Author: Robert Pinapple
Sixty-nine hardy souls completed the most epic SFR Hopland 400k brevet ever. Here follows my humble account.
In the days preceding the event the talk of the SFR goolge mailing list was all abuz with the forecast and how to deal with riding in the rain. Many registrants were anxious no doubt. What to wear? How to stay warm? Which tires? Why even start the ride?
Perci and I decided to ride together to the start. We arrived with plenty of time to get ourselves sorted and checked in. No rain yet thank goodness. No troubles with the bike inspection. The whole procedure was orderly and efficient. A young man wearing street clothes stood about looking like a redundant start control volunteer but as it turns out he was simply offering hot coffee to groggy randonneurs compliments of Box Dog Bikes. He had spare tubes and a few other goodies, too. Right on, mate.
We had a few minutes to greet friends and check out the assortment of cycles before receiving the pre-ride instructions and taking the famous SFR oath. And then we were off.
The bridge crossing and the first few miles were uneventful, like so many other SFR brevets. Perci was off the front with the lead group. I wouldn’t see her again until after the ride.
Just before we encountered the Camino Alto climb it started to rain. It fell gently at first and quickly intensified. Some riders stopped to pull on rain gear. The tarmac on the descent into Corte Madera was wet with alternating dry patches under tree foliage. I cautiously tested the function of the brakes. One rider passed.
By Larkspur it was pissing down steadily. I stopped to pull on my waxed cotton rain cape and continued the ride alone. I began to have flashbacks of Paris-Brest-Paris editions 1989 and 2007.
Somewhere around Chileno Valley Road I joined up with a small group. We pedaled under heavy rain without speaking.
Finally we reached the village of Valley Ford where we were greeted by cheering spectators lining both sides of the road. The annual SFR 400k brevet is the biggest thing to come to Valley Ford since Christo and Jeanne-Claude brought the Running Fence to town in 1976. The locals really get into the event and this year the rain hardly seemed to dampen their enthusiasm. We were supported with shouts of encouragement coming from underneath soaked umbrellas and hoods. People leaned out of open windows, smiling. Kids held out a hand for passing riders. Motorist gave a friendly toot of the horn. It was a much needed morale boost which made the big “roller” climbs on Highway 1 just a bit more bearable.
As usual Alfred Hitchcock was there to greet riders at the first control in Bodega. Many riders were busily taking in calories in the form of pizza, chowder and other goodies. As for myself it was an efficient if antisocial control. In the face of the infamous Joy Road climb I declined to consume any solid food, making do instead with a sip from a bottle of hot posset.
One tandem team braved the inclement weather. Sticking on their wheel was the objective for the faster riders. I briefly glimpsed the tandemistes before they departed Bodega without ever seeing them again.
Thank goodness the Claud Butler Cresta is outfitted with a gear sufficiently low to get my sack of bones over Joy Road. What a beast of a climb!
The rain stopped around this time, although the skies remained gray and the roads damp. In spite of 4 or 5 hours of heavy downpour most riders seemed to be in good spirits. It’s always fun to see the rain gear on display, including mud guards and flaps, capes and shower bonnets.
Like I said at the beginning, epic.
Many riders were surprised to see a RAAM support van parked in front of Safeway in Guerneville. Whether or not you think it’s fair play, the RUSA rules allow for support as long as it’s provided only at the controls. Indeed we would later see the van at Safeway in Petaluma on the return.
Three rode recumbent cycles. I witnessed them pull out from the Guerneville control in unison. They all wore matching RUSA jerseys.
Carrots littered the tarmac here and there along Westside Road. It was a mystery until I caught up with the source: two randos fueling their ride with nothing but carrots and water. Apparently they had turned into vegans after becoming ill from consuming a bad batch of Jane Hiney’s Hot Pockets earlier in the season.
Cloverdale is not an official control but most riders stop here at the south end of town to fuel up for the big climb up Hwy 128 to Mountain House. On offer is fare from Starbucks, a mini-mart and fast food joints. I chose Starbucks for the quality of their comfy chairs, one of which miraculously bore the image of the SFR logo (backwards). It was amazing! I felt obligated to stay there and meditate in its presence but on the other hand really had to keep moving.
The Petaluma Denny’s restaurant is another traditional yet unofficial stop. Many riders like to stop here for a hot meal and a nap in a comfy booth. This year was no exception. The fantastic part was the rain we encountered leaving the place. Starlight rain! That is, rain pouring down in buckets from a sky full of stars. Bizzare, bizzare.
Checking into the Petaluma Safeway was a brief formality. Our small group wanted to keep moving to stay warm so we didn’t linger. One member perhaps should have stayed back for rest, as he eventually bonked big time on the climb out of town.
If you’re going to hallucinate on the 400k it will probably happen somewhere in the vicinity of Nicasio. Way after midnight and sometime before dawn we encountered this character on the side of the road and stopped to see what he was about. He was happy to see us. It was as if he’d been waiting for us to arrive. He chatted endlessly about something or another. I swear he was speaking French but then again maybe I really was hallucinating.
All’s well that ends well.