Sunday, December 29, 2013

R12 - An RRTY Californian Style

Well it’s been a while. After our great Gold Rush ride we rode the wonderful Death Ride (Tour of the Californian Alps) before continuing with our RRTY/R12 challenge. The R12 is the RUSA award for riding a 200km (or longer) brevet every month for 12 consecutive months. Living where we do, we really have no excuse not to ride a brevet every month; it’s not like we are going to be snowed in any time soon. RRTY is the Audax UK equivalent.
Having finished the Gold Rush in good form we were in a good position to attempt the death ride. This is an annual event 129 miles (207km) long and with 15000 feet (4572m) of climb in Alpine county south of Lake Tahoe. In some ways it’s the local equivalent to La Marmotte, in others it’s completely different. It was a great day out though, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for a challenge - the local support is wonderful.

Our assault on the R12 started last December with the Davis-Auburn-Davis ride, and we managed to keep it going through the spring and early summer. Our July brevet was our second ride of the Tres Pinos Scamper. This time we were a little quicker than we were back in February. It still seems like a harder ride than it should on paper though. August was another permanent, but this time it was Roland Bevans ‘Carmel Cruise’. With long sections of the coastal cycle path what looked like a slower perm on paper actually turned out to be an absolutely fantastic route, and is definitely on the list to ride again. In September we rode our first calendar brevet since the Gold Rush - the SFR Davis 200 night ride. This ride started up in Rodeo at 8pm and the route took us up to Davis and back, overnight. It was lovely to catch up with people who we hadn't seen for a couple of months and made a change to ride the (mostly) familiar roads in the dark. In October it was back to riding a permanent in John Guzik’s Happy Trails To You. This linked together some of the longer creekside trails in the area, and was really nice day out. A week later in November we rode the Del Puerto Canyon calendar event. The first section of this ride was perfect tandem country, and we spent long periods gathering groups of riders in our wake. R12: achievement unlocked.

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?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Final preparations for the Gold Rush 1200

Preparing for a 1200km is always going to take a fair bit of preparation, but on the Gold Rush we have 3 bag drop locations each way of our and back. This is where we can send ahead some fresh clothes, sleeping stuff, and food, to pickup as we go. Multiplied by two us us this means 12 discrete bag-visits. A lot to plan compared to the zero we had available on PBP!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Kat is back! Ride report: Dumbarton / Hamilton 200km. A more eventful day than we expected.

On Tuesday, I went to pick up Katina from the local dealers. We are officially a two tandem household again :-) After a quick fettle to fit some aerobars, the saddles and luggage capabilities, we needed a proper shakedown ride to check everything was working. We entered the Dumbarton Hamilton Roundabout permanent which starts about 5 miles from our house and is a lovely route. It starts with a pootle along the bay trail to the Dumbarton bridge, where we cross the bay and take a very gentle climb (almost flat), through Newark to Livermore. It then climbs Mines road to the great cafe ‘The Junction’, before following San Antonio road up the backside of Mount Hamilton, before descending to San Jose and back to Sunnyvale. The ride was slightly more ‘interesting’ than we had planned, but we learnt quite a lot.

1 - 100°F is HOT
(And hotter is, well, even hotter)
We have two “big” rides planned this summer, and both could be very hot, so we thought it would be useful to try cycling in extreme heat to see how it affected us. We already knew that wearing white clothing and regularly dousing it with water helped keep the heat down, but was interested to know whether this was enough. As it turned out the answer was no, especially when climbing. Within a mile of the start of the Mines Road climb, we were sat in the shade of a tree, wondering whether we should just turn around and go home. In the hot sun, water evaporated off clothing very quickly, and only gave relief for a few minutes. It was better than nothing though. On shallow grades we could ride without overheating, holding enough speed to give some air-cooling effect. But on steeper grades we needed to stop and rest in the shade regularly to cool down! Later in the day when the sun wasn’t so strong but the air temperature was still very high, we found the arm coolers to be less effective. In some ways, even though it was cooler, it was worse to cycle in as there was no respite from the hot air. We actually engaged the “24 inch” (or should that be 48 inch?) gear a few times, as we could walk along in the shade, but we were still overheating when cycling.

2 - The disk brake gets quite ‘graby’ when covered in Gatorade
At Livermore, we bought an extra litre bottle of Gatorade to put in the saddle bag. For reasons unknown it decided to completely empty itself, despite there being no obvious leaks and the lid still being firmly attached. As the carradice saddle bag isn’t fully waterproof, this caused it to drip Gatorade all over the rear wheel, including the disk brake. We had wondered what on earth had caused it to start behaving strangely. It also turns out that Gatorade is a fairly effective clothing dye, as Joth’s transparent gilet is now a fetching orange colour. When changing a tube on the rear wheel later in the ride, we also discovered that the rim, tyre and rear triangle were rather sticky too. Our nice clean frame didn’t stay clean for long!

