Sunday, December 19, 2010

Year's End Interview

Towards the end of 2010

There were times in my youth when I dreamt of becoming (moderately) famous, later in my life. The 'later in my life' is now, and I still have not become famous, not even moderately. My blogging didn't help either. But it gives me an opportunity to pretend. Like pretending that somebody is interviewing me, as only "famous" people are being interviewed.

Q: Your last blog post dates from September. What happened - did you stop riding your bike?

A: No, I didn't - although it's true that the miles/month statistics dropped substantially, and that the only ride longer than 30 miles since then was the Death Valley Fall Century on October 30th. But we had the wedding of our elder daughter Valerie, early October; and that was big enough that everything else had to step back.

Q: You could have posted about the wedding, then.

A: I should have. But at first, I was still too busy entertaining our guests from Europe. Then, some kind of flu or cold virus got hold of me and bogged me down for a couple of weeks. Finally, there was still work at the office, which is always another good excuse.

Q: So, tell us something about that famous wedding now, and show us some pictures! The couple is still married, I suppose?

A: Yes, that's always my first question when I see my new son-in-law. He and I agreed at the wedding to do something about the fact that most in-law jokes involve the mother-in-law. From now on, the father-in-law will be the butt of the jokes.
The wedding was big (140 guests from six continents), a little outrageous (the celebrations went on for four days) and very pluricultural (can you say interfaith? Did I mention six continents?).

Q: Your most memorable moments from the wedding?

A: The first was the Father - Daughter dance. I selected the music ("Prague Waltzes" by Antonin Dvorak); and the bride, a former professional ballet dancer, knew how to come up with some choreography. Even though we did better during the rehearsals, the performance went well enough and I am very happy with it.

The second was my series of push-ups while waiting for the elevator in the hotel, when we finally came back from the restaurant and decided to go to sleep, around 4:30 in the morning. Frankly, I don't quite remember how this came about - too much pluricultural celebrating, involving no small amount of vodka, I guess. (There was the consensus during that evening that you cannot trust people who refuse to drink; and I pride myself of being trustworthy). It could have been the result of some kind of dare. I certainly did impress some people, favorably I hope. But not enough to become famous.

Q: You mentioned the Death Valley Fall Century. I understand (from the previous posts here, here and here) that the Death Valley weekends in Spring and Fall have become a family tradition. How did it go this time?

A: This time, I didn't believe we could go there at all, because I was suffering from that bad virus and thought I could not even drive, even less ride the bicycle. In addition, Fabienne had spent a very uncomfortable night (and that's a euphemism!) in the emergency room of the UCLA hospital a couple of days earlier, and was absolutely unfit to ride. But eventually, everybody made it to Furnace Creek in time - even Sebastian who came back with his family from New York. I still did not believe we (Valerie and I on the tandem) would be able to ride more than an out-and-back to the first rest stop; but I underestimated how strong-headed Valerie can be. In the end, we successfully battled it out up to Scotty's Castle and back. I did admit at the finish that it was "hard." By the way, Sebastian finished the century two hours before us.

This was three weeks after Valerie's wedding. (My new son-in-law was there, too; but I couldn't get him to ride a bicycle - yet). Complimenting Valerie's gutsiness once again, I would like to report that she fulfilled one of her long-term dreams on the way to Furnace Creek, on the afternoon before the ride: to stroll and jump around in the dunes in her wedding dress!

Q: I can see you are proud of her. - Back to bicycling and your randonneuring apprenticeship. It's time for a review of the past season. Your blog posts suggest you have had a pretty good year?

A: Yes, it was my best year ever - so far. I feel fortunate that I could accomplish nearly everything I had put on my calendar, a year ago, and I am very grateful for it.

Q: But you failed to accomplish what you had declared as your number one goal for 2010, the Mille du Sud?

A: Correct. I certainly wish I could have finished this demanding high-end randonnée in my first attempt; but I don't make a disease out of a situation where I am confronted with my physical limitations and some circumstantial restrictions. It was not a defeat or a failure, only a consequence of consciously prioritizing some honorable aspects of randonneuring that happen to require a higher level of athletic ability than what I have to play with. Besides, the final lack of success in this case is probably again a blessing in disguise: it will motivate me all the more for next year's edition!

Q: You are calling "Wine and Cheese" honorable aspects of randonneuring?

A: As long as you don't accuse me of any missionary zeal: yes. 

Q: And you are attempting the Mille du Sud again next year, only three weeks after Paris - Brest - Paris?

A: Of course. Remember: I said "it was my best year ever - so far."

Q: What else is on your calendar for 2011?

