Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Barrel Tasting and Piano Concerto No. 2 by Camille Saint-Saëns

Santa Rosa Cycling Club 200k brevet, March 13, 2010

No, we didn't go barrel tasting (note how the webmaster had a little too much already by the time he typed line 7). As much as I appreciate fine wine, it's not a good fit during a bike ride (ask me how I know - oh, I mentioned it on top of page 5 here). And I am happy to report that other barrel tasters apparently all had designated drivers during that wonderful day that led us from Healdsburg to Napa and back.

(This is the outbound route only; on the way back, we took a shortcut to Healdsburg towards the end)

A big crowd of well over 80 randonneurs showed up at the start, and the joy of seeing many old and new friends was shared by everybody. John and I parked our carpool-van next to a well-proportioned although anatomically questionable horse statue:

The first miles were chilly, with the consequence that all those who were not overdressed set out at a very brisk pace to "warm up." I had warned John that this was a fast course (I did it two years ago already and finished then in 8 1/2 hours, somewhere in the middle of the result sheet sorted by times), and so I didn't hesitate to stay in touch with one of the groups among the faster half of the participants, at least for the first ten miles. Then, the control stop at the northernmost point of the route broke the group up, which allowed me to shed a layer and to continue alone. Not for long, because on the Canyon Road climb I caught up to the tandem (one of seven on that day!) of Spencer and Joann and stayed with them; they helped me make a good time on last year's SCR 300 already. Soon, the tandem attracted more singles and combined forces with the tandem of Ken and Lisa, and so we covered the next twenty miles or so in good speed and without undue effort. I decided to stop for some short personal business during the uphill north of Calistoga and to let the group go. This way, I could negotiate the following curvy downhill and the last stretch into Calistoga alone. The road surface there tends to rattle tooth fillings loose and makes riding in a group more stressful than necessary.

As expected, a substantial part of the group stopped in Calistoga anyway, whereas I was set up to continue on my way alone, chewing on some bone-hard energy bar of unknown brand and origin left over from last year. Only over an hour later, one by one, other riders caught up and allowed me to form a little pace line with them. Sometimes, one or the other showed how strong he was by pushing hard on the shallow climbs of the Silverado Trail with its large bike lane and super-smooth surface, and I felt compelled to demonstrate that I was also willing (at least in spirit) to do my share, take the lead for a while and try to kill my legs to make them stronger for some other day. All this made that we arrived at the lunch stop and turn-around point at the Skyline Park above Napa, mile 70, in less than four hours (3h59, to be precise), which was unexpectedly fast for me and put me at the end of the first third of riders arriving there.

The offerings of the SRCC Randonneurs group there were overwhelming - I called it a "gourmet control." For somebody like me who has some ideological roots in randonneuring as long-distance unsupported endurance cycling emphasizing self-sufficiency, this generated a little bit of a mixed feeling which I was tempted to articulate. But given that the stomach always is overruling all philosophizing (at least for me) and that I had a flawless appetite, I just indulged.

John joined me barely ten minutes later; he had been riding alone without benefitting from drafting tandems and faster groups. I decided to stay with him for the return trip and to have a good time in priority over a fast time. This left me more lunch-break-spare-time to talk with randonneuring friends, and to take pictures of Theresa's jewelry-like restoration of a genuine 1969 Peugeot lady's porteur bicycle:

Needless to say, seeing Theresa nearly effortlessly gliding along through Napa Valley in the middle of a group of racing bicycles was a sight to behold! She left the lunch stop a little before John and I, and finished over ten minutes earlier, even though John and I certainly didn't waste any time on the return trip.

The reason for our not wasting time - as I had explained to John several days earlier - was the ECYS Benefit Concert in the evening which I desperately didn't want to miss. But I didn't want to miss my beer from the Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg (the traditional location of the finish control of this brevet!) either, and in particular didn't want John to miss it. So, the only solution to the dilemma was to ride faster. Gabe and JimG joined in the fun; and this time, both John and I found reasons to mention our sore legs (we typically don't do that) while fighting the headwind. For a while, I felt weak enough to let the others take much longer pulls in front than I could afford. In the last 20 or 30 miles, however, I surprised myself with a decent recovery, and there was no holding me back on the last six miles when we finally had the wind in our back again, and when I smelled the brewing company.

We finally had our beer (despite slow service), and after a couple of hearty handshakes mounted the bikes again to get back to the van and to the grazing horse. The sun put it in a new light, and I wanted John to take a picture of me with it:

Obviously, the horse had grown since the morning: there was no way I could have mounted it without a ladder. - Note how John put himself into the picture as well.

Now we were on the way back to the South Bay, and I started counting the minutes while we were in dense traffic around Santa Rosa and through San Francisco. I dropped off John at his house, and still continued scrupulously observing the speed limits - the pedagogic value of my speeding ticket from a year ago hadn't been lost on me. I arrived at home at 7:05 p.m. and didn't have time to double-check the time of the concert - I just assumed it was 8:00 p.m., because otherwise I would not make it. I showered and dressed into my concert-going outfit in ten minutes, needed a little over ten more minutes to the Flint Center parking garage in Cupertino, and presented myself at 7:35 p.m. at the entrance - without a ticket. I got a little shuffled around by zealous ushers, until it became clear that I couldn't buy a ticket any more. One of the male ushers (who was even older than I) empathized with me enough to let me into the concert hall at 7:42 p.m.. The moment I pushed the door (it was already dark inside), everybody started clapping. No, that wasn't for me, but for the conductor. The concert was scheduled for 7:30 p.m., but they were running late. I sank into my seat:
- William Tell Ouverture, Rossini
- Piano Concerto No. 2, Camille Saint-Saëns: soloist Claire Huangci (wow!)
- Scheherazade, Rimsky-Korsakov.

Truly a fitting evening for an exceptional 200k brevet!

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