Convergence

This past weekend’s Jersey Ride was a real surprise gathering. Nancy and Ginny led the regular JR from Peet’s and had five compatriots—Maurizio, Stephen S., Roger S., Scott, and Mark. Roger and I decided to eyeball another East Bay Tiburon loop route with the intent of meeting the gang at Woodlands Market for lunch. We met up and had a great lunch together on the deck outside Woodlands. While we were there, semi-old-Spoker Jaime Guerrero showed up. I hadn’t seen Jaime since he came on a club ride I led back in 2014. Or was it at that party at a mutual friend’s house on Mines Road? I can’t recall exactly but Jaime had lapsed and moved onto other activities such as hiking. Jaime was sporting a Sun Microsystems jersey, which despite ithe company’s iconic and important historical role, has become just another forgotten tidbit of Silicon Valley debris about which only the elder technorati would sigh rhapsodically. We chatted just a tad because we were getting ready to leave. Then Eric showed up! He decided to catch the JR after a late start and showed up just as we had finished lunch. Nice surprises all around!

The East Bay Tib loop is a minor project we’ve been working on since last summer trying to find a suitable set of roads from Point Richmond across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and thence to Tiburon. This seems like a trivial undertaking but it’s actually rife with niggling problems. The first is that access to the bridge is not a given anymore. The non-car lane is in reality a limited time experiment although cyclists seem to think it’s a done decision. (It’s most definitely not.) There has been strong pushback from car drivers to take over that third lane for, well, them. In addition the drought has made the Marin Water District revive a plan to put a pipeline across the bridge to bring water to Marin, which heretofore has depended entirely on its reservoir storage system. Guess where that pipe was going to be placed? Right, in the non-car lane. That plan has gone silent and you can be sure there is fierce fighting and politicking taking place in back rooms. Who’s going to win that arm wrestling contest? Nobody knows yet. If Caltrans decides to roll back the bike lane, you can be sure there will be hue and cry from cyclists. But the real question is whether a brouhaha will make any difference. The end result is that an East Bay Tib loop may end up in the history books rather than on our ride calendar either due to a shutdown of the bike lane.

Despite the huge question mark over bridge access there is the issue of finding a good way to get from the west landing of the bridge to Paradise Drive and that’s what we’ve been exploring. The long way is to head to Bon Air and then the Corte Madera-Larkspur path. Shorter ways involve taking walkways on 101. Today we checked out the southbound 101 walkway and a cut-through. This walkway is marginally doable being narrow. However it’s much better than the one on northbound 101, which is so narrow that only one person can traverse it at a time. Heaven help you if you’re midway and encounter someone—a ped or a cyclist—heading the opposite direction. One of you has to back out. Back in the day this was rarely an issue because cycling was less popular. But now there is a ton of cycling traffic trying to get around Larkspur Landing.

We eventually got to Paradise without a hitch and had a lovely ride on such a sunny and windless day. We arrived at Woodlands a little after 11:30 AM and the SF group wasn’t to be seen. So we got our lunch and had a table outside all to ourselves. A little after noon they started to arrive apparently having been slowed down by Mark getting a flat. We had our lunch and had a good conversation with Maurizio and Stephen on managed healthcare, avoiding surgery, and how not every doctor got A’s in medical school. That of course led to a discussion of academic cheating in O-chem classes, the gateway class for medical students. Fascinating stuff. Nancy filled us in on her upcoming Montana cycling trip—I wish we were going!

Just as we were ready to depart Roger S. discovered he had a flat. Nonetheless off went the main group while a few of us gave him lots of practical advice and kibbitzing on changing the tube, like “you shoulda gone tubeless, dude” and “don’t pinch that tube with your tire lever!” With the tube replaced, off we went and Roger decided to take a look at Belvedere while the rest of us went to Mill Valley. At the bike path we bade adieu to the others as we were going up Camino Alto to the bridge. The bridge at Bon Air has been a hot mess for months with a slow reconstruction. The last time we were there it was closed with only a very narrow walking path open. This time the road was finally open to traffic as well as east side multi-use path, which is quite wide. We took the Corte Madera Creek path back to Larkspur Landing. Despite the sunny day, which should have drawn a big crowd, the path was lightly used. At 101 we noticed that the horrible northbound 101 pedestrian overpass was being widened! Hell must have frozen over or maybe it was federal Pandemic money because it has remained resolutely, inanely intact and dangerous for at least 40 years. So we checked it out. It’s decently wide and will be wider when they complete it and remove the storm fencing. In addition they’ve thoughtfullly included some pullouts to make passing even safer. This is a huge improvement; the old path was not just inconvenient but an accident waiting to happen. (I’m sure many have, which is likely why it’s being rebuilt.) We continued through the Cal Hill tunnel and took the frontage road to 580 back to the RSR bridge path. There is almost no shoulder and the traffic on it was moderate; apparently drivers use it as access to San Quentin.

