Monday, March 02, 2009

Wheh!


Last week someone suggested that now that we're "legit'" we should advertise the Hoppers. Uh...no! It's been 11 years (unlike Spinal Tap we plan to go beyond 11) since we rolled from the Gianni hot-box hobit hollow. It was a pleasure to see all the familiar faces at the start, many I hadn't seen for quite a while, and to meet some new folks too. Still wondering when Scott Ledterman will show up again; anybody know where to find him? Quite a line-up on Sat.! Hope all who traveled from near and far had as much fun as I did. Made a good choice riding my Soulcraft road bike w/28s or certain to have been crushed by Mary Mc at the end like so many others were. Game plan played out perfectly for me: spike it up Duncan's, recover a bit on Cherry, kill myself on Old Caz but leave a little cusion to catch Emil and Jason on the decent, eat as much as possible on the roll to Duncan's Mills, enjoy some quiet time soul-searching on Willow Creek/ I50 (the "Loneliest Road in America),finish with a smile. Happy with a 23rd on the day.Not too surprised to see Geoff and Mary take the honors, though I'm sure Kabush would have been faster without the extra weight of the video camera. (Footage to come) Reg went great, thanks to Kim, Ted, Mary and other volunteers. Was able to relax with the huge crowd knowing that everyone (almost) had given their John/Jane Hancock acknowledging the inherent risks of ripping down pot-holed roads at 45 mph with a pack of 200 people. If your name isn't on the ride results it's because you failed to sign up and in. Please do so next week and on further Hoppers. Got a story to tell? Send it our way.
Mig

4 Comments:

At 1:20 PM , Blogger Dario said...

grass•hop•per (gras′häp′ər)

noun

1. any of various families (esp. Acrididae) of leaping, plant-eating orthopteran insects with powerful hind legs adapted for jumping

2. a cocktail made of green crème de menthe, cream, and, usually colorless crème de cacao

3. MIL. SLANG: a small, light airplane for scouting, liaison, and observation

4. a cycling adventure series held in Northern California that challenges the physical, emotional, and psychological limits of its participants by sending them on the most epic of routes imaginable.

I’ll just come right out and say it. Luuuke, you were right. Tell your sister, you were right…All my friends who tried to convince me over the years to do the Grasshoppers, for reasons that are now obvious, you were right all along. Not that I was necessarily opposed to doing the Grasshopper, I was simply ambivalent. Oh the error of my ways…

Let’s say for argument’s sake that Old Caz is the definitive Grasshopper. I thought that my first ‘hopper (noun) last year on Kings Ridge was epic, allowing me to experience the true orthopteran nature of leaping, plant eating and powerful hind legs. But if Kings Ridge was epic, Old Caz is the Iliad and the Odyssey, nirvana for lover of both road and dirt, a traipse through the jungle-like contours of Sonoma County on anything but flat or well-surfaced roads. You’re in the jungle baby!! You’re gonna diiiieeeee!

Equipment selection was critical, and advice on choice of steed varied from cross, to hardtail, to niner, to roadie with big paws. Since two ‘hopper veteran royalty, Sir Josh of Litwack and Queen Rachel of Lloyds, both advised cross bikes, I was compelled to comply. Fortunately, since I did not own a cross bike, Rachel was kind enough to loan me her chariot, complete with memories of podiums past in Bianchi celeste splendor. How does a bike like this handle the dirt? No idea…but I was soon to find out.

A few “decent” cyclists showed up for Old Caz this year. Some guy named Geoff Ka-something-or-other (what’s he ranked? Top-5 in the world in XC?), last year’s champ Max “I’m gonna tear off a little piece of the group asap” Plaxton, Barry “sits-like-tower-pedals-like-butter” Wicks, Mike “the Motor” Broderick, and a few other powerful hind legs that get paid to hop, jump, eat plants, or just plain ravage their competitors on two wheels.

