Sunday, May 26, 2013

“Zebra!” Ride report: Cayucos 200km May 18 & Golden Hills 200km May 19

A few months ago when looking at rides we’d like to do this year, Joth expressed a desire to do a ride with the  Pacific Coast Highway Randonneurs, which is officially shown as the Los Angeles branch of RUSA, but had a series of rides starting from Cayucos almost 200 miles to the South of us. Our original plan had been to ride the Cayucos Coastal 600, but with the route profile indicating that it would be a ‘full value’, and given the distance we had to travel to and from the ride, it wasn’t really going to be feasible. The organiser had a full weekend of rides however, with 200 & 300km rides on the Saturday, and another 200km ride on the Sunday in addition to the 600. We decided to have an easy weekend of it, and just ride the two 200s.
So on Saturday, after a quick breakfast of bagel and cup of tea at our motel, we sauntered down the road on the 5 minute ride to the start point. We were met by Matt, the very relaxed organiser, and the one other rider on this event. With so few people, we were soon on the road with very little fuss. We were still feeling a little snoozy, and soon saw Alan disappear into the distance on the first hill soon after joining Highway 1. The first control was just under 50km into the ride, and going through San Luis Obispo before looping back north again. We were slightly surprised to see that Alan was still at the coffee shop when we arrived, and wasn’t as far ahead of us as we’d imagined. As there was a strong northerly wind, we decided to stop and eat a second breakfast before heading north into the wind. All too soon, we were back on the road and slogging into the wind. While Highway 1 and the other roads used were quite big, traffic was generally good, and the roads are clearly well travelled by cyclists.
As the route passed back in front of our motel, we opted to have a quick break there rather than the recommended coffee shop. As it was now mid-morning and was warming up, it was a good time to adjust clothing layers. After a quick change, it was time to do battle with the headwind. In many ways, wind is worse than climbing. It’s inconsistent and unpredictable in its effect, makes it difficult to talk, and it’s dispiriting to travel so little distance whilst putting in so much effort. After an indomitable amount of time, we passed the signs for Hearst Castle. I was just wondering aloud about what was behind the ridge to our right and Joth replied: zebra! When I commented that yes, there might be zebras there, he pointed out the herd of zebras stood in the field. Not what I was expecting! After another lifetime of pushing into the wind, we saw the signs to an Elephant Seal viewing point. The beach was thronged with female and juvenile seals all moulting. It was a good chance for a break, as Joth had not seen the seals before. A quick snack, and we were off again for the final 10 miles into Ragged Point. On the final climb up to the control, we developed a flat front tyre. The road was twisty and narrow with no shoulder, but fortunately there was a little bit of shoulder about 100 metres away where we could safely stop. We were just checking the tyre when Alan pulled in to check that we were OK. We had passed him as we rejoined Highway 1 after going through Cayucos, and he had suffered a puncture shortly afterwards. After checking we had everything we needed (and having a moan about the wind), he set off up to the control. We followed a few minutes later, and arrived to find a cafe serving hot food, as well as a small garage. A couple of excellent fried egg sandwiches and portion of chips later, and we were ready to head South. The tailwind was all the more enjoyable for having been earned, and the journey back to Cayucos was much quicker than the journey out. We arrived at the finish to see Alan, who had finished a couple of minutes earlier.
An early night beckoned after the nice steak and chips at the restaurant opposite the motel. The Sunday ride also started at 6:30am, and we would need to check out before we left. Fortunately the motel were happy to let us keep the car there until we got back from the ride.

