Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chualar 200K Brevet

126 miles, 4700 feet total elevation
9 hours 45 minutes total (8 hours 30 minutes on the bicycle)

After completing the Mt Tam Double, I immediately set my next goal. I want to complete the Knoxville Double Century next month, and thereby achieve a "California Triple Crown" — three (California) double centuries in one calendar year. So my primary need is to maintain my conditioning level for another month. This past weekend, I found an event that would let me do that.

My friend Ravi suggested doing a 200K (200 kilometer, or 125 mile) brevet. Technically, a brevet is a specific type of randonnée. Both of these are French terms, which reflects the European origin of the sport (along with the metric distance measure) in the early 20th century. This is an organized event generally similar the centuries I have done, but with some differences.

The principal difference is that there is no support on the route. Centuries have rest stops, usually around every 20 miles, where food, water, and restrooms are provided. In a brevet, nothing is provided. The riders are required to fend for themselves, usually by doing some research before hand to know where there are stores, parks, and other facilities on the route. The riders must also be mechanically self-sufficient, being able to repair their bicycles in case of breakdowns. This is unlike centuries where they have support staff driving on the course with extra parts and expert help.

Click for an interactive map.
The start and finish are A and E. The route is the counter-clockwise
route. Points B, C, and D are the "controls".

The brevet also requires that the riders stop at specific checkpoints, or "controls", along the route to show that they correctly traversed it. The term "brevet" specifically refers to the card each rider carries in which each control is recorded. A control could take several forms. It could be a manned station where a ride organizer stamps the card. Or it could be a requirement to make a purchase at a specific store on the route and submit the receipt (which has a timestamp). Or it could be a postcard submitted at a post office along the route (the postage cancellation proves the rider was at that location).

Ravi lives nearby, so we drove together to the start in Santa Cruz. The group of about 30 participants departed together at 7:30am. Each brevet has a time limit, and this one was 13.5 hours. Both Ravi and I independently estimated that we would finish in 10 hours, so I did not expect any time pressure of the kind I had in the Mt Tam Double.

The sun had already been out for a while when we started, but we were in blanket of thick fog, making it a cool and dreary start. The route followed close to the Pacific Coast for a long time, so the conditions remained the same for a couple hours. Most of the rural area around the route is productive farm land. We passed many fields where strawberries were being harvested.

Strawberry fields forever

Ravi and I were riding together, and we joined Ravi's friend Scott, and his friend Dave. People generally ride together with others keeping their same pace. This can help people avoid problems or getting lost.

I did not stop anywhere until we reached our first control, which was a small convenience store at the 50 mile mark. This is usually much longer than I would usually ride without stopping for water and a restroom, but cool misty air reduced my water requirements. If I needed it, I saw several gas stations along the way where I could have stopped for water an a restroom.

We needed to buy something at the stop to submit the receipt, but they did not have much real food there, just snack food. I bought a small bag of chips. I ate half the bag and ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I had packed and carried with me. From this stop we headed further inland, and the fog lifted. I felt the warm sun for the first time at 10:30am.

The next control was only 10 miles away, in the tiny town of Chualar, which is where the name of this event comes from. It is basically the furthest point of the route. Here we dropped the postcards that the organizers had included with our brevet cards. Since we were already stopped, we resupplied at the small store across the street from the post office.

We rode mostly southeast to get here, so the next part of the route heads back northwest towards the start, which is directly into the wind. Since we were in the base of the Salinas Valley, the winds are focused by the mountain ranges on either side. The four of us rode single-file in a paceline. This greatly helped reduce the effect of the wind, since only the person at the front of the line was fighting it. We rotated positions every half mile, with the person at the front falling back to the rear.

Our paceline.

After about 10 miles, the route turned and headed out of the valley over the hills. We no longer needed the paceline, so Scott and I rode alongside and chatted (it turns out he lives less than a mile from me) while Dave and Ravi sped ahead of us. When we reached a fork in the road, Scott and I were unsure whether Dave and Ravi took the correct branch. They were too far ahead of us to know for sure. We continued along the correct path. After 20 minutes, Dave caught us from behind. They had taken the wrong branch, but realized it before going too far. Unfortunately, they lost time and energy climbing the wrong hill.

Climbing the Gabilan Range on San Juan Grade.

After summiting, we descended to the next control in the town of San Juan Bautista. Here we needed to purchase something at the grocery store. They had prepared food available, so I ate a vegetarian tamale. Ravi finally caught up to us as we were eating. This stop was at roughly the two-thirds point of the route, so we made it a longer, lunch stop.

The four of us headed out together, with the next stop being the finish. Ravi kept a slower pace so he fell behind (he was working harder than the rest of us because he was riding a fixed-gear bicycle). We had agreed to just meet at the finish if we kept different paces. I took the opportunity to really push myself and finish strong. I kept a similar pace as Dave and Scott, though at times I sped ahead of them. I arrived at the finish at 5:15pm, 15 minutes before my estimate of 10 hours.

The organizers had drinks and snacks for us. I changed to clean clothes and chatted with the organizers and the other riders. After Ravi arrived and checked in at the finish, we did the one hour drive back from Santa Cruz and got back to Sunnyvale close to 7:30pm (we had left around 5:45am).

I thoroughly enjoyed my first brevet. I do not think there are any other ones scheduled locally this year, so I may have to wait until next year to do another. I have to find other ways to stay in shape for my next double century.


Dilip said...

Quite an experience! I had the understanding that a brevet could be a multi-day ride, no? Wow, I can't imagine your friend's attempting this on a fixed gear!! Congratulations on getting this lovely ride under your belt! --Dilip

Murali Krishnan said...

Yes, the longer brevets are multi-day. In fact, 200KM is on the short end of the brevet spectrum. Some of the premier brevets (like Paris-Brest-Paris) are 1200KM, with a 90 hour time limit.

I have not attempted any multiple-day events or done any multiple-day touring.