The Megahopper (Film)
“The Megahopper” is a new short film that follows retired World Tour racer Ted King on a 415-mile bikepacking challenge to ride nine of California’s Grasshopper gravel race routes in one go. Find it here, plus a written reflection from Ted and a gallery of images from his ride…
Most elements of the Megahopper are easy to absorb and comprehend. Riding 415 miles for a bikepacking trip is in the wheelhouse of normal. Nearly 44,000 feet of climbing makes it an aggressive ratio of elevation climbed per distance covered, but certainly not unheard of. The outlandish aspect is trying to do it in a single go.
This route is the brainchild of Grasshopper Adventure Series founder and event director Miguel Crawford, who has an atlas-like understanding of the ribbons of roads that wind throughout Sonoma Coast. The Hoppers, as they’re known, began in the purest essence of gravel, decades before the term was so loosely used. In the late 90s, Miguel was the catalyst in northern California that brought together friends who’d show up on road bikes, mountain bikes, or cobbled-together frankenbikes to ride whatever adventure he’d created and drawn on a paper map. The timing also meant the hardware expanded to 23mm tires and 25-tooth cassettes when switching into adventure mode.
For the first dozen years or more, the Hoppers existed as haphazard training rides. It was Miguel’s way of bolstering his and his friends’ fitness in the late winter before the migration of professional cyclists from colder climates swooped into town. Given the rumors of a wildly good time, these rides quickly became a staple to any Bay Area cyclist’s training routine, and up through the present, have morphed into a full-fledged gravel race series catering to the hard charger as much as the first-timer. They’re such a pillar to Northern California’s off-road cycling scene that I attended an hour-long presentation all about the Grasshoppers hosted at the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.
The number of Grasshopper routes has grown to a dozen and a half or more over their 25-year history. The majority are centrally located in Sonoma County, but they bob and weave through Napa, Marin, and Mendocino counties. In recent times, there have been six distinct races on the formal calendar. If anyone has ever gone through the litigious process of permitting, you know the fickle nature of maintaining a local town’s permit to host a cycling event from one year to the next. The routes live, morph, and grow in Miguel’s mind much more than in any archive, so by the time one permit dries up or a route has run its course, Miguel has long been concocting something new.
The Megahopper came to life as a back-of-the-napkin idea during the doldrums of the pandemic. With a lack of events, it was as though there was an online game of one-upmanship. Hundred-mile rides were posted to social media and ride feeds. We soon didn’t bat an eye at someone’s double century, and even three-hundred-mile rides were somehow part of the norm. It was as though cyclists had traded in their traditional events for riding ever-increasing distances (cough cough… guilty. I rode a “200 On 100” double century across snowy Vermont to kick off New Year’s Day 2021).
Miguel, a high school Spanish teacher and a busy father of three when he’s not hosting events, was remodeling his house and among that opposing group of cyclists: those not riding. To break out of that stagnant habit, he committed to riding seven Hopper routes in seven days, a formidable challenge in its own right. As someone who’s equally excited about a Spanish textbook as he is a gazetteer, Miguel then let his mind wander, aware of this general pandemic desire to ride ever-further distances.
Then, on April 2, as if to prompt you to ask the question, “Is this real or belated April Fool’s?” Miguel lobbed the route out to Instagram. All said and done, piecing this puzzle together, the Megahopper stitches no fewer than nine different Grasshopper routes into one: King Ridge, Fort Ross, Old Caz, Mount Tam, the Geysers, Bolinas Ridge, and Mount Vision. If you’ve ridden north of the Bay Area, these routes note something iconic, and they’re just a fraction of the Megahopper’s mind-bending course. To ride a single Grasshopper guarantees a big day out. Linking two Hoppers into a single ride makes for a very memorable day. Piecing together the full 415-mile course has you feeling like a guest in a timeless world of skyscraping redwoods, craggy Pacific coast, and endless rolling, grassy hills.
My bikepacking career is as brief as it is broad. First, there was the James Bay Descent, where I played the bikepacking rookie on our four-man squad that rode self-supported across 400 miles of northern Canada’s polar bear country in the heart of winter. I set an FKT on the Arkansas High Country at the tail end of an eventless 2020. And with help from my friend Joe Cruz, I pedaled the inaugural VTXL. Effectively a parallel of the 200 On 100, except while the 200 is entirely paved, the VTXL spans the state of Vermont from Canada to Massachusetts and is 90% gravel across its 310 miles. Three events. There you have it, that’s my bikepacking resume.
So, with a brief now-or-never window on my calendar before hosting events at the Mill District in September, I set out for my OKT. Yep, only known time. One other cyclist, Michael Tymoff, had completed the route in an impressive three-day push, but in the haste of creating the Megahopper—not sure anyone would actually ever attempt it—Miguel accidentally put one stretch through private land, and that’s the Megahopper version 1.0 that Michael rode. So, working with Miguel, I reworked the route to reset the start/finish line to the town of Healdsburg and made sure we were 100% legal before going for a really, really long bike ride.
Healdsburg sits in the northern third of Sonoma county. Wine country extends in every direction and every aspect of Sonoma’s spectacular “ride country” expands north, south, east, and west from Healdsburg. A place where I find myself spending more and more time, it made sense to start the Megahopper here.
There’s a lot of spouting of what’s right and wrong about video crews lending moral support while attempting an FKT. Clearly, as a result of this video, there was a film crew on the course, so my point in attempting the Megahopper wasn’t to plant my flag in the ground and own an FKT. Instead, it’s to show that this ride can be done and, quite frankly, that it should be done. An hour and change car ride from the cycling-obsessed hub of the San Francisco Bay Area, Healdsburg is the jump-off point to seemingly endless, incredible riding.
Sure, I rode as swiftly as possible, but I stopped often. I pedaled with my buddy Chas. I met my wife, my friends Dave and chef Matthew Accarrino, and enjoyed their company at brief points along the way. Within minutes of rolling out at 5:45 a.m., I met up and rode with Miguel, and we took in views of the sun rising over from Monte Rio while he regaled me with stories of his time over the decades on these roads.
Miguel has become a good friend over the years as he’s witnessed the arc of my cycling career as closely as anyone. I did my first Grasshopper during my domestic pro racing days, using it as training for upcoming races, just as it was originally designed. I did another while racing for Liquigas, something that would be frowned upon by the staunch old-school Italian bosses. Then, as soon as I retired from the European road circuit in 2016, and when I lived in the Bay Area, they were a standout highlight of my spring calendar. Naturally, the first person I pinged when I thought to attempt the Megahopper was Miguel.
He hits on the head why I wanted to do this ride. For the fun, for the challenge, and to showcase the accessibility to this route: “Usually, you think of an FKT like the White Rim or Kokopelli, something really remote,” Miguel said. “But why not put together something in the area? Why not showcase your backyard? Hopper style includes dirt when it makes sense, and it goes back to the question of where do you live, and what would be a cool ride? Go there and highlight the beauty.”
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