Yesterday was the Wine Country Century, or more completely, the Wine Country 35 mile, 100 km, 100 mile, and 200 km rides. I was excited to go because Cara had wanted to do the metric century, and even though I thought with a bit of preparation she could do the 100 miler, I was glad she was ready to do events again, after a series of injuries.
The official start time window for the 200 km course ended at 7:30 am, and at 7:20 am I saw Jeffrey at the start. "You're starting late!" he said. "No -- it shouldn't take much more than 8 hours to finish," I responded, my feelings slightly hurt. But I immediately realized I had no basis to make this claim. I'd hardly been riding at all. My "training" for the event consisted primarily of an easy ride with Cara the weekend before. and part of the SF2G First Friday Friendly Frolic on Friday, the day before the ride. That FFFF had been encouraging, though, as I managed to tie my PR up Cortland Road in Bernal Heights, a Strava segment I've written about here before. But that was partially because most of the rides I've done up the climb have been commuting with a back-pack and climbing with negligible warm-up. This time I climbed it toward the end of the ride, returning home, riding my Fuji SL/1 (with aluminum clinchers and heavier saddle)
I rolled out not too long after. There's a lot of traffic lights along the first part of the route, so I found myself in a nice little group, including an SF2G jersey towards the front. I moved up and saw it was Alexis, a former SF2G commuter who's since switched to a job in the city. We talked about the downside of losing the peninsula commute, a commute which is almost universally hated due to the congestion on the roads and the inadequate capacity of the train, that being that when an SF2G'er loses the commute riding miles almost always drop. Still, given the state of Caltrain, with exponentially increasing ridership and only negligible increase in service, overall I don't miss it at all.
Alexis was adept at staying near the front of the group, while I allowed myself to fall too far back, and on a long "ride single file" section I got stuck behind a gap when a traffic light turned red. Finally we started again, fortunately the lights in Sonoma not nearly as long as those in the Peninsula where it's wider "expressway"-style roads require longer light cycles, and it wasn't out of the question to bridge back up.
But did it make sense? Don't be silly, I thought. My start time had been thoroughly arbitrary. This group was fine, or we'd be overtaken by faster riders soon enough. But when I heard the riders next to me chatting, one of them discussing his plans to cut "extraneous climbs" from the route (what? The whole ride is "extraneous" since it ends back where it started), I decided I didn't want to be riding here. I glanced back, didn't see anyone catching up to us, and decided to chase.
So off I went, and with the help of some hills along the way I was able to catch the group that had gotten the green. It was a bit fragmented, though, so moved up from sub-group to sub-group.
I had managed to recatch Alexis' group around the time we reached the separation between the 100 mile and 200 km courses, at mile 18.7. There had been a climb to this point, up Graton Road to its peak, and it was natural to think this was the top, but after the left turn onto Facendini Road the climbing began again, steeply. I found I was looking for something more than my 36/26, but that gear was fine. I just had to drop my cadence a bit lower than was my recent habit.
I got ahead of the Alexis group here. Then came a short jaunt on Occidental Road to Bohemian Highway then onto Coleman Valley Road. I think of this as the "backside" of Coleman Valley. It's the easier side to climb. The other side I've ridden several times in the Mt Tam Double, part of the Marin Century event, but this side I'd ridden only once before, in Murphy Mack's Spring Classic #2 in 2012.
The climb was fairly easy from this side, but toward the top it attains the remoteness that makes the western slope so special. It's truly barren up there, with cattle guards, ranch land, and ocean views. The views were rarer today, since it was all fogged in, and the ocean wind provided a chill that resulted in me leaving my Voler jacket on. The jacket is nice because it's so compact, it fits even in one of the Voler undersized pockets, but the downside it was designed for someone with a particularly spherical aspect, and it has to increase wind resistance substantially. Perhaps, since the team affiliation motivation which got in the way of me replacing it are now gone, I can try to find a more suitable jacket.
Along the way, though, came the first rest stop. At the entrance a kid was aggressively waving a flag, like in the Indy 500 waving one lap to go. I thought it would be amusing to get taken out by a kid waving a flag. It's nice to see enthusiastic volunteers!
I try to keep my stops brief, and on this ride that was my approach, but since it's untimed I lacked any of the urgency I feel at double centuries, for example. I certainly had no compulsion to skip stops, as I might do at a double. Each stop I'd fill my bottle with the electrolyte drink they were using (which was good -- EFS First Endurance), eat a fig bar and maybe an orange slice and/or banana piece, maybe use the porta-potty, then move on. But it always took longer than I'd expect it to, in part because we had to park our bikes near the entrance to the rest stop then walk in. But that was fine: it's a huge ride and bikes create congestion.
