“My ride was going good until the nausea set in,” Clyde Butt said to no one in particular as we all meandered around the Pope Valley Farm center front yard trying to figure out how to feed ourselves. That sentence is a good synopsis of a lot of long rides. Clyde had done the first 200 miles in 13 hours, but was eventually overwhelmed by nausea and stuck on the side of the road over a guardrail in the dark. It was a little after 6 am on Sunday and he was at the mile 230 Pope Valley rest stop preparing to leave. He had completed the first 200 miles by 7 pm the night before, but after that had had a rough night and a very difficult 30 miles. He looked pretty good at this point-just a little tired and dazed.
My ride, on the other hand, was going quite well. A few weeks ago, Bob Redmond, in a bit of a panic at the small number of registered 600k riders, decided to add the Double Trouble rides to the 600k weekend event. While the 600k people would start at 6 am on Saturday and struggle through 375 miles by Sunday night. The Double Trouble people, using some of the 600k route, would do 200k on Saturday; sleep and party in Pope Valley, trying not to make fun of the silly 600k riders; and then return to Santa Rosa by retracing our outbound route. The obvious problem with this scheme is that Pope Valley is only about 35-40 miles away from Santa Rosa. The next day most of the Double Trouble folks shortened the route for the return. In order to do a 600k you need to be a little blind to other options like short-cuts and cabs. The 600k-ers were on a mission and were focused, while also seeming slightly confused. They seemed completely unaware at how close they actually were to the finish as they headed out back north in the opposite direction to home.
Three of the 600k riders were from Orange county and completely unused to hills. One of the Orange County guys told me that the first 200k of this ride was the hilliest 200k he had ever done. When they were told that they were only 35-40 miles from the start, they perked right up. “You mean I can stay the night here and then just ride 35 miles back in the morning?” The three DNFed on the spot and settled in to the Pope Valley party. They had come up to the area with the hope of seeing new beautiful landscape and they certainly had succeeded on that goal.
The first day, I did the prescribed route, which starts in Santa Rosa, goes up Chalk hill, 128, Dutchner Creek, Cloverdale, north on 101, Hopland Grade, along the south side of Clear lake, 29 from Lower lake to Middletown and then Butts Canyon to Pope Valley. Either you know what these words mean or you don’t. The only thing that matters is that Hopland grade is long and beautiful, that the road along Clear Lake is much harder than expected, and that 29 is annoying (completely expected).
I am such an unsociable crank. The start for the 200k was at 7 am, which meant I was able to sleep until 0430 and I was able to have breakfast. Brilliant. I love later starts. 0430 is almost verging on a perhaps, slightly reasonable time to get up. It is too early, but it, at least, does not feel like the previous day. A couple of weeks ago, in order to make the Davis start, I got up at 3 am, but did not have breakfast, since even with a 3 am wake-up call, I still did not have enough time to eat before driving to the start. (My intestines hate me. Honestly, they straight up hate me. Biking wreaks havoc with the digestion system anyway and the earlier starts just ensure that no matter what I plan to eat, I’m screwed from the very start.) However, Bob Redmond, in a stroke of genius, chose 7 am to start the 200k.
Liz was questioning Bob at the start about with whom she should ride. Bob, seeing me, said “Let me introduce you to Lisa.” I, being the crank that I am, answered, “I prefer to ride alone.” Both Liz and Bob seemed pretty appalled by the answer, but I did want to ride alone. I wanted to go at my own pace, taking pictures and I was certain that Liz was too fast for me. At some point, when talking about pace, I told them that I was planning on taking 11 hours, which seemed to relieve me of having any obligation of riding with anyone else, since everyone was planning on a faster 200k than that. I felt slightly bad for my answer, though, and at the end, Susan Forsman, with her voice dripping with sympathy, queried me about why had I ridden all by myself. I assured her that I like riding alone, but occasionally I do feel like a freak for doing so.
