Monday, October 3, 2011

Gran Fondo

Back in January, during a temporary lapse in sanity I registered for Levi’s Gran Fondo - a 100-mile bike ride through the most treacherous climbs of Sonoma County. The tickets were pricey, but hey, I had 10 months to train for this ride, right? WRONG. Lesson: never commit yourself to anything more than 2 months in advance because you don’t know what curve-balls life will throw your way.

Yeah I trained... until June. At which point I left for South America and didn’t sit on a bike saddle again for 3 months. When I returned home, Sheila the Wonder Bike was pretty beat up from her rough life in a dirty storage shed. I fully intended on fixing her up to start training, but then school started, then the odd jobs started, and suddenly I realized the event was in a mere two weeks! Frantically, I tried to sell my ticket but to no avail. So I started to train.... slowly.

SO MANY cyclists waiting for the race to begin.
 Well, Saturday was the event... and.... SUCCESS! My friend Kevin and I met up bright and early Saturday morning and biked to the start together. There were 7,500 people registered to ride which was evident. 5...4...3...2...1... and... nothing? It took about 15 minutes after the race started before we began to inch toward the start. But then we were riding strong amidst throngs of other ambitious cyclists excited to conquer to the Sonoma County hills and perhaps get a glimpse of THE Levi Leipheimer. We rode out of west Santa Rosa neighborhoods, through the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and through giant redwoods on Occidental Road toward Occidental. There was a bit of a climb on Occidental Road but nothing too terrible. As we descended down Occidental Road there was a nasty accident where I heard the paramedics say to the crash victim, "You don't remember anything?". Youch.

snacks --- yummmmy
 In Occidental we reached the first break station: toilets, bike mechanic, water bottle exchange, etc. And food. Ohhh the food. I've competed in a gazillion races but have never encountered a spread quite like this. PB&Js, m&ms, nuts, cliff bars, fig bars, bananas, grapes and STRAWBERRIES were only a few of the items available for consumption. Sheila was in great shape thanks to my friends at Breakaway Bikes and she was riding like a dream! But one of the brand new cables had stretched out a bit so I waited in line for the mechanic, a fine fellow from NorCal Bikes to fix her up. Feeling refreshed and thankful for the cloudy bike-friendly weather, Kevin, The Dark Knight (Kevin's bike), Sheila, and I made our way down Bohemian Highway towards Monte Rio. The road was pretty much downhill/flat and EMPTY. There were literally no other cyclists on the road with us. I'm not sure where they all went, but I guess we took so much time enjoying the break station that all the other riders took off.

In Monte Rio, a sign split the riders into two groups. Right for the "Gran" riders to continue north into Cazadero and up the dreaded King Ridge Road, an intensely brutal climb at the moment being plagued by thunderstorms and slick roads. OR left for the "Medio" riders to skip that hell and go straight to the coast. Given the two scenarios and checking in with our sanity (and remembering that we didn't train for this event) we chose to head left down Moscow road to the little town of Duncan Mills. After refreshing at another break area we continued west on highway 116 and up the road toward Goat Rock State Beach. Just past Sizzling Tandoor (a DELICIOUS Indian restaurant) was a sign guiding those who desired a steep off-road experience up Willow Creek Road. But since The Dark Knight and Sheila the Wonder Bike only had skinny road bike tires we opted to stay on Highway 1 and headed south along the coastline. The ride was beautiful! Rolling hills along a rugged rocky coastline. And then at the next break area at Schoolhouse Beach we ran into Levi.

 Feeling punchy, I asked him if he would take a photo with my bike Sheila. The converstation went as follows:
Me: Will you be in a photo with my bike Sheila? She's almost as famous as you are.
Levi: (looks confused) Don't YOU want to be in the photo?
Me: That's not necessary.
Levi: I really think you should be in the photo.

Levi checked out Sheila and seemed shocked that I would take a 1980s Nishiki on such a rough ride, but I reiterated my theory on bikes: it's not the bike, it's the rider. I don't need a better bike, I just need stronger legs. Then a few other people asked to take pictures of Sheila and inquired about her. I found the whole circumstance so hilarious that I laughed my way up Coleman Valley Road! Note: Coleman.Valley. Is. HARD. The first ascent is SUPER STEEP and occasionally when I put my foot down for a quick break I couldn't get back on the bike because the slope grade was too much! Nevertheless I pulled through the burn and made it to the top. Other cyclists cheered me on and several complimented Sheila. I was feeling great by the time I reached Ocean Song (an intentional community/another break area) at the top of the mountain. Kevin and I did some stretches and mentally prepared ourselves for the two more climbs ahead of us before the descent back home. Only 20 miles to go!

Kevin & The Dark Knight
 However, those last couple climbs, although not as hard as the initial ascent, killed our legs. His knee hurt. My wrist and hip hurt. I was about the start complaining about the pain until I realized how lucky I really am! My roommate works with developmentally disabled adults and she tells me stories about how many of them make up tales of adventures they will never be able to go on. They can't use the toilet by themselves, let alone ride a bike! And then it hit me. I am so lucky to have been given the body, mind, and lifestyle that I have! There are millions of people out there who would not be able to hop on a bike without training and ride up steep mountains for 70 miles, just because they felt like it. Realizing that I was truly blessed gave me the encouragement I needed to get to the finish line.

Although the roads from Sebastopol to Santa Rosa were pretty darn flat, I felt like my legs were going to fall off. Nevertheless, Kevin and I powered up and raced to the finish line. VICTORY! After parking our bikes we crawled over to the beer booth for our complimentary IPA (courtesy of New Belgium) and grabbed a free plate of paella. After resting awhile in the grass amidst the festival we summoned the energy to bike back home. Each press of the pedal felt like 1000 daggers and I could barely get upstairs to my apartment. But you know what? It was worth it! I was given the opportunity to go on a super fun bike ride through freshwater marsh, redwood forest, riverine valley, rocky coastline, and coastal grassland with spectacular views, with an awesome friend. Life.Is.Good. :)  


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