Every couple of years, my friend Peter and I get together for an epic road ride, usually in the Boulder, Colorado area. We’ll never live up to the best ride we did, which was 200 miles long and so far back I can’t remember the year, but we try to get as close as possible. Our last would-be epic ride, in 2016, kicked our asses so bad we had to cut it short and relegate it to “quasi-epic” status.
This year we’re both turning fifty so we decided we needed to redeem ourselves. Pete contrived a pair of brutal routes, this time on my turf. So we hit Sonoma County last Friday, and Napa on Saturday. They both hit back—hard. If you’ve always disliked me, read on for your first dose of Schadenfreude: Epic NorCal Ride - Day One.
The route packed a big surprise that damaged our bikes. The mileage, the climbing, and our own foolish refusal to act our age caused us much suffering. In other words, the ride was a rousing success.
Pete and I trained hard for this ride, for upwards of, well, four weeks. Up until mid-May, my longest ride of the year was 31 miles. Pete didn’t do much better. That didn’t stop him from downloading a challenging 106-mile route from Strava that was based on the Levi’s Granfondo route from 2012. I’d done that ride all the way back in 2009 (click here for my report) and had fond memories (get it—fond?). Without any support, and too few miles in our legs, we would have our work cut out for us.
With that in mind, we hit upon the ingenious strategy of carbo-loading the night before on nothing but greasy happy-hour snacks at a Santa Rosa brewery. We had giant onion rings, small but tasty “Asian chicken bites,” a Reuben slider, hella fries with mayonnaise, and deep-fried calamari. Our rationale for this unorthodox preparation was fiscal efficiency. I mean, the very same onion rings that normally go for $9 were only $3 during happy hour. Who could resist? Then we found an ice cream joint where I had the “homemade Oreo” flavor and I learned, to my surprise, that this place actually makes their own Oreos to put in the ice cream. They charged me $1 extra for a cone, but I didn’t care because a) it was one of those highly groovy waffle cones, and b) the creamista stuffed the whole damn cone with ice cream. Good times!
Our pre-ride breakfast was bagels and coffee at a local place. Being a notorious cheap bastard, I suggested we get one bagel with cream cheese and one without, because they always give you too much cream cheese so you can transfer half of it to the plain bagel and save a buck or two. Well, they must have heard us scheming, or maybe they’re just stingy, but the donor bagel was the most under-cheesed I’ve ever encountered. Curses!
During the Day One ride we enjoyed spectacular scenery, tough climbs, a breathtaking coastal descent, and Hostess fruit pies at a little grocery. I chased my pie with a Klondike ice cream bar. The ride got tougher from there because the road we’d chosen was closed due to, well, having utterly gone missing due to all the rains here. So what started as a road ride became a mountain bike ride.
That night we put on the dog at LoCoco’s Cucina Rustica: lots of French (i.e., white) bread with this garlicky tapenade; a Caesar salad with anchovies; deep-fried calamari; tortellini in a heavy cream sauce; and a Lagunitas IPA to dissolve all the fat. As much food as that was, I could have eaten a second meal just like it. Great restaurant, by the way, though we almost had to kill this loud douchebag hanging out near the bar where we were sitting. He must have been drunk and/or thought he was funny.
Peter is a medical doctor, which is great news for me. It means I can look a waiter right in the eye and say, “My doctor has advised me to eat more saturated fats … is the cream sauce good and rich?” It also means Pete goes into these rides even more tired than I do, giving me a leg up which I desperately need. (He was a pro racer and has always been way stronger than I, in fitness, stamina, and character.) I think he’d worked some overnights in the ICU before this trip because almost as soon as we got to our motel, he demanded we turn the lights out. It was like 9 freakin’ p.m.! I figured we could at least talk for a bit, so I told him this great joke:
Jean Paul Sartre goes into a little Parisian coffee shop and tells the waiter, “Bring me a coffee with sugar but no cream.” The waiter heads to the kitchen, only to return a couple minutes later to announce, “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Sartre, we’re all out of cream. Can I bring you a coffee with no milk?”
This didn’t elicit so much as a chuckle, which didn’t surprise me too much because when I tried this joke on my wife and daughter I got nothing but blank stares. I told Pete, “Perhaps this joke requires some basic knowledge of existential philosophy,” but still he didn’t utter a sound. I realized then that this albeit brief joke had actually put him to sleep.
Here we are at the start of Day One.
Pretty mediocre motel, but I’ve stayed in much worse … at least it was non-smoking. As for local amenities, you couldn’t do much better than this junk-built obelisk just a few blocks away:
Look closely—it’s made (well, adorned) largely of (with) bike parts. How fitting!
The first climb of the day wasn’t very hard, and the weather was still cool, especially with all these trees breathing on us.
The only problem was that my saddle—which had been creaking and clicking increasingly over the past few months—started making more and more racket until it sounded like a Geiger counter with the volume turned up. I dismounted to investigate and dislodged a little curl of metal that had been part of either the saddle rail or the post. Well aware of the dangers of stripping something, I tightened the main bolt as much as I dared, and then—hallelujah!—the saddle shut right up.
As if Murphy wouldn’t tolerate his law being broken, on the first descent Pete hit a cattle guard wrong and put a giant dent and flat spot in his front rim. It was so bad we had to lower one of his brake pads so it wouldn’t hit his tire. That kind of put a damper on the descents, with his braking super grabby, but of course at our age we can’t be bombing the downhills anyway.
