This ride happened at the end of February so it's taken me quite awhile to post the ride report. I tend to go a bit overboard on ride reports... apologies on that.
The first brevet on the schedule was the Pierce Point 200 km. This was a replacement for the Lighthouse 200 km, for which SFR was unable to get a permit this year. I hadn't realized they got permits for brevets, assuming the it was just fair use of the roads and was essentially below the radar for that sort of thing. But they do: parks tend to require them (the right of cyclists to be on the roads for whatever reason carries more strength on local roads), and Pt Reyes National Seashore, being national parkland, would be a hassle. The reason for denial had something to do with a tourist bus not wanting to encounter cyclists on the road. Damn cyclists: getting in the way of "real" nature lovers.
But I wasn't disappointed. I'd gone hiking at Pierce Point with Cara, and knew it was spectacular, with elk herds running in the hills. I was really looking forward to the route.
Everything went smoothly at the start. I even won a pair of SFR socks for having the highest RUSA number (I'd just signed up -- my brevets in the 1990's were at the dawn of RUSA and I didn't sign up then). I didn't have a reflective vest or reflective bands on my legs, but with the twilight rollout and no problem anticipated for finishing before sundown, they weren't required. We were issued route cards, but no route sheets to my surprise. I had my handlebar bag ready to go with its route sheet sleeve, but since I had no route sheet, I put the card there. Fortunately I'd loaded the GPS for the route on my Garmin Edge 500, and I'd ridden most of the roads many times before.
This was 200 km, not 300, and I felt I would be able to ride at a certain pace for that distance. I was absolutely not going to go into the red. That was forbidden. But that didn't mean I had to spin at recovery pace, either. Brevets are timed events, and so everything else being equal, it's better to finish quicker than slower.
Any secret hopes of riding with the front group were destroyed from the start. I'd started too far from the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge path, and a position near the back across the Golden Gate Bridge meant that the leaders would be long gone: it would have taken an heroic chase to catch them, and I simply wasn't willing to put out that sort of effort. But this was also a relief, because I didn't have the training volume to get in some sort of mad paceline for 200 km of rolling hills.
The route took us out to Francis Drake via a fairly cononical path, which meant over Camino Alto and White's Grade. I was in a group with Sindy, a rider I'd not seen before, who had covered her face in opaque sunscreen. This made her very easy to spot. She was riding out of the saddle at the bottom of the climbs, then fading towards the top. I thought if she rode a steadier pace she would get to the top quicker.
We reached the usual turn-off for Nicasio (Nicasio Valley Road) but the route continued straight on Drake. This caused some confusion with the rider next to me but I had studied the route beforehand so I didn't even need to look at my Garmin for confirmation. Not that it could provide it -- the line drawing on the Garmin doesn't distinguish between outgoing and incoming routes and since we were going to return on Nicasio Valley Road the display didn't provide any obvious info on the correct way.
A few years ago Drake provided a very bumpy ride near Samuel Taylor Park, but the road is in excellent shape now. Westward the grade is net negative, so maintaining speed is easy. I found myself dropping back from the rider I'd been with to a slower trailing group, not wanting to hammer this section since 200 km was a long ride for me, my longest of the year.
The route passed through Olema, Bear Creek, then back to Drake as it continues out to Point Reyes. I found myself with various riders along the way here, for example Sindy passed me when I was at the side of the road on Bear Creek. I caught up to her, though, and we rode together to Pierce Point. This is where the route deviated from the old Lighthouse route, and not long after the hills of Pierce Point Road split us up.
Pierce Point provided some wonderful riding, surprisingly steep rollers to the check-point at the trailhead. Along the way I passed some of the elk for which Pierce Point is well known.
Approaching Pierce Point checkpoint (Deb Ford photo)
When I arrived to get my route card signed, Peter Chang was there and proposed riding together. The fact he was here was remarkable: he's a lot stronger than I am. But he'd flatted three times on the way out. I knew riding with him wasn't going to work out well for me, so I headed out solo. Sure enough he passed me definitively, up one of the steeper grades of the many rolling hills along the way, riding his fixed gear at obscenely low cadence.
So I had to let Peter go. Back to Drake, then eventually back to Point Reyes Station.... 100 km in. It was here that the trouble began. I was running on empty. What?
I stopped at the market in Point Reyes Station and got my usual: a bag of mixed "natural" fruit bar cookies (fig bars, rasberry bars, all with whole wheat flour and w/o the hydrogenated fats and corn syrup which contaminates Fig Newtons). At this point I knew I would be running the rest of the way on fumes, not a fun prospect for 100 more kilometers. When out of gas, eat, drink, and you'll be able to forge ahead. But the mid-to-top end is likely gone for good, at least until end-game adrenaline kicks in.