3 - Poor air quality makes it difficult to breath
The air quality in the bay area isn’t all that great at times. Fortunately, you don’t need to go too far to find better air. There was a ‘spare the air’ alert on both Friday and Saturday indicating that the level of low level ozone in the area was high, and “Vigorous outdoor exercise should be undertaken only in the early morning hours when ozone concentrations are lower”. We normally don’t suffer any problems with poor air quality, and we were fine until we reached Livermore. On the way into town, we could see a fire in grassland to the North which engulfing Livermore in a thick cloud of white smoke. Indeed, a short while before we’d been passed by a siren-bearing flatbed truck carrying Caterpillar earth moving kit: a sure sign of forest-fire trouble.
Cycling through the smoke cloud was really difficult, and gave Joth a huge coughing fit. Fortunately the Safeway control was nicely air conditioned, so we could hide out inside while the worst of the smoke cleared. I’m not sure if the smoke had an ongoing effect, but we both struggled to breath deeply all day.

4 - The Junction’s root beer float is a marvelous thing
When we got to The Junction cafe, we were hot. I saw the couple in front of us buy something which looked extremely attractive, so I ordered the same. I’m not normally a big fan of root beer, it tastes a bit medicinal for my liking. A frozen glass filled with vanilla ice cream and accompanied by a bottle of Henry Weinhart’s Gourmet Root Beer. Smooth, creamy and extremely cold. Perfect! We spent well over an hour at this control, and although it was cooling down, the thermometer was still reading 103 °F when we left just after 4pm.

A tree had fallen across the San Antonio Valley Road which made for a small additional challenge.

5 - Once the temperature drops, we speed up.

We got to the top of Mount Hamilton with *just* enough time to know we could get back to the final control in time if we pushed. Having soaked our jerseys in water at the mountaintop Lick Observatory, the upper part of the descent was wonderfully cooling. By the time we reached San Jose, the air temperature had dropped, and we were able to put some power in. It seemed strange that little over an hour before we had been walking to avoid overheating, and eating glucose tablets as though they were smarties, as we’d had problems eating (or more specifically, digesting) in the heat. The route back to the start has many traffic lights, but between red lights, we were actually going very well. Some of the quickest cycling we had done all day. We got back with about 15 minutes to spare. Our longest 200km ride by quite some way!

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.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Catching Up

Well, it’s been awhile since we posted anything. We haven’t been touring at all, but we’ve been getting the miles in while randonneuring, as well and taking some non-bike(!) holidays. We’ve also been breaking tandems -- more on that later.
Since the last blog post, we’ve experienced Californian winter. Compared to the UK it was very short (especially compared to the one that the UK has experienced this year). It started by raining in December, for what seemed like the whole of December. It was heavy, and sometimes accompanied by strong winds. Very few people cycle in the rain here, but as long as it’s not too windy or cold, it was quite pleasant. New Years Eve was spent riding a very fast 200 from Davis (Last Chance Brevet), mostly in company (including a tandem). The route included a large section of the American River Bike Trail. It was lovely and quiet, but you could imagine that the trail would be very busy for much of the year. January arrived with frost, lots of it. Apparently we had the longest cold snap on record for the area. I had thought that we wouldn’t need all our UK winter cycling gear when we moved, but was very glad we brought it with us! We managed another fairly quick 200km brevet from Healdsburg courtesy of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club the weekend before my parents arrived for a three week visit. We spent much of the ride on our own due to setting off without water bottles, and having forgotten to top up the tyre pressure. The main field were long gone by the time we went back to the car to sort everything out. We also managed a first by snapping the drive chain. I’d put a new chain on a couple of days before, and it had initially been skipping, before settling down after about 10km. It was then quite happy until it snapped about 30km from the end. We always carry a chain tool, and spare pins/quick links, so it was a quick repair and sandwich before heading to the brew pub finish location. We didn’t get to do much cycling while my parents were here, but did a fair amount of walking instead. We also spent a week in Canyon Country visiting Red Rock Valley (spectacular colours), Zion Canyon (beautiful waterfalls), Bryce Canyon (amazing views with the orange hoodoos, white snow and blue sky), Monument Valley (very photogenic) and the Grand Canyon (big. very, very big), interspersed with Dam tours, museums and lots of food. Immediately after my parent left, we had another week holiday. This time it was skiing by Lake Tahoe with friends from various parts around the globe. Again, more food was eaten than could really be justified by the exercise.

