Monday, August 31, 2009


Pacific Coast Highway Randonneurs 300k, August 29, 2009

Every so often, we Randonneurs get into conversations with people who ask us where we come from, where we are going, and why we are not taking the bus. Regardless of whether I made that last part up or not, the question wouldn't make much sense on a route where the finish is at the same location as the start. And - who knows? - maybe the whole bike riding thing doesn't make much sense to many people if you just ride out and back or in a circle ...

This time, however, it was different: The PCHRandos put their second brevet series of the year under the Amtrak theme: either take the train to the start and ride home or the other way around. And those who would rather find an arrangement with a significant other, relatives or friends to replace the train by a car are welcome, too. I found the idea of a brevet as a "transport stage" from point to point particularly attractive, because I was aware that it reflected one facet of the historical origins of randonneuring quite truthfully - and I wanted to be part of that celebration.

As soon as I learned that the route of the 300 km brevet on August 29 went from San Luis Obispo to Moorpark, I started to organize my arrangement: I would offer our dear friend Yolande (already mentioned at the end of this) a weekend trip to her house in Shell Beach on Friday, from where I was only 15 minutes from the 6 a.m. start on Saturday morning. And I would "invite" my daughter Fabienne to come in the evening from her place in Westwood to the finish in Moorpark such that we can drive back to Shell Beach together and spend a nice relaxing Sunday with Yolande. Fabienne would bring her bike along as well, and we would get to do another nice training ride for her on Sunday morning with the side effect of recovering my van which remained at the start of the brevet in San Luis Obispo. - And that's how it happened.

During various double centuries and brevets over the last years, I had become familiar with most of this route already and was very much looking forward to get back onto those roads again. I felt in good shape and expected to finish in around 14 hours. On paper, the route was not difficult (total elevation gain about 7200 ft; the vertical axis on the profile below is in meters) and the wind would be favorable.

Only eleven participants at the start - not everybody has the disposition to pay the price of some additional inconvenience for the reenactment of a "transport stage." Four of them disappeared far ahead during the first two miles already; no wonder one of them was worried before the start about arriving too early at the first control (the opening time is calculated for an average speed of about 20 mph). We others tried to stay with Shai and Curt. Both were still way too strong and fast for us, but they gracefully pulled us to the first control in Sisquoc and beyond until we had to let them go definitively.

Jack, Shai, Curt, Scott at the Sisquoc control

During those first 50 miles, I stayed mostly on Scott's rear wheel (the same as mentioned here and here) if it wasn't Jack's (who I knew in particular from the GRR), and I was proud of it. I would have never been able to maintain their speed without drafting them.

Just when I started to revise my expected finishing time for the spectacularly better, three things happened: a) we turned onto the ominously named Harris Grade Road; b) the temperature suddenly went up, way up; c) my legs became sore and my breathing shallow. I was unable to follow Scott and Jack and immediately lost a quarter mile on them before they even noticed that I was gone. But Vickie, the Eventmaster for this ride, had set up a highly welcome water stop just where the climb started in earnest, and so I could once again catch up with my companions. Judging by her concerns and encouragements, I must not have looked very good. The least I could do was to reassure her that I would do what it takes to always enjoy the ride, no matter what; and to implore Scott and Jack not to wait for me, ever. I climbed the Harris Grade cautiously and that's something I am pretty good at - much better than Scott and Jack who just were unable to go that slowly. When I arrived at the top and found them recollecting themselves in the shade before the long descent into Lompoc, I scolded them for having waited for me - they were supposed to just go ahead from now on.

Soon afterwards, we found ourselves at the Albertson's in Lompoc for a control stop. I went shopping for food, and when I came back with several bags full and saw my companions make fun of it, I understood that I really must have been running very low on blood sugar since the bottom of Harris Grade. I felt much better after eating and drinking for twenty minutes without restraint ...

I remembered the next twenty miles to the Gaviota descent from last year's PCH 600k brevet. They are not particularly difficult, but mostly uphill nonetheless - and HOT! It was around noon, and the sun was merciless. Vickie was there again when we needed her most (thank you!) to resupply us with water and ice. We didn't care about the time we spent trying to "cool off" (which is difficult when the surrounding air is close to body temperature), and everybody was riding for himself, following his own optimal pace. Jack (who comes from the South and is better adjusted to the heat) was up in front; I followed him in a respectful distance, minding my business, while Scott who suddenly seemed to go through a "dry spell" stayed further behind. I knew that the descent to Gaviota would be the end of the high temperatures and I inappropriately referred to the remaining stretch along the much cooler coast as our "joy ride" - which kept me going at least.

Jack must have arrived at the Gaviota rest area well before me. When I joined him in the shade, we agreed to wait for Scott and to enjoy the opportunity to recover. We knew that Vickie was patrolling the course to look after whoever was still out in the heat. In the end (after a somewhat lengthy wait) Jack, Scott, Tom, Gray and myself found ourselves together as "the remaining five riders" and continued towards Santa Barbara.

Jack contemplating the usage of "liquid air"

Eventmaster Vickie, Tom and Scott

We didn't always ride together, but regrouped in Goleta and through Santa Barbara. In Carpinteria, Gray became progressively faster and I tried to stay with him (while Jack just went along with us pretty effortlessly). I felt reasonably good again and was determined to use the rest of the day for some serious training: As long as I would only ride slowly, I would stay slow (and I have been slow for long enough already!). As if Gray was reading my mind, he accelerated, and then again, and again. And then he dropped me and was gone.

Info control in Santa Barbara: "How many dolphins?"
(Jack, Tom and Gray)

Now I was alone with Jack, because we had lost Scott and Tom in the process. I explained to Jack that I needed to call Fabienne because I would miss my projected arrival time by about an hour and a half; and that I was worried about being so late for the 2 1/2 hour drive back to Shell Beach. In other words: I wanted to push through to the finish now instead of waiting for Tom and Scott. Jack said he didn't have a problem with that, and so we pushed. He let me set the pace (because otherwise he would have had to wait for me too often), and I did my best not to disappoint him. This was the fourth time I rode up Santa Rosa Road to Moorpark, and it was by far my fastest - I was quite satisfied with myself.

Despite being later than expected, Fabienne and I still couldn't just rush away from the finish - too many nice people around! We arrived in Shell Beach at 1:30 a.m. only - it was a long day. But a very rewarding one. A big "Thank You" to Vickie in particular, but also (as always) to Lisa and Greg, and to all my ride companions!


  1. Thanks for the report, Joseph. Are you coming out for the 600K?


  2. Probably not. Would be too much of a stretch less than two weeks after the "Endless Mountains."

  3. Salut Joseph,
    Comment, tu n'as pas fait le retour en vélo?...
    Je plaisante bien sûr!
    Je te renouvelle mes meilleures pensées pour les Endless Mountains!