This past weekend we had a big club turnout for the SLO Wildflower. This came out of nowhere and snowballed into a de facto club getaway weekend. Previous interest in heading 200 miles south for a century has been meager and thin and certainly nothing like this year. Was it the Pandemic effect? Lack of travelling for two years? Who knows. In the end it was an unexpected hit with about twenty members plus their kin heading to Paso Robles for the weekend. The bike widows had beaches, wine tasting, and the Three Speckled Hens Antiques Fair to keep them enthralled while their earnest cycling better-halves had better things to do, like cycle a hundred, eighty, or fifty miles on some of the most scenic and pastoral rural roads in California.
Friday night we gathered at club member Adrienne’s house for a big ‘sort-of’ potluck dinner. I say ‘sort-of’ because Adrienne and Mike pretty much set the table with a huge array of delicious, home-cooked food including smoked ribs, pasta, corn on the cob, salad, soup, rolls, you name it. Our contributions paled for the most part although Roger’s peach pandowdy and vegan apricot pie, Paul’s lemon poppyseed cake, and Darryl’s brownies wowed the crowd as well. After stuffing ourselves silly we went to bed in order to get to the start at 7 am in Creston for a big club send-off.
At 7 am it was 36 degrees and although the sun was up it sure didn’t feel like it. Leg warmers, jackets, full gloves were needed but that didn’t deter the unprepared fashion-minded from strutting their bare gams. Creston was an excellent choice for a start location, population 92. In the middle of ranch and vineyard country it was devoid of crowds and cars other than the cycling event itself. Quiet and unmistakenly rural it bestowed a calm and peaceful balm on all of us.
I hadn’t ridden in the Paso area in 33 years and boy, was that a mistake. I also had never done the SLO Wildflower before. The 100- and 80-mile routes were both figure-eight shaped with a 50-mile southern loop being used for the 50-mile route as well. Everyone does it and returns to Creston, then the 80-mile and century riders continue on separate northern loops. The entirety of the routes was countryside with the lone exception of Shandon, population 1,295, on the century route and of course Creston, the start. In other words it was road cycling heaven.
I won’t bother you with a blow-by-blow of the ride. I will encourage you to make the trip south to ride in the Paso Robles area. The riding is very similar to riding in Gold Country (minus the very steep climbs) and not unlike riding in Provence with oak woodland, scrub brush, and vineyards and farms scattered amidst. It’s quiet, relatively undisturbed and makes cycling in the Bay Area “countryside” seem positively urban. No, you won’t find tiny, gem-like bakeries, restaurants, craft breweries, or even minimarts around Creston. In fact you won’t find any development at all. The pavement varies from excellent to absolutely degraded tarmac but it’s typically pretty smooth though you’d have the best time with wider road tires to smooth out the cracks and the potholes. There was nothing ridiculously steep nor long, just plenty of rolling countryside with reasonable hills everywhere.
By 3 pm it was 85 degrees. So the temperature range was huge. But because we went through Creston midride we were able to dump extra clothes in the cars and be on our way and be comfortably dressed the rest of the day. Most of the club did the century while Scott, David, Roger, and I did the 80-mile (which was actually 82.4 miles); Sheila and Alice rode the 50-mile route, which is the most scenic and hilly section.
And the wildflowers? Unfortunately there weren’t many…alas, a drought year. Perhaps next year.
Special thanks to Adrienne and Mike for convivially hosting a hungry horde at their very special home and thanks to David Goldsmith for pulling the event together. Despite his protestations that he didn’t do much, he actually did a lot.