On May 28th and 29th, I began and completed my first 600km ride. Up to that point, my longest rides had been 249 miles (two weeks before this 600k) and 256 miles (a year ago). This ride represented 120+ miles of uncharted territory for me. 47 riders began the ride, and 36 finished. There were two tandems and one recumbent at the start. The route began in Healdsburg, CA, a Sonoma wine country town north of Santa Rosa, and went through Hopland, Lakeport, Clearlake, Middletown before slicing through remote Napa county wine country on the way to Winters and then Davis on the western edge of the Central Valley. The return was the reverse route.
The ride started at 6am, and with a bigger crowd on the 600k than the 400k it seemed the pack stayed together longer, but that may have just been the feeling of more riders within sight in the early miles. The big climb on the whole route was the Hopland Grade which was done after 35 miles at the beginning and with 50 miles yet to go at the end of the ride. We had a headwind on the northbound leg but the climb up was free of that headwind for the most part. I did well on the climb but on the flats I had to work to keep up with my riding partner. The descent into Lakeport was windy and I really didn't like the switchbacks with gusts that seemed to come from too many directions.
The first controle was at mile 85. I was surprised to see as many riders there as I did, because Jack and I hadn't seen anyone for the 30 miles prior to the stop except a group that passed us while we took on water at mile 80 in Lucerne. I was equally surprised that I hadn't seen Tim Bartoe during any of this time, but it wouldn't be until I returned to this controle on the return leg many, many hours later that I found out what happened to Tim.
From controle #1 in Glenhaven we hit the potholes known as Clearlake roadways, then found smooth pavement on a busier highway. Full relief from potholes and traffic only came after Middletown. The long stretch between Middletown and Winters, on the edge of the Central Valley is one that flirts with the shoreline of Lake Berryessa, a man made lake of waters impounded by the Montecello Dam. If the frequency of beer cans littering the side of the road increases, one should prepare for an increase in harrassment from the drunken louts that frequent the lake. The actual boat hauling motorists were very courteous, but the other motorists seemed to be incensed by non-motorized traffic on the highways. This stretch only seems long but really is only 10 miles or so, and by the time we reached Winters I was thinking of other things. [I later found out that there were many incidents of harrassment of cyclists during the daylight passage of this portion of the route.]
The quality of the light as we rolled down the flat, flat, flat roads of farm country between Winters and the turnaround at Davis was one that made all the memories of that stretch seem sepia toned. It was during this time that I should have been eating more, and not waiting for Davis for a meal, but this was the mistake I was committing at the time. We made Davis and the turnaround at 188 miles in exactly 13 hours, which was also probably a bit too fast. Evidence that I was overspending my energy reserves came when I tried to fix the flat caused by wires from a shredded tire. I could barely get the bead of the tire over the rim, and had to do it twice because the first tube was bad. Leaving Davis I had a bout of stomach rebellion and this just set the tone for the next 5+ hours.
At the time and for a day or two after finishing, I thought this segment of the ride was pure hell. With the clarity of vision provided by hindsight, I know it wasn't the worst time I've ever spent on a bike, but it wasn't much fun either. Traffic was way down, but the headwind was way up, at one point almost knocking us off our bikes. Somehow, I made it to the Pope Valley Grange Hall and the controle and after eating a little bit, I found a cot and a sleeping bag and tried to doze. It seemed I could always hear people talking and riders coming and going but I must have slept a little during that time. Jack took a spot in the cab of the rest stop workers truck and probably slept better than I did, but after nearly three hours maybe I was more used to the cold than he was when we began to ride at 4am. Half an hour before we actually rolled out, Sterling Hada and his friend Dave arrived. They both weren't ready to go when we left so it was just Jack and me.
The temperature was down to nearly 40F and we actually got relief from the climbing we faced on Butts Canyon. Before we reached Middletown the sun was up and with it so was my mood and outlook. I still didn't have all my energy back but I was eating well again, and feeling hungry too. Both were signs of improvement. Early sunday morning traffic on CA 29 was a mere fraction of what it was on saturday afternoon and I loved it. In Lower Lake, CA we spotted a Barcolounger discarded on the side of the road and it was too good to pass up with out photos of us 'resting'. After that we hit the fast food shacks for some calories, salt and sugar which helped me get over the potholes of Clearlake, CA and the climb on Sulpher Bank road. By the time we reached the Clearlake Oaks Motel controle in Glenhaven, I was restored. I felt I could ride as well or better than I had hoped after 290 miles.
