Davis 300km Brevet, CA Felix Wong

The air was cool and crisp in the wee hours of the morning as I headed toward Davis in my yellow 1969 MGB with my beloved Cannondale proudly perched on top of my bicycle rack at the rear. The weather forecast of 2 days ago for Davis was encouraging: clear skies, no rain, with lows in the high 40’s. So of course my roadster’s top was down. Never mind that near Benicia and other points at other parts of the drive, a mist had been splattering the windshield and my wipers were needed for extended periods of time.

My entrance upon the Boy Scout Parking Lot was noted by a handful of other ultra-cyclists. “I saw you on the highway, and I said to myself, ‘man, that guy must be freezing,” one exclaimed. “trying to acclimate to this weather before you go riding in it, eh?” said another. There was a little bit of truth in both of these statements, moreso in the latter. It would not occur to me at all, however, that these were a sign of things to come.

The Ride

Miles 0-63

After the mass start of 7:00am, I started riding with one of the groups in the rear, chatting with a very friendly woman in her 50s from Berkeley named Tina. She thought she had seen me before, perhaps while riding the Three Bears area east of Berkeley? This was her first brevet this year, and just as I had for the 200km brevet, she had driven down the night before the ride and slept in her car in the Boy Scout Parking Lot. I liked her spirit. Apparently, it’s not just the crazy 20-something types like myself who sleep in their car for a long bicycling event.

Anyhow, here I was relaxed and content to be going at this group’s pace, which could be described as leisurely. I wanted to be more fresh later on in the ride than in the 200km brevet, where I rode rather non-conservatively from miles 20-63, so slow was fine. And conversation with Tina was enjoyable.

My spirits would be lowered, however, in what was to come about in a few moments which would later impact how I’d ride the rest of the brevets…

So at the front of the pack was a female rider, looking very relaxed, breaking the wind for everyone else. I had seen her before–in the 200km–and she was strong. But today she seemed to be taking it easy. It quickly became apparent why. “Carol,” chirped one of the other riders in this group. “Slow down.” I glanced at my cyclometer, and we were going *16 mph*. Surprised that this other rider (who was very much in the draft) thought that this speed was too fast, I continued talking with Tina, until this old guy behind me said in a most condescending tone to Carol, “yah, take it easy… we still have a long way to go,” as if 1) she didn’t already know this, or 2) Carol was incapable of pacing herself appropriately.

Mildly annoyed, I resumed conversation with Tina, only to moments later feel someone grab me with both hands. It was the condescending old guy. “Hey, keep a steady pace, will ya? You’re ‘screwing’ up everyone behind you,” Tina murmured, “whoops, my fault” (for talking with me), but here I am thinking, “No one said you have to draft behind if you don’t like the speed I am going, or the speed Carol who is breaking the wind for everyone is going, etc.” I was able to to exercise enough restraint, however, and just completely ignore the old man, as if he wasn’t there. Then, in the next few minutes, I finished the conversation with Tina, and moved up in the pack to the front. I broke the wind for the others for a couple of minutes to return the favor, and then sped up just a tad. No one bothered to follow.

From that point on, I resolved I would never draft or ride in a big group again, for the entire rest of the brevet series. It would be a promise I made to myself that I’d keep.

Riding solo, the world just seemed to open up. No longer was the view inhibited by other people’s butts. I was free to go at my own pace, with the breeze tussling through my hair. Solitude was once again with me, only to be occasionally interrupted by other riders in groups ahead or behind shouting (as opposed to running, cyclists riding in groups have to talk much louder to be heard.) Most of all, there was the satisfaction that I was pedaling the who distance under my own power, not feeding off of other’s. Sometimes, the whole drafting thing seems like such chickenshit.

I rode on for the next 40 miles reflecting upon this, occasionally passing some other solo riders, occasionally getting passed by pacelines, only to pass them all up anytime any sort of hill (short, non-steep, long, steep, whatever) came up. No drafting.

