Monday, May 24, 2010

A Mother's Day Gift

San Francisco Randonneurs 600k, May 22-23, 2010

No, the brevet was not a Mother's Day gift; I did that for my own benefit only. Instead, the Mother's Day gift idea came up towards the end of the Clambake 1000. I ordered the toy two days later and carried it on the SFR 600, this past weekend. When people asked me what it was, I replied that it belonged to my wife (being her Mother's Day gift), and that it's called "Where is my husband?"

Before, I used loopt on the iPhone to "check in" every so often, and it made Ghislaine happy - as long as I had cell phone coverage. But much of the route of the Clambake 1000 carefully avoided areas with cell phone coverage (as do many other brevet routes - they all try to go through unspoiled regions), and instead of helping out with letting Ghislaine track my progress on the road, the phone just drained its battery.

In contrast, the orange-colored "Where is my husband" thingie above runs on replaceable batteries and transmits the GPS coordinates via satellites, regardless of phone coverage. There is the inconvenience of having to strap it on the forearm if I want to use it while riding, because it needs to have visibility of satellites. Pulling it out of a bag or a pocket each time before using it would not be practical. It takes a minute or more to transmit a spot, and I wouldn't want to have to wait for it on the roadside.

I admit that I am interested myself in keeping track of when I was at a certain point in my ride. That's easy to forget, and then I don't have the information when I want to use it in my blog. Now I can interpolate the time stamps of the messages I generate; they are kept on a shared page and I can download the data into a GPX, CSV or KML file. But, of course, the main purpose of the system is to keep the loved ones up-to-date on how the ride goes. They receive optionally a text message on their phone, or an e-mail that contains something like

GPS location Date/Time:05/23/2010 17:38:04 PDT

Click the link below to see where I am located.,-122.47507&ll=37.80771,-122.47507&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

(Extra credit for those of you who can guess what "TVB" stands for. And don't ask about the special red button on the device - I sure hope to never use it. It would bring 911 into the game with my location).

I rode this brevet a year ago for the first time. It is probably the hardest of all 600s I have done so far, not only because of its demanding profile (total elevation gain is over 27000 ft), but also because of its tendency to dish out unpredictably difficult atmospheric conditions (wind, rain, extreme temperatures). Last year was one of the easier years, they said; so who knew what I was getting myself into this time? At least, I would not be alone: first, I was glad to see that John C. could come along with me; and second, there were nearly twice as many starters as in the last years (about 60). That's a big number for this difficult 600 km distance.

John at our lunch stop at the Healdsburg Safeway (mile 88)

It has become a bad habit of mine to ride on the first half day of a long distance as if there was no tomorrow - I did it again. Eventually, on the way to Cloverdale, with the intensifying headwind, I remembered how weak I had felt there last year and finally decided to save my legs for the big climb on Hwy 128, around mile 110. There, John couldn't ride slow enough or wait long enough and drifted ahead to our next stop in Boonville, while I settled in my own rhythm into the headwind. I enjoyed the views and the clean air which stayed wind-chilly despite the sun.

The rest in Boonville was very pleasant in the company of a bigger bunch of "social" riders; but I knew that I shouldn't stop for too long if I wanted my legs not to get stiff. And so I left before them, alone into the continued headwind towards the Paul Dimmick campground. A couple of miles later, Maryann passed me and let me draft. I didn't expect to be able to stay with her; but the strong headwind made the difference between the required efforts of first vs. second rider so big that I managed. Now I owe her a beer!

The following four photos are courtesy Jack H. - one of the top-notch volunteers at the campground (together with Bruce, Tom and his spouse Alayne: heartfelt thanks to all of them!):

As so often, I had set up my route-sheet with projected times that reflected my experience from last year. Despite harder and faster riding this year, we were behind schedule: together, we had been much more relaxed at all stops than I was the year before, alone. I appreciated the opportunity to spend more time talking, but was a little concerned when I became distracted enough to forget setting up my helmet light (among other things) at the Paul Dimmick campground, and had to make John wait for me before we could continue towards Fort Bragg. After all, I wanted to arrive at the finish not later than last year, such that I would still be able to join the party with our Scottish friends Mandy and Katie on Sunday evening in time!

But despite pretty good riding, John and I came back from the round trip to Fort Bragg (about 54 miles) nearly an hour later than I did last year (towards 1 a.m.). It was also much colder than last year - while at the turn-around point in Fort Bragg, I had started shivering and needed to "borrow" a Safeway paper bag to stuff under my vest. The crew of volunteers at the campground had their hands full caring for close-to-hypothermic riders - again, three cheers for them in gratitude!

