As a bike racer, I've often, during my training rides, seen folks in bright-colored cycling jerseys stopped at summer produce stands. My snooty, elite racer friends had always poked fun at those folks who wore fluorescent-colored clothes, rode centuries or who stopped to rest during a ride. I always took this attitude as gospel and sniggered in turn at happy tourists in their spandex shorts chomping on peaches at fruit stands by the side of the road.
And then one day, I got lost.
My training partner, Lisa, and I were going long that day, and we didn't think we needed a map. Hour four ticked over, and the temperature was nearly 100 degrees. We'd run out of food and were deep in the Alexander Valley, far from just about anything except for back roads leading to Lake Sonoma. Suddenly, a beat-up van with a cardboard sign reading "Fresh Sweet Cherrys 4 Sale" loomed up in our sight.
"Let's stop and get some fruit," Lisa said. "I could really use a break."
Everything in me rebelled against stopping at a fruit stand, fearful that one of my fast, cute, racer-boy friends would whiz by and scream with laughter at my fruit-covered face, but a lack of blood sugar won out and we pulled over next to the van, gasping like fish in the heat. Lisa dug in her pockets for quarters, and the generous purveyor offered us sample after sample of cherries, apricots and peaches, chuckling in friendly amusement as two narrow girls stuffed their faces, rolling eyes in appreciation.
These days, I take enough food with me to last on long training rides, and I know my way around the county much better. But I no longer pass judgment on those happy innocents enjoying the county's bounty during their bike rides.
And one certainly doesn't have to be a bike racer or familiar with the different fruit stands in the county to enjoy the summer harvest while on a bike. The Aug. 20 Tour d'Organics event combines some of the best of what Sonoma County has to offer: beautiful scenery, luscious agriculture and epic bike-riding routes, all in one morning. The ride has 35-, 60- and 100-mile options, beginning and ending at the Sebastopol Community Center. Beginning this last May in Austin, Texas, Tour d'Organics has hosted a monthly event somewhere in the country this summer; Portland was favored in June, Santa Cruz in July.
Many riders are familiar with centuries, the supported 100-mile bike trips that tour through beautiful scenery and replenish riders with cookies, Gatorade and bananas at rest stops every 10 miles or so. But the Tour d'Organics isn't your typical century. Linking up with organic farms across the county from large CSA farms to teeny mom-and-pop organizations, Organic Athlete (the sponsor of the event) aims to promote health and ecological stewardship among athletes of all ages and abilities. How?
The Tour d' Organics serves as a model for how athletic events can be ecologically sustainable by sharing information, building community and inspiring through athletic example. The organization has a strong environmental commitment and does everything possible to make the Tour d'Organics a green event. All materials are printed on recycled paper, as are the compostable plates and utensils used at rest stops and the postride meal (which is vegan and 100 percent organic). The food waste from the event is composted and everything else is recycled; all vehicles used run on biodiesel; and even the T-shirts participants receive are organic.
Enjoying an abundance of organic foods, visiting local farms, meeting other like-minded athletes and the farmers who grow your food all sounds pretty good—not to mention getting to ride your bike through some of the country's most scenic areas. When you add in the feel-good factor of participating in a green event for a worthwhile cause, and postride massages, the Tour d'Organics begins to seem pretty hard to pass up. Those elite racing boys obviously don't know what they're missing.
As I toodle through the hills and valleys of my home county, stopping here for a plum and there for a peach, I remember why I started riding bikes in the first place. It wasn't because I wanted to win some race, or make sure my body fat dropped to a certain percentage (although those things are great in their own right). I got a bike and started riding it because of the way the air smells in the hills outside of Sebastopol and the valleys west of Healdsburg. The way the air rushes against my face and the solitude of those back roads are things that I haven't found anywhere else, either on or off the bike.
Hailing from a county that prides itself on being green, both environmentally and politically, I've always been familiar with organic farming principles and why they're important. Joining the Tour d'Organics and stopping by the roadside for a peach to promote this seems like a small (and yummy) way to do my part to ensure that organic farming stays strong in Sonoma County and beyond.
However, all poetry aside, I may have changed my mind about eating fruit by the side of the road, but fluorescent jerseys are still not cool.
The Tour d'Organics takes place on Sunday, Aug. 20, beginning and ending at the Sebastopol Community Center, 390 Morris St. The courses open at 6:15am and close at 5pm. All riders should start by 9am. Each rest stop will be stocked with produce directly from participating farms. Other munchies, including fruit, boiled potatoes, energy bars and nut butters, are all local and organic. The 65- and 100-mile rides include a full luncheon. After the ride, there will be a delicious vegan meal made from locally grown produce. $40-$60; $15 extra late fee for day-of-event registration. All food is included with the cost of registration. www.tourdorganics.com.
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