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!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Midsummer Ride Dreams

When I started this blog at the beginning of the year I only meant to collect my favorite ride reports in one place such that my grandchildren will be able to find them later should they be interested (and should Google still be around). I also did it to stop spamming the Inboxes of friends and relatives with my e-mail ride reports while continuing to practice my writing in English - if only I could get the stiltedness out of it!

Now that I look at the collection so far and re-read some of it, I admit that I enjoy reviving the memories from my days out on the bike. Forgetfulness is ramping up disturbingly when you get in my age! So there is yet another reason to post something about my midsummer rides.


Recovery after the Gold Rush was unproblematic; after all, I had hedged my bets and avoided undue exhaustion. The only trouble was the tingling in the right thumb for some time (I knew what caused it: during the GRR I had used brand-new gloves of a different type than the ones I am used to). After two weeks, my legs were itching again and I put in a good series of intervals (a first for me!) after coaching Fabienne through her first cautious training ride on a drop bar bicycle with clipless pedals. This was a double-dream: for Fabienne to "officially" start her preparation for a special Century in 2010 (scroll down to the end of this for more background), and for me to dream of finally becoming faster (if only a little).

Everything went well, and so I was quite confident at the start of the Mount Tam Double Century on August 1st. Even though - or because - it's certainly the most difficult of the CTC doubles I have ridden so far, I feel strangely attracted to it. I managed to finish within the time limit (barely) in 2006 and 2007, after a first attempt in 2005 where I gave up after 170 miles. Last year I didn't start because it was only six days after the finish of the RM1200; I "worked it" instead at a water stop. Surely I would finally be able to finish it safely and in good form, this year. - Was I dreaming?

I did pretty well during the first three hours. But then, a funny thing happened half-way up the climb from Stinson Beach on Panoramic Hwy: I became slower and slower and didn't want to acknowledge it. This could not be! What was going on? I was supposed to be stronger than in the last years!

Subjectively, I didn't feel bad; I was still comfortable and confident enough to imagine riding to the finish without major trouble. But the slowdown was disturbing. I didn't waste any time and yet left the rest stop on Hicks Valley Rd barely before noon - the critical time for me to still make the Valley Ford 2:30 p.m. cut-off. I only made it because a friendly little group around Kerin Huber allowed me to draft them into the headwind towards the Marshall Wall; but my "lunch stop" was reduced to less than eight minutes. Finally, the Coleman climb (2 miles at 10% average) taught me the bitter lesson: I just didn't have it in me on that day. Not that I was the last on the road; but those around me either looked better and I would not be able to follow them for long, or they would not finish and I would end up being the last on the road anyway.

We had mostly a favorable wind on the way back from Valley Ford to Petaluma; so there was still hope that I could finish before the 10:30 p.m. cut-off. Unfortunately, I was so weak by now that I had to walk the last 10% portion on the Middle Road climb shortly after Valley Ford. And I was unable to take advantage of the tailwind to recover some of the lost time because the legs felt like cotton. It became apparent that it would be a struggle to get to the finish, even disregarding the time limit, and I was dismayed. The dream of being stronger than two or three years ago was shattered.

Still, I seemed to slowly reel in a rider far ahead of me which provided some new motivation. When I got within a quarter mile or less, a SAG van stopped next to him and I watched the rider climb into it. There goes the motivation! When I was about to slowly pass the van (the road went uphill there) the driver asked "And how about you?" - OK, I got the message. I let myself get sagged in as well.

The experience wasn't quite as bad as it sounds; I am always pretty good at finding lots of excuses and rationalizations. In this case, I did more soul-searching than ever and ended up particularly determined to take my training a little more seriously now. There had to be something positive at the end of that day! But despite all the excuses I could line up if I wanted to, I still don't know what really happened. Maybe it was just un jour sans. - Obviously, I didn't think about taking photos either. Instead, I recommend to look through this set from Campy Only.

Two weeks later, I combined a "transport stuff" weekend trip to Fabienne in Los Angeles with riding the 200k option of the Cool Breeze Century in Ventura on the way down, on Saturday. I had done it once before in 2006, and my comments from then read "Very nice ride - and pretty hard, too." I am not alone with this judgement: look e.g. here for more details and some pictures from a rider who is much stronger than I am.
This time, the severe training I inflicted on myself a week before (i.e. five "all out" laps on the Moody/Altamont loop; check out the profile in the Summary tab!) seemed to have paid off already. I had a good ride, never experienced any particular weakness, and finished about an hour faster than three years ago in well under ten hours.

The route brought back memories from this year's Spring brevets
(300k and 400k)

During the first hours of the ride, somewhere east of Ojai, a group of half a dozen younger people who had started later caught up with me. They were exceptionally good-natured and good-humored and invited me to join them, all the while joking with me in a friendly way when I had to breathe much harder than them on the uphills. Eventually, a hill felt more strenuous than the others and I motioned that I wanted the remaining riders to pass me so I didn't cause a break-up of the group. A young woman who was part of this bunch of friends passed me at that moment, glanced at me and shouted full of compassion in direction of the rider ahead who had so well joked with me: "Hey, give him a break, he is an old man!"
(That's how they shatter dreams, nowadays ...)


But I did find moral compensation the following day when I took Fabienne out on a very nice (and for her level quite demanding!) bike ride of 24 miles and over 1600 ft of elevation gain. I had found the Rock Store Loop on, but then entered the precise route we took into my preferred BikeRouteToaster (the route goes clock-wise):

There was a serious 2.5-mile climb on Mulholland Hwy after Seminole Hot Springs. Fabienne started out on it as if she was flying; I was seriously worried she would drop me right away and I would get another (this time non-verbal) old man qualifier. But she did underestimate the length of 2.5 miles, and in the end we were both happy to arrive at the top and to enjoy the view down to where we came from:


And as if this was not enough, her elder sister Valerie had made me dig out our 18-year-old Santana tandem from deep down in the shed, this summer, and after an encouraging very first test ride decided to participate in the Tour de Menlo (35 mile option), last Saturday!

The route was very tandem-friendly, despite the steep climb to the lunch stop at the Picchetti Ranch turn-around on Montebello Road. We had a great time, and I believe Valerie enjoyed it quite thoroughly herself.

Look at the grade of Montebello Road in the background where we just came up!

John C. joined us for the special occasion

We followed Kate (left) for much of the ride - she rode like a pro.
The outfit of Larry (right) was a perfect match for his authentic Cinelli Super Corsa from the '60s.

And we got souvenir t-shirts, too!