At 6:13 we rolled out of the motel car park towards the start: it’s nice when you don’t need to travel far! We discovered two other riders waiting to join us on the day’s ride, Amy and Greg. Amy had completed the 300km on Saturday, so had ridden quite a few of the roads we would be taking. The day started with a significant climb up to a little over 400m in elevation. Amy soon disappeared up the road, but Greg had decided to ride with us and kept us entertained with randonneuring and tandem tales. The day soon started to warm up, and as we were heading inland, it was going to be a lot warmer than Saturday. We soon reached the top and started the rolling descent into Paso Robles. While I knew that there was quite a lot of wine grown in the area, I hadn’t realized quite how much. It’s the second biggest wine growing regions in California after Napa. It seems warmer and drier than Napa though. The first control was at a supermarket in San Miguel, where we discovered that Greg was actually the local RBA, so could sign our brevet cards. Amy arrive a couple minutes after us (we had passed her on the descent), and so we all sat together and ate. I really wasn’t too hungry, so just had a blueberry muffin while everyone else tucked into breakfast burritos. Amy decided to soft pedal the first section of the next stage to let her burrito digest, while we headed off up the road with Greg and the wind at our tail. We quickly started riding some of the quietest, narrow roads we have experienced whilst randonneuring in the US. It seemed no time at all before we arrived at the market in Shandon for lunch and to stock up on liquids. The day was hot, and we knew the next stage would have hills and probably a headwind. Again, Amy was quicker at controlling than us, and had already headed up the road before we had finished eating. The first half of the stage seemed to be the source of the ride name - “Golden Hills” - as we rode through rolling hills where the sun had already dried the vegetation to a golden colour. There were some grazing animals, but very little food for them, and most of the waterholes had already dried up. It’s going to be a difficult summer. At Templeton, we took Matt’s warning about the impending climb to heart and detoured off-route to find additional water. It was then time to start the climb back over to the coast. It was easy to see how the road out of Templeton got it’s name - Vineyard Drive, where we passed many more vineyards. Once we hit highway 40, it was time to to start the proper climb. Thankfully, the road had some rolling sections which broke up the climb. There was also enough wind to ensure that we didn’t overheat too badly. Greg grumbled about the climb most of the way up, but in a humourous tone and listening to him reminded us of so many rides and riders back home. It didn’t feel too long before we were over the top, and starting the descent to the coast. We spotted a randonneur by the side of the road who seemed to be fixing a flat. He gave us the thumbs up to indicate that he didn't need any help, and we sped by with Greg still hard on our tail. The run in to highway 1 was windy, but didn’t seem to be quite as bad as Saturday. In order to make the distance up to 200km, a detour to Cambria (4 miles North) was needed. After a pleasant coffee stop, it was time to use the tailwind to push us back to Cayucos. Powering along with the wind behind us and the waves never far away was a great way to finish the weekends cycling.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

There's gold in them hills! Ride report from Davis 600, May 3 - 4

Davis 600, May 3rd 2013

After a storming time on the Davis 400, we knew we had our work cut out for the 600. Still no news from Santana / Crank2 of when we would receive Katina back from repairs, but never mind, we were settling into a comfortable pattern of surprising ourselves by how much fun we could have riding our "heavy" touring tandem on this brevet series. Being on a flat handlebar bike for such distances does take its toll on my wrists and shoulders, but the combination of aerobars and dual bar ends, plus the portable pilot-massage attachment all good tandem teams carry (aka Emma) meant I'd got this far without any complaint.
The bigger challenge of the 600 was it was back into more mountainous terrain, climbing a good way into the Sierra Nevadas for a 1500m altitude half-way point, and also an unconventional 8pm start time, guaranteeing awkward sleep patterns. As if that's not enough, I also was planning to go straight from the end-line to SFO airport and get on a flight to London. At least, I should sleep well on the flight!
The first 50km we spent with a group of fast guys -- not The fast guys, who were off the front chasing down a slick yellow Velomachine (fully faired trike recumbent) that had shot off into the night making short work of the North-Eastern almost head wind that had blustered up against us from nowhere -- but certainly fast enough. Somehow our echelon riding was even worse than the fortnight before, with me completely misreading the wind direction and failing to pick the right line when we turned off the main roads and onto the never-ending "Reclamation Road", nt doubt annoying some other riders about the tandem not performing the quality of "pull" expected of it; too bad! Shortly after the pace seemed to rise further with some groups quite sensibly wanting to break off what had become an unwieldy large pack, and we had no interest in playing along with the "attacks" so we sat up to see who else might fall off the back with us, but as it turned out the the whole lot disappear into a line of red lights dissolving into night across the paddy fields. Not a problem - on a tandem we have our own company built in ☺

The fastest guys were leaving the first control as we approached, and the rest of the group left while we were there. So we spent the second stage on our own too, plugging away at the miles in the darkness, and to one of he more unusual controls I've seen, hosted in a motel in Oroville. The next stage proved a shake up to the rhythm, as here we hit the first big climb past Feather river West branch and onto the North branch, which would be our companion for most of the coming day (Saturday). The drop down to the river proper was exhilarating in the dark, and seemed to go on for far too long (knowing it was all altitude we needed to climb back over on the return half!). Had it been daylight and I'd been able to see the precipitous drop to the right (near) side of the road all the way down, I might have taken it a shade more gently too...

