Biking the wine country
I have been to Napa many times, to ride the wine train, wine tasting with friends and to enjoy the beauty of the vineyards. But to tour the place on a bike?
I learned about the Asha Bike Program and attended the kickoff program and noted that I could be touring Napa on a bicycle.
I had already bought my beauty; a bright orange Felt road bicycle in 2007. It was a birthday gift from my family. Alas, it decorated our garage for some years. I had a hiking accident and injured my knee in Yosemite. It was a year before I could start to train again and made my comeback to running when I ran at Big Sur in April 2010. Getting on my neglected bike was a natural next step. Slowly but surely, I told myself.
I showed up at the first ride at Shoreline Park which was more "Biking 101", important but elementary. The first ride was on Canada Road, near highway 92. At specific times on the weekends, a good 8 mile stretch of road is cordoned off for bikers. I rode with a few seasoned bikers and got invaluable tips on gear changing, posture, braking, road rules etc. I also applied all the physics fundamentals to practice with the gears. The only bikes I pedaled prior to this were in India. Years ago, bikes came in one form, one shape, different makes (Atlas, Hero) and maybe different colours. This is the bike that I used to ride in Kgp. This picture is of my mom (before I was born) with the bicycle that was handed down to me. I loved my bike and took care of it as my most precious possession for years.
My bike in Bangalore was not any different. Now you see, these are a far cry from the bicycles of today which can go fast. Really fast!! Armed with biking apparel, new cleats and clipless pedals, gloves and helmet, I was ready to take the challenge!
We biked every weekend on the hills around the Bay Area in Almaden/Morgan Hill, Skyline, Alpine/Portola, Foothills, Mt Eden, Old La Honda, Calaveras, Niles Canyon, Highway 1 (my all time favourite!) among others. I got comfortable with my cleats, thankfully never fell in them! I tried do at least one ride during the week or do spinning in the gym. Week after week we conquered longer distances and tougher climbs. Every time I felt I was ready, I had another tough ride that deflated my confidence. But, I was determined to reach my goal.
Another rookie biker Simi and I drove up to Napa on Saturday for the registration and checked into the hotel in Vallejo. This was where everybody from Team Asha were staying. Nothing fancy about the place... it was going to be one night to rest. We met with the team at a reasonable Italian place for dinner. It was good to spend time with the fun group. Meat balls, pasta, pizza... beer... all part of a carbo load diet. Some of the dishes made for good laughs!
We woke up at 5AM and I was ready to start the ride around 7:30AM, later than planned. Most of the Asha bikers started earlier and I managed to be with some of the fast Asha bikers Neel, Naveen, Amit and Kiran. The morning was very pretty with fog shrouding the hills and the vineyards. The ride to the rest stop #1 was a good 14 mile ride, mostly flat. I caught up with a lot of the Asha bikers, while we re-fueled and got some yummy treats. Our team jersey was well designed and eye-catching. I had a lot of riders ask me what Team Asha was.
The next 17 odd miles was a steady uphill climb. On one of the turns, while changing gears, my bike chain fell off. It is the first time that this happened to me. It was straightforward to get it on but my fingers were all greasy. Thanks to my fellow biker to stop for me. We passed by the Henessey Lake on the left. This area is surreal. The rolling hills, the cozy cottages, gigantic mansions, vineyards, as far as the eyes could see, seemed a lot like the pictures of rural Italy that I have seen. This is "Tuscany in California". I got to rest stop #2 to find most of my team mates there. It had taken me 2 hours to complete about 33 miles. The rest stop had a large spread of fresh food, fruits, cookies and more.
I enjoyed my peanut butter banana sandwich! This combination was new to me indeed. It tasted yummy and gave me much needed calories. Home baked gourmet cookies had subtle flavours (espresso & raisin especially), unique and delicious. I ate well and contemplated a siesta! But the thought of climbing a major hill got me back to reality. Hanging around here was not going to do me any good.
I set out but noticed very soon that I had a flat on the back tire. I followed Coach Rob's instructions from the bike repair workshop. Another Asha biker stopped to help me. Half way through the process, coach Stan showed up and helped me repair the fix. Thanks Stan! Stan was doing a 100 mile ride and was shuttling down the road to find Asha riders. I headed out alone towards the infamous Ink Grade. A few Asha rookie bikers (Sony, Tejaswini, Shashi & Vamsi) were there and we all started the climb together. Ink Grade is a 4 mile hill with 4-7% inclination. I took a couple of breaks to climb the hill. It seemed unending. Markings on the road saying 1/2 way, 3/4 way was reassuring. I was indeed making progress and going up the hill! I helped a few bikers on the route...one of them was not doing well (she had nausea and felt giddy, which did not sound good to me). I was with her for a bit and walked with her a little. I continued to ride when she was OK. I waited for her at the top of the hill. It was nice to see her make it up fine. I am glad to have made it to the top too! It was around noon when I sent an sms to my family! It was a surprise and refreshing to see one of our captains Raghu (who could not ride because of a shoulder injury the week before) and Gautami from the Asha SAG (Support) team there. The SAG team has helped us on all our long rides, providing us beverages and food at rest stops. Bless the SAG team!! I should not forget to thank Rajeev and Renuka who introduced me to the Asha bike program. I have got to know a fun group of people.
The downhill ride was refreshing and beautiful! This is the reason, I guess, I will continue to climb hills! I rode alone till rest stop #3, which was at 55 odd miles. I was not hungry but I stopped to get some water/cytomax. The ride from here, on Silverado trail was boring and felt very long. It was pretty but I had seen prettier sights earlier on the ride! It was about 13 miles back to the start point at Veterans Home. I rode with Tahera as we chatted and exchanged notes and talked about all the fun things we would eat when done. It made the miles fly. Thanks Tahera! A few wrong turns but we got back to the finish line a little after 2PM. I saw Amit sitting on a bench waiting for me to roll by. It is wonderful to see family cheer you through the journey! I missed seeing my son; Rahul has always been there to cheer me but he had to be back at the University the same morning. Amit got a picture of me as I rode past him near the finish:
There was much cheering at the finish, with hugs, high-fives and beer! The lunch was good and the company of the bikers was absolutely wonderful, as we exchanged notes and celebrated our success! Big thanks to the wonderful coaches Stan, Rob and Vishwa and the captains! And most important of all, an awesome job done by the organizers Chandrika and Megha! Kudos to all of them who volunteered tireless hours to make Team Asha successful! Thanks also to all my donors for donating to Asha and supporting me through this ride!
Here is part of the team at the finish:
I echo Queen's lyrics and sing...
I like to ride my bicycle, I like to ride my bike, I like to ride by bicycle, I like to ride it where I like!
For many more years of biking, Cheers to Team Asha!
- Asha for Education is a charity organization. More details here.
- I got my bike fitted at La Dolce Velo in San Jose.