At that stop I saw Jenny Oh Hatfield, "Plattyjo", who has an excellent blog. I knew she was doing PBP this year and I asked her about it. She told me she was also doing another 1200k in Florida which is "flat, so not so crazy". I told her I thought crazy was implicit in 1200k. It's funny how when you hang around with people who consider that distance normal ones perspective can change. Also here were Peter and Chris, both regular SF2G'ers.
Anyway, I left the first stop alone, getting back onto Coleman Valley Road for the rollers at the "top" and then the descent to the coast. I was chilled, even with the jacket, on the rolling bit but then during the decent I warmed, and even had some nice views of the ocean (I'm tainted -- they're actually quite spectacular views) as I approached the coast.
The ride along the coast was nice. I tried to take some attention away from the riding bit to appreciate the coastal views. This portion was reverse direction of what we'd ridden in SFR 300 km route: that time we'd gone to the coast on River Road, then south. Here I was riding north on the coast to River Road. So I tried to rewind my memories from that brevet, as dulled as they were from the cloud of fatigue I was under at the time.
Eventually I hit River Road, immediately after a bridge crossing the Russian River, and headed inland from there until we reached Moscow Road, providing relief from River Road's surprisingly large traffic volume. I remembered this but from Murphy Mack's Spring Classic. At that ride this was approaching the finish, having started in San Francisco and ridden north.
Moscow took us to Monte Rio, the 2nd rest stop. Then from there back on busy River Road to Guernville, then welcome relief via Mays Canyon Road, Green Valley Road, essentially closing the coastal loop, then finally onto Vine Hill Road to begin our northward trek towards lunch.
We were now merged with the 100-milers and this changed the dynamic considerably, since slower 100-mile riders were on the road the same time as faster 200k'ers.
This portion I characterized as the "cross-traffic does not stop century", since there were a series of several intersections where we either crossed or merged with streets where high-speed traffic had right-of-way. These intersections can be dangerous, and in century-type events they are often staffed by volunteers, and indeed the last of them, crossing River Road, was, by my friend John. A group of riders was bunched at the intersection, and when there was a gap in traffic some of the riders ahead of me hesitated, and the opportunity to cross was lost. John indeed stopped them from proceeding. "You volunteers!" I said in an annoyed voice, and I don't think he realized it was me until he looked at me, then realized I was kidding.
Rest stop #3 was Wohler Bridge. I was now past half-way, around 108 km. This was mentally important, as I was a bit tired but overall not too bad. Riding an extra 100 km didn't seem like too large a hurdle at this point.
I left the rest stop and was cruising along fairly aimlessly when I was passed by a group of four Liberty Cycling riders. Naturally I hopped on the train. The lead rider, wearing a Firefighter's cycling team jersey (turns out he's not a firefighter but did some sort of team event with the firefighters) was incredible. He just pulled along, tirelessly, and indeed he pulled so well that he dropped first two of his teammates, while the remaining teammate was letting gaps open on the short climbs approaching lunch. I just sat on until the gap got too large, then I tried to pace him back, but he was clearly done. So I bridged the gap to the leader and we finished the remaining mile or so to lunch. We chatted a bit there, but I was interested in getting out of lunch fairly quickly, and told him if I saw the paceline pass me on the way back I'd try to join them again. But honestly I was pretty fried from the motor pacing session.
At the Lake Sonoma lunch stop I didn't feel like eating a sandwich, feeling a bit guilty about it because volunteers were generously devoting their days to making them for us, but instead I treated this stop as mostly just another rest stop, eating figs and fruit and two small potatoes. But additionally I drank a full bottle of lemonade which was quite good, then refilled the bottle with more. I also took advantage of the shuttle service, removing my long-sleeve wool undershirt from my body, and my jacket which was now wrapped around my seatpost. I kept my light knee warmers since my knees felt fine and it would provide sun protection to keep them there. But for the rest of me I sprayed myself down with sun screen. It wasn't the shortest stop I've done, but it was a lot faster than those who were having picnics on the grass. Nothing wrong with picnics, of course, but I was excited to continue riding.
As I was rolling out I saw Cordelia, Hyan, and Alex (Alex male, not Alexis female) ride in. I'd passed them on the road earlier, as Corelia and Hyan were waiting for Alex to catch up. I figured that was probably the last I'd see of them before the finish.
Lunch was at mile 88, so it was end game. With so many riders here it wasn't hard to find another paceline, so I hopped on to some riders as we backtracked the route to the lunch stop. We rode along Dry Creek Road when one of the riders said he'd expected to "turn left at that last turn". They's been changing the course in recent years, he said. "That turn was only for 200k riders" was then mentioned. "200k??" I said, alarmed. "Are you on the 200k?" I was asked, but the answer was already clear from my inflection. "Then you've got to turn around and take that turn." It was around 1.5 miles back, he said. This turned out to be a remarkably good estimate.
