Monday, June 18, 2012

SFR 600K

Next up and then final component of a Super Randonneur Brevet series is the 600K. The San Francisco 600K is considered one of the toughest. I've done it twice before in 2010 and 2011.

The 2010 ride was a tour de force, which I never blogged about. I rode it on my ancient Dawes Galaxy because at the time it was the only bike I had that could accommodate the amount of gear I needed to carry. Based on my fast 400K that year and advice from more experienced randonneurs, I booked a shared hotel room in Cloverdale at mile 260, hoping I'd get there about 1-2am. Ha! As it turned out I didn't arrive until 5:15am, with the sun coming up, after a very cold and dark ride through the Anderson Valley. So I decided to keep riding. I did ok until the final run in from Point Reyes, where, as the temperature rose, I found even the smallest hill a major struggle, requiring rests at the bottom and top. Still I finished in 34 hours without any sleep. Never again though!

In 2011, where Paris-Brest-Paris qualification was on the line, I booked a hotel room in the Anderson Valley at about mile 225. Not easy as there are very limited options, but I got lucky. Arrived about 1:30am and got a few hours sleep. The Sunday ride was, by comparison with 2010, much more pleasant.

So to 2012. This time I decided to stay in Ft Bragg, which is the half way point of the ride and, therefore, the rational place to stop on what is essentially a two day ride. Plenty of accommodation and food options. The problem is that the rules for randonneuring are not rational. Even though the Cloverdale control had been made an "info" control, thus having no associated time limit, the next control was timed and I concluded that I would need to get up and start riding at 2am to make the control. The decision to start the ride an hour earlier to minimize a clash with the Tour de California which was racing on part of the route on Sunday didn't help matters. Essentially, the timing for a 600K makes no provision for a sleep stop; the clock ticks at the same rate as a 200K and the total time allowed is just 3 times the 200K time. Make of that what you will but I think it's a serious safety issue.

The heat index was lower than it had been for the 400K but it was still plenty warm by the time I got to Cloverdale. I was riding pretty well and enjoying it. Boonville was a lively scene as they were holding their annual beer festival. Given that, I was surprised to see that the Andersen Valley Inn, where I had stayed last year, was advertising a vacancy. I actually went in and checked the rate, but it was their biggest room and at $180 for what would be at most a few hours, I decided against. The endless rollers on 128 were getting to me, but I was still in good shape by the time I reached the campground near the coast where SFR has a staffed rest stop with food and drink, and access to a drop bag. Incredibly after being so warm, the temperature dived within a couple of miles after leaving the campground and I had to stop and put on the leg and arm warmers. It got steadily worse and the coast was completely fogged in, making for a cold and rather miserable ride up to Fort Bragg. With about 180 miles on my legs I was ready for a rest and it was very nice knowing that I was heading to my hotel whereas the other riders at the Safeway control faced a cold and damp ride back to the campground and possibly beyond. Some riders stay at the campground but as it has no running water or proper restrooms I don't find the idea at all appealing. Others crash in the Post Office at Boonville and yet more push on to Cloverdale as I had attempted in 2010. Ok if you are a fast rider.

It was great getting a shower at the hotel and then having a nice meal at the on site restaurant. In truth I have decided I am more of a tour style rider than a true randonneur. Still I rose at 4am and was on the road at 5am because my goal was to finish within the time limit even if I missed the internal controls. It was still cold and drizzly. Several miles up the road I realized that I had not turned on my rear light, not that it mattered as I hadn't see a car yet. So I pulled over and, amazingly spot a large set of keys, by the side of the road. They have no identification, but I take them anyway with some notion that I can reconnect them with their owner.

By the time I reach the campground again I am really quite cold and it's great to be able to warm up by the fire and get some hot food. As "luck" would have it I felt my front tire going squishy on the run in and sure enough I have a slow puncture, and with help from Roland Bevan I replace the tube. I'm annoyed to find that one of my spare tubes is for a 650 wheel (for our tandem) but thankfully they have a spare to lend me. I'm surprised to see Gabrielle Frieldly and Peg Miller, who arrived just before me. It turns out that they also stayed in Ft. Bragg at the same hotel as me, having got there quite late and being very cold, couldn't face turning round and riding back in the dark. They decide to quit as, like me, there is no way they can make the time cutoff at the Guerneville control.

The weather improves as I leave the coast further behind but my front tire flats again about five miles out. Good thing I borrowed the spare tube. It turns out that a redwood seed got trapped inside the tire while changing the tube and the little sharp point at the end eventually made its mark. After replacing the tube I patch the failed one in case I get another flat, something I've never had to do before. All this adds time and, as usual on this stretch, I'm only making the minimum average speed of 10mph. There are lots of hung over beer festival attendees going home which makes the ride less enjoyable than usual as the road has no shoulder and it quite twisty as well as up and down.

By the time I reach Cloverdale, and hit the Starbucks for some refreshment, I calculate that I almost certainly can't make the finish time following the official route. That extra hour which got me into Ft Bragg at 8pm instead of the usual 9pm had me staying there too long. Since I want to pick up my drop bag I decide to do a straight shot through Petaluma rather than the official coast route via Point Reyes. It all goes to plan and I arrive at the Golden Gate 15 minutes inside the finish time at 8:45pm. Unfortunately, the volunteers have all left already. My fault as I failed to communicate properly that, despite a technical DNF, I would be finishing the ride.

I'm slightly disappointed that I didn't ride the whole course, but at 580km for two days I felt I achieved my training objective. However, based on this experience I have decided to drop out of the SFR 1000K in June as three days of this kind of mileage is just too much at the moment, and more than I need, since this year's main goal is the Ride Across Britain, which is nine days with average daily distance of 105 miles.

A postscript on the keys. It took me a week to get my drop bag back, where I had stashed the keys at the campground. I was able to track the owners through a library card on the keyring. They had left the keys on the roof of their car in downtown Ft Bragg and then drove off (presumably using another set). Amazing how far they got before they fell off!

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