Since I don't really have any races coming up (race schedule FINALLY posted!!), and yesterday's ride was such an awesome one, oh and I like writing race reports, I thought I'd write a ride report.
Our group has been pretty split lately. Lee is training for the Terrible Two and has a strict schedule he's following, which at this point involves more miles and elevation gain than I care to partake in.
Pat and David are training for Ironman Arizona and had the Auburn Triathlon this weekend so they weren't around.
The Sonoma guys were going to meet up with Lee and leave from Sonoma, which would've been a good 20-30 minute drive to meet up with them.
Tim had to be in Napa that day so he was doing a big chunk of the same ride I did a few weeks ago.
This left Matt and I to figure out a ride that would provide enough miles for me and enough climbing for both of us to feel ready for the ride around Lake Tahoe in a few weeks (overall this ride doesn't have too much climbing, but around mile 50 of the 72 mile ride you are presented with Spooner Grade, a nice long, drawn-out climb, followed by several rollers from miles 60-70 or so).
We hopped onto the internet and perused rides posted to MapMyRide.com and found one that looked like a nice 45 mile ride with about 2500 feet of climbing. Perfect!
The ride would take us from Santa Rosa east over Sonoma Mountain via Calistoga Road and St. Helena Road, to the top of Spring Mountain and down, down down into St. Helena into Napa Valley. From there we would head 8 miles north into Calistoga, then turn west and back up over the mountain via Petrified Forest Road to Calistoga to Mark West Springs and back into Santa Rosa, where we would head about 5 more miles south into our part of town.Off we went. I'll admit I was actually somewhat apprehensive and I couldn't figure out why. Was it the fact that I knew it was going to be another hot day? Was it because admittedly I haven't done a whole lot of climbing lately? Was it because I'd driven that Petrified Forest Road from Calistoga and KNEW what a climb it was?
In any case, my head was not in its usual spot. However, I wouldn't let that stop me and knew that it would only be 5 short miles before the climbing really began, so I didn't have too much time to allow my thoughts to interfere with my intentions.
As we made our way to Calistoga Road, I marveled at the hills around me, in addition to the mountain that loomed ahead. It was utterly gorgeous. I felt so thankful in that moment to be where I was and to have love for a sport that would put me in this spot today. Our little country road began to pitch up, and as I looked up, I could see the T-intersection straight ahead. It was left or right. Right went down, left went up. No question which way we were turning.
"CLEAR!" I yelled back to Matt as I made a left onto Calistoga Road. Not much shoulder. I was only on my 23 of my cassette and knew it was time to go down a notch. A few minutes into it I was humbled down to the 27 - my lowest gear. This pitch reminded me of some of the steep hills of Berkeley, the ones that demanded you stand up because sitting would result in going backward.
"Damn," I thought. I hoped the entire 10 mile climb wouldn't be like this.
There was a lot of traffic on the road, and it began to make me a bit nervous. Large trucks towing boats and horse trailers passed by, followed closely by cars in a hurry to get out to the lakes and wineries of Napa County, I supposed. As I would stand up I began to feel slightly uneasy and just hoped that I could hold my line and not get hit by a car.
After a little while, I heard Matt yell up to me "YOU'RE ALMOST THERE!"
Really? That was a relief. It wasn't so much the climbing (which was tough, but still doable - one of those ones you might describe as a slow grind) as the high traffic volume that was beginning to get my nerves on edge.
I could see the crest and picked up my pace, huffing and puffing and letting out a small cry of joy as I came over the hill. I found a place to stop and wait for Matt just a few yards ahead. As he came up the hill, he said the words every cyclist hates to hear: "I've got a flat."
My first words were "wow, you rode up that on a flat?" As he changed it, a team of cyclists rode by us – full kits and matching bikes - I was secretly happy that we hadn't been passed on the hill.
Tire changed and resuming our journey, I said "I hope there aren't this many cars the rest of the climb." Matt responded "no, we're going to be turning on St. Helena Road - these cars will stay on Calistoga Road." I let out a sigh of relief. Good!
St. Helena Road was simply one of the most calming, beautiful and inspiring roads I have ever ridden. We rode in and out of groves of redwood trees that provided us shade and cool in between the patches of sunlight and warmth. I smelled the dampness of forest, and as we would emerge into the open, the smells would transform to grass, hay and an occasional nice-smelling flower. Butterflies were out and about, especially attracted to the blue and yellow of Matt's jersey.
There were occasional steep grunts, but the rest of the road meandered mostly in a flat way, some slight inclines, and altogether incredibly enjoyable. These are my favorite kind of climbs.
The bulk of the climb was at the end, where we emerged from the trees and began our ascent to the peak of the mountain. I was determined to make it up there quickly, spinning and thinking "strong legs, light hands!" I passed Pride Winery and knew we were very, very close.
Suddenly, the road flattened out and there before me lay the entire Napa Valley. Across the valley of vineyards, Howell Mountain stood high, and I thought of the very place I was just two weeks before, staring out at this direction and smiling at the beauty. What a REWARD!!! It was so gorgeous! I lamented not having a smaller camera to take along with me, but I did make a feeble attempt to capture it with my camera phone.
