Ride Recap: Pedaling Paths in the Valley

Now that’s more like it! Alas, no other Spokers joined Roger H and me to schlep 80 miles into the Valley to do this community fundraiser last Saturday. The ride was fantastic: perfect weather (73 degrees!) with sunny skies, a well-supported yet inexpensive ride, and a near-Goldilocks size ride of about 300 participants altogether (but only about 130 on the metric century).

Our ominously dry winter continued but in exchange we’ve been given excellent riding weather. Unlike the last two Valley centuries, the Velo Love Ride and the Almond Blossom, which started in the low 40s, this one opened at 51 degrees, a sign that the day was going to turn out just right. By midday we were basking in glorious sunshine, almost no wind, and short-sleeves and shorts weather. It’s downright amazing that the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Handicapped could put on a century like this for a mere $45. It has all the trappings of a big event: stocked rest stops, sag support, ham radio, mid-ride lunch, post-ride meal, and course photographers! How are these guys making any money? It’s probably due to the immense community support the non-profit organization has: a great volunteer corps, enthusiasm, and lots of donations.

Unlike the Velo Love Ride and the Almond Blossom the Pedaling Paths has rolling terrain with short hills because it goes over to the eastern edge of the Valley. The first part is mostly flat with just a few gentle rolls, but at the midway things get decidedly more interesting with a long series of rollers some pretty short and some just long enough that you can’t sprint up them. The metric is a large counterclockwise loop and like the Almond Blossom it doesn’t go ‘anywhere’, ie. you don’t pass through any towns or suburbs—you’re in rural land the entire time. And that’s a good thing because the ag zone around Linden, the start town, is diverse and pretty. The northern end is mainly large walnut groves and vineyards; as you head south you’re greeted with miles and miles of almond blossoms, which are hitting their peak. There is rangeland and you pass by grazing cattle and sheep and a couple of stockyards. With the gently rolling terrain you have vistas of the area around you unlike the Almond Blossom, which is so flat that you’re submerged in trees for a great portion and unable to see much around you other than the occasional farm building or tower. At this time of year the green is high (despite the lack of rain) and the hills are verdant and colorful.

But back to the beginning. The start is about ten miles east of Stockton in the small town of Linden. Stockton is the ‘big city’ but it doesn’t take long before you’re nowhere near urbanity and it’s all farms. The start was busy for such a small event and registration was old-school: get in line to check in, turn in your waiver, and get your wrist band. Fortunately the line for the two portapotties was short. But that wouldn’t be true the rest of the day! This century is big enough that you see other cyclists almost the entire day but the road doesn’t look carpeted with spandex as it does in the Marin. The deal with these Valley centuries is to go fast on the flat and find a good paceline so you can go even faster. Oh, and latch onto a tandem if you can. But Roger and I weren’t in the mood to go fast (as if we could anyway). At least I thought that was the case until a tandem passed us with a clutch of remoras and Roger started to go faster. We didn’t try to glom onto the tandem but we were going a bit more quickly than I had expected (and wanted). Unlike the Almond Blossom the roads near Linden—still ag roads—are in much better shape, so it’s pleasant to whiz by the orchards rather than go bumpety-bump and dodging potholes and cracks. After swinging through a bunch of orthogonal turns and a lot of different orchards you head south for a long stretch and you get to see cyclists in front and behind you as you roll up and down the short swales. We got passed a few times but we were passing a lot more.

In a trice we were at the first rest stop at a fire station on Highway 4. In the engine bay. I was wondering what they’d do if they got a call with all those cyclists munching in their way. The rest stop food was better than perfunctory: pbj sandwiches, oranges, cookies, coffee!, energy bars. The line for the portapotties was long so we took off. This section south of Highway 4 is also beautiful and without many cars. We stopped for a natural break and promptly got passed by about 30 cyclists. The road eventually turns north into the hills and suddenly those cyclists who passed us were being flung out the back one by one. Roger has a poker face but I can tell that he doesn’t like to get passed and he enjoys catching cyclists. He didn’t go any faster (if it wasn’t clear by now: I was hanging on to his wheel for most of the day) but he just didn’t slow down on the hills. Which meant I was seeing alarminglly high heart rates. There were a couple of cyclists who were trying to catch us but every time we went uphill their imminence dwindled; conversely they slowly would close on us on the flat and downhill sections since we weren’t pushing it there.

