Wednesday, September 30, 2015

SFR Shasta Mountains 1000K Brevet Bicycle Tour

Arriving in Fort Bragg, late in the evening after 245 miles on Day 2!
As Sarah Schroer and I descend into Hayfork, CA the temperature begins to plummet. The relative comfort of climbing slowly in 40 degree temperatures becomes unbearable at descending speed when the temperature drops to 32 degrees, with near frozen mist in the air. With just a light windbreaker, I begin to shiver lightly at first, then uncontrollably within a few minutes. It's no longer safe to steer the tandem bicycle so we pull over. The only nearby source of heat is Sarah, who has weathered the cold better than me, partially due to being wind blocked in the stoker position. We embrace as she tries to exchange some heat. We are moderately successful, and decide to carry on to the next climb. Fingers and toes are completely numb, and it's nearly impossible to control and shift the bike, but we forge ahead anyway, hoping to cross the valley and begin the climb to warmer temperatures.

This is day 2 of the Shasta Mountain 1000K Brevet, and the plan for today is to ride 245 miles with a whopping 18,000' of climbing. At this point we are asking ourselves how we got here, and why are we doing this?

Earlier in the year, I believe it was Jason Pierce who told us about the ride, saying it was limited to 50 riders, and that we should sign up. Since we'd been thinking about doing a longer brevet (1000K or 1200K), this one sounded awesome! Ride one way from near Klamath Falls, OR (Actually Tulelake, CA), to SF via a mountainous route through Trinity. Sounds like fun!

We signed up, and as the event date approached, we decided it was time to prep. So we looked at the course carefully for the first time... and said, "Uh-Oh." 630 miles with 45,000' of climbing? Really?

The ride was concocted by Eric Larsen, a San Francisco Randonneur Adventure rider. Eric had been working on the course all year, and did a pre ride the week before the event, self supported. He came back with stories of how difficult the route was, long nights on the road, very little sleep, and a 73.5 hour finish time. Hmmm.

But we'll have it easier. For the event, Eric will have staff members carry a bag for us, and provide water stops here and there, but we'll otherwise be self sufficient. Here is how it went:

Preamble

First we have to get ourselves to the Winema Lodge in Tulelake, CA. It is suggested to take the train to Klamath Falls, then ride 30 miles to the start. Well, we can't take the tandem on the train, so we rent a one way van, and invite two friends to share the expense. Our traveling mates are Carl Sanders and Megan Arnold.

Traveling with Megan Arnold, Sarah Schroer, and Carl Sanders is a breeze.
We make the drive to Tulelake, drop our bags and Megan at the lodge, then head to Klammath Falls to drop the van. Carl decides to join us for the 30 mile spin back to the lodge. 

We found a cool bike path to get out of the busy Klamath Falls. Here we yield to some horseback riders.
Seems easy and care free as we roll the 30 miles from Klamath Falls to the Winema Lodge in Tulelake, CA. We have no idea about the suffering we are about to endure. Photo courtesy Carl Sanders.
Unfortunately, we flat on the return, and we decide this is a good omen, not a bad one, as we get our bad luck out of the way before the start of the 1000K.

A flat tire is a good omen. Bad luck out of the way early.
Dr. Schroer examines the patient. Photo courtesy Carl Sanders
After a pasta dinner at the Winema, and some socializing with the other knucklehead Rando types that are doing this ride, we retire to make final prep and get some rest.

The Winema Lodge is actually a hunting lodge. Rooms have 5 single beds each. It can be windy here. Photo courtesy Carl Sanders.
Signing in. I am speaking with Mark Thomas (right), Seattle RBA and 4 time PBP finisher. Eric Larsen (baseball cap), hands out brevet cards. Photo: Sarah Schroer
Day 1


Eric Larsen gives final instruction to the riders just before the start at 6 A.M.
The first day takes us from Tulelake, to Weaverville, 202 mies, via Lava Beds National Monument. We roll out with the group in the morning. A few riders take off fast, but we form a nice mid-pace group of about a dozen riders, while a few drop off the back.

Rando Pace Line in the early morning of Day 1
At first Sarah and I sit at the back, and later we go to the front and do some pulls. On a downhill section, we peel off most of the group and we tow the 4 remaining riders to the first big climb to Medicine Lake, including our friends Megan Arnold, Jason Pudu Pierce, and Patrick Herlihy.

