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A hum-dinger of a 300: Russian River 300k

(typed in haste)

At the beginning of the San Francisco brevets, the RBA has all of the riders raise their right hands (or their other right hands) to take an oath not to do anything stupid. Saturday's 300k was no exception, but in this case I thought a bit more about the oath, just given the dire-sounding weather forecast.

But I should back up for a moment to tell you a bit about the night before. The 300k was scheduled for a 6 am start, which is before the BART starts running, so I'd made reservations to stay at the Fort Mason hostel, which is a short ride from the starting line. By the time I went to make the reservations, the only space available was in a 24-bunk room.

By the time it was time to get up, S and I were both amazed and horrified by the level of noise in that room. How do people sleep with their smart-o-phones chiming and bleeping all through the night? That's not to mention some of the impressive logs that were sawn. Fortunately both of us seemed to be okay, probably thanks to a good night's sleep Thursday night.

We reached the plaza with a comfortable amount of time for last-minute adjustments (and a photo), and then it was time to set out.

At the start of the Russian River 300k

Visibility was much better for the earlier parts of this ride as compared to the prior 200k, which made the hills much more pleasant to roll along. We also managed to stay on course this time around, which meant we reached the "secret control" in good time.

Russian River 300k - Secret Control

I have to say, light rain is some of my all-time favorite weather. Everything looked so nice and green, and the air tasted fresh. The scenery was great, too, and we rolled in to the control in Petaluma in good shape. It was so nice to have a bit of time to eat some macaroni and cheese without getting stressed out about getting back on our bikes in a hurry.

The stretch between Petaluma and Healdsburg was all right, too. Mostly farmland with a few undulating hills. It continued to sprinkle lightly. S and I laughed at a business advertising "organic spray tan" just before the control in Healdsburg. With his lack of fenders, S had acquired a different sort of organic spray tan:

Russian River 300k - organic spray tan

We had reached the Healdsburg control just as the penultimate group of riders was pulling out, but were feeling pretty good, with about two hours in the bank.

From Healdsburg, conditions started to get more interesting. We were riding through some lovely rolling hills, past wineries, still enjoying the terrain. Soon the route met up with the Russian River, adding to the great scenery. Somewhere along River Road, with a sense of dismay, I heard an all-too-familiar sound. A flat. S and I found a spot to pull over and I changed out the flat with a fresh tube, pulling out a piece of embedded glass that appeared to be the culprit, and noting that it's time to go ahead and replace my worn-out tires. Well, no big deal. We got back on the road, but then all too soon, another flat. Blast. By this point, S had determined that his brakes weren't in great shape, so as I came to a stop, he gradually sailed to a stop as well, some yards ahead of me. Apparently we would need to be careful about managing our speed, given the condition of our equipment.

At this second stop, I spent a good 20-30 minutes going over the whole tire with a fine-toothed comb, looking for culprit number two. Meanwhile, S patched the first punctured tube. With all that looking, I couldn't find the culprit, which made me nervous, so I followed S's advice and rode around in a parking lot for 5-10 minutes on fresh tube #2.

Fresh tube #2 seemed to be holding air just fine, but when I inspected the tire again, I noticed a tiny slash in the sidewall with tube bulging out of it. Not promising. I deflated the tube again and shoved in a piece of a potato chip bag as a tire boot. Then I did another test ride around the lot. Things seemed to be holding okay, so it was time to carry on. All things told, dealing with the flats probably cost us a full hour of daylight.

The wind and rain continued to pick up as we carried on towards the next control, in Bodega Bay. By the time we got there, the gusts were starting to get really strong. It was shortly after 5 pm and we were just at the beginning of the segment of the ride along Highway 1, aka Dramamine Drive. After wringing out my socks and some more mac and cheese, we set out again. Daylight was waning and we had another 30 miles to go before the penultimate control at Point Reyes Station.

Some of the people at Diekmann's Bay Store said wind gusts were getting up to 37 mph, and that conditions were forecasted to worsen in the upcoming hours. At that point, the shortest way to get home was to just keep riding, and if we could keep our pace up, we still had some chance of making it to Point Reyes Station in time. We passed through the town of Valley Ford and kept going. There are a couple of hills just outside of Valley Ford that I remembered being pretty steep from the prior 200k, but on that brevet we didn't have to fight a headwind while trying to go up them. Things got so bad that S ran out of gears and had to stop and hyperventilate for a bit to make it all the way up.