Ultimately the East Bay Tib loop route is still a work in progress. The restoration of the northbound 101 ped overpass is a big help. But getting back to the bridge is either going to mean taking the frontage road, using the weird Sir Francis Drake Blvd. freeway entrance, or taking a mini-gravel adventure on the SF Bay Trail. The latter is a problem in wet weather or around a high tide since it immediately abuts Richardson Bay. Unfortunately there isn’t an obvious ‘best’ choice so far. But maybe there’s a pony in there!

Not Your Mother’s Dirt Ride

Times have changed. Or have they? Yesterday David and Eric led an off-road ride out of Half Moon Bay up Purisima Creek trail to Skyline and back. Purisima is an old logging road originally constructed when redwood cutting was all the rage in the Coast Range back in the 19th century. As such it’s a dirt road. The Santa Cruz mountains are full of them, some of which are still in use such as the Old Haul Road near Big Basin State Park. Purisima is now a ‘trail’ and is a not-too-well-known connector between Skyline near where Kings Mountain and Tunitas Creek join and Highway One. Cycling down is the preferred direction but David and Eric ventured heading up along with Duncan, David L., and Brian.

Once the habitat of a few road cyclists it has been used mostly by mountain bikers. But all-road and ‘gravel’ bikes have made riding on dirt fashionable again and you’ll notice there isn’t a mountain bike in the group. I certainly hope they’ll lead this ride again!

Here is David’s report:

“We had a great time today. The weather was cool and breezy but mostly sunny after the morning shower. The trails were great, not too crowded.  Neither were the roads (except for Hwy 1, natch). 

We saw Michaelangelo on his ALC training ride going the other way on 1.  Crazy coincidence since we were on 1 for all of two minutes. 

No incidents to report except that I got a pinch flat on the last 100 yards of the single track. Everyone but Brian (who had a dog waiting for him at home) patiently waited for me to perform a tube change on my rear wheel, which may be the most finicky rear wheel I’ve ever worked on. 

We had a windswept dinner outside a the Himalayan restaurant at the north end of town. 

We’ll do that ride again for sure.”

Sure beats riding with cars, doesn’t it?

Irresolute

‘Sup, bro?

Ten of us clambered to the top of Mt. Diablo the day after Earth Day. David had opined to me that he wanted to go up Diablo, something he hadn’t done in several years because he had been dealing with an unremitting injury affecting his riding and which took forever to get an accurate diagnosis of and then recover from. And the Pandemic hit and he like many of us hid out and dedicated himself to allaying Covid anxiety by refining his kitchen skills and then consuming the savory delights thereof. Happy to be back on the bike pain-free he has been steadily increasing his mileage and aspirations. With the SLO Wildflower just around the corner he wanted to cap his recovery by going to the top. “So, do you want to co-lead?” “Um, okay,” I unenthusiastically replied.

I’d like to say I was dealing with an injury or some other malady but I wasn’t: I just wasn’t feeling it. But maybe having to do it would shake me from the spring doldrums or from dark thoughts about dealing with the indignities of becoming old like the hills.

We got lucky: the unseasonablly wet weather relented and we had a clear, sunny day with little wind and a mild 58 degree forecast to go up the mount. Everybody made the start on time except for Will, who missed the BART train by one minute. He texted David he’d go to Dublin BART on the next train instead and climb up South Gate to meet us at the junction. I asked Scott when was the last time he had gone up Diablo. He said it had been at least five years. I mentioned the last hundred yards is the worst part since it’s a narrow ramp with about a 13% grade. Don’t stop in the middle or you’ll have a hell of time restarting.

I led the group through my preferred route via the backwoods of suburban Walnut Creek to North Gate Road. Usually Different Spokes rides just go on Walnut, a dreary arterial, before starting the climb. But my route avoids most of the cars and plus we go through a hidden Eichler gem of a neighborhood to ooo-and-aah over midcentury architecture.

At North Gate everybody headed up at their own pace. Eric and Darryl took off and the rest of us slogged. Despite the beautiful conditions I still wasn’t feeling it and was instead thinking of how nice it would have been to stay home and work in the garden. Some days you have it and some you don’t. There weren’t many cyclists or cars heading up. But there were a few cyclists heading down, suggesting that the early birds had gotten the worm and were done for the day. At the junction Maurizio was looking forward to making himself familiar with the rangers. I had told him that the ranger station there is almost always empty because the rangers are out, um, ranging. When we got there we were promptly greeted by three different rangers. Alas, Maurizio was not impressed. Not butch enough? Maybe today will be the last time he goes up Diablo.

