I hadn't ridden more than 80 miles in one sitting since the last 200k, but given my decent base, and the fact that I'd been racing cyclocross all winter, I figured I would hop on the bike and ride the season opener with the San Francisco Randonneurs. Great company, world class scenery, possibility of bad weather. Sounds great!
photo by Damien
I was up at 5:30am to go through my normal routine: coffee times two with bagel(s), hot shower, get going. I was staying at a friend's house in Sausalito, so my trip to the bridge was minimal. As I rolled over the Golden Gate to the start control, the wind was howling. I wasn't too worried yet, because the wind always knocks one around on the bridge. The Pacific can blow, and she nearly never feels the need to stop.
As I arrived at the control, nearly everyone seemed to be there. 100 riders (maximum capacity) for this season opener, and the sun itself was still asleep. Bicycle lights were blazing. Reflecto-geeky attire was in full effect. The biggest collection of amazing rando bikes I'd ever seen; Rivendell, Toei, Pelican, Kogswell, Ebisu - they were all there. The women's bathroom was out of order, so women and men were using the same one. As it was my turn, a guy wearing roadie cleats/shoes slipped and fell to the wet public bathroom floor, landing on his tailbone. He sat there, not saying anything. It definitely hurt, given the amount of time he kept his eyes closed, swallowing the pain. He finally eeked out, "well, that's not a good way to start the day." A young woman and I peed next to each other, and then I went to hear Rob Hawks give orders for the day.
The ride started out well. Perfect overcast-yet-dry skies, no wind once we left Sausalito. Warm enough, but cool enough to keep me cool. The bicycle headlights were soon turned off. My stomach didn't feel great though... as if the too-much-garlic from the previous night's pizza was nagging me. I thought it would go away in no time, but in fact it would come back to haunt me.
(photo by JimG)
Compared to the racers I often ride with in Chico, I've noticed that many SF randonneurs don't paceline very well; it felt like more of a loose organism than a tightly controlled wind-breaking machine. Randonneurs could save a lot more time and energy by pacelining properly. That said, it is such a fun group of like-minded folks, I only thought about this fact for a minute or two as the groups became separated by traffic lights, and in the first hills. Then we were mostly alone.
Even though I lived in Marin in the late 90's, rode in Marin, drove in Marin fished in Marin and ran in Marin, I'm always blown away by the beauty of Marin. Every time I come back to visit. There's something about the freshness of the air, the everpresent reminders of the Pacific (fog, mist, sloughs, marshes, seabirds, fishing boats, howling winds) that really make my heart pitter patter like no other place on Earth. I do love it there, yuppies, hippies, grumpies and all. Marin, for me, might hold the best cycling on the planet.
As the affluent and beautiful suburbs of southern Marin passed us by, we headed over White's hill and through San Geronimo Valley, then JimG and I took the off-road option through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. It was a mud-soaked affair, and when we got back on the road, I looked like I'd been in a cyclocross race. It's the same path I rode with Cyclofiend and Jim last fall, and there were a few times I caught myself thinking, "man, I wish the other Jim were riding with us!"
The fences disappear in the west of Marin, and cattle guards become the only man-made containment mechanisms for all the dairy cows. I reckon the country is just too rugged to escape, and the milk gals just can't go anywhere that isn't on the road, so a few steel bars across the road does the trick. In cattle guard country, fat tires are a good thing. And between the cattle guards and metric tons of rain-soaked cow shit and mud, so are fenders.
It's a funny mind game, the route out to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse. The approach reminds you that for every hill you crest, there is another waiting for you no matter which direction you choose. My strategy was to focus on the unthinkable beauty of the hills falling to the coast, the sun trying to get through the translucent yellow-haloed grey blanket of clouds, and the lack of wind in a land where there are no trees because the wind is generally so bad. Coyote. Deer. Egret. It was a good number of things to take in as we headed west, and while the riding was tough, the experience was sublime.
At mile 45 or so, my Stomach Thing started waking up. I could feel hints of it along the route, but to this point I was still far too excited to let it bother me. I figured I could ride through it. Maybe gas? Lack of salt? Drinking enough? Only ten hard miles to Control #1 at mile 55.