Lunch couldn’t have come fast enough. I was just about wasted and very hungry. Lunch is always held at the Milton cemetery. Milton is the name on the map but other than a few farm houses I’m not sure there is a real town there anymore. Lunch was better: bags of potato chips (salt!), and ham & cheese sandwiches along with the other stuff. And chilled Gatorade. We didn’t stay long—just enough to throw down some grub. And the line for the two portapotties was long. Again.

We took off and it was clear I was wasted. I usually feel much better after lunch but today I was lagging. And after lunch the hills got a little steeper (or maybe it just felt that way.) By now everyone was spread out so we weren’t seeing too many other riders. Roger slowed down for my sake and we basically did the section to the third rest stop at a reasonable pace.

At the third rest stop we had some trail mix and I suddenly felt better. Ah, salt and sugar! So the last nine miles were done faster. Boom, we were back at the start. The dining room was pretty full; was it that we started late or was it just folks doing the shorter ride? The kids from the local community college were dishing up the food: salad, bread, pasta in a pesto cream sauce, and grilled chicken. Not bad at all. On the tables were bowls of Lindor chocolates that had been donated. Less than two hours later we were safely back home. Total time from leaving the house to returning was nine hours with about five of that actual riding time.

Who did this ride? It was a much bigger crowd than the Almond Blossom. I saw jerseys from the Stockton Bicycle Club, Sacramento Bike Hikers, Davis, PenVelo, Fremont Freewheelers, and some other clubs I didn’t recognize. It was the ‘usual’ crowd, ie. recreational cyclists in spandex, with a few racers slumming. What was quite noticeable was the large number of women on this ride. The age was also quite varied, ie. except for Millennials every other age cohort seemed to be represented.

The food culture was interesting. There was absolutely no effort made to cater to anyone with ‘special’ diets. If you wanted gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, peanut-free, no HFCS, organic whatever, whole grain this-and-that–well, you were shit out of luck. You better like to eat cheese, meat, peanut butter, sugar, and cream. I actually found it to be refreshing: a call back to a more innocent era. Especially for a small fundraiser like Pedaling Paths, you just can’t expect it to cover all the bases. Living in the Bay Area we’ve come to expect that diet diversity is a given. Not in the Valley!

We will, no doubt, come back to ride it again. But I do hope they have more portapotties the next time.

No Almond Joy

Most of you are probably unaware of a quiet, unobtrusive ride held in Ripon, CA every winter, the Almond Blossom Century. Over the years I’ve noticed this ride but I had never ventured out to the San Joaquin Valley to investigate because of scheduling conflicts, the weather, or injury. When I was looking up centuries in December there didn’t seem to be a 2020 edition and I thought it was just another unknown community bike ride that bit the dust without a sob or a tear. About two weeks ago I stumbled across the announcement for it scheduled to run on February 16 and I thought, “How can they organize a century ride in just weeks without hardly any publicity??”

This annual ride is a fundraiser for Music First, a non-profit in the San Joaquin Valley that provides music and music education. It seems to be a one-man operation and the money raised seems to go to pay for him and his various musical groups to play music in a variety of venues in the valley. That made me suspicious but also earned my admiration: here’s a guy who wants to earn a living making music and if no one will pay him, then he’ll do it himself! The 2020 metric century had an entrance fee of a mere $25, a pittance. That’s an unheard of low cost and would have been cheap even in the 1980s.

Well, Roger and I just had to check this ride out especially slnce Ripon is only about 70 miles from our home, certainly no farther than driving down to Gilroy to do the Tierra Bella and certainly less than going to Gridley for the Velo Love Ride. We lucked out this year with very pleasant sunny weather and mostly clear skies although we did start the ride at 41 F, requiring that we be bundled up. But the forecast high was 69!