Apparently Eric didn’t stop at the junction and kept heading up. Darryl decided to continue since he was getting cold. To our surprise Will showed up! Spokers came in one after the other and atypically did not leave together but took off as if in a hurry. Was it their resolute nature? I waited for the last to leave as I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere. Will, Roger S, and I chatted on the way up. We saw Eric and Darryl heading down. Will was uncharacteristically having a difficult day and only later did I find out that he had a knee injury that was making climbing challenging.

We got to the ramp just before the summit. I saw Scott midway up weaving in the road. No cars or other cyclists above me, I had a clear shot so I went for it. I saw Scott put his foot down: game over. Scott walked up the rest of the way. Having taken it easy all the way up I had plenty of oomph left. The key to getting up the ramp is to stay on the gas all the way, and I made it up smoothly (but not easily) not even using my lowest gear. For the record I used the 21-tooth cog. Yes bitches, a 21!

Hey, the summit was actually great—little wind, still sunny, and a 360 degree view of the Bay Area. We could even see the snow-capped Sierras! For extra entertainment a parasailor was circling around the summit catching updraft after updraft as we watched in awe. After more schmoozing cum commiseration we headed back down. I don’t know who was “killing” it on the downhill since I decided to leave last, being such a chickenshit on descents these days. And I still wasn’t feeling it.

We ended up at the latest Spoker lunch spot in Danville, Sultan’s Kebab. Eric and Darryl were more than midway through their lunch plates while the rest of us piled in hungry. We lucked out again: no crowd despite being a Saturday and we took over the outdoor tables. I’m a sucker for their falafel plate while my husband got the lamb shawarma wrap. Their wraps are all huge like the gut bombs they are. Roger couldn’t finish it so I polished it off after sucking up my falafels.

With bellies full and appetites temporarily sated, it was just a stroll back to BART on Danville Blvd. Do I hear Umhunum calling?

Deflowered

(Chris Manning photo)

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.

Core Values

Same as it ever was!

On Sunday we had our irregularly offered Apple Blossom ride out of Sebastopol. This year it is part of the Forty & Fab ride series, justifiably so since not only is it an early club ride that had faded from collective memory due to membership attitrion—there aren’t many oldsters still in the club—but because the riding experience and scenery are topnotch. This year it was just three of us, Roger S and me and my husband Roger H. Perhaps it was the ominous weather forecast and lack of sunshine that drove you all away. But to our astonishment (not!) the forecast proved to be completely wrong: we had bright sunshine and perfect temperature for climbing the west Sonoma bergs.

The Apple Blossom is in reality a set of rides done in the early days of the club that all took you from Sebastopol to Occidental and back. They differed in length and plied slightly different rural roads but all the routes were clockwise heading south of Sebastopol and then west while gradually working their way to Occidental. The traditional lunch stop was the Union Hotel in Occidental; for some reason we never ate at Negri’s across the street perhaps because there was no outside dining nor other conveniently safe place to leave our bikes. El Mariachi, Howard’s Station, and Hazel did not exist back then. The other reason probably was due to Mike Reedy, who did not originate the Apple Blossom—it was MJ—but he loved this ride and was responsible for creating one of the routes by shortening the original. (Mike was, uh, heavy and didn’t take kindly to steep hills.) Mike was Italian-American and loved Italian-American cooking, and his choice was always the Union Hotel. When the Apple Blossom was revived for the 30th anniversary, of course I followed tradition and set lunch there. However last year we broke tradition and ate at El Mariachi and discovered that their burritos were excellent. I was actually looking forward to going there again but I got outvoted in favor of the Union Hotel and that turned out to be an excellent decision. But I’m jumping ahead…

Because we knew it was going to be a very cozy group this club ride had a very casual atmosphere. We actually did end up leaving at the scheduled time of 10 AM but that was more by happenstance since I had told Roger S that I wasn’t going to be a martinet about it. Of course it wouldn’t be a Different Spokes ride if something predictably unpredictable happened and that was my ancient Garmin 800, which has been nearly bombproof in over ten years of dependable use, locked up a mere one block from the start necessitating a stop—going uphill, natch—and the revival of some long dormant brain cells on how one reboots a Garmin 800. That done we continued without a hitch for the rest of the day.

A piece of heaven

Riding in west Sonoma is both heavenly and infernal. On a good day like we were having the scenery is an oh-so-good massage for your eyes, ears, and nose. It was sunny, cool but not cold, and clear air made everything shine in brilliant colors and detail. But the road quality varied from “are we dirt yet?” to reasonably smooth tarmac with a distinct emphasis on the former. Because we’re the trendsetters that we are, all of us were on tires of 30mm width or more and that helped to ease the shock of the innumerable potholes, patches, rubble, and other road incongruities that pepper Sonoma country roads like a case of bad acne on a teenager’s face. And it didn’t take long before we were merrily bouncing our way south on the narrow road euphemistically named Pleasant Hill, dodging pavement heaves and sadistically poor asphalt patches whilst playing tag with the cars who all seemed in a hurry, obviously late for church!

