Late April, but the weather forecast was for a hot weekend, with temperatures climbing into the 90s in the area we were riding into. Not auspicious as I don't handle heat very well, having grown up in the temperate, mostly cool climate of England. One bonus however, was the glorious start crossing the Golden Gate bridge, normally a cold and foggy place, but this day clear and warm with great views of the sun starting to ride over Angel Island and the East Bay.
I'm quickly dropped by the fast riders and settle into my new role of being in the slow group. It's quite cold as usual in the Nicasio Valley but warms up as we head towards the first control at Bodega, a mere 63 miles away. I'm happy I have the CamelBak. The views heading out into the Marin countryside are absolutely wonderful and it just a great day to be on the bike. Somewhat to my surprise I actually catch up with one of my cycling buddies, Alex Plumb, and he takes my picture for Facebook! I know this area pretty well and the road through Chileno Valley is one of my favorites, especially in Spring. I firmly believe that Marin and Sonoma counties have the best variety of riding in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have the money to maintain the roads.
There are still a few people at the store in Bodega including famous female randonneur Kitty Goursolle who is sporting her Paris-Brest-Paris jersey. I still haven't worn mine yet and realize, as Kitty points out, that this would have been a good debut as it mostly white and so good in the heat that is yet to come. The store has some great "home made" pastries, one of which I indulge in along with a chocolate milk. One of the great things about endurance riding is that you can eat almost anything
Next up is a very steep climb up Joy ("joyless") road. Half way up I have an "equipment" problem in that my saddle bag has somehow slipped in its mount on my saddle. It turns out that the bracket has bent but I manage to get it tight enough to hold up for the rest of the ride. No doubt the bumpy roads have something to do with this. I had no problems on PBP with more weight, but the French roads were much better. I count myself lucky it could have come loose in a worst situation.
After the next control at the Safeway in the Russian River town of Guerneville, it starts to heat up noticeably. One nice thing is that Westside Road has been resurfaced, apart from one short but still awful section. I'm wondering of this has anything to do with the Tour of California coming to these parts in May. By the time I get to the turn off for Dutcher Creek en route to Cloverdale I've been hydrating so well I've actually drained my Camelbak and my one Perpetuem bottle is almost empty (and warm). Of course, there are no stores when you need one, just lots of wineries. I finally decide to visit one to cadge some water As I cross the road another rider comes in the other direction and I mention my situation and he offers me his half full water bottle as he is just about to finish. Ordinarily I wouldn't do that for health reasons that but I'm desperate so I gratefully accept. Cloverdale is one more climb over the ridge, where I fall into the air conditioned Starbucks for some much needed refreshment.
Now comes the hard part. The climb on 128 over the ridge to get to the Mountain House Road that will take us to the turn around at Hopland. The temperature is well into the 90's by now. Fortunately there is some shade on the climb at this point in the afternoon and this time of year. The climb has two false summits, the last of which is, thankfully, after the Mountain House turnoff. There is a gravel section early on Mountain House to watch out for. There are several similar too this on the Terrible Two route and I'm puzzled why they are not paved - they don't look anything special, just like they forgot to pave them. If they were really unstable I would expect the gravel surface to be a lot, well, less flat. It is after this that I get one of my bad moments on the bike because my mental memory of the road does not match reality. I though this was a straight descent to Hopland whereas in fact it descends to a valley and then climbs again before descending. It's hellish hot with no shade and I have to keep stopping. It's beautiful country, I just wish it wasn't so hot! Eventually the real descent begins and close to the bottom, on an short uphill stretch, I come across an SFR rider who is walking his bike. Turns out he has stomach issues and can't keep anything down. He seems ok to walk/cruise it into Hopland and sure enough he arrives not long after me and phones his wife to arrange a pick up. She has a long way to come from San Jose!
Several other randos, notable Alex Plumb and Roland Bevan are already in the gas station market, which actually has seating, but are getting ready to leave. I take a decent rest and even indulge in a slice of Pepperoni Pizza. I sort of remember the way out of Hopland, but it's been two years and the road I am pretty sure I should take does not have the same name as that on the cue sheet. So I call the day of event contact to check. My intuition was right but not before I had explored the other alternative for a mile or so. The route back basically links up with Hwy 101 and there is an eight mile section of it to negotiate. It's mostly downhill, and with a wide shoulder separated by a rumble strip from the speeding cars. The trick is not to lose focus and drift into the rumble strip as that can be a real shock to the system. Eventually 101 becomes a freeway again and we branch off onto another side road and head back into Cloverdale. I wasn't planning to stop, but it's a long way to Santa Rosa, and still in the 80's at 7:30pm, so I visit the gas station market again and load up my Camelbak with more water. I know the first section to Geyserville really well and it's mostly flat with just a few rollers around Asti. There's an Uck! moment as the light fails and I get covered with small insects. Important to ride with the mouth firmly closed for a while! At Geyserville we turn off the direct route to Santa Rosa and head towards the hills and then track the edge of the valley heading south. It's dark now, so I'm on the dynamo and helmet headlight. I can't help remembering that two years ago I made it all the way to Santa Rosa in daylight. Unlike the direct route, this variant climbs Chalk Hill before dropping back into Windsor. The route actually bypasses Santa Rosa center to the West by taking Fulton off the Old Redwood Highway. Much to my surprise the temperature is dropping like a rock, down into the 50s from the 80s at Cloverdale, and I actually have to stop to put on the arm and leg warmers and the jacket.
It's a long, mostly flat, run into Petaluma, but I'm getting very tired and all the usual suspects, neck, shoulders, hands and butt are getting sore. Several times I tell myself I am never again going to ride more than 200K in a day. Finally I arrive at the Safeway in Petaluma, where I run into the same group who were at Cloverdale, including the guy who was planning to quit. It turned out that he started to feel a lot better and since his wife was going to take a long time to get there, he decided to keep riding and, once the temperature cooled off, felt much better. I'm not sure how he got past me, though. It's in the upper 40's now and I am so glad I made the decision to stay a few hours in the hotel which, conveniently, is right across the street from Safeway. The idea of another 3-4 hours into San Francisco, which faces the other riders, does not appeal at all.
The hotel shower is incredibly rejuvenating and I try to eat some food before settling down for what will only be about 4 hours rest as I figure I need to leave at 5am to be sure of making the finish by the cutoff at 9am. It's, of course, event slightly colder at 5am, but I don't feel it as much thanks to the rest. There are three climbs out of Petaluma before the turnoff to Nicasio. It stays dark pretty much until descend the second hill into Hicks Valley. There is something special about the early morning light, and today there is patchy low-lying fog to add to the mystique. I'm making good time and, knowing this section so well, figure an 8:30 arrival. It's a pleasant ride all the way to Sausalito where, suddenly, I enter that special place where the wind blows hard and the fog is thick, quite unlike the calm of yesterday morning. It's truly a battle to fight the wind up to the Golden Gate and the bridge crossing is super windy. Fortunately the bridge is missing its usual plethora of tourists on foot and on bike. The diehard volunteers at the finish control, including my friend Brian Kilgore are, I'm sure pleased to see me so that they can wrap up and go home. I am most definitely the last finisher.
I'm nowhere near as tired as I would be had I not slept, but I'm evidently not at my best. I manage to get distracted talking to a rider who pulls into the parking lot next to me and forget that I haven't put my front wheel in the car, and then proceed to drive over it. Fortunately it's not completely trashed, particularly the dynamo hub, but it's definitely well bent. So a bittersweet end to what has been a pretty successful adventure.