California Dreaming: Cycling and it’s 81º in February!

Yesterday our weather reached sublime heights of ridiculosity when it was 81 degrees in the middle of February. Roger and I made a spur of the moment decision to drive up to the Napa Valley to scout a few roads for upcoming rides we’re leading including the 30th Anniversary ride in June. Of course it was sunny, and we watched the thermometer slowly creep upwards the further north we drove. By Napa it was 81 degrees and it was only noon. No need for arm warmers, and this was the first time I had worn cycling shorts since last fall. It was creepy strange to have such subtropical weather in the middle of winter; I was almost expecting the earth to crack open and tsunamis to appear a la “2012”. But what’s to complain about to be able to cycle in such great weather? (Well, the possibility of another drought, I suppose.)

Roger and I went to try out a couple of the climbs out of Calistoga over to Santa Rosa. First up was Diamond Mountain Road which is a hellacious three-mile climb. Shortly after turning off Highway 29 it ramped up and didn’t stop. It was a consistent 10-12% grade for much of the way with absolutely no flat spots. “Relief” consisted of the tiny 8% sections, where we were able to catch our collective breath. There were a couple of sections which went 14% and above. If you think Pinehurst is a tough go, this was like a much longer version of the very top of that road. The road quality was typical county stuff: decaying and potholed. But going uphill it was no big deal to avoid the corrugations in the road at five miles per hour. In return for the insane incline and icky road texture we got a peaceful climb with virtually no car traffic. Plus, it was almost entirely shaded by very tall redwoods, making for a truly pleasant experience. It was a lot like Old La Honda except steeper.

Unfortunately, almost four miles up we came to a dead end at the Diamond Mountain Winery. Ah, that explained the sign at the bottom of the hill, “No Outlet”! Doh! Google Maps, Garmin’s North American map, and the AAA map all indicated that the road went through. But just before the ridge top there was a large metal gate constructed across the road, which looked more like a private driveway through the bars. Judging by the immaculate road quality on the other side of the gate, it was definitely private land! There was nothing left to do except turn around and ride the brakes the entire way down. We made it down without incident but my rims were damn hot by the bottom.

I suppose the lesson is: don’t trust mapmakers,  or rather when planning a route it’s always better to survey it “on the ground” rather than relying on mapping tools such as or even a paper map. Out of curiosity I did some exploring on the Internet and found out that the Diamond Mountain Winery is very old, dating back to the mid-19th century. Clearly the land has been under their control for some time, and how it would end up being mapped as an ostensibly public road is a slight mystery. Perhaps it was a private road whose access was never firmly controlled until they decided to put up the gate (which looked of recent origin). In any case it was not possible to make a loop out of it and so for now it’s a (straight) up-and-down route. (On a side note, before I got hooked into planning a ride series to celebrate our 30th year of existence, I was planning an “Outrageous/Outré/Obnoxious Climbs and Descents” ride series, the OCD, for short. This one will surely be one of its highlights!)

We bagged it after that foray and went for lunch at the Palisades Deli in Calistoga. Two burritos later we lurched in the van with our bikes and did the rest of the scouting by car.