So back I went. I didn't see any marks on the road into Dutcher Creek Road, the turn, but a woman there next to her car, uninvolved in the event, said cyclists had been riding that way. There might have been marks painted on the road, heading in the direction from lunch, but I'd have never noticed them since I was following wheels at that point, having assumed from having looked at the route map poster that the routes were concurrent at this point. Indeed, the map posters listed this as a "bonus loop", and it was marked only in faded red, perhaps left over from a previous year when this wasn't part of the standard route. Of course, the whole thing is "optional" -- nobody is monitoring course compliance. But I like to be "official", so wanted to make sure I completed the full thing. But an extra 5 km was unplanned for.
Dutcher Creek Road was sort of nice, but then we passed under 101 onto Asti Road, a road which would have been very nice in a Wine Country fashion had it not been immediately adjacent to 101. It's a canonical return route from from riding The Geysers. This felt abandoned: there were few riders here, and I saw only one woman from the event. I had the feeling a lot of riders missed the turn and had followed the century loop, which was shorter, via Canyon Road.
With the extra distance and with the warming temperatures, despite my extra hydration at the lunch stop, I managed to finish not only my main bottle but what remained of my backup bottle, which had plain water. Even though the final rest stop came only 15 miles from the finish I looked forward to it, and skipping it wasn't an option.
After I passed Canyon Road I was rejoined with the 100-miler (and 100k) routes, and so was around more riders again. I was passed by a short paceline with two guys, one older and one younger, and two women. The older guy was pulling, showing really poor straight-arm posture on the bike which he rocked back and forth in a most inefficient manner. The women, in contrast, looked comfortable, and were drafting fairly efficiently, getting gapped a bit during surges but then slowly but determinedly closing the gap again. The younger guy, strangely, pulled out of the line and launched an attack. But then he slowed and waited for the others to catch up. Together we joined another rider who'd passed me earlier. It was all fairly dysfunctional. Finally the pace slowed and I went to the front to take a pull, but managed only to pull away. I arrived at the Alexander Valley Rest stop alone.
I was rather surprised to see Cordelia's group already here. They'd obviously missed the turn onto Dutcher Creek, as I had initially. I heard them chatting about a "left" and realized this is in fact what had occurred. Although I had to make excellent time to get my 8 hour target, I was really feeling the effects of the distance, not only in my legs, which were surprisingly good, but additionally in my feet, which hurt (need to reshape my Bont shoes), my hands (which were periodically going numb), and my butt. Basically all my contact points were suffering from a gross lack of time on the bike. My legs were fairly strong from running up and down hills, even if I was relatively slow. So I chatted with them a bit, said I was ready to leave, and was pleased when they agreed to leave at the same time.
Alex had been complaining he wasn't feeling well, and was contemplating SAGging back, but I said "You can't sag! It's only 15 miles to the finish". He seemed encouraged by this, and rolled out with us, but when Cordelia and Hyan went to the front and set a rather solid pace on the opening climbs, Alex was gone.
After a climb, I took over and tried to set a good pace on the flats and descents. The other two stayed glued to my wheel. Cordelia would then take over and do strong pulls. I tried to watch to make sure Hyan was hanging on, and she for the most part was. But then once she drifted back a bit, and I dropped back to drag her back, which worked.
Finally, though, Hyan also faded, so it was just Cordelia and me riding to the finish. She was very strong, remarkably so, and only at the end did she say she was feeling tired.
At the finish, I immediately went to find Cara. She was there, having done very well on her 100 km ride, which wasn't a surprise since she's very strong and despite her lack of any rides approaching the 100 km distance I knew she'd be fine. I had some of the delicious food at the finish, the vegan options somewhat depleted by earlier finishers, but was still very good. While we rested on the grass Bonnie came by to chat. She'd ridden up from San Francisco the day before. Bonnie left to find her ride back, then we packed the car and headed back to San Francisco.
In retrospect, despite woefully inadequate preparation, I felt stronger here than I had at the SFR 200k Pierce Point brevet. Why? I have to think it's because of the rest stops. I didn't consume much, but a regular intake of carbohydrate solution and a bit of food stopped me from ever going really into the red. It's harder on an unsupported event, but since I'd done that ride with a handlebar bag, there wasn't much excuse. In a way I was overconfident at that one, while for this one I knew I wasn't prepared and was thus compelling to pay more attention to these things, and in the end that worked out better. My finish times were very close.
Overall the event was great. The volunteer support was simply amazing. So many volunteers, all of them seemingly happy to be there. The only small hiccup was the relative lack of marking for the left at Dutcher Creek, a turn which is easily missed and which perhaps deserved something more than road paint, although perhaps there was more and I just missed it. Also the roads here aren't as nice as those in Terrible Two, which takes the high road above the traffic. But Wine Country tries to avoid being too difficult, so that's unavoidable. That's just the way Sonoma County is. People there spent a lot of time in their cars, many of them large. But overall it was a really fun event and I'm glad I went, and very glad I was able to go with Cara.