Sun – Oct 4 – Fort Ross Road, Willow Creek Road, Figure 8 Challenge Ride recap

DuncansMills-FortRossRd-WillowCreek_Map_Elevation_ESRIFirst, let it be known that the emphasis is on the “Challenge” part.

I think the entire group would agree!

Here’s what the ride listing said (yeah, it’s my ride, altering another one I found to suit our needs, and i submitted it; discovered later the actual mileage is LESS and the elevation MORE than what the posting states):

Sun Oct 4   4/T/58, 4/TM/58   Fort Ross Rd/Willow Creek Rd – Figure 8 Challenge (approx. 4700 ft elevation gain)
Join Kurt and Sherie for a dual-paced romp in the coastal redwoods and high plateaus of rural western Sonoma County. This cordial but challenging ride will give you a choice of riding the beautiful hills either T (Sherie) or TM (Kurt) style, joining riders of both paces together at key regroup points (including an al fresco lunch break – maybe to live acoustic jazz – at Cafe Aquatica overlooking the mouth of the Russian River in Jenner-by-the-Sea ( Meet at 10:00 a.m. in Duncans Mills (B Street – please park on B street behind where the store patrons need to park), ride inland to Austin Creek/Cazadero and up over Fort Ross Road, down Meyers Grade for the most fun descent to Hwy 1 to be had around these parts, then climb the lovely, rural Willow Creek Road and swoop down to Occidental before returning through the redwoods to Duncans Mills. Optional Bailout after Jenner if you don’t want to tackle the dirt/gravel climb of Willow Creek…. but then you’d miss a whole lot of the fun! See cue sheet and map at <SNIP>

There were seven riders total (including the two leaders, Kurt and myself).

You know how they say that people of mixed paces can ride together pretty easily, and then throw in a hill and see the separation happen?

Well, yeah, that happened. It seems we were all together for the first couple of miles on Fort Ross Road, but by about mile 2 of the 9 mile climb, the faster kids were out of eye and ear range.

Also, it was one of those days I felt I was just losing my mind, as many of my otherwise pretty good memory and spacial cognitive powers seemed to be short circuiting. (my co-riders pointed out later – in kinder terms than I will represent here – that it was just a case of my brain being fried from the hard climb on Fort Ross Road.)

A bit past the 1/2 way point of the climb, we approach a “Y” in the road (where some sport motorcyclists were doing fast, loud, smoky, smelly wheelies toward us! (you know, the kind of thing that’s just hella fun if you’re the one doing it, but not so much if you’ve been climbing a hard hill on a bicycle for a very long time, and suddenly getting charged at with speed, noise and fumes?).  Ah, but i digress.  At this point, Fort Ross Road veers off downhill toward the right, and continues somewhat steeply on somewhat sketchy pavement for a long time.  Too long – because it also means we are going to have to climb back out of it. Which we did.

 “It’s just around the Corner!”

Fort Ross Road comes right into Meyers Grade, and here it was that i had my first “mis-memory”, as I happily told my charge that we’d be coming very soon to the fun downhill.  Oh, my, did i ever mis-remember THAT!  For Meyers Grade undulates mostly gently but with some steeps upward for quite a long time before getting into the real descent that I so love.

Aadi was ahead of me at this point, which turned out to be a good thing, because when I caught up with him about 1000 yards from the turn onto Hwy 1, he was stopped on the side of the road, having just discovered that his phone had somehow come out of his pocket on the descent . Now it happens that this occurred in one of the last shadowy areas before it opens up to the really fun, fast part, and I had seen something in the lane near the center line of a shadowy curve, a few pieces of plastic-construction, some red, some black, some bright yellow, could not quite identify what it was, but kinda thought “that looks like it came off of some bicycle” (like pieces of a light, or something).  So he started back up to get it while i flagged down a driver to pick him up and take him to where it had fallen, then he was back and we got onto Hwy 1 and those lovely wedding cake layers down to the water and back up before Jenner. (Good news, screen cracked but phone functional).

Dual-Paced REGROUPS, Slinky-Style

Cafe Aquatica was good, but each order is lovingly and individually prepared in a small kitchen. So the faster riders had ordered but some were still waiting for food when we arrived. Some had ordered quicker-prepared delicacies, and they were finished with their meal. I think everyone was happy with the brownies that i’d made last night and brought (and Jim Rosenau gallantly carried in his CamelBak! Thanks, Jim!!!).

happy but tired riders, rewarded with home-made brownies at Cafe Aquatica in Jenner: me, Aaditya, David (photo credit Kurt Doelling)

happy but tired riders, rewarded with home-made brownies at Cafe Aquatica in Jenner: me, Aaditya, David (photo credit Kurt Doelling; pastry credit MamaBear; CamelBak credit Jim Rosenau)

these three just look TOO rested! Christina, Kurt and Jim (photo credit Aadi, with Kurt's phone)

these three just look TOO rested! Christina, Kurt and Jim (photo credit Aadi, with Kurt’s phone)

