Friday, March 27, 2009

Russian River 300k - 2/21/2009

Russian River 300 km brevet,
San Francisco, CA. February 21, 2009.
by Andrea Koenig
"I decided to go to San Francisco and attempt the S.F. Randonneurs’ Russian River 300 km brevet on February 21st. I became excited to think of starting a ride with biking over the Golden Gate Bridge, just as the Tour of California cyclists had experienced (but going the opposite direction) as well."
For my birthday in mid-February, my mom offered to give me a flight to a U.S. destination since they were on sale. I initially declined the offer, because I didn’t know where to go or what to do and the deadline to purchase tickets was quickly arriving. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve improved my procrastination skills, so the thought of quickly planning a trip seemed to not coincide with this “attribute.” However, after some discussion and encouragement from John Lee Ellis, which included an email containing very nicely prepared table of brevets occurring in February, I decided to go to San Francisco and attempt the S.F. Randonneurs’ Russian River 300 km brevet on February 21st. I became excited to think of starting a ride with biking over the Golden Gate Bridge, just as the Tour of California cyclists had experienced (but going the opposite direction) as well. And the idea of riding in somewhat warmer temperatures, greener landscape and ocean views versus Colorado’s typically (not this year, though) cold month of February and brown or snow-covered hills was also very enticing.

So, about two weeks prior to the event, I booked my flights, contacted Rob Hawks, the organizer of this brevet and registered myself, and began my harried process of preparing for this ride. I needed to buy a bike travel case and learn how to disassemble and put together my bike without finding extra bolts lying around after the assembly. Catherine Shenk provided some crucial advice with an initial reminder not to panic, but to practice taking my bike apart and putting it back together prior to my event. She also suggested that since this was my first time doing something like this, to not book my arrival flight too late in order to allow time for the bike preparation, eating and getting some adequate rest prior to the event. Unfortunately, this latter point became an issue because my outgoing flight was delayed 2 hours due to a lavatory problem. I was now wishing I’d caught that sinus (and nostril)-clogging cold going around! Next time, I will book my arrival flight much earlier to allow time to deal with delays as well as the normal preparation tasks.

As the brevet date got closer, the forecast had changed to ~70% chance of steady rain (and the forecast for the Front Range for that same weekend was supposed to be sunny and 60-70o F! I was wondering why I didn’t stick to my procrastination skills…). I now had to plan for riding in this type of weather, which is atypical for Colorado cycling. Again requesting advice from John, I asked him how he deals with long, constant rainstorms and his response was that he chooses to live and bike in Colorado. On a more serious note, he gave me some suggestions for lightweight rain gear. Thankfully, Peter Hoff bought me a cycling rain jacket for a birthday present so I now was set on that essential item. Bruce Berg, from the S.F. Randonneurs, also suggested purchasing some fenders (“…Race Blade fenders from SKS are the best for this purpose because the stays are outside of the fender”) that could be attached easily at the last minute. In other words, not adding too much time to the bike assembly, which appealed to me.

I met Bruce through Rob, who was considerate enough to forward my question-filled email to other members of the S.F. Randonneurs. To my surprise, I received numerous responses of encouragement to join them on their ride, answers to my questions and even two offers to stay with club members that were planning to also ride this route. I took the offer from Bruce Berg and his wife, Linda, to stay at their home. From my limited knowledge of the Bay area’s various regions and cities, they seemed to be fairly close to the ride start and thus allowing me an extra half hour of sleep in the a.m. of the ride that I desire. Joseph Mauer also kindly offered me a place to stay in his family’s home, however, he understood my reason of declining his offer with the logistics of being close to the ride start as well as the airport I chose to fly into. I was able to see him at the start and during the ride to thank him again for his generous offer.

The route started at 6 a.m. right at the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge. We were surprised to see that it was not raining, but we still packed for the forecasted rain. The route can be described as a loop; actually more of a lollipop shape with a huge “pop” and tiny stick—no disappointment to me with this type of lollipop or bike route design. There are no major climbs, but it is a rather a hilly course with a total elevation gain of ~8000 ft., about 1000 ft. less than the total elevation gain of the RMCC’s Black Forest 300 km brevet, but similar with the rollers.

After crossing the Golden Gate bridge, the route continues through the quaint towns of Sausalito, San Anselmo, Fairfax; north through one of the many Redwoods’ State Parks up to the first checkpoint at the Safeway in Petaluma at 50.1 miles. The route continues north through bigger city of Santa Rosa (many stoplights) to Healdsburg (2nd checkpoint at another Safeway, after 82 miles). It continues south briefly and then west amongst hills, vineyards and the Russian River to the Pacific Coast Highway 1 and south again to Diekmann’s Bay Store in Bodega Bay (3rd checkpoint at 122 miles).

