I had set three goals going into the Davis Bike Club’s Antelope Lake 600k: 1) finish out the series (sadly, I missed the 200k due to illness but completed the 300k and 400k; 2) help Denise complete her first 600k and earn “Super Randonneuse” status; 3) qualify for the 2014 California Central Coast Randonnée.
Spoiler alert (or tl;dr) — mission accomplished! If you’d like to read my rambling ride report from this weekend, proceed ahead. I apologize in advance for any mistakes, omissions or addled observations (which I attribute to the side effects of sleep deprivation.)
START: Davis Control #1: Park ‘N Ride Lot
I’ll admit right off the bat that I was a bit nervous going into this 600k due to the fact that, as my unlucky biological fate would have it, it was my time of the month (you ladies out there reading this know what I’m talking about, it’s really not the most pleasant riding companion.) I’m immediately filled with dread when I realize that my menstrual cycle coincides with a big upcoming ride on my calendar as it takes a toll on my body and state of mind: my energy wanes quickly; I’m moody; and my stomach turns into a finicky, fragile mess when fed certain foods like dairy or caffeine. While it hadn’t started when I arrived with Denise at the Davis Park ‘N Ride lot, I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would stay away until after the weekend. (Given that it was Friday the 13th with a full moon, I guess I didn’t stand a chance as it dropped in for its visit the next day.)
Anyhow, there were other things to focus on — like this 40-hour, 373-mile ride that loomed before me and the 64 other riders who had signed up! Lots of San Francisco Randonneurs were lined up at the start, with the speedsters in the front row — including the remarkable group going after an “R60“: Max, Patrick, Sarah, Paul and their friends Andreas and José. (Spoiler alert #2: they succeeded in finishing under 24 hours with the astonishing time of 23:07!)
click images to enlarge
After RBA Dan Shadoan bid us farewell with a few opening remarks, Denise and I rolled out at 8PM with many friendly and familiar SFR faces: Gabe, Ian, John, J.T., Matthew F., Kevin, Phil, Willy and at least 12-15 others to paceline out of Davis to Oroville. This was my second 600k and first brevet with a night start, so I was curious to see how I’d adapt as the evening worn on. The air was still quite warm, so I didn’t need any additional layers; just a base layer and wool jersey kept me perfectly comfortable. Our group moved along at a brisk, medium fast pace, chatting along the way as we sped through the flat farmlands outside of Davis.
Mile 50.5 – CONTROL #2: 76 Station and Food Mart, Sutter
With our collective teamwork, we arrived at our first control in no time at all at 10:50PM, just a half-hour behind the leaders. Volunteers had set up a table filled with snacks and drinks in a corner of the parking lot, but I made a beeline for the port-a-potty (which was surrounded by a magnificent swarm of insects swirling around the light. The ground was teeming with so many bugs that it looked as if the gravel had come to life.) Folks were apparently anxiously to get moving, so by the time I picked out a bar to eat — most of the riders had already left. But Denise and I joined up with Matthew F. and several others and soon caught up to the pack. We resumed our pace until…uh oh, I realized I got a flat. At the prior control, many of us had leaned our bikes against the chain-link fence that had several spiky plants growing alongside the base. I had checked my tires before setting out and sure enough, I had to pluck out a thorn that had wedged its way into my Hetre. I had hoped it wouldn’t haunt me later, but I let John know I had to pull over and assumed he’d tell Denise (who had been separated from me at the front of the group.)
Just as I noticed my front tire going soft, I anxiously wondered whether I had brought my pump. I started mentally going through the contents of my handlebar bag, then my frantic search through my gear confirmed that I had somehow overlooked packing it. HOW COULD I FORGET A PUMP? ARGH! As I stood there on the side of the road by myself, I started to panic — were there any riders behind us? Luckily, Ian and Gabe had stopped for a nature break and I hailed them down as they flew past. Now my next round of anxiety began. It’s tremendously difficult to seat tires on my Pacenti PL23 rims as they’re set up for tubeless tires, and getting them both on and off usually results in sore fingers and much cursing on my part. The guys both patiently watched me fumble around for a minute before kindly volunteering to take over and help me change my flat. I was thoroughly annoyed with my incompetence as we burned through at least 20 minutes of our time, but utterly grateful that they rescued me — who knows how long I might have been stranded out there…
Ian and Gabe are great riding partners as they’re both really funny and excellent storytellers, which helped me calm down a little bit during the final flat 30 miles to Oroville. Admittedly, I spent some of the time brooding with my thoughts, angry with myself that I couldn’t deal with the most basic bike maintenance when I needed to and debating what to do with my rims so I wouldn’t have to go through this stress in the future. Feeling a bit fatigued with leg cramps creeping in, I tried to hide my downwardly spiraling mood by the time we reached the Budget Inn control.
