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2011 200km Lighthouse brevet prep

Last year, I did the 200km Lighthouse brevet on a mountain bike, crashed, and walked my bike to the finish. This year, I aimed to do it on my new road bike and to not crash.

I'd been working on my gearing up situation for the past year, figuring out how I could be a little more efficient and ergonomic. I didn't like how hard it was to see with the lights I had when the sun went down, so I got some better lights. I didn't like how annoying it was to charge my two electronic devices (cellphone and GPS cyclecomputer) with the charger I had, so I got a new charger. And I figured I should eventually get a road bike, so I have a road bike to ride it on instead of a not-converted-to-Carlos's-specifications mountain bike.

Also, I didn't like how hard the hills were last time, so I worked some more on riding up hills.

The start time was 7 AM, so I made sure I got there around 6:30 or so because I didn't want them to give my spot to somebody else. The only real things I'd forgotten was my good floor pump and one of my spare red lights. I brought a thermos bottle of homemade hot chai so I'd get a little bit more warmth before the ride started... then left the bottle in the car.


As usual, there's a wide assortment of bikes. Road-style bikes are kind of the standard, but not necessarily identical carbon-fiber road-racing bikes. There's always a bunch of steel bikes. I also spotted a few tandem bikes and a few recumbents. There's a guy who's wicked fast and rides a fixed-gear bike with bullhorns who I always see as one of the earlier riders coming back from the lighthouse. I didn't see anybody trying to replicate my mountain bike exploits from last year.

In memorial

There are a few obligatory start-point traditions, like the SF Randonneuring oath, last-minute briefings from the worker's ride, distribution of brevet cards, etc. We also had a moment where we dedicated the ride to Don Mitchell, who got hit by a car last year.

Over the Golden Gate

The start of the ride is really quite a blast. You've got a pack of 150 riders (that's the maximum the park service will let us have going through Point Reyes, and the only reason why we're allowed to go as high as 150 is because we've had exemplary behavior every year, with no littering or stupidity or anything) going across the bridge. We're all excited and it's mostly downhill, so we're really tearing up the pavement all the way through Sausalito, till the first real hill, Camino Alto. Other riders Coming down that hill, we went through Ross and San Anselmo and Fairfax, where you have a bunch of stop signs that must be obeyed and ride past fancy shops and restaurants and coffe shops. You'll start seeing people dropping in for a quick cup of coffee along the way at one of those places. Last time I made a quick stop, but this time I decided it wasn't yet time.

It was cold in the morning, but the forecast was for beautiful weather later on. I still brought rain gear.

I was riding alongside a first-time rider who I'd meet a few more times along the way. He decided that brevets would make a great alternative to cyclocross during the "off" season. He told me that cyclocross was a good sport because you only had to take it as seriously as you wanted. It was acceptable to try and win, but it's also acceptable to just go and have some fun while getting dirty. I told him that I thought that randonneuring had the same sort of spirit and told him some stories from last year's ride. Sure you can see about setting a personal best, but the guy who squeaks in before the time is up can have just as much fun as the guy who finishes a few hours early.

Early morning, 1 year later

We usually spend a decent amount of time on Sir Francis Drake, which pretty much extends from the outskirts of Fairfax to the first control. There's a good hill to be had that I ended up stopping for a quick break halfway up with some other riders. I always remember one of the hills there because of how beautiful it looked last year.

Break time

I was planning on stopping at the red barn with a water tap, like last year, but I stopped with some other riders at the convenience store that also had a water tap and got a snack while I was at it. I'd thought I was going to get a snickers bar, but then I saw some sort of locally-baked munchie bar that looked better, so I had that instead. I told the cashier that pennies ruined my aerodynamics.

The front part of the pack

From there, it was through Inverness Park to the rollers. I remember the rollers well from last year. See, the last part of the road is loaded with potholes and cattleguards and other nasty pavement. And the rollers, to me, are evil, because you can't keep up a whole lot of velocity on them... they are too tall for that, but not tall enough that you can get some good speed going downhill. Happy cow is just making sure you don't fall off the cliff! I almost gave up last year riding them, but they told me that it was actually a climb along with the rollers on the way to the lighthouse and it would be easier going back.. and they were right. This time was easier. I just kept my head on straight, kept pedaling, and waved at all of the faster riders as they passed me.

I was towards the tail end of the pack now, same as last year.

Drakes Bay

It wasn't quite as fun descending this year on the way towards Marshall. See, last year, I had a mountain bike with sturdy wheels and suspension fork and knew that, as long as I went straight over the cattleguards and loosened up, my bike could take it. This year, I was riding a road bike with a carbon-fiber fork and deep-section low-spoke-count wheels that I already know are prone to a bit of bending side-to-side. I didn't want to ride all-out on that section and find out the hard way that the limits of the durability of my front end... that would be quite painful. On the other hand, my GPS logs tell me that I still went as fast as I've ever gone on my road bike over one section of Sir Francis Drake.