The drive out I-580 to State 99 and down to Ripon was clear sailing on an early Sunday morning—it took a little over an hour. Ripon is one of those farm towns in the SJ Valley that you roll through on your way to Yosemite, LA, or—god forbid—Fresno. We’d never been there before and had no idea what it would be like. We pulled into the Ripon Veterans Hall parking lot and were greeted by…not much. There were maybe twenty cars parked in front and roughly that number of folks in cycling kit malingering about. Well, at least there was a ride—I had my doubts—and as one who appreciates the smaller things in life including modest centuries this certainly fit the bill. The bulk of the jerseys were San Joaquin County Cycling Club proving that the locals will turn out for their very own century ride. And contrary to any misconceptions about hick cyclists, there we were amongst Pinarellos, a very pretty and no doubt expensive Calfee tandem, Parlee carbon wonderbikes, and the usual carbon Treks and Specializeds. Nary a Sears bike in sight.

We were doing the metric century but Music First also offers a 40- and a 20-mile ride. Perhaps the shorter rides get a better turnout. Off we went in the crisp winter morning and we felt like real explorers—we saw only a few other cyclists out and spent the bulk of the day riding by ourselves with no other cyclists in sight. Riding in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley means one thing: dead flat roads laid out in rectangular grid fashion. You either appreciate being able to see straight ahead for miles or you bemoan the relatively unchanging scenery. Off to the west you can catch a glimpse of the Contra Costa hills that separate the Valley from Livermore. Other than that you’re stuck looking at various kinds of agriculture, tall farm buildings, and the occasional cell tower. The route was a gigantic clockwise loop that took you nowhere in particular except various farm intersections. The good news was that the almond trees, of which there were an immense number—now I know where all that almond milk comes from—were coming into bloom with their pale pink blossoms. The timing of the ride was certainly spot on this year.

As with the DSSF Velo Love Ride a week ago there was very little automobile traffic out on the ag roads—it mostly had to be local traffic since there was nothing else out there, not even towns. Ripon was the “big city”. However the straight roads encouraged some of the locals to treat them like drag strips—I mean, who the hell are you expecting to “run into” out there anyway? But for the most part we felt pretty safe. On the other hand if you’ve ridden on ag roads in California, you know that they are often minimally maintained. Asphalt is expensive these days and county road budgets don’t have the largesse to keep all the roads in pristine shape. So there was a lot of rough road to crawl over. If you ride out there you’ll enjoy it more with big floaty tires rather than the 23 or even 25mm anorectic rubber you’re used to sporting at home,

Riding in the SJ Valley is different than riding coastside even though both are agricultural. The latter is rolling and even sometimes quite hilly whereas the Valley is pancake flat. You’re not going to find many orchards coastside and it’s mostly cool climate vegetables and fruits such as strawberries, artichokes, and various kinds of brassica. But in the Valley you have a real diversity of plant foods. Near Ripon the primary trees are almonds but just to the west near Patterson are hugs plantations of apricots. We passed grapes, swiss chard, and kohlrabi. There were also large cattle feed lots and either rangeland or fallow fields. When you’re riding in the orchards you’re pretty much submerged in trees and can’t see much else. It’s only when you get out of orchard zones that you can see that there actually are other things being grown.

The metric had three rest stops at roughly 18 mile intervals. The food at the rest stops was exactly the same—smokehouse almonds (duh!), Famous Amos cookies, slices of local oranges, and bottled water—that’s it, and the stops had only one volunteer. Given how small and inexpensive this event is we shouldn’t have been surprised. The rest stops were the only times we actually interacted with any other cyclists, like one or two. But the lack of more substantial food was unfortunate and it led to us blowing off the third rest stop, which also saved us about four miles of repetitive riding. We got back to Ripon around 1 pm and the parking lot was about 2/3’s vacant now. There was no end-of-ride meal nor a check-in: sort of a blah way to end the ride.

Overall it was interesting to ride in the Ripon area but more from a sociological than a cycling point of view. Would we do it again? Unlikely without a substantial change in the ethos of the ride. It’s meant to be a dirt-cheap ride run on a shoestring because it’s a fundraiser. But some of the fun factor got dropped as well. It wouldn’t hurt this event to have slightly better rest stop snacks and a meal at the end, not so much because we’re greedy eaters but because I think participants do want to be slightly coddled and an end-of-ride meal would be a good way for cyclists to hang out a bit before taking off. There was something disappointing and deflating about arriving at the Veterans Hall and seeing no one in sight and just a few pastries thrown on a table with soft drinks. Not even the organizers were anywhere in sight. It’s like hosting a party and then going to bed early while everyone else is raving on. Given that Music First is the beneficiary, it would have been great to have some musicians serenading the cyclists as they came in. But for $25 what do you expect?

