Riding in Northern California :: The Icing on my 35th Birthday Cake

It’s taken me three days to find the words to fully express the weekend that I just had. To even begin to articulate all of the moments, scenes, emotions that were wrapped up in it. And to even think about downloading the details here. It was the kind of experience that I could merely wrap up in my mind and memory with a smile and keep to myself for eternity, but frankly the stuff that made the 5 days I spent in California was just too good not to put down, not only for me when I come to look for them in darker corners of the year, but for all of you; because fundamentally it was just any old weekend, in a beautiful place, with friends, and food, and the best intentions on our bikes. And knowing that something so good starts with a formula so simple is a spectacular reminder that all is right in the world.

Happy Place

When I turned 30, I looked around and realized I wasn’t going to be able to celebrate my birthday doing something “epic” like spending a month in an ashram in India as I’d always dreamed, or hiking the Appalachian Trail, or, ya know, whatever “worthy 30th birthday celebration” I’d imagined to kiss my 20’s goodbye. Instead, I was in Northern California, I’d just accepted a job sitting at a desk most days of the week but was surrounded by wonderful people, more beauty than I could even describe and more exciting places to explore than I could possibly fit into a single day of celebration. So, I vowed to celebrate my birthday for an entire month, and to fit in as much goodness as I could to start that 3oth year.

The Road to Home

The first thing on the list was a day of riding bicycles between bakeries on some of the most beautiful, ribbon roads in Northern California. The day blew the minds of myself and 12 or so of my very dear friends. So much, in fact, that the ride became a tradition, and every year for the past five I’ve planned a weekend on those same roads to serve as a “kick off” for a month of birthday celebrating; the ride is a way for me to “spin” into the next trip around the sun, to celebrate another year of my life with a day of simple pleasures, having a whole day to ride in that beautiful place was like the icing on my birthday cake. But this year, I looked around and realized it has become something else entirely.

Preparations for this years trip started off as they typically do, with me sending out a little invitation to the people that I love, who also love bikes and baked goods; a little rallying cry for us to find a house to crash in, to build a menu to fuel our weekend of riding hills and crushing descents. But in the past year I’ve come to love quite a few more people who love this sort of thing. And then, Rapha caught wind of our special weekend and asked if a few of their RCC members could come along for the ride too. (But of course! Because with something like this, the more the merrier, no?! YES.) Suddenly, we had a proverbial army that felt a birthday – of someone, anyone – was an excellent reason to get out and have an adventure. As the resounding “I’m in!” responses returned, I realized more and more that not everyone chooses to celebrate the days of their lives this way, but more than ever, this was all I wanted in the world to celebrate mine.

When the weekend finally arrived, we found ourselves in a little farmhouse in Freestone, with olive groves surrounding the house, and redwoods surrounding the olive groves. There were meyer lemon trees and oranges in the yard, and chickens cooped on the outskirts of the property. The cedar patio that extended across the back of the house cascaded down into the yard and was lined with deep, broad chairs so that glasses of wine, views of the valley, or just quiet moments with friends could be soaked up wherever hearts content. It was an ultimately tranquil setting that we promptly filled with good people, good smells of things cooking, and lots of excitement for all we would see and do and feel in the days to come. We spent that first evening eating together, drinking too much/just enough, gathering around the countertop eating cookies from the sheet pan, and catching up. It turns out that even strangers who all love bicycles have a lot to talk about. The next morning, fog filled the valley, rolling quickly over the redwoods; sounds of our preparations billowed out of the living spaces in the house and eventually onto the dirt roads out of town as we bubbled our way to the hills, and toto the sea.

Morning in Freestone

What unfolded those next 48 hours was some of the most special riding -but moreover, some of the most special time on this planet –  I have ever enjoyed; not only did the rainclouds that have been covering Northern California clear completely for our days, but the sun came out and illuminated scenes more spectacular than I ever remember them to be, all soundtracked by the whir of wheels, gasps of awe and squeals of glee as the roads undulated over verdant green hillsides, past happy little cows, and down jaw-dropping, roller coaster hillsides into the cerulean ocean. It was like whizzing through a movie set. Or a dream. Or a dream movie set.

Down we Go

Soaking It Up


And all of that would have been enough on its own. But then, you add in the little conversations that happened late into the night over too much bourbon. And the smells of brown butter and baking cookies that overwhelmed the kitchen as the sunlight set behind the house. The sights of smoke rising from olive branches burning in the yard mingling with the fog that settled behind the house as the coffee brewed and we curled up on the couch w/cups cradled in our hands. The intense quiet of the forest, and the way it seemed to amplify the laughter all around us. There’s just nothing like waking up to the faces of the people you adore, eyes still puffy from too little sleep because they spent all of the night before laughing and telling stories with you. Sitting down on the sidewalk to crack open beers and eat fancy cheese because that place was as good as any for us to recover together. Nothing like rolling into a little outpost to eat something delicious after a long spin among friends. There’s no place I’d rather be than climbing through the forest with a good friend in silence, knowing that the conversation we’re having is taking place with beaming smiles instead of words. There’s no way I’d rather wake up than to bake birthday cake as the sun comes up, drinking coffee with my favorite ladies on the planet. (And there’s no better breakfast on a birthday weekend than cake, is there, really?!) And the icing on the (proverbial) cake was that all of them just had the weekend of their lives too. We can’t wait to stay up too late, wake up too early, eat too much, play too hard, ride too fast, eat cheese on the sidewalk and find ourselves in some remarkable place together where all we have to do is be together, and ride our bikes.

Climbing Old Fort Ross

The realization that this crew – who inspire, comfort, educate, sooth and sate me – felt this weekend was such a remarkable experience was the best celebration of life I can imagine. Because ultimately, it wasn’t the roads, or the views, or the flavors, or the smells, or wine in the hot tub (though that was lovely) or the exceptional bourbon and wine we managed to drink that iced my birthday cake. It was sharing that cake with them.

Happy birthday to me. 🙂

A HUGE thanks to Rapha and the RCC for making the weekend happen, and to Nick Kova for the beautiful images of the weekend that you see here.