Getting Back on that 300K Horse

I’d been looking forward to hiking Mt Whitney since I applied for the permit lottery back in February. I was awarded a one day permit for Wednesday, 23 June 2021 which was also a full moon. My friend Dan and I were going to do a midnight start so we could be done by mid/late afternoon and then go crash at my friend Amanda’s in Fresno. Dan had done the hike in a single day 2 years ago and I was comforted in the idea of going with someone experienced with the mountain. The 600 acre Inyo Creek Fire broke out the week before though and all Whitney permits were cancelled as the area was evacuated. Feeling restless, I already knew of another chance to try to kill my legs that week…the San Francisco Randonneurs’ first 300K brevet of the year was scheduled for Saturday, 26 June. I pinged some rando friends to see who was doing it and Ken was signed up for it and confirmed with me that Wednesday (ironically when I should have been on Whitney AND the last day to register for the ride) that he was definitely doing the ride that Saturday. So I quickly registered myself for my second 300K ride and my first 300K in 2 years. The Healdsburg 300K ride has three times as much climbing as the Davis Randonneurs’ Davis, Dunnigan, and the Delta 302K that I’d done in 2019. Quickly looking at the route though, there were no heinous long climbs like Faultline 200K’s Panoramic Highway climb out of Stinson Beach 109 miles into it. Healdsburg is a special place for me too as my really good friend Amanda Grindley and her family used to live there when her husband worked for Kendall Jackson, plus I’ve given my liver a lot of exercises up there for most of my adult life.

When Ken picked me up at 5:15 a.m., I told him that I had been hoping that he’d bail so I’d have an easy way out. I didn’t sleep really well the night before as I had a nightmare about the ride of losing him before the start and not being able to catch back up to him not knowing where he was. Being as this was only my second 300K, I wasn’t totally sure I could do it. I was trying to not think about the 14+ hours this would take. Ken offered to bail and go get breakfast instead, but I grumbled a bit on how I’d regret it later. I love riding with Ken as he’s usually saying that there’s no pressure for me to finish as he doesn’t care either way. “Usually” since during the Fall version of Del Puerto Canyon 200K in 2019, I was begging and whining to quit around 85 miles into it and he wouldn’t let me. However I did have a valid excuse to bail today (and if you’re easily queasy, skip to the next paragraph) as my period started in the middle of the night. Awesome. However I’d have skipped events like my Catalina Channel solo swim and my first 300K along with some other athletic feats if I let my unused reproductive cycle dictate my schedule. Ken said that was one excuse that he couldn’t use to get out of this ride.

This brevet started at the Golden Gate Bridge plaza on the SF side. There were already other randos around waiting for their check-in times since we have assigned staggered check-in times now to minimize contact. The weather is pretty cool and overcast. I’m so glad I brought a jacket! Ken and I checked in and then headed off across the Golden Gate Bridge at about 6:00 a.m.

Healdsburg or Bust!

We went through the usual route across the bridge, through Sausalito, and all the side streets to minimize time on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that pretty much every cyclist knows and loves. Once in Fairfax it’s time to get back on SFD to go up and over White Hill. I’ll just be glad when we get back to Fairfax on the way back as then I know I’ll be able to finish this ride. Other faster randos catch up and pass me on the climb and then I catch up to them on the downhill. There are a couple of other guys on fixies like Ken and of course they all know each other. Ken chats with them a bit and they eventually pull ahead. Ken and I don’t see them again for the rest of the ride.

We turn onto Platform Bridge Road in Lagunitas, which I’m not sure if I’ve ever ridden on this road to get to Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I usually go through Olema and Point Reyes Station. I stop at the intersection of Point Reyes-Petaluma Road for the first photo control, which I’m using as a backup in case my Garmin fails me. The climb up this road after the Nicasio Reservoir is usually one of my least favorite climbs since I usually hit in brilliant sun and there’s no tree coverage. It’s really not bad if it’s cool and overcast though! I need to hit this climb up more often in this condition. Also weird climbing this and NOT doing Wilson Hill or Marshall Wall after as we’re going straight to Petaluma. I’ve got this mentally broken down into hopping from Petaluma to Santa Rosa to Headlsburg, which even though that’s only 80 miles in, I’m telling myself that’s the halfway-ish point and we’re really on our way back after there. I’m familiar with most of the route except the parts between Petaluma and Healdsburg.

A few miles outside of Petaluma, I’m pleasantly surprised to see my friend Pat riding the opposite way! I crossed paths with him in Santa Rosa earlier this year, but he didn’t recognize me with a mask. This time he did recognize me! I find it a bit humorous that cycling friends in Santa Rosa never question seeing me riding up around there. I wish I could have stopped and chatted with him, but Ken and I still had a long way to go. We stop at the Safeway in Petaluma as Ken hasn’t had breakfast and I decide to have a snack (avocado spring roll and an energy waffle) too. Randonneuring can sometimes be thought of a Tour of Safeways since we tend to hit them up a lot on rides. I feel like I’ve got a lead brick in my lower abdomen, but I push on telling myself Healdsburg isn’t that much further.

We roll off again and I take a photo of the second photo control, which is a bus stop after Santa Rosa Junior College. I wish these photo controls were of something more interesting than street signs and bus stops. *sigh* I make a mental note to take photos of something more interesting on this ride. An issue though is that I’ve done so much of this route on other rides that I think I have photos of most of the interesting places already. Petaluma Hill Road and Old Redwood Highway from Petaluma to Healdsburg are pretty flat, but I’m enjoying the energy conservation. I also notice it’s getting a bit warmer too. We’re about an hour later than I wanted to be at this point in the ride, but still hoping to get through Healdsburg before it gets too hot. Accuweather predicted a high of 96F there and I want to be nowhere near Healdsburg when that happens.

I ask Ken where he wants to stop for lunch once we get to Healdsburg and he says Safeway (of course!). Mike is there finishing up his lunch outside and watches our bikes for us as we grab our food. The fast rando pod left a couple of partially used gallon water jugs that we use to refill our bottles. This is a standard and very appreciated courtesy among randos! I grab more Safeway veggie sushi and a rare non-vegan choice of an egg salad sandwich (should have just doubled the veggie sushi). One rando left a banana behind also which I happily accept the offering to help boost my potassium. I reapply sunblock as I have no intention of meeting melanoma if I can help it. I always hate having to touch my legs during a ride since the lower parts are always dirty and gritty and just feel gross, but again, it’s better than getting skin cancer. A third photo control is supposed to be by here of some beauty salon thing. I can see it on the map, but can’t find a sign matching the name. I take a photo of that corner’s shops in the parking lot and we head off onto Westside Road.

Westside Road is one of my favorite roads to be on. I really like and belong to some of the wineries on here so usually hit them up when I’m in the area. I also like riding it too as it’s fairly gentle climbs and generously shaded. I pass by Bucher wines/dairy farm and say “hi” to my friends’ Diane and John’s cows who are people watching from their pasture. Wish I could have gone in to say hi to Diane and John, but there’s no time for that! Ken’s somewhere up ahead of me too since I stopped to take a couple of vineyard photos along the road. Catch up to Ken right after I pass Thomas George Estates and tell him about the “on your honor” farm stand and chickens running around Porter Creek Vineyards when I had stopped there years ago. After all, how often do you have to shoo a chicken off of a toilet so you can use it? We pass by the Wohler Road junction which we’re now on a section that I’ve only rode with my friends June and Joe a few times earlier this year as June likes to ride up to the bridge and then head back to Santa Rosa.

Ken riding along Westside Road in Healdsburg.

This time though Ken and I are continuing all the way to the end and turning West onto 116 in Guerneville. I want to stop at the Safeway in Monte Rio to top off on water since I don’t know when the next water opportunity is and I’m starting to get slight hot spots in my feet. The weather is still not blistering hot, but a bit warmer than I like. Ken notices everyone down on the little beaches along the Russian River. My friends Dan and Gina own 1/4 of a house in Monte Rio that I’ve been to a couple of times and wishing that our ride was ending there today. We get to the Monte Rio Safeway and I cry a little about us still having 80+ miles to go as we’re exactly 100 miles into the ride now. Ken says to not think about that and he’s turned the distance display on his device off. I think of how I know a slightly shorter and faster route back from Monte Rio and jealous that I can’t take it today. I begrudgingly get back on my bike and we continue West on 116. The part of 116 west of Monte Rio is completely foreign to me. Ken says that the flags pointing South is a good thing as we should get some tailwind along the coast. I hope he’s right! We meander down 116 West and get back into the overcast skies by the 1 junction. Yes! I managed to escape extreme heat on this ride! Now where the hell are we exactly? Jenner? I know Fort Ross is north of us so we are on part of 1 that I haven’t ridden in almost 6 years as this is part of the Levi’s Gran Fondo’s Gran route. My hazy memory knows there’s nothing bad here and we’re not going up Coleman Valley Road either after. 🙂

