By BOB NORBERG

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

33.5 miles

10.1 average mph

27.5 mph maximum

3 hours 17 minutes riding time

We should have known from the beginning Sunday morning that we were going to get wet. It was billed as a Levi Leipheimer King Ridge GranFondo preview, a dry run for the Oct. 9 event. Ha!

Photo by Virginia Strasser Mason; me wet in Occidental getting ready to head up Coleman Valley Road

Even as we pulled our bikes off our cars and assembled our riding gear (Energy gel, check; energy bars, check; water bottles, check; rain coat, check; common sense, uh . . .?), we were guessing and secretly hoping ride leader Rose Mello was going to call it off as too wet. It was 8 a.m., we were already dripping and we were still standing at our cars at Ragle Ranch.

It’s said Lance Armstrong looks for rainy days for his training runs. Those rides build mental discipline, character, will power and courage.

I stood with a dozen of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club members, straddling our bikes in a semi-circle around Rose, who said her first inclination was to call it off, even though it was decided the drizzle was really just a low cloud cover and not a rain storm at all.

But get a dozen riders suited up and ready to go and nobody wanted to be the wuss.

We chose building mental discipline, character, will power and courage.

After all, the man laying down chalk lines on the soccer field wasn’t deterred by the drizzle.

But wet roads and two wheels are dangerous by nature. In the interest of safety the route was changed to eliminate riding on Highway 1 or River Road, for fear we might be lost in view of some driver with a dirty windshield and bad wiper blade and be punted from behind. Most of us had yellow coats and a few had blinking red lights on either the back of their bikes or helmets, but a bike never wins in a bike-car confrontation, so why chance it?

Instead, it would be an out-and-back through Occidental and to the summit of Coleman Valley Road, the main course of medio fondo menu, but would include the two steep climbs from Occidental to the Coleman Valley Road summit overlooking the ocean and one steep climb back out of quaint Coleman Valley itself to Occidental.

The printed ride slip in the back pocket of my coat had already congealed into a pasty, unreadable ball, so changing the route was no big deal as far as directions go.

Off we went, past apple orchards littered with fallen Gravenstein apples, on roads slick from the season’s first rain. The first time I touched my brakes on a Graton Road downhill, my bike did a little shimmy.

Well, low cloud cover or whatever, it never relented … we were drenched by the time we reached Occidental, but the decision was made by most to continue on Coleman Valley Road to the summit.

Steep climbs, thighs burning, dodging pieces of branches that littered the narrow road, mindfully falling into a single file every time someone yelled “car back” or “car up” and an all-enveloping grayness, but we made it to the summit. Surprise, no view, just more of the low clouds, turn around and head back.

I am not a great down-hill rider, lack of experience and abundance of caution, and I was continuously falling behind the group as I tip-toed down the steep descents.

Fellow reporter and veteran rider Brett Wilkison stayed with me.

Our only drama was a line of cars that came up over the summit from Highway 1 and tried to pass us, but the lead car came fender to fender with an on-coming truck, forcing the line to stop and putting me next to its passenger door, my wheels a precarious inch from going off the road into the weeds. The same car spashed Brett as it sped by.

By the time we got back to Graton, around noon, the soccer game was in full swing, the sun was trying to break through the low cloud cover, and my socks squished in my riding shoes, but I felt so much mentally stronger.