190 or so of my closest friends and I rolled out from Occidental on a date with the Caz, a creek and copious climbs. After a nice 15 min warm up, the real race begins up a steep, left turn on a narrow, rough stretch that quickly turns to dirt. I was advised to be near the front for this part, and made sure I was in the top-5-8 guys. Plaxton took us up the pitch (some might recognize it as “wall”) like it was the finish. Uh, Max – don’t we have a couple more hours to do? Don’t ask, just pedal. After a couple of minutes of pounding nails, we came to a gate that required scampering through. I glanced back to see that no one else was in sight. I was the tail-end of an 8-man group and we hadn’t yet crested the first climb. This could be a long day for only 50-ish miles…

We started to descend and I quickly learned why most of the other guys in the group were on MTBs. They were ripping the corners while I was on the verge of front wheel wash-out. I started to lose contact down the twisty, dirt road, then came to an intersection. I couldn’t quite see where they went, so I waited for the next speedster with course knowledge to come along. Sure enough, Sergeant Duncan Meyers of the Red Army comes flying along and I follow a local wheel with confidence. A few others join us, including George “I rode this course before clipless pedals were invented” Hope and “Motor” Broderick. We turn right up a paved climb, and I turn on the gas. I am alone again. Only Broderick is in sight, a few bike lengths back. I can see the front group ahead and I am gaining. How long is this climb? Should I ignite a full book of matches and try to cross the gap with one big effort? What other heinous climbs do we have in store? I was gradually crossing the gap, but did I have enough climbing real estate to make it across at my redline pace? The answer was soon to be “no” as the road then turned into rollers, giving the group ahead the advantage. I waited for Mike, and we agreed to work together to try and cross the gap together.

After a few minutes, we then came upon a closed gate and as I slowed to dismount, Mike adeptly rode a berm-like line around it like a true BMXer, accelerating past. Losing momentum, I scampered on foot as I watched him immediately blasting away down the descent. This must be “the descent” that everyone has spoken of, and I soon leaned why this was not a road bike course. Ripping is a word that comes to mind. Shredding, sledding, slalom, two-wheel drifter. Who invented cantilevers anyways, and why don’t they work -- and why don’t cross bikes have disc brakes instead??

The dirt road abruptly ends at a rushing creek (although, I would call it a river), with nowhere to go but across. I shoulder the bike and wade my way knee-deep through the water. I find myself again unsure of the route as there are two road options. I see some tracks and guess that it’s up from here, and hit the next climb hard…then down a super-fun, twisty paved road to a four-road intersection. I pull out my map, once again hoping a local catches me soon from behind. Soon enough, we are a group of six, including three red-clad soldiers (Shane Bresnyan, Duncan & Chris Brown), George Hope and Jim Hewett. Sergeant Duncan immediately rallies the troops, organizing a rotating paceline. The six of us are one, a rolling mass of wheels and legs flying through space and time, eating up the miles and asphalt like so many GUs.

We turn the corner onto Highway One, cross the Russian River, and it’s left onto Willow Creek Road, the one familiar stretch to me. Soon after, cooperation slows as everyone anticipates the impending doom – a long climb that seems endless when it comes at the end of a ‘hopper. After a few miles of flat-ish, broken asphalt, then dirt road, it finally tilts up and I move to the front, firing up the turbo-diesels. I pin the needle just under the redline and it gets quieter behind me, save for one set of Hewett-powered wheels. We hit the one super-steep pitch halfway through the climb, and I grind it out in my lowest gear (39x27, yea – not so low for this course…) out of the saddle and as the gradient finally turns merciful, I glance back and notice a good gap. Diesels a-chuggin’ I unload the remainder of the tank, legs on the verge of misfire, giving all that’s left in them. I top out the climb and crank it to Coleman Valley, where I catch Brian Astell, one of the magnificent eight. I pass him thinking he’s cooked, but he’s soon on my wheel. As we approach the finish line, I jump to sprint and full muscle shutdown cramping begins. I sit back down not wanting to fall off in a ball of fixed fiber contraction, and roll across the line in 9th place. That’s two ‘hoppers now for the epic category. Thanks, Miguel and all who helped organize! I’ll be back.