Jim and I rolled into the control, and after getting our brevet cards signed, we heard the volunteer say that there were only about 30 of 100 people ahead of us. Good! We were making great time! I ate half a sandwich, drank the remainder of my first water bottle, and we rolled out, headed back through the hills toward Inverness and Pt. Reyes Station. We spent maybe 10 or 15 minutes at the control.
Back through the hills, my stomach started to go, um, downhill. What was a whisper of a cramp slowly turned into a full blown sour stomach cauldron, Long Knives Drawn episode. But I pedaled on with Jim for 21 miles or so into Pt. Reyes. By this point, I felt feverish, achy, and the stomach thing wasn't going anywhere. I told Jim to just go on without me to the next control in Marshall. I told him I thought I was out of the brevet. I called Claire (my wife) to see where she was, and to ask if need be she could come grab me from Pt. Reyes if need be. She confirmed, but I told her I'd call her later. When Jim left, I got horizontal on a public bench, and thought about my choices. It was an out-and-back 17 mile arm to the Marshall control, and I figured if I could stay down for a bit, things might get better. After a half hour and a cup of coffee from Bovine Bakery, I texted Claire telling her I was bailing on the brevet, but would start riding back toward the Golden Gate. Stand by just in case.
Shortly after I sat up and had thrown a leg over my Saluki, still in Pt. Reyes, I ran into Brian and Gabe, who offered me Tums. My stomach was so rank that I couldn't take the stuff. So off they went toward Marshall, and I decided to click in, and bail on the Marshall control. I just needed to head back.
I pedaled slowly toward Olema, climbed out of Olema toward Samuel P. Taylor state park and Lagunitas. I rolled back through the gravel/mud option that Jim and I cranked through earlier in the day. Alone in the gravel, the quietness of the tree canopy had a soothing effect on my mind, and surprisingly, my stomach started to feel a bit better. I kept the pedals turning much slower than I wanted, but really, there was little choice to be had in the matter, so I took what I could get. I was running on fumes at this point. Exit the park. Sir Francis Drake. Fairfax. San Anselmo. Ross. Kentfield. Camino Alto.
I got to the bottom of Camino Alto as it dumps into Mill Valley, and lo and behold, there's Claire, on her bike with her friend sitting at the traffic light at Blithedale just getting back from their own ride on the Paradise Loop. I was less than a half mile from our truck and her friend's house it turned out, and I had just rolled over 100 miles. Twenty four miles from completing my brevet, and not regretting my choice to abandon. Heck, I still got to climb all the 7700+ feet of hills... I was glad to be done, and looking forward to lying down after a shower.
Almost to my friend's house in Sausalito, I saw my crew (JimG) rolling toward the finish control. In the time that had passed, I had lost a half hour trying to get better, and then my riding pace was slow enough that he nearly caught me, even though I cut 20 miles off the course. That's how slowly I limped back south. Phew! I yelled some words of encouragement to Jim, and headed on up the hill, to hot water and down pillows. The stomach thing was on and off for the remainder of the evening, but today I feel pretty good, albeit a bit sore in the legs.
Could I have finished? I likely could have unless something went terribly wrong. Jim's time was around 9:45, and I imagine I'd have finished an hour after that. The bigger question for me though is, would it have been fun on any level to have stayed out there for another couple of hours fighting bio-failure? Eh, not really. I'm stubborn when it comes to these things, and apparently/obviously I like suffering. But on this day, the fire just wasn't in me to battle my stomach issues, so I made a decision and stuck with it.
I'll be back out there, likely on the Davis 200k in March, the Russian River brevet in April, not to mention some of the upcoming Chico Velo rides.
Notes to self
• didn't use rain jacket or gloves, shoe covers, or extra socks
• ate less than half of the food I packed (gels, bars, dried fruit, beef jerky, figs). Attribute to stomach ailments.
• Left knee was pinging pretty nicely the last 30 miles. Suspect too-wide crankset. Changing this week.
• the borrowed NR MiNewt light was extremely bright, but offered poor mounting options. When on, it interfered with the wireless cyclometer - no reading.
• 44cm bars feel too wide. On this, and other bikes.
• don't do well with onions or garlic. Stay away from it before big rides!