Certain hills are forever defined by your first experience climbing them by bike. Try as you might to overcome this, each subsequent climb of that hill is (at least a little) ill flavored if that first experience did not go well. Irony is often best illustrated when the hill in question is a simple one for fresh legs but fate always provides you with a set of tired ones. Dixon Ridge, the final climb on Nicasio Valley Road, a feature of so many San Francisco Randonneurs brevet routes is a case in point. I never know if that mere bump will crush me. The Santa Rosa Cyclists brevet calendar for the last three years has featured a ride affectionately known as the 'Hubba' that is nothing if not heavy on long climbs, traversing twice the mountains that separate the Anderson Valley from the middle landscape of the Russian (nee Slavyanka) River Valley. Upon first hearing of the new route from Bob, the Santa Rosa RBA, I felt more than a little intimidated. The first two versions of the event passed without my joining in or even considering riding it. I knew too well that in February, when the ride was usually held, I'd not be in very good climbing condition, and I'd be over-matched by the west bound climb on CA-128 and by Mountain House, let alone the Boonville-Ukiah climb (in that direction). In 2007, I was having a pretty good year on the bike, better than in the previous years. That year I did the Davis 600km, which traversed Boonville-Ukiah in both directions, and it wrecked me. I remember, with over 200 miles in my legs already, nearly passing out on the return to Ukiah, twice feeling lightheaded and wobbly on the climb up 'homebound', so my 'Super Randonneur' series that year ended with a less than stellar ride. (This was my last shot at the final PBP qualifier in 2007, so there was no second chance.)
Last year, in 2013, I finally overcame my hesitation in doing this ride and signed up, traveling up with Kevin and Jack. It likely was the fantastic start to the year on the bike I had had up to that point that convinced me the idea of finishing this ride wasn't fantasy. As per usual, Bob had great weather for the event and thus a great turnout. Similar to the Napa 200km brevet, this route needed to meander a bit in the early miles outside of Healdsburg in order to reach the 200km distance requirement, so the route heads east-northeast through the vineyards at the north end of the Alexander Valley before any of the climbing even begins toward Cloverdale. Beyond Cloverdale though is the real climbing, first up CA 128 and the county line between Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, followed by more climbing through the Yorkville area on the way into the Navarro River Watershed. Arrival in Boonville leaves the riders perplexed that there wasn't much more of a downhill coast to enjoy and in fact county road crews seem complicit with the fraud, with 'official' road signs suggesting an 8% downhill lasting two miles. Lies, simple lies those. After the control in Boonville riders reverse course for less than a mile and then hang a left past the solar powered brewery where the longest but perhaps not steepest climbing begins over the Boonville-Ukiah road. From early on in the climb riders can look back out over the Anderson Valley, a place rich enough to have it's own language, but ironically the language is not itself rich enough to have the vocabulary to describe the views. The peak of the climb is one that is not clearly defined and in fact the road undulates for some distance before the double descent (the first at 8%, the second at 10%), dumping riders in the southern outskirts of Ukiah, CA. A control at the Safeway in town gives riders one last official stop before the route heads south for good, and the finish 50 miles later back in Healdsburg. Along the way riders first meander downstream on the east side of the Russian River, then cut west through Hopland heading for the ascent of Mountain House. This is where the steep climbing is, but fortunately the scenery is so stunning that you are distracted slightly from the agony in your legs. From Mountain House Road and CA 128, there is the (mostly) downhill run into Cloverdale, followed by a run along Dry Creek Road past vineyards then on to ride's end at The Bear Republic Brewery.
Leaving town I trailed Metin past the corner onto CA 253, aka Boonville-Ukiah road. The road name put me in mind of the country roads between small towns in southeaster Michigan, named for the two towns the road connects when between the two towns, but by the name of the 'other' town while the road is within one town.
As we passed the Dry Creek General Store I tried to remember how we would get into Healdsburg and make our way to the finish control, but just could not remember. Bob had to explain it twice before the penny dropped but then I had it. As happened on so many brevets this year, as the group I was with approached the finish, Carl would be riding back out for more miles, having finished long before us. After all my 'hard work' trying not to keep up with Matt and Mike, it turned out our group arrived barely five minutes behind them, with our group finishing the 125 miles in 8 hours, 11 minutes. Despite finishing more than an hour faster than it took me last year, I felt far, far better after this ride than I did last year. Regardless of how I felt after either ride though, Bear Republic beer made everything even better anyway.
Ride date: 3-15-14
Host Club: Santa Rosa Cyclists
Total km: 200
Km remaining needed for K-hound: 8,500
Photos by Metin Uz, and a full gallery can be viewed here.