Monday, October 5, 2009

The Long And Winding Road

I am a city cyclist. I ride an upright, city bike. I wear city clothes.

Me in my normal habitat.

City streets are my paths and I share them with city drivers. Recreational riding is not a part of my regular life and until this week, I have not, since college, owned a bike you could easily put on a car rack. My usual ride? Café to grocery shopping to preschool to dry cleaner.... So when my husband told me about the San Francisco Randonneurs' Fall Populaire ride, I was initially disinterested. Riding all day just to see how far I can go does not appeal to my taste, nor does riding for 24 hours in a row! When he said it was a shorter ride than they usually do, just 71 miles, and not going over Mt. Tam, I found myself listening. There were enough parts and a great Raleigh frame in the garage to make me a sturdy touring bike for the ride and James and I are always looking for things to do together.

In three days, Hubbie the Bike Man put together a touring bike for me with an early 80's Raleigh Pursuit steel frame as its base (and may I say, it ROCKS!).

The Hasselhoff knows where to wait.

The fact that I was going to be riding on drops was a bit frightening for me. I have many physical injuries that make riding problematic- Spinal injuries (at C3 & 7, T4, L4-5), partial paralysis in both my arms, damaged sternocostal joints, recent wrist surgery and 4 surgeries on my right knee that have left my right quads visibly smaller and weaker than my left. It has taken years to regain the strength and co-ordination necessary to ride on the level that I do everyday, and the key has been riding upright, not on drops. Amazingly, by the end of the ride, my only pain was in my neck and I know that at least half of that was caused by my helmet. I was so surprised.

The day of the ride came (the key to getting me to do it? Don't give me time to think about it too much) and James and I met up with Meli and our friends Eric and Sean at the Golden Gate Bridge with the rest of the brevet riders (it was the last time we saw them : )

Instructions. Way too early for instructions.

Our first challenge was getting to the top of the hill just north of Fairfax. When I drive up that mountain, I always look at the cyclists puffing up to the top and find myself greatfull that I am not one of them. Not today! The guys all scooted up to the top. Meli and me? We were less speedy, and I know for certain that I was less graceful! There were several stops made on the way up, but we didn't have to push (a claim I can not make on other hills) and Eric had grapes waiting for us at the top.

Top o' the hill (#1)

We took the Cross Marin Trail through Samuel P. Taylor park. 3 road touring bikes and a 40 year old mixte on gravel- no wipeouts, no flats!

Cross Marin conversations.

We glided into Point Reyes around 1:30 PM and fell to finding lunch immediately. I'll let Meli tell you where she headed first (although you can probably guess : ). A little food and a few minutes out of the saddle and we were all good to go (after a bathroom stop).

We are a happy crew!

From Point Reyes we headed toward Nicasio to ride around the reservoir (there is still water in it!). Yet another climb, but this was right after lunch so we were good. I was talking to Eric as we rode along, and didn't notice we had lost Meli. I decided to stop and wait for her because I did not see her behind us, which meant she was pretty far back. When she caught up a few minutes later it turned out she had been stung by a bee!

Meli gets stung and I take pictures!

The bike gods must love us because this was our only disaster of the day. No flats, no injuries, no bad moods- just a great ride! The ride back toward San Francisco was challenging because we were getting tired and we were way behind the rest of the riders. By the time we hit the Golden Gate Bridge, the wind was literally howling through the girders and all of us got thrown off our bikes or completely stopped in our tracks by the wind coming around the towers!!

OMG! Windy!

We did not make a single check point on time and arrived back in San Francisco 3 hours after everyone else! We were the definition of DFL!! We could not have been more pleased!

Team DFL? Team Caboose? We need a name!

We may be slow, we may come in last, we may be the "lanterne rouge" but we ROCK! I have always thought that a ride that long was beyond me, that I could never make the hills. Bicycling has shown me two things- I am way stronger, physically, than I knew and that the best people out there are on bicycles! Because of this, I was smiling at the beginning,

8:30 AM & I am wearing a helmet!

and I was still smiling 74 miles and 10 hours later!

6:30 PM Still smiling, still wearing the damn helmet : )

Don't think you could do this? Try! You have nothing to lose! Meli's version of the ride coming soon!


  1. bravo! great post and job well done, especially given all the injuries/surgeries sustained!!

  2. this post makes me smile. most likely ad infinitum.

  3. This is so awesome! Glad that you were able to ride comfortable despite your mentioned injuries - I still get back pain.


  4. What a great little ride report. Beats the shit out of all those "My average speed" versions out there. A true "My Personal Best" story.

    Meli's "Jersey" ROCKS.

    ". . .an early 80's Raleigh Pursuit steel frame as its base . . . it ROCKS!)."

    There really is a reason they make 'em like that. The "road" bike represents decades of empirical experience in creating a bike that Optimizes Discomfort. The key to traveling long distances on a bicycle in RELATIVE comfort is to acknowledge and accept that you simply aren't going to be comfortable in any armchair sort of way (not even in an armchair) and to find the best compromise covering all conditions.

    ". . .my only pain was in my neck and I know that at least half of that was caused by my helmet."

    Well, maybe a quarter. Raise your bars unfashionably level with your seat, or maybe an inch higher even, and you'll knock off another quarter (partly through position and partly through being able to hold your neck straighter and still see past the helmet overhang). You'll probably find you use the drops more that way too. I find that Nitto Noodle bars work exactly as claimed. I still use a classic bend on my "Go Fast" bike, but every drop bar bike for "Just Ridin'" gets Noodles (disclosure: The only thing Riv/Grant has ever given me for free is a bar of soap. It's still in the box so I don't know if its any good).

