Oroville to Taylorsville

The Steady Grind Mile
103.1 to Mile 194.6

From Oroville, the route turns northeast into the hills. It starts with a rolling 7-mile stretch to get to Interstate 70, climbs to Oroville Dam, then climbs further up to the town of Yankee Hill and over Jarbo Gap. From there, the road plunges (6-mile decent at 4% grade) into the Feather River Canyon. Once in the canyon, it is a long, slow, more or less unbroken ascent to the control in Taylorsville (elevation 3500′).

I rode this course a month earlier in the 600k brevet, and dreaded riding it again. At the same time, I knew what to expect. So when I reached the hills, I put the bike in low gear and took my time climbing. Even at that slower, more relaxed pace, I passed other riders on the way up. Which surprised me, because my bike is so heavy.

My randonneuring bike, designed and built by Rick Jorgensen

My randonneuring bike, designed and built by Rick Jorgensen

I should talk about my bike for a minute here. The bike I rode was designed and built for me, for this ride, by my friend Rick Jorgensen. I cannot say enough about Rick, his understanding of bikes, and his skills. I also cannot say enough about the process of building this bike; it would just take too damned long. It was an incredible process. We talked about this bike, other bikes, cycling, randonnées, etc. pretty much every day for about 10 months. I cannot begin to capture that process here.

Rick designed this bike specifically for this ride, and no other. And more specifically, he designed it for the last 250 miles of this ride, and pretty much ignored what it needed to do for the first 500 miles. Rick was convinced I could do the first 500 miles on my carbon Ibis road bike if I had to, so that part of the ride did not really enter into the design parameters. Rick has a range of design philosophies. Two are relevant here.

The first is that in all designs, his goal is “to maximize the biomechanical interface between the human and the machine.” So he designed the bike as best as he knew how based on who I am, how I ride, and what ride I needed the bike for. In addition to our conversations, we rode together on various road and mountain bikes in a variety of terrains and conditions, all of which helped him understand how I ride.

Which leads to a second tenet: the weight of the bike is a result of good engineering, not a design parameter. So, for instance, my bike has front panniers. Their placement over the front wheel is the best place to carry load, and in this case, was designed to stabilize the bike’s steering as well, thereby decreasing my arm fatigue. But adding racks to hold the panniers adds weight. Some people will pay $40 or more for carbon fiber water bottle holders, rather than $10 for plastic, to save a few grams. We were adding pounds to the bike, not just grams.

Rick’s contention is that a bike that fits well and does what it is designed to do will allow the rider to perform better; in any case, certainly better than a less well-designed bike that just happens to be lighter. There is far more to discuss here, and I hope to discus the bike more fully elsewhere. But the point I’m trying to make is that as a result of going with front panniers, along with dozens of other decisions (such as carrying five water bottles, e.g.), my bike is pretty damned heavy.

So, as I was rolling along up these long grades, I was shocked to be passing other riders. What do you know? I thought. That crazy bastard Rick was right.

Another cool thing about this uphill stretch of road was that between my slow speed and the moon full up, I could ride with my headlight on low power. That allowed me to make sure my batteries would last all night. It also allowed me to look around and see more of the surrounding country. The moon was bright enough to cast my shadow on the pavement. I really didn’t need a headlight at all, but thought that if I crashed for some stupid reason, I would like to be able to say yes, the light was on. Besides, it helped the empty trucks bombing down the road toward me know I was there, for whatever that was worth.

Now, this light issue is another thing. Bike headlights are increasingly bright and efficient. They are also extremely lightweight, and as a result, there are more of them on each bike. Most riders have one or two mounted on the handlebars and another on their helmet. And they are all very bright LEDs, some with multiple bulbs. When you ride behind a group of riders at night, it looks like a UFO landing, like something out of The X-Files. When you ride in the group, it can be very uncomfortable. For while light is generally a good thing at night, too much can be bad.

For instance, if I am in front and the person behind me has their light on full, their light will cast my shadow in front of me, darkening the road. And there’s no reason for the bikes in back to have their lights on so bright anyway: when you’re following someone, all you are lighting is their butt and the reflective tape they’ve stuck all over their bike and helmet.

