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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PCH Randos Fall 2009 600K ride report (Salinas CA to Oxnard CA)

I know, its about time I wrote this. Perhaps its that I had to do a lot of work leading up to it, so afterwards I just wanted to rest. It was my first 600K, my first time riding through the night,  into the unknown. This was also my first experience as eventmaster for a brevet. This meant that RBA Greg J, Vickie B, and route approver Scott B had to get me up to speed on running a brevet, and right quick too. Without all their help, it would not have gone off nearly so smoothly.

Its funny, we planned this to be an Amtrak brevet, take the train North and ride South. Once we found 2 big support vehicles for the event, people started asking about riding up in them. In the end I think 12 riders went up in the 2 support vehicles and 6 took the train. Might as well fill the vehicles.

We had a nice dinner close to the hotel, then went to the train station to offer rides to the hotel. Buy the time we got there most riders had their bikes built and chose to ride to the hotel. Then I got busy putting every riders cell phone number into my cell. I wanted to experiment with better communication with riders on brevets. My first idea was have everybody sign up for Twitter and follow me and the other riders, on thier mobile device if they wanted. Not a lot of folks signed up for this. I figured that I could at least do broadcast text messages to the group. My idea was that the fastest riders could let the slowest know about road conditions and workarounds if detours were required. This might be exceptionally useful for riders near the time cut offs. I am not sure if this helped people of not, still looking for feedback, It seemed like something neat to try.

Then I got hold of Cathrine and Irene, our 2 pre-riders who started 48 hours before we would. This was good as I had to make a few corrections on the cue sheet. I also sent these out as a text message to the riders. Then Dana, Richard and I wrestled with Richard's front STI shifter and derailleur to try to give use of the small ring, and the big one, for the next day.

After all this, and a call to my girlfriend, I could not get to sleep, at all. I just laid there for 5 hours. I think I was a little nervous about my first solo overnight ride too. So up at 3:30, tried to get the riders together by ten of 4 to go over the corrections to the cue sheet, and we made sure everybody had a list of phone numbers (thanks Kathy). I was so busy with this I forgot to fire up my GPS and acquire all the satellites, and set my Powertap to recognize my Hed Jet9 C2 wheels. As I got done, riders were already rolling out the the lot, so I got rolling without my dashboard up and running. I tried to get to the front to make sure we all took the correct turns out of Salinas and stopped at all the stop sign. Thanks to the poor light, my eyes, and my not yet caught up GPS, I slightly overshot one turn. Luckily no one crashed and we made the correct turn, Sorry about that. After that I figured it was slightly downhill or flat for a while, so I might as well take off. Without the Powertap running yet, I don't really know how hard I was going. But, after a while most of the headlights in my rear view mirror disappeared, all except one. As I got to a few lights, eventually he caught me, and my suspicions were confirmed. It was Carlton.

We had some climbing coming so I figured he would get away from me for a bit. Turns out we had other obstacles too. We stuck mostly together, and then we hit the fog. Light at first, but then much thicker. So thick  that we once took a left after a red light, into the dark, I got disoriented enough to almost T-bone Carlton! We also hit a section were we almost overshot a stop sign because we could not see it. I think this is where a few other riders rode right thought the T and into the gravel. Later we hit more of it, so thick that it limited us to 15mph on downhills. It was very nerve wracking. Sometimes it would let up, and we would let it run, only to hit another patch and have to slam on the brakes. The 2010 route should miss a lot of this fog, and even if it rolls in, the road will be a lot simpler to follow.

Once the climbing really set in, Carlton got a minute on me. I refused to go hard that early in the ride. We got together shortly after just as we were getting onto PCH before Carmel by the Sea. This was downhilling, and the wind gusts picked up a bit. Running 90mm deep rims, I am kind of sensitive to that. At about 50, I got hit by a burst that moved me lateraly enough to convince me I must have a low rear tire! I stopped to repair. Carlton offered to stay with me but I insisted he keep rolling. Well, I spent five minutes scatching my head, checking for loose bearings, broken struts, loose spokes, tire damage. I even added a bit of air to the rear tire. I think it was just the wind. Oh well, live and learn. I took off towards Big Sur, hoping around every corner to see Carltons tail light.

