“Not-a-Race” Report: Old Cazadero Grasshopper, Northern California

“Pre-ride CazHopper tomorrow?” lit up my little screen while I was cozy and warm on the couch enjoying an adult beverage, a soaking rain, and a wind storm having just subsided. A quick look at the forecast and I was in. I knew there was a creek crossing in the Old Cazadero Grasshopper, a 52-mile …


“Pre-ride CazHopper tomorrow?” lit up my little screen while I was cozy and warm on the couch enjoying an adult beverage, a soaking rain, and a wind storm having just subsided. A quick look at the forecast and I was in. I knew there was a creek crossing in the Old Cazadero Grasshopper, a 52-mile “timed ride, not a race” on a combination of dirt, paved, and quasi-paved roads and trails in the remoter reaches of Sonoma County, so I inquired with a friend regarding the depth, placement, and swiftness of this water feature.

“Meh, 1/3 of the way through the course? Just set up on the opposite bank and charge that shit girl! Huggles!”

“But there’s still a flood watch in effect—you think it’s cool?”


Alrighty then. Anne and I were pedaling from Occidental by 10:09 on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, three weeks ahead of not-race day. While I should have been volunteering pulling broom or maintaining trail somewhere, I pledged scout’s honor to make it up to the universe and the memory of the good Dr. King.

Directions spotty and collective command of our respective Garmin’s limited, we headed up Duncan Road outside Monte Rio to its end and a “road closed” sign and gate. It looked like we had found our second dirt segment. Signs posted on the ancient peaceful redwood trees flanking the way became progressively more ominous. “No Trespassing.” “Private Property.” “Smile, You’re on Camera.” “No, Really, We’ll Poke Your Eyes Out.” Okay, the last is an exaggeration, but when combined with clear evidence of cannabis cultivation—small black irrigation piping connecting to a barely-concealed water tank, then snaking off into the forest, it was a bit concerning for two women alone with no cell reception. When this lesser road then ended at the top near a house with even sharper-fanged signage, we huddled out of sight and whispered back and forth regarding our predicament.

“I mean, it’s probably right there, right? But…?” I pointed to a trail-like opening in a brush tunnel.

“Probably, but this Breaking Bad scene is pretty sketch.”

“That’s meth,” I whispered.


“Breaking Bad was meth—this is pot!” I whisper-screamed, because clearly this distinction was of utmost importance at this moment when the pit bulls were about to come gnaw on our Sidis. We opted out–we retraced our steps, looped around, added a few road miles, and of course ended up at the other end of Duncan, thus proving we were sissies and that had in fact been the correct course. Oh well.

We should have found the creek crossing by now. It was a dark cloud hovering in my mind, adjacent to the actual dark clouds in the sky. After descending a glorious dirt road through forest and meadow with spectacular (if gray) views of the rugged, empty coastal landscape, there it was. Austin Creek. Anne and I let out simultaneous guffaws at the sweep and speed of the thing. We dismounted, took a few photos, walked in some circles. I grabbed a stick and determined the water to be waist-deep one foot from the bank. Small eddies swirled and sucked at the stick, calling it, siren-like, to join the flow. It was 3:00pm on a mid-winter day, 31 miles into the depths of nowhere, not a soul to be seen or cell signal to be found. After much ado, we decided CHARGING IT was not an option, and turned back. At mile 31. At 3:00pm on a mid-winter day, rain threatening.

Austin Creek, sans the Charging It. This photo makes it look MUCH smaller…

Race Day

Summer had returned to February by the day of the event, and there was much rejoicing. Among the 400 folks “not racing” that day were pro racers Katerina Nash, Rachel Lloyd, Ted King, and Levi Leipheimer, among others. Lending to the grassroots feel of the event, the best prize—a rad kit from Elevengear Cycling—was for the 11th place finisher in both the men’s and women’s categories. At 50th out of 63 women, yours truly missed the mark by a few… hours.

The array of weapons was impressive, from carbon fiber sleek road bikes, full suspension mountain bikes, to retro rigs with downtube shifters. The vast majority of mounts were cyclocross bikes, the clearly superior tool for the job. I rode my Santa Cruz Blur TrC, its 26” wheels not yet qualifying as “retro,” leaving me simply uncool. And hella slow. No matter, there were still plenty of folks to delight in this adventure with. Rest stops that included Coca Cola and IPAs in addition to the average fare brought a smile even if you didn’t indulge.

Caz Hopper
Not even to the knees! Pansies. Photo by Sean Co.

And the creek crossing? Ha! You call this a creek?? Bathed in sunshine, temperatures around 70, the water barely tickled the tops of my short socks. I shouldered my bike and pranced through like a fawn. (Actual spectators may have a slightly different analogy. Skinny hippo? Spry armadillo?) The road miles and last climb out were hard on this riding writer, but seeing the smiling faces and happy sun-drenched bodies at the finish line combined with the sheer beauty of the landscape of my home county means I’ll sign up early next year. Though maybe I’ll borrow a cross bike.

Congrats to first place man Ted King and first place woman Katerina Nash, special shout-out to third place Rachel Lloyd just for being awesome, and of course congrats to 11th place Jim Hewitt and Elise Hazelwood. The Old Caz Hopper is the first in a series of six such adventure races across the state. Sound enticing? Check ‘em out at www.grasshopperadventureseries.com.  And check out this rad video by Paul C. Miller shot with a drone/bike combo.