The worst, though, are the people who run helmet lights on full all the time, because when someone with a helmet light turns to look at you, they blind you. Jonathan Grey, whom I rode with in the flats, had a helmet light; but he only turned it on when he needed to read a cue sheet to see what our next turn was. I wish all riders were that aware.

How did I get on this subject? Low lighting. Right. I ride with my light as low as I comfortably can. And on this beautiful moonlit night, that was the lowest setting. Instead of fixating on the road, which was only passing by at 8mph anyway, I got to see the boulders and golden grass and green and tan oaks. I got to follow the folds of valleys fall away from the road. I got to do something other than focus on pavement and pedaling. It made the climbing a lot more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been. It’s times like this – riding by moonlight at 2am on a warm summer night – that make riding special.

After some time, I reached the top of Jarbo Gap. Time for the long decent. I caught up to a group of four of five riders just before the top. They were stopped, so I continued on past. I thought to ask what they were doing, but got too excited about going down to stop. And there’s that whole necessity to avoid unexpected stops thing, too. Anyway, I soon figured out what they were up to. They were putting on clothes. I had worked up a sweat coming up the hill. Now I was going downhill at about 30mph, and the air was getting colder with every 100 or so feet of decent. By the bottom, I was freezing.

Darell's Piston light

Darell’s Piston light

And, in case anyone is concerned, I had the headlight on full for the decent. My friend Darell Dickey loaned me the light. In fact, he loaned it to me for the last six months. And it’s amazing. He was part of a team that designed this light, and it’s now sold out of Australia as a kit. Which isn’t all that important, really. Except that like the bike, which looked like no other on this ride, the light looked like no other. It has three LEDs in a huge casing with an immense heat sink that kind of looks like a miniature Robbie the Robot out of Forbidden Planet. Darell modified it for me to run off 12 AA batteries so I could replace them anywhere on the road without having to find an outlet to recharge a battery pack. He also set the maximum brightness to ¾ of its full potential (750mA). And still, when I turned the light up, I could, as someone else once said, fry road kill at 20 yards.

Point is, it’s a bright fucking light. I couldn’t outrun its beam even later in the ride when I was topping 40mph down steeper hills.

So, I’m flying downhill, light on full, starting to shiver, and trying not to get distracted by the grandeur of the canyon I was dropping into. This is one of those times when I think, Why don’t I stop and enjoy some of the scenery? I have that thought a lot while riding, and like my time-speed-distance calculations, it’s one of those topics of internal debate that never gets settled. I still don’t know why I didn’t stop, because soon I was crossing the bridge and sailing along the canyon just above the river. A few miles later I finally got so cold that I did stop and put my vest on. There was a road maintenance yard that was lit, and two other riders were there. Far less scenic than the descent into the canyon. But what the hell. I guess I just got uncomfortable enough.

Post office at Tobin resort

Post office at Tobin resort

Not long after, I pulled into Tobin control. Tobin is a tiny set of resort cabins halfway up the canyon between Oroville and Taylorsville. It has a post office and a lodge. I arrived about 4:50am. The folks running the control had strung christmas lights out front. Bikes – expensive bikes – were strewn all around, lying in the dirt lot. It was strange to see them, each worth thousands of dollars, lying all around. The control was in the lodge which had a low wood ceiling. It was cozy, and warm, and reminded me of a train dining car. A huge selection of food was laid out all along one counter.

Bikes at Tobin

Bikes at Tobin

I don’t remember what I ate there. But I do recall being worried about falling sleep while riding after the sun rose, so I took a 30-minute nap. The club had rented a number of cabins, so I took my shoes off and lay under the covers for a very welcome power nap. I was rolling again in less than an hour, feeling rested and ready for the next tedious stretch.

The next official stop was Taylorsville. To get there, the route turns off Interstate 70 and heads north on Highway 89. After a steep climb, the road enters Indian Valley, an area northwest of the Feather River Canyon and on the way to Lake Almanor. This is a beautiful little corner of the world, and someplace I would never have known about but for riding. There is a cutoff at the lower end of the valley to go directly to Taylorsville. But our outbound route passes this cutoff, and for better or worse, circles the entire valley and heads up to Greenville in the northwest corner before turning east to get to Taylorsville.

