If I’m honest, I probably shouldn’t have had that shot of Jack Daniels, or the fortified Pinot that was smoother than polished marble. That shot of Fireball was definitely not a mistake though. I mean, you can’t be rude, can you? Here’s the thing: Bike Monkey decided to do something different with Annadel this year. They wanted to turn the beloved cross country into a whole weekend of fun. There was to be a downtown criterium in Santa Rosa on Friday night, but the city nixed that at the 11th hour leaving many of us grumbling. Saturday was a collection of fun rides. Stuff for the family, a women’s ride, an intermediate ride and then the degenerate conflagration in which I was an oh-so-willing participant—the poker ride. Sunday was, as usual, the 25-mile cross country that can break even the most prepared riders (or fingers, if you want to talk about last year).
There were five stops strewn (or strewed if you’re a Southerner like I am) around the park on the poker ride. There was a challenge, of sorts, at each of them. I’m not so great at yoga poses, but I managed. I did skip the Jägermeister. And no, I wasn’t pacing myself, I just don’t like licorice. The shot of whiskey was just my way of escaping singing. I mean, no one wants me singing, unless it’s within a chorus. So I did everyone a favor. Srsly.
If I recall correctly, which is to say the events have taken on a certain haze, the challenges may have been for the opportunity to gain a bonus card. And even though the challenges were, mostly, not all that challenging, by the time I made it to the fifth stop, I was game for almost anything … like standing knee deep in Lake Ilsanjo and hugging two, uh, blow up dolls. I’m reasonably sure there’s photographic evidence, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I mean, if I look good, then sure. And if I look silly, so much the better. Remind me to invite all of the members of the Annadel Mountain Bike Group (the hosts of this particular mischief) to my next party.
Lake Ilsanjo sits at roughly 750 feet of elevation while Trail House, the place I was to turn in my 11 cards (had a full house of kings full of aces), sits at 200 or so.
I didn’t brake much on the way down. I wasn’t trying to set any PRs, but those stopper thingys didn’t seem terribly necessary. The lack of bloodshed suggests I was right.
When I lined up for the cross country the next morning with all the other old farts, I didn’t feel any ill effects from the festivities of the previous day. I suspect that mid-afternoon nap with The Deuce (that kid is better than Ambien) helped my body sort things out. Unlike the previous year where the first few miles were frantic the way I imagine running from a crime would be (I’m assuming I’d run), I took the opening miles in stride.
It’s also possible that I just wasn’t all that fit. Either way, I was telling myself to keep cool as it was on the opening descent last year that I fell and broke my pinky. A year later it’s still not 100 percent. The point being that I really didn’t want to crash there again. The shock was that by the time I reached that descent I was no longer with many of my peeps and the leaders of the Expert class were rubbing tires with the guy behind me who was two useful things: 1) in my category and 2) ever so slightly slower than me.
There’s a fire road the race ascends into the park and while most of it is pretty gently graded, the memorable bits are so because they angle skyward at pitches north of 14 percent. Put another way, it’s steep enough to make me doubt my easily doubted fitness. So it was little surprise that it was here I began to wonder not only how good my fitness was, but its present location as well, because I seemed not to have packed it.
I’ll say that what I appreciate about that climb is how its complete lack of technical challenge allows you to drill into your nervous system and eliminate everything but the pain. My brain was so shut down that my memory of the climb has placed sections in a discontinuous order. But hey, I’m an avowed postmodernist, so I guess that’s my lot.
Once at the top of that climb the race turns right onto a trail called North Burma. Of the many legal descents in the park, this is one of my favorites. The bends are gentle and punctuated by opportunity to shine some light between your tires and the trail, but not so great as to create a need to radio the FAA.
It’s the second half of the descent where the trail goes more serpentine with consistent arcs plus some undulations that make it more fun than Disneyland, but also a fair bit more hazardous. However, what follows is a roughly 750 foot climb to one of the high points in the park atop its sister trail, South Burma. Most of the climb is shielded deep within Redwood forest, comfortably out of the heat of the sun, and while most of the trail is singletrack, there are a couple of spots where riders developed alternate lines due to blown-out trail that it fans out like a fire road, just without the navigability.
Dropping down the other side toward one of the two big descents of the day we dove through sections of loose rock punctuated by boulders ranging from the size of a microwave all the way to the rough dimensions of a mini fridge. And of course, this being Northern California, dust rose with each passing rider, making the air up to hip height glow.
Lawndale is a descent famous within Annadel. It opens with a scree-like drop and draws you through a gauntlet of boulders and rock such that I struggle less to ride it than to imagine someone riding it on 26-inch wheels and no suspension. If we were still riding those bikes, I don’t think I’d ride this trail, or most of Annadel, for that matter.
Once through the worst of the rock you re-enter Redwood forest where the light softens and you whizz past trees with trunks as big around as an NFL lineman’s shoulders. You move at a rate too fast to marvel at a single tree and just fast enough for the smell of evergreen to fill your sinuses.
Lawndale isn’t a lengthy descent by Alpine standards, but a roughly 3-mile descent is more than enough to fatigue most riders’ arms and shoulders, so rolling onto some pavement for a climb was welcome. I recall suffering there, eating two gels and sucking cold water from my hydration pack. However, the rest of the race is but brief snapshots—bouncing over singletrack composed of football-sized stones, of seeing a rider climbing onto the trail after being bounced off by a horse, of the horse’s ass coming toward me and bumping me while teen girls laughed. And then descending.
I can’t recall the lines I took, but I recall rethinking many of my usual choices and launching off rocks I typically go around. I recall the chu-chu-chuff of the shocks working through their travel, of briefly grabbing the saddle with my knees because my hands and forearms were so tired, something underlined when a friend I’d been leading on the descent came around and dumped me like a high school boyfriend.
She left me with little more than the noise of my grinding chain as I spun the last mile to the finish. The finish never comes quickly enough.
The best part of the day came when my youngest settled into me and we drifted away in a nap.
Action images Jorge Flores, Justpedal