A: Before answering your question, I should mention that I will go into retirement, in early March (no more excuses with too much work at the office, after that ... and no more complaining about not enough vacation days to travel longer distances to brevets). 
Aside from the local brevets in the early months of 2011, and aside from the traditional Death Valley weekend of February, I plan to do my first 600 on March 19th (Saint Joseph's Day) in Arizona where I always wanted to ride. This will complete my qualification series for Paris-Brest-Paris which is of course a "must." Taking advantage of my new retiree status, I then plan to stay in Europe from May through October, to catch up on what I missed since we moved to California in 1991. For example, I could never participate in the 600k Bayern Rundfahrt and the even bigger 1000 km Große acht durch Bayern - in 2011, I should be able to do both, in June! July will bring the prestigious Brevet de Randonneur des Alpes; and I still have to figure out how to work my ambitious plans regarding the Mont Ventoux and hopefully the Super Randonnée de Haute Provence into my schedule.

Q:  It looks like you are going to be quite busy in your retirement.

A: Oh yes. Do you want to hear about my plans for 2012?

Q:  No.

A:  :-(  :-(

Photo credits: Kerri-Ann Watson

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Defeated by Wine and Cheese

1000 du Sud, September 11-14, 2010

When I learned towards the end of last year about that new "1000 du Sud" in Southern France, it instantly became my number one goal for the 2010 season. Everything else was relegated to the role of preparing me for this event. I like picking goals that are a little above my head; this motivates me to be more disciplined in my training and life style (yes I know, still not nearly enough). This route with 40000 ft of elevation gain including many serious "cols" definitely was threatening enough. In addition, there was the fact that much of the route would take me back in time by 40 years, when I had moved from Germany to Southern France as a student, eager not only to study mathematics but also to discover the geography and the cultural riches of this attractive region - and to find a wife there. Consequently, it was an easy decision to pencil a two-week vacation trip to Southern France into our calendar, first to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary, second to participate in the "1000 du Sud."

I felt well prepared and reasonably confident when I showed up at the Hotel Kyriad in Toulon - La Garde to meet with Sophie Matter, the designer of the route. She introduced me to a bunch of other participants, including Jean-Philippe Battu whose generously outgoing personality has earned him high visibility throughout his last three PBPs even among US randonneurs. It was an exceptional pleasure to share a big table with all of them at the hotel's restaurant for a common pre-ride dinner and again the next morning for breakfast, before lining up at the start for equipment check, sign-in and payment of the registration fee: €3 for FFCT members, €5 for foreigners - something to let melt on your tongue if you are used to the fees at RUSA brevets. In exchange, rigorous self-reliance was the rule of the game (as it is meant to be in randonneuring ...). The special event t-shirt handed out by Sophie was obviously not covered by the registration fee: she had decided to take a chunk out of her personal savings to offer it to the riders of the inaugural edition. That's how dear this event is to her heart.

And heart-shaped is the route itself, from Toulon at the Mediterranean to the foot of the Mont Ventoux, out west to the Gorges de l'Ardèche, back east over the Rhône and through La Drôme before approaching the heart of the French Alps and climbing the Col du Lautaret, the literal and metaphorical high point. The remaining 350 km are far from being all downhill, and I knew very well that the accumulated fatigue would do the rest to make them slower than my optimistic-as-usual planning predicted. Nevertheless, I had no doubt about being able to finish before Tuesday 10 a.m., the 75-hour time limit; I had even built a margin of five to six hours into my time table.

The first day certainly seemed to validate my educated guesses about when I would ride through where, even if only because we enjoyed a pleasant tailwind for much of the day and I could take advantage in the morning of riding with a larger group which represented about half of the 34 starters. The lunch stop in Cadenet (km 115) made the group fall apart.

Jean-Philippe in Cadenet

Much to my bewilderment, I watched many of my companions seek out restaurants that matched their expectations - the search alone took quite a while. Or they settled for relaxed chewing and drinking on a shaded bench and didn't seem to be bothered by the thought that 890 km were remaining. In contrast, my timeline for this clearly very difficult 1000k mandated to minimize all off-the-bike time. I was confused enough that I stayed longer than planned before I took off alone, not without erring a bit in the medieval narrow and steep streets.

The Col du Pointu soon afterwards was easy and enjoyable, in particular because Jean-Philippe caught me there (he had stayed behind in Cadenet). Jean-Philippe's companionship has to be a randonneur's gift from heaven; in hindsight, I feel privileged that I could enjoy this gift for the next 400 km. But (and there is a but) he is also much faster than I am, even without making an effort; and I was unable not to do my best trying to avoid that he had to wait too long after each major climb. I could tell that my legs complained and threatened to punish me for stepping over my boundaries, and I certainly tried to explain that I really, really didn't mind riding alone at my own pace and that he should just take off without ever waiting for me again. But there was nothing I could do to persuade him, and so we continued together. With him, I certainly advanced faster than alone; and I marveled at his experience and authority in matters long-distance riding. After all, he is a well-known member of the brotherhood of "Diagonalistes" - the guys who ride their bike across France following imaginary diagonals from any one of the six vertices of the hexagon to any other non-adjacent one, following rules very similar to those we know from brevets. He has completed 12 diagonals so far - and I cannot even expect my first one before 2012! Clearly, he is the master, and I am the apprentice. I decided to let go of my personal planning and to model my ride from now on after his, regardless of the consequences.

