I took up cycling so that I could go places, see things. Even without having thought through my urge, I had an instinctive understanding that seeing the world from the saddle of the bike was a better perspective. It is a fundamental truth of cycling, perhaps cycling’s most obvious truth, but we each arrive at it on our own, an epiphany that arrives with the same pleasant shock as our first kiss.
Levi’s GranFondo has given me the opportunity—nay, the excuse—to return at least once per year and ride on the roads west of Santa Rosa. King Ridge is the sort of road that even if I lived in Sonoma County I probably wouldn’t ride more than a couple of times per year—it’s that hard and remote. I’d probably upsize my jersey just to be able to carry enough food if I did the ride on my own.
This part of Sonoma County reminds me of parts of rural Western Massachusetts and Vermont, where the chain stores give way to local businesses, trees outnumber driveways and the views can take an hour to soak in. You can feel the pace of life slow like a record player spinning to a stop.
I’m not a person who relies on tradition as a road map to the future. Just because I rode Solvang three years running, I didn’t feel compelled to return for a fourth. I didn’t have the feeling that I was going to miss out on an indispensable part of my year. But my feeling is that if I missed Levi’s GranFondo, I’d have missed the prettiest, most exciting and best-organized event of the entire year. I’d have skipped prom.
In my previous posts about this event, I’ve detailed the roads, the views of the Sonoma Coast, the plenitude of food, the fact that you can choose between water and properly mixed sports drinks, that with the exception of one intersection (at a major highway) the entire course is controlled, that the mass start ensures that everyone around you has ridden just as hard as you to get to that point of the course, that the course is difficult enough to challenge any rider, that the promoter, Bike Monkey, is filling potholes (like the ones above) on their own dime. Doing that can mean creating a Sinclair Lewis-like shopping list of details, a catalog of items that may or may not paint a picture.
This would be an example of why flat places give me the hives. The scene doesn’t change. The early morning’s farm fields become thick Redwood forest, which gives way to the ridge lines of the Sonoma mountains before finally opening the rocky coast 1000 feet below.
The hay spread on the ground was a new touch and kept people from grinding dirt and gravel into their cleats.
I’ve ridden Myers Grade seven times and this was by far the clearest and prettiest I’ve ever seen this stretch of coast appear. That conclusion was no small surprise because even in fog it has been as breathtaking as Grace Kelly’s entrance in “To Catch a Thief.”
Those who like to take in the less trodden path have been turning off on Willow Creek with increasing frequency. I elected to do this climb for the second time this year and was grateful for the shade it offered.
At left is Menso de Jong, a 2007 graduate of the NorCal league who now rides for Team CLIF Bar, seated next to National Interscholastic Cycling Association executive director Austin McInerny. These days he’s a Ph.D. candidate in geohydrology at the University of California Santa Barbara. Rumor has it the quartet he rode with crossed the line first. He’s giving tips to current members of the NorCal League on how to connect boot to hind quarters. They took notes.
I met Robin Farina of the Women’s Cycling Association a few weeks ago at the Best Buddies Challenge Hearst Castle. She came out with boyfriend Kurt Stockton, and while neither of them is wild about Levi’s doping, they’ve got an interest in those events that serve the culture of cycling and have a positive impact on a community. When I told Robin about Willow Creek her eyes brightened with that flash that comes with a new challenge. She won the climb and was handed this gorgeous bathtub of Patron Tequila. Word is that is seriously top-shelf tequila. All I know is that it was worth sipping. Alison Tetrick took the QOM on Coleman Valley. Somehow I missed which men delivered the KOMs, which I’m okay with, mostly because it usually works out the other way around.
I’ve lauded this event as the best thing going in the U.S. But it’s true I haven’t done every event out there. I’d love nothing more than to find other events as great as this one. This is the most fun I have each year. Here’s to hoping I can find this much fun in a different Zip Code.