After turning off Pleasant Hill the traffic almost disappeared except on Roblar, which is a cut-through from Highway 116 to Valley Ford. This was rural Sonoma, faux farm houses soon giving way to the real thing along with orchards, vineyards, and pastures. Time has not been kind to the Gravenstein apple. Whether its popularity has diminished due to the newer variants such as the Gala, Pink Lady, or Honeycrisp or just because apples in general are less profitable to grow, Gravensteins are vanishing quickly from Sonoma, which used to be their production epicenter. In fact there is still an annual Gravenstein Festival in Sebastopol. We passed a few abandoned orchards, trees hoary from the lack of pruning and overgrown with tall weeds. Places that used to be acre after acre of apple trees are now growing wine grapes no doubt because every bottle of wine made in California can be sold at a nice profit. The switch may be good for the farmers but it’s made it difficult to find Gravensteins in markets. Thirty years ago Gravensteins regularly showed up in Safeway, Co-op, and other NorCal chains. Now, outside of Sonoma you’re lucky to find them at all. Roger S stopped to take a picture of some apple blossoms in an abandoned orchard thinking that we’d likely not see anymore. Fortunately that turned out not to be true.

Leaping lagomorph!

We stopped and dawdled when and wherever we wanted and there was plenty to dawdle over. The views from the tops of the hillocks we surmounted were just pastoral in the best sense of the word—green pastures and hills seemingly undiminished by the drought, Holsteins lounging in the fields munching away. As we tooled along we kept running across metal art placed in front of farms, fanciful rabbits, octupi, centipedes, and tin men! There were also plentiful wildflowers including California poppies whose color just ‘pops’ against the green grasses.

West Sonoma may be farm land but it is not the least flat. Instead it’s rolling hills and depending on which road you take you’ll either confront something reasonable like an 8% grade or something less reasonable like a 12% grade. Today it wasn’t so bad with the worst being less than 10%. Even so it felt more like rockclimbing than climbing. Tempering these climbs were the numerous photo ops and vista breaks we were taking. But the climbing eventually took its toll on my legs and I was getting hungry. Just outside of Occidental we passed by Ratzlaff Farms, one of the few remaining commercial Gravenstein orchards left. It took us nearly three hours to ride from Sebastopol to Occidental, which is just 23 miles away!

“I earned this!”

We dined at the Union Hotel in their outdoor courtyard beneath their blossoming Judas tree or Eastern redbud. We weren’t sure which was correct but those were the two guesses that Plantnet gave us. Incidentally that was another great find of the day: Roger S used the app Plantnet on his phone to identify the many plants we were curious about as we rolled along. No need to have a degree in botany and know how to key out plants—just use the app! Although the Union Hotel constructed a monstrous parklet in front for Pandemic dining, the courtyard has a more cordial atmosphere and today it wasn’t crowded at all. We grabbed a table and looked over their menu. Alas, the Pandemic has led them to drastically reduce their tasty menu down to a mere handful of choices, better I suppose for the kitchen so that they don’t need to prep so much for a small or unpredictable number of meals. We decided to split a pizza and Roger S selected the Garlic Gold, which has a creamy garlic instead of tomato sauce as well as mozzarella, sausage, caramelized onions, and sautéed mushrooms. None of us had ever had their pizza before and it was a revelation. Although predictably American—no wood fired oven here!—it was marvelous with the caramelized onions lending an interesting sweet flavor to such savory toppings. We couldn’t finish the whole thing even though it was only about 12 inches. (Where have I heard that before?)

We spent nearly an hour and a half over lunch. It was a very Italian pranzo: cycle somewhere really chill, sit down and have a proper meal, chat, linger, and finally roust oneself back on the bike for the completion of the ride. The ride back was ten miles and most of it downhill, so delaying our departure wasn’t to avoid a scarf ’n barf session—it was just ‘lunch’, the type which you rarely see on a Different Spokes ride.

Back in the saddle we had but three or four tiny hills to surmount on the generally downhill rush back to Sebastopol. More beautiful rural countryside, more sculpture, few cars. Just outside of town we ran into a large apple orchard in bloom. Nice. And adjacent to it was another abandoned orchard. Sigh. The run into town goes almost immediately from farm land to residential neighborhood. Now that’s a green line!

We were back at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, our start, and it was 3 PM—five hours to cover 33 miles. That was a bike ride to relish: good food, good company, and occasionally good road. It’s still spring up in Sebastopol so if you’re hankering for your country road fix, this is the place to go. If and when you go the apple blossoms may have vanished. But you’ll still be able to enjoy this little piece of cycling heaven.