I took it easy.. perhaps too easy... on the section between Point Reyes and the Marshall Store. I stopped at the store in Inverness I stopped last time for some V8, Payday bars, and water. I knew that last time, I'd ridden too hard on that segment and had no legs left for the final whopper two climbs. So I took it a bit easy until I reached Marshall. In retrospect, I probably didn't eat enough on that segment.

At the lighthouse, you can retrace your route and cut some mileage off of your trip, if you can't handle the whole ride, although less than you would think. But when you reach Marshall, unless you have somebody pick you up on the course, you are kind of committed to riding the whole thing.

Lanterne rouge

Marshall Store has great clam chowder. I've never had it except while cycling, so I'm not sure so much if it's awesome clam chowder, or just that it tastes better because of how much work it takes to get there. I also had some Oysters Rockefeller and a soda. There, I met up with one of the lantern rouge riders from last year. We finished around the same time. He ended up doing an incredible number of brevets last year and he's still the lantern rouge.

I wasted some time monkeying with my gear. I forgot my spare red rear light at the start, so I only had two rear lights. And I figured I'd put on my reflective vest there so I wouldn't need to bother with it later on.


I remember last time, the way things looked past the Nicasio reservoir. This time, I was feeling much much better as the sun set and I did the final bunch of hills. I was ready. I didn't like the descent last time, so I added a light on my helmet to help see, which did help me keep my speed up safely on some of the downward descents.

I stopped at the first store I could find to down another V8 because I felt myself get that go-home fever that leads to unsafe decisions. And I knew the last time, I'd had some major troubles finding my way back through the maze of streets in the Fairfax / San Anselmo / Ross / Sausalito area in the dark without a giant pack of riders, so I took things carefully there. Eventually, I found myself on the bike path through Sausalito. I had my last water fill-up at the Mike's Bikes and then kept going. I wasn't sure how much time I had left, but I figured that, even if I didn't make it before the cut-off time, I'd still had a great ride, so I didn't check the time because I didn't want to rush things.

Around 8 or so, my wife called me, wondering where I was. But my phone was acting up. I was part-way up the last climb to the bridge and I knew that there was enough time for me to make it to the bridge, as long as I rode as hard as I could. I didn't make any mistakes making my way to the correct nighttime crossing and booked it across the bridge, making it to the checkpoint just in time.

Rob Hawks calls it "getting my money's worth".

I was tired, but felt good. The problems I had last time were fixed. My knee wasn't hurting in the patellar tendon region. My saddle didn't cause me to be numb down there. I wasn't frustrated with any of the climbs like last time. So, even though I didn't improve my time, I still felt pretty good about it.

My overall feeling was that, had there been more ride after the end checkpoint, I'd have filled up on food and water and kept riding.

I spent a day off the bike as recovery and then I rode to work, albeit slowly, that Monday. I was half figuring I'd just give up on biking for Monday and work from home, actually.

I broke two cardinal rules of randonneuring, neither of which was especially tragic:

First, I tried out two new pieces of gear for the first time on the brevet. I picked up a Petzl Tikka XP2 and threaded the straps through my helmet. This made my descending at night much safer and more comfortable and I do not regret picking that up. I also picked up a small three-AA charger for my cellphone, but that turned out to be a bit problematic during the no-cell-coverage sections of the ride.

Second, I cleaned my chain and adjusted it the Wednesday before the ride. Which was fine, till I backed the B-tension screw all of the way out and couldn't find it for a good five minutes before I found it and got my derailleur back together.

Logistics were a bit annoying. I need to get better with the pre-packing. It had been a year since the last brevet, so I didn't always remember what was required. I also need to organize my trunk bag better and shrink the gear I carry with me... but without finding myself wishing that I hadn't removed something from my trunk bag in a future brevet. The big problem was when I was digging through it at the Marshall store, wasting time.

My Garmin 305 stayed powered just fine... but my cell phone was a bit of an issue. See, I'd assumed that there was more than enough juice in the AA's such that, even when I didn't expect to have cell coverage, I could just leave it alone. That didn't work so well. Also, when I'd put it in my trunk bag to charge towards the end, it was rubbing against stuff and wasn't getting charged properly. But I was able to fit the little 3-AA charger into the stem bag and use that to charge the Garmin at the start.

I also still need a bit more light power. My current setup is a Cateye and a Blaze. Together they are good enough for semi-unlit rides at night and commuting but don't feel great past 12-15 mph. So, I added my new Petzl Tikka XP2, which made a huge difference in light power, mostly because it points where I'm looking, not where the bike is going. But before I do anything longer than 200km, I probably need to get some more light power.

I'm kinda thinking about getting the Ixon IQ based on The Lazy Randonneur's articles.