May 25, 2009


This last Saturday was an epic day on the bike to be certain. The Geysers, Skaggs Springs, Fort Ross, Cazadero, Occidental. 166 miles. 12 Hours. I set out upon the roads of Sonoma County at 8:30 am, well after my planned start time of 7:00am. In typical County fashion it was cool and foggy in the morning and would remain so for the first couple hours of my ride. However, having checked the weather to find a forecast of sunshine and an expected temperatur Sonoma e of 73 degrees, I felt fairly certain that the fog would lift and things would warm up a bit. That said, twenty minutes or so into my ride, I'd finally settled into the slow and steady rhythm required for such a ride. It's on long rides like this that my mind runs wild. Occasionally my musing is interrupted by some external oddity and around about twelve miles in I came across a telephone line that had what looked like a stump straddling it:

A strange sight to be certain. I never cease to find myself fascinated by such things. If it’s unusual, extra ordinary or just plain weird I’m there. "What", "where", "when", "why" and "how" are all questions that pester me relentlessly when I stumble upon such sights. Of course what one deems “extraordinary” is by necessity relative to what one deems “ordinary”. That said, I’d like to think I’ve cultivated somewhat of a penchant for finding the “extraordinary” in the “ordinary”. I am admittedly biased where my own personal idiosyncrasies are concerned however, so I’ll leave such judgment to you the reader and disgracefully digress.

At any rate, after a relatively flat couple of hours spent winding north through the vineyards that line either side of Westside Road, I hit the base of The Geysers climb at about 10:30 am.The first portion of The Geysers is a 6 mile grind that rises high nearly 3000 feet above the valley floor. From the bottom of the climb right up to the summit it was covered in a thick blanket of fog, however, upon reaching the summit of the first climb the fog on the west side had begun to yield to a bright blue sky on the east side:

Mind you it was a far more magnificent sight than the picture might indicate, but you get the idea. Just short of the top I spotted a rider up ahead of me and upon descending and beginning the second of The Geysers climbs, an incredibly unforgiving incline of hot tarmac, I caught up and rode with her. It was a welcome change of pace and we chatted for the duration of the second climb and straight on through the rest of The Geysers. Turns out she'd done The Terrible Two a coupla' years back. I've been training for The Terrible Two for the past four months and so I bombarded her with an endless round of questions regarding the event, which she graciously answered.

Parting ways with my Geysers companion, I stopped off to refuel in Cloverdale and made my way south down Dutcher Creek Road. Taking an eventual right on Dry Creek Road I rolled north for a couple of miles and before I knew it Skaggs Springs Road was upon me. Skaggs Springs is an entirely different beast compared to The Geysers. It's a series of lengthy ascents and descents that rise successively higher into the sky, ultimately offering an impressive view of Sonoma County. Just short of the first summit, I paused for a shot of Lake Sonoma.

I suppose I should offer something of a disclaimer here before I proceed. I am admittedly, something of a curmudgeon where the masses are concerned and I suffer a bitter distaste for much of what passes here in America as recreation. There's few things I love more than the silence and solitude offered up in generous abundance by Mother Nature herself and I find it incredibly irritating when such scarce qualities are rudely interrupted by the din of Man and His Machines.

Skaggs Springs Road is a haven for motorcyclists who like to play Evel Knievel up and down it's various twists and turns. I can usually hear them well up the road, like irksome mosquitoes humming about my ear lobes. They fly by in twos and threes at breakneck speed every twenty minutes or so. Typically motorcyclists are the only motorists I've ever seen out on Skaggs Springs Road, which makes their presence all that much the more unnerving. Almost as unnerving are the motorboats out on Lake Sonoma:

They whirl about in droves, performing an endless succession of doughnuts, usually to the tune of some wretched Creed anthem or other, spewing several cubic tons off filthy exhaust into the virgin air and making a general nuisance of themselves. Yep, at a reservoir near you thousands of Americans can be found each weekend enjoying the outdoors by drowning it out in a cacophony of competing outboard engines. Call it a case of testosterone gone awry, I prefer to work out my masculine angst by actually working it out, which in my case would be silently grinding my way up a seriously steep grade, legs a burning and lungs a bursting, disturbing the peace and quiet of my lactate threshold and nothing more.

The folly of such an argument however, is that I too am seen as something of a disturbance to those about me, motorcyclists notwithstanding. My very presence on the road, however far to the right it may be, has been enough to inspire the ire of many an angry motorist with profane outbursts, obscene hand gestures and on a few rare occasions, projectile matter which I'll tastefully decline to describe. Granted, such expressions of brotherly love are above and beyond what's called for, but they do likely have their origins in some earlier such event wherein one of my fellow cyclists failed to respect the rules of the road. That said, it isn't so much a matter of presence that I object to, but rather proportion. I digress once more, however.

After pausing for the Lake Sonoma shot, I proceeded onward. This being the second time I've ridden Skaggs Springs, I found it both easier and harder by turns. Easier in that I knew what lay ahead of me and harder in that, well, I knew what lay ahead of me. I've ridden a fair share of climbs here in California and this stretch, 32 miles of continuous up and down, is among the most formidable I've ever faced. Around about halfway through I came upon a Harley Davidson Guy and his Harley Davidson Girl. Harley Davidson Guy was taking photos of His Harley Davidson Girl as she sat upon His Harley Davidson.

