Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Carrier Pigeons and American Brown

Santa Rosa  Cycling Club 200k brevet, January 15, 2011

Yes, I am still out of shape, and the legs did hurt a lot during the lunch break at Skyline Park in Napa. It was the third time I rode on this fast route (last year's account has a map of the route and some more pictures), and despite nearly perfect conditions, I was 45 minutes slower than ever before. But, as I like to say: "It doesn't matter." What matters is that I thoroughly enjoyed the day out there, and that I finished the ride in lasting happiness.

Given that this was the third time, I should have remembered and prepared my camera to catch the moment right at the start when - just like at the last few editions of this brevet - homing pigeons were released at the same time as over 100 randonneurs. I recognized the pigeon handler when he caught me fifteen or twenty miles from the finish and we rode together for a while. I told him that my wife's grandfather in northern France, close to Belgium, was a passionate owner of racing pigeons; but Jose didn't give me the impression that he could relate to that. Instead, he explained that he always says a prayer when he releases the pigeons at the start of a brevet: "Fly up into the sky and watch out over all the cyclists on the road today!" (apologies for not recalling the precise wording).

(borrowed from results of a Google image search)

It was rewarding as usual, no - even more so after the long winter break! - to meet many randonneuring friends again, to chat with them, and (in my case) draft them for a while until I had to let loose. In contrast to last year, I didn't see any tandems, but all the more fixies in exchange. And because (in case you didn't notice in my last installment already) I decided this year to let more and more memories from childhood and youth infiltrate my talking and blogging (apparently old men are entitled to it, and I finally feel old enough) I played the game of guessing the gearing (i.e. numbers of teeth on the chainring and the rear sprocket) just by looking at it. I was good at it when I was young. And I still get it right sometimes, as for the 48:18 of Karen B. who seemed to be quite puzzled about my precise guesswork. Which, by the way, reminded me that in 1962, the year I started racing in Germany, 48:18 was the highest gear allowed for racers under 16. Because I was already over 16 (but not yet 18), I could have used a whopping 51:18; but I didn't have the money to buy a special 51-tooth chainring and had to make do with a more standard 50:18.  We still exceeded 25 mph on some short time trials - which required two pedal rounds per second!

Back to the lunch stop at Napa's Skyline Park. Ten days have passed since then, but I won't forget the memorable compliment Bobbe (volunteer extraordinaire) made me when I arrived there: "You always look so composed!" I know she meant it in good faith; but I certainly didn't feel like it. Taking into account the situation with my sore legs, she might have said, at best: "You are hiding it well ..." - In any event, while munching on my sandwich and refilling my bottles, the pain in the legs got worse and worse, and I had no choice but to go back on my bike and pedal fast to get the blood flowing again and dissipate the pain. At least, it taught me to keep the lunch stop short. Otherwise, who knows how much and for how long I would have chatted around reminiscing the times when I was young and fast ...

A little tailwind made the way back along a nearly infinite number of Napa Valley wineries appear shorter than it was and lulled me into an impression of not being so slow, after all. The awakening came on the objectively fairly soft and less than a mile long climb north of Calistoga, and it was brutal. I couldn't believe I actually had to stop and walk the bike for a little while, to shake out the legs. Good thing the remaining 20 miles were mostly downhill!

There is one special reason why this Santa Rosa brevet route is one of my favorites; and everybody who knows me only a little can guess what it is: the finish at the Bear Republic Brewery. Of course, the perspective of sitting together and socializing with all the randonneuring friends is priceless, and fortunately, I am not alone in appreciating it very much. But this doesn't explain why I am always suddenly so strong again on the last ten miles, where it's all flat - no downhill any more! Given that this happened on all of my three participations there, I have to conclude that the explanation must lie in the beer I am looking forward to (my personal variant of "smelling the barn"). This time, it was the American Brown (search for it here):

I don't insist on suggesting it too heavily, but look at the end of the first paragraph, above: "... lasting happiness ..."

I basked in the additional satisfaction I got from favorable comments made by several randonneuring friends about my "wine and cheese" write-up which had made it into print in the American Randonneur newsletter, and even found yet another reader of this blog (more than a handful already!). I know her as a pretty strong rider and innocently wanted to know when she had arrived. She clearly had concerns about hurting my feelings if she revealed how much faster she was than myself (over one and a half hours); and I didn't know how to reassure her. It only occurred to me on the way home. I could have rambled along (like all old men do) about how fast I was when I was young. At the age of 18 (and without gearing limitations!), I actually participated in two road races of 210 and 215 km respectively (in Bavaria; with routes hillier than Napa Valley!), and finished both in under six hours ...


  1. Bonjour Joseph
    Les randonneurs ne sont-ils pas, eux aussi, des pigeons voyageurs?
    J'aime beaucoup ton état d'esprit et ta sincérité. Merci également de partager tes souvenirs de 'jeunesse' (mais on n'est jamais vieux, sinon dans sa tête). Je trouve que c'est une bonne idée, qui donne une dimension supplémentaire à ton blog. Hum, crois-tu que l'on peut passer toutes les côtes du PBP avec un 48:18?
    Amitiés- Sophie

  2. Sepp-
    Like Sophie, I enjoy your stories about your youth. Keep them coming...