Road Recap: Mt. Veeder Road

This past weekend something happened that we haven’t experienced in a quite a while: we had two club rides on the same day. I’m not talking about a choice of two routes for the ‘same’ ride like we have for the Fall Social but two completely separate rides. What made it noteworthy was it was a road ride (Darth Veeder) and an offroad ride (Mt. Tam) as the days of regular mountain bike rides in the club pretty much dwindled out in the Aughts. The last time we had two rides on the same day was in November 2019 a few months before the Pandemic started. Back when we had an active mountain bike contingent, road and dirt rides on the same day hardly was a conflict because those two groups mostly did not overlap.

Like green shoots popping above the ground in spring it’s an indicator perhaps of things to come. That the club is recovering not just from the Pandemic and also is starting to grow again is borne out by our membership numbers. We currently have 113 members. That may seen low but it is much greater than just four years ago when we were in the low 60s. I’d like to say that we are growing despite the Pandemic but the truth may be that we are because of the Pandemic. Other local clubs such as Grizzly Peak Cyclists and Valley Spokesmen have seen their membership numbers trend upward these past two years. As we move out of the Pandemic perhaps we may contract as other amusements vie for members’ time and attention and we revert to ‘regular’ life again.

Although I would have liked to join David M’s ride on Mt. Tam, the other Davids’ ride, Darth Veeder, got unceremoniously rained out on Saturday and postponed to Sunday where it then conflicted with the Mt. Tam offering. I was eager to go back to Mt. Veeder Road in Napa since we hadn’t set pedal on it since 2013. Had it really been that long? On this opening day of spring seven of us showed up. It may have officially been spring but inland valleys of the Bay Area including Napa can still be crispy cold, and it was! The Davids started this ride at Buttercream Bakery in Napa. It must be a very popular locals’ place because there was a nonstop stream of people heading in for everything from breakfast to cakes and donuts; the parking lot was full. Unfortunately we did not have time to partake so it would have to be a post-ride snack.

The route is essentially one big climb, Mt. Veeder; one nice descent, Veeder/Dry Creek; and lots of flat miles in the valley to pad your ‘training’ (or ego). After some warm-up miles strolling through Napa we started up Redwood Road to Veeder. Thinking it was going to be warmer I was one layer short and shivered until we started to climb. Veeder Road is remarkable for a couple of reasons. It has a beautiful and postcard perfect creek, Redwood, immediately adjacent to the road to keep you company as you climb, and it’s one of Napa’s multitude of uncrowded county roads but to the west of the valley; the east side of the valley is where most of the prime cycling lies. Veeder ended up being more of a challenge than I had anticipated, being a combination of time dulling the memory of past suffering and the cruel hand of age cutting down one’s strength. My recollection was that Veeder wasn’t steep yet the 10-11% readings belied that. I was struggling to get to the top.

We all made it to the summit for the fabulous view of Mt. Diablo to the south and Mt. St. Helena to the north although there had been a lot of gasping. Although the terrain had greened up nicely this rainy season, one couldn’t miss the denuded hillsides on the east side of the valley as well as the dead trees crowning the hilltops from the Glass Fire in 2020 and the Tubbs Fire in 2017. After a long respite at the summit we dropped down the other side and contrary to expectations the road surface wasn’t in terrible shape. We quickly turned onto Dry Creek and continued down and here the road got a bit ugly—bumpy, uneven, and coarse. We were passed by a steady stream of cyclists heading the opposite direction; they obviously knew that going up Dry Creek was going to be a lot less brutal than descending it!

Once back in the valley we rolled north along the Vine Trail to Yountville for lunch. The Napa Vine Trail runs between the northbound Solano Road and the train tracks. Although it’s not absolutely necessary—Solano is adequately wide and isn’t heavily trafficked—it’s a pleasant MUP. The last time we were on it in 2019 it had just opened and was empty; now it was used by locals as well as being a tourist attraction. In Yountville we got sandwiches at Velo Deli. Velo Deli is directly adjacent to Bistro Jeanty, which was heavenly cassoulet, and the brunch crowd was thick and raucous. Velo Deli wasn’t doing so bad either and we were lucky to score a couple of tables outside. For the most part people weren’t utlizing masks anymore, even the staff working in the deli market. Are we normal yet? Maybe BA.2 will have something to say…

After stuffing ourselves we rolled east to the Silverado Trail and got the perfect post-lunch present: a strong tailwind back to Napa! We eventually cut over to Big Ranch Road, which I had never been on before, to drop back to Buttercream Bakery. Alas, it had closed early for some reason. A post-ride donut or two with a steaming cup of coffee would have been the perfect end to ride in Napa. Next time!