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!

Buttes Plug

Boy, it couldn’t have been better than it was last Sunday for the Velo Love ride, a metric century starting in Gridley, CA and going around the anomalous Sutter Buttes. A confluence of incredibly good weather, an early bloom, and a high of 75F was a welcome Valentine. Roger and I have been doing the Velo Love ride for about ten years. Originally this was called the Rice Valley Tandem Rally by Chico Velo, who originated the ride, probably because it’s almost pan-flat and a prime rice growing zone. But at some point they decided a catchier name was the Velo Love Ride since it was usually close to Valentine’s Day.

Scheduling a long ride, in this case a metric century, in February requires chutzpah. The weather is always unpredictable, nay questionable, and winter sloth is hard to shake off especially when it’s very chilly as it is prone to be in the Sacramento Valley. We’ve done this ride when it’s been bone-chilling with dreary, spirit-busting cloud cover and other times when it’s been sunny albeit brisk. However we’ve never done it in rain. Drive 130 miles to spend the day getting soused? That’s positively Seattle-ish! No thanks. In 2017 the rain stopped before the ride and we rode it but turned around at the half-way point when it became clear an upcoming section of road was completely flooded (ahem, rice paddies, darling!) and we’d have to portage the tandem. In 2019 we and Roger S. were planning to go but it rained and we bagged it.

The Velo Love Ride has always been a small event—maybe a couple hundred participants at most—and the unpredictable weather has always been buzzkilling. Chico Velo didn’t put on the event in 2020 because no one in the club wanted to coordinate it. We went up anyway and did it on our own in the worst windstorm I’ve ever ridden in.

This year we struck gold. Climate change apparently means less rain for California and when it comes it’ll be in the form of atmospheric rivers just as we’ve experienced this season. A weird “heat” wave coupled with a month-long dry spell meant not only bone-dry roads but also an early bloom of the almond and plum orchards that surround the Buttes making for a heartwarming flower display. Despite the lack of rain many of the rice paddies—rice being one of the biggest crops in the area—were flooded and filled with birdlife. Coupled with the rich green grass surrounding the Buttes we were visually entertained in a way I can’t remember in all the times we’ve ridden there.

This year we were joined by David Goldsmith, who was inspired by having driven through the area a few years ago and been taken by the almond blossoms. The initial part of the ride is a straight shot west out of Gridley six miles and then drops directly south five miles to get to the loop around the Buttes. You have the pleasure of traversing these segments again on the return; however the west leg out of Gridley is the Colusa Highway and although devoid of traffic early on a Sunday, is not quite so bike-friendly in the early afternoon when you’re returning. Nonetheless even when “busy” this road makes Marin roads seem like superhighways in comparison. Heading south we picked up the very slight tailwind and started to pass the rice fields. The Gray Lodge Wildlife Area is midway, where we made a pitstop and chatted with the rangers who were hosting a veterans’ hunting event. The prodigious number of birds makes this a popular birding area as well.

A couple of miles southward and you’re on the 38-mile loop around the Sutter Buttes. There are still plenty of rice paddies but it’s orchard country. This year the warm weather seems to have sparked the almonds and plums to bloom a bit earlier than usual so we were treated to an explosion of color. Although we’ve done the Velo Love Ride when the trees were flowering, this was by far the brightest and most prodigious number of trees in bloom we had seen. Against the Sutter Buttes the efflorescence was jaw-droppingly picturesque. We kept looking for the best place for the moneyshot. In places where the trees were incandescent they were so tall that they obscured the Buttes; in other places the orchards were so far from the road that they hardly made a dent in your eyeballs. We managed to find a couple of nice locations to frame the entire landscape, Buttes and orchards both.

All this time we were keeping a rather torrid pace despite our searching for photo ops. On flat ground it’s much easier to keep up your speed even if the pavement is typical country road asphalt bouncing you along. Originally I was imagining we’d be taking our time and moseying. Instead we were pacelining! We rolled into Sutter, the halfway point and lunch stop, and bumped into a small crowd of cyclists also having lunch. They were also out for the Velo Love Ride! However they were doing the short loop by starting at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. That cuts out about sixteen miles and makes for a really pleasant bike ride by omitting the Colusa Highway.

After downing our sandwiches we headed out of town and started the only ascent of the day, a gigantic 300-foot climb. Our total elevation gain for the day would be about 400 feet!

