200km: I finished it

The start

At 6:30 AM, about two weeks ago, I found myself near the Golden Gate bridge, ready for my first randonnée. I was one of very few people who were there with flat handlebars. Most everybody had road bikes with roadie handlebars. I had my mountain bike with a suspension fork (which is, after all, the only bike I own). We had our safety briefing and then went on our way. I had my first problem of the day when my front light popped off and I had to rescue it on the Golden Gate while not getting run over or knocking down any of the other cyclists. Soon, we were all riding down through Sausalito on our brevet.

The start

The weather had been really nasty the previous week, and it was still fairly rainy. I had a full set of rain gear but, soon enough, it cleared up. Guided by the rest of the cyclist pack, we weaved through Marin towns on the way out into the country. Soon enough, buildings got less and less frequent.

The big thing about a randonnée is that it happens rain-or-shine and you have to be self-supporting, so you could tell which riders on the road were riding with us and who was just out for a nice ride by the amount of gear they had on their bike, the presence of fenders, and how many lights they had on their bike.

Early morning

I found that having a unit of food every hour was too little. I’d set an alarm on my GPS to beep every hour to remind me to keep eating, but I found myself hungry after 30-40 minutes. I made use of my jersey’s back pockets and my bento box to keep a variety of foods at easy access. Mostly, I was eating Crank Sports e-Gels, Gu gels, and Cliff Shot Bloks. I got them in a variety of flavors, too.

I had some nice conversations with the other riders while we rode along. Some folks were riding in steel road bikes wearing wool. There were fixie riders. I had a chat with an accomplished rider about his carbon fiber bike and explained to a double-century rider on his first brevet about how I really screwed up the math in my head. I remember climbing up behind another rider and when we both reached the top, he commented on the climb. I told him it was time for the insane descent. He said “not for me!” I knew that, no matter what sort of evil rough roads that Sir Francis Drake Boulevard had in store, it was nothing compared to mountain biking trails, so I just cruised down them as fast as gravity would take me.

Brevet riders

The next part was the rollers. I got dropped by a bunch of the riders on the rollers. See, they aren’t just rollers, where every climb is matched by a descent. They are also some elevation gain, such that I was telling myself that I sucked at rollers, when really I suck at a climb that’s mostly rollers. But I didn’t know that, so I had to grab some of my soul-strengthening food (some chocolate chip cookies) and took a few short breaks.

My bike setup

I kept seeing rainbows throughout the ride, which was an absolutely beautiful sight and raised my spirits.

The first control point was at the parking lot on the way to the Point Reyes lighthouse. One detail about riding a brevet is that you need to demonstrate that you did, in fact, ride the course. Thus, you get a brevet card that contains spots for each control point to sign or stamp or otherwise designate that you passed through it correctly. Optionally, there might be food or water there as well. Bobbe and Tom, the checkpoint volunteers, brought all sorts of yummy food items including payday bars and chips and some homemade biscotti. They also had managed to keep the water train going till I was there. It was at this point that I was discovering that most of the folks were in front of me, which I figured would happen eventually.

First checkpoint

It’s not a race, just a trial to completion, so one of the riders who came in after me told the control folks that she had stopped for about 20 minutes to help a rider who was having a bad day. He broke a presta valve getting the tire back on. She asked if the control folks would remind him to eat something because he sounded a bit spacey. One of the riders assured me that I’d make it, given how I looked and the pace I was making and that the way back through the rollers was easier, which made me feel better about my ride.

I descended down over cattleguards and rough terrain back towards CA 1 and had a blast doing it. I kept my grip on the bars loose and let the suspension and tires do the work for me. It was great fun, I suspect in ways that most of the rest of the riders weren’t able to adequately enjoy. Like I said, nothing compared to mountain biking trails, so I went all-out with little fear. And, because it was more descending than climbing, I was able to coast up some of the rollers, so the return leg from the lighthouse was fine.

Second Checkpoint

The next bit had me taking the 1 up to Marshall. All of my crazy descending had gained me a few tenths of an mph to my pace, so I kept descending hard until I made it into Marshall. I got confused and kept swapping places with a veteran rider. He corrected one of my wrong turns.

The Marshall checkpoint was a store. It’s got clam chowder that really hits the spot mid-ride, so I got myself a bowl and had them stamp my card. One of the grizzled veterans pointed out that I needed to put the time and my initials on the card along with the stamp. By the time I got there, it was mostly the slower riders.

One of the riders asked me “So you are riding a brevet on a mountain bike. Are you INSANE?” I told him that riding a stock mountain bike with knobly tires was stupid. But I was riding my commuter and it had slick tires, so it was not stupid, but yeah, it was a little insane.


Everybody assured me they’d probably see me at the finish, because I was so chipper and cheerful throughout. So I set on down the 1 and made my way back to the starting point. Pretty much, it would have been silly to give up at that point, barring major hardware failure. The shortest way back was to bike back. So I kept at it.

The last 25 miles were pretty hellish. My knee was acting up and so was the saddle. Also, because I was eating all of that gu, my large intestines didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves. I made it through most of the last opportunities (like Camino Alto) for screaming descents while there was still enough light that I didn’t need to slow down for safety. But making my way through the city streets towards the Golden Gate was hard.

I had a clear case of the stupids and get-home-itis. I ended up walking partway up a few hills because, while they weren’t especially steep, my legs were getting fairly tired from all that climbing. I made a bunch of wrong turns because I wasn’t consulting the route sheet nor was I zoomed in far enough on my GPS… and the rule is that you have to return to the course where you veered off.

Finally, I got totally confused and ended up flipping my bike near the golden gate and going over the handlebars. So the last some number of hundred feet were done with me walking my damaged bike. On the bright side, I reached the endpoint before the time was up, signed my brevet card and the clipboard, and then went into the bathroom to apply betadine to my face from my road rash kit.

I landed on my head. In some respects this was OK because I got maximum benefit from the bike helmet. It didn’t shatter (which generally means that the helmet was compromised before impact), it just compressed. I was conscious for the whole thing and showed no symptoms of brain injury (medicine now realizes that you don’t actually have to black out for the brain to get damaged). I got some road rash on my face and some muscle soreness in my arms. But it was fine, as far as crashes go. My bike had it worse.

Afterwards, I was ravenously hungry and cold. I had to sit under a bunch of blankets before I could stop shivering. I also didn’t have enough stomach room to actually eat properly, so I’d eat some food, then wait for my stomach to start growling again, and then eat some more. And my wife kept me up for five hours after the crash (1 AM) to watch for signs of brain injury.

I’ve got some fit issues that weren’t a big deal on my 80 mile rides but started to be a problem past 100 miles.

First, I’m pretty sure I need to work a little more on my right cleat’s adjustment because it was only my right knee that was hurting. I’m not totally sure what the real answer there is if it’s a positioning issue or just overall over-use. Either way, I decided I needed plenty of recovery time.

Second, my saddle was also causing too much numbness. It’s nearly two years old and starting to fall apart. But now it’s really got to go. The problem is that normally, I can keep going by standing on the pedals or walking around for a bit. But I can’t stand while going uphill on a bike with suspension, so it kept getting worse every hill I climbed.

I also think I ate too much goo and not enough normal food because my lower intestine was uncomfortable after a while.

Rob Hawks, the brevet administrator called me the next morning to make sure I was OK and stuff and hoped that, given that my RUSA member number places me in noob-land, crashing hasn’t turned me off to randonneuring. Which, I should add, it hasn’t. Clearly I shouldn’t try and do another brevet until I’ve fixed my bike and healed my wounds, but I had so much fun. I’m not finished with randonneuring. Not in the slightest!