It Was a Dark and Stormy Populaire on my 51st Birthday!

Golden Gate Bridge at the start.
photo courtesy of Stephen Stalcup.

The San Francisco Randonneurs had their first 115k populaire of the season on March 31st, which just so happens to coincide with my 51st birthday. I thought that it would be a great way to spend my birthday. Rather than having sitting around having cake and blowing out candles, I would go out on a nice, leisurely 115K. Wouldn’t that be nice? This would also be my second  event with the SF Randonneurs on my Salsa Casseroll, so I was looking forward to that as well.

Umm… yeah…

So the weather reports were already looking ugly a week out, and as it got closer to the day of the ride, they didn’t get any better. The forecast was windy and stormy for most of the morning, and continued rain in the afternoon. Wind gusts predicted up to 50 mph.

I heard this and was determined still to go. Really, because I  checked the upcoming SF Randonneur  schedule, and due to volunteer commitments, this would be my only shot at a brevet , albeit a populaire, until July. My wife wasn’t happy that I planned on riding, but I assured her that I would be careful, there would be lots of other riders, I would check in/text every so often, etc.

Originally, there were 70+ people signed up. By the time I got to the start at the Strauss statue at the  Golden Gate Bridge, there were only 40, and I barely made it to the start on time. Mainly because I had parked about three miles away at the Crissy Field visit, and as I rode from my car to the base of the hill up to the bridge, only then realizing I had left my water bottles back at my car. Went all the way back, pedalling hard, grabbed my bottles, then rode as fast as I could to the start.

Rob Hawks giving us all the heads-up on the road conditions.
Photo courtesy of Manny Acosta.

I barely got there in time to hear Rob’s pre-ride talk. I noticed there were very few riders (later found to be  approximately 40). At this point, the weather was not bad. Cloudy, threatening rain, but maybe we might be lucky…

After promising not to do stupid stuff, we all started heading across the bridge. All was quite lovely, at least until we got mid-way through Sausalito.

The rain came pretty quickly. It started slowly, but within a few minutes picked up. It got dark, the wind picked up, but it still wasn’t too bad. I ended up alongside of Bubba and Manny along the Sausalito bike path. I admired Bubba’s new bike from Black Mountain cycles, and asked him if this mythical couch was all it was cracked up to be. He assured me it was…

Bubba and Ty on the way
Photo courtesy of Manny Acosta

We rode along together for a few miles. The rain started picking up. I asked about the path through Samuel P. Taylor Park and Bubba kindly offered to take me through.

Ty following Bubba, at least until the hill climb out of Sausalito…
Photo courtesy of Manny Acosta

Once we got the the first climb out of Sausalito, I quickly realized that was not to be, as I saw Bubba and Manny go up the hill with all due speed.  My knees are not up to the challenge. My goal on the steep climbs is to at least keep peddling. They ache too much for any decent speed on the climbs. On the flats, I can go at pretty good pace and maintain it quite a while. On climbs, not so much…

As a side note, I am going to Huckleberry Bikes for a long overdue bike fit next week, so perhaps that might take care of the problem.

Gradually more and more riders came up alongside, and then slowly but surely rode on past.  All in all, I was feeling good. The rain was now coming down pretty hard, and pretty much in buckets by the time I hit Kent. The wind was blowing very hard. Not sure exactly how hard, but after a pretty fun descent, I got in the downtown area, I saw a sandwich board sign next to a deli get picked up and fly straight toward me. It probably went 20 or 30 feet through the area. I thought, “I should try to get out of the way,” but as I was in the middle of that thought, the sandwich board sign flew right next to me, at most a foot away.

We kept going through the succession of nice little towns. The rain was coming down very hard at this point. I could feel the wind occasionally try to throw me to the side of the road when a particularly strong gust kicked in.

I got to Sir Francis Drake. As I got on the first climb, I started noticing a red-jacketed rider behind me. He was the only one that wasn’t passing me. I thought to myself, “That’s cool. Maybe some company for a while.”

As if sensing my thoughts, the rider yelled out, “Hey, I hope you don’t mind me following you. You and I seem to be moving at about the same speed. I was hoping you know where we are going.”

I replied that this was my third go through this route and I recognized most of the turns and he was more than welcome to ride along with me. We didn’t get around to introductions for a while after that, as we were in the middle of the climb, but I later found out that his name was Stephen and this was his first brevet.

I told him that I was by no means an expert myself. I had done one poplulaire, and two 200k’s. The first two being on my mountain bike.

For more on my first 200K click here.

Anyway, this was the first real climb out of town, and it was tough. The wind was blowing hard, the rain was pounding. At one point a large tree branch fell in our path. We were in no danger, but it was still a bit of a fright. I also had a major cramp in my left calf. It was so severe that I couldn’t pedal. It was exactly the same feeling as what I used to call a “Charley Horse” where your calf locks up in the middle of the night.

