My legs hurt. My arms hurt. My neck hurts. Hell, even my eyes hurt. I’ve consumed probably close to 20000 calories in the last three days and I’m STILL hungry.
Last sunday was the Old Cazadero 300k, a SFR brevet which consisted of 187 miles of hard yet beautiful riding through Marin and Sonoma counties. Paved and unpaved roads climbing over 15,000 feet in total.
The 5:30 a.m. start time meant waking up at 3:45 in order to make the congregation point at the Golden Gate bridge. We arrived at 5:15 after a late start, expecting to find all the riders prepped and ready to go. Evidently, everyone else had trouble getting up, too and only three riders had beat us to the start. Riders trickled in over the next few minutes and after the requisite check in and run down on the course, the mass start only began minutes after 5:30.
For those unfamiliar with Randonneuring, it’s not a race. Riders a required to hit a series of checkpoints within a given time and are required to finish the course within a pre-set time limit, that said, you rarely see riders jumping off the front at the get-go, and there was a very supportive atmosphere as the group of maybe 25 riders crossed the Golden Gate bridge in the dark.
Through Sausalito, Mill Valley, over Camino Alto and into Fairfax. Riding into Fairfax, we were caught up by our friend Chad, who’d slept in and gotten to the bridge 12 minutes after the official start, put on the chase for the first 13 miles to join the group, and who we would ride with for the remainder of the day. The group finally broke on the climb just out of Fairfax, with five of us running off the front. (Evidently, we just missed an unfortunate accident in the main group, where two riders crossed wheels and were taken out for the day. Luckily no was was badly hurt). Sir Francis Drake to Nicasio Valley Road. Pelaluma-Point Reyes road, where we got dropped by the two riders off the front, out past the cheese factory. Hicks Valley to Wilson Hill Road. Over the Hill and out into the flats of Sonoma.
Max Poletto, the evil mastermind behind the Old Caz 300k, created an incredibly difficult route. So much so that instead of taking the easier, flatter, Valley Ford-Freestone cut-off towards Occidental, we were forced to climb an incredibly steep section of Burnside Road before descending into Freestone on Bodega Hwy. By the time we hit the second control at mile 67 I was already feeling drained and shaky, not a good sign with 120 miles to go and the hardest part of the ride still to come. A 20 minute break for a snack and stretch in Occidental did my legs good, as did the long, winding decent down Bohemian Hwy towards Monte Rio.
From Monte Rio we followed River Road for several miles then began the long but beautiful climb up Old Monte Rio Road. Weaving through residential areas the roads get narrower and steeper. We were forced to climb over two concrete barriers to pass a section of road partially washed out by a landslide, left on Cherry St, then finally reaching the sign marking the beginning of the long and arduous climb up Old Cazadero Road.
Five miles later, we reached the first of two dirt sections of the ride, a fast, wooded decent rife with fist sized pebbles and fallen branches. The biggest challenge was cornering in the dirt with my tires filled to 100 psi, not wanting to drop pressure due to the 100 remaining road miles that lay ahead. Old Cazadero Road dips through Austin Creek and climbs again up a steep and gravely pitch and ends with a steep and winding descent into the town of Cazadero, a small, one street town deep in the Sonoma hills. A quick brake here ensured that we’d have enough water and food for the difficult climb ahead.
The sun came out though the clouds just as we started climbing Old Fort Ross Road, a section that would climb over 1700 vertical feet over the next 9 miles. Heads down and locked into low gear we slogged up the climb, dreaming of the relative cool of the coast and the 5 mile, 1600 foot descent that would rocket us into Jenner, at the mouth of the Russian River.
Jenner. 106 miles down and only 80 to go. Food, caffeine, anything to keep the blood sugar up and the brain awake. When it’s 3 p.m. and you’ve already been awake for 12 hours, 9 and a half of which have been spent riding a bike, just about anything sounds good. Spongy deli-case calzone? Sure. Giant bag of toffee coated peanuts for dessert? Why not? Chase it with some beef jerky and a canned espresso drink? Hell yeah!
Out of Jenner the route turns off the highway and begins the second major dirt section of the day. After several miles of rough and broken pavement, Willow Creek Road turns gravelly….and steep, some sections hardly rideable in my modest 39×32 gearing. Don’t get me wrong though, even through the blurry vision, failing muscles, and pain, Willow Creek road is a fun and beautiful climb.
Around mile 120 I start asking myself just what I’m doing out here. Thinking of the last 60 some odd miles ahead and how, in no way shape or form is riding my bike this far a good thing to do to myself. Despite the fun and personal gratification, riding 187 miles is, well, just kind of stupid. Thinking of more dedicated Randonneurs and the lengths that they push themselves to 600, 1000, 1200k….yeah right. O.K. Jackie, all you gotta do is finish the 187. THEN DO IT THREE MORE TIMES. No, thank you.
But no time for all that. 60 miles. Do it with my eyes closed. Out past the town of Bodega. Valley Ford. Dillon Beach cut off. Again, the sadistic Max forgoing the flat way and forcing us over a series of increasingly steep and long climbs. Through Tomales and past the rolling banks of Tomales Bay on towards Point Reyes Station.
Second to last checkpoint. Getting cold and dark. Drink a can of soup and force down the 5th banana of the day (the potassium seems to be keeping the cramping at bay). At this point, nothing sounds good. Eating for calories alone. Suit up for the cold, lights on, into what for some reason is one of my least favorite stretches of highway in the county. Hwy 1 between Olema and Stinson beach. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just HATE it. Head down, feet numb, and barely able to sit down. Jamming through the dark on this horrible highway. Sound fun yet?
Last checkpoint. Steep Ravine, just outside of Stinson beach. A car stops to tell us the road is closed ahead. Some hikers fell off the cliffs and the road is blocked with rescue vehicles. Dreading having to turn back, forced to climb the back side of Tam via Pan Toll. No way. Forging ahead, we’re waved through the scene by a friendly Highway Patrol officer. Thanks again! Lights of 8 emergency vehicles blinding and disorienting in the night. I later found out that the couple that had fallen were rescued and recovering. Into the final stretch of rolling coastal highway. Hairpin turns in the dark. Finally reaching the final big climb, Highway 1 out of Muir beach, a usually relatively innocuous climb compounded by miles and miles of fatigue. Too dark to see the top, just put your head down and make the pedals turn in circles.
Final stretch through Sausalito. Familiar territory. Just one last push up Alexander Ave. and with the finish so close the body blasts into overdrive. Knowing that you can put everything into just getting there. Oddly enough, the easiest part of the ride. Across the Golden Gate to the final checkpoint. Back to where we started from, only 17 hours (2 hours faster than last year!), 15000 feet, and 187 miles later.
Randonneuring: This ain’t no joke.