The finish!

Randonneur Ride Report: Hopland 400k

One of the reasons I signed up to try randonneuring this year was to explore new areas I’ve never ridden. And if you had asked me back in December if I knew where Hopland was, I’d have shrugged my shoulders and started searching on Google maps for the answer. According to our old online reference friend Wikipedia, Hopland is “in Mendocino County, California. It is located on the west bank of the Russian River 13 miles (21 km) south-southeast of Ukiah at an elevation of 502 feet (153 m). The population was 756 at the 2010 census.” This would be my first visit to this wee flyspeck of a town and I really didn’t know what to expect — other than it would be a wonderfully scenic and challenging ride with over 10,000 feet of elevation climbed over 249 miles.

Oh it's a long way to Hopland, it's a long way to goooooo.

Hopland’s nestled in there somewhere at the end of that red line.


 
In the two weeks that passed since I attempted the 360k Flèche, I researched how I could improve my diet during these brevets. Thinking back on how my stomach shut down early on last time, I concluded that I needed to go back to eating more carbs and less protein. And as eating too much food all at once seemed to disagree with me, I was going to make more of an effort to graze on snacks at regular intervals. I know I didn’t eat or drink enough during the Flèche, yet when you’re bloated or worse, nothing seems appetizing; I felt practically allergic to anything edible. It becomes an almost insurmountable task to get enough calories into your system, but with the help of some sports drinks and tweaking my meals, I felt more confident I’d have better energy while riding. And along with my two PB & J sandwiches and fruit, I packed an assortment of Amy’s Organics pizza pockets, because pizza is the one thing that tastes delicious to me whether it’s hot or cold — and hopefully this would be the case at 3 o’clock in the morning when pedaling along into the night.

My meals-on-wheels: PB & J  made with bananas and apples and Amy's Organics pizza pockets (regular and spinach). I also stashed fruit in my saddle bag.

My meals-on-wheels: PB & J made with bananas and apples and Amy’s Organics pizza pockets (regular and spinach). I also stashed extra fruit and ProBars in my saddle bag.


 
In prepping my gear for the 400k, I felt like I was getting ready for a caving expedition instead of a bike ride. Head lamp strapped to helmet to read my cue sheet at night? Check. Neon vest, ankle straps, gloves and shoe covers? Check. Fashionably dorky yet ready for my longest ride ever to date? Check.

I've got that rando glow with my neon vest, gloves, straps and shoe covers -- the latter were a big hit and I received a lot of compliments from my fellow riders and civilians.

I’ve got that rando glow with my vest, gloves, straps and shoe covers. The latter item was popular and I received a lot of compliments from my fellow riders and civilians.


Start Control: Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza – Open: 06:00 Close: 07:00 – “Headwinds From Hell”

This time I had to get up at the unholy hour of 4:00am so I’d be ready when my friend Martin came and picked me up 45 minutes later. He’s a fellow East Bay resident and also new to randonneuring this year. He contacted me about riding the 400k together and I was looking forward to the prospect of having at least one other person to soldier with me through the distance.

We joined the 57 other riders at the start, and it was nice to chat with the now-familiar friendly faces whom I’ve gotten to know on the road and online through the SFR’s Google group banter.


 
Just before 6, Rob gave out his worker’s ride route notes and administered his “Don’t do stupid stuff” pledge — then everyone set off for Hopland. As Martin had to go back to his car to secure it when another rider pointed out it was unlocked — a ‘it’s-far-too-early-for-my-brain-to-be-fully-awake’ snafu — I waited behind until he came back so we could leave together. We rode from the bridge at a steady pace and joined up with Kevin and Mannie just before Fairfax.Kevin gave us some great tips about where to get water along the way (the golf course just before you make that turn onto Nicasio Valley Road and The Cheese Factory).


 

Then we headed to the picturesque stretch of rolling green hills that began at Hicks Valley Road.


