One of the things I did not fully appreciate before moving to California was how incredible the cycling would be. Sure I had heard that Marin County was a cyclist playground but I assumed that just meant a quick spin over the Golden Gate Bridge would let one ride any number of routes. I failed to understand that any one of those routes could be the best ride a given cyclist had ever been on.
It is almost becoming a cliché that after each long ride I do from my new home I finish and say, “that was the best ride I’ve ever been on.” Saturday, may truly take the cake; I can’t say my Saturday ride was the most fun I have ever had on a ride but was by far the most challenging, zone 5 inducing, suffer fest I have ever had the privilege of testing myself on.
Poised for a day of cycling and wine tasting my new partner in triathlon crime, Little Nemo, and I left SF for Healdsburg around 7:45 am. After a quick stop at Philz coffee we were on the road and excited for the days pavement. Once at the parking lot of the Healdsberg City Hall we headed our separate ways; she was off to tackle the flats and I was off, like my normal idiotic self, finding the hardest ride I could in the general area.
Prior to heading up for the weekend I had come across the Sanata Rossa Cycling Clubs website which boasted the 10 greatest rides on their websites. I was up for that Pepsi Challenge and of course had to go with one of the 3 rides that was listed as extremely challenging. It just happened that the ride they described as the “quintessential Sonoma ride,” also left from the Healdsberg Court House, so I was sold.
The Geyser ride was unlike any I had ever done before. My trials and tribulations on Afton Mountain and the Blue Ridge parkway came early in the ride. After the first 20 to 30 miles training in Virginia I’d reach easier terrain so I was freshest when the going was hardest. Tackling the 7 sisters provided outlets of relief throughout the climbs and was met with some of the most majestic views I had ever seen. The Geyser Ride was a different story entirely.
Geysers starts off through a beautiful path in wine country. I passed by vineyard after vineyard, pig farms, wild turkeys and gorgeous rolling terrain. I averaged just about 20 mph for the first 20 miles and was feeling strong. After mile 20ish I entered River Rd and the terrain took a dramatic turn. While still beautiful I felt like I was scaling Caradhras trying to save Middle Earth.
I climbed deeper starring down into a beautiful valley pushing my quads as hard as they could go. About 3 miles into the 12 mile climb I felt a bit woozy, checked the blood sugar and grabbed a snickers bar. After a 5 minute pause my blood sugar started to climb and I was off again. The next few miles rolled along gradually enough as I averaged about 14 mph (between 11 and 18 mph) for 6ish miles.
As I climbed and climbed I could see what I thought was a smoke stack in the distance. I later found out that there is an actual Geyser on Geyser road in Geyserville and that the Geyser provides geo-thermal energy to the region, pretty cool. Once I finally got even with the geo-thermal smoke I thought I had reached the apex of my climb, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Taking a right hand turn at the end of River Rd. onto Geyser Rd, I was hit smack in the face with the steepest, hardest, most grueling climb I have ever encountered. Over the next 3 miles I climbed a net of 890 feet, declining just 52 feet over that same stretch. I averaged 3.6, 8.6 and 13.1 mph in those 3 miles and had never felt as deep a burn in my quads as I did during that stretch. I had to stop twice for fear my heart was going to explode out of my chest and could do nothing but collapse on my aero bars as I tried to muster the leg strength to continue.
To make matters worse I picked up a new pair of training wheels for El Bastardo. I put my old Mavics on the bike I’m using for crits and found a great deal on a Mavic Kysirium Elite on Craig’s List with a cassette. Problem is the cassette’s largest rear sprockete was a 25, on my old wheels I had a 28. With a 43 small ring up front my old gear ratio meant my bike was advancing 1.12 times for every pedal stroke in 43 x 28, with the new 43 x 25 gearing my bike advanced 1.72 times. The best comparison is taking steps up a hill, it’s a lot easier to take little steps up a huge hill than lunge forward; essentially the new gearing made the climb 35% harder than what I was used to!
Regardless, I pushed forward and finally reached the top and was rewarded with a screaming descent through heavy fog and a light drizzle. The road would break apart at times into loose gravel and I’d frequently be met with cattle grates. Over one particular cattle grate that I didn’t see until I was on top of it I nearly lost total control of my bike as the front tire skidded to the side as I glided over it. Thankfully the handseling skills learned at the early birds paid off as I was able to regain control and safely continue on. Crashing at about 35 mph would not have been fun!
Finally I was done with the most hilariously satisfying ride of my life. Each time I ride out here I’m reminded of how badly El Bastardo needs a step-brother. Sadly those sponsors still haven’t knocked down my door so I’m going to continue to be the crazy guy doing climbs no sane person would do on a tri bike. The rest of the weekend was spent tasting some fantastic cabs, points and petite sirahs; but for 50 miles I was reminded of why few things in the world bring me as much joy as mile after mile on my bike. I had some diabetic issues on the ride, felt pain like I had never felt before and pushed over the hardest climb I’ve ever encountered – not a bad way to remind yourself that no matter where you live the simplest things can bring the greatest joy.