Cozy dining at Tobin

Cozy dining at Tobin

On this road for the 600k, I remembered thinking I should stop in Greenville first to eat breakfast. It was a kind of promise I made to myself that if I rode though the town again, I’d at least stop long enough to eat. I think it’s a mistake to charge through these areas without spending a little time, even though I keep doing it. So I planned to stop at Anna’s on the corner of Highway 89 and Main to have breakfast.

Just before entering Greenville, I caught up to fellow DBCer Paul Gutenberg. Paul was, as always, talking – this time to his riding companion, Nicole. I recognized his riding style and outfit from a quarter mile back, and started hearing him from about 100 yards off. I only mention this because from the start, I was wondering when I would catch up to Paul. In each of the previous brevets this season – 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k – I had at some point in the ride caught up to him and in most cases rode with him the rest of the way. For this ride, especially with my having to retrace the first part of the course, I took catching up to him as a sign that I was back on schedule. And there is something reassuring about the consistency of Paul. Knowing I would catch up at some point, that he would be wearing a helmet with red on the back and a day-glo green shell that puffed up like the Michelin Man, and that he’d be talking in that happy baritone voice of his . . . all of that somehow told me all was right and as it should be. So I rode with Paul and Nicole the last few miles into Greenville. And in the first test of sticking to my plan, I stopped for breakfast while they continued on to Taylorsville 12 miles on.

Anna's Cafe in Greenville

Anna’s Cafe in Greenville

I can’t say breakfast at Anna’s was especially noteworthy. But it was nice to have a breakfast burrito and talk to a few people in the restaurant there and be sort of an ambassador – explaining why all the cyclists were coming through and where we were headed. It was, as I had hoped, a little bit of a grounding experience – a chance to step out of the cycling reality for a while and to come back to the ride a little fresher.

Leaving the restaurant and riding slowly away in the morning sun, I felt more like I had just had breakfast after a 30-mile ride rather than the 180-mile ride I actually had under my belt. From Greenville, the road to Taylorsville along the northern edge of Indian Valley is mostly flat with just small rollers to slow you down and speed you up again. This was a fun stretch, a carefree stretch of road. I came into Taylorsville feeling rested, well-fed, and very strong. The crew at Taylorsville control was incredible. They were cooking breakfast to order in a tiny kitchen: eggs, meat, pancakes, french toast. I had just eaten, so I passed. In retrospect that was a mistake. But at the time, I wanted to move on. I had just spent an extra 40 minutes in Greenville. I stayed long enough to restock water bottles and visit a little with John Hess, who was working at Taylersville control.

John and his home espresso machine

John and his home espresso machine

John had asked me before the ride if there was anything I would want at this stop. I’d said espresso. John understands these things. A couple of years earlier, we were both on the Davis Bike Club’s San Juan Islands tour. He’d brought Peets coffee and brewed enough every morning for anyone on the tour who had wanted some. He and his wife, Katherine, had researched every decent coffee house and brew pub on our trip, and their daily bike rides were largely between these destinations. These people know how to travel. So John dutifully packed up his compact home espresso machine, a set of demitasse cups he found at the SPCA thrift store, and a couple of pounds of Peets. Once I was done getting my possibles, and without having to ask, he handed me a double espresso. And think about it: how many people would be sensitive enough to serve espresso in a demitasse cup? I was so touched by this generosity that I felt a little choked up. I thanked him and got going again.

Next: Taylorsville to Susanville

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in GRR 2009, 0 comments

Davis to Oroville

Rolling for Time
Mile 0 to Mile 103.1

Getting ready for the ride

Getting ready for the ride

My plan for the Gold Rush Randonnée (GRR) was to break it into thirds of roughly 250 miles (or 400 kilometers) each: Davis to Susanville, Susanville to the turnaround at Davis Creek (near the Oregon border, by Goose Lake) and back again, then Susanville back to Davis. (If you look at the online map, you can select each third of the route by clicking on the “Tracks” in the upper-right corner.  By default, all three sections of the route are shown.  Clicking on a track will hide it.)

