Bleary eyed and exhausted from a glut of tasks both completed and undone at home and work (grading, writing, taxes, travel plans), I drove north to subject myself to even more exhaustion. On this short trip to the Bay Area, I would ride more than any other activity, including sleep. I left at 4am and made it up to the city by noon, and had a remarkable bike-centric afternoon: saw people at Box Dog and spoke with Gabe E. about the ride, made it over to Jitensha Studio to welcome Hiroshi back from Japan, and then stopped in and saw friends at Rivendell finishing up a barbecue. After dinner with family, I didn’t make it to bed until 11:30, with a 4am wake up looming.
The Hopland 400K had been dancing around in my thoughts since Gabe first planted the seed in a conversation during last summer’s Populaire. I’ve ridden a couple of 200s with the club, but nothing with the climbing that is typical of 200s and 300s I’ve ridden down here in San Diego County. The Hopland 400K would not disappoint in that regard.
In a classic non-local blunder, I underestimated the commute from Martinez to the Strauss Statue. I arrived about 5 minutes after the group departed, which is always a poor way to start a long day. I took my oath, picked up my card, and headed off – only to remember that I left my wallet in the car half way across the bridge. Now I was at least 15 minutes behind, and while I know the route to Nicasio Valley Road very well, I wanted to catch other randonneurs to get some guidance through the course. I hustled and encountered other riders up Camino Alto, and by the time I made it to Whites Hill, there were plenty of people and relief set upon me. I rode for a while with Tom, and it was great to see him charging along on the Atlantis. I saw Franck and his crew on the side of the road and said hi, Then I found Clayton on his new Boulder and we caught a pretty fast group trough Two Rock and Valley Ford. The first control at the Bodega Country Store was a full 63 miles in, so the clam chowder really hit the spot.
I took off for the next 17-mile stretch out to Guerneville, but had no idea of the huge slap in the face that Joy Rd. would become. That road is just fantastic – and amazing in its steep relentlessness. I just kept laughing as I wended around bends only to see more and more ribbon of road rising skyward. I wasn’t long, but it was steep. Afterward, the course crossed the Russian River, and passages from one of my favorite novels, Drop City, flashed in my head. I arrived at the Safeway in Guerneville in no time to find a large group of strong riders getting ready to leave.
In the Safeway, the deli was slow and frustrating. The next 17 miles – from mile 80 to 97, would constitute my grumpy stretch. Nothing felt right, and I longed for the left turn at West Dry Creek Rd. My mind played a trick on me, as I turned left on what I later discovered was “Mill Creek Rd.” I somehow ignored the “No Outlet” sign halfway up the first hill, and proceed up a 6 mile climb. I found a bearded local who finally told me what I secretly knew for most of the way up – that this was the wrong road. So, an hour and 12 mile detour “enhanced” my 400K! Making it back on track, I saw Tom and Ian heading in toward Cloverdale, and Ian and I traded pulls for a while on our way to the SR-128/Mountain House Road climb, where the rhythm of the climbing finally helped me find a center and get composure after the detour. Between the Hopland control and the info control, I joined 5 other riders who pulled me along the 101 and three of us – Michael, Tim, and myself formed a train all the way to Petaluma. Tim with the dimmest lights was in the middle, Michael the local lead the way, and I had good visibility at the back, and kind of struggled to hang on back there. A the Petaluma Safeway, which was deserted and the deli section empty, Tim and I headed out together, but soon he was off and I was alone on the big climb out of Petaluma and on the lonely Pt. Reyes-Petaluma and Nicasio Valley roads. Perhaps only two cars passed me on a 20-mile stretch.
My biggest concern I had was making it to the bridge before 5am, when a fitness event would cause the bridge to close and later finishing randonneurs would have to take a shuttle. I did not want to do that! So, I hustled along the familiar route from Sir Frances Drake – with three dancing taillights appearing occasionally in the distance ahead. I knew it was Franck and his crew. I caught them in San Anselmo, and we rode mostly together to the last control. It was great to see them, and to have some company on the last stretch.
I finished 22:20. Enjoyed it very much for my first 400K! Its difficult to describe my exhaustion – like nothing I’ve ever experienced. But as I type, I can’t wait to do it again…