PBP: The Recap (Part Deux)

Weeks ago, I started an account and left off when I got to discussing my strategy, which was no strategy at all: ride and see what happens. That’s an easy enough place to take up the thread:

Neutralized: At the start, riding hard is really out of the question. First, there’s the big pack of riders that you don’t want to tangle with; then, for the first 15 kilometers, a pace car leads the starting pack through the suburban streets leading out into the farms and pastureland to the west. In race parlance, the start is neutralized, so no one goes too crazy. That was good, because the way we all bunched up whenever anyone slowed was a little alarming. By the time we were turned loose to ride at whatever pace we pleased, our pack had strung itself out enough that I wasn’t worried too much about crowding and safety.

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Last Weekend’s Exercise

… and an explanation of the proprietor’s recent absence: I spent Saturday and Sunday on my bike, riding a 600-kilometer qualifying brevet for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris; that’s 375 miles, roughly evenly divided between a very rainy Saturday and a beautiful if cool spring Sunday. So: I’ve finished all four qualifiers for PBP, and all I need to do now is maintain my edge for another four months, book a trip to France, get there, ride 750 miles or so in four days in late August. … Wait — let’s just take one thing at a time.

More on the ride later. For now, I’ll flash back to the amateur weather prognostication I posted to a cycling group on Friday afternoon. Except for the guess about how long the showers would last Sunday — they were actually over with early in the day — it gives a pretty good idea of what we encountered:

Light rain is expected to spread across most of Mendocino County by

late morning, then [south] across Sonoma County and into Marin during the

afternon hours. The rain is expected to intensify as we travel north

and west. The area from Yorkville, on the high ridge along 128

northwest of Cloverdale, out to the coast is expected to get about

one-third of an inch of rain before 5 p.m., about three-fourths of an

inch between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., and another half-inch or so betweeen

11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday. After that, the rain will become showery,

and you can probably expect to encounter brief periods of

precipitation until late Sunday afternoon. Low temperatures are

expected to be in the upper 40s to about 50.

“The silver lining is that a southerly wind (meaning it’s coming from

the south) is expected to build throughout the day Saturday; after the

storm front crosses the coast late Saturday night, the wind is

forecast to gradually turn to the west, then the northwest.”

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Fleched Out


A random moment from the weekend bike ride (the Fleche Velocio), a stop at Moskowite Corner, a store and bar at the junction of Highway 121 (from Napa) and 128 (from Winters, and running out to the coast near Navarro in Mendocino County; the word “bait” is in big letters so people going to fish at Lake Berryessa can read it as they motor past). The store’s a convenient place to stop, but doesn’t always offer the friendliest reception to cyclists; I’ve been yelled at in the bar for daring to venture onto the local highways. No yelling on Saturday, though. Just a quick break, then back on the road to Calistoga and Healdsburg.

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This Weekend’s Exercise

It’s called a fleche; that’s pronounced “flesh” hereabouts and means “arrow” in French and it’s a kind of long-distance, 24-hour, Easter-weekend bike ride. Traditionally, it’s supposed to be a long (minimum 360 kilometers/225 miles) point-to-point ride (thus the term arrow) involving a small team (ours is five people) with a fixed destination. In our case, the goal is Kezar Stadium in San Francisco; that’s obviously not 360 kilometers away, so we’re doing a long boomerang route: up north and east to near the town of Winters in Yolo County, then north and west into the Napa Valley and the town of Calistoga; then even further north into the northern reaches of Sonoma County to Healdsburg. From there, we’ll wend our way south to Santa Rosa and Petaluma then down to the Golden Gate Bridge and Kezar. The ride is designed to go all through the day and night. We’re supposed to leave Berkeley in an hour and 20 minutes and reach the finish line at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Easter.

One of the extra challenges: today is decidedly on the gloomy, moist side. Not rainy, so far; just moist. So — we won’t be staying dry. I’ll report back on how wet it gets.

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On the Bike: Weather Edition

Tomorrow’s event, part two of the qualifying series for this August’s Paris-Brest-Paris exercise in transatlantic self-punishment, is a 300-kilometer ride. That’s 188 miles in universally recognized American distance units. We’ll start at the Golden Gate Bridge at 6 a.m., ride up through the interior valleys of Sonoma County to the town of Healdsburg, head out along the Russian River to the townlet of Jenner, then ride down the coast highway to Point Reyes Station, where we’ll swing inland to go back to the bridge (the foregoing provided for those who want to keep score at home). Based on past experience, this will be something I’ll be doing well into the evening.