The area south and west of the Buttes is mostly ranchland but there were still large orchards interspersed. The road writhes left and right mostly at 90-degree angles that carve out the different properties. By this time I was getting tired and apparently so was David, who hadn’t done a ride this long in over two years. This was Roger’s and my first metric of the year, the last one being the Pedaling Paths to Independence long ago in February 2020 just before the Pandemic broke. We stopped for a break—butts and hands were getting tired as well—and immediately I got a hamstring cramp. Out came the pickle juice. Although David didn’t have cramps, he decided he’d have some as well so we toasted each other with our little green bottles. After more pictures and gabbing we resaddled and took off. I felt much better but nonetheless I had no shame sitting on Roger’s wheel—I wanted to make sure I made it to the end!

We were slowing down and I probably would have gone even slower if I hadn’t had a wheel to follow. There is a point in a century, even one as spectacular as was this Love Ride when it’s all about gritting out the miles. I could feel myself enter that zone: lots of glances at the cyclometer and counting down the tenths of a mile. Gray Lodge, Colusa Highway, city limit sign, finale. Whew. Just under 61 miles. The rolling average was 15.7 mph. Well, by Different Spokes standards that’s a D-pace so quite a bit faster than the B-to-C I had imagined beforehand. Yet another example of club pace inflation. David opined that it wasn’t really because the route was practically dead flat so a higher speed should be expected.

Although we didn’t have a proper meal during the ride, we went to Los Charros just down the street. Two years ago Roger and I found this place and had a delicious meal after doing an exhausting Velo Love Ride with 20-40 mph headwinds. I had had a taco and enchilada plate and after sucking it down I had contemplated ordering another. But I didn’t. Although not quite so hungry nor worn out this time, I was still looking forward to a satisfying meal. In 2020 the place had been almost deserted. Not this time: the place was hopping despite being 2:30 in the afternoon. Was it people tanking up before the Super Bowl? Doubtful: too early and not enough to-go. From the looks of things, the Pandemic is either over in Gridley or else it’s just going to get its second wind: almost no one was making an effort at social distancing and masks inside were rare except on the staff. Maybe it’s because it’s Trump country. We waited for our takeout and sat on the tailgate of the van to woof down our goodies. David had gotten inspired from my story and ordered the taco and enchilada plate. Roger on a lark ordered a “California” burrito; to keep the order simple I did the same. What made it a California burrito was having a raft of french fries rolled into the tortilla along with everything else. It hit all the right notes: (1) huge, (2) friggin’ stuffed, (3) charred, juicy beef, (4) french fries. OMG it was so delicious! I found religion and I’m now a believer.

After bidding goodbye to David, Roger and I rolled back to the Bay Area in the minivan and unlike almost every other Sunday afternoon on I-80 there was hardly any traffic jam outside of Sacramento. Although sitting an additional fifteen minutes on the freeway would merely have given our guts extra time to digest and enjoy a post-ride feeding frenzy, I was glad to make time getting home this year. All in all it was a twelve-hour day: up at 5:30, home at 5:30. A long day bookended by slightly tedious drives but the middle part was so, so worth it. That was a proper Valentine: a long bike ride and a delicious meal (that I didn’t have to make!)

L‘Shana Haba’ah B’Gridley!

Ride Recap: New Speedway Boogie

A spur of the moment decision to go to Yosemite in January led to the Feb. 6 ride up Altamont Pass. Being disconsolate at the cancellation of our Austria tour and finally getting cabin fever after almost two years of sheltering mostly in place, we jumped in the car and went to Yosemite Valley for a couple of days. On the way out and back we drove I-680 into the valley and we were mesmerized by the emerald green grass on Altamont—no surprise, I guess, given the inordinate rain in December. This is the time to go, I thought, and began mulling over when would be a good time to ride up there. Of course, silly me, I was thinking that the rains would start up soon since we hadn’t had any for almost two weeks. By February the long range forecast was for “sun, sun, sun, ’til her daddy takes the Colnago away”. Well, there’s no time like the present so up went the ride posting.

The day of the ride was perfect: sunny, absolutely no clouds, and still air albeit chilly. There were seven of us including stalwarts Will, Roger S., and Alan. Alan is new to the club and as I found out also new to cycling. Moving from upstate NY to California apparently meant cycling might just be enjoyable! In any case Alan is a classic case of MAMILs gone wild and he’s grinding out the miles like there’s no tomorrow. Stephanie emerged from her house remodel and other domestic responsibilities to join the ride. In fact I consulted Stephanie while planning the ride because she’s usually the one who’s leading a jaunt up the Altamont hills and I hadn’t ridden up there in two decades or more. Her response was, “oh, any of those roads are great.” A non-Spoker Paul also joined us for his first club ride.

Carpeted with mustard for now, soon to be multimillion dollar homes.

There are only three public roads over Altamont: Patterson Pass Road, Altamont Pass Road, and Tesla/Corral Hollow. We did the first two. But any permutation will do when the hills green up since the roads are primarily used by local traffic while everybody else is either hauling ass or creeping along at five miles per hour on I-680. We went up Patterson to the outskirts of Tracy and then climbed up Altamont to return to Livermore.

