It's 7am on this exciting Saturday in Anderson Valley. The sky is clear, but the sun is intensely red from the smoke of the distant fires. Will it get smoky in the valley today for the Fish Rock Bike Race? Yep, that treacherous but oh, so exciting and insane 72+ mile annual race is happening again!
According to their website (https://www.ridefishrock.com/) the elevation gain is 9,670 feet and they provide a detailed logistical "map" (check it out on their website!) so there are no surprises along the course. The record for tackling this bugger is just under FOUR HOURS! That's unbelievable when you think how long it takes to drive Fish Rock Road and Mtn View Rd over to the coast. WHEW! I get tired just thinking about it! And in this record breaking 106+ degree heat today? I hope everyone makes it okay.
The race starts at 9am. The lighting is getting hazy already, but that's perfect for where I have positioned myself to capture some choice moments during the race. How appropriate to hear "Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh playing as the pack of close to 400 participants head up Mtn View Rd.
Who does these crazy rides anyway? As I drive past AV High School, the evidence is clear: There's some really nice cars in the parking lot with some serious bike hauling equipment. And the spandex! Wowzers! Promoting every biz in the industry, even internationally. Yep, this year, there was a gal from Berlin, Germany participating. In addition, there were riders from all over the country (counted 11 States with multiple riders from CA, OR, NV). You can see the full roster of 397 entries on the website (https://www.ridefishrock.com/).
It's 12:22pm and I'm setting up on Fish Rock Rd now. I snagged a primo location to capture several moments along the last flat spot on Fish Rock Road before they get back on Hwy 128. The heat is bearing down now so hot it's actually hard to breathe after getting out of an AC car. Good thing this is a flat area and not very long, so the riders don't suffer. Standing here waiting is tough, but there's a slight breeze picking up, which will save me from the sweltering heat.
At 12:33pm And the first rider appears. He's one of the guys who started in the lead! Amazing feat of endurance and strength. He only has another 20-30 min of roadway to deal with and I excitedly applaud him, but I'm sure he is concentrating and doesn't hear me. Wearing black spandex in this heat?!? Oh my! And the sound of those tires in the dead heat quiet of this valley... The whirring of the wheels as they whip by.
The 2nd rider breaks out of the forest at the edge of the valley at 12:35pm. The silence of the heat is broken by the whirring and pumping sounds of the pulsating rider. His head is down as he bears down and pushes his body to finish this race.
12:39pm A silent running of the 3rd rider, who I might not have seen if it hadn't been for the car passing him on the straight away. The sound really carries in this valley and as they emerge from the forest and into the valley one can hear the cyclists pumping and spinning those wheels, shifting gears and taking advantage of a flat moment to pour water over themselves or manage to take a quick drink without stopping and race past my post.
I love this! Found a "crowd cheering" sound effect on my phone, so every time they go past me, I can cheer them on! I don't want to distract them, but at this point, any encouragement must be appreciated. Occasionally one glances up briefly or I can see them smile in my zoom lens, so I hope the sound traveled to them as well as their bike noise traveled up to me!
1:17pm finally seeing more than a lone rider at a time toughing out the heat. It appears the clusters of riders this morning have resorted to "every man/woman for himself" and gone into survival mode with this challenging course. They went off in a wave of color and laughter, but in the end, it was every human for themselves and survival of the fittest fully kicked in.
Alas, I must leave this comfortable post and move on to the finish line. But wait! More unique opportunities to follow the riders and get a back side view! AND I ended up protecting them from general traffic on Hwy 128, by following them with my flashers on. When they saw me with my camera, they quit looking back at me and a few even smiled and waved! Most everyone loves the attention and capturing a moment in this grueling race is most likely appreciated.
What a relief as they cross that finish line and keep right on going into the Brewery or back to the High School to get their rigs and head over to the Brewery for this evening's celebrations, grabbing a super cold brew. and getting a good hosing down to cool off! What a ride! It takes courage, determination, and a passion for the sport to endure this blistering, hellacious ride!
BRAVO BIKE RIDERS!