At around that point, I thought some more about that oath we took at the beginning of the ride. At the top of one of those hills, while waiting for S to catch up, I had to keep the brakes squeezed full on in order to keep Froinlavin under control. The gusts were so bad that we had to fight to keep the bikes traveling straight, and the size of the debris on the road was starting to make me wonder about tree branches crashing down. On top of that, it was dark and the driving rain made visibility very poor, so we had to slow to a crawl on the downhills.

The thing that made me decide to throw in the towel was the moment when a California Highway Patrol car put on its lights and pulled us over to check on us and see if we were okay. The patrolman was very nice and said that some of the people driving along the road had called in about us. He also said that there was a hotel about 4 miles up the road, in Tomales. He then escorted us to town, where we were able to track down a person at the hotel and arrange to wait out the storm in their one open room.

Russian River 300k - cleanup

It had taken us about two hours to travel 15 miles, and we would have had another 15 miles to travel along curving roads with gusting winds to reach Point Reyes Station. If we'd kept going, all of the businesses in Point Reyes Station would have been closed by the time we arrived, assuming we didn't have any additional interesting incidents along that stretch.

It was really hard to decide to give up. We were tired, but we were perfectly warm and had plenty of food and extra warm clothing with us. If we hadn't had to stop for that hour to fix flats, we would have been able to cover more ground through the difficult conditions during daylight hours, where it's easier to keep speed up. But given the terrible visibility and unknown road conditions, it made sense to just stop and wait until daylight.

The next morning was a perfectly lovely time for a ride, and we were able to finish out the distance without incident.

Russian River 300k - muddy waters

And, finished

I still feel a sense of disappointment, but I will take two major lessons from the experience:

1. Knowing my riding style, I will now carry a spare folding tire with me. I tend to ride until my equipment wears out, especially in the case of tires, where in general I can ride without much in the way of flats up until the tire wears out and needs to be replaced. In the present case, I only realized my tire was worn out when I got the first flat.

2. I think I am going to draw the line at riding in 30 mph winds. It was only that final segment, in the dark and driving rain, that I hit a point where I stopped having fun. Everything else was a great adventure, and we enjoyed the scenery both days. As I told S, in addition to thinking about the oath, I also found myself thinking about some signs posted in a research lab where I worked one summer, that said "Know Your Limits."* It's okay to have limits.

That said, I wish I'd been able to hunker down somewhere for a few minutes to look at a weather radar and figure out how much longer the storm was likely to continue. There was a bar next door to the hotel where we wound up staying, and if it had just been a matter of waiting for an hour, we might have just stopped for some food and drinks. I'm going to keep this in mind for future rides.

*It took a while before I learned that these weren't some sort of strange motivational sign. They were reminders to make sure to not put too much radioactive material down the drain. There's a limit to the amount that's allowed to go down the drain in a given day.


( 19 remarks — Remark )
Mar. 7th, 2016 08:30 pm (UTC)
Wow... Sorry your plans were foiled but obviously if you learned something valuable then it was not a failure either... just a different kind of success.
Mar. 7th, 2016 09:25 pm (UTC)
As far as failures go, it went pretty well overall! And it was both a good learning experience AND a pretty nice bike ride, in general. Just...not the gale-force gusts of wind part.
Mar. 7th, 2016 09:29 pm (UTC)
Yep I totally get that :-p
Mar. 8th, 2016 05:41 am (UTC)
Yep I totally get that :-p
Mar. 8th, 2016 05:07 pm (UTC)
Yep I totally get that :-p
Mar. 7th, 2016 09:46 pm (UTC)
Tiore Boot
I used to always travel with a folding tire spare. I must have loaned it out a half dozen times but never used it myself. I have since gone to cutting boots out of old tires. I cut 3-4 inch long segments then cut the bead off. They work really well and are much easier to pack. I carry three on a long brevet and have had to use them only once but it took two to fix a shredded tire on a tandem once. I also pack pieces of tyvex that I cut off the sticky part of a Priority Mail envelop. They work REALLY well on anything smaller than about a 1/4" and I can get many more miles out of the tire (as long as it is on the rear).
Mar. 8th, 2016 02:18 am (UTC)
Re: Tiore Boot
I was also going to suggest repurposing that worn out tire as boots. (I have much better luck if I cut off the wire/kevlar bead so it's just the wall-to-wall of the tire itself: the bead's too lumpy.)
Mar. 9th, 2016 10:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Tiore Boot
I think we did okay in terms of tire boot material on hand, but the tire in question was starting to get past the stage where boots help. My overall experience has tended to be that I can ride on a set of tires for a couple thousand miles with only the occasional flat, but once the tires are good and worn out, my risk of getting a flat goes up to the point where I'm better off just swapping on a new tire. And given that I'm not especially good at keeping tabs on my state of tire wear...methinks it might be simplest to just carry a folding tire as a backup.
Mar. 10th, 2016 04:19 am (UTC)
Re: Tiore Boot
absolutely. I ride tires until the center bit of rubber just starts to flake off the underlying threads -- but at that point, they're within 50 miles of completely failing. Totally the wrong tactic for brevets. Spare seems like a perfect solution.
Mar. 8th, 2016 02:19 am (UTC)
Urk winds like that are so awful, and so enervating. I'm glad you called it.
Mar. 8th, 2016 04:37 am (UTC)
My shoulders are pretty sore today. The unpredictability of the gusts didn't help!
Mar. 8th, 2016 05:00 am (UTC)
There is something uniquely exhausting about gusty headwinds. It uses fundamentally different muscles than climbing.
I can't imagine doing that in the dark beside cars being anything other than AWFUL.
Mar. 8th, 2016 03:29 am (UTC)
Sometimes it really is better to just stop. Rest. And wait for the weather to improve.