Ride Recap: DSSF Velo Love Ride, or Blown & Unloved

Oh, blow me!

Roger and I went up to Gridley to ride the DSSF Velo Love Ride this past weekend and things didn’t go as we had expected. But I’ll get to that in a moment. The Velo Love Ride is the latest incarnation of the annual century put on by Chico Velo, originally titled the Rice Valley Tandem Festival. But it quickly took on the moniker, the Love Ride, because it takes place close to Valentines Day. It’s an odd century because it’s in winter time and in a part of Northern California not exactly known for its lack of rain. There is a reason that the area near Gridley has a lot of rice growing! But that is probably why the event has so much charm—it’s the ignored, kicked-into-the-corner, younger brother of Chico Velo’s much bigger and flashier Wildflower Century. Consequently it gets a lot less attention and interest and thus “poor” turnout—maybe a few hundred at most (in a good year). It has a warm, small-town feel because the event is so low-key and small. If you like big festivals, this is definitely not your cycling event. However if you’re looking for something different from the crowded atmosphere of Solvang, the Wildflower, the Marin, and countless other big-name centuries, then maybe this is your ride.

Only Chico Velo canceled the ride for 2020 because they didn’t have a volunteer from the club to run it! So, after sadly reading the email from Chico Velo that the Velo Love Ride for 2020 was not to be, Roger and I quickly decided we would ride it anyway because we like this ride so much not just for its ambiance but also because the ride takes in a very different environment that your typical Bay Area century. Gridley is a farm town and outside the city limits it is solidly agricultural. The Sutter Buttes rise out of valley floor and overlook acre after acre of rice fields and orchards of almond, walnuts, plums, and peaches. There aren’t any suburban subdivisions, Apple Stores, or H&M’s in the area. Its quiet rural roads are punctuated by farm houses, small hulling facilities, and fruit processing plants but you’re mostly among open range land, orchards, rice paddies, and an occasional vineyard. And there is hardly anyone out and about except farmers and local traffic thus making for a dramatic escape from roads dominated by dense automobile traffic, traffic signals, and strip malls with fast food outlets.

Not knowing what the weather would bring we threw caution to the wind and decided to go up on February 9, one day after the Chico Velo date because we didn’t want to have our ride to conflict with the Jersey Ride. As we got closer to the date the weather forecast looked good, ie. no rain, but there was the prospect of wind. The days before the wind forecast turned from 15-25, then 25-35, and finally into a high wind event with winds predicted up to 40-55 mph (!). Ouch. We went up anyway. The worst that could happen would be we’d realize we didn’t want to end up like Dorothy and Toto and we’d get back in the car and head home. Yeah, right.

The drive up to Gridley is about two hours necessitating an early rising—like almost all centuries. We were out the door by 6 am and the weather was cold, crisp, and the air ‘unnaturally’ clear. Debris was everywhere—branches, leaves, garbage—ominously being tossed here and there by the wind. On I-680 and then I-80 the van was being moved around by the wind like a puppet on strings. At Vacaville I said, “Maybe we should turn around and go home.” Roger replied, “No, let’s see what it’s like in Gridley.” Of course I was reading on my phone that the National Weather Service had issued a high wind warning for the Bay Area and for the Sacramento Valley. Heading up 99 the wind died down and we were deluded into thinking the wind was improving and our hopes held high.

We got to Gridley where it was indeed chilly. We bundled up and unloaded the bikes before heading west. The wind was coming out of the NNW and once we were outside the protection of homes and trees and on the open road we felt the full force of the still young wind. Not planning to do a hard effort we just slowed down a bit more and soldiered on. The route heads west until it drops directly south to the Sutter Buttes before you go around them in a clockwise direction. Heading south we had a fantastic tailwind, the kind that makes any ride a hero ride. But in the back of my mind I was wondering what it would be like on the return. Each eastward and southern leg was kind due to a tailwind component. Also the full chilling effect of the wind was tempered by not having to go into it headfirst.

