I’ve never heard anyone seriously dispute the contention that riding in NorCal is harder than riding in SoCal. When local riders head north to test their legs in the NorCal road races, they invariably come back beaten.
If the riders who effortlessly drop me get effortlessly dropped, that’s all I need to know.
Levi’s without the 7,000 friends and the sordid doping past
“I’m in good form. What’s a hundred miles? And how tough can a hundred miles and 8k be?”
Doing the route that encompasses King Ridge, Seaview, and Coleman Valley is plenty hard in a group. Without wheels to suck it’s exponentially worse.
From Santa Rosa to Bohemian Highway it’s all uphill. Not steep, and it’s early so you’re still fresh, but it’s ALL UPHILL. You don’t really grasp how uphill until you return.
There’s no traffic turning off Occidental. These are ghost roads with the occasional vehicle. On King Ridge I saw one car over the entire stretch to Tin Barn Rd. This is truly solitary riding. I hope you like the noise inside your own head.
The oddest thing about the entire route is that with one or two very brief exceptions, there are no proper downhills on which you can rest. King Ridge is an endless series of short walls punctuated by too-brief downhills. There is no sensation of recovery anywhere.
Downhill with the beast
When you do hit downhills they are short, technical, and deadly. Hauser Bridge saw a fatality a few years back, and on Levi’s fondue this section is so screamingly awful that you are escorted down it by cops and ride marshals.
Alone, the drop is maddeningly hard even with disc brakes. With calipers, prepare for skids and cramped hands. On this day there was nothing but pavement and silence. If you wind up in in a fetal ball due to a miscalculation and you will lie there for a long, long time.
After Hauser Bridge and the dentist chair of King Ridge you hit Seaview, where you can expect a gorgeous view of the sea and a long downhill, but will be disappointed as there is neither. More up, more silence, more trees. I never thought I would hate trees just for standing.
Figuring I’d not have phone service I memorized all the turns, which worked out fine until I forgot one and hooked a right on Ft. Ross Road instead of continuing straight to what I’m told is the awesome Meyer’s Grade descent.
Ft. Ross plunges two miles and is far worse than Hauser Bridge. Wet roads even on dry days, carpets of redwood needles, hairpins and crazy steep declines wear your attention to a frayed rag. As you drag brakes beneath the giant redwoods you can hear the surreal sound of barking seals on the beach far, far beneath.
Thankfully at the bottom you hit PCH. “Thankfully” because everyone from SoCal knows what PCH means: Tailwind, mostly flat, roll the eleven.
After less than a mile you realize, again, that NorCal ain’t SoCal. From Ft. Ross Park to Jenner you hit awful, killing walls that max you out, drop just enough not to afford any recovery, then hit you again.
I hadn’t done any course recon and wrongly assumed that Coleman Valley Road was, you know, a valley rather than an 8-mile bitter ascent featuring a 17% climb to get you off the coast.
The only time I got a meaningful, recoverable downhill was at the end of the ride, when it no longer mattered.
The sound of silence
The scenery is beyond compare. I’ve ridden all over the world and have never seen so much diverse natural beauty on one ride, but I don’t know why you would do this jaunt with a group. You won’t be talking; the descents are too technical and the climbing eliminates all possibility of conversation except grunting.
The magic of the route is the silence. Even the bike trail leaving Santa Rosa is completely still, and except for some brief, unremarkable “traffic” on Occidental, you have the road to yourself.
From the bottom of King Ridge to PCH I saw eight vehicles. This section is so untraveled that huge swaths are covered in redwood needles, wholly undisturbed by cars.
Even PCH was mostly car-free, and there were none at all on Coleman Valley. The only benefit to a group on this route is drafting, but riding it with thousands of other riders, all in varying stages of emotional and physical collapse? Really? It would be like going to see the Vienna Philharmonic and sitting there the whole time with earphones playing the Sex Pistols.
Doing this monster I wound up with about 115 miles and just under 10k. It took all day and left me completely wrecked.
No person is an island
There can’t be any serious discussion about whether the riding here is harder, more technical, more scenic, and more challenging in almost every way than the roads at home.
But the utter emptiness isn’t my cup of tea. I saw two bicyclists the entire day, in Jenner. We were so shocked to see each other that we waved, excitedly. “Look! Bicyclists!”
Think how awful it must be to wake up to a cold, drizzly morning and know that although you have the entire county to yourself, yourself isn’t all that interesting after several years and a couple hundred thousand miles or so.
Despite the claw and fang of the Bay Area sprawl yearly engulfing more and more of Sonoma County, this land is still pretty empty. Which, you know, is the way they like it.
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