I counted on making each 250-mile leg in 20 hours (based on the 18 hours it took me to ride the 400k brevet earlier in the season). Doing so would allow ample time to rest in Susanville on the way out, sleep there overnight on the way back, and still allow for any mechanical breakdowns. If everything went perfectly, I hoped to finish by midnight Thursday.

The first hundred miles of the course, from Davis to Oroville, is essentially flat. It is all Central Valley agriculture with only three small towns in between. My plan was to make this stretch in six hours. That would give me a good time buffer so I could take a long break in Susanville.

My plan would have easily worked with a group. It was not so easy with my six-mile detour and no one in front to share pulling duties with. So, I rode along fairly quickly (19 – 20 mph) and kept laughing at my mistake. I mean, I had planned everything so well. I had mapped the route out online months in advance; manually typed in the directions from the cue sheet to help me memorize the course; printed out the control closing times to calculate my windows of time to leave each one to make the next safely; packed each of my four drop bags with separate “Outbound” and “Inbound” packages; labelled each and included instructions so I wouldn’t forget anything; carefully selected songs for the iPod to match different types of terrain, weather, and mood. I went so far as to coordinate sock colors with the jerseys I planned to change into.

But the one thing I left to the last minute – really, the only decision I did not make beforehand – was whether I would wear sunglasses or clear lenses for the start. It was sunny, and we had a five-mile leg right into the sun at the start, so sunglasses made sense. On the other hand, after we turned north I could ignore the sun. And if I had sunglass lenses in, I would have to stop at some point and change to clear lenses, which would mean possibly losing the group I hoped to be riding with.

In the end, I chose sunglasses, and in so doing, inadvertently left the clear lenses in a black fabric case on a black desk in a room with the shutters closed. Forty-five minutes into the ride, 25 minutes behind schedule, that seemed pretty funny to me.

Then a thought struck which panicked me. The first part of the route takes a roundabout way to Knight’s Landing, which meant someone could cut out five miles or so by taking a more direct route. On the 600k brevet in June, which traced this same route northwest of Davis, there was a secret control about 15 miles out to make sure no one cheated. It made sense there would be a secret control again. Controls are only open for specific periods of time based on a speed ranging roughly between 8 and 20mph. I realized that with my detour home, there was a chance I wouldn’t make that window. So I tried to calculate how long the secret control would be open, how fast I was going, where I was, and whether I would make it in time. I would have been humiliated to DNF in the first 15 miles of the ride.

And it’s one of the funny things about riding, at least for me, that I can fixate on a thought, and at the same time, never arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. It should have been easy to calculate 8mph x 15 miles and come up with a closing time, then compare that to my location and pace. I was riding roads that I ride virtually every Monday morning, so I know the landmarks, turns, small hills, stop signs, etc. It should have been easy to figure out my ETA at the15 mile mark. But I never did arrive at an answer. I would keep getting lost in the knowledge that it was possible to DNF 15 miles into the ride, only to start the calculations over again.

In the end, I made the control, and they confirmed what I already knew: I was last. Not that position is important: a randonnée is by definition not a race. But my mistake threatened my great plan for a long break in Susanville

After the secret control, the next landmark of note was Knights Landing. I knew this country from the Monday rides and the 600k I rode in early June, so I concentrated on my balance of speed and fatigue. While I wanted to make up time, it was more important not to let my heart rate run too high or to cross over my lactate threshold. That’s the surest way to run out of energy on a long ride.

At one turn to go north over Interstate 5, I came across Lee Mitchell who, as always, was driving the lead sag (support and gear) wagon. I stopped to top off my water. Just as I was pulling up, another rider took off. It turned out that he was riding with the lead group, took the turn fast and slipped out in some loose gravel. Lee had patched him back together, but the rider didn’t wear gloves so his hands got pretty scratched up. Lee was going to keep an eye on him because he didn’t think the rider would be able to go too much farther with that kind of hurt.

