Last week, I started a piece about one of the rides I did while out in Dry Creek Valley. It was one of the more memorable rides I have done in a while. I was woefully out of shape, but I consider it perhaps one of the top three rides I have done on this continent (although it was sheer pain at the time). We had just started the climb, and I had no idea what was ahead of me…
After I rounded the bend past “Little Flat” (I am not sure if that was some person’s idea of a cruel double entendre, but it sure seemed that way to me–I decided to hate the guy, whoever he was), I sat back down, got out of my big ring, and wondered what I had gotten myself into. Mike rolled up (Mike is one of those guys that makes everything look easy on the bike–he would ride ahead, circle back, accelerate with ease on the steepest sections, all with a smile on his face–I tried really hard to hate him as well, but he is such a nice guy, I couldn’t do it, but boy did I try) to me to let me know what to expect on the climb:
“There are three main sections of the climb, there’s the first part, with four separate inclines, each with a bit of recovery, then, there’s….”
He went on for a while describing the climb, which he split up into three main sections, each with several sub-sections (I think), but after that first sentence, I really could not grant him any more attention. The road had just increased noticeably in grade, and I needed to focus all my energy on remaining upright and not rolling backward. You might consider that rude, I call that survival.Initially, I kept glancing down at my gearing–I was sure that I was either still in my big ring (I wasn’t), or there was another easier gear that I could shift into (there wasn’t). My attention then was fixated on my brakes–I thought that the guys at Spoke Folk Cyclery (whom I had never met), were playing some kind of cruel joke on me and adjusted my brakes so that they would be rubbing, slowing me down (yes, I realize now how absurd that comment is, but at the time, it seemed pretty logical).
After we had been pedaling for what seemed like an hour, we got to a bit of a flat section, followed all too quickly by another steep incline. I asked Mike:
“Is this the third section now?”
“No, this is the fourth part.”
“Wait, I thought you said there were only three sections!”
“I did. This is the fourth part. Of the first section.”
At that moment, I tried extra hard.
To hate Mike.
Didn’t work–he is just far too nice of a guy.
We eventually made it into the second section, I think, and into some really stunning scenery. We were now high above Lake Sonoma, and we were starting to see some of the vineyards of the Rockpile Appellation. I thought that I really should stop and take some photos, but I was actually getting into a bit of a groove (as much of a “groove” that one can be in while pedaling along at a brisk 5 miles an hour [most people walk at around 4 mph]) and I was worried that I would not be able to get started again on the incline.After another half an hour or so, I finally saw the sign for the Rockpile AVA approaching on the left. As Mike circled back to check on me for the 17th time (almost at unadulterated hate–almost), I made a crucial mistake: I asked him if we “were there.” Most of you, no doubt, know the “there” I was referencing–the one that is a part of the “Are we there yet?”Perhaps the most despised persistently asked question of all time.
His response was cool and calm–no doubt he had weathered this question countless times from his two teenage children: “Not yet, this is the last part of the second section. We are almost there.”
My response: “WHAT? Are you kidding? I could have sworn I counted at least 83 distinct sections, I am a statistician after all! Seriously, are you kidding? This is completely ridiculous–we have another whole section?!? Are you insane? We have a whole third left to ride?”
Then I cursed.
Well, that is what I wanted to say.
I actually said “Oh, OK, cool!”
Yes, that is what I said. Here I was at the limit, barely getting enough oxygen to survive, imagining that this must be a lot like what it feels like to go through water boarding, and all I could utter was “cool.”
At least I should do alright if I am ever taken hostage.
Somewhere during the final section (I think it was the 37th part of that third section), the road turned particularly steep, and I instinctively tried to shift into a smaller gear. It was one of those moments that you start to do something and even though the action lasts only a fraction of a second, you are still able to have one, perhaps several, cogent thought.
“You moron, what are you doing? We have been here before—there are no more gears….”
Then it happened.
The bike shifted into its easiest gear.
Don’t get me wrong, the road did not suddenly seem to flatten out and I did not imagine that I was cruising along an ocean side boardwalk—it was still plenty difficult—but I did kick myself a bit for being a complete moron.
After going through yet another brutal part, I saw that Mike had pulled off into a bit of a parking area, I considered carrying on along the road, since I feared that if I stopped, the thought of starting once more would be far too onerous. Nonetheless I pulled alongside him. Mike mentioned that had I continued along the road, it quickly turned to gravel and thus quite dangerous. I looked around. Before us was the gorgeous valley we had been climbing for the past 90 minutes or so.I did a 360 scan of the area—there was no other road. I was confused (although I have heard that the lack of oxygen can be quite disorienting). Then it (finally) dawned on me:
We were at the top.
That is why I love riding. You put yourself through so much pain, and just when you think you can’t handle any more, you reach for a little extra, since the alternative: getting off the bike, just is not an option. Then, once you know the hard part is over?
Sure, there were some tricky parts to the descent, but nothing that compared to going up.
As we were about to head back down, Catherine asked if I had seen the bald eagle circling over head on the climb up. I considered a snarky response (“I thought it was a vulture, just biding his time until the inevitable”), but instead replied with a simple “no.” (Those abductors will get nothing out of me!) I was slightly disappointed of having missed the eagle, but the thrill of the ride quickly drowned it out.
We still had about 15-20 miles to ride to get back to Grape House, but most was either screaming downhill or flat in the valley. Those are two types of terrain that I would certainly have the advantage over my riding companions. For a moment I thought about meting out a bit of punishment, Philly-style, but I couldn’t–they were simply two of the nicest people with whom I have had the pleasure to ride.
In the end, we only rode just over 35 miles, but did just short of 4,500 feet of climbing. If you are a cyclist and you love beautiful scenery, you must put Dry Creek Valley on your bucket list.
[Here is my Strava ride summary for those of you geeks out there (like me) that are into such a thing: Strava]
[Ed. note: All the photos were taken the following day when I went back up in my car (except the last photo, which I took with my iPhone once I finally realized we were at the top). Yes, I should have taken a photo of my two guides. I know. I know.]