Wednesday, January 12, 2011


San Francisco Randonneurs Point Reyes 200k (Workers Ride) January 8, 2011

To the day fifty years ago (actually, the date may be off by a couple of weeks plus a year or two), I had a memorable morning bike ride. At that time, I was bike-commuting to school year-round, six miles from my parents' home over a couple of hills and through the Neuburger Wald to high school in Passau (according to a statement attributed to Alexander von Humboldt, one of the seven most beautiful towns of the world).

Passau (in summer)

Typically, the snow plow came through early enough, just in time before I had to leave for school which started at 8 a.m. Even though the temperatures could sometimes drop down to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit, I never worried about the cold; and just like other Bavarians today, I actually liked riding in the snow. But on that day, the overnight snow storm had been so violent that the roads were not plowed yet when I set out in near darkness. I could ride only about half the distance through several inches of snow, had to push the bike through the other half, sometimes carrying it (including a hefty bag full of books) through thigh-deep snowdrifts. I did arrive late at school; but so did those who came by public transport.

More memories from another year or two later: I was racing with the Radsportverein 1895 Passau and was thrilled to finally have an opportunity to participate in my first cyclo-cross race, in Regensburg. At that time, Rolf Wolfshohl was my big hero; he was then the world-champion in cyclo-cross. Somehow I had learned that my height and weight were the same as his (things have changed since then - at least the weight); this made that I felt like a pretty good cyclo-crosser myself. We were 18 at the start; and just as we had watched Rolf Wolfshohl on TV, nearly everybody (in particular myself) was racing in shorts, despite some windy snowing and temperatures around 15 degrees Fahrenheit. We did use some capsaicin cream to produce heat on the bare skin, to keep the knees from freezing over; but, as an aside, this had quite painful side effects after the race (it was discovered in 2006 that tarantula venom activates the same pathway of pain as is activated by capsaicin). I was in 4th position after the first few laps and felt good, when I hit a hard-frozen edge on the ground and broke the rim of the front wheel such that the tire was neatly cut through. I ran half a lap with the bike on my shoulder to receive a spare wheel. When I resumed my race, I was last, of course. I am still proud today that I was able to fight hard and to finish 8th.

As I said, things have changed - and not only regarding my weight. (As a matter of fact, I added more than half a dozen additional pounds just over the holiday break alone). What has changed, also: I am now terrified by low temperatures, i.e. anything under 50 F. Given that the last days before the SFR Point Reyes 200k workers ride (I will be volunteering at the official event on 1/22 at the finish control) were unusually cold, I ended up panicking in the perspective of riding out on that Saturday morning at 7:30 into the winter of San Francisco and Marin County. And so, on my way home from work on Friday evening, I made a detour to buy a wind-tight balaclava (has nothing to do with this). Of course, I tried it on at home in the kitchen, to show the wife how well I would be equipped for the cold ride:

In the end, as you might guess, I never used it. And with my four layers, I was never really cold either, except maybe a little bit on the tip of the nose in the evening, after the descent into Fairfax. It helps to be so slow that wind chill is not a factor, and that even moderate climbs bring me up to the "breathless" level with a consequential body heat production. By the way, not all climbs on this route are moderate; I find the last ones before the light house actually quite steep. That's where I caught my leg cramps, after less than 50 miles. It is true that my longest ride since end of October was only 30 miles, and that there was only one of them. So what did I expect?

The good news is that I recovered satisfactorily; the count-down of the last five climbs on the way back from Marshall Store through Nicasio went better (at least subjectively) than on my first brevets there, four or five years ago. The other good news is that I was very thoroughly happy to be finally "back in business" with my randonneuring. It's going to be a very special year!

PS: Yes, I did finish last out of ten or eleven riders, in 12 hours. But it doesn't matter.

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