There were absolutely no other cyclists out on the road. In fact the entire day we saw only one cyclist. There weren’t many cars either, a good thing, and those that passed us were all friendly and gave us a wide berth. We stopped at the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area for a break and spoke with the rangers, who were conducting a youth duck hunting day. They were cooking hot dogs for the teens. We noticed they were wisely ensconced on the leeward side of the station.

We’ve ridden the Love Ride in all kinds of weather (except rain—we’re not driving 120 miles to do a century in the rain, no thank you!) It’s usually chilly because it’s winter. But there is chilly and then there is CHILLY. Fortunately this year was the former because doing a cold ride with the chill factor of the wind would have been brutal. At the end of the ride the temp was actually 61 but we hadn’t shed a lick of clothing due to the wind. Despite the wind there were all kinds of birds about. Of course there were plenty of ducks of different types but we also saw lots of raptors, egrets, a few herons, and lots of small birds I would never be able to identify, this despite the wind. We’ve done the Love Ride when the nut trees are starting to blossom. But this year almost nothing was in bloom yet. Nonetheless we saw lots of bee hives, indicating that the farmers knew that the blooms were soon to arrive. Despite the minimal rain we had in January the Sutter Buttes were quite green and picturesque set against the blue sky with such crisp air. Beautiful.

At the town of Sutter, the half-way point, we were planning to head south a mile or so to catch the only open restaurant in town for a mid-ride repast. But that would have meant an additional mile into a direct headwind. So instead we munched our Clif bars and trail mix in the shadow of the Sutter Youth Organization building, the traditional rest stop, and then saddled up for the bitterest part of the ride back: about 20 miles of northerly roads. Oh, and as the day went on the wind picked up just to make it extra special.

Not having the benefit of a full meal break (and the calories) it was immediately obvious I was going to be counting each tenth of a mile back to Gridley and staring at the Garmin mentally willing those digits to roll over more quickly; it was absolutely grueling going into the wind. I often was in my lowest cog going no more than 9 or 10 miles per hour on dead-flat ground. We took turns drafting; even Roger was struggling at times on his e-bike because he was conserving battery to make it all the way back without running dry. The wind swirled unpredictably around the Buttes, sometimes a headwind, sometimes a crosswind from either side, and then for a mile it stopped as we were directly in the wind shadow of the Buttes. Our relief was short-lived and it was back into the northerly headwind. We were taking liberal breaks just to get a breather from constantly fighting the wind and to refuel for the next effort. I thought about flagging down a pickup for ride. But I didn’t.

The last six miles were heading directly east and we finally picked up a delightful tailwind all the way back to Gridley. We normally do this ride in well less than four hours but this time it was 4:45—about 55 minutes longer due to the wind.

We were both beat and just glad to have the ride over. Honestly I can’t say we enjoyed the ride in the sense of being in the moment. Heading south we were able to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the countryside. But the return was just grit—focus on getting the pedals to keep going around without keeling over from exhaustion. At one break we were standing by the road drinking our water and I thought I was going to get knocked over by the wind. The headwind was almost never less than 20 mph and too often much more than that.

Of course with the ride finally over we were in for a treat: we went to Los Charros Tacqueria for some awesome homemade Mex. It was tasty especially so since we hadn’t had an earlier meal and we were dogtired and hungry. I had a combo plate with a great chicken enchilada and a beef soft taco. For less than ten bucks. I could have ordered a second meal. But I didn’t.

The drive back was typical Sunday fare: a gigantic traffic mosh pit on I-80 from Sacramento all the way to the turnoff to I-680. Ah, life in the Bay Area! We got home about 5:45 pm making it almost a 12-hour jaunt from start to finish.

Given the conditions was it wise to go up and ride the DSSF Velo Love Ride? No, it absolutely was foolish and I would not recommend it under such difficult circumstances. After seeing the wind buffet us on I-80, we should have turned the van around and headed back home with our tails between our legs. You know, live to fight another day and all that. It was collective denial. Surely it won’t be that bad! Surely, the wind won’t be too hard! We can do it—it’s just wind! Etc. What I thought would be a splendiferous day in the country instead turned into, unfortunately, a “character building” episode, ie. it only could be enjoyed afterwards in the retelling!

That said I hope Chico Velo brings back this ride next year because when the weather is right (or mostly so) it really is an enjoyable, awesome ride. And if not, you’ll still know where to find us on February 14, 2021.
Ride bike!