I like riding south on 101 from Hopland to above Cloverdale. The pavement is smooth and the shoulder wide. It is downhill and usually has a tailwind. It is also gorgeous. I mean just beautiful. A lovely river-like thing runs along the west side of the highway and the highway runs within a valley, hills to both sides. -And you are flying. Wind at your back, slight down-slope, smooth pavement. I feel like I belong on a highway, I am going so fast. Wheeeeeeee!
101 northbound, however, the route I took Saturday, lacks many of these fine qualities. I still think the road pretty but I can’t see the river from this side. I have a bit of a headwind and I am going slightly uphill, so I am not suffering from the delusion that I belong there. Instead, I feel a tad slow. At one point, due to some stupid drainage issue, the shoulder actually disappeared, forcing me out into the lane of traffic. I was on the edge of the lane, but I didn’t want to share the lane with traffic doing 70. This section was short, but I was still passed by cars while riding here. A little later, still due to the same drainage issue, the shoulder was completely covered with algae-filled standing water. I was afraid that the algae-covered wet asphalt would be slippery and didn’t want to ride through this section, but I really didn’t want to go back out into the lane of traffic on 101. I could see a few bike tracks through the algae, but no body imprints, so I figured no one had fallen and I rode through.
On 101, a large electronic sign warned that 175, the road through Hopland grade, would be closed on Mon-Wed, Jun 4-6 for paving. I noted that this date did not affect us and dismissed the notification as irrelevant.
Thus, the road surface, despite the notification, came as a surprise to me. 175 was chewed up in preparation for the impending paving. At first, I thought it was not that bad. I imagined myself on pave and fancied myself in Belgium. After about 1/2 of a mile, I found it very annoying and kept thinking it could stop anytime now. After about a mile, I was struck (and I mean struck, like struck hard) with the idea that this could go on for a while. 11 miles. It went on for 11 miles and not just any 11 miles, 11 miles up Hopland grade, so 11 SLOW miles. It was not really that bad, but I was lucky that I had ridden my very comfortable, bump and pothole-eating, cushioning-steel-forked Rex, instead of my nervous, notice a pea under 40 mattresses, aluminum Cannondale, that drinks expresso every morning to start its day.
The constant bumpiness from the grading done to the pavement made the climbing slow. My tire tended to slip when I stood, from the lack of traction due to the rough surface. The sides of the road, in addition to the roughness, had gravel, which made them a little more slick than I liked. The cars weren’t giving me a lot of room, which I did not understand. They could certainly see that the road conditions were bad and, even in the plush ride of a car, you can feel the roughness of the road. Why weren’t they giving me more consideration? Upon complaining about them at home, Jason pointed out that they were likely unhappy with the road conditions, too, and did not have any consideration left for me. I felt bad for the motorcyclists; they must have had a rough ride.
I was quite disappointed when the pavement continued to be rough after the county line.
The rough pavement only lasted a little bit beyond the top, but that small patch of the descent was horrible. I was a few feet into the descent, when I decided that the scenery was pretty and wanted its picture taken. I love the views along Hopland grade. I restarted the descent and made it past one corner, before deciding that another picture really needed taking. The descending really was terrible. I was having a hard time reaching the brakes, because of how much I wanted to grip the handlebars. My arms were shaking so much I felt like I could not really see them. I restarted and made it a few more yards, before being, yet again, overwhelmed by the desire to take a picture. This stop, my third, was my last for the descent. The pavement became normal and the rest of the descent was ok. I am happy for the pictures.
The next day my hands seemed slightly bruised and hurt slightly as I rode, but they weren’t bad. My right has a slight bruise on the base of the palm, but I have no swelling and no neuropathy. I have only done one 600k, but my palms were swollen and red on day 2 of that ride and the neuropathy lasted 5 months. I am wary of possible damage to my hands on these long rides, but the only real damage from this weekend’s ride was a lost bar end plug. (My friend James can go on at length about the bodily damage caused by missing bar end plugs, so, fearing his wrath, I went to the wonderful Cycle Sports today and replaced the plug.)