Mustard plants flowering en route to the 2nd checkpoint in Healdsburg... ... then welcome sights of green hills and vineyards ...We continued south along the coast and inland for a bit through Valley Forge and then back out to the coast to the 4th checkpoint at the Marshall Store Marina (in Marshall, at 145 miles) and then finally back inland through Nicasio and south back to the “stick” of our lollipop, this time viewing the same towns that were quiet in the morning, bustling with nightlife and tempting aromas from the various restaurants we passed. We finished at the Toll Plaza at the Golden Gate Bridge (final checkpoint at 187.6 miles). We were very lucky that the predicted rainstorm didn’t happen during most of the ride except for at the end, when light rain started around 6:30 p.m.

Interestingly, after sunset, the Golden Gate Bridge closes it’s pedestrian path of which cyclists also bike on to get across the bridge. The cue sheet explains, “Sidewalk before 101 Freeway off-ramp (S. side of street). Follow sidewalk to East Golden Gate Bike Path (look for door open button and push to open gate—very noisy, don’t be alarmed by buzzer).” This was true, and apparently the reason is that suicides tend to occur after dark so pedestrians are not allowed to walk on this sidewalk across the bridge. There are cameras with guards close by to monitor this as well. So, evidently, people on a bike are less likely to jump. Makes sense to me, as I know I tend to be less depressed and happier when on my bike!

Overall, I had a great experience with participating in this brevet. The ride itself is very scenic with a grand start crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, leading into the Redwoods, green rolling hills, vineyards, the Russian River and surrounding pines, the ocean and the many beach access points and finally back into the fantastic city views of the San Francisco Bay area. Later, I was told by Todd Teachout (another S.F. Randonneur), that this is one of the best choices I could have made for a brevet of this length in this region. We were fortunate with having the weather cooperate with us for the most part with not much rain and some wind coming from the south when we were riding down the Pacific Coast Highway.

The people I met were terrific as well. When I arrived at Bruce and Linda’s house at almost 9 p.m., I found that Bruce was also hosting three more out-of-staters from Seattle: Mark Thomas, Bob Brudvik and Peter McKay.
Just as I knocked on Bruce’s door, an almost assembly-line effort ensued and I was whisked inside and introduced to everyone, while Bruce and Bob took my bike to the garage and started to help me assemble it (a big stress relief for me as I knew it’d take me quite a bit longer on my own). After most of it was finished, I was encouraged to go back inside to eat what was left of the meal Linda had prepared. It was great that they took time to assist me. I was only left with having to pump up my tires, test ride my bike around their Berkeley neighborhood, and then attempt to unwind and get some sleep before the 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. (Mark Thomas and others arriving at the 4th checkpoint in Marshall.)

Also, I was able to connect with all but one of the cyclists I’d talked to via email prior to the event and as expected, found they were not only very good cyclists, but very experienced as well. All had one or more 1200 km brevets under their belts. I enjoyed checking out the bikes and accessories, too: some very classic randonneuring bikes, modern bikes, single-gear bikes, generator lighting systems, traditional carrying cases, modern seat packs, panniers, many fenders, even mudflaps (I’d not seen these before—and they had a more tasteful emblem, “SR,” for Seattle Randonneurs, versus what I tend to see on semi-trucks) and of course, a unique bike mirror/favorite beer cap. I, on the other hand, looked less orderly with super-stuffed jersey pockets that sagged down and would catch on my bike seat when I’d go between standing and sitting. (Seattle International Randonneurs mudflap, and beer bottle cap mirros below, photo courtesy of Mark Thomas.)

I’d highly recommend this route (visit for maps, cue sheet and other rides in the area). The cue sheet is intimidating, but I found it was easy to follow the group for the first 25 miles and then for the last portion of the ride, I just asked to join the Seattle group as they were leaving the last checkpoint if they’d mind me tagging along. We eventually joined some Bay area natives who knew exactly where to go in the dark at the end. Also, RMCC members have the bonus to do this ride with 5280 ft.-acclimated lungs (but by no means did it make the route a cakewalk!). I hope that the San Francisco and Seattle Randonneurs feel welcome to participate in our variety of RMCC-sanctioned rides. I’d be very glad to help out anyone interested in visiting Colorado, as I’m sure other members of the RMCC would as well. As I discovered with this trip, the camaraderie of cyclists is impressive.

Many thanks to the RMCC club members: John, Catherine and Peter, as well as the San Francisco Randonneurs: Bruce, Rob, Todd, Joseph, David Strong (who I did not get to meet because he came down with the flu), Carlos Duque, Christian Friske and Jeff Gordon. Also to the Seattle Randonneurs: Bob Brudvik, Mark Thomas and Peter McKay.


1 comment:

  1. Cool adventure Boo~ Neat to share it this way!! Great way to celebrate a birthday, eh?!