Just before we left this control, Sterling arrived, having ridden solo most of the way from the last controle. In spite of a little knee pain, he was riding well. We left him at the controle as he wanted to rest as much as we had, and eat as much as we had (who could blame him?) The route from here skirts the lake front and is largely flat, with an ok to good shoulder. The problem is from the rocks that fall from the hillsides, which are always angular, sharp edged rocks. I ripped a tire on one on the SR400 two weeks earlier and I was playing it safe on this trip. Jack and I had hooked up with two other (stronger) riders who had spent the night in a motel and showed the benefits of a night on a real bed out of the elements. We could hang on but not take turns at the head of the paceline. Soon, we let them go and pulled off for a brief break where we each scarfed Milky Way bars and Jack performed an equipment adjustment.
The route remained mostly flat with only small rollers from Nice to the turnoff onto Scotts Valley and the run into Lakeport. Scotts Valley was a quiet road and CA 20 had become busy and noise by the time we left it. We again pulled off to eat in the tranquility of the valley at a roadside picnic area. I watched a raptor high above being harrassed by blackbirds against the backdrop of a lone cloud in an otherwise blue sky. It was good to hear the sounds of insects and of the crunch of dead leaves underfood instead of the roar of holiday weekend traffic. I was feeling a lot stronger now, having the benefit of having eaten Hash Browns from Micky Ds, two Clif Bars, a Turkey sandwich, a candy bar and various liquids in the last 40-60 miles. I ate again when we arrived in Lakeport, in the 'Kent-Peterson- I'm-not-a-nutritional-role-model' manner, so I won't report on the menu but suffice it to say I was topping off the tanks for the climb up Hopland Grade and the run home.
The Grade was heating up in the noon-time sun and with it's east facing hills there is little wonder why. The east to west direction is the easier direction in that the climb is a little more than half of the west- east direction, and it is broken up with a descent, plus affords many more vistas whereupon one can gaze eastward over miles and miles of terrain, dominated of course by the lake shining dark blue below the surrounding mountain peaks. Jack didn't seem to have the oomfph that Sterling and I had at this point, or at least he wasn't showing it as Sterling and I reached the summit first. After a short pause for some photos, we headed downhill toward Hopland and Highway 101. That downhill represented the beginning of the run home. Sure there were some hills yet to climb but they were minor at best. Mentally, it was all downhill from this point.
The 8 miles on Highway 101 were uneventful. We saw many places where picnicers and swimmers were having fun on the banks of the Russian River. We left the highway just north of Cloverdale and briefly joined the route of the Terrible Two, a particularly difficult double century ride which I'll be doing in late June. Sterling wanted to treat us to ice cream in Cloverdale at Pick's and who was I to complain? After that stop, Jack and I got our legs back and once over the last hill on Dutcher Creek road we began sprinting for the last 10 miles back to Healdsburg.
We finished in 35 hours, 4 minutes. I joke with Sterling that the second scoop he added to my cone is what cost me 5 minutes time and coming in under 35 hours. Really, I was really just happy to be able to push for 10 miles at speeds between 18 and 22 mph after riding 368 miles. The grand total on the odo was 378.7 miles.
Bikes seen on the ride: various Rivendell products, basically only lacking an Atlantis and a Quickbeam. One rider was on a Spectrum, I rode my Dave Yates, a friend rode his old Bianchi and there were at least two Steve Rexes at the start (but I think none at the end) of the ride. There was also that same Richard Moon bike I've seen on other brevets and doubles.
I used every piece of clothing I packed except the wool leggings, which were duplicates anyway. I needed all of it during the night time. For the record I had a long sleeved wool jersey, a wind breaker, two layers of gloves (outers were Windstopper), a second pair of shorts, a wool beanie and several bandanas. My Pendle bag carried all if it well and I had very little in my jersey pockets as a result (brevet card, a clif bar, a flask of Hammergel).
Jack commented late in the ride that the reason I had trouble on the return leg was because of my recent schedule. On May 7th I was supposed to do the Davis 400k. Instead I got sick and spent the weekend and monday in bed. On the following weekend I did the Santa Rosa 400km, a week later the Davis Double, then finally the Santa Rosa 600km. In the span of 15 days I rode 825 miles, plus 200 miles bike commuting during the week. It may well have been the cause, but frankly my legs haven't felt this good in a long time. By rides end on Sunday, I had no issues save a need for sleep.
Next up? The Gold Rush Randonee in July (after the Terrible Two in late June)