Friday, December 18, 2009

An "Impending Weather" Ride

December 12, 2009: Del Puerto Canyon Loop 200k Permanent

On October (!) 19, our fearless RBA Rob sent out an e-mail to invite everyone interested to join him on a 200k permanent he planned for December 12 in the context of his R12 quest. Soon a dozen enthusiastic randonneurs (including John C. and yours truly, of course) had registered with the route owner Bruce, and some more were expected to yield to Rob's continued nudging: it was going to be an exceptionally satisfying randonneuring season finale! John and I knew most of the route from a year ago when we had joined Bruce and friends for a 100-mile version of it (starting and finishing in Livermore instead of Pleasanton).

I always like to get in a good 100 - 125 mile ride in the middle of December - it feels good. Other people seem to have similar predilections - the seasonal risk of cold, windy and humid conditions really adds to the appeal!

Two days before the ride, Rob sent out an e-mail to those who had signed up, titled "The impending weather ..." and including the following:

(...) So, with a bit more than 36 hours til our proposed start time, the forecast for Livermore looks like this:

High temp of 56F (not so bad but it will be closer to 40F in the morning), 80%+ chance of rain, winds from the south varying from 16 to 23 mph, rainfall during our ride window approaching a half inch.

I *know* that more than one of you on this list would still ride no matter what. However, (...)

I felt what was coming and finished reading the e-mail only by politeness. I *knew* that I was going to do this ride on that planned date, even though I respected Rob's good reasons to reschedule his permanent for one week later. It turned out that I was not alone (I believe we were about ten at the start on that morning).

And to make a long story short: his forecast was pretty accurate, except for the half inch. I am sure we had gotten much more than that by the time we passed south of Tracy already. And when I think of what happened on that long descent after km 160 where at times it came down as if our guardian angels above were draining their swimming pools onto our heads, flooding the road until we could only guess where it turned, I am tempted to claim a new personal record for most water received on a 200 km brevet.

And yet, it was dry (except for the road surface) at the start. I took a picture to demonstrate how we expected to ride into the rising sun and into a sunny day, just to prove Rob and his weather forecasters wrong!

This was the last picture I took outdoors. I could have taken some more, but a) my camera is not weatherproof, and b) I was too busy riding into a headwind when it was not raining.

Greg had his first flat before we even left Livermore. We all stopped, but separated into smaller groups after that, and I ended up riding with John C. (of course) and Greg for most of the remaining distance. As alluded to above, we did have the predicted headwind down to Patterson, and even though John and Greg granted me a senior discount on the shared paceline duties, I felt the workout in my legs by the time we arrived at the Subway lunch stop in Patterson.

I was surprised by the huge amount of paper napkins I got with my soup and sandwich - until I got it: they were to dry out my shoes, of course! Normally, my trademark plastic bags around the shoes keep my feet dry - unless they don't because of some wear and tear under the sole. This time they didn't. But I found that the Subway order came in two plastic bags which had just the right size and quality for my purpose; and this helped alleviate the feeling of wet and cold feet in the following.

This was the fourth time I rode up the Del Puerto Canyon Road, and the more I ride it, the better I like it. The next three photos are Roland's who had a difficult day. In his own words:
"I had two things work against me on this ride - the first was the headwind going south from Tracy to Patterson, and the second was an attack of leg cramps on the upper part of Del Puerto Canyon Road. These combined so that I missed the cutoff for the Junction Cafe, but I certainly did a great job of testing my rain/cold gear." And I particularly like his comment to the last picture at - check it out!

I like this road and the scenery better and better; but I am also getting slower and slower on it. There was no way I could hold the wheels of Greg and John, even before it started going uphill. For a while, John tried to let me catch up, and on the steepest portion of the climb even walked the bike to give me another chance; but it was for nothing. We would meet at the Junction Café control only. Alex who had battled the headwind to Patterson alone and arrived there when we left, also passed me - he must have been about half an hour faster than myself on those 24 miles. Oh how I wish to be stronger during those long moments of weakness ...

Here is one of the calves who found themselves on the wrong side of the fence, we don't know why. They looked pretty distressed and spooked.

And then, would you believe it: a moment of sunshine with hints of a blue sky - no complaining about that! I could even remove my rain jacket for the steepest portion of the climb towards the top and keep it off until I arrived at the Junction Café (shortly before km 140 - look at the elevation chart above) which became a randonneur haven on that day.

Randonneur haven celebrating Winter Solstice

That's why John is so strong!

The coffee was very good, too (note the rain legs ...)

Before leaving, I asked Greg to pose for my grandson

Eventually, we had to leave despite the threatening sky. It was getting dark quickly. A lengthy climb helped fight off the chill and reassured me that I had recovered my strength. And while I still couldn't hold the wheels of my companions, that was to be expected and OK. I don't mind riding alone. Besides, the rest was "all downhill and tailwind."

A couple of miles later, while the guardian angels were busy with their swimming pools, some little devils had big fun dislodging rocks from the steep hills and crashing them on the road. For best effect, the rocks had to land right after blind turns and split into many sharp baby-head-sized pieces across the whole width of the road. I have never been happier about last year's Christmas gift of an Edelux light, and I don't regret the decision to mount it at the quick-release nut: this way, the little obstacles on the road throw longer shadows and stand out much better. Still, I couldn't avoid all the rocks and trembled at the idea of having to repair a flat (or two, or three, or - as John R. reported later - four) in complete darkness and in cold rain. Not that I hadn't done that before already (the SF 300 of 2007 comes to mind); but that's precisely why I didn't like the idea. This was a good motivation to stay very focussed on the job at hand and remain cautious while trying to make up for the lost time on stretches where the road appeared safer. But overall, I recognize that I was just lucky. John C. - not so much. I found him on the roadside pumping up. Together, we found a little while later Greg fixing his second flat.

Under such conditions, we felt relieved and appreciative when we approached Livermore with its cozy Christmas light decorations (another photo from Roland's):

We could have done without the last ten flat suburban and urban miles, mostly with an annoying cross wind, over wet streets where the bike lanes (when present) were often covered with debris; but the perspective of soon arriving at the Starbucks finish control, changing into dry clothes and bagging a memorable 200k Winter brevet made it all tolerable.

How will it be in December 2010 ?