I pinch myself every day living in Sonoma County. Then there are the days when a pinch is not enough. Those are the times I say to myself, "Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore". Coming from the midwest, this is particularly apt.
Yesterday was one of those magical days where everything coalesced into a perfect storm of perfection.
A group of us from the Golden Gate Wine Society, which generally convenes for food and imbibement in San Francisco, took a departure to Sebastopol for a 50 mile cycling tour. Eleven of us headed from the Russian River Valley, in Sebastopol, north through Healdsburg. We continued up to Geyserville, back down through Anderson Valley, then circled back to Sebastopol to settle in for wine and burgers at the home of one of our esteemed members, Paul O'Neill. It was a strong group of cyclists, including Dallas, his lovely wife, Melissa, Paul, Jeff, Brett, Bruce, Mike, Brian, George, Kevin and myself.
We convened at 9:30am at Paul's house, where he generously "carbed us up" with bagles, lox, cream cheese and tomatoes. This traditional breakfast fare was complemented by stacks of Cliff Bars, Cliff Goo, and electrolyte powder for our water bottles. The consumate engineer, Paul could not resist sharing his latest gadget: a mini "pump" that can blow up a tire in seconds from a CO2 cartridge. Paul turned out to be the only one requiring it during our ride. Not sure he didn't plan it that way :-)
We anticipated a chance of showers from the forecast, but we arrived to a sky of puffy clouds with temperatures hovering around 70 degrees. They were perfect cycling conditions and by 10:15, were were geared up and raring to go.
The initial stretch along Vine Hill Road took us from Trenton to the newly paved East Side Road, lined with vineyards bordering Russian River. Brett, not yet a GGWS member, set the pace, which was to be consistent throughout the ride. He was an Australean ringer that Paul invited to join us. We made it the first seven miles to Healdsburg almost effortlessly, in relatively flat terrain, as we were burning off the day's first calories.
The Healdsburg Avenue Bridge, closed for construction, allowed our careful crossing, threading through a maze of cyclone fencing. Then we meandered along Healdsburg's quaint streets, a throw-back to gentler times. With little traffic, our pelaton commanded the residential neighborhoods as we headed north, then west into Dry Creek Valley.
We headed out of Healdsburg northwest on Dry Creek Road, stopping for a quick gathering of riders in front of the Dry Creek Store. We kept up momentum, turning right onto Canyon Road for our first climb of the day. We were passed by at least 100 motorcycles at that turn, blasting their presence for all to heed, as they proceeded up Dry Creek Road. Then on the climb up Canyon, another 30-40 passed us, begging the question whether they took the wrong turn from their group.
After almost 25 years in Sonoma County, I had never been on Canyon Road. This gorgeous venule carried us up several hundred feet, to descend into the northern reaches of Geyserville. We turned south into town, then east along Hwy 128 where we were engulfed in the vineyards of Alexander Valley in all directions. This is a breathtaking stretch of rolling pavement. Our first 30 miles came up quickly, the entire group gathering in close cluster at the Jimtown Store for a lunch break.
With only 20 miles to go, everyone made short work of a snack and hydration. We continued on Hwy 128, heading toward Chalk Hill. We hung right onto Chalk Hill Road. This is another rolling portion; but nestled along the Mayacamas on the eastern borders of Alexander Valley, the ups and downs were becoming more pronounced. The group hung together for a short spell, but the time-in-the-saddle and distance were starting to take their toll on a few of us and we separated by ability.
At about mile 40, we were confronted by the biggest climb of the day. It was about two miles up with grades hovering at 12-13%. This is not atypical of the climbs in my neighborhood, so I am used to them. But I did not eat enough for lunch and I could feel my energy dropping precipitously. Some of the slower riders were catching up and I was falling to the back of the pack. My spirits were good as I simply recalibrated to the new pace. My legs felt strong, though my butt hurt.
The group gathered at the junction of Pleasant Avenue. Then we continued up Faught Road, hugging the hills with vineyards to our right to the west. I was slowing, so I enjoyed the views and watched my fellow riders disappear around the twisting curves of the road.
But then the road started looking unfamiliar and getting particularly rough. I had taken this ride a year back with Paul and Dick, so I got a keen sense that something was amiss. I took out my phone and gave Paul a ring. Fortunately, he pulled out his phone at just that time, so he saw my call come in. We compared notes and I had missed a turn about a half mile back. So I turned around and resigned myself to being alone the balance of the trip. I was now back in familiar territory, so I was fine.
After turning left on Shiloh Road to follow the group, I crossed Hwy 101 and was picking up speed. I blasted through a green light, but noticed a familiar orange t-shirt on a cyclist sitting on the corner. I yelled as I passed, "George?". He was buried in his phone, and I wasn't sure, so I circled back to check. Sure enough, our most recent Society member was standing on the corner, uncertain where to go or where he was. I instructed him to follow my lead and we continued enroute and sparked up a friendly conversation about wine making.
We had only a few miles to go and I knew the route, so George and I shared pleasant company heading back into the Russian River Valley. Paul, our leader, intersected us in a circle-back to be sure we were OK. Upon confirming our whereabouts and good standing, he blasted back ahead to meet the group at his house. George and I maintained a comfortable pace along Shiloh, turning left onto Windsor, then left again onto Stusser. We took a short hesitation at Saralee's Vineyard where I shared our warm relationship with the late Saralee Kunde and the source of our Dry Gewurztraminer fruit, now in the stewardship of Kendall Jackson.
Stusser T-d at River Road, where we turned right along a smooth shoulder amid lots of fast moving cars. We had to endure this for only a mile before turning onto Trenton and back to Paul's home on Vine Hill. Gatorades and beer were chilled and waiting as we dismounted from a fantastic ride.
After bit of stretching and changing from sweaty clothes, we all gathered next to the swimming pool adjacent to Paul's stunning hillside vineyard. Paul went to work at the grill making burgers. We all enjoyed a selection of wines under the glorious crisp afternoon sunshine beneath his trellised dining patio.
Did I mention another pinch?