Randonneur Ride Report: Santa Cruz Randonneurs Marina 300k

Last year, when I began riding “inappropriately long distances” as my friend Jason would say, I focused on completing the entire San Francisco Randonneurs‘ series. This year I wanted to mix things up, and my second year has been a veritable “Brevet Buffet”: I sampled rides from most of other the clubs in the Bay Area (with the exception of Fresno, which just launched their series this spring). In January, I rode an early Healdsburg to Napa 200k with the Santa Rosa Cycling Club; finished most of the Davis Bike Club’s brevet series (but had to skip out on their March 200k as I was out sick — I plan to make it up later in the year); and now, I just wrapped up my inaugural ride with the Santa Cruz Randonneurs run by Lois Springsteen and Bill Bryant.

START: Lighthouse/Surfer Museum – 6AM

Jason (henceforth referred to by his 508 totem “Pudu”) had already signed up and encouraged me to come along on the Marina 300k. TBO and I spent the Fourth of July hanging out with our dogs at Manresa Beach, then he headed back to Oakland while Pudu and I headed to the Surfing Museum in Santa Cruz at dawn to begin our 300k. Given that it was a holiday weekend, there were only 24 of us at the start — but there were plenty of familiar faces gathered at the lighthouse: John (with Kimber sending him off); Stacy and Greg; J.T. (with his beautiful new Co-Motion bike); Michael S.; Phil and the Dixons.

click images to enlarge


After Bill and Lois gave us their pep talk and advice about the route, our fluorescent group glowed in the dim grey light of the morning fog as we set off at 6AM towards Hwy. 1. Most of us clumped together in a tight pack at a brisk pace, slicing through the headwinds, and I was even able to snap a few photos of Pudu and Michael speeding along the coast. But my legs started to feel cooked after hitting a few rollers, and after slowing down to take more pictures, I dropped off and took it down a notch when we turned off onto Gazos Creek Road. I paired up with Denis, a French ex-pat from Austin (who had also lived in the Bay Area years ago) and was visiting for a week-long holiday of riding. He was actually enjoying the cooler temperatures and taking a break from the scorching summer weather back in Texas. We chatted for a bit, but parted ways after I fell back on a few more small bumps along Cloverdale Road and I rode the final 7 miles to the Pescadero control solo.


CONTROL #1: Pescadero Open Control – Mile 33 (Open 07:35; Close 09:36)

I pulled into the gas station on the corner of Pescadero Creek and Stage Road just as Pudu and Michael were taking off for Half Moon Bay (see below for the photo I captured of Pudu’s shenanigans.) Several other folks were having their second breakfasts, and I grabbed a quick snack as well. (Sadly, it was too early to buy that famous artichoke garlic bread from Arcangeli Grocery just up the street as they were still closed.) Stacy, Greg and John arrived shortly thereafter, and after our short break, Denis and I happily grouped up with them for the rest of the day as they’re a lively trio to ride with. Stacy’s always brimming with funny, cheerful conversation; John possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the routes and has lots of tips to share; Greg is a stalwart, calming presence.


Up next was the hilliest portion of the brevet that included Stage Road, Hwy. 1, Verde Road and Purisima Creek Road. I’d ridden sections of this area before (notably on Jesse’s SF-MV Coastal Cruise 200k permanent), but it was my first time climbing up Purisima Creek — such gorgeous views! Our next control was the only info control on our list; we had to scribble down the code listed on a sign Lois and Bill had posted near the entrance of the Higgins-Purisima Preserve. Then it was onwards to our northern turn-around control at Half Moon Bay.


CONTROL #3: Junction of Kelly St. & Hwy CA-1 ,  More-4-Less or Tres Amigos – Mile 56.4 (Open, 08:41 Close 12:04)

Just as we approached the gas station in Half Moon Bay, we saw Pudu and Michael heading southbound and shouted our greetings across Hwy. 1. We quickly gulped down more snacks (I could become a competitive eater at the speed at which I can now down a package of peanut butter crackers), said hello to Phil and other randos, and then it was time to make haste to our planned lunch stop in Davenport — right after a pit stop in La Honda for our next control. We backtracked to Stage Road (where I saw my dfL comrades on a big group ride), then to CA-84 East/La Honda/San Gregorio Road. I had just ridden through here for the first time the previous weekend during Ride-On’s annual Camp-On trip in Pescadero (and it was much easier as I wasn’t towing our dog Iko in his trailer, particularly when we hit Haskins Hill after our control.)

CONTROL #4: La Honda Country Market – Mile 75.3 (Open 09:34; Close 14:04)

Our fourth control is a great little gourmet market stocked with all manner of alluring edibles and has a full-service deli counter that prepares tasty sandwiches. As tempting as it was to kick back and drink a beer on their patio, we pushed off after we hit the port-a-potties, fueled up and acquired our necessary receipts. More climbing was ahead as we ascended Haskins Hill, a 1.6 mile road with an average grade of 8-9% that winds through a shady grove of redwoods. Then we bombed down Pescadero Road (and I pointed out the large metal sculpture of a mammoth that presides over the field of the farm where we had camped out), reunited with Gazos Creek Road, then returned to Hwy. 1.


The sun had burned away the coastal fog and we were cruising along the rollers in the early afternoon sunshine. We took turns pulling, although I have to give special kudos to Greg as he has the steadiest, most even-keel cadence I’ve ever seen. Drafting behind him is effortless as he always keeps a straight line and a rock-solid tempo like a metronome  — so there’s no weaving or surging. Even if he removes his helmet to flick away a bug and adjust his skullcap on a hill (like I watched him do once), his speed doesn’t change one iota — it’s as if he’s still motoring away on the flats. (The other thing that he does is act as a shepherd; if he notices a rider falling away from the group, he’ll help them back into the fold. I dropped my cue sheet once and he circled back to make sure I was all right, and I saw he encouraged other riders all throughout the day get back on track.)