Miles 63-96

The first 63 miles were exactly the same as those in the 200km brevet. On this day I arrived at Pope Valley Grange Hall at 11:10am, a whole 30 minutes later than in the 200km, but was feeling a whole lot better.

Miles 63-96 would be a lot more challenging, having entered what I call the “Big Butts” area. First there is Butts Canyon Rd., which goes into Middletown. Here is where my thoughts completely changed, to current events: in particular, the war on Iraq.

Just 3 days ago, President Bush had made good on his largely illegal ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, threatening bombs and sending U.S. soldiers (several to their deaths, as inevitable in any war) if he and his immediate family did not leave, with the excuse of “he has weapons of mass destruction”, even though the U.N. inspectors had found a grand total of zero, and the inspection process seemed to be working. (Indeed, as I finish writing this ride report–in late May of 2003–the U.S. still has not found WMD despite having complete control of the country, and no WMD was used by the desperate regime in Iraq during the 3-week-long war. Not to mention, that the war was a complete rout and only lasted 3 weeks proved that Iraq was hardly had the capabilities to be the huge threat Bush made them out to be.) Regardless of some of the benefits of getting rid of the Iraqi dictator, this is not the way a civilized world should be solving problems, with the powerful almighty bullying a third war country, wreaking both destruction to a nation and getting Americans and Iraqis alike killed, or totally disregarding international law and just giving the rest of the world even more reasons to despise this country, feeding even more terrorism. Like the Dixie Chicks, I too was ashamed that the President was from Texas, or rather, for the U.S. for that matter.

Ironically, here in Middletown, were a pair of street signs which I found quite appropriate for the current state of events: “Bush” and “Wardlaw” streets. The latter could very well have read “Warlord” as far as I was concerned.

But here I was, rather helpless in the entire matter, and in fact out for a bicycle ride while thousands of others in the world had more pressing concerns: having no power or water in just-invaded Basra in Iraq, having inadequate food or medicine, or for many of the thousands of soldiers and civilians all over the world, any guarantees of even being alive in the next couple of days. The world is still an unstable, dangerous place, and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of guilt being in the land of the free and spoiled doing something as outrageous as biking 300 kilometers just for the fun of it while others in many third world countries (or even some of the homeless in the U.S.) can’t even afford a cheap bicycle for transportation. I resolved that as soon as all of my own selfish athletic pursuits were over this year, culminating in Paris-Brest-Paris, I’d take some of the abundant energy I used for training for giving more back to the community.

I digress. Back to the Big Butts area.

Big Canyon is the site of the most significant climb in the 300km brevet. I was quite familiar with it, having ridden it in the Davis Double–it ascending up to the highest point of the ride. Keeping with my resolution to ride conservatively to save energy for later in the ride, I kept at a steady pace, and several other riders caught up to me by then.

Soon enough (after actually maybe 10 or so miles), the major part of the climb came, with splendid views. Halfway up was a checkpoint, but I was instructed to keep on going another mile to the “information control” point. This point was demarked by a cone in which we had to stop, write down the “secret message” on our brevet card, and then head back down.

Buoyed by the splendid scenery, and feeling very good due to riding conservatively, here I powered up this last mile of the hill, passing many. It was Mile 93 or so, and I was very encouraged I was feeling so strong. “Still can turn it on when I want to,” I thought to myself…

And so I reached the info control, and wrote down the message, “DISCO LIVES”. I suppose it does in some circles…

I then turned around, and stopped for maybe 10-15 minutes at the checkpoint I had just passed on the way up. What I did not realize, though, that the fairly gone-as-planned part of the ride would also take a turn.

Miles 95 to Mile 162 (of the official route)

“Looks like it’s going to be an epic,” said the recumbent rider shown in this picture, as he passed me on the descent of Big Canyon.

He was clearly alluding to dark the rain clouds looming in the distance. It was still fairly warm, though, and completely dry, and I couldn’t help but feel that “epic” might be a little bit too strong of a word for what was coming.

