Archive | June, 2010

Around Sonoma County

25 Jun

I rode my first RUSA permanent last weekend while up in Santa Rosa for a wedding. Although the Santa Rosa Cycling Club hosted a full brevet series this year, this seems to be the only permanent route established in the area.

While never quite reaching the beaches or wetland preserves, the “Around Sonoma County” 215K is still a fantastic tour of the region, passing through surprisingly diverse micro-climates, landscapes, and towns. Here’s a map.

Rather than deal with the hassle of disassembling and transporting my Casseroll via three buses and a train, I decided to use this opportunity to rent a more “modern” carbon road-bike (in this case, a Trek Madone 4.7) to compare to my Casseroll. So, I made my way to Healdsburg and after a small amount of paper-work and the attachment of my Brooks saddle, I was out the door with three pre-paid days of test riding ahead of me.

Healdsburg, friend to bicycles and fancy picnics?Pleasant staff and a decent stable...

Here’s the vehicle in question, sitting in front of the start/finish control in Santa Rosa, ready and rearing to go:

(click to enlarge)

Some brief impressions about the Trek Madone 4.7 before I describe the ride itself:

I must say the Ultegra group-set seemed significantly more “snappy” than my 105, although I wasn’t as impressed with the Ultegra brakes compared to my Tektros. The geometry of the 4.7 is fairly upright for a road bike, without being quite as relaxed as my Casseroll. Generally the 56cm frame was a great fit for me, although I did start to experience finger numbness in one hand after 80 miles or so. This probably could be addressed by moving the position of the brifters, changing the handle-bar wrap material, tires, etc – though it could be a function of the way the fork transferred road vibration. The carbon felt stiffer than my steel bicycle, which seemed to improve power transfer such that I could pedal at a slightly higher cadence and in a slightly higher gear than I normally would choose, for an overall increase in average cruising speed of maybe 1-2mph. This doesn’t seem like much, but after a full day in the saddle, small increases in speed can really add up. On the other hand, the carbon didn’t have the same responsive feel of steel, particularly when accelerating. I have become accustomed to this small amount of feedback, and it was disconcerting to ride without it, though it didn’t really impact my overall performance. Climbing was maybe a little easier with such a light bike, but not as much as I was hoping for. Handling was swift but not twitchy, although I wasn’t quite as confident descending on the Madone – when I exceeded 40mph, any little input to the handlebars seemed to generate an exaggerated response and made holding my line a bit more difficult than usual. The 25mm tires seemed fairly durable, and were a good match for the smooth pavement much of this route is blessed with. I’d still want something a little wider for chip-seal, broken pavement, rumble-strips, pot-holes, etc. All in all, an impressive and (despite the lack of fender or rack mounts) utilitarian road bike, but more of a marginal step-up from the Casseroll than I suspected. Comparing bicycles is a bit like comparing different guitars – the construction of the instrument may impact the tone, but not nearly as much as the style of the player.

Near the start of the ride, I got on the the Joe Rodota trail, which follows the Santa Rosa creek and is part of the “Rails to Trails” conservancy program that creates multi-use paths along abandoned railways. It is a pleasant tree-lined trail, set back a fair distance from the highway. On a later day I would take it out to Sebastopol before getting on the Bodega HWY (not really recommended to bikes by the way – narrow, no shoulder, long steep hills, and busy traffic make for an unpleasant combination) on my way to a wedding in Valley Ford.

On the permanent I turned south, taking Stony Point Rd down to Petaluma. Along the way, I passed a Koi farm – an auspicious sign I thought, as I was also greeted by another impressive fish as my journey began. This must be one of the few public statues in Santa Rosa that isn’t related to the Peanuts or Charles Schulz:

After picking up a chocolate milk at the control in Petaluma, I started heading towards the Pacific once again, passing through fog-enshrouded rolling pastures and dairies, and entering into Marin county after passing by the immense barracks of the coast-guard training center. The blacktop was meticulously maintained here, and with no cars or airplanes rushing by, the only sound was the soft hum of my tires and the brazen moos of some cattle locked in a steamy embrace.

When I paused to take a photo and absorb the silence, I heard the sharp report of a rifle echo through the hills near-by. This coupled with the fog and some unfriendly “CYCLISTS RIDE SINGLE FILE!” signs were enough to wake me from my reverie.


I had heard that many farmers and ranchers are not fond of cyclists, but thankfully my experience didn’t bear this out. At one point, I met a group of sheep in the road, herded into a remote-feeling, idyllic, albeit disintegrating ranch by a white-haired gentleman on a slow moving ATV. As I stopped to let them by, he gave me a big grin and a wave. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but I think there was a hint of envy on both sides of our encounter.

When I reached the town, it was still early and not much was open – thus my quest to eat tamales in Tomales was doomed to failure; instead, I would have to fuel my climb up Dillon Beach Rd with fig bars. There is an old lugubrious cemetary out on this road, which I didn’t photograph, but I believe it was the original Catholic resting place that accompanied this church (which was rebuilt after a fire in the early 1800s I believe):

Come to think of it, I rode by three graveyards during this ride – a symbol to counter-balance the koi I suppose?

As I got closer to the coast before finally heading North, the fog became ever denser, obscuring the green fields and even the bulbous forms and tafone of Elephant Rock, which encased in a slow moving mist seemed darkly enchanted. As an extended family of cotton-tails darted across my path and crows seemed to scowl at me (you know, The Birds was filmed not far from here!) from their road-side perches, I felt as if I were traveling through a dream.

I next passed through Valley Ford, where my friend Rebecca was getting married the next day. Just as I was about to open my mouth in awe at the beauty of the spot she’d chosen, I passed through a massive cloud of gnats which briefly formed a secondary layer on my skin and jersey. With every brush of my hand, dozens of dead insects were swept away. I pedaled on face-down and full-speed, fearful that I would inhale another storm of no-see-ums at any moment. Anybody who thinks humans are the dominant species needs to get outside more…

As I headed inland and the morning wore on, the fog lifted. By the time I reached Freestone, it was quite clear. The distinctive aromas of yeast and a wood-fired brick oven made it impossible to ride by Wild Flour Bread without peeking inside. There was a cornucopia of organic loaves within, and it was tempting to proceed with multiple baguettes under my arm – instead, I departed with a large mocha-hazlenut scone which I nibbled on here and there all the way back to Santa Rosa, washed down by lots of chocolate milk, apple cider, carrot juice, water, and electrolyte mix.

Turning on to the Bohemian Hwy may have been the highlight of this route – as you suddenly find yourself in the midst of an ancient redwood forest, flanked by rivers, trees, and small pockets of 1870s buildings and stores. This beautiful place, dappled with shadows and sunlight is home to some of the oldest organic gardens and nurseries in California, not to mention perhaps the weirdest elite men’s club on earth, Bohemian Grove. I paused to make water at one point, but when I realized that every Republican president since 1923 had peed in these woods, the disturbing mental image made it impossible for me to do the same, and I continued on towards Guerneville.

Next up, I followed the course of the Russian River for a while before pausing to photograph it on the old historical Wohler bridge:

View from Wohler Bridge

Soon, it became dry and hot as the forest and gave way, not to dairies and pasture-land, but to hilly vineyards as I traversed both sides of the Dry Creek Valley:

After cresting Dutcher Creek Rd (deceptively steep), and many rollers (I’ve never seen a flat vineyard after all) I made it all the way North to Cloverdale before turning back towards Santa Rosa, passing through Geyserville (without seeing a geyser unfortunately), and up and over the extended climb of Chalk Hill Rd before returning to the by now familiar Old Redwood Hwy back into Santa Rosa.

So, ~136 miles with ~3018 feet of climbing in 9 hours, 12 minutes. The little Cateye computer mounted to the bike seemed a little spotty, but here’s what it said:

Many thanks to John Russell for creating this route – I highly recommend riding it if you have the time and are up in wine country.

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(Fast?) SLO 300K

16 Jun

Last weekend, I completed my first 300K brevet with the PCH Randonneurs, a big loop heading South from San Luis Obispo. Here’s the map. Apologies for the lack of pictorial evidence – despite the many scenic landscapes and small-town scenes spread out before me, my camera never left my pocket.

I completed the ride feeling pretty good, finishing in 13:19 including a few “bonus miles” through Santa Maria when I missed a turn, for a total of 192.8.

There were a dozen controls on this ride, which at first annoyed me – but as the route wore on, I began to appreciate having a reasonable goal to focus on just up the road, rather than getting bogged down on how many miles were left for the day (a line of thinking not especially conducive to enjoyment – Errin talked about this a bit on the drive up, and likened it to having a kid in the back-seat of your brain repeating “are we there yet?” ad nauseam).