Approaching the Mont Ventoux - very impressive!

Can you tell I am struggling to follow Jean-Philippe - while he has the time to take pictures?!
(This and most of the following photos are his)

The consequences started in Pont-Saint-Esprit (km 246). My original plan was to arrive there around 8 p.m., refill provisions for the long night and set out as quickly as possible into the very demanding stretch through the Gorges de l'Ardèche. We arrived around 7:30; so that was good. But Jean-Philippe had decided to stop at a restaurant for about an hour and a half for dinner. He didn't have to persuade me, because, as I said, I had decided a couple of hours earlier already to model my ride after his. But I admit that I had to consciously silence my concerns, and that I was ready to leave well before him (he was genuinely taken aback that I declined to order a dessert - my belly was already too full from my lasagna). This is the time where I should explain the catchy title of this blog post. To begin with, I don't consider the outcome of my "1000 du Sud" a defeat. Second, I didn't have that much wine and cheese - it's only a cliché. And finally, don't come to the conclusion that all French randonneurs spend hours dining in restaurants and only finish within the time limits because they are fast; I know there are many who like riding alone to optimize their performance and personal experience, regardless of how fast or slow they are. Then again, when we finally left and passed by the restaurant next-door with outdoor seating, we recognized half a dozen other 1000 du Sud participants, solidly anchored at their dinner table ... (they passed us later that night, but I believe none of them finished within the time limit either).

Midnight photo-control in Vallon Pont d'Arc

The next consequence was that Jean-Philippe offered I share his reserved hotel room in Aubenas (km 328). I had planned to ride through the first night (three 600s and one 1000 earlier this year were supposed to condition me accordingly); but in the end, the dehydration from the hot afternoon climbing on the Col de Murs and along the foothills of the Mont Ventoux to Malaucène, and the fatigue from the redoubtable roller coaster along the Gorges de l'Ardèche made me accept his offer without second thoughts. Besides, I would have been seriously in trouble through the night without extra water. If only the hotel had been closer to the route, and if only we hadn't added some substantial extra climbing (and lost another half hour) to get back on the route, after our generous hotel breakfast!

I did enjoy the smooth and long climbing on the Col de l'Escrinet in the fresh morning and proudly shouted to Jean-Philippe who was waiting for me at the top that "I gave it all!" Indeed, I felt strong again, knew that the legs would recover on the long (and cold) downhill, and was determined to make good time at Jean-Philippe's rear wheel over the following 90 mostly flat kilometers in order to absorb our time deficit. Indeed, we had lost over four hours in connection with the hotel in Aubenas, and my climbing speed on the Escrinet, while subjectively honorable, was far below the mandated 15 km/h brevet average. We would not be able to make the next control cut-off but didn't worry too much, because we had knowledge of the organizer's intention to be lenient as long as we arrived at the finish within 75 hours.

Given our delay, I thought we would hurry at that next control in Voulte sur Rhone (km 375). Well, what can I say: we didn't. We met Roland from Brest there (yet another confirmed Diagonaliste!). He had climbed the Col de l'Escrinet before us and encountered a wild boar there - quite a story! He also knew stories of other riders who had had a rough night and who were still behind us - I couldn't believe it. Roland didn't seem to be very motivated to continue, even though we had the long flat stretch along the Drôme river valley ahead of us. And so Jean-Philippe proceeded to motivate him, successfully; and after some more cafés and delicious Ardèche specialty pastries (I had stopped looking at my watch by then) we finally climbed on our bikes, crossed the bridge over the Rhône and rode on, although not as fast as I would have liked: we didn't want to lose Roland who didn't admit yet that he was suffering from tendinitis around his knees.

Still, it was very nice riding towards Die. The weather was perfect, and we could have made good time - if we hadn't stopped at every other little town, often walking our bikes through the utterly pittoresque medieval centers instead of using the bypass roads, always looking for places where we could sit down and order meals - not easy because they were nearly all closed on this Sunday morning. Out on the road, Jean-Philippe proudly explained the geography, history and other notable features of the area, which included the "Clairette de Die." This inspired him to make us stop at a Dégustation Gratuite where he had no trouble convincing the owner to serve his "friends from America and from Brest" a generous sample of the specialty.

There was some wine involved, after all ...

American tourist in Die, killing some time

Jean-Philippe later wrote on his web site that "in a couple of pedal strokes, Joseph fell in love with this remote region of Diois and promised to come back next year" - and it is true. But I also wanted to leave the region now, climb over the upcoming Col de Grimone and continue on the route of our 1000 du Sud. I started getting nervous about our increasing delay.