Mile 85.6 – CONTROL #3: Budget Inn, Oroville
Denise was waiting for me and hanging out with Drew in the motel room (spoiler alert #3: he completed his first full series on his fixed gear after finishing this brevet). She was initially freaked out when she realized I hadn’t arrived with her and checked her phone to see if I had called or texted (I should have, whoops!), but John had passed along the news that I had stopped.
I then surveyed the spread of food and drinks before me. My appetite had disappeared completely, so I was mainly subsisting on Perpeteum for calories. Luckily, there were some rice balls tucked in amongst the piles of food as they were the only thing I was interested in eating. (One other thing that cheered me up was seeing the smiley faces Patrick had left next to my name again on the sign-in sheets — a tradition which began with the 400k — which I’d always look forward to seeing throughout the ride.) After a short break, Denise and I set out for the first hilly portion of the ride through Feather River Canyon.
As we climbed our way out of Oroville, my funk grew deeper and deeper. My legs were in full-on cramp mode (probably because I wasn’t eating enough and burned too many matches early on keeping up with the group), sleepiness was setting in and I was having trouble keeping up with Denise on the hills. I dragged myself down into the Dark Pit of Despair, where a series of existential randonneuring questions crawled into my brain and nagged at me as I slowly spun my pedals: “What am I doing here? Am I really going to be able to do a 1200k? Can I even finish this ride?” I debated whether I was going to DNF myself at the 200k mark and that depressed the hell out of me. But I didn’t want to abandon Denise (who apparently was on the same negative page I was but blessedly, we kept our torment to ourselves or we might have bailed together out of solidarity).
Just before the Jarbo Gap climb, I was temporarily distracted from my woes when we saw a cyclist lying down with his smashed bicycle on the shoulder of the road. There was a fire truck nearby and a police officer interrogating a guy who sitting, disheveled and bloodied with one shoe missing, just a few feet away. The cyclist, Chuck, sat up to say hello.
“What happened?” we asked. “It’s a lonnnng story,” he replied. “He’s fine,” the officer told us. “Although his bicycle isn’t.” The guy sitting on the ground piped up and said in a slurred voice as he shook his head, “My girllllllfriendddd….” Chuck assured us he was ok. “But I’m done. I’m going to try and hitch a ride with him (gesturing to the officer) once this is all over with.”
(Denise and I tried to piece together the series of events ourselves as we continued onwards, but we later learned the full story. Here’s the short version: apparently the drunk guy, with his intoxicated girlfriend, were threatening randonneurs on this ride as they “didn’t belong on the road.” When they shouted they’d run over Chuck as they drove by, he told them to pull over. The guy proceeded to punch Chuck in the head, but apparently he can defend himself very well and proceeded to dish out an effective and thorough thrashing. The girlfriend then made good on her earlier promise and tried to hit him with her car, but subsequently ran over her own boyfriend twice (and Chuck’s bicycle) before fleeing the scene. She was later apprehended and now they’re both facing a whole list of charges.)
The sun just began to rise just as we hit the summit of Jarbo Gap, and the stunning beauty of the Feather River Valley lived up to all expectations. With the soft light of the early dawn illuminating the canyon, the descent was a welcome reprieve for our weary legs (although with the headwinds, we found ourselves having to pedal to keep moving forward.) The lovely scenery helped to boost my mood, as well as passing through a series of three unique tunnels along CA-70. With rumbling freight trains passing by as an accompanying soundtrack, we arrived in Tobin around 6:30AM.
