Road Riding Without a Road

There are many clients of 44-5 who came to them on my recommendation, and most of them have returned for more tours. I have been fortunate to join these cyclists and friends on some incredible riding adventures. And many of us had plans to travel to Europe to ride with 44-5 again in 2020. None of that happened, or course.

Tom and Doug, the DC Boys, had booked a custom odyssey of cycling pain in the Italian and French Alps this August. The DC Boys are younger than me by almost two decades, and they wanted a truly epic week of cycling. I saw the itinerary with many thousands of feet of steep climbing and opted out. I may ride on one of their adventures again someday, but I will be planning to sag at least a couple of the cols on multi-passo days.

DC Boys Photoshoot

Since that DC Boys Euro Birthday Bash didn’t happen, Russ and Sandy, who were also supposed to be on that tour, invited them to come to California for a week of cycling around Sebastopol. Russ put together a week’s worth of rides that would rival the European trip the DC Boys planned. And he invited a few of his Lodi cycling friends and fellow 44-5 Clients to join them.

I did the first ride of the week on Sunday. It has been a boring 5 months of riding mostly alone or in a very small group or with Stoker on flat roads from home. So this ‘client ride’ was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It was good to see those people again.

I went over with a bit of trepidation. Everyone there was a strong rider. I see them on Strava doing some very impressive rides. I haven’t been doing long rides with a lot of climbing, and Sunday’s ride was going to feature both. And the prospect of brutally hot weather did not help.

We started in cool and wet conditions with a little lightning around. At 5 am a massive thunderstorm rolled through coastal California, but by our 7:30 start there were only a few drenching showers and thunder rumbles, and by 8:30 it was all over. We got damp and very dirty with road grit, and I needed over an hour to clean the bike when I got home.

The first climb was Sweetwater Road, a narrow one lane track that gets steeper near the top. Really steep: I saw 16% on my Garmin. But it was a beautiful route with not a single car.

After a bumpy descent, we took a short detour into Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. Since there were a lot of people in the park we all put on the masks Sandy had made for us using a cycling motif fabric. The redwoods there are quite spectacular.

After lunch in Monte Rio we headed up Willow Creek Road. The term ‘road’ is used here but it is not accurate. Sandy warned us, and I brought my titanium bike rather than my carbon Tarmac. Good thing.

The first 3 miles of gravel were pretty bad. Sandy got two flats. Lauren (the cyclocross champ) was kind of surprised I was able to stay upright and ride everything and not crash. She said maybe I missed my calling. She was joking of course.

After the gravel the road was dirt and really uphill. In some places there were obstacles we had to ride around, like tree stumps across the path (a better description than ‘road’) and in one place a big tree blocked us, on a narrow ledge with a big drop to the side. We formed a line and passed the bikes ahead to Scott, who was first to go over the tree. Some of us crawled under, some climbed under. I took the low road. All of us got pine sap on our legs and hands.

Passing bikes around and over the downed tree. How do I get the pine sap out of my shorts?

69 miles and 5700 feet sounds like a solid but not epic ride. Think again. The miles and climbing on Willow Creek “Road” should count double. It is certainly the hardest ride I’ve done this year. It wasn’t hot near the ocean in the morning, but with mechanicals (there were a few, none for me though) and lunch we didn’t finish until 4 pm and the last two hours were pretty toasty. But I survived and didn’t even get any cramps.

Although I got very tired near the end, I was pleased with my ride. My total riding time was only 11 minutes slower than Scott and Russ (I don’t even look at the DC Boys). And of course some of that was descending, which I don’t count. I know I lose time going down and I don’t care. Both Russ and Scott are stronger than I am, but even if they were taking it easy I was happy to be able to see them most of the time.

I hope we all make it to Europe next year. I am not optimistic since here in California there are no signs of any restrictions being lifted soon. Virtually all our schools are virtual, and that is not a virtue. Clever sentence, no? Don’t steal it.

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