But there was not just the campfire, the excellent coffee, the hot soups, etc. - there was also a little makeshift shrine to honor the memory of Tom Milton (see the end of this post).

He had registered for this brevet, and his brevet card was carried by several riders in turn until over the Golden Gate bridge into the finish. We also had black wrist bands imprinted in memoriam. And, knowing Tom Milton, the congenial thing to do was to have a coupe of champagne available for each rider coming through the rest stop on the way back - and that's how it was done.

Aaron L. joined John and me for the remainder of the night and the 50-mile return trip to Cloverdale. After about 15 miles, we agreed to stop at the Philo post office to lie down on the floor, protected from the biting outside temperatures, for a recommended shut-eye period of less than an hour to avoid the risk of dozing off on the bike. To be more specific about "biting": some riders had thermometers among their equipment and reported minima of 35 F! It's all part of the adventure ...

Warming up in the sun outside of the Guerneville Safeway control

We were lucky that the wind from the day before was there again without having changed directions: now it was mostly in our back, and if anything even stronger. This allowed us to win back the time we had spent at the Philo post office, and to maintain me in the race for making the (supposed) time limit for joining the party with our Scottish friends in the evening, even though John and I eventually arrived at the finish over an hour later than I did last year.

John and I carpooled back to his home; but (after having coordinated with Ghislaine) I accepted the couch there for a little power nap before going onto the remaining 30 minutes of boring driving. I set my wristwatch alarm, and John informed me that he might sleep himself in the otherwise empty house by the time my alarm goes off, and that I should just sneak out then. Well, we both woke up when the phone rang - but that was much later than my alarm which had gone off unheard. Did I miss the party? Hell no - I joined them late, but there was enough left of food and drinks and laughter. And if I had missed the opportunity of fully testing my sleep deprivation tolerance the night before (because of that Philo post office), I made up for it by staying late at the party. After all, I needed to celebrate with Ghislaine and our friends that I had completed my 10th 600 km brevet:

5/26/2007: "Brevet Week", Beloit, WI
6/2/2007: "Surf City", Santa Cruz, CA
5/17/2008: Pacific Coast Highway Randonneurs, Ventura, CA
5/30/2008: "Taylorsville 600", Davis Bike Club, CA
6/5/2009: "Taylorsville 600", Davis Bike Club, CA
5/22/2010: "Fort Bragg 600", SFR, San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Revival of Fond Memories

Santa Rosa Cycling Club 400k brevet, May 8th, 2010

Four years ago, my son Sebastian and I drove to Santa Rosa to attempt our very first 400 km brevet. We felt somewhat prepared for it through a handful of double centuries in 2005 and wanted to extend the distance in preparation for our goal to participate in PBP 2007. As usual at that time, I was hanging all day long on Sebastian's rear wheel and still felt very weak on the climbs, making my designated pacemaker often slow down and wait for me. Despite my struggles, we finished properly in a little more than 20 hours - the course is among the easier ones, and we were trying hard to limit the time off the bike. But after the wake-up alarm on the next morning we easily agreed that we were "not ready yet for 1200 km!" - we felt pretty much broken.

Since then, I went to the SRCC Randonneurs for their 200k and 300k brevets and finally to a second run of my first-ever 400k, this time with John C. for whom this route was a first. I was eager to get back on this beautiful route and to revive memories from four years ago (meaning: to find out how much easier a 400k brevet has become for me since then). But also, I was a little apprehensive and curious how it would feel to ride this distance only six days after the finish of my 1000 km. That's something I would have considered a "don't even try!" until not so long ago; and that's why I decided to look at it as a social ride and not to worry (so much) about lengthier stays at controls, this time.

Nevertheless, I didn't really try to save my legs either and enjoyed the fact that I could stay with a bunch of good riders and even stick my nose in the wind for a little while.

For some time, my group consisted (from left to right in the above picture above Lake Mendocino, after climbing up from Ukiah) of John C., Theresa, Matthew and Tom. Theresa and her bicycle were already featured here. Tom and I exchanged memories from our previous SRCC 400 experience, four years ago; and I was happy to ride with Matthew and reconnect with him; he had come up from Southern California where he lives and where I had seen him in various brevets over the last years. Our first common brevet (the Santa Cruz 600) goes back to 2006 as well - more memories!

