Giampaolo looking ready to ride!


Stefano taking pictures as always.


Yes Stefano, they don’t have trees like this in Italy!


Sweetwater through the Oaks and grasses.


Stefano and Silvano on Harrison Grade

The title “It is never raining again” is what Giampaolo Pesce told me this past Saturday morning as we soaked  in the warm sunshine at Rochioli winery waiting for Silvano and Stefano for our morning ride. If you are familiar with Riviera Ristorante in Santa Rosa, you will know that the Pesce family  makes the best Italian food in the county. Plus, they are the biggest cycling fans in the area. If you are visiting Santa Rosa to ride, it is not complete without a visit to Riviera. A day riding with Giampaolo is definitely a treat as well.

No need for warmers as we started on the westward ascent of Sweetwater Springs road after our meet on what would become a nice morning loop of 60 miles on west county roads. Two years ago February, Silvano and I rode Sweetwater with a white covered frozen road in the bottom of the canyon. Not the case now, it is never raining again!

If you are new to this column or Sonoma County in general, I will repeat the following: the level of difficulty on our roads is the inverse of the roads name. For those that are still confused, Sweetwater ain’t sweet. It is brain numbing hard. The good part is that we never saw a car. The madrone, oak, redwood tree canopy along the creek is beautiful and once you have climbed to the top you can say that you have really experienced something great. If you are riding the Grasshopper in two weeks, Sweetwater is only the beginning of your daylong misery.

My three Italian riding partners were non stop chattering in Italian which provided white noise for me as the mile long 15% steeps punished every muscle in my body near the top. As my leaden legs started screaming, the chatty trio slowly faded away up the road. Once I hit the double hairpin around the mountaintop apple orchard, I knew that my pain would soon hopefully subside. They were graciously waiting for me with shouts of encouragement at the top as we continued on.

On the decent, we took it easy as overcooking the corners can lead to an ill timed off road adventure straight to the ER. At the bottom, we made a short trip to nearby Armstrong Woods for our Italian visitor Stefano to experience the grandeur of sequoia sempervirens. After the photos, it was off through Guerneville to Mays Canyon Road. Mays is nice alternative to riding Hwy 116 as we transitioned to Green Valley Road. Green Valley has pastures, more redwoods and nice half mile uphill kicker.

At the intersection with Harrison Grade Road, we made the right hand turn and headed uphill again to Tanuda Road ending on Graton Road. Harrison Grade at the top, has some terrific views of the Santa Rosa basin with the Mayacama’s in the distant east with a towering Mt St Helena. A left turn on Graton leaves a long speedy downhill ending our day of climbing for the roll out back into town.

If you want to attempt to ride the Harrison/Green Valley/Mays/Sweetwater loop I would suggest first trying it  by starting from the south going to the  north. You will climb just as much, but the slopes are not nearly quite as severe. I would also ditch the carbon wheels and  opt for some 25mm Gatorskins or the equivalent  to prevent punctures as those roads are rife with hazards.  If you don’t have those tires, don’t fret. It is never raining again!

Bruce McConnell

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