Mile 127.4 – CONTROL #4: Tobin Resort
“Resort” might be too fancy of a word for these modest cabins nestled in the forested hillside, but to me, they felt positively luxurious. It was great to kick off my shoes, sit down and unwind for an hour in the welcoming presence of the three awesome volunteers stationed here: Jason, Alex and Ken. You couldn’t ask for a better trio to take care of you at this control. Friendly and funny with infectious can-do attitudes, they’re all experienced endurance riders who know exactly how to pamper you when you’re in that dead-eyed state of minimal consciousness. (And I’m always indebted to Alex for mentoring me on my first 600k ride last year.)
All of them offered me food, but nothing sounded agreeable. I was starting to feel like a willful, petulant child as I rejected each round of suggestions. “How about some eggs?” asked Alex. I shook my head. Jason brought over a selection of cookies for me. “Looooook…Nutter Butters and Oreos!” I made a frowny face and he sadly put them aside on the corner of the table. “Maybe some toast and butter?” asked Ken. “No butter…Maybe with just some peanut butter?” I dejectedly munched on a piece of whole wheat toast (as I was still protecting my skittish stomach from dairy) until Jason dug through his personal stash of edibles and magically procured a can of Chef Boyardee mini ravioli. “How about some of this?” He saw my eyes light up and ran off to fetch his can opener. (Jason had secretly been planning to ride this 600k and bought the pasta to stash in his drop bag. But he was still recovering from his previous fixed-gear 600k and volunteered instead.)
“I’ve found it’s a great food to eat on these kinds of rides,” he said as he handed it over to me with a spoon. “It’s got some salt, some protein and there’s no need to chew so it goes down easy.” I managed to eat half a can and started to feel much better; I hoped that whatever processed cheese was in the raviolis would stay down and not revisit me too soon in the bathroom.
And as Jason’s a dear personal friend, I confided in him that I had been wallowing in a pretty bleak mental state early on. But he helped to perk up my spirits with some pep talk, and with Ken and Alex cheerleading us on as well, I had banished all thoughts of DNF’ing by the time we set off for the Genessee control. And with the encroaching morning light setting off our internal alarm clocks, we were fully awake for the next 43-mile stretch.
Mile 170.6 – CONTROL #5: Genesee Store
This section was absolutely breathtaking as we gently climbed our way north alongside Feather River. We stopped for a snack on a stone ledge and were joined by J.T. for a moment, who gave us a run down of what was coming up in the next leg. Denise and I passed a few other randos — who of course were easy to spot from a distance all decked out in their hi-viz gear — as we trekked on. When we made the turn onto CA-89N later on in the morning, the leaders blazed by us in a tight-knit pack and were already on their way back to the finish at a breakneck average speed of 18/mph! We waved at more riders as we approached Taylorsville, where celebrations for “Pioneer Day” were well underway.
I was starving by the time we reached the quaint Genesee Store, a charming outpost out in the countryside. Robert Meacher, its kind proprietor, had prepared a delicious lunch buffet for us with a warm potato hash, tortillas, coconut rice and fruit salad. RBA Dan Shadoan was there to greet us along with David and Lisa, two other SFR riders who had just come back from the dam. We settled in for a longer break before heading up towards Antelope Lake, and I unloaded some unnecessary weight for the 15.5-mile climb by putting my handlebar bag on the store shelf with the collection left behind by other riders.
Mile 186.4 – INFO CONTROL #1: Antelope Lake Dam Turnaround
One of the volunteers, Jim (who I recognized from the Davis 400k), decided to join us for the trek up to the dam. Thankfully the hot weather decided to steer clear of us this weekend — although I did peel off my wool jersey and just pedaled along in my base layer — so the climb up was relaxing and pleasant. We cheered on more riders coming down from the summit as we made our way up. Hitting only a few steep pitches here and there, we were making good time as we took in the stunning landscapes. It reminded me of Mt. Diablo in both length, difficulty and scenery, although one section had been damaged by a wildfire and had a surreal, dream-like quality. We were thrilled to see the bright orange cone at the end of the road near the dam, as we didn’t want a reprise of the Missing Cone Debacle from the 400k.