 
It would have been great to roll with them but alas, I got my first flat of the day just after Wilson’s Hill. I had been debating whether to swap out my Grand Bois Cerfs prior to this ride: “But they only have 270 miles on them!” “But they’re so flat-prone!” I couldn’t decide and drove The Bearded One to distraction with my endless back-and-forth about what to do. But after we both inspected the tires, we figured they still had enough life in them to get through the ride and hoped for the best. Well, after changing this first flat, I prayed my bad tire karma was out of the way early on and this would be the last of them.


 
All I remember about the next 30+ miles were the hills. And headwinds. And hills with headwinds. These weren’t just any headwinds. They were MERCILESS, EVIL HEADWINDS. I’m pretty sure we claimed every single one of them in the Bay Area that morning, so the rest of you who were riding on Saturday can thank us for hoarding them all. I heard a lot of groaning from the other randonneurs on the road whenever we saw another hill emerge on the horizon as the the winds hammered away at our souls. While I was able to work with some other folks for a few sections, I was mostly alone on the Chileno Valley / Tomales-Petaluma Roads. Martin’s a stronger rider and was ahead of me most of the time, so I slogged through it as best I could. By the time we reached Bodega, my legs were cramping and I was already feeling a bit thrashed.

Control #2 at 63.4 miles: Bodega Country Store – Bodega, CA – Open: 09:00 Close: 12:48 – “Joy Road”

This store is a shrine to the great filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who filmed his classic thriller “The Birds” here back in the early ’60′s. There’s a ton of Hitchcockian memorabilia on the shelves for sale and we even received a stamp of his famous visage on our brevet cards.


 
After we quickly refueled back up at this stop, it was onwards to the most notorious climb of the day: Joy Road.

Joy Road - let the joy begin!

Joy Road – let the joy begin!


 
Everyone who’s ridden this route states it’s a misnomer (unless you’re a climbing masochist) since it consists of two steep pitches separated by only a brief respite in between. It definitely gets your heart rate going, but honestly, given all the hype — I was expecting much worse (which is a good thing).


 
And I realized the real reason why it’s called Joy Road: it brings you much joy as you hit a fast descent to swoopy roads through Occidental and Camp Meeker. I didn’t even pause to take any photos, although we took a brief stop in front of this charming old theater in Monte Rio.


 
Control #3 at 80.5 miles: Safeway – Guerneville, CA – Open: 09:51 Close: 14:44 – “Welcome to Wine Country”


 
We saw Roland and some other 400k randos here as we bought our snacks. I had mostly recovered from the headwinds beat-down from earlier, so now it was time for our long jaunt through wine country. The passage from Westside Road through Cloverdale winds through vast acres of vineyards and the accompanying tasting rooms filled with weekend tourists.


 
We made a fast pit stop in Cloverdale to get ready for the big climb ahead of us on Route 128.


 
It’s a slow grind upwards on Route 128, but it’s truly beautiful and reminds me of some of my favorite ascents in the East Bay: Pinehurst and Wildcat Canyon.


 
400k39

Then you bomb down Mountain House Road and are super-jazzed to get to Hopland until you realize, ugh – there’s more climbing to do. But once we spotted our destination in the distance, Martin pumped his fist into the air and we barreled down towards the Valero.


 
Here's where we first saw Hopland down in the valley, woohoo!

Here’s where we first spotted Hopland, woohoo!


 
Control #4 at 133.2 miles: Valero Mini-Mart – Hopland, CA – Open: 12:23 Close: 20:24 – “Fuckyeahtailwinds!”

We saw a small group gathered at the gas station who were gearing up for the night leg of the ride, including Kitty, Charlie and Roland.

400k44

Two women admired my neon outfit — “Those booties are so cute!” — and asked where we were riding from.

“San Francisco!”
“Noooooo.”
“Where are you riding to now?”
“San Francisco!”
“What? You gotta be kidding me.”
“Yeah, we rode all the way here just to vist this glamorous Valero, and now we’re heading back!”

