up by the tail rider on a fast moving paceline that is too close for my comfort. On the section between Olema and Point Reyes we experience the seemingly obligatory bad interaction with a car. Sadly ironic because Jenny had earlier expressed the hope that we could get through the day without such an incident. We're approaching a slower rider and in my mirror I can see two cars close together behind, then a gap to a third car. I make the judgement that we can pass the slow rider in the gap. As we draw level the rider calls out "Car back"(she is wearing a mirror also). We pull past and in and the car now blows his horn as he overtakes and then the passenger leans out and screams "%^$#*&! ride single file". His tattoos are scary. I foolishly escalate the confrontation by giving the guy the finger. Darn male hormones! Jenny says the slow rider called out "asshole" and was sure that she was referring to me and not the car. We argue about whether the incident was my fault or not all the way to Point Reyes. My opinion is that the car occupants weren't keen on cyclists period and had become increasingly frustrated over the course of several miles passing the endless stream of cyclists some of whom, it must be said, were riding two abreast even when not overtaking.
Although it's still early, I wish the Point Reyes rest stop was the lunch stop as it's over halfway, but we have lots more rollers to deal with before that. The 100 mile route peels off here following the Mt Tam double route inland and onto the Marshall wall. Since it also includes another 2000' of climbing it adds about 3 hours to ther ride, and we are not ready for that, so we stay on the 75 mile route along the coast. Eventually we arrive at the lunch stop, where it was sunny last year and very picturesque on Tomales Bay. Not so today, as it's still overcast. The burrito is a bit dense and uninteresting but real food is welcome.
Only twenty miles to go now as we head inland on the Tomales-Petaluma road which has been paved since last year and is much improved as a result. A couple of steep climbs but we have a tail wind and make great time to the last rest stop. It's almost not worth stopping but Jenny's getting a bit saddle sore so any opportunity to stop is welcome. The final run in seems very fast and we arrive at the tent city in Cotati just before 3pm. The cool weather really helped on the stretch after lunch which would normally be pretty hot. John drafted us the whole way.
Last year we were so tired we just went straight to the hotel but this year we are going to shower in the amazing shower trucks (what a great invention), and enjoy the free food and wine, after parking the bike in the bike corral. Team Sun has again raised enough money to get a shade tent with tables and chairs, but sadly we don't have a banner this year. We are right between Tivo and Google. No sign of the 100 milers yet, so we hang out drinking, eating and chatting. It's partly sunny here and very comfortable.
Thomas and Shannon show up around 5pm having completed the 100 mile route but by then we are ready for the hotel and some R&R. The hotel shuttle takes forever as our hotel is the last on the loop. Remembering the panic last year for the morning shuttle, I decide to try to extract a ride from John as payment for letting him draft us all day and he agrees to pick us up at 7am.
Total Ride Time: 7:32
On bike time: 6:09
Distance: 78 miles
Average speed: 12.6mph
Knowing that we don't have to worry about the shuttle allows us to have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. On the way back in the car Mary Jo calls to tell us that they are stuck at their hotel sitting in a shuttle that isn't even going to leave for 15 minutes, so they likely will miss the team photo at 7:40. I'm almost embarrassed to tell her that we are in John's car, especially as it turns out that they were staying at the same hotel.
We drop off our bags again and pick up the bike. I'm always a teeny bit nervous that the bike will not be there! Unfortunately, as feared, Mary Jo doesn't quite make it in time for the photo slot. The weather looks promising as we roll out just before 8am, and I predict a sunny day. Ha!
Day 2 is quite a bit faster than Day 1 as there is less hard climbing. However, there are endless rollers even on the notionally flat sections. John discovers his rear tire is a bit soft and only has time to pump it up a bit before we leave. He's hoping for a foot pump at the first rest stop and possible a tube change, but no luck. The sun comes out for 30 seconds, which turns out to be it for the day.
Indeed, it starts to drizzle as we leave the rest stop and it's quite chilly. Pretty hilly segment to next rest stop, which is at the bottom of a descent, making for scary bike interactions. John still drafting. As we are leaving, Mary Jo's husband Steve has to avoid a wandering bike and crashes into some bikes laying on the ground. It looks bad for him and the bike but miraculously no damage to either.
A short uphill and then fast downhill follows the rest stop and we nearly touch 40mph and lose John who then has to work had to keep with us on the fast flat section that follows. Then it's more rollers along the ridge into Sebastopol for lunch on the green. Like the burrito yesterday the lunch sandwich is very plain, quite nostalgic for us English in fact, just bread and meat. I'm converted to the US sandwich by now and miss the extras, finding it quite hard to swallow. The faster riders in our group are still here but take off before we do. John finally gets his rear tube replaced by the mechanic. Since it looks like rain we don't dally and set off towards the Russian River through more pretty countryside and lots more rollers. John is still drafting. The next rest stop is just past the single track bridge over the Russian River where, incredibly, we meet up with a tandem team that we met at exactly the same rest stop last year.
Now it's the final run along Dry Creek Valley, which is covered in vineyards. Although the valley is very flat, the road runs along the edge and as a result has plenty of small rollers to contend with. Some people love these and some people hate them. I'm ok with them provided I can stand and power over the top, but if they start to feel like real hills I'm less enthused. They are definitely more of a nuisance on the tandem than a single. John is still drafting but as we make a left turn almost loses his rear wheel and discovers that the rear tire has flatted again. So we replace the tube, getting pretty grimy in the process. The final rest stop, which is not really necessary as it's only 8 miles from the finish, is off the main road at a winery in the middle of the valley. It's nice enough to make the trip. We discover Rick, who never misses an opportunity to sit, lounging in the Clif Bar chairs and we join him for a while.
The final run in is pretty fast but it starts to rain about 2 miles out and doesn't stop this time. This is not just a shower. It's ironic; this is one of the hottest places normally but it has rained two out of the three times I have been here this year and almost rained on the third (the Terrible Two). Note that John is still drafting.
Total ride time: 7:06
On bike time: 5:25
Distance: 74 miles
Average speed: 13.7 mph
Immediately on arrival at the finish we load the tandem on the truck for delivery back to San Francisco and hit the shower trucks. Or should I say truck. For some reason there is only one this year, leading to a 20 minute wait for the men but, in a reverse of the normal bathroom situation, no line for the women.
The end of ride festivities are a bit damp, but they have big tents to keep out either the sun or the rain, and the food and beer is good. Then its time to load up on the coaches for the ride back to San Francisco. It rains pretty much the whole way so clearly we were lucky that the rain didn't start earlier. A slight downer on arrival at at UCSF as our bike is still on the truck and we have to wait about 30 minutes. Fortunately there is a coffee bar open that is doing good business. The ride home on 101 isn't fun as it's raining hard and drivers are still driving like it's dry. There's one truly frightening section just after SFO where there are no cat-eyes and I can barely see the white lines and have a really hard time staying in my lane. Then two semi-trucks overtake me, while drifting out of their lane and completely blind us with spray. Mercifully the cat-eyes return and we survive the ride and get home about 8:30.