Monday, July 15, 2013

One week on from Gold Rush - assorted musings on riding ultra long distance

Here's some various notes about the DBC Gold Rush 2013 that I wrote on 5 July but never posted as I was miles away from internet access at the time. For the "real" ride report, see Emma's post.

Never wear new kit

Somewhat foolishly, I purchased new cycling shorts (Specialized Race) two weeks before the ride, and started out wearing them -- only the second time I'd ridden in them.
The first 300km went great, I couldn't believe how comfy they were. Especially given how went the weather was. On reaching Taylorsville I decided to have an early change of shorts anyway, to get some dry ones on, as I'd sent 2 clean pairs ahead to there in the bag drop. At this point I discovered the extent of damage done! The seems on the tops of both legs had rubbed in the wet, just below the hip-flexors, and caused some quite extensive abrasions. Strangely neither hurt at the time, indeed they bore through until the final day. It was only in the days after the ride that the pain really kicked off!
To be fair, I don't think these were entirely the fault of the shorts: I was wearing my new 'touring' jacket for the first 2 days, and this is still pretty stiff material, which I think had pushed down onto my legs and caused the chaffing. For long rides a thinner lighter jacket has more benefits besides weight saving. (Although they tend to be more 'boil in the bag' hence why I'd taken the heavier, more technical jacket).

Beware new bike components

A random observation. We changed the cassette 3 weeks before the ride, at the same time as the rebuild due to frame crack.
We'd previously run a 11-34 tooth cassette, but decided to switch to the latest MTB style 11-36, as this allowed fitting of a slightly larger granny chain ring with only a small increase in minimum gear available. What I hadn't reckoned on though was that this meant switching from Santana's custom specified tandem 10-speed cassette to a stock MTB sort. I hadn't realized how much I'd liked the consistent 2-tooth increments from 11 to 23 on the first seven gears. The new cassette only maintains 2-tooth separations for six gears, before getting into 3 & 4 tooth incements. This meant on top ring on rolling terrain, I had only 6 gears to play with for small adjustments. On a short ride this would be no odds, but on a long ride I started getting quite tired with the effort of trying to select sensible gear and dealing with the shifting.

Getting lucky with sleep stop strategy

I think this is one of the things we're both most pleased with. We entered with the same overall plan as when we rode PBP, the details worked out quite differently, but overall we thought we had it spot on for the terrain and the conditions.
Like PBP we more or less planned to "race out, tour back", getting a good time to the turn around and then having almost an extra day to play with for the return. Unlike PBP, we actually managed to tour rather than race back, hence a somewhat slower time, but a happier state of being on arriving at the arrivee!
Coordinating sleep stops on a tandem is tricky as you need to be sure that when you stop to sleep both parties are tired enough to get meaningful rest. On PBP we solved this by banking up sleep debt until we got in 2x 4.5 hour stops, and that worked well. We wanted to do the same on Gold Rush, getting to Adin at 520km to have our first sleep, but at the control before - Susanville - we realized we were already ready to drop so got in 2 hours kip, even though it was only 4pm. This was such a good decision! While I can't claim we flew over the next stage, it was a surprisingly undulating affair, and attempting that after 30 hours awake (almost 24 hours cycling) would have been a disaster. As it was we arrived at Adin ready for another 90mins snooze, which we managed in a control volunteer's car they kindly lent us! This was perfect. We were then getting up to finish the remaining 100km of outbound leg in the early hours, pedaling into dawn -- resetting the body clock nicely.
Due to this, the last 1.5 days were splendidly enjoyable, being able to stop for an impromptu ice cream, enjoying the catering at each control stop to the full, having an extra sleep to avoid the hot part of Thursday afternoon, and being able to finish in comfortable time and without lasting injuries to ourselves. This was really important for us, on our second ride of this length; not wanting to repeat the time off the bike we suffered after PBP.


This surprised me a lot, it maybe a sign of how cotton-wrapped I’ve become in south-bay smooth paved roads, but the middle half of the ride was supremely hard work on me due to the state of the roads. Due to the tough winter weather up at altitude, they seemed to systematically crack right across its width at regular ~20 meter gaps. Perhaps due to the concern I had as we were running a front wheel with 2 emergency spokes, or just from the miles of tandem-piloting fatigue, I seemed to get worn down by this more than other riders who barely seemed to notice it.
The effect was we were delighted to get back over the high-point and onto the Feather River canyon. Several other riders reported the logging lorry traffic being unbareable there, but we didn’t seem to suffer that too much: maybe being larger and faster than a solo, and needing to ride a bit further out from the fog line, they tended to keep back on the narrow sections for us.

Front wheel after the ride. Can you spot two unusual spokes?

Company makes it memorable

Randoneuring is a strange beast. Part of what we love about it is the time we get alone, just with our own thoughts and each other's understanding company, but equally we like the shared adventure and occasional chatter of riding in a group. This ride had a good mix of each. The opening 100km we were in big groups but bashing out the miles too eagerly for much conversation. The final 100km was superb - retracing though same roads but in a small group with Billy Olsen and Patrick Chin-Hong, churning out the miles through the night and then enjoying the sunrise over the flatlands north of Davis. We split up just before the end, Patrick wanting to ride faster to wake up a bit, us wanting to stop at a Starbucks for a relax and a bathroom break, but this worked out just fine for everyone and the chat through the last few stages was a great way to round out the ride.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ride Report: Davis Gold Rush Randonnee 1200km

So, how to compress 1200km of riding lasting 3 ½ days, into a ride report? There were so many highs and lows on this ride, that I don’t think it’s possible to document them all. That’s one of the joys of randonneuring and the shared experiences create the most amazing bonds between people.