After munching some bars, I felt I was overstaying my welcome so left the store. After a brief mini-panic where the owner of the market had moved my bike because he thought it was blocking his outdoor produce stand, despite the fact I'd locked it with a flimsy cable lock (obviously I'd not closed the lock properly), I found the bike and rolled off. After a slight deviation to the water fountain near the public toilets, I had another micro-crisis when the Garmin refused to acknowledge me as back on course. I backtracked to the market and still no luck, so set off on the way the route sheet indicated. Eventually the Garmin announced I was back on course.
As I said, I was running on fumes. Ah, I knew the feeling all too well: every pedal stroke a chore, no untapped reserves to go at more than a slow grind, perceived effort the same for speeds approximately 5 kph slower. "Just keep pedaling", words echoing in my head from Paia, Maui, when faced with the daunting obstacle of Haleakala. This was no Haleakala, but the feeling was similar.
This was an out-and-back section of the course, past Marshall (and the intersection with Marshall-Petaluma Road, which begins with the infamous "Marshall Wall") and further 4.2 miles to Nick's Cove. If there's one place where I'd want to hang out to stamp brevet cards, Nick's Cove has to be up there. Rob Hawks, the promoter, was sitting there in a lawn chair with a nice view of the bay, chatting with a rider wearing a Seattle Randonneurs blue wool jersey (the club of the famous Jan Heine). I checked in and out quickly and was on my way.
The way back south along Highway 1 was substantially easier due to four factors. One was psychological: for the first time I was unambiguously heading home. There wasn't any longer the option of turning back and taking a shortcut. Another was the scenery. On the way out I was along the inland side of the road, with more potential conflicts from side roads and less of a view. Now I was coast side. Another key issue for someone like me with a competitive side is the riders I encountered on the road here were behind me, not ahead of me, so I felt obligated to be friendly and look as if I was having a good time rather then appear to be suffering as to explain my lack of speed to those ahead. But the most important factor was the prevailing wind which tends to be north-to-south in the afternoon. I didn't particularly notice the wind but it was probably there.
Not having printed out a route sheet and my Garmin navigation not working properly I didn't know how long it was to the next turn, just north of Point Reyes Station onto Point Reyes - Petaluma Road. I was estimating it based on what my Garmin was reporting for total distance, what I knew an out-and-back to Nicasio was, and how long I estimated I had until Nicasio. When faced with the drudgery of semi-infinite pedaling, I find math games help keep my attention on the moment.
Then, suddenly, I checked my Garmin and found to my surprise it was off. Did it auto-shutdown due to idleness? I turned it back on, then when it got through power-up, I hit "start" and re-started the course navigation. This all seemed fine until when I got home after the ride and uploaded my data all the data from Pierce Point to here were lost. On the ride out to Pierce Point I'd accidentally turned off the Garmin when trying to access the settings menu to see why it wasn't picking up the data from my Garmin Vector pedals. When I realized my mistake I'd turned the computer back on then, I believe, hit "start". Indeed navigation had continued as expected. But for some reason I had no data for a big chunk of the day. I even checked the FIT file and the data were simply missing. It wasn't a matter of a corrupt record. Part of me says it's good to ride without data recording occasionally, to get off the grid and just enjoy riding for the joy of it. But I reject that: I'm find without power data in most circumstances but I always want the coordinates.
Eventually I made it back to Point Reyes - Petaluma Road. This is part of several canonical routes including the Roaster's Ride, Scotty's Ride, the old City Cycle ride... but always in the opposite direction, where in a fast group it's a leg-ripper. But I was just chugging along, and its modest 3 km or so passed quickly.
Approaching Nicacio I caught up to three riders: Sindy with her white face now accumulating a decent layer of dead bugs which provided an appearance of toughness, and two male companions. This was good. But it wasn't far from here to Nicasio and I really needed to stop, craving the mental break as much as physical nourishment. Sindy cheerfully continued on with one of her male companions but I stopped with the other. I bought a Coke, always a good end game option, and poured half into my watter bottle, topping the bottles off with some water the other guy had left over from his purchased supply, and leaving the rest at the store I thanked the other rider and head off ahead of him.
From Nicasio, there's four significant climbs back to San Francisco. The first of these is Nicasio Valley Road. Despite the pain in my legs I was fine here, my energy level somewhat boosted from the Coke I'd drunk. But it was no miracle cure: I was still grinding along.
