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It might not be raining up ahead

Despite the threat of rain, 75 riders lined up to do the 2014 version of the SFR Hopland 400km. As per usual, my goal is to ride with someone for the day rather than spending time alone, and yet in the hubub of the start I can't locate my intended riding partners. In the early miles of the Lower Marin maze I follow Max and Aron through the chain of small towns but various traffic controls work to set me back and they speed on ahead. The threat of rain became more ominous as we climbed Camino Alto and turned into a reality as we were still in the very early miles of the route. By the time most riders cleared White's Hill, the rain was pelting down pretty good. So much for skirting by the weather cell.

Northwest Marin is mostly open grazing land and without the obstructions of suburbia we can often catch glimpses of the other riders on the brevet. I was impressed by Jon who seemed to not even notice the rain and powered along Chilenos Valley Road not yet wearing a rain jacket as most others seemed to have put on. In that regard, today was an experiment for me in that I was using a Mavic Vision rain jacket. The rain jacket version of this garment has the same reflective patterns but is intended to be water proof. Alas, instead this kept water from leaving my body as well as keeping the rain out and instead of heating me up, I felt chilled all during the rainfall. As we splash along there is far less chatting and far more focus in staying out of the rooster tails of water coming off un-fendered bikes in the various pacelines. Beyond mile 50, the Valley Ford rollers even on nice days never make me all that happy and this day I was not getting any less grumpy at the one-two punch of rain and pointless climbing.

Food is a magical substance, hot food doubly so, as it has the power to change moods and the Bodega Country Store serves a nice bowl of chowder. I sort of lingered here quite a while and the loose group of riders that arrived at the control has fragmented and a much smaller group leaves for the roll up to the signature climb for the day: Joy Road. This road always seems to just go on and on and today is no different. I wondered as I always do if I'd reach the top without stopping. Today: yes. As most hills do, Joy Road spread out our group and I ended up alone for the long run into Guerneville where the next control and lunch was. The rain had slowed almost to a halt as we had reached Bodega, and on the early part of the climb up Joy, before the trees closed in, we could see of to the west that the weather would be improving and this left us with a rain free descent and general drying conditions all the way to G'ville. The Safeway deli was not yet overrun so the wait for Spicy Asian Chicken and potato salad was not overly long. Michael and I joined up again at this point and ended up riding the rest of the event together.

Once clear of River Road and now on Westside Road we are afforded views well off to the north and east. The skies don't look so bad. Not clear mind you, but we so no evidence of active rain cells and the cloud ceiling seems to have risen nicely. Our stop in G'ville was not that long ago but nevertheless I can't seem to go through Cloverdale without stopping at the mini mart just north of the city limits. Erik was fixing a flat at that very city limit sign as we passed, and alas, we'd pass him at least once more as he dealt with flat tires. The climb up CA 128 is going fairly well, but at one point I had to stop to eat rather than doing so as I rolled along. Despite the stop back in C'dale I seemed to have gotten behind on my fueling, not hard to do on rainy rides. We regrouped as we began the segment on Mountain House Road. Just a few weeks before we had passed through here in the opposite direction and the landscape showed all the signs of California's drought. On this day, though, water was gushing everywhere with impromptu water falls dotting the climb up to the ridge and infusing the landscape with green. I wouldn't kid myself though that this rain fall would do anything to put a dent in the drought, as wet as I had felt earlier.

Somewhere along the way before Hopland Michael and I caught up to Todd, who would be part of our group all the way to the finish. As we arrived at the Hopland Valero, the third group was making noises about saddling up and leaving. There seemed to be a lead group of two (Max and Aron), a chase group of two (Carl and Bob) and then this sizeable next group with Jesse, Megan, Metin, Greg, Matthew and Roy. I could not get through there without consuming some of the cheese pizza they sell and keep warming on racks at the checkout counter. The stuff is crap and is always just want I need at that moment: warm, salty and full of calories. I am not the only one falling off the nurtitional bandwagon here, but Jason, who arrived just behind us, is not one of those joining me. He heads off on his fixie as we clean off our plates. South of Hopland there is a very short warm up run along another River Road, then a crossing of US 101 just where it transitions into a town road, but in our southward direction it is a limited access highway with a wide paved shoulder and a general downhill slant.

Along the way here we catch glimpses of the Russian River, a river we've crossed many times during the day. The river is hugely swollen with rain water runoff and rocks and stony shores normally in view are all under rushing water. The skies still haven't yet cleared and yet we can still see what seems to us as progress in that direction. After 8 miles we leave the wide paved shoulder and resume riding on country roads that finally flatten out near Cloverdale. It is in these miles that I have two flat tires, and after the second one Michael and Todd insist I change out the tire with Todd's spare and use a cartridge to inflate the tire. I seem to gather they can't stand the old man noises I make as I use a pump on the tire. Past Geyserville, we leave CA 128 once more and head up Chalk Hill. At this point we are treated to the best light show of the day. The setting sun and clearing skies to the far west have joined forces and cast golden hour light on the still wet hillsides north of Windsor. This display is just stunning.

Chalk Hill has some climbing before a final run down toward suburbia and Windsor where we begin our circumnavigation of Santa Rosa. Michael can't get his headlight to work as he rides along and even with stopping to deal with it it proves problematic. I've ridden this route each year since 2007 and this is the first time I have made the outskirts of Santa Rosa in daylight. Considering this is a March date, and not April there would be even less daylight so the accomplishment is not lost on me. The sun does indeed set though and after getting pipped for the Petaluma city limit sign, we cross the freeway and head toward McDonald's for more calories. Jason rolls in after us, shoves food down his piehole, and then leaves ahead of us. Our group makes the stop in Petaluma official by stopping at the control at Safeway where we once again meet the same fellow we've met each of the last several years who is just getting off work, stopping off for a few things along the way and chatting about riding with us. The last 50 miles until the finish begin with a double climb out of Petaluma and the climb once again spreads us out. From the top of the climb before Hicks Valley I can see a large swath of sky dotted with stars and yet on the run down to the valley we are pelted by ice cold rain, lasting long enough to chill us. Nicasio Valley allows us to regroup as we roll and Dixon Ridge causes no problems this night. As we roll toward White's Hill we tell stories of past rides in the dark through that area. Despite having close to 20 miles yet to ride, the crest of White's Hill signals to us all that we are done. I'm not sure why this happens because there is the little matter of Corte Madera Grade and the climb out of Sausalito, each long enough and steep enough to more than get your attention.

Todd, Michael and I finish after Midnight, after 19 hours and 15 minutes of riding. This is the best I've done on this route, and I'm sure the rain added significant time to our day, not to mention the multiple flat tires.

Ride date: 3-29-14

Host Club: San Fancisco Randonneurs

Total km: 400

Km remaining needed for K-hound: 8,100km


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