There was almost nobody out on PCH. It was neat. It seemed that I was on the border of 2 different wind patterns, one warm and off the desert, one much cooler from the ocean. Glad I kept all my clothes on out of Carmel. More gusty cross winds. On the way to Big Sur I probably had to back off the power half a dozen times due to crosswinds on the downhills. This is the price of the deep wheels. As the triathletes say: "Run the deepest wheels you dare. If they don't kill you you'll be faster." Well, I am still alive.

PCH is not flat from Carmel down to Ragged Point, not at all. I think it get close to 100' of vertical per mile. Thats hilly. Up down up down. Oh, but it was sooooooo pretty, and the smells and sounds. One sound was from the crickets in the bushes, which sounded just like the turn alert on my GPS!! Every time they made me look! There as not a turn for over 100 miles!!! ...and I knew that. In fact I could recite most of the cue sheet from memory! But still, they made me look. You could hear the waves breaking down at the shoreline. Cool. Now remember that its still dark, and the sun is slowly coming up. The scenery was spectacular. At one point I actually took my camera out on a 30mph downgrade to try and catch the faint sunrise, and got passed by a truck just as I took the pic. Great idea for a route Greg!

Note the DeFeet Wool Kneekers and the light for my powertap, not yet turned on. Come on sun!

 There goes the garbage truck. Note the cables routed inside the bars in case I bang the bike into something, like, oh..... maybe asphalt. After the truck passed you can see I went back to riding on the white line. Its usually faster.

So much for staying on the white line. I must have been distracted by the camera.

Well I caught sight of Carlton as we approached Big Sur, and the sun was coming out! He stopped at a closed store before the control. As I went by he asked if that was the control. I said no we needed to go to the post office, which had a store that should be open. Now here is where I made my biggest mistake of the ride, and it cost me for a while. I kept riding. I knew the route by heart, and my GPS was working fine, but I was aware of some disagreement about exactly were what is in Big Sur. My GPS mileage was already over where I thought the PO was. I started to get really stressed that I might have missed it. I really pride myself on perfect navigation. Thats why I map all my events and use a GPS. No bunus miles. I got so stressed that my stomach got upset. How embarrassing would it be if the eventmaster with the GPS missed the first control. Finally I stopped at a hotel to ask about the PO. I had to climb a mud bank to get to the hotel. The good news: I was just about to start the climb up to it. So I was still going the right way. But, my stomach was pretty sour. I got to the PO just behind Carlton. He offered me to split a burrito. I would have declined solid food at that point anyway, but I was really not wanting to eat anything. His stomach was bugging him too. I got water and took off up the road to the Chevron, which was supposed to have a bathroom. It was an outhouse, off a short little trail behind the station. I took my time, shed some clothing, took a pic of the bike, and tried to relax. Then I got going. As I merged onto PCH Carlton was right behind me! Unfortunately, with all the up down, we really could not ride together. I tried to relax, but I could not eat much. I have now come to the belief that reduction of stress is the key to good results on ultra long events. Be prepared so you can always be as relaxed as possible on the bike.

Now PicasaWeb does not save time info for photos, so I am guessing that these were after Big Sur.

The sun is not really on the western slopes, but at least I am out of the fog.

Fog almost gone down on the water.
Pretty obvious where this one was taken, eh? About 20 miles south of Big Sur.

The up down gets worse as you get to ragged point, there are a few more extended climbs. The scenery continued to be phenomenal though. Sometimes we would ride above the fog over the water. the riding was a potpourri,  a bit technical at places: rough pavement,  DH corners, crosswinds, but most of it was really nice. Just just before the last climb to Ragged Point, I came across Michael, a recumbent rider from SLO, out on his Richard Sach's DF to join Dana for the trip south. He joined me to Ragged Point. I informed him that per the rules I could not draft him though. We pulled into ragged point and I got some Coke to settle my stomach a bit and more sunscreen, hit the bathroom, and we found a nice table to lounge at until Carlton arrived. We wound up talking to a few other cyclists there too. It was really turning into a nice day and warming up.

Michael lounging at Ragged Point. Note to self: next time find someone to take pics of all 3 of us! Duh....

The 3 of us headed out of Ragged together, but Michael went pretty hard, and took off after him. Once the terrain got consistant it was mostly cross tail wind motoring. I was over 25mph most of the time. Michael did a very good job of getting tight on my wheel and killing himself on the downgrades to stay there. This worked for quite a while. Then, somehow, I lost a bottle out of one of my seat cages. I have a feeling that I might not have put it all the way in. I looped back to grab it. Shortly after I got back to Michael, we split again. I was just out of sight of him when I took a left on green into Cambria. He did not know I was stopping there for a control. I spent about 10 minutes doing the typical things. It was getting hot enough that I got a ice bottle prepared and soaked my neck cooler and put it on.

On the way to Morro Bay I passed a lot more riders out enjoying the day. And then in Cayucos, I started to see Michael again. I played with him, ringing my bell as I got closer to see if he would look up suddenly recognizing it, wondering just how I got behind him. We road together again into Morro Bay, and then to Los Osos to eat at Ralphs. Just as we finished chatting with the locals and eating and were about to leave, Carlton joined us. We took off for Vickies in SLO, and Michael bid me adieu to head home. He got a hard 200K in. It was great to have some company for 70 miles.

Michael just before we parted in SLO.  

Got to apologize for my lame pics. Problem is I refuse to stop to take them. Next time I'll just have to hold the botton down and gram 10 shots or so. One of then is bound to be level and pointed the right way. Oh, here are bunch of better shots from Catherine and Irene, our pre-riders.

Vickies control in SLO should be used as a model for controls everywhere. You ride your bike right into the garage and park it, and if you need tools, just open your eyes. Grab food in the kitchen then relax in the garage in a Adirondack chair with your legs up and a big fan blowing on you. A friend of Vickies was running it, and I forget her name after 3 months, but once she realized that riders had arrived she was great about getting them whatever they desired. I enjoyed lounging around here and cooling off. I was starting to get a little fatigued. Carlton and Chris showed up before I left with Carlton. As the next terrain was rolling, we leapfrogged for a while until around Nipomo I think, where I rolled away. Just before the turn off of Thompson road I saw a woman selling fruit on the roadside. ...and she had a nice ripe banana! I made a U turn to get back to her and enquired as to its purchase. As I only wanted one, she did not want to charge me, but I insisted. As I was riding away it occured to me what I should have done. I should have bought a whole bunch and paid double and told her to hand one to every cyclist that passed, telling them: "JV thought you might like this". She didn't look to busy. Next time I will have to remember that. I would have been neat. After that it was a nice ride down to Bull Canyon and then Sisquoc. I stopped there and the store was open. I had a Coke and waited for Carlton, and sent some texts and tweets, and contemplated the climb up Foxen Canyon.

I left a bit after Carlton arrived. He was not too keen on heading out and wanted to stay a bit. I actually rode 50 bonus yards past the turn onto Foxen until I got myself oriented. The "climb" is really rather benign, most of it was big ring. It was very quiet and almost no traffic, I turned on my tail lights. And then I got thinking, do i have enough battery to got to the Buellton overnight control on this battery? How long had I run it already, and on what power? I kept it (a Dinotte 1200L) on low and kept moving. It occurred to me that my plan was to be at the overnight before dark, but I had been lounging around a bit much. I had also been experimenting with the higher power settings. Not smart. Luckily the only real climbing was the last few hundred feet of vertical. Or so I thought......

From here to the overnight, Vickie had added some valuable detail to the cue sheet. There are several unmarked and unsigned turns, and her landmarks and descriptions were spot on. I also had my eyes on the GPS, and the powertap, which I started at mile 100 to make my math easy. There is this left you have to make to stay on Foxen. You are on a DH, and after the turn its rather steep, but, um, up. This was a hard steep climb. but luckily short. I almost cramped. 1st gear, 5mph. After that it was a nice sleigh ride into Los Olivos. Then onto Ballard Canyon.

Ballard Canyon. I don't know what this looks like in the light, but in the dark, then best way I can put it is this: it alternates between bobsled course and roller coaster. Its the windiest piece of road I have ever ridden in the dark. Eventually it got less demanding and I could open it up and get to the overnight before my light died. That was a really fun little section, and a total surprise.

Overnight: I got there around 7:30pm I think. I spent over an hour. I took a shower, put on a fresh set of clothing, shoes, clean helmet with my flashlight on it. All clean and fresh. I took my time doing this. I emptied my bag and put in all fresh supplies, mounted a new battery pack and put my spare in my bag. There was no microwave in the hotel, so Mike B had loaned us one to use. On top of that Kathy had her crock pot of soup.  I really regret not having eaten more there. That soup was good! I should have tried a burrito too. Carlton showed up, but my mind was on not sleeping, and he wanted to sleep a bit. He had driven from Arizona for this, and I imagine his sleep going into this was worse then mine. I already knew my dream of a 24 hour ride was not going to happen, so I just told myself this:"Look, all you have to do it sit on the bike and ride it. You don't have to go hard at all, just sit and pedal." I had planned on riding through the night and it was time to do it. I think I left the overnight around 8:45pm. I also figured that if I went to sleep I'd be in no shape to get on the bike again later.