It was such an incredible feeling of being 'on top of the world,' not to mention the fact that 2 months ago I was up there with a friend and our moms wine tasting and thought "wow, this would be a great mountain to climb." And here I was!
I chuckled to myself - what had I been so nervous about? I know my strength. Why did I question it? Has there ever been a hill I couldn't climb? Have I ever had to walk my bike (okay, the very top of Mt. Diablo where it pitches straight up and it was my 3rd ride EVER...I wonder if I'd have to do that now...) or turn around? NO! Why do we play these mind games with ourselves? I DID IT and I was pretty proud of how great I felt.
We stopped to take it in, reapply sunscreen, drink up some sport drink, and get ready for a long, twisting descent. I couldn't WAIT!
The road went down, down down and I don't know if I've ever been on a descent where I had to use my brakes so much. At times slightly nerve-racking, but mostly thrilling and so much fun that I couldn't keep my mouth shut from smiling. I must've swallowed at least a couple of bugs.
As we made our way into the town of St. Helena, I smiled and drew in a deep breath. What a rush! I would do that again in an instant. Except unlike skiing where you experience a similar feeling and simply hop on the lift to go down again, this would require another 40 minutes (at least) of uphill grunting and grinding before you were able to experience the sweet reward that this descent was. No doubt going up this side would be considerably more difficult than the side we came up on!
We took turns in pulling up the road to Calistoga, an easy 7 miles with a couple of inclines but I was determined to remain strong and keep a hefty pace before we stopped for a coke in town. Rewards are meant to be worked for!
Pulling into a small diner, we removed our sweat-soaked helmets and chucked our gloves on a table. The tourists of Calistoga looked at us like we were nuts. It was about 10:15 a.m. and the day was already turning out to be a hot one. It's these times I feel like a bad-ass and don't care that I stink like sweat and b.o. and may possibly be offending those around me. In my head I have a short conversation:"What were you doing this morning? Oh me, I just rode over the mountain from Santa Rosa. Yeah, it's been a nice morning. I earned this Coke."
We shared a Coke and a bag of Salt & Pepper Kettle Chips. The salt tasted sooooooo good. Never have I enjoyed potato chips this much until yesterday. I let each chip just sit on my tongue, scintillating the salty taste buds and let them become saturated with all of the salt each crisp contained. Mmmmmmm.
Filled our watter bottles with ice and water. Out the door, ready to resume our journey back west. It was definitely warm and we had a bitch of a climb coming up. North another two miles and left on Petrified Forest Road.
I don't know why I get nervous when I know a big climb is coming. Am I nervous that I'll go slow on it? Am I nervous just because I know it's hard? In any case, I was starting to get nervous again. I told myself to suck it up and be strong.
The pitch started. I think because of the heat and how exposed the road was, it was easily the hardest climb we'd had. It had some pretty steep pitches as our first climb of the day did, but it was a longer climb (I think?) and just...hot. I kept my mantras close to me and attempted to reach a meditative state by repeating them and focusing on my breathing.
Before I knew it, I was approaching the top! Wow, that wasn't so bad!
Just kidding. Nope, false flat and as I looked ahead, I could see the cars continuing to rise up ahead. Oh, damn.
I poured some ice water over my neck and resumed the climb. I knew the top was after this section, so again, I decided I was going for Queen of the Mountain and committed to pushing hard up it.
There is nothing like having your heart pounding hard, your legs beginning to fill with lactic acid, sweat profusely pouring down your hot head and breathing so hard you swear you've never breathed so hard in your life. Then you stand up and push it more.
And THEN you reach the top.
YES! I knew this was the final big climb of the day and it felt SO GOOD to just blast up it like that! Pouring ice water all over my neck, I gulped down more air and allowed the heart rate to come back to a more reasonable number as I waited for Matt.
We were rewarded with another descent, not quite so thrilling as Spring Mountain, but fun nonetheless. I got down into an aggressive tuck and let gravity take me down the hill. I thought I was Ms. Speedy but Matt zoomed past me and I yelled "DAMN YOU AND YOUR 25 POUNDS YOU HAVE ON ME!"
Suddenly, though, as it began to flatten a bit, I zoomed past him. He slowed down considerably, which seemed odd. Grudgingly, I slowed a bit. This kept on for about a mile. Finally I said "what's wrong?"
"I just kind of stopped going fast," he said. "It's like I had to work on that downhill. I don't get it."
We pulled over at a turnout to inspect the bike. Sure enough, his back wheel was horribly out of true and was rubbing against his brake. What a way to ruin a descent!
He opened up the calipers and we went on our way. Still, it was bad enough that it was still slowing him down a tad. Thankfully, the biggest part of our ride was over and we only had about 12 more miles.
Matt convinced me to ride at my pace until we got closer to town, so I agreed. I got down and just took it away. It was incredible how GREAT I felt!! I couldn't believe how much power my legs still felt like they had, and I had an easy time powering over the rollers that presented themselves over the next 4-5 miles.
The country roads began to come to an end, and we rolled into town. An easy spin for about 4 miles down Old Redwood Highway brought our ride to an end.
As we came to a stop, my head dripping with sweat, salt caked on my face and my neck ready for a good crack, I smiled and gave Matt a high five. "What an AWESOME way to start a weekend!" I said.
That one definitely goes down into my top 10 list.