Grasshopper Adventure Series #5: Full-On Belgium

Crossing Austin Creek. The mad genius behind it all, Miguel.

Grasshopper Adventure Series 2011 #5: Sweetwater Springs

Grasshopper #5 brought us Sweetwater Springs for a little dirt, a little road and lots of suffering.  The day started off bright and sunny with a new start town of Monte Rio.  I decided to park at the old start just up the road in Occidental.  It was the smartest thing I did all day.  Riding to Monte Rio gave me a little bit of a warm-up.  What to ride and what to bring is always a tough decision on these races.  Last year I rode a mountain bike with slick tires on it.  Pretty dumb.  This year I went the exact opposite – road bike, but I kept the slick tires in the mix.  Didn’t want to change things too much.

The start is generally a small “meet and greet” among local riders.  Old friends catch up and new ones get introduced.  It’s your high school reunion all over again, minus the booze.  Once again Jim Keene of Norcal Bike Sport manned the team car and provided water bottle “hand-ups” somewhere on the route.  I am not sure what I would do if we didn’t have these.  Carry four bottles – no way!  After a brief introduction to the route by the patron of the Grasshoppers, Big Mig, the white flag was dropped and we were off.

I call these races “Joe’s vs. Pro’s”.  We usually have a smattering of pro riders or even whole teams come out and ride these local events.  Last month it was Ted King from Liquigas/Cannondale.  This month local hard man Levi Leipheimer showed up to give us mortals a clinic.  He is a regular at these events and there is always a sigh of despair when you see him because you know it going to be hard.

Levi showed his awesomeness and went to the front immediately from the start and set the pace up Bohemian Highway.  Shane B. was behind him and then somehow me.  What was I doing here?  Trying to hold on for dear life.  Oxygen debt in-sued.  The top guys had a plan for Levi to pull till Occidental and then Glenn Fant convinced me to attack once we got there.  I foolishly agreed, although I never made it that far.  You see, when Levi is pedaling easy, I was at full speed ahead.  I just kept wondering when he was going to soft pedal, especially when Shane pulled out and I was sitting 2nd wheel. 

Just before reaching Occidental I started to see stars and wondered what it would be like if my heart exploded.  That’s when I looked back and our group of 75 was down to about 15.  The group splintered even more and I found myself in a the 2nd group on the road with about 6 other guys, including Big Mig, Yuri and Brian Attell.  Time to recover.  I dumped my arm warmers at the side of the road.  I was hot enough.  This was another big mistake.

Our group settled in as a few others managed to bridge up.  We were about 15 strong now.  We got to Graton Rd. and 116 where everybody in the group decided to roll the red light and proceed.  I was not paying attention and when I looked up they were on the other side.  Becoming a hood ornament on a new Mercedes didn’t sound fun so I waited for the light.  That’s when I went into oxygen debt once again – trying to catch those guys.  Anger and fear of riding alone for hours on end can really make your legs move faster.  I caught them at Guerneville Road and we rolled together till we reached Sweetwater Springs.

For those that haven’t been on Sweetwater Springs Road, it is quite an adventure.  It can seem quite remote.  Deliverance comes to mind.  The road has potholes that can swallow cars.  Some of it is gravel.  Most of it is uphill.  For a 170-pound cross rider this doesn’t bode well.  But this was when a little change in weather helped this cyclocrosser.  For some unknown reason it started to rain.  Rain in California, in late May?  It was truly unbelievable.  It had gone from sunny California to what I like to call, “Belgium”, in a matter of minutes.  For those of you that have been to Belgium know what I mean.  For those that haven’t, just think, rain, cold and wind from all directions at any time of day or night.

I was excited because this is the type of weather that I like and where others wilt.  Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.  I got dropped on the climb and settled in with Terry “the Capo rep”.  This was about halfway in the race and I literally just saw Terry and one other guy the rest of the race.  It was carnage out there.  We rode up Old Caz Road.  Terry flatted going uphill on a smoothly paved surface, which boggled my mind.  I hooked up for a couple sticky bottles from Jim a little further up and powered on. 

The next part of the course was where I had some angst with the road bike.  Old Caz Road turns to dirt and steeply drops down into Austin Creek.  I enjoyed having the grippy brakes on the decent, but 110 psi on a dirt decent with skinny tires made for slow going.  Flats and twigs-into-moving parts where my main concern.  I wasn’t going fast enough to worry about a crash.

Crossing Austin Creek.  The mad genius behind it all, Miguel.
Crossing Austin Creek. The mad genius behind it all, Miguel.

At the bottom of the decent my arms were cramping due to all the braking, but they were soon shocked back to life by the creek crossing.  Yes, I said creek crossing.  Austin Creek wasn’t too high, maybe mid-calf, but it sends a shock throughout your body because it is ice cold.  Road shoes don’t work too well on rock and creek crossings – in case you were wondering.  Deliverance Part 2.

I rolled up the dirt climb on the other side and was lucky enough to make it through the gate at the top, just as some local was closing it.  One less time to get off my bike and have my legs seize up.  Down to the town of Cazadero, I was praying for a tailwind because I was still alone.  I kept looking back, but no one was coming.  Where was everybody?

I motored along 116 heading out to the coast and I actually saw a guy in the distance going very slow.  It was DFL Brad and he was crushed.  It was pouring rain at this time and he was mumbling incoherently about something.  I ignored him because it took too much for me to think.  I looked back once more and saw somebody coming.  It was Terry the Capo rep.  He had a leak in his tubeless and it sealed on its own. Go tubeless!  Terry gave Brad some food.  Was that what he was asking for?  We chatted and decided to leave Brad behind.

Terry and I rolled all the way to the Willow Creek climb.  Oh Willow Creek, how I despise you.  A large majority of these Grasshoppers end up on this dirt climb and it is never easy.  I dropped off of Terry’s pace and just hoped that I wasn’t going to cramp.  Slow and go, slow and go.  Made it to the finish in 23rd with Shane, Levi and Glenn taking top honors and the “fastest dentist”, Roger Bartels, kept the top spot in the overall.

But that wasn’t the end of the epic.  I still had to ride to the car.  Ah ha and I left my car 10 miles closer than the rest of the riders.  Now I feel like a genius.  Too bad it was pouring rain all the way to car.  Minus a mild case of hypothermia it was a great race!  Congratulations to everyone who finished this insanity.  See you at the next one…100 miles over Kings Ridge…anyone, anyone???

Typical conditions on Grasshopper Adventure rides.
Typical conditions on Grasshopper Adventure rides.