Climbing towards the base of the Col de Grimone

Despite my best effort, I was unable to follow Jean-Philippe and Roland as soon as the serious climbing on the Col de Grimone started (around km 460, roughly 3000 ft). They waited for me once half-way up, and Jean-Philippe waited again after the descent on the other side, while I caught Roland towards the top - the climbing revived his tendinitis and he had to slow down.

I worked hard on this climb, but also found it extremely rewarding and spontaneously declared it my "all-time favorite pass." The scenery was breathtaking. If I hadn't been so busy climbing, I would have taken dozens of photos:

With Roland at the top ...

... and on the downhill

But the hard climbing also made me think hard. By the time I arrived at the top, I would be about six hours behind my plan. It was obvious that the time limit of 75 hours was now out-of-reach; but I still would have liked to finish the whole distance on my bike, no matter what. I had invested so much mental preparation into the second half of the route, bragged so much in anticipation about the Col du Lautaret - and I felt I owed it to Sophie to complete the distance. I had a hotel room reserved in Briançon (km 650) where I had hoped to arrive around midnight. Riding through the second half of the night over the Col de Lautaret without additional (precarious!) sleep stops was unrealistic; I would arrive at my hotel in Briançon barely before check-out time on the next day. I would then need another overnight hotel room e.g. in Digne (km 790) and still have over 210 mostly serious kilometres to go on Tuesday. It would be better to forget about my reservation in Briançon altogether and spend the night in a hotel before tackling the Lautaret; but this would again push my arrival at the finish to Tuesday afternoon at best. On the other hand, Ghislaine was expecting me early Tuesday morning, and we had commitments for lunch with friends in the area for Tuesday noon, and for dinner with family in Aix! The only conclusion was that I could not complete the ride. (By the way: Roland found a room in La Mure (km 518) and continued on the next day to finish by Tuesday evening - chapeau!).
It was very hard to communicate my conclusion and decision to Jean-Philippe. But when he understood that I meant it, he didn't hesitate to support me. I saw him hesitate only at the control in Vizille when he decided to withdraw as well - the delay had increased further. As a result, I found myself staying overnight at his appartment in Grenoble. The next morning, he accompanied me to the nearby train station and looked to it that I got the appropriate train tickets back to Toulon. Then he waved good-bye when the train left ...


The quote below has been carried over from here. You can see it in context here.
I think I am a true mountaineer ...

The true mountaineer is the man who attempts new ascents. Equally, whether he succeeds or fails, he delights in the fun and jollity of the struggle.

Alfred Mummery "My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus" (1895)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Riding Unnoticed

Tour de Menlo (100 km), August 21st, 2010

It's nice to delegate blogging on special occasions. As you will see, Fabienne had good reasons to accept taking over the keyboard!


I kinda' got sucked into doing the "Tour de Menlo" when both my best friend and my sister begged me to sign up with them for a fun day of beginner girlie riding. But then, they both ended up having to work, so I was stuck riding with my Dad. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing more rewarding than spending the day in my father's element, pedaling (endlessly...). But given his fame, you simply cannot ride unnoticed, which can be pretty embarrassing when you're no longer riding with beginner girls, and the route gets changed from 25 miles to the 100 k "for experienced riders."

I have to admit, I enjoy my gym spinning classes, but being perched up in the street with a helmet, my feet cleated in, and not being able to reach the floor at red lights is not my idea of fun. But I know that if I want to spend any time with my father when I come to visit, that's a sacrifice I have to make, even with an injured knee. Like a friend said, "if he's not at work, he's on his bike." So I made it my secret goal to go ride with him, but to remain as unnoticed as possible...

At 6:30 a.m., I was layering up and my Dad walks past my room to say: "Here's your jersey! Don't you want to match? We're a team!" That's when I knew I'd have to be on my best behavior if I was to accomplish my goal. It's a 1992 jersey that looks like it came from the 1970s... Rainbow Apple and all. You either have Apple pride or you don't. I guess that jersey makes a statement, and I couldn't complain: it's different. I got lucky that it was a cool, dark morning, and I had a great excuse to wear a jacket and "blend in" with the other riders ... NOT.

We arrived at the start, and there were 498 other participants! We were on the road with other cyclists in a heartbeat, and I nervously focussed on not only staying in the bike lane, but not falling over while trying to uncleat at red lights.That's when I realized I stuck out like a sore thumb... People were passing me and very nicely calling out "I'm passing you on your left!" as they left a huge margin around me.

