Saturday, May 24, 2014

SFR 600K, May 2014

My fourth time on this ride, considered by many to be the most difficult 600K in Northern California, owing to the likely headwinds (the ride heads NW into the spring prevailing wind direction), the amount of climbing (~20,000') and the logistical difficulties due to the remote nature of the 80 miles on CA 128 between Cloverdale in the US101 corridor and Ft. Bragg on CA 1 on the coast.

My first ride, in 2010, was on my old steel Dawes Galaxy and never written up in detail, although referenced briefly in the other writeups. The second ride was in 2011, the Paris-Brest-Paris year, and a qualifier for that, on the custom steel Waterford I had made for PBP. I wrote about that in a Facebook Note. In 2012, the year of Ride Across Britain, I rode it on the same bike, and blogged about it here. I would have ridden it in 2013 on my Bacchetta Aero recumbent, but family issues meant I missed the ride.

So to 2014. Having fallen out with the Bacchetta, I switched to Lightning recumbents which, amongst other things, are considered above-average climbers. On the flip-side, being less reclined, they don't have such an advantage in headwinds. Initially I was planning to do the ride on the P38 version that I will be using on this year's Ride Across Britain, but in the end decided to use the R84, which has the added virtue of being a few pounds lighter due to the carbon frame, and having a (limited) suspension system. I'd been doing quite a bit of hill climbing training on the R84 and was beginning to get some of my speed back.

Up at 3:45, breakfast, leave the house at 4:30, find somewhere to park in the Presidio, where they are slowly turning all the parking spots into paid 24hr limit. No difficulty this time, short ride to the start on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Lights check, reflective clothing check, get Brevet card and we are off at 6am. Beautiful calm morning with the sun coming up. The best time to be at the bridge, which is usually windswept and foggy. Unusually, I am the only recumbent rider today.

I enjoy the ride to Point Reyes, especially the new road surface through the state park, which used to be a real boneshaker. I'm about 15 minutes faster than the 200K in March and feeling stronger on the hills. First pit stop at the Bovine Bakery, mix the coffee with the Perpetuem and scarf down part of a Bear Claw pastry, eating the rest on the route to Petaluma. As I ride up the easy grade to the Nicasio reservoir, I notice the wind picking up. This does not augur well as it does not usually happen until much later in the day, and it means headwinds starting as soon as we turn north in Petaluma. After the control at the Safeway, where I do the usual load up on supplies, the wind is indeed blowing quite hard already. However, while the Lightning is not especially reclined, there is some benefit and I quickly drop a couple of riders.

I'm not that fond of the segment from Petaluma to Healdsburg as there is a lot of urban riding and stop signs, but I'm making good time. After Santa Rosa I come across a pelaton of riders stopped fixing a flat, most of whom I know quite well. I stop and chat but then ride on, confident that they will reel me in in due course, which they do. But then they get another flat! We end up arriving at Healdsburg Safeway at about the same time. Sushi, banana and chocolate milk for lunch and then off we go heading for Cloverdale. For a while I hang on at the back of the pelaton, but eventually decide that they are just a bit too fast for comfort, so I drop off. I stop briefly in south Cloverdale for an ice-cream and more water and, on the north side of town, spot the pelaton pulling out of a gas station; they probably were loading up supplies also for the long remote segment ahead, including the biggest climb of the day, to about 1200'.

The climb is fine, the wind is blocked by the hill and it's not hot like it so often is. Wonderful new road surface on Hwy 128 on the descent which continues all the way to Boonville. This section is long, over 20 miles, and the only place for supplies, the Yorkville Market and Deli, is sadly closed for renovation. It's endless rollers as the road oscillates constantly between 600 and 800 in elevation. Great final descent into Boonville, where I finally meet up with the pelaton again. They are stopped at a market, which is a bit puzzling as the SFR hosted "rest stop" is only five miles down the road at Indian Creek campground. I decide to push on. This is where the good road surface ends as the next few miles have only been scraped and "grooved" in preparation for resurfacing. The Lightning suspension is very helpful here, although the steering wanders due to the grooves. This is followed by a thankfully short segment of truly awful road that is hopefully next for resurfacing.

The rest stop at the campground is manned by very helpful volunteers and they rustle me up some pot noodles which taste great; getting a bit of a salt craving after so much sweetish stuff. Most people, in fact everyone but me as it turns out, will be riding back here from Fort Bragg in the wee hours. I plan to be back here by 8am and confirm that the volunteers will still be here at that time. So I just take the minimum from my drop bag, basically a change of clothes, and set off for the remaining 42 miles. Light is fading and it's very dark in the redwood forest, but at least there is no wind. The lead rider passes me coming back on this stretch. He is way ahead of anyone else. I realize he is about 70 miles ahead of me! [His total ride time ended up at 26hrs 22min].