Next was White's Grade. From the north, the "backside", White's Grade isn't much of a challenge. From the other side the climb is longer and steeper and there's often a soul-sucking headwind. I got over White's quickly enough.
Two more climbs....
In the maze of roads from Fairfax back to Corte Madera I just pedaled along. Then I got to Camino Alto, the second to last climb on the day. Lacking any energy to attack it, I plugged my way over, and it was done. I never regret Camino Alto. It's such a wonderful little climb, no matter how tired I am, it's always fun. I've never felt bogged down here.
Down the other side, I caught Sindy and her riding companion. Together we reached the final climb for the day, the climb of Alexander to the Golden Gate Bridge. This was it, the last one. And while I obviously wasn't at 100%, I was certainly strong enough to drop these two to the bridge.
But barely after the climb began, Sindy got out of the saddle and unleashed an amazing attack. This was silly, I realized. There's no way she's going to sustain that, not after 196 km. After all, on the early climbs of the day she'd started fast then slowed toward the end. I ramped up my effort, trying to keep her in sight, But not long into the climb I heard a horrible "ping!" There was no mistaking that sound: I'd broken a spoke.
This was curious because these wheels had very little use: I've ridden the Ritchey Breakaway substantially more since I got the Winter Allaban, sparing the latter for days like this. And while my weight wasn't exactly at premium value for PRing climbs, I was still on the correct side of 130 lb. I'm not going to be stressing spokes as much as a heavier guy. Later I'd stop at Box Dog Bikes where the mechanic pointed out some of my spokes appeared to have damage from oxidation.
But whatever the reason, so close to the finish, I wasn't going to let a broken spoke stop me. The spoke had broken, strangely, along its length, on the drive-side of the rear wheel. Usually spokes break, which in my exprience has been rare, at the J-bend, but the rear drive-side is by far the most common since those spokes are generally under the most tension. This is perhaps consistent with what Box Dog told me later. Since the drive-side spoke at the hub flange is blocked by the cassette, I was unable to remove it, and I didn't want to remove the nipple side since that would free the nipple to disappear into the hub. So I bent it up to stop it from flopping around and got back on my bike, hoping I could catch Sindy.
No luck -- she was long gone. I saw her ahead but she was still riding hard. But I was able to ride. The spoke was still making noises as it would occasionally bang against the seat stay but I wasn't stopping here.
At the entrance to the bridge Sindy was waiting to regroup. I laughed a bit at this because I'd assumed the point of her amazing assault on the hill had been to beat us to the finish. But no, she said; she was trying to PR the Strava segment. That's she'd even think about PR'ing a Strava segment at the tail end of 200 km amazed me. But she succeeded, scoring fairly well. If she decided to race she'd do well. That's what it takes to be good at hard road races: to produce near-maximal efforts when fatigued. The end of a hilly 200 km brevet certainly qualifies.
After crossing the bridge, it was done. I checked in, drank two bottles of a chemical-tasting Endure-a-like, and started the 10 km ride back home. I was surprised how okay I was here. But when I got home I was tired.
The 300 km was next. For that I'd need to treat the distance with more respect. After my sobering experience at the 200 km I was wavering a bit but 300 km was a distance I'd handled many times in the past, even including the additional 20 km out-and-back to the start.
Here's the results form the SFR web site, sorted by finish time. I'm tied for 9th with Sindy and Robert Buntrock.
