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Ride report: Point Reyes National Seashore (8/14/2010)

My dislike of big hills is legendary by now. So why on earth did I sign up for an 81-mile Seismic Challenge training ride with about 5,800 feet of climbing? I think the reason was to build some much-needed confidence in advance of next weekend's 300-kilometer attempt (which just happens to have about the same amount of climbing, but spread out over the much larger distance) ... or to talk myself out of even trying. Fortunately, today's ride went well. Moreover, half of the route was on roads I'd never cycled before -- a rare treat.

To get that far out of town, today's starting point was way up in San Rafael, which meant a drive of more than an hour in the early-morning fog and drizzle beginning at 6:15 a.m. But the benefit was that we skipped all of the nasty, cringe-inducing, crowded cycling conditions in southern Marin County that without fail put me in a foul mood. In fact, there were very few cyclists on the road (by Marin standards) all day long, which was an especially pleasant surprise for mid-"summer."

Today, although I had vowed to maintain a steady, mid-range pace, within a couple of miles I was by myself and riding faster than I expected -- I was just under 15 mph by the time I reached the first rest stop in Point Reyes Station at mile 20, even with the chilly fog and a few bursts of annoying drizzle. Although the terrain was by no means flat, it didn't bother me much at all, and I actually enjoyed riding around the Nicasio Reservoir.

But the route beyond Point Reyes Station was why I traveled all this distance. I'd driven it only once before, a few years ago, and this would be my first time there on a bicycle. The scenery is about as close to Scotland as one can get in the United States (there's even a little hamlet called Inverness), and the surroundings are surprisingly desolate. The much-promised "rollers" along this part of the route were actually more like little hills; in fact, the closer I got to the coast, the steeper and more challenging the hills became. Amazingly, the hills did not put me in a bad mood, and I didn't hesitate to take quick stops when doing so felt right. Moreover, there was almost no wind from any direction, which is extremely unusual on the Point Reyes peninsula; according to the National Park Service, "Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast."

Soon, and with less effort that I had anticipated, I was at the end of the road at the historic Point Reyes lighthouse, where I took a somewhat longer break for sightseeing and a snack, long enough for the rest of the group to just about catch up to me. The sky was so clear that some of the Farallon Islands were visible! My pace at the halfway point was about 14 mph, which pleased me, especially given the last couple of challenging climbs just before the lighthouse. (I did not feel the need to walk down the stairway to the actual lighthouse -- the climb up is equivalent to that of a 30-story building.)

I felt that I might have slightly overexerted myself, and the ride back -- along the exact same route, but in reverse -- was somewhat more challenging. I was keenly aware of this, and I reacted properly by taking short breaks every 10 miles on the way back and trying some new nutrition strategies. (I think I'm in love with Extreme Sport Beans!) This got me back to San Rafael in 7 hours and 5 minutes of elapsed time at a pace of about 13.7 mph, which certainly boosted my confidence for next weekend. Moreover, the hills didn't put me in a bad mood (well, except for maybe the last hill before the lighthouse), so that counts as a win as well.

Today's pace translates into a pace of about 16:30 for 300 kilometers, which is well within the 20-hour time limit ... and might even get me back to Santa Cruz before midnight -- or might even give me time for a quick nap in the middle of the ride!

I signed up for the Buena Vista 300k somewhat reluctantly. But after today's ride, I feel at least ready to make an honest attempt to complete it. We'll see how this all turns out next weekend.