September 21, 2017

King Ridge

Today was the Queen Stage of our little getaway: King Ridge, of King Ridge GranFondo fame. It was out of reach for me at that event—I'm far too slow. I'd heard it was beautiful; this would be my best chance to find out. After reading the Santa Rosa Cycling Club's characterization of the route and studying the profile, I was intimidated. I don't do well with steep climbs. The weather forecast also included some strong winds (20+ mph). I could always dismount and walk uphill; that would cost time, as the steep pitches lasted a mile or more. If the wind was too strong, I could skip the loop and turn back.

The first problem was an epic wrong turn. Left onto Cazadero Highway, the route sheet said. The mileage at that point was spot on. I had caught up to the front of the pack; left we turned, and off they sped. I expected to see something of a town, including a general store; but there were just a few scattered buildings. When I reached the intersection of Highway 116, I knew I had, somehow, missed the turn onto King Ridge Road.

Mis-drawn route segment that marked a left turn onto Cazadero Highway.
Because, we were meant to turn right (not left) onto Cazadero. All it took was this little glitch on the route mapped using “Ride with GPS.”

I studied the map and considered my options. Turn around, return to the start, and spend hours waiting for everyone else to return. Turn around, leave a note for my ride buddy, and ride back to the hotel.

Then the lead guys reappeared, having ridden farther before turning around. “This way to King Ridge,” they confirmed. The rest of the group was ahead of us now, having followed a GPS (not the route sheet). The mistake had put an extra six miles in my legs, and set me back more than half an hour. As we turned onto King Ridge, I told the guys I might not do the whole route; I would see how I felt when the going got steep.

Rock face along the gentle lower section of King Ridge Road, Sonoma County, California
I wouldn't see them again.

A guy drove past and encouraged me. “Good job!”

View of distant hills from high atop King Ridge, Sonoma County, California
I thought I might turn around before the steep drop to Hauser Bridge (which demands a steep climb up the other side), but that was not an easy out: There was no clear summit, and the road meandered down as well as up. More climbing.

What if the group was waiting for me along the route? Maybe they took a break to eat their sandwiches.

Cracked pavement snakes through rolling hills, King Ridge Road, Sonoma County, California
This road is remote. There are no services. There is no cell signal. There are cattle, and cattle guards.

I reached the turn for Hauser Bridge Road. With no one in sight, I was now certain that I was on my own.

New two-lane bridge to the right of the old one-lane metal grid Hauser Bridge, Sonoma County, California
Turning back made no sense. The road was in poor condition, but the descent not as scary as described. The bridge is being replaced, and I was especially grateful to have heeded the warning signs and stopped early. Near the bottom, the pavement was buckled in a huge hump; any cyclist hitting that would crash.

South Fork of the Gualala River viewed from Hauser Bridge, Hauser Bridge Road, Sonoma County, California
I walked across the old bridge, which crosses the South Fork of the Gualala River. My legs were done; I knew I'd be walking up the other side for a mile or more. I pulled out my sandwich and ate half as I walked up the steep grade.

View of the Pacific Ocean, reflecting sunlight, Sonoma County, California
The reward, at some point, was a view clear to the glittering Pacific.

I reached the intersection with Fort Ross Road, which would take me directly back to Cazadero. With that shortcut, I could catch the rest of the group. But after suffering the worst of the climbing, I deserved my reward: reaching the coast.

View of the Pacific Coast looking down Meyers Grade, Sonoma County, California
I paused to admire the view before plummeting down Meyers Grade to Highway 1.

Meyers Grade road sign at the intersection of Highway 1, Sonoma County, California
As soon as I turned south, I realized that I might have made a truly bad decision. Not only did I face a long and unexpected climb on Highway 1—I had found the wind. And ... it was ferocious.

Wind-whipped crests on the Pacific Ocean along Highway 1 north of Jenner, California
You can see the wind whipping crests on the ocean. You can't see the gust that nearly blew me over into the path of a compact RV.

Terrified, I dismounted to continue on foot. A gust ripped the bike out of my hands and slammed it against the guard rail.

I couldn't walk all the way to Jenner. If i got back on the bike, would a gust blow me over the cliff?

View of the beach from Highway 1 near Jenner, California
When it seemed safe to ride, I rode. When it didn't, I walked. After turning inland onto Highway 116, a gust caught my route sheet and peeled the Cue Clip off my stem. Luckily, they landed in a ditch, within reach.

I scanned oncoming traffic for familiar faces. Surely the group would be worried about me. The logical thing would be to start driving the route in reverse, looking for me.

pep's bike and helmet parked next to the sign for the Monte Rio Community Center, Monte Rio, California
When I reached our starting point, the parking lot was empty.

Monte Rio Awaits Your Return sign over Highway 116 leading out of Monte Rio, California
The lead guys had convinced the rest of the group that I'd turned back.

But I hadn't. pep's epic ride: 61 miles and 4,985 feet of climbing.

After they fetched me, I wore my new dress to dinner.

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