I’m enjoying the coastal scenery of all the huge jagged rocks sticking out of the water. Even though it’s overcast and windy, there are still a significant amount of people at the beaches. I need to find a bathroom and we finally come across a rare one in a beach parking lot. The wind has picked up a bit so Ken and I put our jackets back on. I’m a bit disappointed in seeing on all the beach signs that we’re STILL in Sonoma County. I keep praying that the next beach sign will finally say that we’re back in Marin County as at least then I’ll feel like we’re getting somewhere and back in more familiar territory.

Somewhere along Highway 1 between Jenner and Bodega Bay

Ken had forgotten to charge his headlight and only got to charge it a little in the van on his way to the start of the ride. I text my friend Kevin in Ross to see if we can borrow a light from him since we’re passing within a couple of blocks of his house in the way back. We’re in Bodega Bay and it’s about 4 p.m. already. We’ll be cutting it really close to loss of any daylight so I’ll feel better if Ken had a headlight. There’s supposed to be a photo control of taking a picture of the Doghouse Restaurant neon sign, but the restaurant isn’t on 1. Ken stops outside of the market as that was the old control. I see the Doghouse Restaurant is on a parallel street and we’re looking at the back of it. Ken says he’ll wait for me if I want to ride around to take a photo of the sign. I decide not to as my Garmin is holding up on recording and I can always use Ken’s recording if mine craps out. Plus I’m just not that motivated to ride to the other side of the block and back. Onward to Valley Ford, which also means my veggie sandwich in Tomales Bay is near! Valley Ford also means that we’ll be back on roads that I’m very acquainted with. Ken wants us to stick within visual sight of each other in case one of us gets a flat or some mechanical issue. I can tell he’s getting tired too. Combined with my bike’s ability to descend faster than his fixie, I’m ahead of him for the first time on this ride. We roll through Valley Ford and I’m basically counting the seconds to Tomales. I wait at the top of the climb between the two for Ken to catch up. I then make a mad dash for Tomales and straight to the Tomales Deli & Cafe, which I had already researched is open until 7 p.m. 🙂

For all the cows

I dismount to make the horrible discovery that my left calf has cramped up sometime during my descent into Tomales. Crap, I still have some 60 miles to ride too. Ken grabs some baked goodness from the Tomales Bakery as he just wants sugar. I get my sandwich from the deli and thank Ken for letting me take a much needed break. He said that he needed one also. It’s a bit chilly here, but nothing like how cold it was when Dan and I had lunch here in April on our Faultline 200K ride. I’m watching a couple drinking a bottle of rose and wonder how are they not cold? I wouldn’t be sitting out here if I didn’t have to!

We putter on and at least I can’t really feel the pain my calf when I’m on the bike. The usual massive wind gusts hit us going through Keys Creek, but at least I know Point Reyes Station, Olema, and getting back on SFD isn’t that far ahead. I’m thankful that we don’t have to do any of 1 between Olema and Stinson Beach or the climb out of Stinson Beach. I don’t have to worry about the climb out of Olema on SFD as it’s fairly gradual and not that long really. We stop in Point Reyes Station for a last bathroom break and water refill. Kevin texts me back that it’s cool for us to stop by and grab a headlight for Ken! Yah! I tell him that we’re in Point Reyes Station so will be there soon. One mile to Olema and we turn back onto SFD. Ken pulls ahead of me on the climb, but of course I pass him on the descent and my much deserved leg rest. He’s not too far behind me and witnesses my dumb move of not paying attention as I smack right into an overhanging branch in Lagunitas. I guess at least that helped wake me up a bit?

This part of SFD is my least favorite as it’s just a boring slog between Lagunitas and White Hill. The hill cannot come soon enough! It’s a shorter climb from this direction, but that means a longer fun descent into Fairfax. Ken beats me to the top, but I then blast right past him. Unlike during the Laguna Lake 200K, I didn’t quite get the speed monitoring signs to say “SLOW DOWN”, but I’m fairly close at about 38/39 mph. I wait for Ken at the bottom and am just glad to be back in Fairfax. I can basically auto-pilot from here. Ken follows me to Kevin’s house in Ross. Kevin’s left the headlight on his porch, but I rang the doorbell anyway to say hi. We chat for a bit and Kevin asks Ken about the 508 (as Ken usually rides with his 508 jersey and he’s done it a few times both solo and part of a team). We’re burning daylight though we bid Kevin farewell and I’ll return the light to him soon. Kevin’s got other lights of course so he says there’s no rush. I turn my headlight on as we depart towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