There are times when endurance riding resembles a scene from the “Hunger Games” to me — without the mayhem and bloodshed of course — where I’m like Katniss Everdeen, trying to survive whatever obstacles cross my path as I try to make it to the next stage. In our case, we’re navigating our way to the next control and can be thwarted by dark roads, potholes, traffic, flat tires, sore muscles and fatigue en route. And the one thing that everyone wishes me before I embark on these rides is what Effie Trinket might say at the beginning of each brevet: “May the tailwinds be ever in your favor.”

The next 50-ish miles were pure awesome bliss. We were bestowed with the best, most epic tailwinds ever — which I felt we earned from this morning’s hellish effort — and my legs were en fuego! Fuckyeahtailwinds! A small group of us assembled together to share pulls to Petaluma: Charles, JT, Martin and Richard — who mysteriously just appeared at one point and announced his arrival with his buzzing Chris King hubs — then vanished again along the route.

Cooking with gas on Highway 101!

Cooking with gas on Highway 101!


 
JT’s on his fourth season of brevet riding and knew the route well, “Although it can get fuzzy at times.” We got to talking about Grand Bois tires and how their ride quality is amazing but are so finicky on the road — especially in rainy weather. Our conversation must have angered Jan Heine’s randonneur gods as we both promptly got flats right there and then. (Ironically, JT didn’t get one on his front GB but on his rear Gatorskin due to a piece of glass that got lodged into the tire.)

It's so fun fixing flats in the dark in the middle of the night.

It’s so fun to change flats in the dark in the middle of the night.


 
Martin and Charles (who I believe is a PBP veteran) waited up for us and we all motored along together until we hit the climb up Chalk Hill. It totally harshed our tailwinds mellow until we got back down to the flatlands of Windsor. And we passed one section on Old Redwood Highway where I had gotten one of my flats on the Flèche; I had a brief flashback to that bleak moment and was so very grateful that it wasn’t raining on us then.

Control #5 at 205.0: Safeway – Petaluma, CA – Open: 15:57 Close: 04:00 – “Pizza Pocket Power”

An endless ramble through suburbia depleted the last fuel in our tanks, and Charles peeled away at one point to get some coffee. (He ended up getting two more flats and might have DNF’ed, but we saw him again later with Kitty and Charlie’s group.) Before hitting the Petaluma Safeway, we stopped at the Denny’s located right on the outskirts of town (a favorite late-night spot of randos for this ride).

400k49

Now I’m no fan of Denny’s, but there’s nothing like riding 200 miles that will push all culinary snobbery aside. I told Roland, who was just leaving as we rolled into the parking lot, “I’ve never been so happy in my life to see a Denny’s.” I crawled into the padded booth — which felt like a plush down comforter to my tired butt — and shut my eyes for several minutes after we ordered our food.

This is what 12:30AM and 200 miles looks like.

Here’s what 12:30AM after 200 miles looks like.


 
After a carb-blast breakfast of eggs, grits, English muffin and hash browns, I drank half a cup of the dankest, most vile bitter brew of Denny’s coffee to wake me back up. The sad truth is, however, that bad coffee is better than no coffee. I was back into the land of the living and primed for Red’s Hill and the series of climbs back to SF. But just before I hopped back onto my bike, I noticed my rear tire had a slow leak. Argh! I pumped it up and crossed my fingers it would hold for the 50 miles back to the finish.

My rando friend Clayton recommended that I bring an iPod to help with the tough portions of the night when you’re fighting sleepiness on the bike. I find music helps me climb as well as I usually load songs with a fast tempo and try to match the cadence with my pedaling. It definitely worked while we finished the climbs before and after Nicasio Reservoir. It also distracted me from my ongoing tire anxiety, although I did have to stop and pump up my rear tire again just before White’s Hill. And I took the opportunity to stuff another pizza pocket down into my belly to give me a boost.