As I passed them, Harley Davidson Guy said to me "You need an motor on that thing", to which I responded somewhat cryptically "I'm not going anywhere". I recall hearing a bit of befuddled laughter as I climbed my way past them. I suspect he failed to understand exactly what I meant. But then again, I suspect I failed to understand what I meant as well. Unfortunately this would be a characteristically typical retort on my part. I might have responded with "It's already got one!!!" thumping my chest with a firm fist indicating my heart, but no, I had to make some ethereal statement that would be entirely lost upon such a fellow and thus render myself incomprehensible. Such is the story of my life however, thus, I digress, for what, the third time? Yes. The third time.

Speaking of thirds, about two thirds of the way down Skaggs Springs the ladder collapsed as it were my legs and lungs received a welcome respite with the series of light rollers that run along the Gualala River. At Camp Gualala, I was greeted by a Sag Crew that had been following a number of riders on an organized ride put on by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club. No sooner did I ask them where I might find some water did I find a half gallon jug of cold spring water in front of me, as a generous portion of Peanut M & M's, dried apricots and granola bars.

I sat and chatted with them for a good fifteen minutes or so. Turns out a handful of them will be working The Terrible Two, so I'll be keeping any eye out for them come June 20th. Having enjoyed several fists full of Peanut M & M's, I bade my newfound friends thanks and made my way on down the road. It was 4:45 and with a good 70 miles to go, I'd have to pick up the pace if I was to make it home before nightfall. Unfortunately, I had what was the steepest climb yet ahead of me, The Rancheria Wall, a 1.5 mile monster with an average gradient of nine percent. Oddly enough after several thousand feet of climbing behind me, it was The Rancheria Wall I dreaded the most.

Fort Ross Road was yet to come however and in retrospect, it's this final climb of The Terrible Two route that I now look forward to the least. Having now ridden the entire course in successive segments, I know what to expect and Fort Ross road is going to be one mother of a climb at 165 or so miles into the ride. 2.5 miles in length, some portions of the climb reach a gradient of twenty percent which means the old quads will be searingly sore at that point. Suffice to say I eventually made it to the top of Fort Ross Road, but it took all I had within me to do so. Shortly after reaching the summit I came across this street sign:

I've seen a strange street sign or two in my day, but this would have to be amongst the strangest. Wahoo Court. Nowhere Way. Celebration Street. But Brain Ridge Road? No doubt there's a story in there somewhere. At any rate, following the intersection of Fort Ross and Brain Ridge Roads there came a series of twisting descents, followed by a handful of small gradual rises and an eventual screaming swoop down into the woodsmoke laden town of Cazadero. At that point it was gaining on 8:00 pm and though theoretically this meant a good forty-five minutes or so of daylight to avail myself of, for all intents and purposes it was night time in Cazadero, what with the towering redwoods blocking out what little was left of it.

It was full gas from there on out and rather than taking the busy River Road, I decided to opt for the relatively vacant Bohemian Highway route, leading up into Occidental. It did pose the challenge of additional climbing, but where it lacked in ease, it promised little if any traffic. After five miles of gentle incline, I reached Occidental, took a left onto Graton Road and ground my way up one brief and final rise in the pitch black cover of a densely packed forest of redwoods. When I emerged, the evening sky was a deep purple and were it not for the faint trace of a white line marking the shoulder, I mightn't have had anything to guide me.

I time trialed my way home, flying down the hills to the west of Santa Rosa. Hopped onto 116 briefly, then Occidental Road for a slight stretch and finally reached Sanford Road, wherein my penchant for the mystic kicked in. Night had fallen and a bright moonlight shone upon the pastures on either side of the road. They were being watered by giant sprinklers and dozens of streams of water whirled about in all directions producing a fine mist that soothed my sun baked bones. How many times I've ridden along Sanford Road in either direction I don't know, but on this occasion, it was as though it were the first. With the road ahead entirely obscured and only the light of the moon and stars to guide me I felt for a moment as though there was nothing beneath me but infinite space. I felt as though I were flying.

The remaining couple of miles home were a celebration of sorts. It was 9:30 pm and I had spent the entire day out on the roads of Sonoma County. 12 hours and 166 miles later I was finally home and what a journey it had been. I pulled up to the curb in front of my place on 4th Street, heaved a deep sigh, looked up at the night sky and thanked the moon for guiding me the rest of the way home. A great sense of accomplishment washed over me and I felt as though I could do anything.

But first I'd have to do one last thing before I entertained the notion of any further pursuits. I hoisted my bike up over my right shoulder and completed what would prove to be the last climb of the day: making my way up the stairs that lead to the courtyard of my building. Ironically, of all the climbs I'd done that day, it was this last one that took the most out of me. And yet it was the most rewarding climb of all, for it meant my journey had finally come to an end and I had made it home at last. And what a journey it was.

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