Mile 202.2 – CONTROL #6: Genesee Store
After descending back down to the store, it was time for our second lunch — and I was ready! I loaded up my plate with more potato hash with tortillas and a side of rice and beans, and also downed a cheeseburger for good measure (and prayed that the slice of cheese wouldn’t give me any grief later on.) After Denise took a short cat nap in the grass — I wasn’t able to sleep so I just stretched out on the lawn — we headed out with J.T. and Charlie. Jim decided to accompany us for the section back to Tobin and joined our group outside of Taylorsville. We sped along at a steady pace as we backtracked our route south. My legs felt fresh, as I was completely energized from my meal and ready to tackle the next 43 miles. (I should always remember the cardinal rule, rather like Alec Baldwin’s mantra in the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross, but revised to state, ‘ABE: Always. Be. Eating.’)
But then the headwinds kicked in, and Denise was starting to really feel the effects of sleep deprivation. J.T. and Charlie continued on without us and Jim helped to keep us moving forward. I marveled at how different the route felt coming from the opposite direction later in the day, and it all felt somewhat unfamiliar (which was slightly disorienting) as we traversed the same roads just a few hours later in an entirely different frame of mind.
Mile 245.5 – CONTROL #7 Tobin Resort
When we arrived, the control was a bit chaotic with a crowd of people: randos on the inbound leg were milling about as well as ones who had stopped there with RBA Dan after abandoning the ride. Denise was more than ready for some sleep, and she managed to corral Alex (who was juggling a million tasks) to guide her up to one of the private cabins for some rest. I had calculated an estimated schedule based on a 38-hour finish, and fortunately we had banked enough time early on that we were only a half-hour behind. While I had budgeted for a 3-hour break at Tobin, if we shaved off a half-hour and left by 9PM, we’d still be on track. Alex and Jason suggested the same time frame, and I said, “Is that ok with you?” Denise replied in a quiet, tired voice but with a glimmer of grim determination, “Whatever you think is best.”
The first thing that I wanted was a long, hot shower. It was all I had been dreaming about since the Genesee control, and words cannot describe how amazing it was to wash away a 400k’s worth of stink and dirt and salt — then change into a clean kit from head to toe. I was reborn and recharged! Perhaps I was a little too wound up as I wasn’t able to take a nap, despite the fact that I was also sequestered away in another private cabin. I think I managed to snag about 20 minutes of shuteye, but I was far too restless and decided to hangout with Alex, Jason and Ken over a longer meal. Ken had whipped up a delicious batch of chicken-rice soup (I had two cupfuls), which I ate with some of his homemade chicken fajitas. I decided to drink just half a can of Coke to help keep me awake and hoped that the caffeine wouldn’t upset my stomach. Denise emerged from the cabin at 8:30PM — she was able to get an hour and a half of undisturbed rest — and slowly emerged from her hazy sleep cocoon. Just after sunset, we set out for the final climb of the ride.
Mile 287.3 – CONTROL #8: Budget Inn
We whizzed back through the tunnels, and Denise felt even more revived post-nap by the canned double espresso drink that Jason had gifted to her. Then it was time for the Jarbo Gap climb, an easy, gentle grade; we actually enjoyed this section despite our exhaustion as we ascended under the light of the full moon. And then came the rush of careening back down towards Oroville for 20 or so miles, with only one interminably long, slightly uphill and windy passage on Table Mountain Road that slowed down our progress.
When we stepped back into the motel room at Oroville, it was buzzing with activity. Lots of riders had used it for their nap stop, and we reunited with several folks from the morning: Gabe, Ian, J.T., Willy, as well as Greg and Stacy, Jamie and Yogy (who was late to the start due to an Amtrak delay but decided to ride most of the route anyway). I was excited to merge with the group as it would help to pass the time — both in terms of speed and breaking up the mental monotony — of the final flat 86 miles.
Conversation and companionship really saved me during these last hours. Having robbed myself of a nap in Tobin, I was suffering in a world of hurt from the sleep deprivation. And without any sunshine to help keep me awake, I really debated whether I should pull off, nap somewhere, then ride by myself. The night start and over 24 hours of semi-wakefulness was slowly gnawing away at my sanity. When some other folks called for a nature break in a church parking lot, I got off my bike and put my head down into my hands in the hopes of grabbing a minute of sleep.
