Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Whale of a Deli

Santa Rosa Cycling Club 300k Brevet, March 14, 2009

This time, the alarm went off at 2:50 a.m. I had a two-hour drive up to Healdsburg, and the start was at 6 a.m. Throughout the week, I had been following the weather forecast which announced highs around 60F along the route - perfect! Conveniently, I overlooked the lows in the very low 40's and ignored the wind.

At the start, not only the tip of my nose was uncomfortably cold, already. Several among the nearly 25 participants wished for an early climb to warm up; but instead, except for some rollers on Westside Road, we went dominantly slightly downhill out to the coast along Russian River. The first part of the route matched a portion of the San Francisco 300k loop and we had ridden the second part out to the Point Reyes lighthouse on the San Francisco 200k already. I like rediscovering routes I had ridden before; this makes the distance appear shorter and each time there is something new to see. Difficulty-wise, the RBA Robert Redmond warned in his ride info document: "There are no great hills to cross, but I would hate to classify the ride along the Pacific coast and out to the Lighthouse as just rollers." (Still no word of the wind). 

A large group stayed together at the front until we arrived at the coast. At some point, I rode next to Tom R. who asked me what my time goal was for the ride (I wonder how he could guess that I had such a goal). Reluctantly I admitted "15 hours." He seemed a little doubtful and intent on bringing me back to reality. Maybe he had read my No Miracles piece?

But for now, we advanced so fast that it was hard not to believe in a wonderfully fast finishing time. And when at the top of the first major hill on Hwy 1 (about half a mile long) I could still see my much stronger companions within reach and could actually close the little gap, I blurted out "I cannot believe I am still here with you!" I continued keeping track: 100 km in 3h45, and 80 miles (including the control stops at Diekman's in Bodega Bay and in Point Reyes Station) in five hours even, even though I had to let go the strong guys (and the strong girl) when the hills north of Marshall became too relentless, and was riding alone now. Obviously, something was wrong: I cannot ride that fast without a massive tailwind! And this meant bad news for the return trip in the afternoon, when the wind would get even stronger ...

Another thing that appeared wrong in my mind was that the temperatures stayed low, and I didn't like it. The cold air seemed to dig in my face and it hurt. There was visibility, but no sunshine, no shadow on the ground, and an uninspiring solid gray cloud cover. Without conviction, I stopped to take some pictures from the Point Reyes scenery; never for long because I got too cold within a minute. There were some nice wildflowers, including Californian poppies in some places, and I was tempted to take a photo. But the wind shook them so hard, it was pointless. 

Just at the moment when the wind threw the bicycle to the ground

At the turnaround point

No time for whale watching, today

I counted about ten riders coming back from the turnaround point before I got there, and took note of the distances of the riders behind me when I crossed them on my way back. They were too far back to wait for them; and of course, I had no hope of catching any one of the riders ahead of me. No problem. I don't mind riding alone; and I will get moral credit for dealing with the wind on my own. If only it wasn't so cold!

It was so cold, I desperately needed to eat and drink something warm when I came back to Point Reyes Station; and as soon as possible - I was hungry, too! And so I walked into "A Whale of a Deli", whatever that stands for. All I can say: they make the best burritos I have ever had. I felt so much better afterwards! It created a little problem, though: When you are riding into a strong headwind, you want to bend down to minimize the wind resistance. Well, with my full belly, I couldn't.

Long ago already I learned that a headwind is difficult only when you are fighting it. If instead you just allow a smaller gear and accept it, life is much easier. So that's what I did, again. On the downside, the goal of finishing within a "good time" (it's all relative anyway) has to become secondary. I simply replaced my original goal with a new one, incremented by half an hour!

In Valley Ford I stopped, only to take a picture of some flags in order to illustrate the concept of headwind (and, trust me: at that point the wind was 100% frontal!).

Soon afterwards, I started losing patience with the wind and the three major uphills on the way to Bodega Bay and rode harder again. When I arrived at the Diekmann control (mile 135), I had nearly lost my voice with breathing the cold headwind air for so long. A hot coffee and a delicious baclava brought it back.

At this point, I had lost all hope of finishing in 15 hours - Tom was right! So I just continued doing my penitence in bicyclist's purgatory on the remaining 9 miles on Hwy 1 (I'm sure all my sins are forgiven since then) until the right turn onto SR 116, upwards along the Russian River. That's when I observed that I would still arrive within 15 hours if I could keep an average of 16 mph from now on. But the road goes uphill, and the Westside Road has some annoying pitches and is often quite bumpy and not easy to roll on. Why do I even think of the 15 hours, still? -  Well, because the wind is now in my back again, and I'm cruising along at close to 20 mph!

Of course, this didn't last. As I said, I don't like the surface of Westside Road very much, and in complete darkness one is always slower than in daylight. It's harder to evaluate where the road goes uphill or downhill, and this translates into less efficient use of one's effort. On the other hand, the closer one gets to the finish, the easier it seems to maintain a higher speed - it's called the "smelling the barn" effect. And so, believe it or not, in the end I did get really close to my original goal - not that it mattered, of course!

Robert Redmond had set up a hotel room in the Best Western not only for check-in, but also for a light dinner, snacks, (beer ...), and general socializing. Several riders who had finished one, two or three hours before me were still around chatting and joking. Obviously, I had reasons to be quite satisfied with my ride. But the best came just when I left and bid good-bye: the randonneurs who know me from the last years complimented me on how well I had progressed. Hmm - music to my ears!


  1. Compliments de ma part également, Joseph, et bon courage pour ton prochain brevet!

  2. Excellent write up. Anyone who rode those 40 miles up the coast alone in those headwinds is a hero!