The DNF – Lemonade out of Lemons.

I rode a strong and happy randonee with San Francisco Randonneurs two weeks ago. Then, my spring break provided an opportunity to get out of town, clear my head, visit with far-away friends, and ride an exceptional course for the Russian River 300k.

Heading home, I had the Solana Beach 400K in my thoughts, but I hadn’t committed to it. The Healdsburg/Hopland 400K I rode last year felt great – probably one of the best rides I’ve ever had. But I didn’t commit to this year’s 400K until the day before. Since returning from San Francisco, time at home with my kids has seemed especially satisfying. Maybe it was the head-clearing function of a nice long randonee. But I had mixed feelings about signing up – until I jumped in at the last moment.

A 4am start would mean a typical 5 hr. per 100K pace would get me in before midnight – but it would also mean I’d be away all day, and likely sleeping most of Sunday. It also meant a very early morning – but I was ready. Unfortunately, when I showed up to the start right at 4am (I need to time driving distances better from our new neighborhood!), there was no one to be found. I circled the parking lot of the Solana Beach train station a few times, and eventually parked and walked around the area where the Corona 300K begins and ends. Then a sick feeling came over me – I just assumed this ride would start here – but upon shining a flashlight on my cue sheet, it became painfully clear that the start was a mile down the road at a Holiday Inn. I drove over, got my stuff out, and started 20 minutes behind. This was to be a very lonely 20-22 hour ride.

Yet, bombing down the coast before dawn was a blast. Riding up Mission Valley and Mission Gorge, up toward Alpine felt great. Then I started climbing out of Alpine toward Descanso. I felt OK. But I also wanted to be home with my kids. Maybe that’s why out-of-town rides result in more focused riding. Its hard to explain, but as I approached Descanso, the thought of a DNF popped into my head. Already 60 miles in – I could at least get a good 200k for the day and be home for dinner. But finishing the ride provides its own rewards, stretched over several days afterward.

I guess my head just wasn’t in it for this Saturday. My body felt fine, and could have pressed on. But I just didn’t want to – something that occurred to me even when I finally signed up. These rides are just the best thing – if one’s head is in for it. Mine wasn’t. So I called our RBA and turned around. Immediately, it felt like the right decision. I thought about dinner with my kids, a burbon before bed, a nice morning of newspaper-reading, and taking the family to mass before pancakes.

On the way down, I felt relieved. Maybe two weeks is not enough time to digest a ride and prepare for another. Maybe I should have finished that revise-and-resubmit before the ride to cast it from my thoughts. Maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t mentally prepared. Other things got in the way, and I felt like I made the right decision – especially as I began my descent back down into Alpine, stopping at the famous Alpine Brewery for a photo.

The winding descent vial Arnold Way and Harbison Canyon provided the smell of spring-chapparal and tactile thrills as the Ebisu carved the turns effortlessly. By the time I hit Dehesa Rd., familiar backcountry terrain pulled me homeward. Then at the Sycuan Resort, I saw some familiar faces from sdbikecommuter gathering in the parking lot – several friends among them. They were headed on a ride from North Park to the Alpine Brewery for lunch and to fill growlers. I told them about my morning travels and turn-around, and wished them a good time despite their invitations to join, as I was focused on riding back to Solana Beach to get my car. Then one of them – perhaps Jeff – said something to the effect of “you have a big chunk of the day already blocked off – come along!” That stuck in my head as we pedaled our separate ways.

About a quarter-mile later, I found myself turned around and trying to catch up. When I did, I couldn’t have been more happy, even though it meant climbing back into Alpine after *really* enjoying the descent. This just meant I’d be able to ride the descent again! I met some great folks, and enjoyed riding with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and had an excellent cask-conditioned ale with a pulled-pork sandwich. Some folks loaded up their panniers with freshly-filled growlers and we headed back. I split off to ride back home to La Mesa while they took a northern route through Mission Trails. They reminded me how much fun one can have on bikes with friends. I had about 120 miles on the day, which felt great. And when I was sitting at a long table at probably San Diego’s most exclusive brewery, enjoying the stories, ideas, and camaraderie of good people, I realized that this is what randonneuring – wandering – was all about. There will be another 400K, but I had a blast.

I rode home, took a shower, and held my kids in my arms while enjoying a beer. I looked at the clock – 4pm – and wondered where I’d be if I stuck with the course. Maybe close to Hemet? We drove up to Solana Beach for grub and grog at Pizza Port, then walked along the beach under moonlight before retrieving the car and heading home. It was a great day.



    • Esteban

      Haha – maybe I should just be more certain about my plans. It was a great day. Rain today, so I’ll just have to ponder it a while.

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