By BOB NORBERG

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

36.3 miles

14.3 mph average

32.7 mph max

2 hours, 37 minutes riding time

It’s Thursday and I am riding in a comfort zone, familiar roads and familiar hills in Dry Creek and Alexander valleys, the emotional equivalent of Mrs. Kaiser’s meat loaf, gravy and mashed potatoes from my grammar school cafeteria.

There is just a little over a week before the Levi Leipheimer King Ridge GranFondo. I’ve ridden these roads dozens of times in the past four months as part of my training for the medio route and today I am trying to go a little faster, press a little harder.

At West Dry Creek Road and Westside, a SAG (support and gear) pickup and a ride leader look frantic … they seem to have lost their bicycle tour group. But I find them up the road a mile or so, gathered around someone prying a flat tire off of a rim.

Mile 10, warmed up and concentrating on a single training tip: Pedal like you’re scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe.

There are lots of pungent odors in the valleys, grapes are fermenting and some must – the grape skins left over after pressing – is being spread around the base of some vines for compost. There are a couple of swaths of purple on West Dry Creek from overfull grape gondolas.

I pass a grape truck like it was standing still. It was.

Levi tweeted that on Wednesday he rode King Ridge, the heart of the challenging granfondo.

I don’t see him on my ride today.

I may seek inspiration by watching American Flyers, the cult classic about a bike race across the Rockies. In it, Kevin Costner is so ‘80s.

This is a shake-down for my bike, just tuned, with a new chain and new brake pads.

The brakes work great, but the new chain is stiff and it doesn’t like going to the middle front ring. Clank and everything freezes when I shift down after passing a tree-trimming crew on Dutcher Creek Road, just before the climb.

Chains like a straight line and I guess mine got cattywampus. It frees easy enough and I make it up and over the hill, no more drama, but I am shifting nervously now, babying it.

It should be quite a colorful sight, 6,000 riders exiting the Finley Center at the same time and heading for West County. Our photographers are trying to figure out whether to hire a helicopter or a cherry picker to get an aerial view.

I envision riders falling like dominoes, but organizer Greg Fisher told me not to obsess about the crowd. He likens it to a school of fish that somehow finds its way.

Besides, the pack will start stringing out at the first climb, Graton Road going into Occidental. After that there will be another split for those going on the 103-mile granfondo through Cazadero and over King Ridge and riders in the 65-mile medio fondo that will head out to the coast to Coleman Valley Road.

There are some competent riders around here … it would be fun to see who tries to stay on Levi’s wheel.