The San Francisco Randonneurs Mendocino Coast 600k brevet
“Hey,” says the older woman of the hippie-looking couple, “are you doing that crazy bike ride?”
It’s approaching midnight inside one of the only businesses open in Guerneville: MD Liquor & Food on Main Street. I’ve been awake for about 20 hours, and riding my bike for 18 of those. I’m the lycra-clad manifestation of the Hot Mess Express, looking so deranged that even the tweakers lurking outside the joint give me a wide berth.
“Uh… maybe. Which one?” I’m thinking lots of people do crazy bike rides around here. I happen to know a lot of them. But what kind of crazy does she mean?
“Well,” she says with a smile, “we were up near Cloverdale earlier today and some saw folks on bikes.”
Ah. Randonneur crazy. Yeah, she probably has my number today. “I think so. Headed back to San Francisco right now. Getting supplies here because I don’t know of any water til at least Point Reyes Station, and nothing open til Fairfax.”
Her male counterpart smiles too, “You riding straight through?”
“Alright!” the woman exclaims, “Ride on! Love and light, brother!” They exit. I finish switching out my dead lights for fresh ones, my bike propped against a lowboy freezer full of ice cream treats. I don’t think the clerk has the same enthusiasm for my presence as the hippies did, but I don’t care. It’s fucking cold outside and I left my jacket at camp like a dumbass, thinking I wouldn’t need it.
My mind goes back to the Fort Bragg Denny’s. Mile 185, the turnaround point, about 4pm. I’m outside jotting down the answer to the info control question on my brevet card when an elderly couple — normies, not hippies — strikes up a conversation. Must be the spandex. Or the beard. Or the aero road bike with strategically placed bike bags.
“How far are you riding today?” the woman asks.
“Oh, I just came from San Francisco.” Not gonna lie, that’s fun to say.
“Excuse me, what?! When did you leave?!”
Her eyes widen. “Today?!”
I nod. She’s littering the parking lot with verbal interrobangs and I’m here for it.
She cocks her head while her dude stands there, bemused. “How old are you?”
Didn’t anticipate that would be her next question. “I’ll be forty at the end of the month.”
“I’ve got kids older than you,” she harumphs, and turns on her heel, man in tow. “Have a safe drive… err, ride!” she calls over her shoulder as she makes her way to a small SUV.
“Thanks, you too.” At this point it’s not necessary to mention I’m also going to ride back from whence I came. Plus, she didn’t ask.
The day doesn’t start with blowing old folks’ minds. It starts with one of the Bay Area’s signature “below-the-beam” storms: strafing runs of sogginess that evade radar detection. So what a handful of weather widgets (yes I have multiple I reference for big days, don’t you?) predicted would be a 30-50% chance of 0.05 inches of rain over a couple hours turns out to be, on the day, 100% chance of substantially more rain for about 5 hours.
These are things that don’t really matter if you’re, say, inside, or only on a short ride. But it’s a hell of a way to start a 375 mile journey.
Luckily we have drop bags waiting at mile 225. I’d packed mine with a full change of kit, more food, a toothbrush and — perhaps most precious — my other road cycling shoes. But before then, my feet will be wet for a good 10 hours.
The first couple hours of the day I ride with two dudes from Portland, James and Mike. I’m pleasantly surprised to have some company. I’ve been foolishly chasing course records this year so my pace has resulted in a lot of “me time.” Having people to work with is a treat, however briefly.
Around mile 80, the sun starts coming out. It’s still raining, though, and the sun fights for another half hour before it finally wins. North of Healdsburg, the roads start to dry.
A little over 100 miles in, I stop at the Cloverdale 7-Eleven, oh thank heaven, for water, electrolytes, a banana, and a slice of pepperoni pizza that turns into two because the cashier upsells me for another 50 cents. I like to think he has my best interests at heart.