Already hurting, about to climb…
Photo courtesy of Stephen Stalcup

Anyway, I stretched it out as best I could, and was able to keep going. Stephen had passed me, and then looked back, surprised to see me so far back. As I caught up and explained what had happened, he offered to stop. I thought that was very nice of him, but I said I could continue.

My thought at the time was that it was probably due to me not eating. I had eaten on the way to the start, but that was three hours before. My cold hands made me decide to try to wait to Pt. Reyes Station. Dumb move, as I was later to discover as my calf tightened up and spasmed at least three more times before we got to the first control.

As we got near the summit, nature had a cruel trick in store for us that was to be repeated over and over for the rest of the ride. As we got close to the top, the wind increased dramatically. It was almost as if nature were putting it’s own roadblock in the way. The closer we got to the summit, the harder the wind forced against us.

After cresting the top, we started the descent down into Samuel Taylor Park. I’ve been though here twice before, and the road wasn’t great, but somehow it seemed even worse this time. I debated about taking path through the park. I hadn’t done it before, and I was pretty sure I knew where it was, but in light of the conditions, and since I had a new rider counting on me, I decided to just keep on the path.

By this point, I discovered that my 100% waterproof gloves with their seamless design, guaranteed to keep your hands completely dry were not so waterproof. Imagine that. Oh, and my Goretex trail running shoes, also waterproof…. not so much. So my feet and my hands were both sopping wet and freezing cold. Yep, fun stuff.

As I am trudging hard through the park, I hear a loud yell of “TY!” coming behind me. Who do I see but Captain Moonbeam himself, Jack Holmgren, looking very visible indeed with his Mavic vest. I also noticed he added some moonbeam patches to his riding pants. Blinky lights were very visible. I returned his greeting and  I was able to see him for quite a while as he rode past. Jack was also shepherding a new rider, who was also trying his first brevet.

After another pleasant climb and descent, we finally got into Pt. Reyes station for the first control. I spoke to my new riding buddy Stephen and recommended we try the Bovine Bakery,

Unidentified rider trying to warm-up at Bovine Bakery.
Photo courtesy of Manny Acosta

which I had yet to visit. When I had gone there the previous times, it had been jam-packed.  Well, it was worth the wait. The honey almond scone I got was the best scone I had ever tasted, and the coffee was phenomenal. Having soaking wet hands and feet probably helped.

While there, I ran into an old commuting friend from Caltrain named Benz. He was there with a couple of his friends, who were also there for their first brevet. One of them, Felicia, was visibly shaking from the cold and desperately trying to warm up with some hot soup. I felt bad for her. Clearly, she was not having a good time. It’s too bad mother nature had to act like this on a day when we are trying to get new people into the sport.

I filled out my brevet card, got my receipt and got ready to go. Stephen got going as well. Pulling those wet gloves back onto my hands was not pleasant, but as I did, I remembered that my wife Tanya had asked me to take some chemical hand warmers with me. I always thought they were a waste of space, but once I put them in my gloves, a feeling of “OH MY GOD!” came over me as my hands warmed up. It really saved me.

Stephen and I headed out of town and went towards Nicasio. We noticed we had another rider with us, and it was Kristen. She was another first-time rider. She rode with us for about an hour, and was very enthusiastic and cheerful. She even pulled duty for a while blocking the wind up front. I really appreciated it!

We got to the final control in Nicasio, where there already were some riders there, debating about how many windows were in the Guild hall. The consensus with us was four main windows, and one ticket window. I put that as an asterisk on my brevet card. I hope it was acceptable!

Eventually, we got to another climb and my old knees held me up again. She pulled ahead. She looked back, but I waved her on with the universal “We’re ok, you keep going” gesture.

The rain and wind were still going strong as we got to the last little section of Sir Francis Drake and descended back toward the succession of little towns.

Stephen and I kept going and I rarely had to check my cue sheet as it was all pretty familiar. Sure wasn’t the first time I came though last October. I must have gotten lost at least twice in each direction that time!

Finally, the rain started to let up, and I  remember passing a burger joint with probably 12 or so miles go and remarking to Stephen that the smell of that place was remarkable. He said it would probably taste phenomenal, but if we stopped it would be real hard to get moving again. I agreed, and reluctantly we kept moving.

We thought we had clean sailing, but as we started into Sausalito, Stephen got a flat. We stopped and he fixed it in pretty good time.

Shortly thereafter we hit the Sausalito bike trail and a headwind so intense that we might as well have been hill climbing. It was pretty tough. We go through it and then climbed out of Sausalito and hit the Golden Gate Bridge just as the sun came out. To all intents and purposes, it was a beautiful day. I was not expecting that view after the terrible weather we had so far.

Stephen Stalcup on the Golden Gate Bridge

The bridge was packed full of tourists and rental bikes and it was literally the hardest headwind I have ever encountered. It was like hitting a brick wall. After navigating that, we had it down to Crissy Field and rode the last couple of miles to the control.