When my energy starts to flag — as it now was as my legs were starting to complain that they needed more food — my mind tends to wander off into random places. I’ll endlessly hum one earworm (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ ‘I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ was stuck in my brain as I’d just read a New Yorker review of the film “Jersey Boys” the night before), or I’ll ponder things like how well I could identify riders in a police lineup — with their backs turned to me — as I spend a lot of time sucking their wheels and thus have memorized the minute details of my companions’ jerseys, reflective gear, saddle bags, socks and shoes after staring at them for hours. (I always like riding behind Stacy as well as she has a cute Curious George doll pinned to her saddlebag that stares back at me with a smile; she’s told me the story about how his creators left Paris during WWII to flee the Nazis via bicycles.)

One thing that wakes me out of my surreal reveries is the landscape; I always love that one stretch just past Wilson Gulch when the ocean bursts into view and you’re dazzled by its blue brilliance that extends out to the horizon. (Hopefully the encroaching erosion won’t shut down this section anytime soon.) And then there’s that one hill just before Davenport where you can really catch some speed — I think John said he hit over 50 miles per hour the other weekend — and he rocketed off ahead of us into town.


By the time we arrived in Davenport around 2PM, we were ravenous and looking forward to stuffing our faces at the Whale City Bakery & Grill. This eatery is favorite spot of Stacy and Greg’s, and they’re especially partial to the fresh pastries baked on the premises. The weekend lunch crowds packed the restaurant’s dining room, but we managed to corral a small table outside (which was perfect for relaxing over lunch with our shoes off.) With our stomachs rumbling for the next 45 minutes, we showered our sandwiches and fries with salt when they finally arrived and silence ensued for the next 10 minutes (If I could have, I would have swallowed my club sandwich whole.) It was a luxuriously hour-long break, but my cramping legs were grateful for the extended downtime and were fully recovered by the time we hit downtown Santa Cruz 12-ish miles later.


I won’t say much about the urban slog through Santa Cruz, Soquel, Aptos and Watsonville, other than there was a lot of traffic and a pesky collection of small rollers interrupted by red lights. (We also saw the Dixons’ tandem train careening back to the finish with a few other randos in their wake at the tail end of this section.) It was a relief when we finally spotted the green signs that said, “Bike Route” for cyclists following the Pacific Coast Highway (TBO & I rode this from SF to Ventura back in 2010; I’ll be on it again for the upcoming 3CR 1200k.) We were now in the foggy outskirts of Pajaro, where fields of strawberries perfumed the cool air with their sweet scent.

Just before we turned off Jensen Road onto Cabrillo Highway, we played an impromptu game of “Dodge the Sprinklers, Cars and Potholes.” We tried to avoid being sprayed by the icy cold water coming at us from both sides of the road by weaving through small safe zones — while simultaneously maneuvering around potholes and trying not to get mowed down by incoming traffic. After that exciting interlude, we approached Moss Landing and took a short break at a cafe to refill our water bottles, use the loo and admire the rousing cries of sea lions and seals that had flopped down in a big lazy pile on a set of floating docks. We had our last sighting of Pudu and Michael as we sped past the stop-and-go traffic crawling along Hwy. 1 just after we turned onto Molera Road. Grouping up with Phil and Andy, we kept chugged along the last 8 miles to our southernmost turnaround point in Marina.


CONTROL #5: Marina Control – Jct. Del Monte Blvd. & Reservation Rd. – Mile 155.8 (Open 13:29; Close 22:44)

Time to eat again! We opted for Taco Bell so we could minimize our dinner stop and get back on the road as quickly as possible. (Plus Stacy noted that they’re always friendly and let randos bring their bikes inside as it’s a frequent stop on SCR brevets.) They also had Pizza Hut available, so as much as that “Quesarito” was calling out to my foodie soul (not), I ordered some breadsticks and a small cheese pizza (admittedly, even fast food pizza tastes good to me, especially when I need to feed the belly of the hungry rando beast.) My legs rejoiced as the carbs poured into them like liquid sugar and I was rarin’ to go by 7PM.

Control #5: Marina

FINISH: Lois & Bill’s Home in Santa Cruz – Mile 193.2 – (Open 15:00; Close 02:00)

We added Jorge and Patrice to our group, and our pack of nine made quick work of the 38 miles back to Santa Cruz. We saw the last remaining randos on the road still making their way to Marina and yelled out words of encouragement. The tailwinds were in our favor and so the chilly fog of the flat farmlands gave way to the urban red-light-roller coaster district in no time. We sprinted through as fast as our tired legs would allow, and after the speed bump extravaganza on King Street, we were greeted by a RUSA sign — surrounded by twinkling lights and hanging on a white picket fence — that ushered us into Lois and Bill’s cozy backyard at 9:42PM. After checking in, indulging in a few post-ride snacks and chatting with them about the history of the club and the upcoming 3CR — I bid farewell to Lois and Bill to enjoy a burger and beer in Aptos with Pudu, Stacy and Greg, John and Kimber.


‘Twas a fine day on the bike and I don’t think I experienced a single moment of “And why is riding inappropriately long distances supposed to be fun?” Cheers to Lois (and she’s heading off to ride the High Country 1200k in Colorado, good luck!) and Bill for organizing a splendid ride — with an added bonus of lovely weather and non-aggravating winds — and I look forward to riding more of their brevets in the future. And a big high five to everyone I rode with this weekend, especially Denis, John, Stacy and Greg!

Next up: Cloverdale with the SF Randonneurs!