This course description was updated in 2006, on the occasion of moving the start/finish from Willowside Middle School to Analy High School in Sebastopol.
Although the route has varied in small ways over the years, its defining features have always been its four big climbs (and the steep, twisting descents that follow): Trinity Grade, the Geysers, Skaggs Springs, and Fort Ross. Numerous smaller but pesky hills add to the overall challenge. Trinity, the Geysers, and Fort Ross are all double-summit climbs, while Skaggs Springs is a long series of climbs and descents. Few gradients on the course exceed 15%, but many climbs stay in the 8-12% range for long distances.
The ride starts and ends on the north side of Sebastopol at Analy High School, a pleasant facility with parking, rest rooms, and showers. The course heads north and east for six flat miles to the city of Santa Rosa and takes the next seven miles to cross the city. (The city is usually very quiet at that hour in the morning. There are close to 20 signals along the transit through the city. A pilot car will lead the riders through town, tripping as many of the signals as possible.) At 13 miles, the route becomes rural again, with the first rolling climb out of Bennett Valley. The first major ascent (at 25 miles) is Trinity Grade, a feature of the old Coors Classic stage race, and more recently of the Tour of California. The descent off the back side of Trinity often surprises over-eager riders: it’s steep, twisty, and sometimes wet with dew in the morning. A second, shorter climb leads to the top of Oakville Grade and the wide open, 50-mph downhill into Napa Valley.
The next 40 miles (35-75) roll easily through the picturesque vineyards and meadows of Napa, Knights, and Alexander Valleys, with only a few moderate hills. The first rest stop is in central Calistoga (mile 55). Serious climbing begins again at Geysers Road, with the next rest stop at the top of the nine mile, twin-summit climb (mile 84). The descent off the backside of Geysers begins with an extremely steep drop of about one mile. Following a hard left turn at a junction, it settles into seven miles of gradual downhill into Sulfur Creek Canyon, then several miles of small climbs and longer descents along the canyon. This is an active geothermal area, with steep, unstable terrain. The road is often washed out or in some state of disrepair. There are several sheer drop-offs into the canyon, with no guard rails. Caution is advised. After passing through Cloverdale, a short climb on Dutcher Creek and a descent into Dry Creek Valley lead into the midway lunch stop at the Warm Springs Dam Visitor Center (mile 110).
After lunch is when the Terrible Two gets truly terrible. The first half of the TT climbs 7500' in 110 miles. The second half climbs nearly 9000' in 90 miles, 5000' of it in the first 30 miles after lunch. It often takes riders up to three hours longer to complete the second century...if they finish it at all. Skaggs Springs—the road the Army Corps of Engineers built to bypass Lake Sonoma in 1981—is an endless series of steep, sun-baked climbs and false summits. It can be very hot (90°-115°). There will be two informal water stops along this stretch, ten miles apart. Eventually, the old road emerges from under the lake and the course returns to pavement from an earlier age...bumpier, but also shadier. After 15 miles of steep ups and downs, riders can recuperate on 12 mellow miles of downhills and rollers along the beautiful Gualala River.
There is a rest stop at Kashia School (Rancheria) at mile 143. There is a notorious climb leading up to this rest stop: a wicked, 1.7 mile, 900' wall. After the stop, there is a steep, technical descent to the Gualala River, an easier 300' climb, then another tricky drop to the sea. At Stewarts Point, the route turns south along the ocean on Hwy 1. Temperatures are usually much cooler here and sometimes one can even catch a tailwind while cruising for 15 miles alongside the rugged beaches and pounding surf. Although this Hwy 1 section is considered easy, it actually adds nearly 1000' of climb to the total before reaching the next rest stop at Fort Ross (mile 162). It also features the heaviest traffic of the day.
The climb on Ft. Ross Road is 2.6 miles, averages 11%, and feels even steeper. Some riders find it to be the hardest climb of the whole ride. However, most of it is shady and all of it is beautiful. It’s followed by a bumpy, narrow descent, a more gradual climb up to Black Mountain, and a long, technical descent into Cazadero. A flat, shady run along Austin Creek and the Russian River leads to the last rest stop in Monte Rio (mile 184). After that, the road climbs gradually for seven miles, just skirting Occidental, before a long, smooth, fast downhill. After the long roll-out at the base of the descent, there is one more small climb on Graton and then, just over the top, the right turn onto Sullivan and the route back to Analy High School.
Except for the transit of Santa Rosa at the start, the entire course is rural and very scenic: vineyards, orchards, pastures, oak-studded meadows, shady forests of redwood, bay, and madrone, the spectacular coastline, wild rivers, lakes, and streams, and always the sweeping panoramas from the summits of all those climbs. It’s enough to make you forget how hard it is!
The ride will be held, rain or shine. (Yes, it has rained on the TT, although very rarely.) Temperatures can range from 50° in the morning to 100°+ in the afternoon on some of the inland portions. It will cool down again as riders reach the coast and encounter fog or its influence. The wind can be a factor, but is not usually a major player in this hilly terrain.