The hard part is: rain. The sky is clear out there now. But for the past two or three days, the forecast has predicted rain and, for the return trip on the coast, headwinds. I’ve been meaning to write a little something on the blessing and curse of modern weather forecasting for the modern bicycle rider. By which I mean: The blessing is that the sort of forecasting that’s possible today, along with tools like Doppler radar and satellite water-vapor imagery, can give you a pretty clear idea of what you’re riding into and when; the curse is that you become the prisoner of a prospective and freely revised reality.

Weather forecasting is highly model driven, meaning that a bunch of unimaginably fast and powerful computers are applying sophisticated mathematical models to the wealth of weather data pouring in from all over the globe; when the machines finish their model-assisted number crunching, they spit out a picture of the way the world will look in 12 and 24 and 48 hours and so on. Then forecasters take these visions of the world as the models predict it and try to turn them into forecasts. Except: Sometimes the forecasters are confronted with two or three or six conflicting, or at least significantly varying, takes on what tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, ad infinitum, will look like. Then the humans have to do something that is a cross between highly educated guesswork and astrology: often, based on observations about which models have “verified” recently, they’ll make a prediction based on a compromise reading of models or just lean on the model that seems the most trustworthy in a given set of circumstances.

The curse, more specifically, is that we can all look at the developing forecasts, read the forecasters’ reasoning, even consult the raw data if we think we can handle that. Which means, in the end, we don’t get a minute’s rest thinking about whether it will rain, how much it will rain, how awful the headwinds will be out on the road. On balance, it seems like it would be simpler, and much more peaceful for the soul, to just look out the window before you get on your bike. But that would be much too simple and would fail to make the best use of our high-speed Net connections.

Time for bed now, right after I check the forecast and the radar again.

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The Wind

Saturday was the day of the San Francisco Randonneurs 400-kilometer brevet. That’s 250 miles in American Distance Units. Far enough that unless you’re very strong and very fast, you face the reality that you’re going to need to sit on your bike all day and a good part of the night to finish. Without going into all the particulars of the ride — the stuff that always lasts in my memory is the landscape, whatever the landscape happens to be — the dominating factor on the ride was the wind. A storm blew through early Friday, and Saturday was dry. But as often happens after a storm passes, the wind along the coast and in the Central Valley blows hard from the north or northwest. Our route included a 60-mile leg that turned out to be more or less straight into a fairly fierce post-storm breeze. It’s hard to describe how implacable a force it turns into when you realize you’ll be facing it for four or five or six hours or more. The best thing that the wind did, though, was encourage riders to group up — riding together offers some protection if you can organize a paceline to share the work of leading the pack. That happened rather spontaneously on Saturday, and I spent most of the ride with four or five other riders. And of course, the best thing about a headwind is that it becomes a tailwind if both you and it persist long enough. At sunset and during twilight on the way back to down the Sacramento Valley, we just bucketed along. Here’s a little report on the day’s chief meteorological feature that I wrote up for my fellow riders:

Poking around some National Weather Service data, I can’t find any data from along our route. But reports from the west-central Sacramento Valley and the foothills just to the west show sustained winds in the high teens to mid 20s (mph) most of the afternoon with gusts in the low to mid 30s. The National Weather Service wind speeds represent a two-minute average ending at the time indicated; the gust speed is the highest speed recorded during the two minutes.


–The recording station at Corning (Olive Capital of the World, 57 miles north of Williams) recorded a 23 mph wind from the northwest gusting to 35 at 1:50 p.m.

–At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, near Willows (Gateway to Elk Creek, 28 miles north of Williams), wind speeds were recorded at 21 or 22 mph, gusting from 30-32 mph, for every hour between 9:40 a.m. and 2:40 p.m.

–Further east in the Valley, winds were a little less extreme: Marysville (Where Yuba City Looks for Thrift-Store Bargains) had sustained winds up to 18 mph (1:50 p.m.) and gusts up to 28 (at 10:50 a.m. and 1:50 p.m.). Chico (They Have a Peet’s There Now) reported an 18 mph wind at 1:50 p.m. and gusts as high as 31 (2:50 p.m.)