Perhaps this is why I allowed myself to stop more often to take more pictures from this point on, including several of the pics in this photo gallery. Here is a photo of me with Canny in front of the infamous Hubcap Heaven Ranch, thinking “why can’t we all have peace in this world”… with the storm clouds still clearly looming.

Up back over Cardiac, and down to Pleasant Valley Rd., it still stayed dry, I was still feeling good, and everything was still going according to plan. This was Mile 160. Just 26 miles to go, with darkness on the way. Looks like I should be able to make it back to the finish in less than 2 hours, having to ride in darkness for about one hour, 1.5 hours, max.

Or so I thought. At Mile 160 I had to flip over my map. The first line on it was “Mile 161.6–Left on Putah Creek Rd. DO NOT MISS TURN.”

But, as you would know it… somehow I didn’t see this line, confusing it with the next line, which also said Putah Creek Rd., but at Mile 166.6. So… you see what happened… I missed the turn, and kept on going on Pleasant Valley Rd.

I was now perplexed, as I wasn’t remembering any of the scenery (except from the Knoxville Double, in which the many of the last miles of that ride are on Pleasant Valley Rd.. I esp. did not remember any of the smallish HILLS on this road, or a bridge. So I stopped a couple of more times to look at the map. Still, I only saw this “Mile 166.6”. I kept checking my cyclometer. Mile 165, 166, 167, 168. Where is Putah Creek Rd??

It was now pitch dark, and I was thoroughly confused, until finally… *click*. Stupid me, I had missed the turn 6 miles back.

Now demoralized that I had effectively added on 12 miles to the ride (since I had to retrace over those 6 miles to get back on course), and that I had also effectively lost an hour due to 1) going slow due to confusion and pitch darkness, and 2) stopping frequently to check the map due to confusion.

Finally I had gotten back on course, but not until 15 minutes *after* my Vistalight VL400 had already burned through its batteries. Whoops, I should have put fresh ones in. Things were really falling apart now. Riding almost blind, at the intersection of Putah Creek Rd. and Pleasants Valley, I then thought of something that allowed me to get another 45 minutes of burn time from this light: my 2 rechargeable AA batteries in my digital camera. I swapped the batteries (costing me yet another 10 minutes, as it’s hard to swap batteries in the dark), and then was back on the bike, catching up to some other riders. Ironic how ever since the morning I wanted to ride alone, and now, I was very happy to see some other cyclists around. Now truly there was just 24 miles to go. The adventure was far from over yet, though.

Miles 162 (or 174 after getting lost) to the End

Right after I joined up with another rider, it started raining. HARD.

“Hi, I’m Marty,” said the other rider I was now riding next to (even at this point, I was still refusing to draft). He was very friendly, and we would talk the entire way to the finish.

It turns out he was from Sacramento, though he had only moved there a few years ago. In fact, before that he had lived in Fremont. He asked where I worked, which I replied, “Lam Research.” Turns out his neighbor in Fremont was working there. Lam employs a couple thousand employees, so almost everytime someone says “I know such and such person at Lam, do you know him”, I’m like, “well, no…” However, Marty said, “his name is David Mayer, a CAD adminstrator.”

“No way,” I replied. “I know Dave… he’s cool. In fact, one Sunday he even came into the office to reboot my computer which had crashed on me… I felt really bad for having him come in, but he was really cool about it.”

Small world we live in. Here was a guy who lived 120 miles away in Sacramento, and we knew the same person. It was one of the several “small world” incidences I had during the first 4 months of 2003, including running into some guys I had met in Beijing, and running into my 1994-5 roommate from Stanford on Mission Peak. The world is truly small and global, making it even more important that our country isn’t isolationist, unilateral, or pisses numerous other regions of the world off.

Having this common connection with Marty warmed things up considerably between us, despite the driving rain. He was also a very amicable person to talk to, with good info. He had ridden Paris-Brest-Paris in 1999, which in his words, was “one of the highlights” of his entire life. Hopefully, it will be the same for me.