Maybe that pizza pocket was dosed with EPO, because suddenly my legs turned into pizza rockets. I had this huge surge of energy and blazed through Fairfax, Ross and all of the other little towns before Mill Valley. I needed to stop for a nature break, but JT and Martin kindly waited for me at the top of Camino Alto. Then we sped towards the bridge for the last climb of the day just as the sun was rising over the city. I chanted to myself as we crossed the bridge, “Please don’t get a flat, please don’t get a flat!” Every little bump I hit made me cringe, but my mantra worked as we arrived intact just after 24 hours — which was my goal — at 6:16AM.

400k52

Finish Control – Golden Gate Bridge Plaza at 248.6 – Open: 18:08 Close: 09:00

One of the strange side effects of randonneuring — but it’s definitely one of its positive aspects — is that formerly long distances now seem almost laughably short. The other weekend, when a group of us were planning on riding 90 miles from SF to Pescadero, I thought to myself, “Pffft. That’s just a warm-up ride!”

249 miles was definitely a hard effort and a milestone in my history of suffering on the bike. But I was surprised how energized I felt at the end — thank you, O Beloved Pizza Pockets, for your drug-like capabilities — and it gives me some hope that I can complete the 600k within the 40-hour time limit, although that distance still seems utterly frightening. I’ll also make a point to work better with others through headwinds to conserve more time and energy, put on sturdier tires and keep up with the carb-heavy meals as they worked great on this brevet. Thanks to JT and everyone else I rode with this weekend, but a big thanks goes out to Martin for sticking with me the entire time. Ft. Bragg awaits!

Share Button
  • Alice Stribling

    awesome report, well done!!

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks, Alice!

  • franklyn

    congrats! jenny; well done! great report also

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks, Franklyn! Will I see you at any more brevets this year?

    • franklyn

      The truth is I am trying to do the R-12 this year, so hopefully we will see each other. I will try to join the SFR events whenever schedule allows, and sprinkle some permanents here and there.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Great – it would be great to ride together so let me know when you do any more SFR events!

  • http://twitter.com/blobree Bret Lobree

    Another great write up Jenny. great ride to boot. I hope all goes well with Ft. Bragg too.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thank, Bret! :)

  • http://twitter.com/fenriq Erik

    Great write up! So impressed with your effort, the wind can be so fickle and nasty and then turn right around and whip you along! Sounds like your food plan worked just about perfectly, I’m gonna look into Amy’s organic pizza pockets!

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks, Erik! And I think you’ll like those pizza pockets; they’re pretty tasty!

  • Patrick Herlihy

    Oh, I’ve had my soul sucked out by the Cheleno headwind too! This is awesome. I think I have a goal for next year! Good luck with your 600K – can wait for that report!

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      You will really do well since you’re so fast! I think the fastest group came in at 17h,30min (including Jason ‘Pudu’ Pierce who commented above); you’ll probably do better! :)

  • Tavis Allen

    I’d like to leave a long, rambling post, but ‘AwesomeSauce’ sums up my feelings nicely!

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks, Tavis!

  • Pudu

    Great to see you at the finish! As these rides get longer, you seem to look fresher and fresher at the end of each one. You’re gonna do great on the 600 :)

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks, Jason – I’d love lots of tips on how do tackle the 600k. Maybe we could meet up for coffee or shoot me an email? This one seems like it needs more sleep deprivation strategy! And yes, lots of pizza pockets!!!

    • Pudu

      fo sho. I’ve got different strategies for each of the 3 600ks hosted by SR, SFR and Davis.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Sweet! I’ll post an email on the group first to get some advice, and it would be great for others to benefit from your knowledge!

  • Pudu

    Oh yeah, and the 600k has a drop bag option. Stuff that thing with pizza pockets!!!

