Levi’s King Ridge GranFondo

Words: Jeremy Dunn | Photography: Jon Humphries | Date:

“I don’t like this…” said Ben Lieberson as we ended our ride into Santa Rosa. There were big helium arches over the roadway and people were lining the street. They were the kind of arches that you see at the end of big races, Grand Tour’s even. The people, they were all clapping, smiling and shouting at everyone coming through this balloon gateway, anyone. A medium-sized sign to our right read “ATM Available,” it was the only sign on the little segment of grass between the road and the sidewalk. Later, as we sat drinking beers in the grass someone would remark on it and we would all laugh.

This was the tone that would fill the weekend. Not sad, surely no one could be sad with all that sunshine dripping over us. Distant? Is that possible in a group of people this big? But, as much as we would try to branch out, to reach out and touch one of the 6,000 other people pushing their way over the hills behind Santa Rosa, we would instead find ourselves back in the same group of 6 or 8 laughing, shoving, showing off for the motorcycles.

We had just spent the day traversing the countryside surrounding sunny Santa Rosa, California. The route of the second running of Levi’s Granfondo was one that had draped itself across the terrain around this small city. We had been painfully aware of its size the night before when we walked its quaint streets looking for an open restaurant. Everywhere you turned there would be another person that was easily identifiable for their association with the event. Blue and red track suits were brightly emblazoned with the Levi’s Granfondo logo. Strangely I would look for Levi any time one of these groups of blue penguins waddled their way past where we leaned up against a Thai restaurant.

Their exact opposites were no less conspicuous as cyclists. Tanned and thinner than most people one passes on these streets they were closer to our kin. But at the same time it was apparent that we stood out here. Either way, we nodded to each other as we soundlessly stepped into the street, making room to pass each other in the sections where crowds of people bulged from restaurants into the streets.

From these opening scenes it was apparent that this would be a different kind of ride.

Maybe the disconnect happened because we were off our bikes. Fish out of water. Soon we had replaced the shoes on our feet with the ones that clack in to the pedals. And just as soon after that the pedals started the forward motion of not only the individual but the collective. And no matter how large the collective, be it 6 or 6,000 that is when everything started to mesh together in that familiar way. We were riding up alongside people that had come out to ride their bikes not people who had come to walk the streets in search of a dining spot. Those were the things that we had to do. The things that had to be taken care of to get us to this point.

And as the sunshine melted away the crisp morning we rode up and over the hills. Down through the small village where the Pink Elephant sits abandoned. Past the valley where the wind reeks of the plants that grows in abundance here. Enough to make strangers comment on it to one another. Over the river and then back to pointing our bicycles upward. And we were one again. A short cadre moving quickly and abruptly up the left-hand side announced only by the curt appearance of our lady Cindy leading this train of muted color in a sea of that florescent algae that glows in the dark. Bobbing, just out of reach.

And then, as soon as it started, it was over. Maybe the constant stream of people had actually caused the ride to pass by quicker? A steady flowing off to our right. A pull from the front and we could see that ballon arch that we had left behind earlier in the day. It is here that Ben checks his computer to find that it actually was a pretty quick hundred miles. This is the moment where he looks up and sort of cocks his head to the right, almost as if he is scolding me, even though I know he is not.

“I don’t like this, when we come to the end like this…”

Ben must notice the quizzical look on my face because he starts again and this time I understand.

“I don’t like the fact that we don’t get to ride together again tomorrow. Or even the next day. We’re going to get up and go our separate ways instead of continuing on this adventure.” I think that I am smiling a knowing kind of smile back to him, because I do understand what he means, but at the same time I’ve been trying to avoid this all weekend. We all have.

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