Santa Cruz Randonneurs Big Basin 200K Brevet
An incredibly beautiful ride! Easily, it now ranks among my very favorite routes in all of the Greater Bay Area.

Signing up for this ride was a pretty spontaneous thing for us to do, especially since the difficulty of the ride is not something to be taken lightly. In perspective, the first 100 miles of this ride were as hilly as the entire Central Coast Double Century that we did a couple of months ago. Nearly as hilly as the entire Death Ride, in fact. And since it was a brevet event, we were on our own for sustenance (food and drink).

A record number of sign-ups showed up in Cupertino for the ride: 36 in all, about double the size of the roster the last time the ride was staged (2005). All but one finished the ride well within the ACP sanctioned 13.5 hour time limit: a remarkable show of rider capability in the randonneuring community (but, really, is it surprising at all?).

Given the historically small field of this event, Lisa and I were totally expecting to be among the caboose riders, so we were pretty rewarded by actually winding up right in the halfway point of the chronological finisher's list at the end of the day. Brevets aren't race events, even if some may always feel inclined to ride them as such. The defining challenge of these events -- apart from the distance -- is the necessity to be completely self-sufficient due to deliberate lack of SAG and rest stops. This isn't to say that brevet coordinators wouldn't assist a rider in need get transported back to the finish in case of some emergency. But Lisa and I are learning more and more -- and enjoying, more and more -- the self-reliance ethic in the randonneuring world, and we relish knowing that we can pull off rides like this without any event support.

The route: tres magnifique. After a short ramble through Cupertino and Los Altos, we were in the sticks the rest of the way, and enjoyed some of the most remote, scenic and enjoyable riding roads in all of the Santa Cruz Mountains range. Moody Road, Page Mill Road, Big Basin Way, Jamison Creek Road, Empire Grade, Pine Flat Road and Bonny Doon Road -- out to the coast and back. Not one part of this course was flat. Easily, the toughest challenge throughout this route was the steep climb up Jamison Creek on the outbound leg, a 3-mile piece stretch of road that shoots up 1,500 vertical feet, but under nice tree cover most of the way. As difficult as it was, I actually preferred climbing it over descending it. The pavement was pretty rough in the switchbacks, and the road was so steep it was really difficult to control speed (made me wish I had the new 7800 Dura Ace calipers on the bike I was riding).

The turnaround point was the coastal town of Davenport, where visitors usually nosh in either one of two places: a Mexican food restaurant, and a traditional American cafe. The only real drawback to this location as a lunch spot was the fact that the slog up the 11-mile Bonny Doon climb happened immediately after. For that reason, I initially planned to keep the stop short, buy a sandwich to go and just hit the climb and eat later. Nah -- threw that plan out the door by the time we got to Davenport, but in the interest of keeping the stop short, I just bought a plastic-wrapped, nuke-it-yourself cheeseburger from a convenience store -- positively THE trashiest bit of food I've consumed on a ride in a long time. But that sucker went down good.

In both directions, we used the general store in Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the fire station on Skyline, just north of the Hwy 9 junction, as our water/food stops. If the day were warmer, there were other opportunities to restock water bottles at the intersection of Ice Cream Grade and Pine Flat Road (a school), at Castle Rock State Park, and probably also at one of the trailheads along Page Mill Road.

There were more 'controls' (sign-off checkpoints) throughout this route than any other 200K I've been on, but they were pretty engaging. There was a staffed secret control on the way to Saratoga Gap on the outbound leg, then a store-receipt control at Big Basin in both directions, a spot quiz and postcard control (fill in an answer specific to the control location, then mail the pre-posted card) at Davenport, then another unmanned control on the return leg requiring riders to write down in our brevet cards a code that was posted on a stop sign at the top of Page Mill.

Without a doubt, my favorite segments of this ride were those within and surrounding Big Basin State Park, especially in the morning, when we pretty much had the roads to ourselves. Vehicular traffic (most notably on Big Basin Way, Hwy 9 and Skyline) definitely picked up in the afternoon, and there were scores of motorcycle riding groups, but generally we never got hassled or bullied by the cars and motos. The only incident really worth noting was a bunch of probably less-experienced moto riders who were passing around us (at slow, speed) ON the switchbacks while descending Jamison Creek. It was a little unnerving to have a moto occupying our exit line, and they really would have benefitted more by sharing our line on the curves. It wasn't a big deal, really, and we felt a mostly peaceful vibe from all motorists that day.

If not other randonneuring events we've done this year, or in years past, this event has definitely inspired me to consider doing more brevets next year. Not necessarily to aim for a 1200k big poobah randonnee like PBP, GRR, BMB or what have you, but to simply enjoy the more chill social environment of the randonneuring community. And the other inspired idea to come out of this ride? Bike camping trip to Big Basin this Fall!

Distance: 125 miles | Elevation gain: about 13,800' | Ride time: 9h24m
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