As we pulled in, we were cheered by the volunteers and other riders that were still there. It was very gratifying and much appreciated. We checked in and turned in our brevet cards and then had some snack.

I saw Jack and Rob and said hello. Kristin was also there, looking tired but pleased and happy that she had pulled off a very big accomplishment. She and Stephen both indicated they would join RUSA and the SF Randonneurs, and I believe they both did.

Thus ended my 51st birthday brevet party! It felt a lot better than sitting around the house eating cake. With the conditions we had, this felt harder than the Two Rock 200K of a month before. Amazing how wind and weather can affect a ride…

Oh, and I did have cake when I got home. Plenty of it, in fact. But hey, I earned it!

Manny Acosta’s populaire photos:

Stephen Stalcup’s photos:

Leave a comment


  1. Hey Ty! Happy belated birthday! I tried looking for you at the finish line but I guess we just missed each other. That was a good picnic, especially with the instant noodles bit.

    Felicia got her boyfriend to pick her up. She was cold enough that her lips were a bit purple-blue, so I recommended that she stayed in the warmth of Bovine Bakery. But no worries though, as she was well enough to go for a ride the next day, doing our usual Woodside route (at a more leisurely perhaps) and enjoying the nice sunshine.

    Jenny (the other friend who was with me) was quite pleased to have completed the “epic” ride. She was quite smug at the end and I was very surprised that she signed up with RUSA. So all is not lost, despite Mother Nature’s best efforts! 🙂

  2. Dan

     /  April 7, 2012

    Awesome Ty! Sounds like a great bday!!!

  3. Stephen Stalcup

     /  April 8, 2012

    Great write up. Next time I won’t be such a wheel sucker! BTW I believe the first pic is one of mine and not Manny’s. No worries just wanted to point it out.

    • We were going the same speed, don’t even think that.

      You are right of course about the pic! That was yours. Sorry for the goof! Fixed.

      Hope to see you on a brevet soon!

  4. Ronzlo P. Lippschitz

     /  April 9, 2012

    Your story was written more or less adequately, but this “Ty” character isn’t sympathetic [to the reader] at all. You should embellish to make him more interesting.

    • Yes, he is a boring character, but I have to work with the materials available…

  5. Stephen Stalcup

     /  April 10, 2012

    I will be out when I can. We’re getting into the home stretch on the whole baby nonsense. =) I think I want to try a 200k next.

    • Excellent! Wishing you and your wife the best. Hope to see you on a 200K soon!

  6. Peter

     /  May 30, 2012

    Hello. I enjoy your story. This Sat I will be doing this 115K ride. This is will my first ride with this group. Do you have any tips/suggestions? I am slow hence am a bit concern about completing the ride in the allotted time.

    • I’m not fast either!

      The first thing is to not linger at the controls. If you have a timer on your watch, set it for 10 minutes. Get your brevet card signed, fill/drink some water, and get going. On the last populaire I ended up spending 45 mintues at Peet’s coffee by not paying attention to the time.

      Pace yourself. Don’t start out too hard. Keep a pace that you know you can maintain. I’ve done this populaire twice. There are some climbs, but they are not horrendous, and don’t go on too long.

      Eat regulary! The last thing you want to do is run out of energy. This happens to Tour De France Pros if they don’t pay attention. Eat a good breakfast, and then make sure you eat at least 100-200 calories every hour.

      Make some friends! There will be other people out there. Odds are, you will ride along somebody who rides your pace. If you get along, keep going! The mutual moral support can be great, and you can help each other by taking turns leading and drafting.

      Drink often! This can get you too. I make sure to carry two bottles, and I use nuun tablets in them to replace electrolytes.

      Bottom line, you should be fine. The time limits are not meant to strain your abilities. You just need to average approx 11 MPH, including stops. I have always made the finish, sometimes with only minutes to spare, but that is because I am reaaaaaaalyyyyyy slloooooowwww!

    • Stephen Stalcup

       /  May 31, 2012

      My suggestion mirrors Ty’s. Don’t stay too long at the controls. We did but it was pretty miserable out on the last ride. Also if you can try not to get flats while you have a bum knee. =) It really slows you down when you climb back to the Golden Gate bridge.

      On a more serious note, find a group of people that are going at your pace. It’s much easier to ride with people who are going at the same pace and you get some social activities out of it. It makes the hills much much more bearable.

      • Peter

         /  May 31, 2012

        Thank you to both for your suggestions. I will try to keep up with the last rider.

  7. Benz Ouyang

     /  May 31, 2012

    I’ll third Ty’s comments about lounging around at the controls. Time really flies when you’re stopped, chillin’ and chatting with (new) friends. I once stopped for what I felt were only a can of Coke, a bar plus a bathroom stop and was really surprised to see that I had in fact stopped for a good 20 minutes! I didn’t even felt like I chatted with anybody but time really flies!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: