Today was the first time I turned in a DNF (did not finish). I feared that some day it would happen, but it wasn’t quite as disappointing as I would have imagined. Almost all of the brevets I have ridden up to this point have been with my good buddy Tom the Dane. I’ve been slowly building up my tolerance for longer and longer rides over the past few years and for me it’s very comforting having a friend that will slow down and wait for me if I bonk or keep me company when it’s dark, cold, and wet or talk about nothing while he’s waiting for me to change a flat.
Leading up to this ride, I never quite felt prepared. I had ordered a generator hub and light specifically for this ride. (During the Santa Rosa Randonneurs 300k my battery powered light had unexpectedly died five miles from the finish leaving me with only a headlamp. This was hours before I had anticipated I would run out of battery.) Tony over at A Bicycle Odyssey built me an amazing all black Schmidt generator wheel, but because I ordered on such short notice it was ready just days before the 400k. Life’s been a little hectic feeling lately, so long story short, I ended up not packing anything for the ride until the night before. I usually pack for a ride at least two days in advance giving me the night before to double check that I’m not missing anything.
Rolling out of the apartment this morning, I ended up riding down the block just to turn around to grab something I forgot…twice: once for another layer since it was colder out than I thought it would be and a second time to grab my helmet. I finally arrived at the start just at 6AM as everyone was rolling out to start the ride. I checked in quickly and as I was doing the light and reflector check…yeah, I forgot the reflectors too. Tom’s girlfriend, Lauren, rushed me back to the apartment to get the reflectors and I was ready again to roll out.
I picked up where I left off on the 300k. “Tom. Two miles down. 248 to go.”
We kept a good pace for most of the day. Despite the early setbacks, we were not far off of the usual 10 hours per 200k pace we usually set. I had thought to myself earlier in the week that if all goes well, we would finish the ride by 3 or 4AM. The course was hillier in parts than I had anticipated, but we still kept it steady and on pace. By the way, who’s the twisted person behind the name Joy Road? Obviously not a cyclist.
As we closed in on the halfway point we approached a hill that felt like it would never end. We just kept climbing and climbing only to find more climbing around the bend. Then finally we would reach what felt like the top and begin a descent…only to climb back up the elevation we had just dropped. Then finally again we began to descend and this time it felt real.
Tom began to separate on the descent. I kept my speed in check and around each turn I would see Tom further ahead until I no longer saw him as I rounded each turn. It was a long, fast descent.
As I came around the last bend at the bottom, I saw something really bizarre. Tom was sitting next to his bike on the shoulder of the road with another randonneur standing next to him. I rolled up and casually asked if he had flatted and he responded that his front tube blew out and that he crashed. And to add insult to injury, he crashed in a patch of blackberry bushes.
I swapped out his tube and straightened his fork and asked him to sit for a while just to make sure that nothing was injured severely. Fellow randonneurs passed by each kindly offering assistance. One even stopped to pick the blackberry thorns out of Tom’s face. The front wheel, although still rideable, looked far from ideal. It had collided with a street marker and bent part of the braking surface and went out of true about a millimeter or two. A blowout in the sidewall required two tubes and a spent Clif Bar Shot wrapper to fix.
After a little while we got back on the road…and began to climb a final time. No use waiting there since Hopland, our turn around point, was only five miles away.
We had discussed that there would be no shame in turning in a DNF, and honestly, I was thinking that sitting down to a hamburger and pint of beer would make me really happy since I had been running a little low on energy at that point. We decided in Hopland, the absolute furthest point that we could call for a ride and also the furthest Tom and I have ridden from San Francisco, that we would call for a ride. (By the way, thanks Lauren for dropping everything to come and rescue us!)