 The “Extra” Effect and Memory

On Willow Creek Road, again things just didn’t seem right… some of the landmarks seemed out of place (did i really have to hop the barrier at the beginning of the trail section before? –  Also, the fast kids took off from lunch about 5-10 minutes before us, so it was just Aadi and me again, and we were happily talking about Indian films and the relative comparative virtues of SRK and Aamir Khan, and then the climbing began in earnest!!  And the whole time with me thinking we were somehow, impossibly on the wrong piece of trail.  I vaguely remember – or misremember – just going through a narrow opening; so the whole time up i kept thinking i’d taken the wrong spur, although i did spot the little picnic spot on the left with the large stumps and logs.  And after that point, I had remembered the top section much shorter than it was today… and that once on the pavement at the top, Coleman Valley is a quick left turn and then a short descent down into town.  None of this was true today. Way more climbing after the picnic area, both on the trail section and the paved section, and certainly also on the Coleman Valley part later on.  I’m familiar enough with both of these roads to finally re-connect the dots at key points, but there were many moments of being disoriented and disconcerted.

I was able to keep going on some of the steep, slippery sections, but in two places i opted to unclip while i still could rather than risk a clumsy fall higher up. Even the walking was steep and challenging!  The turn onto Coleman Valley Road seemed a LOT further from the top of the dirt trail than i’d remembered before, (and even further from the paved residential section above that).

Now, i am reminded by my co-riders that all of the previous times i’ve done this ride, even starting back as far as the mid-80s and the last time must be at least about 2-1/2 years ago, that I pretty much started out in Duncans Mills, and just did the loop from there, up Willow Creek Road, down into Occidental, and back via Bohemian Hwy and Moscow Road to Duncans Mills. Fresh legs, fresh brain? Does it make a difference. Why, yes, decidedly it does!  (I believe putting the timing of my last ride up Willow Creek Road at three years is pretty accurate, because i remember wearing my bright pink “Laugh In” themed Sheila Moon bicycling costume, and used the photo from that ride in one of my first Madame La Prez columns for the WT. So, let’s just say it has been a while since my last time of Willow Creek Road!

Anyway, we made it!  And eventually arrived at Coleman Valley Road – seems like miles from where it was before! and also eventually arrived at Occidental. I was going to make the right turn toward our “scheduled” regroup when we spotted Philippe down the other end of the parking lot in the opposite direction, sort of in front of the Union Hotel… The other four riders had just taken off about 5 minutes before we arrived, and after a brief rest, the three of us high-tailed it along Bohemian Hwy and Moscow Road pushing a nice, fast, strong pace. All of the other riders were still at Duncans Mills when we got there, so I guess we made pretty good time!

Said our goodbyes, I think folks genuinely enjoyed the ride, new roads for several. That – and my feeling of accomplishment that i actually did it and finished strong – made it a highly successful day and good way to spend a Sunday! Thanks to my co-leader, Kurt, for agreeing to piece these two hard hills together into one GPC loop. Thanks to all the riders who came to experience it with us and provided miles and miles of great company (Aaditya, Philippe, Jim, David, Christina).  Also, thank you to everyone for the great creativity and flexibility with carpools for the 6 riders we knew for sure were coming, stuffing 3 people and lots of gear into each of two vehicles. It worked out well for all, I think!

From many comparative accounts, it seems that total distance of our ride was closer to about 52 or 53 miles than the anticipated 57+ that the ridewithgps folks told us it would be.  (i often find that the program creates some inadvertent “out-and-back” turns, etc that tend to bump up the total mileage).  OTOH, our riders with altimeters report elevation gains of over 5000 ft, as opposed to the 4700+ ft which ridewithgps promised.[*See ADDENDUM below!!].

Will i do it again?  Well, sure, I probably will. . . . Sonoma coast still high on my list for beautiful scenery and low-traffic cycling enjoyment; but it’s clear i need to start back into my hill-sprint training and also resume my “normal” hilly commute, to be able to better prepare for these tough weekend adventures!

ADDENDUM (October 5, 2015):

This is a link to the revised cue sheet and map (new ridewithgps link removes extra “artifact” miles from Jenner to Duncans Mills and back before going up Willow Creek). New map only:// Corrected Cue Sheet & Map here and Map/Elevation as introductory image for this post above. [50.0 miles; 5000 ft elevation gain. and it’s not really a “Figure 8″… strikes me now more like an upside down flipped outline of my beloved Santa Catalina Island. . . . what do YOU think?]:



The Real Deal: 50 miles, 5000+ ft climbing!!


Santa Catalina Island

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