Ride Recap: January Jersey Ride

Cool but dry Spokers

A “king” tide due to a full moon threatened literally to wash out the January Jersey Ride but Spokers were able to scamper down the Sausalito bike path to Tiburon and back without having to practice either their portaging skills nor their fabulous backstrokes (“Different Spokes become Different Strokes”). A quick, light rain the night before washed out the dust and smog and left everything in a brilliant light for this month’s Jersey Ride. Of course this Alaskan front also brought “chilly” temps that yet again proved we’d hardly survive a day in Minnesota–the weak die young or else move to California! Now Scott, are you showing leg because you’ve lost all feeling down there or are you just too butch to be true?

Ride Recap: New Year’s Day Up Diablo

Top of the morning to you!

Okay slackers and slackettes, you missed a stellar day to go up Mt. Diablo! This ride often is the chilliest club ride of the year. We’ve seen snow and ice and often strong wind in previous years but not today—the high on top was in the low 50s. The wind was mostly calm although around a few corner exposed to the north we got gusts that gave us a taste of just how awful it could be. But upon arriving at the summit there was no wind at all. Speaking of the top, there was a high overcast but the vistas were grand in every direction. The view was remarkable but not like one year when we could see the Sierras with snow. The Bay Area was spread out beneath us from the Antioch Bridge and the wind turbines in the Delta to San Francisco.

Just Stephen joined Roger H and me in tackling the Diablo climb, a small group but perhaps more determined and intrepid? I’m still trying to recover from the after effects of a broken collarbone and Stephen had a stressful 2019. Both of us are resolved for better health in the coming year. We weren’t burning up the pavement but it didn’t matter—we were doing it. At Pleasant Hill BART it definitely seemed cold but it was nowhere near frosty. We meandered through Walnut Creek backstreets before hitting North Gate Road. I’m not sure which route gets more cycling traffic, North Gate or South Gate. But North Gate is longer and cyclists therefore are more spread out. Despite being longer I prefer it because the section below the Junction with its series of switchbacks reminds me of riding in Europe. We were occasionally passed by cyclists but there wasn’t a long parade; it was practically deserted. And having almost no cars made it a safe(r) and pleasant uphill! At the Junction where cyclsts coming up North Gate meet those who’ve taken South Gate, it was a smaller confab than usual—why did it seem like the crowd was reduced? The weather was great and I would have thought it would bring out the throngs. Unlike last year the rangers didn’t give out free coffee and donuts. Darn.

After a short pitstop we continued up to the summit. That’s when the cars showed up, line after line. But we didn’t have to endure them roaring past us with blind abandon. The heavy signage warning cars not to pass on blind curves seems to be working despite the lack of rangers in sight; in the past two years it seemed enforcement was everywhere. Car drivers politely waited until we got to safe passing zones. We were also passed by a few cars with road bikes on their racks. Huh? So their interpretation of riding up Diablo on New Years was quite liberal.

At the top, the last ramp is a thigh-crunching 16% and it caps what is otherwise just a long but reasonable climb. We arrived at the summit parking lot full of cars and even more cyclists. We took the obligatory pics to prove we made it. (But maybe we rode up in one of those cars, you say?) It was shockingly warm, not tropical but not wintery at all. After a snack we piled the layers back on to fight the chill of the descent and headed down for lunch. Fortunately the descent had a lot fewer cars than the ascent and we didn’t get stuck behind any. We dallied at the top for maybe a half-hour. In that time someone had set up a coffee stand at Juniper parking lot. I didn’t see any rangers so I’m guessing it was a private party. Darn, got up too early!

David Goldsmith wasn’t with us to give us a descending lesson but we moved downhill at a brisk pace regardless. It was just before noon and a horde of latecomers were making their way uphill on bike and in car. We were wise to leave early to escape the late morning crush of New Years greeters. I thought we were on the late side but it turned out the two Grizzly Peak Cyclists groups must have been well behind us because we espied their yellow club jerseys as we whizzed by. I didn’t see Stephanie Clarke but I did spot Alison Stone, she of the bright pink front and rear panniers (surely you’ve seen her somewhere in the greater Bay Area). Stephen mentioned that he saw David Sexton and Gordon Dinsdale heading up, apparently having slept in. In a trice we were back at the Junction and took the left to go to Danville. At Rock City the lots were already full and we saw picnic tables full of people. The descent below the entrance gate is quick no matter how timid you are; the sight lines are pretty good in general and you have generous stretches of wide open road. At the bottom we took the cut-through into Diablo and didn’t experience any harassment or nasty looks from the locals.

