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Flatlander’s Fiesta 200 km Brevet

Bill Bryant


This past weekend saw the Davis Bike Club’s second 200-kilometer brevet in as many weeks. Unlike the hilly ride out to Pope Valley, this event was a tour of the Sacramento Valley and had hardly any climbing. As the organizer, I wrote in the pre-ride flyer, "However, strong spring winds might pose a demoralizing challenge worse than steep hills." Alas, this prophesy came true. Howling northerly winds caused 15 "no-shows", a rather sensible course of action on a day like that, if you ask me. Strangely, we also had 14 "day of" registrations, so 48 foolhardy, er, make that "audacious" randonneurs and randonneuses departed Davis at 7 AM! Wow!

The Flatlander’s Fiesta route was rectangular, with a very long northerly and westerly leg to the Grimes region, then a long southerly ride back to the finish in Davis. Alas, this meant we faced up to what amounted to a brutal 70-mile "hill climb" to reach the turn. There would be no coasting to rest until then, only desperate struggle to fore the pedals against an accursed wind that flattened the grass. The strongest riders reported doing only 14-15 mph into the gale, while we mortals could only manage about 9-13. The pack immediately split into little groups, with the ten-or-so speedsters led by the powerful tandems of Daryn Dodge/Rich Boettner and Craig Robertson/Liz Gomes. They quickly went up the road in search of a fast finishing time, but behind them it wasn’t a pretty sight. The unwary or unskilled in pack-riding were soon left adrift, while others quickly formed echelons that went from gutter to gutter when traveling west, and then nose to tail when going north on the grid of quiet farm roads. For hours we grimly hung on for dear life; to be dropped from a pack meant a far worse fate in the demonic wind. The two tandem teams of Pierre Neu/Marcia Gibbs and Wayne/Mary Woodside provided yeoman service all day and many of us probably wouldn’t have made it without them. The words "thank you" don’t adequately convey the sense of gratitude we solo bike riders felt for all their hard work getting us to the turnaround. Fully a quarter of the field was shamelessly drafting this terrific pair of unselfish tandems for the most of the ride.

Unlike most other DBC brevets, this was an unsupported ride and store receipts were required of the riders along the way. The shopkeepers in wind-swept Dunnigan seemed incredulous when hearing how far we’d come in the tumult that shook their store. There were also two "Info Controls" where we had to record some local bit of information to show we’d passed by. Nearing the long-anticipated turn at the forlorn Grimes cemetery amidst a vast, featureless plain, I arrived to find several of our best riders sprawled on the graves like tired mountaineers atop Mt. Everest! They were simply worn out after battling the wind for so many hours. The route card asked them to record the name on the grave nearest the flagpole, but I was a little worried that some of them were considering taking up a permanent residence there! However, our DBC stalwarts ate some rations, rested, and then roused themselves for the long ride back to the finish, now with the wind coming from behind. But as the weather service had predicted, the winds would diminish by afternoon and we had much lighter winds helping us than we had fought all morning. Rats!

Still, the day wasn’t without its charms. First, the wind caused us to ride in audax-style groups and there was a good bit of friendly chatter (if you could be heard above the howling wind when going north). And the views of the valley and surrounding mountains were spectacular. The air was so clear that long chains of snow-capped mountains to either side of the Sacramento Valley were always in view, so too the mysterious Sutter Buttes to our north. Spring greenery was everywhere; wild flowers were in bloom and much animal life, both wild and domestic, were to be seen. Also, it was still a little early in the year for heavy agricultural operations and we had the roads pretty much to ourselves. So, except for the wretched wind, it was a fabulous spring day to tour the Sacramento Valley.

Some of our finishers deserve special mention. Connecticut’s Philip Borba was entered since a business trip brought him to our region. Unfortunately the airlines lost his suitcase, so he quickly borrowed a helmet, cycling gloves, and toe clip/pedals the night before the ride and did the brevet successfully attired in a sweater, tennis shoes and shorts! Philip showed real randonneur tenacity and didn’t let this unforeseen problem keep him from earning his medal. Hurrah! Then there was the DBC’s Mark Behning. This three-time PBP "ancien" used the Fiesta to do his first brevet on a fixed-gear bike! Mark successfully churned his 52x18 all day, no matter which the direction the wind was blowing and never coasted once! (After another fellow did last weekend’s 200 km similarly equipped, so I’m beginning to wonder if we’re seeing the start of some sort of cult who wants to make already hard bike rides even harder.) Worst luck of the day surely goes to Todd Teachout. Todd suffered six punctures, followed by Lois Springsteen’s three.

For the record, of our 48 starters we had 44 official finishers within the time limit of 13.5 hours, quite a high number under the circumstances. Among our DNFs we had one fast finisher who didn’t want to turn in his brevet card since he didn’t care about receiving his ride credit. At the other end of the spectrum, another fellow doggedly completed the course alone, but arrived at each control beyond the time limits all day (and night) long. It turned out this was only his third ride of the year (!), yet he was determined to complete the course no matter what. So, we had but two riders who turned around (and one of those had a serious medical problem to deal with.)

Though the ride was officially billed as "unsupported", we did have the ever-helpful Lee Mitchell tirelessly patrolling the course in case someone had serious trouble. I very much appreciate his long day’s service to the riders; it certainly took a lot of worries off the organizer's mind. Thanks, Lee! And special thanks also goes out to Lois Springsteen who helped with rider check-in during the frigid early morning hours, not to mention with pre-ride registration the week before. Most of all, I want to thank all the riders who came out on such a wretched day and started the ride. I never heard any whining or complaints; the positive comments at ride’s end shows what a determined, hardy group the DBC randonneurs and randonnueses truly are. BRAVO!

[Provided by Harold Bridge]