On the fast (although not always very flat) Hwy 20 to California's Lake County, John was the last one to be able to follow Theresa, and I ended up being the last one, period - until Matthew let me catch him and form a 2-man team into Nice.

I borrowed these pictures from Roland

Matthew and I missed the store where our friends had stopped for their "receipt control" and so we didn't even know they were still hiding there when we picked another little store further down the road. We were sure they were all way ahead of us and we, being slower, had of course no chance of catching them before the turn-around in Clearlake. We were both thoroughly confused when they arrived in Clearlake at about the time we had finished our Subway sandwiches and were ready to go! After some standing around, Matthew and I told John and Tom we would "soft-pedal" ahead - the legs were getting stiff, and we wanted the extra minutes to be able to take it easy over the return climb on Sulphur Bank Road .

Looking back from Sulphur Bank Road to Borax Lake

We did take it easy, talked about things in life and enjoyed the views and the perfect temperatures; but later, while riding back around the lake where the wind was now often unfavorable, and with rested legs, it appeared to me that Matthew unconsciously found pleasure in temporarily forgetting about the "soft" in our pedaling. Still, we stopped to take a picture of a somewhat presumptuous town sign:

Matthew and I stopped at the same Nice Market as on the outbound leg, and within a minute, John and Tom caught us there, grumbling something about "good you were soft-pedaling ..."
I felt guilty and remembered my intention from the morning to go for a social ride. But, I just couldn't help it: I still wanted to get back to the Ukiah Safeway before nightfall. And so, after I had listened from the side for long enough to a friendly local who admired our stamina and didn't want to believe it when John mentioned to him that I was 65 (which I modestly corrected to "no, later this year only"), I silently grabbed my helmet, put it on, and readied myself for departure. The friendly local watched us intently and noted, pointing at me: "You must be the chief of the team, a Napoleon of sorts!"

With this new nickname, I had no choice but to work harder on the way back to Ukiah; and my friends decided to humor me by letting me cross the first major uphill in first position (trust me: "Once doesn't make a habit!") For a while, John and I had lost Tom and Matthew, but they came back before we arrived in Ukiah where we stayed for a major dinner control - that soup from Safeway was gooood!

I felt flattered when Tom and Matthew suggested I should take it easy now for the remainder; they didn't know that I was still worried about not being able to follow them. But I took it as a permit to stay behind them from now on, and as expected, both rode faster than I would have been able to on my own in front. It was a wonderful ride through the calm night with its gentle tailwind - at least as long as the road surface was smooth enough. Very often, in particular towards the end, it was definitely not smooth enough.

We relaxed again leisurely at the last control in Cloverdale, less than three hours from the finish, and my legs started getting cold and stiff and itchy again. Clyde arrived and was visibly happy to join us, but - sorry, Clyde! - I had to leave. I pretended to walk my bike from now on ... until John joined me and we started cruising. Tom and Matthew stayed and finished with Clyde. We were still at the finish location (RBA Bob's HQ at the Hilton Garden Inn: first, he rode the brevet himself and came in after 16h44; and then he stayed through the night to check in everybody else!) when they arrived.

Two things stand out from this experience:
a) I can now safely go on a 400k brevet just six days after riding a 1000k distance (although I was sleepier than usual on the following two, three days)
b) The SRCC brevets under RBA Bob are top-notch in terms of luxury at the finish (and elsewhere, too) - Thanks, Bob!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Horse of a Different Colour

PCHRandos "Clambake 1000", April 29 - May 1, 2010

The title refers to Eric Fergusson's note (which includes the above picture) about the particular position of the 1000 km brevet distance. Quoted: You might call it randonneur cycling's ugly duckling... the black sheep of the brevet family... neither fish nor fowl. - I had come across that note early on in my budding randonneuring career when I feverishly perused all the major web sites dedicated to the subject, but rediscovered it at the beginning of this year through one of my favorite blogs (in French) where the eminent author dedicated a pretty rich post to "The Wonderful World of the Thousands". By then, I had become particularly receptive to the subject, since I had penciled a first 1000k into my calendar for 2010: the Clambake 1000 (click on the "April 29th" line). As much as this 1000 km distance was meant as a preparation for more important events to come, all the previous 200 - 300 - 400 - 600 km brevets were meant as preparation for this special 3-day ride!