By the time I got to Knights Landing, I had passed two other riders. They were riding together and seemed perfectly comfortable at their slower pace. I wondered how they would ever make the entire course on time. I crossed the Sacramento River and turned onto a levee road. It is a very relaxed sort of road, winding along the river just high enough off the valley floor to give you a view of the farms and ranches extending to the north and east. I started to catch other riders on the road, and was feeling a little more relaxed. To my surprise, I came across four groups of people along here cheering riders on. The last spectators were a middle aged couple who had pulled out lawn chairs to the edge of their front lawn. They were drinking red wine and offered a toast as I went by. They asked if I was last. I said no, and asked them if I’d missed the turn. They said no and good luck and turned their attention back up the road looking for the next rider.

The Sutter Buttes from the Sacramento River levee road (Cranmore Road) at sunset

The Sutter Buttes from the Sacramento River levee road (Cranmore Road) at sunset

The sun was starting to get low now. I started a new calculation. There was a water stop at about mile 45. I wanted to make it that far before I had to change lenses or turn my lights on. So again, I started getting into time–speed–distance calculations to see if I would make it. At the same time I was trying to calculate, I had decided I would go to the 45-mile mark before I changed lenses even if it got dark. That made me try to ride a little faster.

Which is another strange thing about riding a bike. For some reason, not stopping can somehow become the most important consideration in making plans, either beforehand or on the fly. There is no practical reason I couldn’t reach down and turn on the light. And it wouldn’t take more time to change lenses out on the levee than it would at a water stop. But the psychological effect of making an unplanned stop is huge. It breaks momentum, breaks concentration, requires re-calculation. All of these minor, minor issues in reality, but huge in the reality of cycling. Your 19mph average speed over 20 miles might drop to 18.8mph because of a two minute stop. But it is still enough of a difference to make you ride in the dark with sunglasses to avoid that delay.

In the end, I made the stop with plenty of light even though the sun had set. I changed my lenses, refilled water bottles, turned on the light, chatted with the folks working there – all while swatting swarms of mosquitoes – and made it back out in about five minutes.

Some people had left not long before me, so now I had some rabbits to chase. This part of the ride was fun. The air was cooling. The orange light in the western sky was reflecting in channels between the rice fields. Frogs were starting to croak. The moon, one day short of full, was rising in the east. I was fully warmed up and the road was dead straight and flat.

This is my riding: Central Valley flat. There is a French term for people accustomed to this type of riding: Rouleur. And though it seems easy, people who don’t ride flats regularly get beaten down a little bit by this type of riding. It’s monotonous for one thing, and they don’t deal with wind as well, don’t feel the subtle rises or take advantage of the equally subtle drops. To me this is quick, easy riding that takes no mental effort, releasing me to focus on whatever goal I happen to have. In this case, my goal was to make up lost time.

I saw tail lights ahead, put my head down, and started to chase them. The pavement was fresh chip seal, a rough finish that is uncomfortable and slow. But the workers had left about a six inch-wide strip of the old smooth pavement untouched in the middle of the road. (For those of you who don’t ride, pavement quality becomes a huge concern to those of us who do. Ask any cyclist you know about pavement in your area, and they will be able to tell you about every rut, bump, and hole in incredible detail.) The road was empty of cars, so I rolled right up the middle, swerving every 10 to 20 feet to go around the yellow lane reflectors. It was a fun game. I could see riders I passed looking over at me, and I imagined they were trying to figure out what the hell I was doing in the middle of the road. Passing your ass on this smooth pavement while you ride on that bumpy crap is pretty much what I was thinking. My thought processes are not always as elevated as I would like.

I vaguely knew the route through this area, but not in detail. There was a group of riders ahead of me. I couldn’t tell how many, but enough to follow their tail lights from almost a mile back. Occasionally, the lights would disappear in front of me and reappear on some tangential course. It was cool watching the lights glide over the fields. When that happened, I would start watching for an intersection, then turn once I saw where the lights were headed.

I rolled into Sutterville. It was fully dark now, and other riders were there tending to their business. I switched empty water bottles from my frame for full ones from my seat post, mixed some electrolyte drink, and got going again. It’s kind of ironic, now that I think about it, but as important as it is not to stop in the middle of a leg, it is equally important to make sure you do stop at any major landmark, no matter how short the stop is. There is something pleasing about arriving, getting off the bike, and getting back on again. Conversely, there is also something enervating about looking forward to a landmark, planning to break, and not allowing yourself even that two-minutes of rest. A lot of cycling is played out in your head.