I had one small mechanical problem about 25 miles in, as we were approaching Guadalupe. I shifted my chain off the big ring and somehow managed to knot it around the crank-arm in the most diabolical manner imaginable. Shaun and Errin both stopped to help me out, but thankfully I managed to get going again quickly without deploying my chain-breaker (which I’ve never actually used before).

After a pit-stop in Guadalupe, I pushed on in order to catch Carl, a strong rider from Arizona who offered generous pulls and interesting conversation. Eventually the “Twitchell Train” (the same tandem I failed to latch on to on the long descent down from Big Bear back on the 200K) along with Jim (riding his cool Masi) caught up to us and we formed an efficient pace-line into Los Alamos. I had planned to stick with this group as long as I could manage as it would make the ride easier and decrease my chances of getting myself lost – but things turned out differently.

As we left Los Alamos, the route began climbing Drum Canyon. I saw Eric ahead on his recumbent and further up the hill, Wade Baker. I’d heard a lot of people praise Wade’s climbing, so I figured, what better time to observe and learn something then up a 2.8 mile 1000′ foot climb on a virtually car-less road? So, I upshifted, got out of the saddle and began to mimic his cadence if not his form. As I pushed my way to the summit, I was starting to nudge my heart-rate and breathing higher than I would have liked, so I figured I wouldn’t be able to catch up. Once the descent began though, I found my 33.3 Jack Brown tires were a real boon, eating up the rough and broken pavement and the bits of shattered rock spread out over the tight switch-backs. So once we were through the canyon I found myself sitting on Wade’s wheel.

It soon became clear that he treats these events as training for long-distance racing, as he was maintaining what for me was a furious pace along the 246, riding low in his aero-bars and sipping Perpetuem, liquid shots, and other liquid nutrients with great frequency. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 20 miles I rode with him were among the fastest I’ve pedaled on flats, rollers, and risers. So while, maybe I should be sharing a picture of La Purisima Mission, instead my memories of this stretch are mainly of staring at a rear wheel and cassette while leaning far into my handle-bar drops.

After a brief stop in Lompoc, we turned up a moderate grade along Santa Rosa Rd. As Wade began his climb, I realized it wasn’t wise to try to match his pace much longer. I slowed down just a bit, and took notice of the beautiful ranches, vineyards, and fields surrounding me. Passing through Solvang, an outdoor BBQ tempted me to stop for lunch, but I pushed on through the climbs and head-winds along Foxen Canyon Road before I finally reached Sisquoc where I saw Wade once again just as he was setting out. I bid him farewell, knowing I wouldn’t likely see him again. I spent the most time at this control, half-expecting to see the tandem/pace-line show up at any moment (wishful thinking as there was a bit more head-wind to contend with). I was flagging a bit at one point, and saw a vulture circling above me, which made me laugh enough to forget my fatigue.

In Nipomo I was excited to find a place that served up hand-made tacos and had a bunch of workers sitting around b.s.’ing while enjoying their Modelo tall-boys in paper bags – sadly they didn’t have any horchata, so I settled for some more chocolate milk (poor-man’s Perpetuem?).

There were some dusty and ugly sections around here, but they were punctuated by vivid aromas from wild fennel to strawberry fields.

It was a little after this that I got lost and had to back track through Santa Maria to figure out how to get back to the 166, by the time I reached the next control, Wade was nearly an hour ahead of me, but no one was close behind as far as I could tell.

Over the rollers on Orcutt, I kept comparing the distance left to the distance of my daily commute in an effort to motivate myself.

Finally I made the circuit of San Luis Obispo and arrived back at Vickie’s house (who graciously hosted this ride and many of its riders, myself included) before sunset.

For those readers hungry for stats, I am afraid I don’t yet have a cycling computer to pump out data for me. For those readers who are simply hungry, here’s a list of food I ate on the ride:

6-8 dried apricots
3 umeboshi onigiri
2 dried bananas
1 boiled salted fingerling potato (would have had more but these had spoiled in the heat).
1 small bag BBQ Kettle chips

3-4 bottles worth of First Endurance EFS
2-3 bottles water
2 bottles apple juice
2 pints chocolate milk (although I ended up wearing a substantial portion of one pint when I hit a bump with the carton open)
1 small can V8
1 small strawberry smoothie (Jamba Juice)

All in all, a great ride enlivened by a cast of friendly cyclists and volunteers, though it did take a couple days of dog-tiredness to recover. Next up I’m planning on riding my first permanent (on a rental bike no less), a 200K up in Santa Rosa in a couple days…

Land of Many Uses

3 Jun

In preparation for my upcoming 300K, I decided to do a longer training ride last Saturday. Heading up Little Tujunga Canyon Road,  I faced a moderate  head-wind right from the beginning, but at least it helped keep the heat at bay (I got a late start at 8:30AM). Traffic was sparse and generally courteous, though I was unintentionally buzzed by a motorcyclist who over-cooked a corner trying to keep up with his riding buddies.