Peace,
Dario

 
At 10:08 AM , Blogger Jeremiah said...

Thanks for a great time (as ususal) - Here's my story to share (also on http://verticalpandas.blogspot.com/)

We drove up to the Grasshopper as friends. We drove home as friends. But something happened up their on Old Caz. Something like this -

Before Occidental there is Freestone - a town with an Inn, a Spa and a bakery - the Freestone Bakery. We stopped at the bakery and topped off our tanks with strawberry ricotta scones fresh out of the brick oven. Grabbed some Fugasi bread for home before moving on to Occidental and the start of a little something called Grasshopper.

Bike - check. Helmet - check. Register and cue sheet - check. We were set to go, standing around the OCC recognizing other riders from the cross season and checking out the range of bikes. Nothing standing out - solid mix of road/mountain/cross. My Soulcraft and I felt comfortable here and then we were off. We rolled as a group, snaking, down the Bohemian Hwy like the first flow of water heading toward the gutter when washing the car. I assumed I was ahead of Chris, I did not see him - though I was extremely focused in front of me, still new at riding in such a large pack. We turned left onto Moscow Road, passing a cop talking to a motorist. He had a dull look on his face, and I heard him comment "You got to be kidding me." 180 friends up to something? No sir, we are not kidding.

After the group break au natural (pee stop... heeheeehehehehe) I worked myself up to the front third of the peloton, wanting to stay with the front group until the turn off, knowing that there would be a bottle neck equal to a First Growth Mouton Rothschild Nebuchadnezzar. A Muur of Belgium proportions, the Muur Van de Caz - I dismounted last year and again I dismounted this year. However, rather than waiting around for an opportunity to remount, I simply ran up the Muur (passing some of my riding brothers and sisters) and remounted shortly before the gate (where I had to dismount again - D'uoh!). Up and over the gate and climb. Climb Climb Climb.

Not bad climbing, made good speed, pacing myself and picking up people until I reached the next gate and the descent. Still no Chris, something must have happened to my friend, and I will leave him to tell his something. But the descent, that is something I can tell you about. Cyclesport America (a British cycling magazine) contains a regular feature - Iconic Places. The magazine will give a profile on places such as Alpe Duez, Col d’Izord, Torumalet, etc.. The Old Cazadero Creek descent is an iconic place - worthy of any cycling glossy. The descent starts after the gate on an open farm/fire road. This year the dirt fire road was grassed over - just the first signs of a stubble. Chris found this part reminiscent of Switzerland - all that is missing was Heidi offering bowls of hot chocolate. Yeah - its that good. Open on all sides, smooth dirt and down you plunge into the forest. The Descent has three parts – the road, the descent in the woods and the river. This year the descent in the woods was covered in a slick swishy mud. I was passed a number of times by mountain bikes, and a couple of cross riders and still I raced - dodging tree limbs, taking turns with a foot out, and letting out a little giggle each time some mud splattered up into my face. I managed to catch one person on the descent before the river, however I probably lost 7 or 8 places. At the end of the descent is Austin Creek. I crossed the river, up to my knees and cold. The fans were out watching from the far bank, cheering us on and taking pictures. I wanted to reach into the cold clean water and pull out a can of beer - it was that kind of something.

My feet were now heavy with Austin Creek river with a little bit of climbing to do before hitting the town of Cazadero. Climbing out of the riverbed, I looked down and saw the red jersey of my friend and Panda teammate Chris.

“Donahue …” I shouted.
“Jeremiah” he replied.