I don't quite make the coast before dark and once up the hill onto the coastal bluffs, the wind is back, plus I need to put on my helmet light to help see around the corners. I get colder not moving so it's not too much later that I decide I need another layer. I pull over under a street light at a junction to do it and while I'm there a police car stops to ask me if I'm ok. Crazy yes, but ok. The next 10 miles or so to Mendocino have lots of quite steep rollers, as the road drop down to sea level at a river and then climbs back up. On one climb out, I hit a hairpin bend that is much steeper than I was expecting and, because it's dark, I didn't see it and I'm in the wrong gear, so I have to push hard to get around and feel my left hamstring twinge. I'm careful all the way to Fort Bragg and just a bit worried about it. Thankfully this section has been resurfaced since I last did the ride and that helps. I see lots of returning riders on this leg, of course, as I am pretty close to the back of the pack.

I arrive at Fort Bragg at about 10:30pm and check in at the hotel immediately. The restaurant closed at 9pm, unfortunately, but it's too late to eat a big meal anyway. So I empty my bag and cycle the couple of blocks to the Safeway, which is the control, and buy some food for tonight and tomorrow. Safeway's are open 24 hours, which is why they are popular control points, but there is only one cashier and very long line of people, including some other randonneurs. I do not envy them their three-plus hour ride back to the campground. I get some instant oatmeal for breakfast, bananas, and a quart of milk (deciding that a liquid dinner is the best choice), plus the all important receipt as proof of passage. Back at the hotel, the shower is incredibly rejuvenating and I am thirsty, downing nearly all the milk before hitting the sack. Ideally, I'd have been in bed by 10pm, giving me six hours sleep, but four will have to do. Tomorrow will be a long day. It was 181 miles today so that means 194 tomorrow.

I wake a bit before am, feeling ok. Get the instant oatmeal going in the microwave and some coffee. My hamstring feels ok, the rest evidently helped. It's going to be colder that last night so I put on all the layers and head out into the darkness at 4:30am, right on schedule. It's very calm and the run back to Mendocino is easy as the grades on the long rollers are slight. The downgrades on the steeper rollers on the next section emphasize how cold it really is, with the added wind chill. The Garmin is reading in the low 40s (5-6C). Dawn rises on this section with nice views off to the right of the Pacific Ocean. There is something magical about riding at dawn, it's still and quiet. I just wish it was a bit warmer! As I drop down to sea level and the 128 turn off, the temperature drops into the 30s and I know it isn't likely to warm up in the cover of the redwood forest. Indeed, inland it is foggy which is blocking out the rising sun. I still have about two hours riding before I reach the campground. My hands are getting pretty uncomfortable despite the wool inners and the full finger outers with the nylon finger covers. But then I discover another benefit of the recumbent; I can easily ride one handed and warm up the other by sitting on it! The temperature slowly drops, until it reaches a low of 35F just before I reach the campground. I'm slightly ahead of schedule as it's not quite 8am.

The volunteers are packing up, but they have saved me some coffee, which goes down a treat. I load up my remaining food supplies (mostly bags of Hammer Perpetuem mix), drop off yesterday's clothes into my drop bag, which I will pick up at the end of the ride, and bid them farewell. The last rider left the camp about 6:30 so I'm not likely to meet anyone for the rest of the day. The sun is now climbing fast and burning off the fog and I sense it's going to be a bit warmer than yesterday. Having successfully navigated the road works, I'm back in Boonville and the temperature has risen to 12C (54F) so I decide it's time to lose some clothing for the upcoming climbs.

I call Jenny to let her know how I'm doing. I really enjoy the ride into Cloverdale; truly riding doesn't get much better than this. The temperature is comfortable, the road surface is good, there is very little traffic, the hills are still green and I am riding through a truly beautiful valley.

The descent off 128 is fun, especially as I'm not bothered by traffic, and so into Cloverdale where I stop at Starbucks for breakfast, although by now it's closer to lunch. When I first did this ride, I got here at 5am after riding through the night. Back then this was a timed control and it closed at 8am so there really was no option. Now there are two info controls a bit further on and the only timed control is at Point Reyes at 6pm. Still I'm going to have to hustle to make that as it's 80 miles away. I notice some other randonneurs sitting outside the Starbucks only to discover that they have given up. I remember passing them fairly early yesterday and they must have had a hard time in the wind. So they are waiting for relatives to come pick them up. I eat two breakfast sandwiches, fill up another bottle of Perpetuem, with the remains of my Mocha thrown in, and head off towards Healdsburg.