And if you have a smart o phone the wunderground app is the best weather tracker I've used.
Mar. 8th, 2016 04:37 am (UTC)
One of the challenges we ran into was poor cell service along Highway 1. Once I figured out wifi access at the hotel, I was able to check the National Weather Service radar, which seems like it will be decent help in the future. It's actually pretty common for randonneurs to hunker down in post offices, and in some respects I wish we'd hunkered down in the bar next to the hotel. :^)
Mar. 9th, 2016 02:31 am (UTC)
Making the Best Decision
Yea! Making the best decision: Living to ride another day!
Mar. 9th, 2016 10:54 pm (UTC)
I have totally had hotel bathrooms that looked like that before; my after-the-storm sympathies! (Ours usually involved more mud, though.)
Mar. 9th, 2016 11:01 pm (UTC)
S never did take a good photo of the caked-up mud on his bike, and the hotel photo doesn't include what the bathtub looked like, heh. I learned, after riding for 11 hours in the rain in Texas, that fenders can save a LOT of wear-and-tear on the bike, in addition to keeping me much cleaner!

Although, all that said and done, running through mud in the rain is much more dirty. :^)
Mar. 9th, 2016 11:17 pm (UTC)
After I tried biking the half-Ironman distance last year on a rented road bike with no fenders, I was probably my bike-messiest. The route I was supposed to have taken... either I got lost or it wasn't as advertised (around the bottom of Lake Sammamish State Park), not sure which. But I was biking across a mud field... on a road bike... yeah. By the time I got to the REI in Redmond everyone gave me the respectful distance of immense street cred, by which I mean I had no idea until hours later that I had a giant rooster tail of mud up my ENTIRE back and walked around Redmond Town Center like that for an hour and change. Hahaha, whoops.
Mar. 10th, 2016 08:26 pm (UTC)
Changing of flat happened at a broken down, abandoned "HIDEOUT LOUNGE" on the side of the minor highway that still had a sign lit though it looks like no one had touched it in many years. If it were in business, we could have enjoyed a cocktail while patching and changing tubes. The abandoned lounge far removed from anything else on the highway was also apparently a bus stop, as evidenced by the bus that made a bus stop there.

We released a prodigious amount of sand in the hotel room, mostly in the bathroom.

My seat was caked with a quarter inch of sand, at one point, from standing up while trudging up hills in the rain without fenders. Every semi-level surface was caked. Sand is a much larger problem in CA than I would have guessed.

The rain tastes salty near the ocean. I commented that you can tell how far away you were from the ocean by tasting the rain. Free Gatoraide!

The hotel encouraged you to go behind the front counter and use the cordless desk phone to make calls if you didn't have either Verizon or Sprint.

The hotel operator didn't want to turn around on a stormy night and go back, so R and I were checked in by phone. Small towns are strange.

If I had had my wobbly wheels trued, I wouldn't have been at the end of the reach of my brakes, and I think the sand and grit ate my brake pads (and probably rims too). I was reluctant to adjust them down tighter for fear of rubbing in a headwind but eventually did while we were being escorted into town. Ploughing into a downed tree while a cop was watching would have been really embarrassing.

We witnessed a likely-couple attempting to learn how to ride a rental tandem by taking it over the Golden Gate Bridge. They were pinned to the fence by winds as we passed. Poor ambitious bastards.

( 19 remarks — Remark )

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