Kathy and the rest of the support crew were up all night taking care of the riders. I even told them before I set off that my feelings would not be hurt if I beat them to Oxnard.

So I set off, alone. Time to go see Lompoc, a little spur back out to the ocean I threw in to get some more mileage in before the finish in Oxnard. The 2010 ride will finish at Lisa and Greg's in Moorpark, so this won't be needed, which is good and bad. The shoulder of the road is pretty nice all the way through Lompoc and out to Surf  (yes, on the map its just called Surf). I left Beullton with jersey, shorts, a wicking T, thin wool socks and fleeced Lycra arm warmers. I had a long sleeve thermal jersey and wool kneekers with me just in case. But as it got colder I figured the cold would keep me more alert and awake. As long as my knees did not hurt and I was not shaking, cold was OK. On the way out to Surf I had a nice adrenaline boost. I hit a 1x1 in the shoulder. I had enough air in my tires not to pinch flat, but it sure scared me. Yeah, my brain was not 100% anymore or I would have seen it coming. I think only 4 or 5 of us made it out to Surf as the road was closed early Sunday for a launch at Vandenburgh AFB.

On the way back through Lompoc, I stopped at the Chevron and grabbed some more Coke. I was now running on that and Espresso gel. I had a nice conversation with a guy there who wondered what the hell I was doing at that hour on that funny looking bike. Nice guy actually. I remembered the next section, the San Julian Grade from the 300K. They were not good memories as is was over 110F and I ran out of water. This time it was cake. I stopped on top to put on my heavy jersey as the descent is over 50mph. At the bottom I took it off and stopped for more water and to clean my glasses. I have really come to appreciate those little pre-moistened lens wipes. The world is always better when you can see it all. Its a safety issue at night too.

On the 101 I had my light die when I was doing about 30. Luckily I just hit the brakes pulled over and grabbed the second battery pack. In retrospect I might have been smarted to reach to my head and turn on my flashlight. I have to admit with the 1200L on medium (800L) its nice to have motorists dim their lights for you. I stayed on the bike all the way to Santa Barbara. I sent a text message about a detour in the course to get there. My battery was almost dead though, need to prepare better next time. I was pretty addled by this point. My focus was on one thing: getting up Casitas Pass without cramping. I tried to get down as much gel and Salt Stick as I could. I worried that if I cramped on the climb,  I might not have enough coordination to get my feet down and might wind up crashing to the pavement. Not good.

I got the base and marveled at my headlight. It lit the trees hanging over the road and everything in the shoulder too. Time to go up to 1500'. Well, I stayed steady and did not fall, but it got very foggy by the top. The moisture was nice for my lungs, but I had been counting on letting it rip on the descents up here, as I knew the roads. Oh well, 15 mph instead of 40. It did not clear until after the last control at Lake Casitas. I was starting to really think about a warm burrito at this point. I also set a new goal. I would try to beat the sun to the finish. It cleared enough that I could let it run at 30-40 into Ventura. I made a last stop for root beer and coke at a Chevron. The rest of the ride was flat, and the wind had not really picked up yet. Riders later had it worse. I got to the hotel at 6:38, and although it was light, I could see no sun yet. There was a bit of fog though. I was pretty altered mentally. Luckily my GF Sabrina was there and took me to breakfast at Denny's. We got back to the hotel in time to great the next group of riders and meet the one who had had enough at the overnight. On the way home we stopped at Exotic Thai for more food. I ate a lot that day.

I have to say though, the lack of sleep did affect me mentally, but I can now see myself trying a 1000K someday without sleep. I felt better physically after this than after the 300 or 400K rides. Thats a function of taking better care of myself, having my position on the bike dialled in, and the bike itself of course. The Bacchetta Carbon Aero 2.0 was flawless. Comfortable, predictable and reliable all the way. Although they scared me a few times, I did not regret the deep section wheels either. No flats on the Conti 4000S tires either. The bike was close to 40 lbs with full bottles and all the spares I had.  I packed to finish, not to be fast.

Great course, and its going to be even better this year. I may try to do it again, spend less time off the bike and do it under 24 hours.

If you've read this far, thanks!  .....and plan to join us this fall and have your own memories to share!