The gradual drag up the Feather river seemed to go on forever in the dark, so we were both really glad to see the 200km control at Tobin resort welcoming us just as the distant blue of dawn was building in the sky. The freshly cooked waffles were a real welcome comfort here, although I struggled to drink the very strong coffee at that point in my messed up metabolism. As we'd not got in any proper rest on Friday afternoon, with my coming straight to the start from work, we were now feeling the effects of riding right through the night. As were others: we saw the Velomachine parked up on arrival, and still there when we set off into the daybreak.
Seeing sunlight hitting the sheer canyon walls above our heads was tantalizing, as we experienced the coldest part of the night just below it! In an effort to cut weight for this day of climbing I'd left my nighttime cooler-condition clothing at the control. Eventually we turned off the picturesque Highway 70 and onto the even more charming Indian Creek road. A fellow cyclist asked if we'd rather be enjoying the downhill return leg, and at that point I had to say no I was genuinely enjoying the amazing scenery and being able to take it all in as we trundled up, in a way you really can't when piloting a tandem downhill.

The organiser Dan was the man at the control at Tayersville, and again we enjoyed his cheery company while also enjoying his great hospitality - soup, cooked to order omelets and a couple sandwiches. He was a little concerned about one rider, Kaley who had been riding ahead of us by half a stage all night, but had not yet been seen at Taylorsville. So Dan was sure she'd missed the turn and would now be well on her way to Quincy.

The last stage to the turn around point I found fairly brutal. While not yet the hottest part of the day, and the heat reduced by being in the mountains, but still the remote and dusty situation somehow got into me, not to mention this was the steepest sustained climb of the whole event. At 270km in this was probably the toughest point for me -- if doing an evening start again we must remember to get a couple hours lie down before, as indeed we did on previous 2 night start long distance rides. Eventually we got to Antelope lake and what an amazing setting it is... quickly blowing away any grumpiness! On the way up we'd spotted Kaley heading back down, so at least solved that conundrum (she'd just missed the control).

The next 150km was downhill tandeming heaven. And, the only part of the ride with a tail wind to boot. Sailed through Taylorsville, narrowly resisting more omelets but still enjoying great food, and down to Tobin where we were reunited with our "bag drop" bags for another change of shorts and to pick up the cooler weather clothes. The climb back over to Oroville was tough, but not unexpected so easy to pace, and the descent the other side, with a spectacular late evening sunset laid out infront of us across the wide Central Valley really left us in awe. I could have stopped at the vista point and watched the sunset right through, but we had a pressing engagement to meet in Oroville - hoping to get there for 8pm and squeeze in 4.5hours sleep in the motel room we'd booked. Of course brevet plans are always subject to change, this time being a really fierce side wind that like ius, was falling off the Sierras in the setting sun, and wanted to do all it could to knock us off during those final 10 miles into the town. By the time we got there, we knew we couldn't sleep so long, as if that wind kept up we'd need more time in hand for the remaining 150km in the morning. Still, sleep, in a proper bed, is an amazing thing on a 600km ride, in any quantity - and so our 3 hours was truly restorative.

Alarms just after midnight, we were back rolling before 1am, enjoying the quiet of the night. In the distant Sierras to our left we could see lightning flashing around, so were glad to have left that weather in the mountains, and hoped it would not be joining us up the road.
Reclamation Road eventually came around again - this time we could see just how flat and bleak that area is. By now the sun was rising once more, and with it was returning the Easterly wind that we'd mostly avoided by striking back out in the middle of the night. This got pretty weary riding, so we had to stop and hide out behind a barn for 20mins to eat sandwiches and get a breather. Along with a prior bonus service station stop, and then a Starbucks stop 20 miles from the arrivée, we managed to turn a 2 stage ride into 5 stages on that Sunday morning. We later heard that Reclamation Road is variously now as Redemption or Revelations Road by the local cyclists; all very appropriate names for the emotions you dig on in that flat and shelterless lands.

After our sneaky Starbucks stop, we cruised into the Davis outskirts feeling pretty good and with 3 hours in hand. We could see the storm cloud now brewing on the nearer side of Sacramento, so were very happy when the road finally swung south and then west back into the park and ride and the end line. And after a well earned 2 hours extra snooze in the car we secured an enormous brunch in a local diner.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mojo lost? Mojo found!