I decided to sit up a bit and wait to form a group to paceline down Hwy 116 toward the ocean. I met up with two others, and we caught a fourth and we started working together, making good time so I realized that this was my group despite the absence of Chris. I took some long pulls on Austin Creek Road and then we all chipped in on Hwy 116 – each doing their own to their own abilities. I felt strong, pulling at about 20-21 mph. About half way to Willow Creek, I peeled off from my second pull and saw a group of five behind us . A group of five and gaining. I told our group we would soon have company, figuring we could sit up a tiny bit and join this group when they catch. We were caught and their lead rider pulled straight through leaving me in third position and the rest of their train latching on to our rear. I saw Chris was in now in our group, shouted a hello and picked up the pace to follow the wheel of this rider with massive thighs, dreading the time I would be called to pull again and keep this faster pace. Turns out, the rider with massive thighs pulled the entire way. This pace dropped some riders, but Chris and I and the the two other riders I had met on Austin Creek were still intact. At Willow Creek the rider with massive thighs had gone ahead to something bigger and faster than us. We on the other hand formed a group of four (maybe five?) on the flat chipped pavement of Willow Creek, chatting in the wind. Here is where I found myself starting to struggle. It seemed more windy then last year, and the pace seemed faster than it should be. I found myself hiding, not wanting to help with the pace making or take the brunt of the wind - coward. At times I found myself three bike lengths behind, but would then yoyo back on - weak. But with one climb left, I realized that I was not dead yet, this was my group, and I would try to keep up and meet them at the top, figuring that my climbing on Old Caz did me well. If I could climb faster than these three on Old Caz, I could at least keep up with them on Willow Creek. Sounds simple enough. We continued to roll, shouting out obstacles as we saw them. “Cattlegrate!” Our tires rolled:

Bmmmmmp
Bmmmmmp
Bmmmmmp
Bmmmmmp
Bmmmmmp …. Pisssssssssssstttttttt

At the last cattlegrate, Chris suffered a flat, and for a moment, I thought of waiting and riding together to the top, as friends, buddies who just happened to be out on a pleasant Saturday ride. But then something happened. He was going to drop me on the hill anyhow and now there is a chance to build up a lead.

“Chris, got everything? [I don’t care about you or your flat, I am going to keep on going.]”
“I’m fine [Son of a ..., He's going to attack when I have a mechanical. Well I’m going to fix my flat, have a bite to eat and maybe a cranberry poweraid cocktail, wait for an amazingly fast female to pace me back up to you and then pass you. How's that for something? ]”

Secure that my friend would be ok, I rode on. I rode on and up.

Willow Creek. I was feeling OK - hoohum, somewhat exhausted desperately needing pep. I was drained, but catching glimpses of riders in front. Passing one rider, he asked me how I was feeling. I said OK. I told him I felt really slow. I don't think he really cared because he told me he was hurting bad. I started to dread each increase in pitch and try to figure out the shortest route across the little slicks of mud that suck a tire to the hill. Slow go - but at least steady go. And then I looked up to see something that could be a problem. For a second I was unsure if a bike could even get up that steep an incline. Maybe the race organizers made a mistake. Are we sure we have to ride up this? Shit. No use complaining and so I stood up and started "dancing on the pedals" as they say. Not the funky fast pace of the jitterbug or the smooth flow of a waltz; rather the awkward shuffle of an 8th grade boy dancing with an 8th grade girl. So wanting to be cool, to be a man but in reality you are filled with fear. The fear of getting too close; too close to an idea, a dream and then the smack of rejection or worse, the real smack in the face. There was a slight reprieve on this devil and then I danced some more. Painful. Burning. But no smack. I had something left. I was going to make it.

I continued to grind when a lady passed me.

"There is a stick in your rear derailleur" she calmly noted.
"What? Huh? " was all I could muster.
She replied "A stick. In your derailleur."
"Oh thanks."

I guess I should get it out. So I stopped for a second to pull it out when I heard my friend come chirping along. Chirp Chirp Chirp. He rode on, and I followed not to catch necessarily, but to at least finish close.

Once on pavement, I picked up some speed, put it in the big chain ring and motored home. Caught one more person at the turn (not Chris). The rider asked which way and I told him just a little farther, on the side of the road look for the clipboard. I put my head down and opened the throttle. This is it, this was all I had. I was purring on all cylinders when I finished.

We started the Grasshopper as friends, and we finished the Grasshopper as friends. In between it was something else.