So what is so special about this distance? After all, I successfully finished two 1200 km Grande Randonnées, and I covered over 1000 km in less than 75 hours (the time limit for a 1000 km brevet) at my first attempt at PBP in 2007 already. Based on all the accumulated experience and conditioning from the last years (and with my usual optimism), I felt confident and was determined to try to finish on the third day "for dinner" (i.e. in not much more than 62 hours). But at the same time, I had doubts. In contrast to the big, prestigious 1200 km events, I approached this 1000 km with the mindset of "just another long brevet." It obviously didn't measure up to a 1200, and yet - with five-sixth of the distance - it was nearly as long. Something might be wrong in my mind about this endeavor; somehow, the horse had a different color ...

From my point of view, the layout of the route was perfect: first a big northern loop out of Pismo Beach on the first two days with a suggested overnight stop in King City. I planned to ride the 710 km through and to come back to Shell Beach (just before Pismo Beach) on the second evening. Ghislaine stayed there with our friend Yolande and her daughter while I was on the road. I would shower, eat and sleep there, and leave early in the morning of the third day to check in at the Pismo Beach control before closure and go on to complete the remaining 290 km of the southern loop to the Solvang area (the two maps are at different scales):

Day 1 (Pismo Beach - King City, 226 miles)

Fifteen bicycles plus the tandem of Jack and Kathy T. were at the 5:30 a.m. start on Thursday morning. I had promised myself to stay relaxed and keep things steady; but by the time we tackled the 2-mile Cuesta grade after San Luis Obispo, I found myself close to the front in a group of six and couldn't help trying to stay with them until the top. I knew I was making a big mistake 20 miles into a 624 mile ride (on the last quarter mile of the climb I had to give it all, breathless and with searing legs), but either you have passion or you don't!

As soon as we turned off of 101 and passed Santa Margarita, the bucolic surroundings made me feel peaceful enough to abandon my ambitions of staying with the stronger riders; but then they seemed to slow down as well, and so we still arrived at about the same time at the Pozo Saloon control - allegedly a hideout of the Jesse James band in a distant past:

The roads in this remote area were smooth and bare of traffic; the air was clean and fresh, and the scenery a dream. The terrain was not particularly difficult, but I started to feel a lack of power output on the hills; and this time, I knew better than to keep pushing too hard. I didn't mind riding alone, from then on.

(I borrowed the above and some of the following photos with permission from the ride director's collection)

I still met my companions from the early morning at the Creston Country Store control; but they were about to leave when I arrived.

I kept riding and declared this to be my "best ride ever" (insider joke):

That's how I like it (above and below) ...

When I arrived at Bobbe's wo-manned (ha-ha) control at mile 107, out in the proverbial middle of nowhere, i.e. the junction of Highway 58 and Bitterwater Road, Bobbe was all excited that I was doing so well. She wanted me to catch the group which had left just minutes earlier; but she also wanted me to eat and drink as much as I could (and more) from the abundant supplies in her car. I perceived that as a conflict, which I resolved by opting for the latter.

You can tell from the picture that clouds had come up in the meantime that covered the sun and threatened to drop some rain (I did get rained on a little later, but only for a little while). More importantly, however, a severe wind had come up; and it came entirely from the wrong direction throughout the next 40 miles!

Above: looking ahead; below: looking back.
Hard to see, but the grass lies nearly flat under the wind from the north-west ...

The "best ride ever" was definitely over. This was really hard work, and a serious test of not only physical, but also mental stamina. I was lucky that some previous episodes of lengthy riding into a headwind had hardened me for this situation; but I honestly believe this one was harder than anything before.

There were still many beautiful wildflower views along the San Andreas fault line:

... and cattle which considered that they owned the road (at some point, I would not have been able to pass without the assistance of a friendly car):

Over four hours later (yes, my average speed for the dominantly flat 40 miles was under 10 mph, and I was still proud of my achievement!), I arrived at the Parkfield control (mile 157). Despite its connotation of "earthquake capital of the world" it appeared to be quite charming; too bad I couldn't stay and explore the surroundings:

The next segment led back over mountains to the 101 at San Miguel. I recall very distinctly one major climb at sunset and I am not proud of it: I am glad nobody was around to see how slow I was, needing two involuntary personal rest stops before I managed to get to the top. By that time, I had given up on my goal to arrive in San Miguel before 9 p.m. (when they close their stores). But then, a long descent, a stretch of tailwind, and lo and behold: I stopped in front of the store at 8:57 p.m. and still could buy a hot mocha, calorific snacks and water to refill the bottles. I even caught two riders there from the group I rode with in the morning; but they were just about to take off, and I needed some more time.