I must have dozed off for a moment as I suddenly heard Willy call my name. “Jenny — are you ok?” When I looked up, I was startled to see everyone gathered in a circle around me with concerned looks on their faces. They were all on their bikes ready to go, while I was still plopped down on the pavement. Willy offered me some No-Doz (“I haven’t had one of those since the ’70′s!” joked Denise) and I decided to eat just half so the caffeine wouldn’t wreak havoc on my stomach. It took a while to kick in, and so I continued to wrestle with the decision of riding alone (and once again, Denise told me later on she was having the same argument in her head — as did J.T. But as he pointed out later on at breakfast, he said, “This is where experience helps tremendously.” And he should know as he’s just one 600k away from an obtaining an Ultra Randonneur award.) As much as I wanted to curl up in a ball on the side of the road, I knew I’d be sacrificing the speed of the pack. I’d also regret being alone out there in the flats and would probably go mad from boredom and solitude. So I did my best to stay alert by chatting with others and hang on to the group.
Mile 322.4 – CONTROL #9 Receipt Control; Sutter Food Mart
We were all ready for another junk food boost when we hit the 24-hour gas station’s food mart. I’m pretty sure I set a world record in speed eating as it took me about 5 seconds to wolf down a bag of peanut M & M’s, and the resulting sugar buzz must have jump started that No-Doz pill to kick into high gear. By the time we all filled up on snacks, I was feeling marginally human again.
Conversation helped to us to get through the unrelenting miles upon miles of this final passage. Willy gave me some great advice for Paris-Brest-Paris next year; I told him that I’d definitely go if I survived the 3CR, but he urged me to go regardless of my result. While he had several years of randonneuring under his belt prior to signing up, he wanted PBP to be his first 1200k and said it was the easiest one out there. We also talked about fenders, fat tires (if I had a quarter for everytime someone asked me about my Hetres, I’d be a millionaire by now…) and other bike geek stuff. Jamie and I swapped stories about the Davis series (this was also his first 600k), and the Klines were particularly lively. Our banter about an assortment of random topics kept me afloat until we reached Sutter.
Mile 369.7 – INFO CONTROL #2: Junction of Roads 28H/105
After another brief stop at a convenience store, Gabe, Ian and Jamie splintered off and we stayed with the remainder of our original crew. Denise’s caffeine buzz had long worn off and she was trying to use the same “let’s-see-if-I-can-get-some-rest-if-I-put-my-head-down-into-my-hands-while-I-sit-in-this-parking-lot” trick I had attempted earlier — but had about as much luck as I did with it working. But she hung in there and we all just motored along, trying to keep the chit-chat flowing and pedals turning. Daylight helped us to regain some energy, but we were feeling thoroughly done, done, done by the time we found the information control (another Davis Bike Club cone with a special message for us.)
Mile 373.0 – FINISH – CONTROL #10: Davis Park ‘N Ride Lot
But now we had just a little over 3 miles left! Yogy sprinted on ahead and so J.T., the Klines, Willy, Denise and myself pulled in together to the cheers of Deb B. and other volunteers at the finish at 35:55. (And what a classy lady; she brought beer to the finish and welcomed us in despite sustaining some injuries from a challenging mixed-terrain brevet the day before.)
So…we did it — and with a sub-36 hour time, too! There’s far too many people to thank for helping me get through this ride, so hopefully the blanket statement of, “To everyone I had contact with in the past weekend, I’m eternally grateful for your support,” suffices. But RBA Dan Shadoan and all of his fantastic volunteers get a special mention for organizing such a well-run event. This was my first time riding in any of this area, and I think Denise put it best when she said to me later on, “Even though I was soooo tired, I’d look around me and think, “Wow, this area is so beautiful!” And I’m really proud of what Denise accomplished as she really didn’t intend to do a full series this year. But she stuck with it, pushed through the challenging moments and is now a Super Randonneuse!
Now that I’ve qualified for the 1200k, I have some downtime before I have to worry about tackling my next longest ride to date in August…*gulp*