From Sutterville, the course continued north along the east side of the Sutter Buttes, past more ranches and fields, and on into the town of Gridley. I caught up to fellow club member Jonathan Gray who rides a recumbent. It was nice to have company for a while, even if he was too low to help pull me along. We rolled along chatting as if we were on one of the weekday rides together, picking up and dropping other riders along the way. That made the long straight stretches of road to Gridley a lot more pleasant.

There is not a whole lot to see in Gridley. It’s like so many other agricultural towns scattered up and down the Central Valley: gas stations, a few restaurants and businesses . . . nice enough, but nothing spectacular. But for some reason, I noticed it had a Taco Bell, and that triggered a craving for a 7- Layer Burrito. Taco Bell food is crap. I sometimes eat there because it is the only non-meat fast food I can find and, more often than not, regret it afterward. Why would I want to eat there now? I didn’t know, but I made a mental note to stop by there on the way back home as a way of putting aside the thought of an unanticipated stop now.

Not long after Gridley, the course started into the small rollers leading to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Jonathan started to cramp a little, so he told me to go ahead. I did, and soon enough, arrived at Oroville control. I got there at 12:28am, about half an hour later than I had hoped – about the same time it took me to go home and get my clear lenses. I checked in, ate, and got the bike ready to go again. Then I visited for a while with Cary Thompson, one of my weekday ride friends working there. I also decided to nap. I wasn’t tired, but knew I would be. One of the things I learned for myself (and from other riders) on the 600k, is that your circadian rhythm will make you sleepy at unpredictable times. On the 600k, for instance, I got very sleepy around 7am, well after it was light outside. So I lay down in a large open room and pulled a blanket over me hoping to disrupt that pattern. I only closed my eyes for fifteen minutes, but thought that would be enough. I was rolling again at 1:30.

Next: Oroville to Taylorsville

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in GRR 2009, 0 comments

Goldrush FAQs

This is the what, when, where, why, how page.  Kind of like FAQs, I guess.


The Gold Rush Randonnée (GRR) is a Grand Randonnée.  Randonnée means, loosely, a long ramble in the countryside. In the cycling context, it means a somewhat strenuous touring ride. Events are at set distances.  Throughout that distance, there are controls.  Riders get a card at the beginning of the ride and have to have it stamped at each control within a specified time window in order to complete the ride successfully and get credit for it.

Grand Randonnée is a ride of a particularly long distance – 1200km, or about 750 miles.  The most famous Grand Randonnée is the quadrennial Paris-Brest-Paris which was first held in 1891. Like the Gold Rush Randonnée, it is a 1200k ride out and back.  And like the GRR, riders have to complete the distance in 90 hours or less.

A randonnee is different from a century (100 mile) or double century (200 mile) in a number of ways.

For one thing, in a century or a double, you sign in, sometimes the night before, and ride until you finish without checking in anywhere along the way.  So long as you finish before the folks at the finish line go home, it doesn’t matter when you hit the rest stops along the way.

Another difference is that randonnées tend to emphasize more self-reliance on the part of riders.  You are expected to have tools and some parts and be able to take care of your bike if it breaks.  And the number of riders in randonnering events tends to be smaller.  Centuries can draw hundreds of riders.  The GRR is capped at 175 riders, and the qualifying brevets have drawn fewer than that.

Yes, you have to qualify to ride a Grand Randonnée.  Specifically, you have to complete a series consisting of a 200k, 300, 400, and 600k brevet in the same year prior to registering for the Grand Randonnée.  Brevet literally means certificate.  But it is generally used to describe the “shorter” randonnees.

There is a lot of . . . stuff . . . associated with randonnées.  There’s the French terminology (e.g., a male rider is a “randonneur,” a female is a “randonneuse”).  The distances are metric, not standard. And then there’s the whole “tradition” thing.  Randonneuring has been around about as long as rideable bicycles, and many riders seem to get into the traditionalist mode around these rides (“Steel is real,” referring to steel frame bikes – as opposed to, say carbon fiber – is a rallying cry).  I can’t say that’s good or bad.  It’s just kind of interesting to note.


