June 9, 2018

Incarnation 100

On Thursday, I stayed at work later than usual to wrap some things up since I would be taking the day off on Friday. Waiting for a later-than-usual shuttle, a cyclist started chatting with me. “You're the one who did the Death Ride, right?”

I have a special privilege at work: every four weeks I am one of a handful of people who talk to incoming employees on their very first day. As part of our introduction, we share a fun fact about ourselves—I mention that I've done the Death Ride, and I tell them that they could do it, too! [This does make an impression.]

Our new employee was curious about my folding bike; he'd used a folder commuting to his former job. “Where?” Santa Rosa. “Oh, I'm doing a ride up there on Saturday, the Incarnation 100.” Turns out his wife used to work for one of the beneficiaries (The Living Room) and he'd done the ride in the past. Small world?!

Puffy clouds above rows of grape vines, with a mountain in the distance, Sonoma County, California
I had never heard of this ride until a couple of weeks ago when a friend invited me to join her. [Sure, why not?]

A mile or two into the ride, I spotted a cell phone on the street and (of course) stopped to pick it up. A few miles later, we stopped at a Peet's for my ride buddy to get a caffeine fix. By now it was clear that this was a very small event, and we wondered if we would, in fact, see any fellow riders.

At the next traffic light, we caught up to a guy who had just passed us. With earbuds in both ears (a no-no, by the way), he didn't hear me say “Good morning!” But he did turn around, and ... and ... it was the new guy from work!

After chatting with me, he and his wife decided to come up and do the ride: 100k for him, 30 miles for her. “See you on Sweetwater Springs!“ he called out as the light turned green.

Think about this chain of improbable events—what are the odds?!

But, back to the ride story ... It was sobering to ride past the Santa Rosa neighborhoods that were consumed by fire last fall. If you didn't know, you wouldn't guess that those wide open fields were once suburban subdivisions, and you might wonder at the blackened trunks of nearby redwoods that survived.

Sunlit trusses of the Wohler Bridge, Forestville, California
I've long been a fan of the historic Wohler Bridge. I know there are scenic backroads in Sonoma County; I've ridden on them. On this ride ... not so much. [But, a very worthy cause.]

pep's bike on the Wohler Bridge above the Russian River, Forestville, California
I was not familiar with Sweetwater Springs, rumored to have a painfully long section of 18% grade (in reality, closer to 14%). I should have looked it up in my copy of Summerson's Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) in California: “two sections of sustained double-digit grade.” [I did my share of uphill walking.] I seemed to be leapfrogging two guys along the way and began to wonder if they were sweeping me. [No, as it turned out.] I would come around a bend to see them standing with their bikes, and then they'd remount and continue. [They, too, were challenged by this climb.] I got some kudos when I pedaled past one of them, but I couldn't afford a breath to say thanks.

View of a tree-lined canyon with pink flowers in the foreground, from the summit of Sweetwater Springs Road, Sonoma County, California
There were a surprising number of banners strung up on barns and fences promoting this ride—surprising given how few riders there were. (200? 300?) Trails were a welcome respite from busy roads with fast-moving (though, well-behaved) traffic.

The route could have used a few more arrows. We inadvertently took a shortcut when we missed one trail junction. [Oh well.] Near the end, a clutch of riders had forked left and were standing up at street level, confused. I called out when my ride buddy headed toward them, and then all fell in line behind me. It helps to understand that, in urban areas, the main trail dips below cross-streets; you only want the street-level fork if you're exiting. I finished the day with 61 miles, and ... only 2,375 feet of climbing?

We were entertained by a live band and refueled with a meal at the finish. I pulled out the stray cell phone to see if I could determine its owner, but its battery had run dry. [Note to self: next time, put the thing in airplane mode until you have time to deal with it.] No one had reported a lost phone at the event, but I was able to hand it off to one of the event's tech-savvy guys. In all likelihood, it belonged to one of the locals; sorting it out after carrying it home to the South Bay would make its return complicated.

My best memory of this ride came on a trail. Among the cyclists we passed were a dad and his young daughter riding her own little bike, her helmet adorned with a tiara. It is especially important to slow down and call out in advance for the kids, who tend to weave unpredictably. Dad coached his pint-sized pink princess to stay to the right, and as I rolled past I smiled and said “Good job!” Before we were out of earshot, I overheard a tiny voice behind me.

She made my day! She said I'm doing a good job!”

Aww. She made my day.

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