  • Drew Carlson

    This is a terrific report with very nice photos, Jenny. Congrats on your successful completion! You’ve got a quick learning curve this season. The 400K is tough, for sure. I did the Davis 600K last year, and it was my most challenging ride, but it tends to be less damp than the SFR brevets. If that appeals to you, I’d encourage you to come out. I’ve got the DBC 400k this weekend, and then the 600K in early May. I also think you’re right about higher carbs and lower protein for long rides. I eat PB on raisin toast, cut in half, and eat’em like Powerbars….Hope to see you soon!

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks, Drew! The 400k was my most successful brevet to date aside from the very first one of the year in terms of how I felt at the end. :) I’m thinking I’ll try and tackle SFR’s 600k next, but I definitely want to come out for some events!

    • Pudu

      The Davis 600k is an AMAZING ride. But the night time start can throw folks for a loop. I think you’d enjoy that one a lot more, as I did, if you got a “standard” 600k out of the way first. That way the idea of both riding your longest ride ever, and messing with your sleep patterns aren’t doubling up as a “1-2″ knockout combo. You know much of the SFR 600k route which makes every kilometer after 400k a little easier.

      And for the record, the Davis 600k I rolled last year was and is one of my most favorite rides EVER. The route was just stunning and I’m kinda bummed that I’ll never be able to ride those roads with virgin eyes again. Davis Bike Club puts on a stellar show.

  • Mike

    Congrats – wow! That’s some serious mileage, Jenny! For additional “food” choices, try Hostess Fruit Pies. I used to love those when I was on the verge of bonking.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks! :)

  • Mick Jordan

    Fun report and great photos (especially of me!) It was good meeting you out there. You might be interested in my 600K blog report from last year, which also describes my ride-thru 2010 experience. http://mickbiking.blogspot.com/2012/06/sfr-600k.html

    It seems that my complains about sleep deprivation are having impact with the control changes this year making sleeping in Ft Bragg practical. I’ll certainly be doing that.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thanks, Mick! Good seeing you out there as well. I actually read your ride report already as I’ve been doing research on how to tackle the 600k. I’m also going to send out an email on the group to get more advice. Good luck on the 600k!

    • Mick Jordan

      Not all 600Ks are like SFR. IMHO it’s the hardest one in the area. Until the change from timed to info controls it was really hard to do it without a 24hr ride before any sleep. Still you just did of those! Bill Bryant recommends a straight thru 600K in the handbook as an experience to prepare you for a 1200K, but it’s definitely hard.

      I don’t what you do regarding liquid nutrition, but I started drinking Hammer Perpetuem for long rides partly to keep the weight/volume down in my pack and partly to avoid indigestion. The slice of pizza I had at Hopland was a bad idea; I really suffered with acid indigestion on the ride to Petaluma.

      I’m looking forward to the 600K now I can treat it as two day rides. All I need is for my right glute to settle down and it’ll be a lot of fun.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Maybe you should try these pizza pockets! :) I just started adding OSMO Nutrition powder to my water and it works great. And yes, others have chimed in about how SFR’s 600k is the most difficult due to the elevation gains and control timing. I don’t think I’ll go straight through, so I’ll plan on resting in Ft. Bragg, too.

  • http://www.singleape.com/ steven

    WOW! Amazing pics and ride and report and all of that. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Thank you! I’m already strategizing for my 600k. :)

  • Charlie Fournier

    Thank you Jenny Oh for a great report. Your photos and comments and the sharing of your experience validates my feelings as this was my first 400k also. I had some dreary moments both outbound and of course inbound in the dark. I considered telling myself “I’ll never do this again.” When the dawn broke as we crossed the Golden Gate new energy emerged from I don’t know where and now I can’t wait for the next challenge. Looking forward to the next adventure with you and Kitty and all the rest.

    • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

      Great job, Charlie – glad you were able to finish! I’m looking forward to the next adventure as well. :)

  • Pingback: plattyjo » Randonneur Ride Report: Antelope Lake Davis 600k