    ". . .the wind was literally howling through the girders . . ."

    Non riders always ask, "How do you handle the hills?" Screw the hills, they're a piece of cake. WIND is The Evil One (It is always against you. There is no such thing as a tailwind. You're just having a good day).

    "We may be slow, we may come in last, we may be the "lanterne rouge" but we ROCK!"

    This attitude may also be a bit unfashionable, but it is the very attitude that makes the sort of touring cyclist who can ride around the world and exclaim, "No biggie."

    "We need a name!"

    It was the sacred duty of the Dog Soldiers never to leave camp until everyone else was underway and protect the rear of the column.

    "Don't think you could do this? Try! You have nothing to lose!"

    Except for your preconception that it takes a superhuman. For some reason some people find that an intolerable thing to give up. I've never really understood the idea of rejecting competence.

    And after this ride the idea of tackling "The Big One" ought to be free of the intimidation factor; you've already almost done it. After that you'll know there are no limits (other than having enough Good Will Items (i.e.; bribes) to distribute. The biggest impediment to riding around the world isn't physical; it's political).

    You go, women. Looking forward to Meli's version of the tale.

  5. KUDOS !! You guys are champs. Too bad about Meli's
    bee sting. Somethings you just can't plan for.
    Jon C

  6. I love it. I feel so inspired and happy reading this post. I am also so impressed that you took pictures while riding with drops. That is amazing!

    You guys Rock!

  7. You guys rock! I said good morning to you and your hubby on the bridge at the start of the ride. I had never done anything like that before and didn't know what to expect. I was hoping to ride with your crew some, but my crew was up ahead and I didn't want them to leave me behind. Needless to say, the three of us didn't really see anyone else on the ride except for at the controls: we'd be pulling in and they would be leaving, haha!

    I waited at the finish for you all for a little over an hour. Then, Sterling called and got word that you all were okay and still enroute. I was too cold and too in need of beers, so I took off.

    Again, everyone was stoked that you guys were still riding! GREAT job! I never thought of myself as a road rider (still don't), but it was fun seeing the country. It's like hiking but your range is so much greater!

    Til next time,

  8. chandra, andy, kimberly, cali, caryl & simon- Thank you!

    KFG- Meli seems to always lead the way in the looking good catagory! I wanted Noodle bars for this bike, but there just wasn't time. Maybe in the future.

    mamavee- I was so frustrated with my decreased ability to shoot on this ride! I missed so many shots!!!!

    Lee- the only thing lacking from this ride, for me, was that we didn't get to hang out with everyone else at the end! That would have been perfect!

  9. Love it! You guys make randonneuring look like such fun! It's something I've really wanted to try, but I get the sense that all the rando events in these parts are primarily catered toward paunchy 55 year old dudes in lycra who ride $$$$ titanium bikes.

    I'd definitely try it for sure if I had a gang as chill as you guys to experiment with.

  10. opp- you down with opp? yeah you know me! (sorry, couldn't resist!)

    If there was ever a group that stood out like a sore thumb, it was our motley group at this ride- no real gear, a decades old 10 speed mixte and a woman in a dress! No one, no one, gave us stink eye or attitude or even a hint of it. Look at Lee's comment above- they were pulling for us! There was plenty of neon lycra to be had, and plenty of people who are really into this kind of riding, but that was what made it great! A new world to explore with people who look at riding in a different way than I do. Maybe some of them scoffed at us inwardly, but in the end, we proved we had a place in that world (last place!: )

    So, I say, go for it! You never know who you will meet! If I hadn't gone out on a limb, I would never have met Eric (who rode with us) and he is the one who got me started on longer rides like this. He is one of the best ride partners out there and his friends are just as lovely (they are all in their 50's but their gear is vintage and wool : )

  11. That's awesome! Excellent post. I really like the old Raleigh.

  12. Nice! Sounds like it was a total blast. Next time, the "caboose" needs to make arrangements with the rest of the train for a place to meet up after!

  13. RTP- that bike is sweet! It needs some minor modifications that we just didn't have time for (a slightly taller stem would be nice, a dérailleur that can handle a much larger cog wheel than was originally on the bike, a black seat so Hubby the Bike Man can have the seat from his folder back...: ) but it was fantastic to ride as is.

    Mark- We were so behind, we missed the end of ride BBQ : ( Next time!

  14. "a slightly taller stem would be nice"

    Ahhhhhhh, I thought that might have been the issue; and whenever I look at a "classic" seatpost these days I can't help but have an instinctive bit of wondering where the rest of it went to.

    "Bike Man can have the seat from his folder back"

    Phbbbbbbbt! Leaving the post off just makes it fold quicker. It's a "feature."

  15. Nice story! I was so amazed to see you guys at the start, especially mixte lady. You had a right attitude. It's not about times, it's about fun! If you find that competitive spirit, check out Rando Escargots ;) Thanks for coming.

    One of those randons

  16. Adrienne - well I was mainly referring to Team Caboose, but I think you're definitely right. However, I think it's probably easier to get in there and hold your own in an unfamiliar situation with a gang of friends. Maybe I should start trying to sell my bike buds on rando...

  17. ♥thanks everybody! we highly appreciate your support and stopping by!!

    mixte lady, I kinda like that ;)