Davis 400, April 20

Having successfully completed the Davis 300 on Dobbin we weren't too concerned about the thought of undertaking an even longer ride on our touring tandem - even though this would be twice the distance of anything we'd put him through prior to this season. Perhaps bearing more on our minds was that this was the longest ride we'd done in quite a while - since Easter last year in fact, when we'd made a failed (non-validated) attempt at a team "arrow" to York. With the distractions of moving house (and continent) in the second half of last year we'd fallen right out of practice in the whole long-distance part of randonneuring. So in ways entering a 400 felt once again like the longest ride we'd done since PBP in 2011.
As with the 300, we decided to stay over in Davis both before and after the ride, so as to make the 6am start a litte more agreeable, not to mention to avoid the need to drive in the small hours.
The ride started promptly, and soon we were battling our way out East once more, through the same Northerly cross wind as 4 weeks before. Thankfully it was not quite so strong this time (or, maybe we were becoming accustomed to it), but equally we failed to make quite such an effective rotation of riders so by the time we reached Putah creek just East of Winters we were ready to sit up and ride our own pace for a bit, even with the tail wind. This was also a good chance for a stop to remove arm warmers and swap to dark glasses, as already by 8am it was starting to heat up into a warm day.
It made a very welcome change to skirt south around the Lake Berryessa mountains rather than right over them, instead visiting the 'burbs of Fairfield and then heading North up Wooden valley. Here we repeatedly passed and were passed by a large group of Leukemia Trust cyclists out on a training ride. We softly chuckled about the three rest & refreshment stations we saw setup for them along this 40km stretch, quietly thinking to ourselves how we'd already done 60km before meeting them and had yet to reach our first refuel station -- not to mention the 300km we'd still have remaining to ride after parting company. Part we did, as we turned onto familiar roads that lead up and past Lake Hennessy and then drop into the Napa valley, Silverado trail.
The Northerly wind had abated somewhat by now, so we really able to enjoy the scenery as we cruised to Calistoga, passing by many sights we'd enjoyed a fortnight before while touring the area with my brother and his family.

The Calistoga control marked 160 km of the ride, but somehow felt further -- the turn around point at Lake Sonoma now seemed well within striking distance, and everything was feeling great.
The heat of the day was really starting to get going as we skirted around what felt like 3 sides of Healdsburg and found the county road to our lunch stop. This is a beautiful part of the area we'd not seen before, somewhere worth spending time in "Wine Country" without quite the maddening crowds (and continuous bachelorette limousines) of Napa county. We took our time at the control, really enjoying the third fully catered rest stop laid on by Dan Shadoan and his excellent team that are the backbone of the Davis brevet series.

The return trip started very slow, even on flat lands and with the wind technically (if not noticeably) behind us, we were full of food and feeling the mid-afternoon furnace. What a difference 6 months makes though - last time we experienced this extreme heat, I really suffered, but this time we were well stocked with drinks and better protected with white clothing, so taking it steady, just keeping on moving, and eventually we were on the climb back out of the Alexander valley and into Calistoga.

The next stage had a couple of climbs, back to Lake Hennessy, and "past the winery" as we've come to know it, and would also see dusk, so we kitted up for night riding and welcomed the relative cool of the evening. By Moscowite corner several of the other riders we'd be riding around the same pace of, and enjoying company of in each control, were looking a bit sleepy, and indeed a bit of a lie down and even a small beer was welcomed by several as we enjoyed the comfort of the first indoor control of the ride, and perhaps since moving to California! Emma and I were still feeling pretty good at this point, so pressed on without too long a stop, eager to get to and beyond the final control point. I don't think either of us realized at this point we still had our best cycling legs to come though! As real darkness fell, the indomitable climb to Cardiac Pass seemed, well, a little more domitable than usual, and so soon we were screaming down the other side enjoying the biggest decent of the ride.
So we surprised ourselves by rolling into the 7-11 corner shop in Vacaville just about midnight. A hot cup of coffee or chocolate and a snack later, and we were soon heading out on the final stretch, with the words of the store keeper still in our ears: "you'll do well to get to Davis by 4am"!
The climb from Vacaville came as something of a surprise as the area looks so flat when you pass through on the Freeway, but soon we were back onto the plains of the valley floor and pushing out a very respectable pace, back down now very familiar roads. After hours of remote lands, the traffic lights in Davis twinkling up the road are always a welcome sight, and as we approached the crossing back over the I-80 Emma mentioned it was 5 minutes to two am! The lights were all in our favour, and suddenly we both had an unspoken goal - beat the clock to the finish line. We stood as we climbed the freeway bridge, plummeting down the North side I could see the gazebo faithfully stood in the Park and Ride lot below us; around the corner and double back to it, we shot up to the sleepy-looking helpers slamming on the brakes and shouting "2am?"! On the second time of asking they understood and agreed we could have that :-)
So looking back this was the strongest finish we'd made in a while, and it felt just great to get to the end of the ride with enough in the tank for a (very short) sprint, and generally feeling like yeah - we could probably cycle a bit further than that. A relatively flat route, great weather, pacing ourselves in the hottest parts of the day, and mostly enjoying our time on the bike, all helped to make it feel like we were really back and riding strongly again - if not quite at the same level as 2010 then certainly back where we were entering PBP, and that's a great feeling.