Not far down the road I notice my Garmin has a blank screen. Duh! I know it's not out of battery as I've been charging it, but I can't get it back to life. It starts up ok but then immediately goes blank. I discover after the ride that I had hit the well known (but not be me!) "track full" bug which happens around 260 miles. I should have reset it at Fort Bragg. The bad news is that the first info control is an archway with an inscription that I have to find at around mile 274 and I won't know where that is now. Indeed, I do miss it. I text a couple of riders ahead of me hoping they can give me the answer, but they don't get back to me until after the ride ends! It turns out that lots of riders missed it, so I just fill it in on the brevet card at the end.

Westside Rd pass the vineyards is nice, even if the road surface leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, it's still early enough that there aren't many cars on wine tasting outings. The weather is definitely warmer and the wind is less today so there are a lot of people on 116 through Guerneville either heading for the coast or a day on the Russian River. Guerneville Safeway is another info control where I have to find the price per lb of bananas! 79 cents is the answer. The clock is ticking and, having ridden the next segments many time, I know I can't let up the pace if I am going to make the 6pm control. I'm happy to get off 116 at Monte Rio and start the climb up the Bohemian Highway to Occidental, then descend into Valley Ford meeting back up with Hwy 1. I usually stop here but not this time. There are two tough but short 12% climbs on the next section with a great straight descent into Tomales. It's interesting that, although I am definitely not climbing as fast as I used to on my upright, since I started spinning at 90+ with my new low gearing, I find hills quite a bit less stressful. After Tomales is the "wind tunnel" in the estuary. It doesn't seem to matter what direction the wind is, there always seem to be swirling headwinds by the river. Then it's back onto the coastal rollers, diving down to sea level and back up 100-200' feet to the headland, rinse and repeat all the way to Marshall, where it flattens for a while. There are some steep 12% grades on some if these rollers and just before Marshall I overdo it one one climb, all because I'm worried about the time, and feel a twinge in my right hip flexor. I stop at Marshall for a pee and take stock. It's just before 5pm so I have enough time to make the control, but I am seriously annoyed with myself as it is clear that I have strained the hip flexor. The question is how much and how it's going to affect me.

So after going too fast, I now have to slow down and take it easy. Normally I like this segment but today is the worst experience ever. The roads are full of Bay Area drivers who have been taking in the oyster and chowder places and in a rush to get home. They have absolutely no clue how to deal with bikes on narrow roads. Personally I blame the ubiquitous use of bike lanes in the urban areas. It encourages the mental model of "I always overtake a bike, we are in separate lanes". So in the "country" with substandard width lanes, and no shoulder either, these folks don't adapt, they still assume they can overtake whatever. Several times yesterday cars coming the other direction blared their horn because drivers overtaking me were almost over the double yellow (At least those were giving me 3 ft, unlike a lot of them). These guys don't even slow down. Car coming, blind corner? - no worries, I'm feeling "lucky". The solution, as the "Cyclists as Drivers" advocates would say is to "take the lane". There were times when I did that, always on a fast descent. But you need a seriously thick skin. Yesterday after taking the lane on a 25mph curve descent, I waved the car behind on as soon as I could see it was clear and a car three back, blared his horn when he passed, presumably for me having the temerity to hold him up even for a few seconds. Taking the lane on an uphill with bends seems inherently dangerous given the racetrack speeds these folks are moving at. Share the road indeed.

I make the control at Point Reyes with 20 minutes to spare. It's an open control so any receipt will do. I usually just stop at the gas station on the way in, grab some water and chocolate and mosey off. Now I can relax a bit as the timings are based on a 10mph minimum speed and I'm confident that I can do that, even slightly lame. I'd like to be in by 9pm but given my condition it's more likely to be 9:30. There are some more hills on the way in, but I know them well, having done this segment dozens of times. Happily my hip flexor has benefited from my slow-mo ride into Point Reyes, and feels better on the way out, but I'm definitely not going to push it. Darkness falls on the Camino Alto climb at the end of the urban segment through the Marin towns. Tricky and bumpy descent in the dark, very glad to have the helmet light to see into the bends. Then the bumpy ride across the tidal marsh on the bike path and into Sausalito. A few hours ago this was no doubt a zoo but it's quite now. Just the final, brutal, climb up to the Golden Gate and then a nice peaceful ride on the "pedestrian" side of the bridge because it's after dark. Arrived at the control at the bridge plaza at 9:37pm and two rather cold volunteers are very glad to see me as they can now go home! I am definitely the lantern rouge!

Happy to find my car still parked where I left it in the Presidio. Have to fight the sleepiness a bit on the way home, so loud music and lots of air is good. My eyes are really quite sore I realize, from two days of wind. It's been a good ride and I'm happy that I finally managed to pull off the plan of sleeping at Fort Bragg. However, I think this may be my last 600K. They take an enormous toll on the body and I'm not quite fast enough to make the logistics comfortable. Maybe if I can raise my average speed 2-3mph I might reconsider, but I've been trying to do that for a while and mostly going in the wrong direction.