Friday, April 25, 2014

Boontling can't describe it

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.

While the ride for me on the 'Hubba' in 2013 was a great ride, maybe some mistakes were made, so this year I wanted to improve upon the success of last year. Out of Healdsburg it was easy to hang with the lead pack which may have had more than half of the riders in in it from the start. On the lead in to Geyserville though the greyhounds took off and I happily let them go. Last year I tried to chase that group all the way to the switchbacks on CA 128 leading up to the county line. This year I kept to *my* pace, and avoided a repeat of becoming overcooked before the real climbing began. There still was a sizable group going through Cloverdale but on the last little bump going out of town I drifted ahead and ended up riding from the turn onto CA 128 and pretty much on into Boonville solo. The pack, led by a tandem, was never far behind and at the end of each long downhill section they would have nearly caught me only to drop back on the climbs. I admit that I knew they were there and I was doing my best to delay when the would finally catch me, but this turned out not to be until the control in Boonville. I did not want to rush through there, and while Matt and Michael were there I chose not to rush and leave with them. My feeling was that trying to keep their pace would overextend me. Patrick and Megan were at the control too and they looked to be ready to leave at about the time I was, but no sooner did I ask them if I could ride with them but they disappeared. I thought they had slipped out but it turns out it was me that slipped out. I missed spotting them around the corner of the building.

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.

Leaving the center of town in East Treestump, MI you'd take Boondocks Road, which became East Treestump Road when you reached Boondocks, MI. Of course, the comparison falls apart here as the road in question remains Boonville-Ukiah for its full length. No matter the name, this year I was finally not in over my head on the climb and was able to thoroughly enjoy the views along with Metin's company on the way up. As previously mentioned, once at the top the road rises and falls repeately over the course of a couple miles, then rushes downhill in much more of a hurry with two distinct segments to the descent. Weighing possibly twice what Metin weighs, I was able to fly downhill under the influence of Aristotelian gravity rather than Galilean gravity and I reached the bottom of the hill far ahead of Metin. Mike and Matt had arrived just ahead of me and were just acquiring lunch at the Safeway deli counter when I came in but they turned things around quickly and left while I still sat and ate. Jason pulled in a short while later but he doesn't spend long at controls so he and Bob and a few others organized a small group to leave town and we set up a paceline for the run along River Road with the Russian river just to our west. Partway along there the tandem with Craig and Lori came roaring along with Sue and several others, and we had possibly 15 riders in a pack heading into Hopland. Just past Hopland of course is Mountain House Road, a favorite of mine and a simply beautiful stretch of challenging roadway. Even with the lack of winter rains, this portion of the world looked lovely. The group formed by the two earlier pacelines began to split up and I held back in order to ride with Bob, and Lori on the back of Craig's tandem, in order to form a trio of RUSA RBAs (Bob/Santa Rosa, Lori/Fresno, and me/San Francisco). The conversation was meandering along with the road, often funny, often about the difficulty of the climb. Toward the very end Bob sprung to life, rushing by me gasping 'don't lose, huff, huff, the tandem'. Only a few beats later did I put it together. We wanted to be with the tandem when they reached warp speed on the down hill into Cloverdale, and we especially wanted to be in the lee of the tandem along Dutcher Creek and it's rollers and on Dry Creek for the final run into 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.

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