What’s a Grasshopper? An autobiography…sort of.
This year will mark the 15th running….eh, riding, of the Grasshopper Adventure Series. I have always hesitated to describe or define the events as it’s something that has changed over time and though I have had a vision of the Spirit of the rides I have never held fast to a single notion of the experience. Let’s say they are “fun, often very long and hard, magical mystery tours through the diverse, challenging and eclectic hills of Sonoma County and beyond.”
Are Grasshopper’s races? Not officially. Are they harder than races? Usually…depends. Although I have offered up the Iron Spike it’s not about “winning” but more about bicycle diversity, artistry in movement and above all else, personal challenge, perseverance, self sufficiency and competence. The rides were born from my love of riding and creating the perfect combination of road and dirt to challenge person and machine. The endless hours spent flipping the pages of the Northern California Gazetteer, hiking remote draineages in West Sonoma County, exploring abandoned railroad corridors in Austin Creek and carrying my bike over long un-rideable hillsides to connect one park or trail to another, was the birth of the Hoppers.
My high school graduation gift in 1988 was a used Stumpjumper. I wanted a road bike but my sister said I should try out this new thing some of her friends were trying, so I did. The timing was perfect. Having just graduated and left behind the dreams of being a professional baseball or soccer player I was a bit adrift. I was more interested in reading JD Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut than in b.s.ing on the bball field. What I wan’t done with was pushing myself to the limit. I lost several years rebelling against my nearly insatiable competitive side and dedicated myself to my studies of Spanish and Anthropology. At the same time I began to throw slicks on my Stumpy and do the Maple Creek Loop or Fickle Hill in Arcata. Hi Tec High Top boots, fanny pack and a king size Snickers would take me anywhere. (Sound familiar?) Maybe a few dirt turns in the Arcata Community Forest on the way back. I had given up my car so this was my only way to get out of town, away from it all, away from myself, almost.
The beauty of the bike is it’s efficiency and simplicity. I love being able to set out with a small pouch of tools and a pump and feel secure, aside from a major disaster, that I can fix whatever happens and make it home. I realized that after making my way up from Sport to Expert to Semi-Pro and competing locally as a Pro that my real passion was for adventure. Not just getting as fast as I could and winning races. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so. I admire the focus and single mindedness of people who are able to completely dedicate themselves to cycling and “make it”. Legs up in a hotel, watching TV, resting between races was not for me. My ideal day is a 6 hr mtb ride from my house, a hot shower and a good meal and then time to work in the yard, a house project, play with my kids, go for walk…you get the picture. I don’t really like to rest.
So why Grasshoppers? Training for mountain bike racing I spent the year with my Gianni bros’ riding epic Sonoma County road rides. The first time I road Old Caz and King Ridge was on a mtb with slicks. I also started to travel and do some road races but the local crits and small circuit loops were not my cup of tea. After traveling one weekend to the Pine Flat Road race I was done. We drove all night, stayed in a hotel in Modesto, rose early and drove to Pine Flat, raced and then I spent the afternoon in the ER in Fresno pissing out a kidney stone in a high security waiting room….enough!
From Occidental our favorite road ride was always King Ridge. Why not have large group ride and see who could finish first? Isn’t there usually a fair helping of tough love on nearly every ride? Okay, back up. For us “racers” it’s known that mid Winter is time to do some base miles and decrease the intensity. For non-racers it’s whatever you feel like. Our Gianni group has always consisted of racers and non-racers but mostly of the later. What happens is that someone comes upon great form without meaning too and tries to crush it when you want to take it easy. Or they take a flyer or half wheel you all the way up King Ridge and then you’re waiting for them at the end of the day. So why “organize” the ride? Why charge a fee? We began with a typed flyer and photocopied map. No registration, waiver or fee. Paper, not laminate ride card. 10 years in and the rides began to get consistently over 100 people and we were a large mass on the road,not to mention we filled up parking lots ahead of time and required bathrooms. This led us first to USA Cycling but found that nearly half of the riders had to buy 1 day licenses so we struck out for other insurers who don’t require licenses. To keep things legit we have made some adjustments to keep things safe for you, safe for us. There’s insurance, permits, facility rentals, web design etc. the lost goes on. This has been the organic evolution of our event. We hope you enjoy the experience and the format of the Hoppers.
This is the genesis of the Hoppers: long, fun, hard, rides with no waiting for your friends (unless you really want to) and lunch and good stories at the end. The fun of picking the rides is to challenge myself and others. I make the loops just long enough that you know you can finish but when riding outside your limit must really make good choices or it will be a long way back, maybe alone. Dirt. Whenever possible I throw in dirt on the road bike because bikes are meant to get dirty. To be crowned the champ of the Hoppers you need to be able to ride your road bike on dirt; both up and down. Cross, road, mtb. Instead of changing sports we change bikes. I know that some people try to get by with one or two bikes but in Sonoma County you just need an adventure bike. Call it a cross bike if you wish but it’s really much more than that.
That’s it. Ride far. Ride fast. Have fun. Take care of yourself and your brothers and sisters on the road. Simple.
Nuts and Bolts
Things change. We used to show up not knowing the route, only a general idea and what bike to bring. There were no waivers, no fees, no support.
We’ve been growing and adapting as the need has arisen. For the first 10 years I knew all the players but our pool has grown. It’s a pleasure to see the top local pros and those in the area training join us for the fun along side the weekend warriors and those just beginning to race. The logistics and responsibilities have changed since my mid 20’s but the spirit of the Hoppers is the same.
THERE ARE NO CATEGORIES just overall placing for men and women. There is always neutral support at least once at a pre-designated spot, twice for the longer routes. This year Osmo will be en route with their phenomenal Active Hydration and will also transport any special snacks or magic elixers you give them at the start. They will also be providing Acute Recovery Drink at the finish. So stoked!
THERE IS NO SAG or medical support en route. This is huge and is the reason we are able to keep the entry fee so low. Remember these are “training rides”. Everyone is expected to ride carefully and take responsibility for their own actions. Carry any tools you need and enough food for the day. There is no broom wagon if you aren’t feeling well.
THE ROADS ARE OPEN We do not close any roads nor will there be signs announcing a Special Event. No CHP will be waiving you through intersections ala Levi’s Gran Fondo. ( I wish!) As always, we are responsible to know the rules of the road and ride accordingly. We have a permit with Sonoma County to be on the road but all riders must obey the rules of the road. i.e. riding single file when necessary, stopping at stop signs, don’t cross the yellow line etc. You will receive a custom laminate map with directions but there are no signs en route. We will always post the route a few weeks before the ride so you have a chance to pre-ride and we will remind you of particular hazards to be aware of.
THERE ARE NO PRIZES…There will be awesome raffle prizes at the finish from our amazing local SPONSORS. The winners are random and not based upon where you place.
RAIN OR SHINE…bad weather never cancels…never!
WAIVERS: Everyone must sign a waiver for the County and Insurance. (Once per year)
WHAT YOU GET : A Burning Man/Gran Fondo/John Muir experience on the bike with
100-300 like minded folks. A custom laminate map/route card. Raffle prizes at the end. Custom Hopper decal for every finisher. Hydration before, en route and after by Osmo. Results and timing.
Best of all…amazing rides, good stories.