 
At 4:33 PM , Blogger Mig said...

From Charles Beck

This may be the last year I do the Grasshopper races. I said that last year also but lo and behold old yellow hardtail mtb with geriatric rider show up at 10:00 AM Saturday in Occidental once again. The truth is: I like the Hoppers. I like the very idea of them, the simplicity of them, the essence of them. There are no team cars with extra bikes and wheels, nobody is handing out food bags. No radio info on how far ahead the breakaways are. Oh yeah, and nobody to fix your flats. Instead of all that, on race morning you grab your bike, make sure everything is working, and that you have a pump and enough repair stuff so as to not get stranded overnight on a questionable section of Old Caz. Then stuff food in a jersey and water bottles in holders and you are ready to launch.

After pedaling down from Joy Road I see the crowd in Occidental. More riders than ever before including some with a national reputation for mountain biking prowess.

In a way, the field of multi hued jerseys circling round and round the parking lot, look, perhaps, like a medieval festival full of paisley garbed celebrants anticipating a rush to the church for a blessing before the joust begins. Directions and precautions are given, shoes click into pedals, and we shove off in an omnipotent mass onto the Boho.

No cars pass. They can't. We are a giant sinuous multicolored serpent rapidly slithering to the river.

First turn. Moscow Road. Ride a ways. Mass stop. Take a leak. (enough riders today to raise the Russian's water level) Remount. Right on 116. The group fractures into various pods. The front runners must be hauling ass to get to Duncan's Grade and avoid a bottleneck.

Duncan's Grade Up, up and up. Dismount and wait in a line to get the bike through the gate. Then onto the up down and flatish dirt/mud section. It is narrower here and tough to pass but here and there the trail opens up a bit and one can slide by.

The dirt ends and pavement begins again. Speed picks up. A left on Cherry Street. The group strings out. Turn onto Old Caz. Begin the long climb.
Finally the top is reached. Even though it is a grey day the panoramic views up here are spectacular. Endless green gray hills recede in the distance. Below will be Austin Creek weaving a path though what once was a mighty redwood forest. Here and there are giant stumps, grave markers of that once great wood.

The descent is fast. Personal speed is limited by ability to negotiate sharp turns in wet mud. As I approach the edge of a fork of Austin Creek I watch a rider try to pedal through rather than dismount and wade. The result is totally convincing. Don't try that. Flopping around belly down with bike in cold water can't be good.

Cross the creek. Walk over the stones washed by runoff for centuries. Get back on path and start climbing again. After awhile Cazadero appears below. It is a pleasant descent on pavement to the metal grating of the bridge followed by a left turn on Cazadero Road. A quick stop at the old general store for water, then a right turn to follow the small road that parallels the main road for a ways. There is always a waterfall to be seen on this side route and it does not disappoint with it's burst of whiteness over fern surrounded dark grey rocks.

I've been riding solo for awhile till someone else passes me. I catch his wheel as we cross Austin Creek to Austin Creek Road but realize that I can't hang on and let go. Two riders are ahead and an effort is made to close the gap. Two of us surge forward taking turns pulling. He takes the longer pulls. I shorter ones till we catch the rider who passed me earlier. Now we are three and move rapidly down 116 but halfway to Highway One the weak link, me, drops off before blowing up. It is a sign, true but unwelcome, that time will charge a fee one can't pay anymore.

Willow Creek. Alone but liking it. My pace is my own. No trying to keep up with others. I pedal steady in comfortable gears till the evil twins are reached. I have never walked them before but my toes beg for relief from numbness and here is a good spot to oblige.

Then over the gate and onto pavement and a mostly downhill to the end on Coleman. I hear my time but forget it although I'm pretty sure it is slower than two years ago when the route was the same. Well, that's the way it is and will be. There comes a time....

Cheers
Charles

 
At 1:52 PM , Blogger Morgan said...

Here's mine:

http://www.hahaha.org/blog/morgan/?p=405

Thanks!

Morgan

 

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