I still had 46 miles to go to King City, and even though the notorious headwind there wasn't quite as strong any more as it must have been earlier in the day, it was still very present. If I recall correctly, I arrived at the Motel 6 control around 1:30 a.m. - a far cry from my optimistically calculated estimates.

Ride director Vickie and Bobbe (they seeemed to be everywhere) made me feel most welcome. It had become very chilly outside and I enjoyed the hot soup and the opportunity to warm up and to eat without hurry. I also went to the room next door which was offered to get some shut-eye; but - in hindsight - I made the mistake of not resting long enough.

Day 2 (King City - Pismo Beach, 215 miles)

I left at 2:50 a.m., eager to get back to Shell Beach "in time" and still confident of being able to do so. But as it turned out, I had two things against me. For one, I got sleepier than was safe during the hour before sunrise, which made me go very slow and required an extra improvised shut-eye stop. And then, bad surprise (I have been told to not always be so verbally graphic in this matter, so I'm making an effort): somehow, my digestive tract was in distress, and I had to use up much of my toilet paper behind bushes. All this added up to a substantial delay. And because I thought it also represented a fine set of excuses, I didn't even worry any more about losing more time.

The road over the mountains to Carmel was very beautiful, but also long and with climbs that challenged my weakened legs. I was very much looking forward to breakfast at the Wild Goose Bakery Café in Carmel Valley, and was not disappointed when I got there. I nearly forgot that I was on a timed ride.

I was also looking forward to seeing the Pacific at Carmel and riding down the coast on Highway 1 with tailwind. Of course, I knew that route; but I had never ridden it on a bicycle. I felt a little better already and decided to just take one photo at the beginning, such as not to spend all afternoon stopping for pictures around every turn and at every outlook:

Despite my previous knowledge of the route, I was surprised by the amount of up-and-downs it involved (there is a difference between driving by car and riding by bike ...). And despite the undeniable tailwind, I was much slower than anticipated. The tailwind did help, but not nearly enough when the road went uphill; and it was effectively counterproductive on the downhills, when the gusts made it dangerous to let speed build up.

And finally, I had to stop, no matter what, for the following picture:

I wish it would come out in the picture as impressive, mysterious and fascinating as it was in reality (maybe if you click on it to see it in enlargement?). I thought they were whales - some of them looked like they were 40 feet long; but it sounds too unreal. Any experts out there?

Towards the end of the day, when I reached San Simeon and the flatter portion of the coast, hoping to really capitalize on the tailwind now, the wind died down ...

At the Cambria control, Bobbe was there again (as I said: everywhere!) and watched me buy a bag of pretzels and a coke; I didn't want anything else any more, and it has the reputation of being a remedy for you know what. Not too long later, Tom R. caught up with me and we rode towards Pismo Beach together, with me stopping at Shell Beach, where Ghislaine had waited for me until after 1 a.m. - not what I had calculated.

Day 3 (Pismo Beach - Solvang - Pismo Beach, 183 miles)

After a shower, a "late dinner," a healthy sleep and breakfast, I left at 6 a.m., to check in at the Pismo Beach control well before closure and get on my way for the last and easiest day. I knew all the roads from the Solvang Spring Double Century and other visits to the area and was looking forward to rediscover them. Of course, I wished to be stronger and faster than I was, but overall, I was satisfied with my progression. If only I didn't have to watch out for suitable bushes every so often, or spend so much time in men's rooms of gas stations (of which there were only very few). I got a little too warm over the Drum Canyon south of Los Alamos, but my legs had recovered well enough for the climb, and I could enjoy the view down south from close to the top:

The stretch on Highway 246 to Lompoc led again into a fierce headwind; but just in time, Michelle Santilhano and another rider passed and invited me to ride along in their draft - what a boon! Too bad I couldn't stay with them when the road went uphill for a little too long; but Lompoc wasn't far away any more. And on the way back over Santa Rosa Road, I had the pleasant surprise of being caught by and riding along with the ride director Vickie who was out on her new recumbent to look after everybody on the road!

