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Riding the Storm Out: A Climate Ride Diary

Novato's Scott Warner describes his rain-drenched charity bike ride from Humboldt County to San Francisco and the challenges along the way.

At approximately 12:35 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6, 125 cyclists dressed in the blue, green and white cycling jerseys and shorts of Team Climate Ride California 2011 rolled down Polk Street to a lively reception in front of San Francisco City Hall — the completion of a 320-mile epic cycling journey that began five days earlier from Fortuna in Humboldt County.

Each of the riders — and I was proud to be one of them — were riding to raise money for one or more beneficiaries focused on various environmental, sustainability and alternative energy and transportation causes. My chosen beneficiary was Green America,  whose mission is to harness the strength of consumers, business and the marketplace to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.

Overall, the 2011 California ride raised more than $275,000 for the beneficiaries. Each rider had to raise a minimum of $2,400 to participate in this fully supported ride. I was honored and humbled to have been the top fundraiser, having received donations from more than 120 individuals in 20 states and five countries to the tune of nearly $7,000.

But this was not just any benefit cycling event. This was a ride of perseverance in the face of a tremendous climatic adversary: the unseasonably strong series of Pacific storms that rolled through Northern California last week. It took the perspicacity of the amazing riders, the organizers and the event staff to keep going, even after hours and hours of cycling, sleeping, eating and repairing flat tires and broken spokes in downpour after downpour.

Although we knew there was a chance of rain on this ride, not one of us really believed that our typical beautiful and warm California early fall weather wouldn’t prevail. On that, we  miscalculated.

The misfortune of the weather, however, brought out a different feeling from what would have normally been a beautiful, though still difficult and hilly, cycling trip through the Humboldt Redwoods, along the Mendocino coast, up the Russian River and through part of the Sonoma Wine Country, and the along the dramatic Marin cliff-side vistas eventually crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

The misfortune brought out the tenacity, collegiality and toughness of a group of cyclists from all around the country who each came with their own level of cycling abilities. Some had just started riding two months ago, and others had been riding for more than 40 years. We were all there because we believed in the cause to better our world by advocating for more progress in clean alternative transportation, for clean alternative energy, for sustainable living and agricultural practices. We were not about to let the climate, of all things, put a damper on our spirit and cause us to give in. Instead, I believe we were motivated even more to continue our mission.

We were scientists, consultants, teachers, professional musicians, environmentalists, clergy, Olympic and world champion cyclists, architects, retirees, engineers, counselors, software engineers, geologists (yours truly), friends, parents and leaders — all there believing that we can capitalize on the human spirit to change our ways to work better with our planet, not against it.

Our riding began in Fortuna and closely followed Highway 101 south until we entered the Avenue of the Giants, the phenomenal road that parallels 101 through the Redwood Giants of Humboldt County. This 63-mile, Day 1 jaunt would be our only cycling day without rain. During our evening of camping in Richardson Grove, close to the Eel River, the rains began.

Our second day consisted of a 60-mile ride in which we intersected and then followed Highway 1 and climbed up and over 2,000-foot Leggett Hill to the Mendocino Coast until we ended at Fort Bragg. We were so weary from riding all day in the pelting rain. It felt like mini spikes hitting our faces while sharing narrow roads with logging and construction trucks. The majority of the riders elected to stay in a local motel rather than camp to rest and dry up before we began the most challenging third day of riding – the 100-mile hilly route (the “Century Ride”) from Fort Bragg through Mendocino, Gualala and Jenner along Highway 1 to Duncan’s Mill near Guerneville along the Russian River in Sonoma County.

From a personal perspective, even though I had ridden many century rides earlier in my life, I had doubts I could take on this 100-mile beast with nearly 7,000 feet of climbing along a tough, though beautiful stretch of coastline. After 75 miles, however, I kept going past the last drop-off point at Fort Ross and continued along the winding, spectacular, landslide-ridden and rain-soaked coast to Jenner at the mouth of the Russian River. We reached our campground as dusk settled in.

It was only a few hours later, in the middle of the night, that a gale ripped through camp and scattered many tents and rain tarps, including mine, forcing a number of us to find a different shelter in the luggage truck, under an awning or on a concrete pad to get a few hours’ rest before our next day of riding.

Day 4 saw on-and-off rain as we rode inland through Wine Country before heading back to the coast. We had a great day, with stops for wine tasting at an organic vintner, ice cream and espresso at the Tomales Deli, and clam chowder and barbecued oysters at Marshall along Tomales Bay. This was one of my favorite afternoons — riding along the San Andreas Fault once we hit Tomales Bay (I am a geologist, after all) — as we finished strongly heading into Point Reyes Station and our final campsite in Olema after a 60-mile cycle. 

I should note that Climate Ride also is a “green conference on two wheels” owing to the lineup of speakers each evening after dinner. The talks provided fascinating discussions on sustainability, nutrition, environmental protection and restoration, community involvement and cycling techniques. I was proud to have given one of those presentations on our last evening, a short summary of the geology of Marin that we were about to see for our fifth and final day of riding that would be composed of about 40 miles through Stinson Beach, up and over Pan Toll and down to Muir Beach, then up and over the shoulder of Mount Tamalpais into Sausalito and finally the city.

Of course, our final day of riding would not have been complete without the downpour that greeted us during our 6 a.m. breakfast and followed us off and on through the next several hours.  But when the storm broke and showed us sun — and it did so in the best places including at Stinson Beach and as we climbed the Panoramic Highway — the emotions that overtook many of us were almost too difficult to control. After 320 miles, 20,000 vertical feet of climbing and nearly 30 hours of actual saddle time through what seemed to be never-ending rain, we were about to make it to our destination.

I have ridden down Highway 1 into Sausalito and have ridden over the Golden Gate Bridge countless times, but never has that ride been so sweet with the feeling of accomplishment.

I had been cycling with my new Climate Ride colleagues from Marin and Sonoma, Palo Alto and San Jose, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Montana, Oregon and throughout the country. We all broke out with cheers as we gathered at Crissy Field and then left en masse through the Marina up and over Polk Street to City Hall.

With the cheering section cries of “Climate” (from the front of the pack) “Ride” (from the back of the pack) we rode (following traffic laws) to the Civic Center, where we were greeted by family, friends, and local politicians and dignitaries. We, the California Climate Ride “Storm Riders” of 2011, had made it known that we will not give up, that we are tough and resilient, and that we will do what is right to benefit all, not just some, of society as we progress toward a sustainable, environmentally friendly and healthy existence for us on Planet Earth.

WANT THE DETAILS?

California Climate Ride has a sister East Coast ride each spring from New York City to Washington D.C. To learn more about any of the 2012 rides, go to http://www.climateride.org.

See the attached PDF for a copy of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition's Pedal Press and information about the geology of Marin, a talk Scott Warner gave during the California Climate Ride.

Scott Warner is a professional hydrogeologist who has lived in Novato with his wife, two daughters, and Hershey the cockapoo since 1995. 

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