pl Rusa Last First Time 1 2506 Poletto Max 07:24 1 3331 Brier Bill 07:24 1 6151 Andersen Carl 07:24 1 9218 Ogawa Shumpei 07:24 5 5941 Achilli Andrea 07:46 6 none McKinley Sky 07:47 7 1362 Pollock Graham 07:48 8 none Chang Peter 08:05 9 none Cho Sindy 08:20 9 2468 Buntrock Robert 08:20 9 10353 Connelly Daniel 08:20 12 291 Lawrence Tom 08:25 13 10340 Chalfant Michael 08:28 14 7590 Taylor Mark 08:30 15 5803 Homrighausen Mark 08:42 16 5120 Merritt Greg 08:44 16 6052 Clarkson Bryan 08:44 16 8063 Beckham Jon 08:44 19 9364 Bouchard Gilles 08:46 20 2133 McCaw Richard 08:48 20 6987 Gernez Raphael 08:48 22 2515 Hawks Rob 08:55 22 6380 Kilgore Bryan 08:55 24 5901 Schwartz Barry 08:57 24 6437 Joost Houston 08:57 24 7789 Goodell Andrew 08:57 27 3502 Burke Sarah 09:04 27 5285 Berka Becky 09:04 27 7245 Friedly Gabrielle 09:04 30 2777 Salyer Kevin 09:09 31 9239 Beringhele Dan 09:15 32 1883 Sokolsky Michael 09:20 32 4841 Duque Carlos 09:20 32 6444 Erbes Allan 09:20 35 539 Sokolsky Larry 09:21 36 1132 Johnson Ken 09:25 36 9973 Brammer Anton 09:25 38 10342 Rydman Eric 09:28 39 2505 Nevin Willy 09:31 40 2879 Hastings Geoffrey 09:35 40 5343 Placiakis Vidas 09:35 40 8174 Praspaliauskas Giedrius 09:35 40 9052 Funk Tobias 09:35 44 6130 Walker David 09:40 44 8400 MacFarlane Phil 09:40 44 10343 Brown David 09:40 47 5922 Thompson Karen 09:42 47 6044 Symons Andrea 09:42 47 6103 McCumber Kaley 09:42 47 7383 Uz Metin 09:42 51 8160 Walstad Eric 09:43 52 227 Teachout Todd 09:56 52 4357 Cardona Kley 09:56 54 none Seedall Mark 09:57 55 1421 Anderson Terrell 09:58 55 5559 Mosher Craig 09:58 57 none Moyles Jim 09:59 58 1138 Gunther Mark 10:00 59 4679 Ehlert Gabe 10:04 59 6017 Kizu-Blair Ian 10:04 59 7601 Eng Carlin 10:04 59 9629 Hetzner Erik 10:04 63 6873 Monahan Joe 10:09 63 9505 Cowan Scott 10:09 65 5216 Emerson Ken 10:15 65 9229 Marshall Eric 10:15 65 9875 Weller Karin 10:15 65 9906 Wesley Edward 10:15 69 4269 Beato Keith 10:18 69 5726 Fitzpatrick Matthew 10:18 69 6755 Marsh Jesse 10:18 72 3356 Haggerty Tom 10:20 72 5831 Haas Stephen 10:20 72 7622 Sexton Robert 10:20 75 6237 DelRio Esteban 10:21 75 9205 Feinberg Brian 10:21 75 9532 Carpio Jorge 10:21 78 4479 Butt Clyde 10:26 78 8324 Strickland Andy 10:26 78 8413 Lockwood Robert 10:26 81 7277 Beato Greg 10:29 82 none Manley Kurt 10:30 83 none Dahl Terrence 10:31 83 3523 Lynch Theresa 10:31 85 8427 Namara Yogy 10:35 86 345 Bradbury Jim 10:37 87 5828 Wu Franklyn 10:38 88 7929 Cooledge Andrew 10:39 88 8512 Rogers Phil 10:39 90 1737 Pompeani Robert 10:42 91 1570 Woudenberg Timothy 10:49 91 3321 Smith Ron 10:49 91 5090 Bevan Roland 10:49 91 7647 Becker Cheryl 10:49 95 10313 Woods Joe 10:53 96 none Nguyen Phung 10:56 96 none Meixner Albert 10:56 96 none Do Trang 10:56 96 8935 Dang Dzung 10:56 100 6435 Wenner Brad 10:59 101 1970 Ioakimedes Cris 11:00 102 4640 Plumb Alex 11:01 102 10201 Morehouse Ryan 11:01 104 9147 Eney Richard 11:10 105 1583 Eisenbarth Chris 11:12 105 5899 Fitzpatrick Kevin 11:12 107 10249 Dodge Renee 11:17 108 7585 Shen Randy 11:25 109 none Smith Preston 11:29 109 6551 Lindsay William 11:29 109 7241 Coleman Juliayn 11:29 109 9839 Bowles Shawn 11:29 113 9295 Goldenberg Benjamin 11:34 114 1625 Holmgren John 11:35 114 4997 Soderberg Richard 11:35 116 9271 Callan Tim 11:40 117 10107 Blumstein Stuart 11:55 118 8438 Farber Max 12:02 119 7442 Prince Steffen 12:08 119 7596 Lloyd Eileen 12:08 119 8978 Ross Roy 12:08 122 7422 Rodriguez Rene 12:14 123 8951 Harrison Jerome 12:22 124 2815 Gross Joe 12:58 125 1820 Ries Paul 13:15 126 3979 Busch Christopher 13:28