Early morning pace line. We'd see little of each other after this short spell on Day 1. Photo courtesy Carl Sanders.

Riding with a small group in the early hours.. Photo courtesy Patrick Herlihy
There are four riders up the road stomping it. Craig Hicks, Carl Sanders, Bill Brier, and Mike Sturgill.  Fast company. But we've got over 200 miles to cover today with about 15,000' of climbing, so we set an easy pace up the climb, stopping for a wardrobe adjustment.

Patrick Herlihy, Megan Arnold, and Jason Pierce, topping the climb near Medicine Lake.
At the top of the climb there is a fast section before Medicine Lake. Here we tow Patrick, Jason, and Megan. Photo courtesy Patrick Herlihy
At Medicine Lake, they've got some food spread out for us, but we just grab some water and go. We descend from Medicine Lake fairly quickly, good enough for a Strava KOM, although there are plenty of sneaker potholes, so some caution is in order. We catch Carl Sanders, who rides with us on and off to Mt. Shasta, before forging ahead on his own. Bill Brier, Craig Hicks, and Mike Sturgill are up the road.

As we roll into Mt. Shasta, we have a nice view of the Mountain between the trees. Photo: Sarah Schroer
At Mt. Shasta, we have a terribly inefficient stop, as trying to get junk food at a hippie market just isn't working out. But we do enjoy a nice sandwich. After taking a wrong turn, and having to backtrack, we stop for a second time at a gas station to get the portable food we need. About 45 minutes of fumbling, time we can ill afford to lose.

Our plan for this ride is to ride relatively swiftly during the day, in an effort to move along the course well enough to maximize sleep and minimize night riding. We start to become concerned that our plan is slipping.

We then begin the huge 3700', 12 mile climb up to Parks Creek Summit on Forest Rd N17 out of Mt. Shasta. Eric warned us about this climb, and I'm glad, since we are mentally prepared. We've now got 130 miles in the legs, and this climb has some long, steep sections. The fatigue is settling in. It's a real grind, and the climb goes on forever, just as Eric said, but we finally meet Charlie Fornier at the Summit. He's got water and light snacks for us.

Enjoying the views of Mt. Shasta as we make our way up the N17 climb, we decide a short break for a selfie with the namesake mountain of this ride would be prudent.
The descent on N17 is awful. Wheel eating potholes everywhere. Mine field. My concentration is at a super high level, dodging the potholes and trying to keep the wheels of the tandem out of trouble. You can get away with hitting a few potholes on a single bike, but not on a tandem. Hit something big and it's almost a sure thing you'll destroy a wheel. The pressure of managing this is tiring. Half way down, we see Eric working his way up the climb, marking the bad potholes with spray paint. His markings really helped on the lower half. We make it to the bottom safely, and then get on smooth Hwy 3, for a fast and easy run to Trinity Center. Whew! Kevin is there with refreshments. Unfortunately, from here we have 3 more big climbs to Weaverville. We make it over the first climb, but then it's time to put on the reflective gear and turn on the lights. The rest of the ride will be in darkness.

We arrive in Weaverville at 8:34 PM, check in the hotel, and Tim Mason has ordered some Pizza. We shower, then head back to the check-in room for some food and a beer. After that, back to our room to prep for Day 2, and lay our heads on the pillows.


Day 2

Today is 245 miles and 18,000'. We decide we need to start early, so after a wake up call of 3:30 AM, we hit the road at 4:45 AM. We are painfully slow in packing and getting ready. I frankly don't see how we can possibly pull this off. The legs are completely trashed, butts are sore, and we're already in a state of extreme fatigue. You know how you feel after a really hard Double Century? Don't even want to look at your bike the next day? That's how we feel.

But we forge ahead toward Hayfork, up and over 3 big climbs, before heading toward Fortuna, and finally to Fort Bragg.

After a bout of freezing near Hayfork, we warm up a bit on the next climbs as the sun rises higher in the sky. Halle F-ing Lujah! The roll into Fortuna is fairly easy, with some downhill runs, and less climbing. It's an absolutely gorgeous road, and I am constantly reminding myself to enjoy the scenery, and not get too caught up in the stress of keeping to our schedule.