Outside I shovel food in my face while I strip off my rain jacket (already dry, thanks Goretex), wet leggings, shoe covers, and gloves. I lube my noisy chain with a mini bottle of Squirt. Presumably normal people walk in and out of the store doing presumably normal transactions while I manage my yard sale of food, fluids, and technical fabrics. 21 minutes later, I’m pedaling again.
Full belly and bottles isn’t the ideal state to tackle the biggest climb of the day — the hump of Highway 128 that then drops you into the Anderson Valley — but I’ve got pizza legs so I feel like that makes up for it.
Somewhere between Yorkville and Boonville I spot a rider and catch up to him. It’s James from earlier: he must’ve leapfrogged me during my leisurely lunch. I ask what happened to Mike and James tells me that his friend wasn’t having a good day and chose to pack it in. Fair enough. It was a rude start.
We work together really well, blasting through the Navarro River Redwoods, but I eventually lose him on a climb toward the coast. Low on supplies, I stop at a gas station just south of Noyo. He leapfrogs me again until we’re reunited (briefly) at the Fort Bragg Denny’s.
Mile 225: it’s not camp. It’s paradise.
I’m greeted by a man, Rob, who offers to clean and lube my chain. Another person, Tak, offers to get me a quesadilla. I feel like royalty as I grab my drop bag and start charging devices and changing clothes.
Now I’m eating a quesadilla. I’m wrapping my camp towel around my waist and doing the surfer-in-a-parking-lot change into fresh kit. I’m talking to lovely volunteers. I’m slurping cup noodles. I’m slathering on chamois cream and lactate buffer and mixing a powdered cocktail of caffeine, beet powder, and metabolic sugars into a bottle of apple juice. I’m brushing my teeth. I am a randonneur KFC Taco Bell next to a Pizza Hut.
41 minutes later I am pedaling. 11 minutes later than I meant to. But it was worth it.
I wanted to climb and descend Highway 128 back to Cloverdale while it was still light. I only partly manage the first. No ripping descents alone in the dark. Too high of a risk.
Blast through Cloverdale and toward Healdsburg. There’s a light tailwind which is a good goddamn thing because my power output is steadily dropping — along with the temperature.
I ponder dipping into the Healdsburg Carl’s Jr. but the dining room is closed. I pull up to the drive through on my bike but nobody talks to me for what seems like forever (but in reality was maybe 45 seconds) so I bone out. I’ll roll the dice and see what’s open in Guerneville.
You already know what happens in Guerneville. Hippies with uplifting words in a liquor store with just what I need to get home. Well, except a jacket. The average temperature for the next 5 hours is 36F, and I left my jacket at camp thinking it would be more like 45F. I know that all I can do is keep pedaling. The sooner I get home, the sooner I will be warm. There are no bailouts now. No vacancies. No service to call a car to come pluck me from the middle of nowhere.
I’m borderline shivering through Occidental. Tomales. Marshall. Point Reyes Fucking Station. I’m ticking these tiny towns off to the finish. Through the San Geronimo Valley to Fairfax, the gibbous moon is blocked by bone-chilling fog. IMHO San Anselmo is just a southern annex of Fairfax before the RossKentfieldLarkspurCorteMadera bourgeois blob. Mill Valley. Sausalito. The Golden Gate Bridge after-hours perp walk where you have to press a button to have the gate opened for you.
At 4:04am I sputter into Crissy Field East Beach, text the DORC (that’s Day Of Ride Contact for you normies) that I’ve finished, take a bleary-eyed selfie with the bridge in the background for proof, and pedal a few miles home.
I quietly let myself in, tell my wife I’ve returned, then crawl into the shower with a beer and sit for about 15 minutes, warming my body while thinking about my life choices. When that’s over I don sweatpants and fall asleep on the couch while trying to eat a bowl of leftover mac and cheese.
My first 600k — the longest ride I’ve ever done — is complete. I’m qualified for Paris-Brest-Paris.