The Guerneville Overnighter or Russian River Weekend has been on hiatus for ten years but not because we haven’t tried to restage it. The biggest obstacle to putting on another RRW is suitable lodging if we want to put it on in the traditional way. It’s not that lodging isn’t available—it would be relatively easy to book group accommodations as long as we did it ahead of time and picked a weekend that wasn’t already drawing a crowd eg. Lazy Bear Week. Traditional RRWs have had the following elements: (1) a Friday start for a group to cycle up to Guerneville for a three-day weekend; (2) inexpensive lodging, usually camping, in order make the trip available to the widest number of people, with an option for a room instead; (3) lodging in Guerneville preferably adjacent to the Russian River; (4) a Saturday group-prepared dinner. The two locations we’ve used most often, Fife’s and the Willows/Guerneville Lodge really aren’t suitable anymore. Fife’s is now Dawn Ranch Lodge and no longer has camping. It offers small cabins from $250-600 per night (one bed). The Guerneville Lodge is pretty much the way it has been but with two significant changes. The kitchen is no longer available for guest use so no group cooking can be done there, and now there is no onsite management with a consequence being loud, obnoxious partying in the lawn camping area making a peaceful stay a hit-or-miss thing (unless you want to party on too). At least the Guerneville Lodge still has camping.
The days of a Guerneville Overnighter costing about $20 are long gone too. Lodging along the Russian River, like everything else in the greater Bay Area, has experienced disproportionate inflation. $250 per summer weekend night for mediocre accommodations is common and some inns require a three-night stay. Even if we used an inn that did not require a three-night stay, the cost of a GW just for the lodging would be about $350-500 probably split for two people.
Camping has been a longtime option for GW; other than crashing with friends it is the only way to keep a Guerneville weekend inexpensive. Today a camp site runs about $40-50 per night or about $20-40 per person. That’s not bad, being just 100% inflation since 1983. But do Spokers still want to camp for a weekend? The club has aged up and the average income of club members is very likely quite a bit higher than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s making camping–always the affordable choice–less necessary. If you look at the photos of the 1984 and 1985 Guerneville trips, other than the quaintness of people dressed in t-shirts and running shorts (by today’s standards they would be short shorts rather than just ‘shorts’) and tennis shoes you will notice that the bicycles are quite modest. It is a commonplace today to see bikes on club rides costing well over two grand whereas the average club bike back then was probably less than $300 brand new. Inflation since 1984 can’t account for that big of an increase. It says something demographically about Spokers back then: many members had low-to-moderate incomes simply because the Bay Area was still an affordable area for everyday people. I was a graduate student when I joined Different Spokes and my income was, well, a student income.
Currently in the Guerneville area the camping choices are limited. The bigger options are Guerneville Lodge, Parker Resort, Schoolhouse Canyon, and Johnson’s Beach. The Guerneville Lodge is still open but it’s a different place than it used to be, ie. there isn’t a group kitchen anymore and there is no onsite management, which apparently has made conflicts among visitors not uncommon, mainly noise and rowdiness at night. The Parker Resort is essentially camping only as is the Schoolhouse Canyon, with the latter not allowing groups larger than eight. The Highlands Resort, which the club has used before, does not allow groups bigger than eight. That leaves Johnson’s Beach which has group camping and rooms. The group camping site cost in 2019 was $200 per night for up to 20 people making it the same cost as Fife’s back in the day. However the group camping site is right at the entrance and next to town and the bridge making it a noisier location; it does have electric outlets though for charging your phones. Johnson’s Beach is rather crowded on summer weekends but that’s true for Guerneville in general.
Of the four conditions mentioned above eliminating one or all of them would open more possibilities. We could skip the ride up and back, in which case Guerneville becomes a getaway weekend; however this doesn’t resolve the lodging issue. If Spokers are less interested in camping, then our lodging choices become much wider as we could stay at any inn or owner-rented accommodation near Guerneville. Guerneville isn’t the only place to stay along the Russian River but it’s the most ‘urban’ (but not urbane) and has the most overt LGBT sensibility. But we could stay in Forestville, Monte Rio, or out of the small river towns altogether. Finally we could skip having a group-prepared dinner, which would obviate the need for a kitchen. But the critical one is cost: foregoing camping would mean the average cost per person would be about $250-350 per person for lodging rather than $80-100. Foregoing a kitchen means all the meals have to be eaten out and, again, higher cost.
When the club will be ready to go back is an open question with the pandemic having no predictable end. Next summer? Possibly but unlikely. However Guerneville resorts are currently open with COVID-19 precautions. But when we will have group rides and events again is uncertain. We certainly thought three months ago that this would all have come to an end by mid-summer and it hasn’t. Perhaps in this environment it would be better to stay out of Guerneville and in a more isolated location? If so we are probably talking about a house rental.
Of course the Russian River isn’t the only possibility for a club weekend trip. But finding another beautiful location within 100 miles of San Francisco that we can cycle to makes it a good choice.