Having completed brevets in both December and January, we were keen to do one in February to keep the run going. With the logistics of holidays and visitors, the only time we could find was the Monday following our return from skiing. We chose a flat 200km permanent starting in Sunnyvale, meaning we could cycle from home. Having not been on a bike much for a month, it was always going to be a tough ride. The weather (damp), didn’t really help either. Still we managed it, although in contrast to our previous two brevets it was one of the slowest 200km rides we’ve ever done. We’ve also learnt that while a sit down and rest is good for a lunch stop, authentic mexican food probably isn’t the best option for us.
March was a much more normal cycling month, with two 300km brevets planned. The first was the San Francisco Randonneurs 300 starting at the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and riding up to Healdsburg before returning via the coast. This had one of the largest fields for a 300 we’ve seen, with 120 entries (and 105 finishers on the day). There were some great headwinds on some of the outbound sections of the ride, which made the tandem popular with riders wanting to draft. Unlike many rides, we were thanked profusely and frequently for the shelter. There was also chatter when conditions allowed, which was nice. Apart from the wind the weather was wonderful. Cycling under blue sky going south along highway 1, with the noise of the Pacific waves crashing in on cliffs and beaches was stunning.

Towards the end of the ride, we noticed a creak whenever we stood up for climbing. This sort of sound is normally from a saddle (the combination of titanium railed saddle and a bagman is rarely a silent one), or occasionally the eccentric bottom bracket working loose. A quick check confirmed it was neither of these, so an investigation was booked for the cleaning she was due sometime the following week. As I was cleaning the rear of the bike, I noticed the lacquer on the join between the right chainstay and the chainstay bridge had lifted. After removing the rear mudguard and some of the lacquer to get a closer look, the likely source of the creak was apparent. It was clear that the weld between the chainstay bridge and the the right chainstay had cracked, and then extended into the chainstay top and bottom. Not good. Still, we were planning on getting Kat serviced sometime prior to the 1200km ride planned for June, so we combined stripping the bike for shipping with the maintenance work. Being in the US has made sending it back to Santana a lot easier (and cheaper), than from the UK too, as they’re conveniently based in South California.
Typically, I’d discovered the crack just after having posted a $200 cheque for ride entries, including the Davis 300 just over a week away. It was time for Dobbin to come to the rescue. Having seen the elevation profile for the Davis 300, it was clear that we were going to need to lose some of Dobbin’s excess touring weight. Off came the mudguards, racks, etc and the Marathon+ tyres were swapped for some lighter Pacelas. A quick (ha ha!) trip to Pescardero indicated that while we weren’t going to be breaking any records while climbing, we wouldn’t be too slow on the 300.
The five minute cycle from the overnight motel to the start of the ride indicated that it was going to be an interesting first stage. There was a very strong wind that would be a headwind or sidewind for around 50km until we reached the shelter of the (up)hills. While we proved it was possible to ride in echelons with a tandem / solo mix, it was hard work! We found a few riders to work with though, which helped quite a bit, but the normally easy going on the flat lands was nowhere in sight. After just over 100km, the first control was very welcome. So welcome in fact that a number of cyclists who weren’t on the brevet turned up thinking that it was their rest stop (which was just next door). The turn around point was at Cobb mountain elementary school at a little over 800m elevation. The rolling hills through pristine vineyard estates and past near derelict ranches showed where the money was being made in the area. One of the more unusual sights was Litto's Hubcap Ranch. The climb to the control started gently, but had some really steep sections. Dobbin has very low gears, and even though we had no touring luggage, we made use of them! At the start of one of the steep sections we were greeted with a strange sight; a randonneuring fixed-gear rider descending at speed and sounding like she was having a lot of fun! It’s always comforting to know that American randonneurs are as mad as their British counterparts. The control was worth the climb, with plenty of food (including freshly cooked pasta). The return leg to Davis started with a very fast descent off the mountain, and all seemed to be going smoothly until we hit the hills around Lake Berryessa when I noticed that the rear wheel was wobbling. A quick stop indicated that the cassette had worked loose, and some play had developed in the hub. We didn’t have cone spanners to hand, but we couldn’t move the lockring without them, so we just tightened the cassette, and carried on keeping a watchfull eye on it. Unfortunately, there was no tailwind to blow us back to Davis once we reached the flat lands, but compared to the morning the going was much easier. We spotted bike tail lights in the distance, about a mile in front, and made them our target. We eventually caught them just before the final info control, and so had a bit of company into the arrivée.
Dobbin’s rear wheel took a visit to the bike shop, where we learnt that we’d broken the cassette holder (or more precisely, some of the internals of the cassette holder). This was the second such breakage that the bike shop had seen in a few days. It seems that the Shimano tandem hub (or the cassette holder for it), is becoming known for breaking under high torque. It’s a shame, as in all other aspects it’s bombproof. It was fortunate that we hadn’t got any randonnees booked over the last couple of weeks, as we’d have been tandemless! Instead we’ve had lovely visitors in Joth’s brother and family.
We are getting a little bit better known by other randonneurs here, and it’s good to see familiar faces when riding. Next up is the Davis 400km brevet. Fingers crossed that we don’t break anything else on the bike!