For the last two years, I've kicked off my racing season at the Low Gap Hopper. It's the first race in the Grasshopper Adventure Series, our local mixed terrain race series that garners national media attention and draws many top pro riders from near and far. These events hold a special place in my heart as they always celebrate the amazing NorCal cycling community and the incredible terrain we are all so fortunate to have here in our 'backyard'.
To a degree, the Low Gap Hopper always feels like a reunion. After a few months away from racing, it's often the first chance to reconnect and catch up with many cycling friends who I haven't seen in a while.
But after all, it is a bike race, and a properly challenging one at that. On paper, the 48-mile parcours may not look so demanding, at least when compared with the races like Unbound and SBT GRVL that fall later on the calendar. However, the thing that Low Gap has that no other race can rival is a twenty-minute all-out climb to start the race. It's absolute insanity! We have a neutral rollout for about two minutes before the road points to the sky, and the suffering begins. For the last two years, I've set my twenty-minute power PR for the year on this climb.
But it's not your average power test. Instead of completing the power test and then rolling home to analyze the numbers and put your legs up, you have to keep racing for another two-plus hours. The other part of the Low Gap Hopper that makes it so unique is the surface under our tires. The first half of the race is all paved and reasonably well-paved, too. But 22 miles into the 48-mile course, that all changes. The smooth tarmac suddenly turns to a heavily wooded doubletrack as we turn off Orr Springs Road and enter Low Gap Road. Then, the race really kicks off. This section is glorious, with countless punchy rollers and fast descents. After one final three-mile-long dirt climb, we turn down Masonite Industrial Road and rip back to Ukiah where we started. The long, sinuous descent is a challenging one, requiring full focus from top to bottom. The surface is constantly switching from broken pavement to dirt and back, keeping everyone on their toes.
And, of course, it wouldn't be a proper Hopper without the post-ride festival with delicious food, chilled beverages, and that unique 'Hopper vibe' we all know and love. If you're on the fence about signing up, I cannot recommend the event highly enough. After a few months of winter training, I'm chomping at the bit to start the year off with a bang on Orr Springs Road!