In Danville we headed to Homegrown, which is in the old La Boulange space. Roger and Stephen both had the hot pastrami and I had a spicy tofu bowl along with a cup of their vegetarian chili. And hot coffee, of course. After that leisurely lunch we rolled back to Walnut Creek where Stephen caught BART and we continued back to the start at Pleasant Hill.

So starteth the New Year with a beautiful ride.

Ride Recap: Last Call for the Jimtown Store

Jimtown Store pulled pork sandwiches

Yesterday’s ride from Healdsburg to lunch at the Jimtown Store highlighted many of the aspects of Northern California winter cycling I love. Those of you who cring at riding in anything less than 60F are truly missing out.

Out of the blue we got a crisp, clear, sunny day with mostly dry roads. A clear winter sky, of course, means a cold morning as all the residual heat of the previous day has radiated away without impediment. At Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg it was 38 degrees. Roger and I had ridden the day before, a jaunt over the newly opened Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Marin and back; it had been chilly and we knew today would be even chillier up in Healdsburg. So we were both bundled in multiple layers, fleece tights, lots of wool, thick gloves, you name it. Downtown Bakery is the morning hangout in Healdsburg and the only reason there were a handful of people outside enjoying their morning brew was because the inside, which is moderately copious, was packed with those bristling at the cold weather. A hot, fresh coffee and a pain au chocolat in hand I trotted back outside to await the others while enjoying the sunshine and the chilling, tingling sensation on my face.

Donald Cremers and David Gaus joined Roger and me for the ride along Wine Country Century roads to the Jimtown Store for a farewell lunch. Rana was going to join us but she got stuck in Southern California with the Grapevine being shut down and couldn’t make it back in time for the ride and a pulled pork sandwich. Interestingly all four of us had road bikes with disc brakes. Sigh. It’s the end of an era, folks. All of us also had ‘fat’ road tires and I had the skinniest at 28mm. We live in interesting times. Nevertheless for Sonoma county roads the fatter the better because road maintenance up there is literally sketchy. There are long sections of reasonable asphalt and then you hit something that seems headed for Planet of the Apes status as you bounce your way through cracks, pavement heaves, humungous potholes, and weird county patch jobs.

The early start was chilly but that meant hardly any cars. Certainly no one was going wine tasting yet. The roll south on Eastside was barely warming—we weren’t going fast and the sun only occasionally made it over the trees and hillsides to cast its warming gaze on us. It wouldn’t be until we crossed Wohler Bridge and got onto Westside that we’d be on the sunny side of the street. We stopped at Wohler Bridge to take some shots. No one else was out except for rabid fly fishers in the river below. It was a different experience rolling along the roads that are such a familiar sight as part of the annual Wine Country Century: this morning there was almost no one else about. Westside was eerily quiet—I mentioned to Donald it felt a lot like riding in Europe with nearly deserted rural roads peppered with astonishingly scenic vistas around many a corner. The hillsides and fields so sere just over a month ago were now sprouting green grass. Occasional cyclists roared past us; we were moseying, not racing to get to Jimtown. We stopped for an occasional drink, pee, or to snack; it would be nearly 40 miles before we’d have lunch!

When we got to Jimtown, we were greeted with a packed house. The word had gotten out that it was just days from closing and people were crowding the normally quiet restaurant. Everyone knew that pulled pork was the specialty of the house and though those orders were hot and heavy, the kitchen pumped them out quickly and expertly. Poor David ordered a vegan banh mi sandwich and he didn’t get his until the three of us were well finished sucking down our pulled pork masterpieces. Speaking of the pulled pork, I’m going to miss it. A lot. Jimtown sandwiches aren’t large but they pile the perfect amount of pickles and cole slaw on top. It doesn’t overwhelm the pulled pork and if you’re reasonably careful you can eat it with both hands without drooling sauce and sandwich fragments pell-mell. Oh, and the bun is crispy—you can hear it ‘crack’ with each bite. Awesome. It’s now a part of history. Sigh.

