from Sarah Schroer - Having heard much about the Grasshopper rides, when I found myself with a free Saturday I decided to check out one episode of this "Adventure Series". The weather forecast was for rain when I registered for the event last week, but it cleared up at the last minute.
There were about 240 riders at the start in Occidental, the glitterati up front and me towards the back. After a mass start at 10am, the group spread out going up Coleman Valley Road, and by the time we reached the first descent the crowd had thinned to a safe level. Bad cross winds going south on Hwy 1 to Bodega Bay made it hard to keep the bike going straight, and became bad headwinds once we turned east toward Valley Ford. I was in a good sized group, so mostly protected from the winds. Middle Road's hill and Fallon's rollers shelled many riders off the group, and by the time we reached Chileno Valley we were down to six -- 4 women and two guys. We worked well together, sharing pulls all the way to Wilson Hill. I got through the water stop quickly, just grabbed my bottles and took off by myself along the Marshall-Petaluma Road. I was soon caught by a freight train of fifteen riders, including some Team Swifters, who pulled me at a fast pace to the base of Marshall Wall. That group shattered on the climb, and once over the top I found myself alone again and running out of steam, so I settled into maintenance pace up to Tomales. The big group caught me on Hwy 1 and left me behind. Another group caught me on Franklin School Rd, but I couldn't latch on. I took it easy from Valley Ford to Joy Road, no other riders in sight, then put my head down and started up the hill. I was out of water at this point, and just about out of gas with legs threatening to cramp, but a test ride up Joy earlier in the week helped me greatly -- I knew just how much further I had to go. The finish was somewhat anticlimactic -- no cheering fans this time -- just a bucket of Cokes and bags of chips laid out on Charles Beck's front lawn.
Overall this event was a good experience, but not much fun. The good experience part was the novelty of riding with a very strong field of cyclists, including a fair number of women, and the challenge of riding for a time goal. The not much fun part was that for most of the ride, the pace was slightly above my comfort level, and the strong headwinds kept us in a well-ordered paceline which put a damper on friendly conversation. I paid for the fast pace of the first 50 miles by watching my average speed drop over the last 25 miles of the ride. According to the bike computer, my average heart rate was about 10 beats higher than usual for a long ride. I missed my time goal by about 15 minutes, finishing in 5:15. Still not a bad time for a tough ride, and according to Charles Beck only one hour and twenty minutes behind Levi :)
from Ken Cabeen - The wind foiled me shortly after the turn onto Hwy 1 off Coleman Valley. I was with a pretty fast group out of Occidental and over to the coast that I felt fairly confident of staying with. But just a little way down Hwy 1, the SE wind combined with my fatigue to pick me off the back of the group, and I watched helplessly as they pulled away. The direction of that wind made it impossible to draft, with everyone having to stay to the right. I don't think I've ever missed those prevailing coastal NW winds quite so much! I struggled on my own until being picked up by a group of twenty or so near the turn off to Doran Beach. In this group were two young boys, one of them really tiny and 11 years old! Future pros in the making. I stayed with this group as we made our way to the base of Wilson Hill, losing some and picking some up as we went. Everyone was together at the rest stop on top, but I left early wanting to keep moving and not stiffen up. I figured they'd all catch me somewhere before the climb on Marshall. I must have gone into a different gear then, as I decided to ride as fast a sustainable pace as I could, without soft pedaling to help the group catch me quicker. I figured maybe I'd stay ahead of them and improve my finishing time, but if they caught me, so be it; I'd be back in the company of a group I'd enjoyed riding with. I then began reeling in riders who'd gone ahead of me at Hwy 1, and by the time I got to the base of Marshall, I was still alone, except for very brief company of the riders I continued to catch and pass. I caught up to a pod of four a few miles after the turn onto Hwy 1 and we worked together to Tomales, where I left them on the rise leading to Franklin School Rd, passing more and more riders as I went. I saw a bunch more riders along the rollers to Valley Ford, where I was very happy to arrive, still feeling strong and the end seemingly in sight. I caught up to another small group waiting for the left turn onto Bodega Hwy, and we effortlessly sailed with tail winds along this very fast section of the ride, which belied the suffering that lie shortly ahead on the final gauntlet of Joy Rd. This is a tough climb, especially after almost 80 miles of going hard, and I again wondered out loud who named this road, to which another rider replied, "The guy who went DOWN it all the time!" Thankfully though, it's never quite as tough as I build it up in my mind to be. I reeled in another five or so riders, catching my last one around 50 yards from the finish, who voiced his sincere agreement with my utterance of "Hallelujah!" The finishing area scene at Charles' place was very cool, and I thank him very much for making his place available. I chatted with him and some other riders after enjoying a tour of his studio full of beautiful art work over a much welcomed Coke. I headed off for the ride home when I began to get cold, and ended up with 114 miles for the day. I was really, really shot after this ride. As with the other Hoppers I've done, I mostly don't realize how hard I've ridden them until after it's over. They seem to push me into another degree of effort and riding that I'm not overtly conscious of at some level while in the act of riding. The legs and lungs are very aware however! These rides are a blast, and I heartily recommend at least trying one if you've never done it. There are riders spanning the spectrum of ability, so there's always someone to ride with.