Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Triplets of Belleville

Santa Rosa Cycling Club 600k brevet, June 5-6, 2010

About five or six years ago, a friend recommended we go and watch the movie "Les triplettes de Belleville." We did, we were fascinated, and we bought the DVD. Now I need to find where it is (and I need to find a nice empty evening) because I haven't watched it for too long and want to see it again. The reason: a very special control location at the recent SRCC 600 brevet. This is how the RBA Bob Redmond announced it:

Be prepared to be spoiled.

A brevet should be self-supportive, but SRCC just doesn’t know how to do things that way. In addition to the world famous Pope Valley Control we have added a stop near Blue Lakes in Upper Lake. Got time to fish?


Pope Valley Control: You get to experience its day vs night schizophrenic spoils. In the outbound heat we have a shaded kiddy-pool to soothe your feet, music to soothe your soul while we serve smoothies and a full lunch. No skimping on the variety offered from vegan to carnivore.

Grab only a snack in Winters for your return to the oasis. Save room for a full meal on the inbound return. Chef Ellis prides himself on his bolognaise prepared from scratch. We’ll take care of the other senses with lights, a campfire and music or maybe a movie. Pack some dancing shoes in your drop bag. There’s also an enclosed canopy to use for a short nap if you need. It won’t be quiet though. We just want your short time with us to be special.

Yes, you guessed it right: the maybe a movie referred to the Triplettes de Belleville. I listened to its sound track (it was projected on a big screen outside - think of it as a cycle-in movie theatre) while resting in the enclosed canopy on an air mattress after my late spaghetti dinner, before getting back on the road towards Middletown shortly before 2 a.m.!

Words cannot do justice to the atmosphere there; and it would have been difficult to capture the spirit in pictures (I didn't even try). Just imagine the requisite port-a-potty at the far corner of the parking lot abundantly decorated with colorful Christmas lights! Enough said ...


First, as usual, the map. Compare it with the one from the SRCC 400; there are some common portions.

But the sharp spikes in the profile around mile 50 and mile 352 (obviously, the route was a clean out-and-back) were absent on the shorter distance; they correspond to serious climbing on the Hopland Grade along Hwy 175 between Hopland and Lakeport. In addition, the profile appears quite "rough" on the last 40 miles before reaching the flats around the turnaround control in Winters. I know those roads quite well from Davis Bike Club brevets; they include the ominously named "Cardiac Hill."

Despite the respectable accumulated elevation gain, I insisted mentally on the extended flatter portions of the route and decided to attempt a "fast" ride (by my standards) of, say, less than 32 hours. With my experience on these distances I should know by now how to manage my pedaling efforts and my time off the bike; and this would make my goal achievable.

Sadly, the picture above from the Blue Lakes control on the way out reminds me that I stayed there for a first lunch break much longer than planned; and I repeated that slip two and a half hours later at my second lunch break in Clearlake. This is how I consumed all the extra time I had gained during the fast first 30 miles where I had managed to stay with the "big boys" (and girls!), at least until the first noticeable uphill on Dutcher Creek Road. But it was the first ride of the year where I could ride with naked legs; in other words: it was warm, and I was sufficiently unadapted to the temperatures that I was worried about getting in trouble with not eating well enough. I thought it better to invest some time in good nourishment now, rather than bonk later! - However, as a consequence, my full belly prevented me from sustaining a higher workload on the road; and I no longer tried to stay with other riders but followed my own pace from then on. I was satisfied to conclude that I still seemed to position myself not far from the middle of the pack (which was already stretched out over several hours).

On the way to that famous control at the Pope Valley grange, I hooked up with Tom H. and J.T. which made me feel better, relatively. I got the impression that my adaptation to the higher temperatures in the afternoon was successful. The reactions of the concerned volunteers at the control showed that there had been a risk of arriving overheated and dehydrated, but I felt comfortable and in good spirits. On top of that, the ice-cold smoothie did its miracle, and I couldn't wait to get back on the road.

Seeing and greeting the first riders who came back from the turn-around point was a pleasant distraction. I tried to count them; but this was too much to ask from my poor brain at that point. With the help of a strong tailwind, I could compensate for the time lost on my slow climbing (remember: Cardiac Hill!) and arrived in Winters just at the onset of night - theoretically still on schedule for my desired sub-32-hour time. Of course, I had to pay for that tailwind on the way back; and by the time I arrived at the Triplets of Belleville, I revised my goal and added another hour - sub-33-hours it is!

Regardless of my finishing time, I had the goal for this ride to test my ability to ride through the night without a major sleep stop (the 20-25 minute rest after the spaghetti dinner shouldn't count). As expected, I had to struggle with sleepiness around 4:30 a.m., somewhere on Hwy 29 between Middletown and Lower Lake (my least favorite part of the whole route). For safety considerations, I ended up allowing myself another shut-eye when I noticed a big flattened cardboard box not far from the road: not as comfortable as an air mattress, but close! It wasn't even too cold out there; and when I jumped up ten minutes later, I felt restored and this was the end of any sleepiness.

However, my legs and the cardiovascular system didn't agree with working hard at this time of the day, and so I lost more time on the way to the breakfast control in Clearlake. Also, I was really getting hungry now and promised myself a good cup of coffee with my Nutella bread - all in all again over half an hour at that Flyers station. I knew it would be good to learn how to keep the stops much, much shorter; but at that point, I reasoned it away by giving priority - again - to my stomach.

Just a little over 35 mostly pleasant miles brought us back to the Blue Lakes Lodge. That's where Bob's description (quoted above) asks "Got time to fish?" Well, I didn't have the time (and I am not into fishing to begin with); but I can show you what the view from the backdoor looked like:

It started getting warm again; and because I anticipated that the heat would get at me on the remaining major climb of the east side of Hopland Grade, I resisted the temptation to stay longer at this nice place. (Needless to say, I stayed "long enough" anyway).

The heat did get to me; and after some 320 miles, any climb gets to me, no matter what. Consequently, I found that I had to stop several times in order to take pictures for the readers of my blog:

On the lower section

Towards the top: Looking back at Clear Lake

And consequently, I had to revise my goal for this ride once again: just add another hour to the desired finishing time!

To stay with my theme for this SRCC 600 ("Priority to the stomach!"), I stopped at the Sanel Valley Market and Deli after the six or seven miles of gorgeous descent on the west side of Hopland Grade. It would eat another half hour into my already twice revised schedule; but I had to have that really wonderful big egg sandwich and that equally wonderful beer (which I did not drink on the premises, law-abiding non-citizen which I am, but further down hidden in the shade of a tree, instead). This powered me without any more trouble through the last 38 miles to the finish. At first, it looked like some good tailwind would help me with my timing goal; but towards Healdsburg, the wind turned, and I realized that I had to revise my schedule one last time: adjust the goal to arrive in under 35 hours!
I needed two hours for the last 25 miles of fighting a headwind, sprinkled with traffic lights that always turned red just when I arrived and added more stupid minutes. But, on the brighter side, I felt good, much better than in the early morning. I didn't have to fake good form when I arrived: I felt good and could let it appear as easy. And this is always my ultimate goal!

With SFR-RBA Rob Hawks who volunteered at the finish control

Big, heartfelt thanks to RBA Bob Redmond and his team of volunteers - you made this brevet an exceptional experience!