07 October 2008

Grizzly Century, North Fork, Ca - October 07, 2008

I have sort of a running joke with my wife in that she'll let me go in a 12 hour bicycle ride on a Saturday, but my motorcycle ride time on Saturdays is limited to about 20 minutes. Of course it's not really true, but I think she'd rather have me on the bicycle. When I'm on a bicycle, I'm getting exercise and helping the environment. A motorcycle just burns fuel and tires. The latter is justifiable for commuting, not so much for weekend free time.

I've learned that if I use the motorcycle for a bicycle purpose, I can get out the door rather easily. Saturday the 4th was one of those days. The North Fork Chamber of Commerce had its 16th annual Grizzly Century bicycle ride. One hundred miles of some of the most beautiful Sierra Nevada scenery there is. It is an unbelievable bicycle ride that I've done a couple of times. I really think that the ride is one of the best in the State, due to the route, scenery and support. I was able to help them out with rider support (aka SAG) as I have in past years. Carry some water, spare tubes, a first-aid kit and strap a floor pump to the bike, then ride the course and help any riders who may need it.

Most of the SAG drivers drive a truck or car. I ride my motorcycle. In professional cycling events, particularly road racing like the Tour de France, motorcycles are everywhere. In recreational events, they're a rarity. A motorcycle has some serious advantages over a larger vehicle on this type of event. A motorcycle can cover more ground quicker, it can pull off the road in less space, and it needs less space to pass the cyclists, and it can get closer to the cyclists safer (if you need to talk to them) than a car. One big advantage a car has is the ability to carry a rider down the mountain if there is a mechanical failure or injury. For the most part though, most SAG drivers only help with flats, hand out water, and head back down at the end of the day without carrying a cyclist. Theoretically, this is the goal of EVERY organized bicycle ride; to get every cyclist home on their own power.

I was looking forward to the Griz (as it's affectionately called by the locals) as it would be my first time SAGging on the ST. I was curious to see how it would handle the sometimes slow, close-quartered maneuvering that can happen in this type of event. I was not looking forward to the weather, however. Early last week, there were reports of an incoming storm to the Pacific Northwest and most of the west coast. It was to bring the first rains of the season to our area. The forecast had it hitting our area on Saturday. As the week went on, I kept watching, hoping really, that the rain would stay away for one more day, until Sunday. No such luck. As I was preparing the ST for the ride on Friday night, light rains began to fall on the Valley floor. I knew that in the mountains where the ride was to be, the rain would be falling much heavier.

Sure enough, Saturday morning as I opened the garage door, I was greeted with wet streets. Generally, rain doesn't bother me - either a bicycle or motorcycle (that's what proper gear is for) - but the first rain makes me anxious. First rains make the roads slick and drivers stupid. When there's a lot of rain, or if it rains frequently, the roads are washed. We haven't had rain since April so there's lots of slippery goo on the roads, and there certainly wasn't enough rain to wash it away, only to make a mess. So I geared up, and cautiously rode the 65 miles to North Fork and the Start/Finish for the Griz.

The ride from home to the event start in North Fork was uneventful. Light rain, most of the way. I was impressed at how much protection the faring and windscreen provided. Even the mirror shrouds kept much (not all) of the water off of my gloves. Pretty amazing considering how far in front of and below my hands the mirrors are. I found that if I raised the windscreen to where I was just looking over it, I could open my visor enough to just look under it, and not get wet.

I don't mind riding in the rain. I think it makes me a better rider. Nothing makes makes me more aware of how smooth I am with the throttle and brakes as a fresh rain. I guess it's probably more appropriate to say that I become aware of my lack of smoothness. I do think I am an able rider - I have plenty of miles under my belt - but I'm not going to make myself believe that miles makes a motorcyclist a good rider. There is always something to be learned and skills to work on and polish. Two of the things that show me where I need to work are slow speed maneuvers and rain. Saturday had plenty of both.

One of the main, off-highway roads to North Fork was under construction a few weeks ago when I was up here with a buddy. There were two or three miles of rutted and pot-holed, hard-packed dirt where there used to be asphalt. My buddy's VStrom loved the road. My ST would have liked to have been somewhere else. I was hoping that the road had been fixed by now as it was the shortest way to North Fork, but no luck there. I took one look at the very muddy road and I think the ST actually whined. And not in the good way that it's supposed to. So I turned around back to the highway to take the long way to the event start through Oakhurst.

I got to North Fork in the rain, checked in with the volunteers at the North Fork School (the event start), and after getting my supplies and loading my bike, I was back out on the road. Still in the rain.

The rain lasted most of the day. It was raining when I left home around 7:30am, and it was raining, drizzling, misty, or foggy (less than 100 feet at times) until about 4:00pm. Since I got the ST1300 in July, there has been no rain. Heat, yes. We've had lots of that. It was 95° barely a week ago. The ST is a warm running bike, no doubt, and a hot day just makes it worse, but I've haven't had a chance to run it in cooler or wetter weather. Today I was got both cooler and wetter and the ST was great in all of it.

The storm had prompted a route change. The planned route travels north from North Fork, up the Sierra Scenic Byway. A road known as the Grizzly cutoff connects to Beasore Road which takes the riders down to Bass Lake and then back to North Fork. The Grizzly cutoff from the Scenic Byway to Beasore Road was at an elevation that within the forecasted area for possible snowfall. Not a place to be on a bicycle. The change had riders leave North Fork to the south and travel between Kerkoff & Reddinger Lakes before turning north to connect to the Scenic Byway. The riders continued up to just past halfway where there was a rest stop waiting for them. From there, they were turned back around to North Fork again.

There were 600 riders registered for the ride. Just less than half checked in either the night before or the morning of the ride, presumably because of the weather. Many of the riders completed the lower portion of the ride, and then turned back toward North Fork when they connected back up with the Scenic Byway without making the climb up to the turn around. This cut about 50 miles off of their ride. There were many that did go up to the top. There were a few that missed some turns and a few that missed the turn around and continued their ascension toward the cutoff. There are riders who have done this ride before, who know the route, and who don't look at the map they've been handed.

After hearing that there may have been some rider that continued on toward the Grizzly Cutoff, I went higher up the mountain to look for them and turn them around. Twelve miles farther up the road and I got to the Cutoff. A few miles past that and I got to tha regularly planned Lunch stop. The thermometer on the ST dash said 47° and I didn't see any riders. I headed back down.

By the end of the day, the sun came out, all of the riders had been accounted for, and we all had a great meal waiting for us at the end. There were no major crashes, mishaps, or other injuries, and considering the potential for all of those due to the weather, it was a great day.

I'm ready for next year.