Everybody was enjoying their meal. Hardly any words were exchanged but it had been 40 miles of anticipation (and whetted appetite). As we sat outside eating we had a front row seat at the piles of people and cyclists rolling up and getting ready to munch down. When we arrived the bike rack was empty but now it was completely full. As we chatted and eyed the happy crowd, we could see the hilltops had been burned by fire, which is part of the reason Jimtown was closing. Housing in Sonoma is a scarce commodity after the fires and working people are being priced out. (Sound familiar?)

Eventually it was time to go. I could have eaten TWO sandwiches but if I had I would have sunk into a food coma and never made it back to Healdsburg, just six miles away, without a serious nap first. Also, Noble Pies was awaiting us.

The roll back was an easy, flat six miles. When we got back to Downtown Bakery, no one wanted to get pie (!) Those sandwiches were plenty for lunch! (And six miles isn’t enough to prep for serious pie.)

Unless someone decides to buy Jimtown Store and keep it as is, that will be the last Different Spokes ride there. Of course you’ll still pass the building on the Wine Country Century. But it won’t be the same. Adieu, Jimtown.

Ride Rumor: Treasure Trail to Speisekammer

Treasure Island: Lost in the ozone again…

The last time Roger H and I had been out to Treasure Island was March 2018 and there have been some big changes. With redevelopment plans gaining steam, wholesale demolition of older housing and buildings has turned TI temporarily into, well, an unpleasant construction zone. Views of the East Bay, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate remain fantastic but let’s say that the ambience is a little bit ‘unaesthetic’. Nonetheless we had a pleasant visit despite the demo work partly because we were there on a Sunday and mostly because the weather was near perfect: cool temp, very light breeze, and full sun. At some point TI is planned for about 24,000 residents compared to the current level of less than 2,000 and that’s going to make it both less and more hospitable—less because there is going to be hella traffic and more because the infrastructure to support all those residents is going to be in place. A Slanted Door on TI? Maybe. But for now it’s still very sleepy.

The demolition meant that Google Maps was no longer accurate, as a bunch of streets were blocked off to all traffic. After some confusion wandering about trying to follow the route I had designed, we took Will up on this suggestion to go to Mersea for a break. Mersea is a restaurant/cafe made out of repurposed shipping containers. The other choice on the Island currently is the Aracely Café, which was too busy for our taste (plus loud rock music on a Sunday morning? Seriously?!). Aracely is tucked away in what looks to be the front of a school building; Mersea is near the Bay facing SF and has a glorious view. This day we took in everything from the top of Twin Peaks to the enormous cruise ship at the Embarcadero. Mersea has $9 all-you-can-drink kombucha, which Will imbibed, whereas Roger, Leonard and I drank more mundance espressos. Their homemade croissants are very tasty. After languishing there for ages enjoying the sun we saddled up and headed back to the East Bay. The portion of the Alex Zuckerman path into the Port of Oakland has finally been completed and it’s buttery smooth. Being Sunday the Port was a ghost town and looked very apocalyptic-Post Industrial except for some massive new construction. Eventually we meandered over to Alameda for lunch at Speisekammer.

It was crowded. Wow. They’re always jammed at Oktoberfest but it was a surprise that they were doing very good business on a regular Sunday morning. In the past we’ve always been able to sit outside within view of the bikes. But Alameda has been ‘discovered’ and German food is now on trend rather than being the subject of sneering. So we forewent waiting for a table al fresco for immediate seating inside.

Since Roger and I don’t drink, Will and Leonard had to do double-duty for hoisting the adult beverages. God, that was a delicious lunch! As I get older my ability to inhale immense quantities of food has really diminished. Normally I would partake of the wienerschnitzel platter. But two large slices of pan-fried, breaded pork plus the potatoes and salad was going to be a bridge too far and I wisely got the wienerschnitzel sandwich with only one slice. Roger had the vegetable strudel and said it was delicious; Will had the jägerschnitzel and red cabbage, Leonard the pork roast. Everyone was pleased.

The nice thing about this ride is Speisekammer is only a few miles from the end. So you can scarf ’til the cows come home without fear you’ll barf afterwards. Since I can’t eat as much as I used to, that just means we’ll have to come back here again and again to enjoy their heavenly food.