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:


  1. What a great ride report Joseph. You always remind me of why we do these rides- not for the speed but for the adventure.

  2. Well done Joseph. So, why do they call it "Clambake"?
    See you soon in Monroe

  3. Brilliant write up. Thank you for taking the time to include pictures, your personal story and vivid descriptions of all micro-adventures that make a randonee so memorable. So happy you saw my friend Michele Santilhano. Good luck at Mille du Sud in the Alps de Provence.