Happy to be rolling along the gorgeous Hwy 36 toward Fortuna after the near hypothermic episode.
We stop for a burrito in Fortuna at an Aztec grill imbedded in a Chevron Station, as the Mexican place we planned to visit was closed. It was fine, and far more efficient than our stop in Mt. Shasta! But we are only at mile 116, not even half way, and time is ticking!

We go over the Fernbridge, and arrive at a control in the middle of nowhere. There, Andrea Achilli waits for us with water, snacks, and baked goods that his wife has prepared. How awesome is that! Andrea lets us know that the next miles should be swift, with a few bumps and a good tailwind. Although the bumps were rather large, and the tailwind was rather weak, we do make decent time.

Stopping at the Control at Fernbridge, we ask Andrea to snap a photo of us.
The Avenue of the Giants is a fun run on the bike, fabulous being among those big trees in the open air.

The cruise through Avenue of the Giants is quite pleasant.
We stop in Miranda for a potty break, more chamois butter, snacks, and liquid. Then on to the Control in Garberville, where we lose a little time trying to find Tim, so we can report in and have him sign our brevet cards.

At times we avoided Hwy 101 by taking the old road. Double bridge here. Photo: Sarah Schroer
Next is a section I do not enjoy. As darkness falls, we have a very sketchy section on Hwy 101. Very busy, lots of cars in both directions, trucks, no shoulder to speak of, debris on the side of the road, etc. I'm actually terrified. Although we have good bike lights, they are absolutely worthless with car headlights in my face. We get through this section safely, this last bad part is only about six miles, then we turn onto Hwy 1 at its Northernmost point. It gets quieter from here.

Rolling along Hwy 101, not my favorite part of the ride. Good shoulder here at this tourist trap with an odd collection of figures. Photo: Sarah Schroer
We start with a good, stiff climb on Hwy 1 as it heads from Hwy 101 toward the coast. The lunar eclipse is in full swing now, and Sarah and I discuss trying to figure out where the moon is as we make our way up the twisty climb in the trees. And then, there it is! The blood red moon is in full view, if only for an instant. Unfortunately, no time to stop.

We crest the climb, begin the descent, and we catch Mike Sturgill. Mike sits on our wheel as we make the long descent... much longer than we imagine. Sarah and I decide to refrain from putting on our warm gear until the second, and final big climb to the coast. For the second time today, I am freezing, and this descent seems to go on forever. It's odd how you dread the climbs, and love the descents, but when it's freezing cold, the thought process is reversed.

At the top of the second and final climb, we say goodbye to Mike, as we stop to layer up, while he forges ahead. The wardrobe adjustment is a slow tedious process due to cold hands and fatigue, but we finally get it done.

The final miles are down the rolling coast to Fort Bragg, and they seem to pass by very slowly, although the coast line is spectacular in the moonlight. We finally arrive in Fort Bragg, check in with Tim at the Motel 6, then we get back on the bike to head for Safeway. It's the only thing open now, as it's after 11 P.M.


Our dinner tonight. Souper Meal, bagels with cream cheese and salmon, and, of course, beer. Photo: Sarah Schroer
After some dinner we hit the hay, probably around 12:30 A.M. We decide on a wake up call of 5:30, with a goal of being on the road by 6:30, for the final 180 miles down the coast to the Finish in San Francisco.



Day 3

We roll out of Fort Bragg at 6:40 A.M., after struggling a bit with a bad floor pump. Eric lets us know that half the riders have left and the other half are trying for a bit more sleep.

If the soreness in the legs and butts was bad on Day 2, there is no describing it on Day 3. Rolling out of Fort Bragg, the task ahead seems impossible. The legs can barely turn, even without any pressure on the pedals. Climbing seems out of the question. We know what Hwy 1 is like. Up, down, up, down. And this will go on for 135 miles before we turn inland at Pt. Reyes Station, and make our way to San Francisco. Mentally, the task seems overwhelming, but we just focus on bits of the course, the next few miles, the next stop.

