Painting by Charles Beck (Too wet and cold to snap a photo)
It’s normal that riders wonder and worry about the water level of East Austin Creek prior to the Old Caz Hopper.However, flood conditions are not usually a concern for Chileno Valley. I won’t for a moment put my wants and needs above the glory that is a wet winter. After a scorching Feb in which I mowed my field twice, with mouth open wide raised to the Heavens, I welcome the rain. But closed roads and torrential downpour can significantly affect the logistics of putting on an event and doing our best to keep riders safe. The first concern was marking the course. I think I only saw two or three arrows that endured the heavy storms. At least one rider made it nearly to Petaluma before turning around, and others supposedly “missed the turn to Joy” and went up Freestone. (A likely story!) If there was any doubt that we can and do ride during the craziest of weather, I think it’s been washed away. Thursday’s road report said both Freestone-Valley Ford Road and Hwy 1 were closed. It would not be a problem to go around Freestone Rd but Hwy 1? That was a problem. I checked the weather, and tide tables, and it looked to be in our favor. Tide tables you ask? Yes. You can see a difference of 5-10 feet at the creeks if it’s a high tide. Fortunately, tides peaked at 2:00AM on Friday and 9 PM on Sat. Also, there was going to be a break in the storm from Friday morning until 10 AM on Sat. Perfect! Even so, packing the trailer and planning for the day I was not content with the Sonoma County Road report. Closed, yeah. I get it, but by how much? When I lived in Occidental and taught in Tomales there were many flood days. One year, maybe 99′, school was canceled on 12 separate occasions. Usually this meant I had time to grab my bike and go ride the flooded roads. Why, adventure! And maybe a subconscious desire to get really good at rebuilding my hubs, bottom bracket and headset. Think cups, races, ball berrings. Do we still have these in our bikes? Remember when you first installed a sealed BB? Yes! Like sliced bread but smoother. I diverge. I jumped in my car and drove to see the roads that we labeled “closed” and was stoked to see they were just a “little bit closed” and knew that with the predicted rains and tides we’d be all good. And, with late rain we were able to stage and hang out without getting stoked. Perfect. But then, predictions of high winds. At least it wouldn’t be an easy day.
Here’s how the day unfolded for me. (Or more precisely, “How I Came Undone, Again, on Chileno Valley Hopper” or, how “Joy Rd. kicked me in the nuts when I was already lying in puddle of my own …” Anyway, you get the point.
With a field size 1/4 of what we had at Caz, fewer logistical complications and a dialed in group of volunteers, the morning went smoothly. I even had 10 minutes to get dressed and ready for the start. It’s still a little strange organizing the Hoppers and then jumping on my bike the last second to ride. Somehow during the busy week of teaching, being a dad and tweaking the last details of the Hopper logistics, I manage to make a mental map of how I’ll ride a particular Hopper. The beauty of mental imagery, meditation and focus is that it calms the mind. We can cull from nearly infinite variables, a few specific ones that that help us create a focus that is essential when preparing for a challenging event. In this case, Chileno Valley Grasshopper. I knew the field would be smaller than usual due to inclement weather. I also knew that those who did show would be a hard bunch. Based on my experiences over the last ten years when my fitness does not match my ambition, I knew that the chances of cratering before Joy were likely. My conservative game plan was to let folks ride away on Coleman Valley, settle into the third or fourth group on Hwy, and have a hard but civilized 5 hour ride in the rain. If I ended up in a group going too fast I’d simply let them go, conserve and save something for the end. Plan B? Plan B was to wing it and hope for the best. Actually I knew exactly what would happen, and it did, again! Cresting the starting climb up Coleman Valley with Levi and Pete I knew I was in trouble. Why, because Levi was gabbing away and I could actually here Pete breathing. Nice warm-up eh? After we dropped into the valley I did “let” lots of folk “get away” on the short steep climb. But then I saw George Hope as we hit the ridge and of course I didn’t want to let him go. Dug deep and bridged up. We survived a crazy windy descent to Hwy 1 and our group for the day was formed. The first couple of pulls were crazy hard. I was dangling as we climbed up from Salmon Creek and I was hoping that whoever was so excited up front would not find much support. Not sure who the instigators were but every five minutes or so it would get really hard, then ease up again. Dan Boyle, Matt Rossi and myself were all wondering if we should just let them go. Eventually in the crazy wind on the way to Valley Ford I made the decision to stick to my game plan and let them go. I was relieved, feeling a little smug about my decision as I drank and ate but then rolling mellow we caught the group on Franklin school. It now had grown as we picked up other riders who had popped off the front group. Including the Rocket Rog, the Thurmanator and the Swifties who were crushing it but being blown like kites. This meant only a small group of 6 or 8 were ahead of us. We all stayed together into Tomales and all the way to Marshall. At first the pace up the climb was fine and then I found myself digging too deep to hang on. Anyone who has ridden this course has to be thinking of Joy at mile 30. I was. DB was. Again, I followed my better judgement and let them roll away. Then Gianni Lamperti who had waited for Luke came ripping by and bridged up to the gang. I faked my way to the front of the climb so as not to get dropped as the pace increased, and managed to make it over the top intact. There was some yo-yo ing in our group along the flats and I was feeling surprisingly good. Wilson hill, no prob, grab a feed and hurry to drop the descent ahead of a speed-racer milk truck. I was thinking we’d sit up on Chileno Valley and regroup but things came undone. Rich Thurman and another were just ahead and a couple behind. I stopped to finally put on my raincoat and was not able to grab the back end as other riders bridged up. Shit! Then Gianni and Ben came by and hollered to get on. Couldn’t hold their wheel. Damn! Oh well, it’s over I thought. Then another solo rider came by on a slight downhill and I managed to dig crazy deep to follow him and join the group. I assumed, incorrectly that I’d just hang on the back. Soon we hit a wicked sidewind. Someone up front took a hard pull and I popped off. Gone for good. From here I rode solo until Joy. A couple solitary riders had passed me but oh well. Then I was caught by George, MJ and Jady. Whatever, then came the double hammy cramp; straddling my top tube standing by the side of the road and Dan Boyle passes me. What can I do? I walk the last climb, get back on the horse and roll up to the finish zone. Hardest Hopper ever for me? No. Hardest one since the last really hard one. Yes. And, until the next one.
HUGE thanks to Occidental VFD at the start, Dirk on the moto, Chris and Mary from 2UPYoga for the SAG, Nick aka SAG Monkey for the feed and SAG, Andrew from BiciSport for feed zone support, Brian Borchers from Russian River Cycles as the mobile mechanic, El Molino coaches, riders and parents as marshals, and Tera; for allowing and helping me put on (and ride) these crazy hard adventures.