Livermore is a city in transition. It’s aspiring to Pleasanton or Danville grandeur but it’s still got farming roots. It already has a sign of greatness: homeless people sleeping in cars at the Livermore library where we parked. With growth pressure breathing down its neck, Livermore is going to be a “big” city in short order. East and north of downtown Livermore is either vineyards or ranch land with a few farms stuck in there for show. Nothing a little rezoning and lots, lots, lots of subdivisions won’t solve… But I digress. We headed east on Tesla Road, which is all wineries and vineyards, and starting climbing at Cross Road, which eventually takes you to Patterson Road where the real fun begins. Cross is a gentle ascent in absolutely deserted grassland. After turning onto Patterson the slope became more severe. It was all so beautiful that I was caught up in the splendor and forget that the grade was creeping up. We started to glimpse wind turbines but today there was no wind to speak of so they were as still as statues. The summit of Patterson was only about eight miles from where we started but the last half-mile was like climbing up a wall. It’s 15-16% just before the pass and that ain’t no momentary blip. Everybody was scrambling for their lowest gear and some were probably wishing for something lower. Suddenly those crazy 46- or 50-tooth rear cogs don’t seem so absurd. Roger H. made it to the top first just in time to snap a shot of Alan who was just behind him.

“All this land be mine!”

Everybody made it up fine and we soaked in the view all the way to Tracy: rolling green hills, wind turbines, and powerlines. The descent was crazy fast and everybody else shot off like rockets whereas I creeped down quite cautiously; the pavement is aging chipseal, there’s no shoulder, and the road winds like a snake. On one left curve there was an ominous “15 MPH!” sign obviously placed there because vehicles and cyclists have occasionally done their best Space-X imitation and launched into space. Other than passing the gigantic PG&E Tesla substation it was all beautiful countryside. The road flattened out as we were now in the valley. Usually you head north to the Mountain House community before heading west. But after crossing I-580 the road becomes full of traffic including a fair number of trucks from all the logistics centers in Tracy for companies like Amazon and Costco. But there is an alternate route, the California Aqueduct Bikeway, that gets you off the road away from traffic. In fact we rolled over the Aqueduct and stopped at a Valero gas station at the intersection. I had suggested that people bring snacks because I didn’t think there were any services on the route. But the Valero proved to be a veritable cornucopia of delectable gas station food. The Valero was doing its best Costco imitation with aisles that had to be the longest I’ve ever seen in a gas station convenience store. The temptation was too great and just about everyone piled in to use the restroom and, uh, stock up. The front window was advertising their “Krispy Krunchy fried chicken”. I was going to buy some but the thought of hurling all that good food on Altamont restrained me. In Roger S.’s case it didn’t and he emerged with a five-piece bag to gnaw on. Next door was a taqueria, which I’ll try the next time, as well as a Subway and a Wienerschnitzel. I’m telling you this oasis has everything you need.

Way better than fighting semis on Mountain House Parkway.

Suitably restocked we turned around and turned onto the Aqueduct Bikeway, which has a gate under which you can carefully roll your bike. Only Will had been on the Bikeway before, long ago when he was training for double centuries. Stephanie, who knows this area like the back of her hand, had never taken it before. The pavement was surprisingly rideable: aging chip seal, slightly bumpy but wide and free of obstacles. The Bikeway rolls about 3-4 miles to Grant Line Road. We stopped in the middle to take in the view and munch on goodies. Roger S. chowed down on his fried chicken. Lucky me, he offered to share a piece. Yum. There isn’t much more goodness than fried chicken when you’re hungry from cycling. The whine of cars on adjacent 580 was the only thing that destroyed the peacefulness.

At Grant Line we headed west and had to put up with traffic just until Altamont Pass Road about a mile away where all of the cars turn onto 580. The climb up Altamont is more gradual and nowhere is as steep as Patterson. Everybody spread out and was rolling at their own pace. The last run-up to Altamont, where you pass over 580, is the only really steep section, about 12% for a half-mile. Alan was waiting for us about midway. Why not the top? “It just looked like a good place to rest!” After we regrouped we took the rest of the climb at a more sociable speed. Once you pop the top the descent to Livermore is sweet: no traffic, only moderately steep so you don’t have to ride the brakes, decent sightlines. Back on the flats it was a pleasant victory stroll back to the library.

I think next time I’m going to do this route in reverse so I can grab that fried chicken later in ride for a real “smack” down!

Can this really be February?

I spent a little time on the mountain
I spent a little time on the hill
I saw things getting out of hand
I guess they always will.

-Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia

Adios, January. I’ll Miss You!