The route was beautiful! I knew I did not have to memorize the route sheet, because I could simply draft my Dad's back wheel and pretend I totally knew what I was doing. When I quickly looked the directions over, however, one turn specifically stayed in my mind: right on Bunker Hill. At that intersection, two men yelled out that this was the wrong way, and that we should follow them straight ahead. I answered sheepishly that I thought we needed to go right on Bunker Hill. My father convinced me not to let myself get distracted, and we continued over Bunker Hill to Polhemus Rd. There was a surprise water stop there, and we hung out for about 15 minutes. As I got back on the bike, those two guys arrived swearing about the "stupid route."
They passed us on the uphill, grumbling "We should have listened to you!"
I wanted to tell them that they got more miles for their buck, but they zoomed past so fast they almost threw me off. So I was left to ruminate in my own thoughts...Great... I had been spotted and I could not blame the jersey or the matching costuming... I knew I looked as awkward as I felt.

An hour later, I saw police lights flashing after a stop sign, and carefully uncleated and got ready to unmount and put my foot down about 400 feet before actually needing to. That's always the moment when I have so much time left before actually reaching the stop, that I start wondering if the police will feel bad for me if I fall trying to uncleat in front of them, and maybe let me slide through at the following stop sign... But as we passed the cops, they were busy writing tickets. And I was amused to see that it was the same two old lads who had missed the turn on Bunker Hill (they were not amused). Clearly, they were not having a good day. They looked at me as if to say: "We should have stayed behind you."

This reminded me of a quote written about my father. Not only do I enjoy riding with him because he is "a marvelous riding companion and witty conversationalist" (Karen T.), but as Alex P. once wrote,
"He's sneaky, too. The way he rides so casual while outbound in the morning, and then quietly passes you while you're stopped." I decided right then and there that I was going to keep cycling, not stand out like a mop on a bike and that this was going to be my riding technique as well: sneakiness...

All of a sudden, I felt really sneaky and could swiftly (or not) ride by and get ahead of faster riders. My moment of glory was short lived, and maybe I deserved it. It wasn't too long after that my left knee started shooting pain and I had trouble pressing down uphills. And not only did it get much warmer and I had to take off my jacket (and match my Dad) but my famous Dad was showing off by pushing me up the hills as he was riding so we would pass the other riders on the hill.
Needless to say, we got many compliments on our jerseys, and I was going even less unnoticed.

When we reached Montebello, our last climb before lunch, the pain in my knee became acute and I cannot remember a time in my life where pain was so unbearable I had tears streaming down my cheeks. I had to stop until my knee would give me a break as riders passed me and said, "you can do it! You're almost there!" Might as well wear my Marilyn Monroe costume because at that moment, I was pretty sure 498 people had seen me completely fail. The Picchetti winery was much closer than I imagined, and I cannot even believe (nor can I remember how) I made it up there with a combination of walking/ lightly pedaling.

The hot lunch of grilled chicken (served amidst free roaming chickens) was a great treat - I had a hot dog. I dreaded the descent.

When that hot dog was unquestionably finished, I once again made sure everyone still around noticed me... My Dad was already gone before I realized that I did not know how to click into my pedals on a steep slope. Everyone passed me asking if I was ok or if I wanted a ride, and I must have looked exactly like my nephew in this video:

When I finally did make it onto my bike and wore out the brake pads completely, I saw my Dad climbing back up to find me: He had been told that I "was ok" by the descending public.

As much as I enjoyed the 25 km back to Menlo Park, they were much slower than I had anticipated. My knee was reminding me who's boss and I had to stay in small gears and allow each light to turn red on Foothill Boulevard. I like to think I just wanted to spend more time with my Dad.

And maybe that was a good thing, because at another crossing, my father's Apple Europe coworker whom he had not seen in 20 years recognized him and they chatted a minute. If it weren't for my goofy riding, we might never have met him.

Knee problems aside, in my father's own famous words, "best ride ever."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Six Years Later, in my Boxer Briefs

Santa Cruz Randonneurs Skyline 200, August 7, 2010

I already told the story here and won't repeat myself. But I want to point out that when I decided to take "bike riding more seriously" and started riding brevets in 2004, the SCR Skyline 200 was my first official brevet ever! The results from that 2004 edition are still available here; they show that I finished in a time of 9 hours 55 minutes - not too shabby given the challenging route, and given that my lungs were still in slow convalescence then.

Six years later, I came back to this route which has remained one of my favorites. I picked the RUSA jersey for the occasion, both to mark the anniversary of my first RUSA brevet, and to honor the RBA couple consisting of RUSA cofounders and past and present RUSA presidents. What would we do without them? In comparison to 2004, the number of participants had doubled, and my RUSA number was now among the lower numbers whereas it was nearly the highest six years ago - so many new faces! The weather forecast was favorable with mostly cool temperatures and no precipitation - a prediction that didn't quite come true during the first two hours, where the moisture in the air came dangerously close to a fine drizzle. But that's Santa Cruz ...

Given my ambitious plan for the next month (stay tuned!), I had to make this brevet into a hard training session, desperately hoping that this will eventually have some beneficial effect on my "engine." I also looked to it that my stops at the controls were not too lengthy - it's all part of the training for bigger events - although I tried not to make it too obvious that I was going for time. After all, brevet riding is non-competitive. And when other riders passed me effortlessly while I was huffing and puffing at close to my (whatever) threshold, and asked me how it was going, I honestly replied that I was enjoying myself. Too bad I don't have pictures from the great views from the Skyline, both east and west; or from the fast ride back south along the coast!

