Biking 100 miles in a day

Most people don’t want to spend their Saturdays sitting down. In fact, when confined to a chair for eight hours during the weekday, the last thing on their minds is: “I wonder when I get to spend another full day strapped to an uncomfortable seat?” But Petaluma cyclist Paul Dunlap is not most people. In fact, come May 16, Dunlap, and many others, will voluntarily place themselves into the world’s most excruciating sitting device: the bicycle seat. And from that tiny rubber throne they will travel 100 miles in a single day.

Currently in its fourth year, the Sonoma County Backroad Challenge is an annual bicycle ride held as a fundraising project for the Petaluma Sunrise Foundation, which in turn was founded in 2010 by the Rotary Club of Petaluma Sunrise. The course starts in Penngrove Park, and has three end points: the half-metric, a 37.4-mile, 1,495- foot climb that ends just outside Petaluma; the metric century, which covers 71.6 miles and climbs 4,262 feet to the Marshall Wall, a favorite route for seasoned bicyclists; and the full century, which covers 100 miles and almost 7,500 feet of elevation. The full century also travels to the Marshall Wall, but continues through to the Bohemian Highway.

Dunlap, a Petaluma resident, shares his riding experience with the public in a unique way: he attaches a drift camera to his head, then edits segments from his ride into YouTube videos. “I don’t really know why I started doing that,” he said. “It just seemed like a lot of fun. But I know that when I get old and senile, my grandkids can bring those tapes and put them on the television for me, and I can imagine myself on my bike again.”

The Backroad Challenge isn’t Dunlap’s only bike ride. He participates in rides in northern California, San Diego and even goes out to Iowa for challenges. Recently returning to cycling after a hiatus, the activity turned into a passion for Dunlap. “It’s a lot of fun, especially riding in groups. If you go and do it on your own, you’ll think to yourself ‘there’s no way I could’ve done this!’”

Dunlap practices for his challenges by riding regularly. He believes that conditioning the body regularly prepares it for much greater challenges in the future. “There’s a bit of wisdom about cycling that says when you practice regularly, your body can handle double the distance of your normal routes. And that’s what I try to do. This activity is incredibly physical. Not only do you strain your muscles, but you have to stay on that saddle for five to seven hours. That takes conditioning,” he said.

If any pair of cyclists ever stand out during events, it would be Petaluma resident Nancy Giovanni and her twin sister Nadine. Straight out of Dr. Seuss’ book “The Cat in the Hat,” the sisters Giovanni dress up as the iconic twins “Thing One” and “Thing Two.”

“One day our older sister brought back some ‘Thing One’ and ‘Thing Two’ shirts, and that started the joke,” Nadine said. “I got ‘Thing One’ because I’m 15 minutes older. But later on, we found ‘Thing One’ and ‘Thing Two’ cycling jerseys, and we knew we had to have them.”

What started as a gimmick quickly transformed into a ritual. Wherever the twins cycled, people took photos, and videos of them went viral.

“Pretty soon, people started recognizing us. And you know, we do it because it’s so much fun. We love playing up the twin thing,” Nancy said.

Of the two sisters, Nancy takes up the more challenging rides. Two years ago, Nadine found she had Type-1 diabetes, a version of diabetes usually found in children.

As a result, Nadine needs to regulate her blood sugar while riding, which proves difficult because sweating accelerates changes in blood sugar. But when the sisters ride together, they always finish together.

Unfortunately, this year the “Thing” twins won’t make an appearance, as May 15 is the twin’s birthday, and Nadine plans to spend it with her family watching the Amgen time trials at Big Bear Lake.

“I really want to do the ride again, but on the other hand, it’s not every day you get to see the Amgen competitions,” she said.

“It won’t be the same without Nadine,” Nancy said. “I debated whether I would do it or not this year, but I decided that unless there’s a compelling reason, I can’t do it without her.”

For more information on the Sonoma County Backroad Challenge and to register, visit

(Contact William Rohrs at ar

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