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

After a drenching December we unexpectedly got a dry January—somebody turned off the spigot! The club has taken full advantage of our unfortunate dry spell however. We had seven rides this month with six of them on the weekends. That’s pretty good for a month that is usually cold and wet. It may not have been wet but it certainly has been chilly yet that hasn’t deterred Spokers from clogging up the local roads with turnouts we usually see only in the height of summer and early fall: a dozen or so per ride! David Goldsmith’s dream has been to have “mo’ rides, mo’ rides, mo’ rides” and he may be getting his wish. Four years ago he said he wanted a hundred rides per year or about two per week. Call him ambitious (or Ahab). Maybe we’ll get there this year?

Keeping with tradition (a nice way of saying ‘lack of inspiration’) we started the month with the Resolution Ride: up Diablo with a bullet! Ten butch boys checked that one off. The following week’s Jersey Ride had thirteen riders. The Davids had planned a short outing across the Bay Bridge from Oakland the week after but the Tongan tsunami put paid to that escapade. David Goldsmith immediately replaced it with a short jaunt to Nicasio on MLK day that managed to roust five Spokers to join despite it being a ‘flash’ ride. The Davids then led the second in their training series the following Saturday, Jan. 22, around the Three Bears in Orinda. Was it boredom in San Francisco or did somebody not explain that this wasn’t Folsom Street—we had sixteen riders! The next day Roger and I led the first Forty & Fab (maybe that should be “Fab despite Forty” or better yet “Fab because Forty”!) ride around Portola loop that attracted thirteen riders. The one and only Early Bird ride this month garnered four participants before closing out the month with this past weekend’s training series ride around Stage Road and Highway One near Pescadero with nine of us. That’s a total of 70 riders out of club of 112 members!

Will we be so fortunate in February? I hope not—I mean, for the sake of our water supply!

Eating Dessert First

The Davids as part of their Winter/Spring training series led a loop ride this past weekend from Pescadero up the Stage Road and then back south on Highway One to Gazos Creek before returning to Pescadero. It’s about 30 miles. If you’ve been around the club for a while or you’re a regular cyclist from the Midpeninsula, you’ll recognize these roads and you’ve probably ridden them many times because they’re marvelously scenic, beautiful, and serene, comparable although different from what you may experience in Italy, Japan, New Zealand, or almost any other touristy part of the world.

The difference this time was that we started in Pescadero rather than some distance away. When I lived in Palo Alto I used to head out to the San Mateo coast on my bike and it was always a long ride. In high school on a 32-pound Schwinn bike it was an exhausting trek up and over the Coast Range and then up and over to get home. When I lived in San Francisco, it was a really long ride down Skyline to 92 and then down to Pescadero before returning to the city. The most popular way the club does this ride is to start in Half Moon Bay and cycle down to Gazos before returning up the Stage Road as well as a couple of additional inland forays. That ride is quite a bit shorter than starting in San Francisco but it’s still nothing to sneeze at, coming in at over 55 miles.

That’s not the sort of ride you want to do when you’re starting out your riding year unless you’ve already been riding all winter. So the Davids’ little trick is to cut out all the lean meat and leave just the delicious fat. And yummy fat it was! Stage Road is quiet, almost devoid of cars (except for the occasional car rallies), and a pastoral sensorium guaranteed to quiet your uneasy mind. Highway One takes in the beautiful San Mateo coast with its blooming coastal daisies and iceplant as you roll over one short hill after another. We passed the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, which incidentally is part of the club’s very first ride in 1982, before turning up Gazos Creek, another isolated country road that follows the rushing creek up a serpentine canyon. Then it was past Butano State Park and quiet ranches before returning to Pescadero. This short loop leaves out the long slogs up to Skyline from the Bay or the very long trek through surburbia down the Peninsula. Those additional miles might do wonders for your conditioning but the tedium of getting to the good part takes away a lot of the enjoyment. That I had never realized until I relented and joined the ride at my husband’s urging. Being the kind of child who was lectured incessantly about eating everything on my plate and by nature obediant—we didn’t have a dog, unfortunately—I was often too full to enjoy dessert. To this day for me dessert is still the least significant part of a meal. And I still always eat all my vegetables. The Davids’ ride philosophy is like being told that I can eat dessert first. Skipping the sloggy parts of a ride to get to the good part is like taking a helicopter to a mountain pass—the long, hard trek to the top is what makes the view so impressive, right? Well, it turns out, no. That’s just propoganda. You can take it easy and enjoy the view even more. So much for all that training to tolerate delayed gratification, the value of hard work, yadayadayada…

It’s going to make getting over to coastside a lot more pleasurable now that I’m hooked on just driving over there to ride. Of course this philosophy is what is destroying Western Civilization, right?