For a while, the friendly Brian S. kept me company, and we negotiated the traditional postcard control in San Gregorio with the infamous question about the color of the Post Office door together (for one, there are two doors, a green and a brown one; and then, some time during the last years, a rider happened upon this control alone and realized that he couldn't answer the question for reasons of color blindness).

By that time, I also noticed that my hard riding had been successful in making my legs tired, but not so successful in getting me earlier to the finish. I still don't know why.

No matter what, I tried to recall how it all felt six years ago, for comparison. I do believe I can enjoy these rides much more now that I don't have to worry about the distance any more, and that the various sources of possible discomfort on the bike have been mostly eliminated or at least greatly reduced. Another difference is that the perceived distance scale has changed: I never look at a stretch of road as "endless" any more ...

And so I arrived at the backyard finish with the satisfaction you get from a good workout. Life was good in the sun, with salty peanuts and a Pepsi (or was it a Coca Cola?). My finishing time was mysteriously a tad slower than six years ago (the route changed slightly and is probably a little longer now; or the wind was even more favorable along the coast in 2004?); but I signed in among the first half of finishers - good enough for me!

Bill (right) conducting an imaginary symphony at the finish

I had parked the car around the corner and decided to change clothes for the drive home. With traffic, it could take an hour, and I would be more comfortable replacing my sweaty clothes (even without washing myself off) by dry ones; in particular my bike shorts with their accumulated reservoir of Lantiseptic by my clean Boxer Briefs:

(Sadly, the legs are not mine. Don't know whom they belong to)

There was no traffic where the car was parked; and so I set myself up discretely on the passenger seat where I had more leg room, with the bag of dry clothes handy on the driver seat, and proceeded to do my exercise in contortionism which you can visualize if you are so inclined. It all went well - I was back in dress shirt (or close) and boxer briefs, and only needed to pull my pants over the legs and I was done. But - there were no pants in the bag! I had prepared my clothes the evening before, while I still had the pants on me - I would add them later. Well, I must have forgotten. What now? No way I would go through all the exercise again to put my Lantiseptic shorts back on!

And so I drove home in Boxer Briefs. Don't tell anybody. The apprenticeship continues.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


SIR: Cascade 1240, June 26 - 30, 2010

No, the title does not refer to that highly rated TV series of the last years (they say only Desperate Housewives could beat it - I didn't watch it either. Actually, I once tried to watch one episode of Lost but immediately got the impression that the script writers were making fun of me and was offended. No wonder: I don't belong to the "crucial 18 - 49 demographic" they targeted).

Rather, the title refers to the late evenings of the third and fourth day of my participation in the Cascade 1240. Up to then, that event went so well for me that I became concerned about my blog: if nothing else happened, my corresponding blog post (the one you are reading now) was going to be quite boring! I could still recommend to look at the reports and pictures collected on the event web site; those write-ups give insights from different perspectives and experiences, and the pictures there are all much better than mine. (By the way: some of the pictures below are borrowed with permission from Roland Bevan's collection). In comparison, my own account, apart from expressing the delight over the exceptionally rich and contrasting scenery on this route and the gratitude to all the volunteers, would be reduced once again to exhibitions of my inferiority complex due to the all too little cardiopulmonary engine and the little legs, and to my bragging when favorable circumstances (can you say "tailwind"?) let me advance nearly as fast as I had hoped in my most optimistic plan.

With three complete Super Randonneur Series since the beginning of the year plus a 1000 km brevet, I felt well prepared for this fairly prestigious event. Still, on the first ten or twenty miles after the start I wasn't so sure whether the thorough resting during the preceding three weeks was a good idea: it felt like I was pedaling "squares." And when I was finally warmed up enough to get the hang of this pedaling thing again, my legs started feeling tired.

My workplace for the next four days

There was this climb up to the Eatonville control where the sun came out (and Mt. Rainier, too!), such that I arrived at the Truly Scrumptious Bakery highly overdressed and profusely sweating, but happy to be there.

What a beautiful country!

Up to then, I had been riding with groups a little above my means, and finally realized that this was not sustainable. So I stayed longer than absolutely necessary and continued alone. I could afford to slow down and to save my legs for the White Pass in the evening because I had made good time so far. Besides, we had a dominant tailwind, and I continued to progress nicely anyway.