As dawn breaks, the sun peaks below the fog and we are treated to some spectacular vistas early in the ride. Unfortunately, this does not last, as a high fog sweeps in, and drab light prevails for the remainder of the run down the coast. The good news is that the road is dry and visibility is good. The bad news is that we are facing a strong headwind, where often along this stretch one will experience a tail wind. We try not to stress about it.

An early morning Panorama of the California Coast near Fort Bragg.

Spectacular views on the coast in the early morning hours.
The miles tick by slowly, and we decide to stop in Gualala, which is about mile 60. It's nearly noon, and the fatigue is making us sleepy. Coffee, tea and a sandwich is on the menu. This takes some time, but we've got to take care of ourselves at this point. A daylight finish, as we had originally planned, isn't going to happen.

The stretch of Hwy 1 between Fort Ross and Jenner is rugged and spectacular, with the road rising high above the ocean.
Now on to our next stop, the control in Bodega Bay at mile 107. We arrive in the mid afternoon, and again, the fatigue is bad, so we sit, and enjoy some home fried potatoes and more liquid. This is our last control of the day, and Kevin is there to take care of us.

While we were criticized by those following us for sitting down, at this point it was necessary to take a break.
At this point my butt is so sore, I can't sit for more than a minute or so, without excruciating pain. So we are constantly standing and sitting, even on the flats. The legs are also extremely sore, so each cycle of standing and sitting is so painful, the legs lock up, and the tandem wobbles down the road. Nothing dangerous, but we're starting to look a bit sloppy out there!


Hwy 1 before Pt. Reyes Station in the late afternoon.
From here we do the last bit of Hwy 1 to Pt. Reyes. I would say generally speaking the traffic along Hwy 1 was a bit annoying, and I don't think I would make a habit of riding on this road for long stretches. I do it occasionally, but usually in smaller doses, perhaps 10-20 miles. Today we've done 135 miles, and I can say I was glad to say goodbye to this lovely highway once we reached Pt. Reyes Station!

We stop in Nicassio for a potty break and to put on our evening gear, reflective vests, jacket, and we turn on the lights. The final stretch into San Francisco will be in darkness.

Second to last stop at Nicasio. On with the lights, windbreakers, and reflective vests, just before sundown.
We make one final stop in Fairfax for an Odwalla Smoothy, then forge ahead to SF. Time seems to stand still as we work our way across the scenic Golden Gate Bridge, with SF lights in the distance.

Although we figure we can make the finish from Fairfax without stopping, a cool Odwalla smoothy sounds awfully good.
We arrive at the finish in the good hands of Tim Mason and Deb Banks. It's 9:18 P.M. This 1000K ride has taken us 63 Hours and 18 minutes. We are the 5th bike in.

At the finish, finally. Now there's a happy pair!
As restaurants are closing, Sarah gets on the phone and orders some Thai food. I quickly jump in the shower, then head down on foot to pick up the food. I can barely walk.

At the finish, Marina Hotel. Clockwise from lower left, Craig Hicks, Sarah Schroer, Deb Banks, Jon Beckham, Tim Mason.
The Shasta Mountains 100K Brevet is done and dusted, and so are we. But we still have to get back on the bike, with our bags over our shoulders, and make our way to BART, and back to the East Bay. Then another short ride home. Craig Hicks joins us for the trip home.

This was an unbelievably hard ride. Major kudos to those who completed it, and I think there were perhaps a dozen and a half who did so. I will never forget the epic beauty of this ride, the ups and downs, both physically and emotionally. A big thanks to Eric Larsen and staff for having the vision for this ride, and taking the trouble to execute the vision. And a big thank you to the staff, without whom we may not have been able to finish in a timely manner.



2 comments:

Patrick Gordis said...

Awesome and entertaining write up, Paul! Thanks for stitching together the narrative and the photos so seamlessly. The rhetorical question you ponder below is a crucial one. I can never get past it to even contemplate an event 1/3 this length or difficulty. Props to you, Sarah, Craig Hicks and the other intrepid finishers. I can't pretend to understand what the motivation or appeal is for events like this, but I find it remarkable all the same!

"This is day 2 of the Shasta Mountain 1000K Brevet, and the plan for today is to ride 245 miles with a whopping 18,000' of climbing. At this point we are asking ourselves how we got here, and why are we doing this?"

nice thing said...
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