Levi’s King Ridge GranFondo, 1 | The Start

I wasn’t going to do this in parts again this year, but it’s a long story. More tomorrow.

Last year our story began the night before and it involved pasta, tents, cribbage, beer, bagels and, perhaps, a few sips of whiskey. This year, it involved going to sleep before 9:00 on Friday night so I could be up at 3:00 Saturday morning. Sam arrived at my house between 3:30 and 3:45 (at that hour you don’t keep careful track) and we loaded the car quietly and headed out.

Google told me that it was a two-hour drive to Santa Rosa. Greg Fisher had suggested that we aim to arrive at Finley Center for registration at 5:30 to ensure we’d get checked in with plenty of time to stage. The drive was uneventful. Sam had warned of fog as we drove down highway 37 and approached the coast but the only fog we saw was a thin cloud that floated over the road and vanished as we hit it.

We rolled into Santa Rosa and began to realize that our concerns about parking and registration lines were unnecessary. Ours was the first car in a lot just behind Finley Center and we walked over, a block or so, to the equally empty registration area. Within 15 minutes of arriving we’d parked, registered and emptied our bladders. It wasn’t even 6:00; we had 2 hours to kill.

Our bikes came down off the roof and were wiped dry with a dirty sock. Numbers were attached to bars, seat posts and jerseys. Bagels and gatorade were ingested and, once the sun peaked out over the horizon and we felt safe to remove our sweatshirts, kits were donned. By 7:15 the parking lot was nearly full and we were ready to get moving. By 7:30 we were in the staging area waiting for the 8:00 start. We’d been up for 5 hours.

With 6000 other cyclists, we started walking our bikes forward toward the start. Cyclists clipped in and out of pedals, unsure the best way to move forward toward the arch. Everybody inched forward. We were still walking as we passed through the archway and over the pad that received the signal from our starting chips and recorded our official start time. Eventually, we were able to slide into the saddle and start rolling with the crowd.

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