The GRR started at 6pm on Monday, July 6, 2009.


2009 was the third running of the Gold Rush Randonnée.  The GRR starts and finishes in Davis about 1/4 mile along the greenbelt from my house (how cool is that?).  The course runs roughly north to Oroville, turns northeast and crosses the Sierra Nevada mountains, then goes more or less north again to Davis Creek, California, about 20 miles shy of the Oregon border.  Then returns back to Davis mostly along the same route.  It starts at 6pm on Monday, and closes at noon on Friday.  There is close to 30,000 feet of climbing, and most of that compressed into the middle half of the course.  You can see the GRR route here.


Good question.  I’m not really sure why I rode it.

Part of the reason is that I was in reasonably good shape, and the ride only goes every four years.  It seemed like a good time to do it, if I was ever going to attempt a Grand Randonnée.  I really liked the fact that I could ride – or walk – to and from the start/finish line. Also, I  knew a good number of the people working the event.  They were fellow club members and many were people whom I ride with.  I can’t imagine a more supportive atmosphere to try something so challenging.

On a different level, well, there’s insane, and there’s insane.  I think I’m the former. A major goal like riding 750 miles in 90 hours or less is a little extreme.  But it’s also really a good way to focus my efforts.  It gives context and meaning to training.  It allows me to spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about things that were really interesting to me at that time.

I thought of it an endeavor like blue water cruising.  On a boat sailing down the coast to Mexico, say, you float along at so many miles per hour.  Usually, it’s around 5 to 8mph.  The boat moves 24 hours a day.  You get time to sleep, but you also have to be ready to jump on board at any time and help out.  It’s very hard for a day or two – hard to watch the coast go by so slowly, hard to grasp that no matter what, your destination is days away, hard to adjust to an entirely different sleep pattern. But eventually, you settle into it.  It’s very liberating. It’s really wonderful to watch the world go by at 8mph and take the time to watch sun cross the sky because you don’t have shit else to do other than watch it take its time.  It’s really wonderful to be able to take all that personal time and to devote it nothing other than what you’re doing right then. Which in a randonnée is riding a bike.

In my training, I rode 130 miles in 8 hours, which was hard for me.  I did it partially because I could, but more because I had to in order to squeeze a long ride in when my son, Kazu, was at school and under someone else’s watch.  Then, after going through that effort, I had to readjust instantly to being off the bike, to being a good dad, to getting dinner ready, to doing homework . . . whatever.  I love all of that.  But I looked forward to being on a bike for multiple days and not have to be anything but a good bike rider.

I got to experience that on the four days of the NorCal AIDS Challenge in 2007, and really loved it.  Of course, we only rode 80 to 100 miles a day, and slept 8 hours a night . . . but that’s beside the point.

So, for three and half days, I would get to ride a bike up to Oregon and back across the Sierra Nevada;  there would be other riders doing the same thing to spend some time with along the way; people would be driving by to make sure I was okay; there would be controls, like ports, to pull into, staffed by people whose only purpose is to feed and take care of me.  And all I had to do was ride my bike.  It sounded like fucking heaven to me.

There’s a truism in sailing that at every moment of a voyage you experience some combination of being cold, sick, tired, hungry, and scared.  But we do it anyway, I think because if you give yourself over to the experience, it is something that can be profoundly moving.  I thought the randonnée would the same. Only different because, you know, it’s on bike not on a boat.  I couldn’t wait.


Yeah, how . . . now there’s a good question.  That’s kind of that the first entry in another blog – Body, Mind, and Bike – is all about.  The good news is that at a certain point, the effort doesn’t increase linearly.  It’s not twice as hard to ride a double century as a single.  On the other hand, I had never ridden more than 200 miles at a time.  By the time I started the GRR, my longest ride was a 600k, half the total distance.  Common wisdom has it that most of the challenge in a ride this long is mental, not physical.  Maybe. You can rad about it and come to your own conclusions.

Next: Davis to Oroville >

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in GRR 2009, 0 comments