As we joined the smooth US-12 on our approach of the White Pass, the tailwind became even more eager to please, and I became even more optimistic and upbeat (if that was possible). I had always liked the mountains and long steady climbs; the temperature was perfect, and the tailwind made me feel like I was (nearly) as strong as I always wanted to be: life was good! Even after the twelve mile long climb I was still so far ahead of my schedule that I decided to soft-pedal to the overnight control in Naches as a "recovery ride." After all, the second day was going to be difficult, and I wanted to keep some gun powder for it. It's hard to believe, but I completed the 360 km with the big climb in the evening in not even 17h40, despite some generous breakfast/lunch/dinner stops. More importantly (for dealing with my inferiority complex), the times recorded in the rider progress table show that I arrived at the Clear Lake control (km 303, on the downhill from White Pass) after just about half of the participants: that's where I wanted to be!

Morning of the second day: just like in a picture book!

As expected, the second day was much slower. I paced myself conservatively on the beautiful 45-mile ride up to the Lodgepole Campground near Chinook Pass, taking all the headwind by myself. The Fruitvale/Yakima lunch control made most of us lose quite some time - long lines, big crowds. And then the hot 40-mile stretch through the Rattlesnake Hills - I loved it (in particular when I rode along the extended hops fields in the first part).

All the while, I stubbornly insisted on riding alone each time a paceline passed and invited me to join them. Despite mostly unfavorable winds, I didn't want to compromise my optimal pacing and my defensive attitude against riding in the heat; the triple-digit temperature stories from two years ago had left an impression on me. I felt vindicated when I caught up to a stronger rider ahead who had run out of water and was very slow now (I still had plenty and didn't have to make an effort to share), and a little later when we found the young and strong woman from Colorado lying on the road side with heat exhaustion, on top of the hill that has the now famous annotation on the route sheet "yes, up that hill!" (She got shuttled forward to the next control in Mattawa, recovered there for five hours, and then requested to be brought back to the spot where she dropped, to continue - and finish! - her ride).

The last 40 miles from Mattawa to the second overnight control in Quincy were much harder than anticipated; but I still arrived well before midnight, had a beer, a great dinner (thank you, Barbara - and all the others!), slept well, and set out after a good breakfast shortly after 4 a.m. into the third day to Mazama, only 180 miles away. All this was going better than I thought!

On the morning of the third day

At the "Dry Falls" - once the biggest waterfalls on earth:

This is Christophe Denetre from France. A week before the start, he flew in to San Francisco and rode the bike up to the start in Monroe. He then finished the Cascade 1200 in just a little over 85 hours and continued the following day northwards to Vancouver/British Columbia.

Apparently, many of the stronger and faster riders had slept much longer, because I was again positioned in the middle when I arrived at the spectacular Dry Falls Visitor Center  control. This didn't last, of course; but I arrived at the Malott control (52 miles from Mazama, with the Loup-Loup pass in between) at 16h20 and was satisfied with it.

Of course, the Loup-Loup pass is a hard climb (over 1000 meters of elevation gain in 20 km) and would cost me two extra hours; but it sure looked like it was impossible not to arrive in Mazama by 11 p.m. at the latest!

Or so I thought.

Here is a map of Winthrop (for some reason, I have difficulties memorizing that name since that evening. It seems to be quite a charming little town, though. Need to go back there some time - maybe at the next edition of the Cascade 1200 ?).

We (three of us) were there at 9:45 p.m. and had less than 14 miles to go to the fabulous Mazama Ranch House overnight control (OK, we might arrive a little after 11 p.m. after all, because of more headwind and uphill. Also, we had spent too much time in Twisp to "refill" - so what?). The route sheet indicated a left turn after the bridge. We got that, and we saw a big road sign "Mazama" which made us feel happy. So happy that we forgot to continue looking at the route sheet and continued straight onto Bluff St. (and we no longer looked at any street signs in the complete darkness).

I call it a brain failure - a collective one at that! - because none of us had the lucidity over the next hour and a half to realize that this road (Eastside Chewuch Road) cannot possibly be the Washington State Route 20 which would take us the following morning over Washington Pass! Instead, we kept complaining about the bad road surface, the tight turns and the disheartening up and down (more up than down, that is). I am so embarrassed you cannot believe it. When I woke up the next morning, a saying from my childhood popped up in my mind: "Was man nicht im Kopf hat, muß man in den Beinen haben." - So there.

But it gets worse. As proudly presented here, I carried my Spot messenger so the loved ones at home could follow my progression, with a "spot" message every ten minutes. By now we were getting close to midnight, and the device had trouble getting a view of satellites because of the high, dense forest in which we evolved. When the device fails to acquire the position or to send it, it blinks red. This was quite unnerving in the dark night; so I turned it off to save its batteries. After all, the people at home would be asleep by now and by the time they checked my position again the next morning, everything would have been happily resolved.

WRONG! They immediately noticed when and where we went off-route and watched us continue in the wrong direction for an hour. Then, suddenly, no "spot" messages at all any more. Hmm - he must have fallen in a ravine and is in big trouble now! And so, to rescue the husband and father, they googled and called around and e-mailed all over the world: The Audax Club Parisien, the Randonneurs Mondiaux,  Angela Merkel, the Pope, and Mark Thomas the prez of the Seattle Randonneurs.

At least that's what I inferred from how Mark received me when the three of us arrived at the Mazama Ranch House, a quarter past 2 a.m. - about three hours on the minus side for my overall finishing time. Good thing I performed so well over the first three days and had enough time in the bank!

On the brighter side, instead of leaving again as planned around 4 a.m. in darkness, I now stayed until 7 a.m. and could not only appreciate the environment of this charming site, but also take advantage big time of the wonderful breakfast offering in the restaurant. Only 162 miles to the finish, with the exciting super-climb up to Washington Pass, the "Cima Coppi" of the four days, right at the beginning!

The mishap of the night before was (nearly) forgotten; I only had to replace the original most ambitous goal of arriving by daylight by the next-level goal of arriving before midnight (i.e. under 90 hours). And I still had one notch left on my list of goals in decreasing order (i.e. just arrive before the time limit of 93 hours); but I didn't even think of it.

I should have.

The day went quite well. I enjoyed the Washington Pass climb, catching up with another rider who had passed me on the first miles quite powerfully but who apparently had underestimated the length. I was equipped well enough for the chilly and windy descent, and didn't mind riding again for most of the day alone into a headwind. It wasn't strong; and it was only fair to pay back for the advantage we had on the first day. The scenery through the mountains was breathtaking, and the pastoral atmosphere of the flatlands peaceful. To buy myself back for the emotions I had caused the evening before, I even texted home "Only 100 km remaining" when I stopped in Darrington at a gas station for liquids and snacks and relaxed for a couple minutes on the bench outside with my ice cream. An elderly gentleman approached, shy and very polite, and asked about the story behind all those funny-looking cyclists on the road. I explained equally politely, but somewhat minimally, to avoid getting into a lengthy conversation just when I was about to leave. So he kept asking for more precisions about the route. While I confirmed on this Tuesday afternoon the distances we had covered since our departure from Monroe on Saturday morning, his face grew longer and longer and his regard more and more serious. Finally, after a longer pause, he said: "Your legs must be pretty sore, then."

Ten miles before the last control in Granite Falls, it started raining, but not enough to make me wet or to make me regret the missing fenders; it was just a symbol to remind me that I was in WA. At the same time, the road became hilly and challenged me to show how much strength I had left. It turned out that it was still enough: I decided to finish strongly, and to reduce my stop at the Granite Falls control to just getting the time stamp and signature on the brevet card - I would need nothing else for the last 19 miles.

I was not even surprised to catch up with another rider ahead. At first, I passed him in a swoosh, but on second thought decided to stay with him. After all, we were in complete darkness, and it would make for a much better experience to finish together. We got talking, and he told me that the route file he had loaded onto his Garmin apparently was defective; it had led him off-course earlier in the evening, causing some substantial climbing on an extraneous loop. Now he couldn't trust his Garmin for route finding anymore and appreciated to share the navigational responsibilities. Unfortunately, while talking and listening, I got distracted from following my route sheet. Because of the accumulated discrepancy between the distances on the route sheet and the odometer, this made me match the wrong line with the current bifurcation of the road and propose "Right turn" when his Garmin said "Left turn". We stopped and discussed the situation absolutely dispassionately; after all, I was in a bad position to draw attention to my route finding skills and I was aware of it. But he said that he had been led astray by his Garmin already once and would now rather follow me.

Meanwhile, back home, the family watched the next "spot" message indicate coordinates on the wrong road, and I don't dare to imagine what they uttered at that moment, referring to my brain. This continued for about an hour, and by now, we were far away from the Lake Roesiger Road where we belonged. At least, there was no problem with my Spot device acquiring and sending coordinates (and I had no reason to turn it off; the batteries held up just fine); we even had cell phone coverage. I know it because I heard my phone ring in the handlebar bag while riding. But of course, I would not stop and pick it up. How often had I told my family not to call me while I am on a bike ride? Whoever was calling me, I needed to teach him/her a lesson and not pick up!

It was my daughter who left a message with the explanation of where we had gone wrong and that we needed to turn around.

Eventually, we found out by ourselves, returned all the way to where we had made my wrong turn, stumbled around some more in deep darkness, and finally arrived at the finish in Monroe at 1:46 a.m..
I believe an estimate of two hours for the "minus" side is rather low.

In other words: I virtually achieved my most ambitious goal of arriving by daylight (i.e. before 9 p.m.) - if I disregard both blunders of the last two evenings. I still achieved virtually my less ambitious goal of arriving before midnight - if I disregard the blunder of the last evening. In reality, however, I finished in 91h46 which luckily was still good for my most modest goal. So, in summary, I should be satisfied with my performance on this Cascade 1240 of 2010. But I am not proud of it.

The apprenticeship continues ...

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!