And so, at 9:30pm–or 14.5 hours after I started–we made it back to the bagel shop demarking the finish of this ride, just as I truly was starting to become cold. A good ride, despite the several setbacks at the end.

Aftermath and Lessons Learned

It would continue pouring the entire night, and there was no way I was going to drive back to Fremont right away. A more pressing issue, however, was that Goldie’s top was down, and her interior was only protected by the tonneau cover. These are incidences I really wish she had a folding top like Lina, which goes up in 10 or so seconds, In contrast, Goldie has a stowaway top, that takes 3-10 minutes to erect. In darkness, with rain, the time is more like 10 minutes, and you can imagine the interior got a little wet (not to mention myself) while attempting to do this. Fortunately, however, Tina–who had arrived at the finish at about the same time I had and was now in her car–turned her headlights on and stayed in the parking lot for another 5 minutes, totally lighting my way. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not (seeing how nice she seemed, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if she intentionally did leave them on for me), but in any case, thanks, Tina.

I woke up at 2:00am to drive back, only to make it as far as Pleasanton (still 30 minutes away from Fremont), as I was starting to doze off again. I promptly exited the highway, pulled off onto a residential street, and napped again, until about 5:00am. I hence arrived home at 5:30am.

During the drive I had lots to reflect upon: my “no-drafting” policy; my resolution to be much more community-service minded after Paris-Brest-Paris; war in other parts of the world. And the need for longer burning lights and not getting lost.

Ride Data

  • 186 + 12 off-course miles = 198
  • 7:00am mass start, 9:30pm finish— 14.5 hours
  • Average Speed: 14.6 mph moving, 13.7 mph overall
  • Max Speed: ~46 mph
  • Total Climbing: ~8,000 feet

Rating

(1=ho hum; 5=best)

  • Scenery: 2+. Not bad, but quite familiar.
  • Support/Organization: 2. Good organization but truly a no-frills ride emphasizing self-sufficiency. At least the registration fee is very low.
  • Food: 2.
  • Weather: 2. Great, until the rain hit me with 20 miles to go.
  • Relative Difficulty: 3. A harder course than the 200km route.
  • Overall Rating: 3.

Route Sheet(PDF)

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Mile 0, 6:45am: Gathering for a mass start, here is part of the small recumbent contingent.Mile 0, 6:30am: The morning was dry enough that Goldie, Canny and I arrived with the top down.Mile 5, 7:22am: On flat land to the west of Davis, this would be the last time I ride in a paceline formation all day.Mile 32, 9:06am: Yay for the hills!  Coming up: Cardiac.Mile 68, 11:30am: Flying by the Hubcap Ranch (a.k.a. Hubcap Heaven), a familiar sight along Pope Valley Road.Mile 93, 1:46pm: Last part of the most significant climb of the day: Big Canyon Road, with the peak at 2175 feet.Mile 94, 1:55pm: At the designated turnaround point on Big Canyon Road, we had to write down the "secret control phrase" on a Brevet card to prove we made it here.  The phrase was, "Disco lives"!Mile 96, 2:01pm: Rest stop at the Horse Barn.Mile 102, 2:30pm: Following the recumbent down Big Canyon, storm clouds were now evident all around.  "Looks like we're in for an epic," said the recumbent rider.Mile 105, 2:48pm: In Middleton, I spotted these signs: "Bush St." and "Wardlaw".  The latter would have more appropriately read "Warlord", as U.S. bombs just started dropping on Baghdad for questionable reasons a few days before.Mile 106, 2:51pm: Another sign! Butts Canyon Rd., part of what I called the "Big Butts" area.Mile 120, 3:58pm: Back at the Hubcap Ranch, Canny and I stop for a picture.  "Let's all have peace in the world," I was wishing.Mile 121, 4:01pm: Passing by the Pope Valley Winery, one of the several wineries we passed, including the Guenoc one.  Still 67 miles to go, with rain and darkness on the way!

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