Sunday, March 8, 2015

Pope Valley 200k

4:45am, the alarm goes off.  I wander around the house in the dark, eating Cheerios and gathering my gear for today's bike ride.  I get up often enough at this time of day and darkness that it's routine.

I drive up the highway to Davis.  Soon after 6am, the sun rises over the flat horizon, illuminating the farmland.  I start looking for a drive-through Starbuck's.

At the Park-and-Ride that serves as today's check-in, other rides are unloading their bikes and suiting up.  I check in and get my brevet card, pre-stamped for a 7am start.  I've got the route loaded onto my Garmin and I've got a paper copy of the cue sheet. I'm a little less efficient today because I'm trying out my new seat bag, a Revelate Designs Pika.  This will be the bag I use on some upcoming multi-day rides so I want to see how it feels to ride all day long with it.  Once I'm all set, it's 7:04am and I've missed the pre-ride meeting and mass start.  They're gone!

I had planned to ride with Will.  He's one of my commute buddies.  He's a strong rider.  And he's got to get back home by 5:30pm, so he needs to keep up a good tempo today.  I find two other riders who've missed the start and we start hammering trying to catch the pack.  Within 15 minutes we are passing people already, just not the people we're looking for.  The roads out of Davis are long, straight and flat.  Fortunately, there's no wind.  I've left my fellow late-starters long ago and I'm still hammering along at over 20mph - not the way you generally start a 200km ride.

After an hour, I give up hope of catching Will.  Soon we leave the flatlands and start climbing Putah Creek Road to a hill called Cardiac.  Friday, I started to get a sore throat and inevitably a cold follows.  Climbing Cardiac, I can tell I am getting a cold but I still feel pretty good and pass plenty of other riders.  As often happens when I don't have a planned riding partner, I tend to pass people and just keep going on alone.  That's the strength and tempo that's ingrained from all that commuting with faster riders.  I could see people most of the day, but rarely spent any time with them.

It is a glorious, unseasonably warm day.  The hills around Lake Berryessa are spectacular.  The roads are exceptionally good for most of the route which makes for some rather enjoyable descents.  It's not hard to be in the moment, to take in the sights and sounds and scents.  Springtime is wonderful.  California is striking anyway, but in the green of spring it's awe inspiring.

Aside from the flying descents, I don't push too hard for speed.  I don't have my normal power and I don't have friends to draft.  Although I have Clif Bars and Gu, I'm hungry and can't wait to get to Pope Valley. The display on my Garmin counts down the miles to the turn-around point. The Davis Bike Club has set up a picnic lunch for us and they punch my brevet card: 11:04am.  Peanut butter and honey, cookies, bananas, more cookies.  Water.  Coke.  I'm also testing out an external USB battery for my phone.  I've left the phone on the whole way, which tends to kill the battery.  It's about 50% and there's cell service.  So I text home then plug in the external battery, pack up and get ready to roll.  It sounds quick, but I'd guess 45 minutes have gone by - I'm so tired.

This ride is an "out and back" so I know every inch of road on the way back, every turn, every hill.  A slightly more relaxed pace.  I stop a few times for photos.  And unlike January 1st when I did a brevet along some of the same roads, I'm not passing the Berryessa Market this time.  I roll in, order a latte and talk cycling with the old Randonneurs.  "You should do a 300k.  It's just a little farther..." they say.  Cycling's version of a pusher.  Yes, it's an addiction.

Climbing over Cardiac from this direction is certainly easier.  Good thing, because I'm feeling the fatigue.  But it's nice and warm, and I've got so many base miles this year that I'm basically on auto-pilot as far as my legs go.

It's funny how little I think when I'm on a long bike ride.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm constantly thinking.  I'm very aware of what I'm doing, of every pebble or crack in the pavement, of cars going in either direction, the wind.  I watch my shadow when the sun angle is right, just in case something is wrong with my seat bag.  There's a lot to keep track of.  No, I mean I don't ponder the mysteries of life.  I don't even think about what I'll write about this particular ride.  I don't have a song in my head.  Just the humming of my tires, and the tickling sound of the drivetrain.  Today, I force myself to think about my son's car.  If you're interested, I'll tell you but it's not worth recounting here.

I watch the miles count down.  I watch the hills disappear into the valley floor ahead.  My legs are in total survival mode.  I pass several riders - they look tired, too.  Eventually, a rider hangs onto my wheel after I pass and drafts me for awhile.  He recovers enough to pull for a mile or so, then I'm back in front.  We come across another rider - no lycra, no clip-in pedals (surprisingly, you see a lot of that on Randonneur rides).  We talk about "type I" enjoyment - where you enjoy it while it's happening, and "type II" - like this, where you suffer but look back on it later and appreciate what you were able to do. The three of us rotate for the last 10 miles to the final information control.  Some controls (or checkpoints) are simple requirements that you buy something from a gas station, since that will give you a receipt with a time stamp.  This was an information control, a trivia question.  We stop at a church, find the answer, write it down with the exact time, take a photo and roll out.

I fake a freshness that belies my suffering.  I'm not sure my legs will work when I get back on the bike.  My feet hurt.  But I'm wearing my "Heart Across America" jersey and vest and I want to look good.  Sean Maloney started this effort to raise awareness for heart attacks and, specifically, strokes since he had one.  He'll be riding across the country with my buddy Dave Fisch.  I can't give off the appearance that 130 miles is hard when these guys will be crossing the country!

Five miles later we roll back into the Park-and-Ride, get our final stamp on the brevet card and congratulate each other.  It's not like being in battle with each other, but it is certainly a shared accomplishment of a very difficult task.


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Delve deep into the number of this ride: DBC Pope Valley 200k [R12 - 5/12]
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