Davis 400km Brevet, CA Felix Wong

The 2003 Davis 400k Brevet was the third out of four brevets I needed to do to gain entry into the historic bicycle race, Paris-Brest-Paris. Here’s a short report I emailed out to a few friends after the ride:

Well, I’m back from Davis. (I finished at 2:19am–or 20.3 hours after I started–and then I slept in my car until 6:30am, keeping with my new habit of waking up at 6:30!) The ride went really well until Mile 125. Then I went a little too hard on the first of a series of surprisingly tough climbs (I should have studied the elevation chart better… I thought there was just one major climb, so I went pretty hard on that one… and then came about 5 more “blips”…), and it took me about 40 miles to recover. Then the mounting bracket (the one I manufactured on Friday night) for my lights broke at Mile 175. Some mechanical engineer I turned out to be!! Luckily, it happened just 1 mile from the first store we passed by in about 50 miles, where I bought a roll of 3M packing tape. Then I wrapped gobs and gobs of packing tape around my lights to my handlebar… see attached picture of this.

That wasn’t the end, though (not even close!). So then it got dark… and extremely cold. I’m glad I brought my beanie cap, lobster gloves and an extra jersey (I almost didn’t), but my feet were still freezing. At the last checkpoint (Mile 208) I had the clarity of mind (barely, as I was starting to fall asleep) to take some sandwich bags, tear off the zip-lock portion of them, and put them around my socks and sandwich (ha ha) them in my shoes. That turned out to be a pretty good idea as my feet went from frigid to merely very cold during the last 42 miles after that.

However, the night went from very cold to extremely cold. I could only muster about 13mph not only due to reduced visibility (my new LED lights were really impressive, but it’s not quite like having a sun out!), but because everytime I went faster, I would get so cold I would start to shiver. The scary part is it could have been far worse. It could have rained, and then I would have died.

Ultra-cycling is hard.

Additional Notes

Well, the email excerpt from above summarized the ride pretty well, so I will leave it. Saves me some time from writing a full-fledged report.

But here are some additional comments:

  • As I mentioned, the Cateye VL400 5-LED light was awesome. It was very bright– almost as bright as my heavy (2 lb) dual-beam Cygolight that only has a 2.5 hour burn time–is much lighter, using only 4 AA batteries instead of a lead-acid battery, and due to efficiency of LEDs, has a 15 hour burn time. After using this light in the 600km brevet with similar success, I decided to sell my Cygolights on Ebay.
  • About the custom bracket I manufactured for the Cateye light: in general, I hate having anything mounted to my handlebars, because I frequently have my hands on the top of them for climbing or getting into a very tight aerodynamic tuck (with hands next to the stem). So, instead of using the stock plastic handlebar bracket, I manufactured a zinc bracket for the lights–similar to the custom bracket I successfully used for the Cygolight in the past–the day before the ride. This bracket mounted to the stem bolt and a hole I tapped in the bottom of the Cateye light. However, due to the weight of the light (it is lightweight, but still weighs something), and the way I mounted the light, there was a rather significant moment/stress exerted at the bend of my bracket. After 175 miles of flexion and vibration, the bracket finally developed a stress fracture, which fortunately I was able to catch in time before my bracket broke completely, and my light fell off of my bike, possibly getting lost or shattered. That I caught this just as I was coming into Calistoga, just one mile from the first store we were to pass in several hours, was a complete stroke of luck.
  • The day before the ride I had also mounted a small Maglight penlight to my helmet. I’m not sure how long this light lasts, but my feeling is probably somewhere from 2-6 hours on the AAA batteries it uses. It was very handy for reading my map and cyclometer (the latter being important so I could compare how many miles I had ridden with the map). I was inspired to mount this light after misreading the map in the 300km brevet and subsequently getting lost. For the 600km brevet, just 2 weeks later, I invested in a brighter and lighter PrincetonTec Aurora that used 3 LEDs and 2 AAA batteries (that nevertheless has a 25-hour burn time on high-powered mode) instead of this penlight. For ultradistances I highly recommend having a helmet-mounted light in addition to having a handlebar-mounted light for the aforementioned reasons.
  • We were blessed by dry weather on this ride, but the night (particularly, the last 50 miles, or 4 hours of riding) was truly the coldest ride I have ever done since the 1999 Davis 200km Brevet, in which it poured during most of the ride. In fact, I was even colder than during the 2002 Heartbreak Double! This was the most miserable I had been during all of the brevets… being frigid late in darkness. I’d learn from those moments that keeping warm was far more important than being aerodynamic (esp. since cold air was the limiting factor of my speed–if I went much faster than 13 mph, I’d be unbearably uncomfortable–and at 13 mph, aerodynamics hardly comes into play!)–which made me resolve for the 600km, I’d bring a whole more more clothing to ensure I stayed warm, even if meant more weight and bulk.
  • This ride held the record for the longest ride I’ve ever done (previous record: 206 miles in the 1999 Devil Mountain Double), but just for 2 weeks! The 600km Davis Brevet easily eclipsed this by >124 miles!

Ride Data

  • 251 miles
  • 6:00am mass start, 2:00am Sunday finish— 20.3 hours
  • Average Speed: 13.8 mph moving, 12.4 mph overall
  • Max Speed: ~38 mph
  • Total Climbing: ~15,000 feet

Rating

(1=ho hum; 5=best)

  • Scenery: 4. Napa Valley is always lovely…
  • 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 it got dark and extremely chilly.
  • Relative Difficulty: 3. Climbs leading to Cloverdale were the main challenge.
  • Overall Rating: 3.

Route Sheet (PDF)

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Mile 4, 6:18am: All alone, having started after everyone else by a few minutes, I head towards a brightening horizon punctuated by a mystical moon.Mile 34, 8:20am: Finally, some hills: near Solano Lake, on the way to Cardiac (the climb).Mile 63, 10:28am: Passing through vineyards on the historic Silverado Trail, on the way to Calistoga.Mile 70, 11:09am: I took this picture as I left the first checkpoint, in Calistoga.  Looking back, 70 miles is a long way between checkpoints! Mile 88, 12:28pm: One of the several impressive homes in Sonoma (I think) County.Mile 126, 3:11pm: Woohoo!  Midway point in Cloverdale.  Here's me, still smiling.Mile 174, 7:39pm: At Mile 173 the bracket I fabricated for my lights was about to snap in half! Fortunately, there was a Mexican market nearby in Calistoga, where I bought some packaging tape for reinforcements.Mile 198, 9:29pm: By Mile 176 the bracket had broken completely, so I ended up crudely taping the lights to my handlebars.  Hey, whatever works.  Still >50 miles to go!

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