Shortly after we leave Kevin’s and turn back onto Shady Lane, I hear a high pitched squeal. Oh of course we run into more people that Ken knows! I forget her name, but the woman is a fellow fixie rider. They ask us what ride we’re doing and Ken tells them that we’re doing the same 300K they’re on. We ride as a foursome to Camino Alto. The other 2 stopped shortly after passing the top and I take off to catch up with Ken. A SUV that is basically riding its brakes all the way down Camino Alto is blocking from catching up to Ken sooner, but luckily he hit the red light and I catch up to him right when it turns green. We’re home free! One bike path and the climb up to the bridge. The West side for bikes closes at 9 p.m. and I declare that we’re going to ride on the East side regardless since I don’t like the dangerous amplified wind on the West side after the retrofitting was done earlier this year.

As soon as we hit the climb out of Sausalito, I notice that my headlight now is out. WTF? This thing was supposed to be fully charged via the battery indicator. I’m SO glad we got that light from Kevin as now that’s the only light we have aside from streetlights. Ken and I stick together up to the bridge. I always recall how this climb and Camino Alto were big climbs when I first started cycling and now they aren’t a big deal. No matter how tired I am on a ride, I know I can make it up these two with no difficulty. We’re up at the bridge and it’s now completely dark. The East side gates are closed and another cyclist has just activated the North one opening. I thank him as I pass through and proceed to pound my way across the bridge. There are only a few pedestrians who luckily respond to my approach even though I have no headlight. I get to the South gate, which opens as soon as Ken gets there. We stop at the bridge plaza and I text the Day of Ride Contact number that we’ve both finished. We forgot to do that after the Laguna Lake 200K which led to a poking email from Rob Hawks, our Regional Brevet Administrator and that ride’s DORC that several of us hadn’t checked in hours after we’d actually finished. I take the only selfie of us and Ken says it’s his only photo from the ride. I joke that it’s time to sprint to the car. I really have no room to complain about being tired since Ken has had to pedal every single bit of this 300K with the fixie. It’s about 9:15 p.m. which is when I should be rolling into bed, not just rolling up to Ken’s van at the end of a ride. My calf is freakin’ killing me and I’m hobbling around the van to get my bike onto the rack and myself into the passenger seat. I contemplate not showering when I get home and going straight to bed, but I know from experience that I hate waking up in my own bed still covered in street grime, dirt, and sweat.

Finished and so ready to head back to the van!

Ken drops me off at home and I proceed to hobble into my house. A neighbor asks if I need any help as he must have thought I was injured or handicapped. I tell him that I just have a leg cramp and thank him for his offer, but I’m okay. I park my bike, upload my ride off of my Garmin, shower, change into my pajamas, and hobble into bed. It wasn’t the 16-mile / 16-ish hour hike I’d planned for this week, but I found another way to exhaust myself in some 15+ hours. Second 300K done! I still would like to do a few more of these before feeling comfortable enough to try a 400K. I know I can do a 200K without a problem and even though I had jumped to a 300K after only a few 200Ks, mentally the 400K is a bigger jump for me since it will involve ending a ride at about 2 a.m.. I’m not even sure I could stay up that late without riding all day. I do know that I could still ride at the end of both 300Ks I’ve done, but don’t know (yet) how much further I can ride past that point.

The next day Rob points out that we missed the control in Bodega Bay as he’s reviewing my Strava ride as my Electronic Proof of Passage. Oops. I finally figure out what happened as the route alteration to pass in front of the Doghouse Restaurant was in the GPX link he emailed out. I had grabbed the GPX file from the Route Archive which had us going past the market on Highway 1. We still get credit for the ride though so I’m glad we didn’t get our ride disqualified for that!

Happy to report that unlike my first 300K, I recovered faster from this one even though it had almost triple the amount of climbing. My left calf cramp cleared up after a couple of days, some tiger balm, and a Linda Mar swim. I was able to run 10 miles / 1900′ in Purisima Creek Redwoods 3 days later (giving myself permission to hike up any climb I wanted, especially the really steep ones). Maybe I’m in better shape now? Or my body is just better adapted to recovering from the pain I put it through…

Healdsburg 300K Route doesn’t look that bad on paper.

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