It is not uncommon to encounter snakes in the road, as it must seem the ideal place to bask. As you might expect, this doesn’t often work out well for them – I found this one not far from where a human body was discovered less than two months ago:

Coast Patch-nosed?

While the sight made me sad at first, it also made me strangely hungry. Had I not brought along a bento-box filled with onigiri I made the night before, I might have been tempted to fry him up for a quick protein boost.

Along the first climb (Little Tujunga has two before you reach Sand Canyon), there are two establishments that it seems odd to have in such close proximity: the Angeles Shooting Range, and the Wildlife Way Station. I’d love to visit both, though with regard to the former, I imagine biking up through Sylmar with a rifle slung over my shoulder might elicit some unwelcome attention. The wind was the worst at this stage, and I was glad for the guard-rails a couple times as the gusts made it impossible to hold a line.

The aromas of sage were intense, and I was pleased to see a mix of wildflowers all along this ride. Little Tujunga Canyon itself was still swathed in dark green, and plenty of trees are still around to intermingle with the chaparral. I paused mid-way down the descent to share a glimpse:

(click to enlarge)

The second climb looks worse than it is, as an intimidating rocky peak looms high overhead in the distance. It isn’t until the Northern summit of the road that you realize what you’ve been seeing leads to a ranger station 6 miles off the road and you don’t have to climb it. Looking out into Antelope Valley, you can see the desert begin to consume the forest:

(click to enlarge)

The second descent down to Santa Clarita is technical enough to be fun (you can see part of the road in the above photo to the right), but not so much that you have to slow down at all. After passing by a few ranches I went in to and out of In-N-Out to refill my water bottle(s) and grab a small milk-shake.

Sipping that cold chocolate was pleasant after a climb, and kept me distracted from the annoying head-wind and mild but extended up-hill along Soledad Canyon. It took quite some time to find a dumpster so I put the empty cup in a rear jersey pocket while I continued the gradual climb towards Acton.

Passing the turn-off for Agua Dulce, I remembered the “main street” as being a pleasant place to stop (I went that way the first time I went over Little T). As a dust devil careened into my face, I thought maybe I should check out Vasquez Rocks, get lunch and then turn around, but I pressed on instead curious what Acton might have to offer. Along the way, there were a few large camp-sites, a small store, and this hyperbolic road-sign, which is all the more amusing as (outside of an abandoned trailer home amidst a small stand of trees) whatever it is referring to does not appear to exist at all:

...or not?

Unfortunately, Acton has very little to offer a cyclist – in fact, I wasn’t even able to locate water in town. I started checking spigots along Aliso Canyon Road (most of which were abandoned). Finally, at the last house before entering the forest, a kind woman allowed me to fill up from her hose while her cat competed for my attention. The water ran hot for several minutes, streaming over my hand into a thriving succulent.

Aliso was slightly steeper than Soledad, but I was pleased to be out of the wind finally so it didn’t feel as “brutal” as the route was described in the 2008 Tour of California:

The race takes a turn south up the brutal climb of Aliso Canyon to the Angeles Forest a route once used during the 1960’s for the California Road Championships where California cycling legends Bob Tetzlaff, Dave Sharp, Wes Chowen and Stan Ferris split the field in a day long battle fest in over 100 degree temps on the valley floor in Acton. The final climb over the Angeles Forest Highway up towering Millcreek Summit (4,906 feet) will be no less a battle for the favorites to contest the leaders jersey and for the classic climbers to battle for the final mountain crown and winner of the 2008 tour.

A little jerkey got me up Angeles Forest Highway, (which after the station fire looks rather apocalyptic) and then the fun began. A couple rollers and I reached Big Tujunga – a surprisingly extended descent following the river that made most of the day’s climbing worthwhile.

The ride concluded with me drafting a dump-truck, stopping to offer assistance to a motorcyclist who ran out of gas, and finally some of the worst pot-holes I’ve encountered back into the valley… 89 miles in 7 hours, with lots and lots of climbing – a good training ride all in all.