–At Brooks (Gambling Mecca of All Yolo County), sustained wind speeds were lower, in the low to mid teens, but were gusting up to 26 mph.

–Thomes Creek, in the hills west of Orland (Home of the Famous Highway 32 Dog-leg Turn), had the same pattern, but with wind gusts up to 33 mph.

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Road Shots

Three pictures from the ride yesterday.

The first is at the ride sign-in, about 6:30 a.m. Todd Teachout, the guy on the left, organized the ride for the San Francisco Randonneurs; in formal randonneuring parlance, he’s the Regional Brevet Administrator. He registers the riders, makes up their brevet cards and hands them out at the start and collects them at the end of the day, and more: He needs to make up maps and route sheets and ensure the course is the required distance, that the road is actually rideable (flooding and slides during the pre-New Year’s storms affected parts of the route) and that the control points — the places riders need to check in along the way — are in order. Todd’s habit at the start of the ride is to park his pickup in the free, dirt parking lot west of the bridge toll plaza, fold down the tailgate and use it as a desk.


The middle shot is at the start, about 6:50 a.m., 10 minutes before the ride began. If you haven’t been to the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s a little plaza at the south end of the span and on the east side of U.S. 101. Among other objects of attention, there’s a gift shop and a statue of Joseph Strauss, putative genius behind the bridge. It’s a popular spot for cyclists to meet up early on weekend mornings. The little circular flower bed is the focal point for the pre-ride brevet gatherings: lots of milling around and greeting riding buddies and saying hi to folks you know from past brevets. As one of the guys I rode with in 2003 said, “What a bunch of recidivists.”

I stopped a couple times to take pictures along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, a long road that begins just outside San Quentin — yes, that San Quentin — and runs west all the way to the end of Point Reyes, about 42 road miles west. The storm was coming in squally showers, with short breaks between gusty bursts of rain. I took the third shot during one of the breaks. Didn’t take any more shots after this; it was too wet, for one thing, and after a certain point I didn’t feel much like stopping.

There and Back

Two hundred kilometers in the rain. It was even wetter than it sounds. Windy, too: Coming back across the Golden Gate Bridge just before dark, the towers were funneling wind downward; the turbulence was strong enough to nearly knock me down when I rode the little semicircle around the tower bases. The rain at that point was cold and driven nearly horizontally in off the ocean; it stung like sleet.

More later. I’d do it again. Just don’t ask me to saddle up tomorrow.

Cycling Forecast

I’ll stop later to consider why we really do this stuff — superficial analysis suggests it’s because it make great storytelling later — but the ride tomorrow is on (meaning: I’m riding; the event, with 75 riders signed up, would obviously go on without me).

In the meantime: No reprieve from the forecasters or their all powerful weather models. The probability of measurable precipitation in the area we’ll be riding in the morning is 90 percent. At some point, when those in charge of interpreting all the weather data realize their models are actually a reflection of reality, they seem to relax and shift their predictions from “chance of rain” or “rain likely” to “the hose will be on full force; don’t even think anything else can happen.” Besides the rain, which is an interesting element in which to ride, there will be wind. Maybe 30 or 40 mph gusts on the coast. Parts of the route, I know already, are going to be a slog.

Time to stop talking about it and go to bed so I can rest up a little for it.

Brevet Weather

Saturday is the first brevet of the year on the Bay Area randonneuring calendar. “Brevet” and “randonneuring” are French words that mean — well, they mean something about riding your bike a long way (I covered that ground last year about this time). Anyway, first brevet of the year: From the Golden Gate Bridge, north into Marin County and through a string of small towns: Sausalito, Mill Valley, Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo, Fairfax before riding up west into rolling country out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, 50-some miles from the start. Then the route returns to the mainland and heads north for a piece, then doubles back, eventually, to the bridge. It’s a 200-kilometer route — the shortest regular brevet distance — about 125 miles. I’m signed up and mostly ready to go.

Just one thing: Here’s what the local National Weather Service forecaster has to say about Saturday:


Well, the upside is that it’s only a bunch of supercomputerized mathematical weather models that say this is going to happen. They could always be wrong.

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