The tailwind from Lompoc to Santa Ynez was very beneficial to morale and overall average speed; my legs felt surprisingly good again, and I started to believe into arriving before midnight. The control in Los Olivos was staffed by Bobbe again (who else?) - who had remembered that I needed a bag of pretzels and brought it for me! Earlier, out of Solvang, Mel C. had caught up with me (while I was in a bike shop to stretch my sagging saddle a little more), and we had our picture taken by Bobbe. Mel and I eventually arrived at the finish together.

The famous flag pole in Los Olivos
"875 km down, 125 to go!"

Unfortunately, the remaining 125 km still included unfavorable winds and some undesirable extra delays (now don't ask why!), and - close to the end, in deep darkness - some navigational confusion. As a result, I didn't arrive until nearly 1 a.m., all in all a couple of hours later than hoped for. Then again, I had some good excuses ... and I decided to be quite happy after all and even unabashedly proud with my "I did it!"

Sunday belonged to Ghislaine, Yolande and Geraldine. We had a great brunch, a wonderful Bao-Sheng Foot Spa (and a full-body massage for me), and a celebratory dinner at the Spyglass Inn restaurant in Shell Beach ...

... from where we watched the sun set behind a dolphin statue:

Learning something new ...

Davis Bike Club 400k Brevet, April 17, 2010

The subtitle in my blog header says "Learning something new on each and every brevet." However, in looking back, I did not often spell out what it was that I had learned on a given brevet. You may suspect that I didn't want to embarrass myself by publicly admitting the mistakes I had made (and learned from), and that's a fair suspicion. While I was on the way back from the turnaround point at the DBC 400k brevet, I promised myself to become more upfront about this.

This is the outbound route. The inbound route differs slightly around Winters/Vacaville

As all the other DBC brevets, this one started out with the usual flat stretch where riding in a swift pack allows to put some good time in the bank. Although there are some mountain ridges to be crossed, the overall elevation gain (well under 10000 ft) is moderate for this distance, and I consider this one of the easier 400s in the area. I did it once before in 2008 and it became my only 400k finish under 20 hours. Of course, I hoped to do even better this time.

Everything went well, and I was happy to notice that I could stay a little longer than in the past with groups of faster riders - until a well-known feeling in the legs told me to let them go. Still, I was far ahead of my planned schedule at that point and could realistically hope for a sub-19 hour finish, which was very motivating for me.

But then came the lesson of the day: "Always read the info control instructions on the brevet card before you get there!" (Or: don't be shy to pick up the latest route sheet at check-in and use it when in doubt ...)

The turnaround point was some uphill distance beyond the Lake Sonoma Recreation Area Park. My route sheet (which I always reformat and print from an earlier electronic online version if available) only indicated "continue 1.7 mi to turn-around cone at Rockpile Rd" and so I started climbing and looking for the cone that would indicate the turn-around and presumably offer some secret code to be entered into the brevet card at that point. Well, that cone never came. The 1.7 mi distance passed, and still no indication of a turn-around "info control." I have often seen incorrect distances on route sheets, and so I didn't mind and kept climbing. The scenery was spectacular, the weather wonderful (now, at the warmest time of the day and with all the climbing, I actually did get a little too hot), and I was not even particularly surprised that the RBA (Regional Brevet Administrator) was sadistic enough to put the turn-around point at the very top of the climb, which kept adding yet another steep pitch, and then yet another even steeper one ...
By the time I decided to stop (nearly at the top of it all), pull out the brevet card and read the definite instruction for the info control (which was in fact less than a mile from the park and did not have a cone, only a street sign at a junction), I had wasted more than half an hour with killing my legs on hills much steeper than anything else on the actual route. - That's when I remembered my motto to "Learn something new on each and every brevet."

I allowed myself some temporary disappointment and a more generous rest at the park, but recovered well enough to still finish two minutes earlier than two years ago and be satisfied with it.

Earlier in the day, I had met again Tom Milton of Selle An-Atomica fame (more background here; also mentioned here) - repeatedly, because he was fast enough that I could not stay with him for very long; and each time after he had spent more time than I socializing at control stops and elsewhere, he came back to pass me again, joking that there were more than one Tom Milton on the ride. He was particularly upbeat and joyful on that day, even singing at times; and he treated me like an old friend. While I myself somehow forgot to take pictures, he didn't: his album is here; please, check it out. I didn't see him any more after the half-way point; he finished over an hour before me. - One week later, I was devastated to learn that he was felled by a presumed heart attack. A tribute to Tom in form of collected memories can be found here. Borrowing from Willy's contribution there: I will ride the rest of my brevets with him in my heart.