Hey folks. My apologies for taking so long to post this write up! I’ve been spending far too much time out on the bike and not enough time paying attention to timely posting on this here blog! Anyway… A couple of weeks ago, I rode in my first organized bike ride in Sonoma County. The Sonoma County Backroad Challenge is a charity ride organized by one of the local Rotary Clubs. It includes three different routes (Full Century, Metric Century, and a Half-Metric Century) along the, you guessed it, back roads of Sonoma County. After checking out the maps and elevation profiles of each route, and going back and forth about whether I felt like I could do any of the rides (Sonoma County is known for its rolling hills), I finally decided to register for the Half-Metric Century route at the last minute. On the morning of the ride I made the short drive to the town of Penngrove, to Penngrove Park, the start and finish of the ride. The recommended start time for my route was between 9 and 10 a.m., and I arrived at around 8:30.
Since I had registered online, check-in was fast and easy. There were no lines and I was able to check-in right away. I was given a blue wristband with two pull-off tabs, for “beer” and a “meal,” as well as a cue card with the route map and directions. With wristband securely on, I wandered around Penngrove Park a bit. There was coffee, OJ, pastry, and yogurt available for the riders. Since I didn’t have any breakfast before leaving my house, I grabbed some OJ and coffee, a yogurt, and a pastry. I also grabbed a couple of Cliff bars to eat while out on the road.
After finishing up and doing a final check of my bike and tires, I headed north out of Penngrove and followed the route West.
The first 8 miles were a steady climb but my legs quickly found relief on the long and extremely fun descent around mile 9. The downhills almost always make the climbing worth it! At the bottom of the descent, I hit a series of rolling hills. The scenery was typical of Western Sonoma County; green rolling hills populated by happily grazing California cows. Unfortunately, I realized after the ride that I didn’t take a single picture of the scenery! Definitely a bummer! I need to remember to stop every now and then to snap a couple of pictures. Next ride I will, for sure! I was chugging along on the route, taking in the scenery, and enjoying being on two wheels, and I almost missed the first rest stop! I didn’t seen the sign for the turn until I had almost passed it. I slammed on my brakes and made a big sweeping turn into the rest stop.
Rest Stop #1: Valley Ford
The first stop (at about mile 13 of the ride) was at a small park in the tiny community of Valley Ford, about 5 miles form the Pacific Ocean. By the time I made it to the stop, I was almost out of water! I made a beeline for the tables set up at the back of the park to grab some water and snacks. I was excited to see that they had GU Brew tablets available next to the water re-fill station, and that the snacks provided included not just the usual fruit/trailmix/baked goods. Yes, I did grab a banana and a bit of trail mix, but I was also super psyched to see that they had cups of 7-layer bean dip (loves me some beans) and chips and individual packets of sunflower butter. All in all, it was a pretty good spread. I chilled at the stop for about 15 minutes, eating, drinking, and taking in the crowd of my fellow cyclists, and after a quick bathroom break, I was back on the saddle, riding out of Valley Ford.
The Climb of Doom (aka Gericke Rd.)
Shortly after leaving Valley Ford, the route turned down Gericke Rd. At first, it looked like any other backcountry road in Sonoma County, but after making a turn in the road, I realized that this was THE CLIMB. When I was first deciding whether I was going to sign-up for this ride, I was unsure of whether I could actually complete any of the routes because they all involved a climb bigger (steeper!) than anything I’d ever done. When I settled on the half-metric century route, I was worried about the route’s one big climb but figured that if I really couldn’t peddle over it, I could always hop off the bike and walk over it. Now, with the steep hill looming ahead of me, I was determined to get over it on two wheels and not on two feet. I started climbing, and climbing, and climbing. I geared down to keep my cadence, and fought every urge to stop. My speed dropped and it felt like I would fall over if I stopped peddling at all! Finally, though, after about a mile of climbing up an almost 8% grade, I finally made it to the top! There was a group of ladies right in front of me the whole time, and they cheered me on as I made it to the top. Thanks for the encouragement and support ladies! After catching my breath and sucking down a bunch of GU Brew, I hopped back on my bike and let gravity do most of the work and I raced down the other side of the hill. For the next 7 miles, I worked through a series of rolling hills. After the big climb and the series of small hills, my legs were screaming at me to stop. Luckily, I soon spotted the sign for the second rest stop and gleefully turned off the road as visions of cold water and snacks made my mouth water.
Rest Stop #2: Two Rock Church
I rode into the second rest stop and quickly stashed my bike on one of the many bike racks provided. I made my way to the snack table and filled my empty water bottle with more GU Brew. I loaded up on some snacks (banana, almond butter, trail mix, oranges, and bread with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip). I eyed a nearby ice chest full of Mexican Coke (the kind that comes in a glass bottle and is made with real sugar) and contemplated downing one. Thankfully, I resisted the urge, figuring that it would probably upset my stomach more than it would help since I don’t normally drink soda. I spent a lot less time at the second stop and was back out on the road after just a few minutes. At this point I was pretty tired and the thought of the after-ride bbq lunch and beer was motivating me to get going.
The Climbing Never Stops
Shortly after leaving the 2nd stop, I hit two more moderate climbs and a bunch of rolling hills. I spent the last 9 miles of the ride climbing up and racing down 6 hills of varying difficulty. I’m not going to lie; it was challenging to hit these climbs at the end. I was cursing the hills and fighting thoughts of quitting and getting a cushy SAG Wagon ride to the finish, but I fought through and when I finally rode up to the first stoplight I’d seen in 30 miles, I knew I was almost done. After three more miles, I finally crossed over the finish line. I was tracking my ride with the MapMyRide app and eagerly checked the app to see what my stats for the ride had been. Not too bad! I rode a total of 37.25 miles in just over 3 hours!
After crossing the finish and stashing my bike, I made a beeline for one of the three beer vendors that were on site. My registration included one beer and I had a choice between one of the local breweries: Lagunitas, Petaluma Hills, and Hen House. Having been a long-time fan and drinker of Lagunitas, I wanted to go with something I hadn’t had before. I quickly spotted Hen House Brewing Company and chose one of their delicious ales to cap off a long morning of hard riding.
With beer in hand, I quickly made it over to the food line. The food was delicious and featured BBQ chicken prepared by the Penngrove Social Fireman along with salad and pesto pasta salad. Along with food and drink, the festival featured live music and a small expo. Unfortunately, I had plans for that afternoon and wasn’t able to stay very long after my ride to enjoy the festivities. Soon after finishing up my lunch, I gathered up my bike and headed back to my car. I did have to make one last stop though, as I spotted a Three Twins Ice Cream truck set-up on the perimeter of the park. If you’ve never heard of it, Three Twins Ice Cream is an organic ice cream locally made in Marin County, and is absolutely delicious! I stopped by the truck and was offered a scoop of either Chocolate or Lemon Cookie. Loving all things lemon, I instantly opted for the Lemon Cookie, a flavor I had never tried, and was instantly glad I chose it over the chocolate. It was a rich, creamy, and not too sweet lemon ice cream with bits of crumbled vanilla cookie in it. Yum! It was so good that I ended up buying a container of it a couple of days later!
After all of the doubt I had before the ride about whether I could actually complete a ride with so many hills and steep climbs, I am so happy that I took on the challenge! I’m looking forward to doing this ride again next year, and am thinking about taking on the metric century route.