Lets start at the beginning. The scene is Tandem Properties in Davis on Monday afternoon. The weather was not very Californian with grey skies and drizzle. Seventy odd riders plus volunteers, spouses, friends and supporters are milling around doing all the necessary tasks of checking in with lots of chatting and good humour. It’s an international field with riders from Japan, Australia, Canada, Russia, Korea and Sweden, although it’s the local clubs with the most representatives. San Francisco Randonneurs had many riders with a significant number starting their first 1200. Unusually, we were the only tandem riding, and there was also one velomachine and one recumbent. All of us ‘non standard machine’ riders had ridden the Davis 600, and so knew what we were getting ourselves into.
Once riding everything compresses, but my principal memories from the ride will be something like this:
- Storming to the first control at Sutter (96.9km), and arriving a couple of minutes before it opened. We lead out the whole ride for quite a bit of this stage.
- Flying over the I-5 freeway for once we get the traffic light timing just right and lead our peloton past the yellow velomachine, normally uncatchable on the flat lands!
- Being eaten alive by mosquitos after breaking a spoke on the front wheel, just after the Sutter control. Lycra is no match for the biting things, and I have bites everywhere which will stay with me for the next 1100km.
- Gut wrenching sound of a bike going down hard at the back of the group we were leading into the Oroville control (152.2km). A couple of Japanese riders touched wheels and one went down very badly, breaking his pelvis. We’re too far down the road do anything other than hurry to the control to rally the support team’s assistance.
- Hitting a pothole on the way out of Oroville and breaking a second spoke on the front wheel. We’ve never had to use a single emergency spoke in all our years tandeming, so using two in the first hundred miles of a 750 mile ride was rather concerning.
- The delight as we managed to source three spare spokes which appeared to be about the right length from a SAG driver at Tobin (218km), and carried them for the rest of the ride before handing them back at the end. They were clearly charmed.
- Falling asleep, exhausted at Susanville (412km) being disappointed that we’d not made it to our target of Adin (521km), but knowing that we were too tired to tackle the next remote, hilly stage. We slept for a couple of hours, before heading out to Adin where one of the controllers let us sleep in his car for an hour, as all the camp beds were full.
- Leaving Susanville in a rainstorm, and seeing a double rainbow on the climb to Antelope Peak.
- Descending to the tranquil Eagle lake with the setting sun -- twice! Both on the outbound and return leg. That is such a quiet and beautiful place.
- It’s never a good idea to try and use unfamiliar energy / protein drinks on a long ride. There were some rather windy conditions in the first 30 hours...
- Having to walk up part of the climb to the top of the GRR from the Boulder Creek side, and being very glad that no-one passed us. We felt very hot despite the rain, and with more than 350km in the legs, it was just a bit too much.
- Climbing the fearful Janeville grade. According to Strava, I’m now Queen of the Mountain for the climb. Not bad given that “tandems can’t climb”, and we had a 10 minute break after the steep section to adjust clothing, take a photo, and eat one of the awesome sandwiches made for us at Susanville.

- Singing ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ loudly at 2am on the approach to Sutter on the return leg. Making up foolish cycling oriented verses as we went.
- All of the volunteers organising the ride and manning the controls. From the familiar faces of people we’ve ridden with this year, to the kids of the youth organisation 4-H at Taylorsville. The controls were relaxed, efficient with good food and excellent care. Everyone was fantastic, but the Taylorsville control was really something special. On the return leg (Thursday), one young girl remembered that we’d left a battery on charge on the outbound leg (Tuesday), and reminded us to collect it as we were on the way out of the door. Taylorsville has a population of 154, so to have them put together the skills and effort to run this control was great and made us riders feel like we had a real connection with the community we were passing through.
- Stopping for an ice-cream on the way down Feather Canyon. It was really hot, and an ice-cream and glass of lemonade was perfect.
- The care and concern of the SAG drivers. We caused some concern on the return leg, as we slept at a motel at Susanville on the return leg, and didn’t plan on returning to the control before heading up Janesville grade. One rider had overslept in a motel in Adin on the way out, and had to abandon as she was out of time. One of the SAG drivers went around to the motels in Susanville until they found out where we’d slept to ensure that it didn’t happen to us. As well as mechanical support they provided, they provided a welcome lift to see them pass you when on the remote sections of the ride. It’s good to know that there are people out there actively looking out for you.
- Seeing Don Jagel sat beside of the road into Adin holding a kitten. He’d seen it in the road, where it looked like it had been injured, so dashed across to rescue it and look after it until someone could be found to take care of it. We went on to ask the controllers at Adin to see what they could do, but in the end a CHPs Highway Patrol Officer stopped and took it off him.
- The epic tales of true endurance - the true spirit of this type of riding. From the rider who broke a crank and finished the ride on a bike and shoes borrowed from a rider who had just abandoned, to the rider who finished having ridden the last 400km with Shermer's Neck, to the riders who had problems on the outbound leg and struggled on until they ran out of time, or finished. They are the heros.
- Last and not least, the organiser Dan, wife Ann and the wonderful support and enthusiasm of Davis Bike Club. They are a very special bunch of people to put on this ride.

The next Gold Rush Randonnee will be in four years. It’s a ride to experience. It has some of the best support you can find anywhere, and the mountains are spectacular. It’s never going to be an easy ride, but can a 1200 ever be easy?