Here we’re stopped for a bit of a rest under the redwoods.
We cruised past the Cazadero Music Camp and stopped at Raymond’s Bakery for water. The front door was open, but the bakery wasn’t. The gal there seemed inordinately apologetic and happily filled our bottles for us, and even served us bread and butter on the house. NOOICE!
As we made our way up the first major climb, the lush tree cover eventually dwindled until we reached a more sparse but very scenic vista.
It was a steep, scabby road with very little traffic, just perfect for tiring our legs.
We descended for a while, and I guess we tackled the second big climb of the day, but oddly enough I don’t remember a single thing about it. (Perhaps my brain still hasn’t recovered from being simmered in its own juices on Day Two—but I see I’m getting ahead of myself.)
After some descending we reached the coast. I told Pete this was Lake Tahoe but I’m pretty sure he didn’t believe me.
I spent some time admiring this well rusted barbed wire. This is because I once wrote a research paper for history class on the topic of barbed wire. (Or was I just stalling?)
The ride just kept getting more beautiful.
Highway One gives some famously breathtaking views of the coast.
I decided to take a selfie just to prove that I was actually on this ride, and that Pete wasn’t just accompanied by a professional photographer, the paparazzi, or a drone.
The best parts of the descent down the coast, of course, aren’t recorded because I had both hands on the bars. The temperature was perfect, the road (mostly) smooth, the curves nice and sweeping, and there was even this hawk flying along above and ahead of me, dipping and soaring and doing all kinds of unnecessary maneuvers, just for the sheer fun of it, and I realized suddenly that I was having my Spalding Grey “perfect moment.”
As if things couldn’t get any better, we stopped at the Jenner C Store for some refined sugars. (There’s a point in any veteran cyclist’s epic ride when energy bars just don’t cut it anymore.) The Hostess fruit pie is the all-time junk food champion, packing almost 500 calories into its wallet-sized shell. Just for good measure I combed through the store’s freezer for their most highly caloric ice cream bar, which ends up being a Klondike bar at 300 calories.
It was only when we turned inland that things started to get tricky. First off, the road was closed. Worse, as we continued on beyond the barrier, we came to a section that Caltrans (or somebody) had apparently toyed with the idea of rebuilding. They’d dumped there a bed of very small rocks that, with the aid of a steamroller, might have created a usable surface. It was just barely rideable, and the occasional clanking of a stone against my rim gave me the willies. I kept a light touch on the handlebars and tried to float my bike along. Fortunately, the stones gradually dissipated and we found more and more smooth places to aim our bikes.
Finally the pavement ended altogether which was a real treat … it felt like carpet compared to the busted-up road.
We came across a giant fallen trunk and Pete tried to jump it. He almost made it but his bike got snagged.
Okay, I confess, I made that up. The photo above was staged (but not Photoshopped). Things got a bit easier from there, for a bit.
The only really hard part now was that we had our third major climb to tackle. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the traction, particularly in sections where water was still flowing over the trail. I couldn’t climb out of the saddle and there were pitches of more than 10%. We were relieved when we reached the second road closure gate, indicating we’d have actual asphalt again. Here’s the view back toward where we’d ridden.
By this point, 80 miles in, this ride was already the longest of the year for both of us. We were good and fried after close to 9,000 feet of climbing and almost seven hours in (and out of) the saddle. We looked forward to an uneventful and relaxing mostly-downhill cruise back to Santa Rosa.
Ha! Of course that didn’t happen. We were coasting down this smooth and (thankfully) straight road when—BLAM!—my rear tire blew out. Motherfrockle! I checked it out, and discovered that my sidewall, which had looked oddly dried-out and a bit hairy before the ride, now looked totally chowdered. I guess it was all the stones it had been grazing against during the off-road-action segment of our tour. Sure enough, a sidewall gash had broken all the way through, so I had to put a boot in there. (For a full dissertation on tire boots, click here.)
Now I had this big lump in my tire, probably worse than a boot usually causes because the whole tire casing was totally knackered and closer to a wonton wrapper than a sidewall. My bike rode like a mule with a gimpy leg, the tire lump giving me the highly unpleasant feedback of lub-lub-lub-lub. This made our final 20 miles or so a bit unnerving. But it was a great route along an endless walking/biking path near a river. We even saw some cute downy ducklings following along behind their momma duck (or maybe just the sitter).
We finally made it back to the motel, and following strict orders from my doctor I indulged in a recovery beer. Here is the official Beck’st:
After a long ride like this, it’s tempting to look down at your legs and think you got a suntan.
Of course this is an illusion; the “suntan” washes right off in the shower. It’s really just road grime clinging to the sunscreen.
Considering the difficulty of what we’d just done, we felt pretty good. But then, Day One isn’t about utterly destroying ourselves; it’s about totally depleting ourselves so that Day Two can properly finish us off. I won’t kid you, I was good and fried … but well knew the real beating was still to come. Watch albertnet for my Day Two report, coming soon!
Here are the stats based on my old-fashioned bike computer, with the stats from Pete’s Strava file in parenthesis. (Which is more accurate? Beats me … why not go with the more impressive number on a stat-by-stat basis?)
- 106.9 miles (104.3)
- 6:18:40 ride time
- 14.7 mph average speed (14.5)
- 8,239 feet cumulative elevation gain (8,947)
- 29.6 miles total climbing
- 34.3 miles total descending
For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.