Ride Recap: Four Bears and a Happy Pig

After a several weeks of monotonously dreary weather we got a break this past weekend and were greeted by bright sunshine and daytime temperatures north of 68F, finally. Our May Gray had morphed into June Gloom only to vanish and be replaced by real spring weather. Here in the East Bay clouds and fog are a rarity but not this spring.

Unbeknownst to most of you Orinda is host to a myriad of short and steep inclines that make riding here challenging and never boring, and today we were doing the “best hits”: west Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Pig Farm, Reliez Valley, Happy Valley, and east Papa Bear all crammed into a mere 35-mile loop. I had forgotten one climb that is part of this route, shorter than the rest but no less steep: Deer Hill, a depressingly wide open ramp that unfortunately bears too close a resemblance to Hicks Road and Oakville Grade. It’s 14%. But it’s short! So let’s call it six and a half climbs.

Only Jeff P and Roger S joined Roger and me. I hadn’t seen Jeff in ages. Had he been riding? It turns out he had come to the East Bay and rode Morgan Territory last week—that’s a lot more climbing than I’ve been doing recently! Roger S had been getting ready for the Chico Wildflower, training deliberately. With that under his belt at the end of April he promptly ditched the bike and hadn’t set eye on it for over two weeks. Regardless he had more than enough leg power despite his absence from pedaling. Roger and I had recently completed a really enjoyable but unexpectedly challenging bike tour in Japan. Of course returning home after a two-week absence meant cycling had to take a back seat to everything else going on in our lives that had been on hold including our garden that was showing signs of neglect.

All these roads are yawn all-too-familiar to Roger and me since they are our regular hunting grounds. But Jeff was only slightly familiar with them and thus several were brand new experiences for him. Roger S had been on them all but it had been a while so some of them were hazy in recollection.

Leaving downtown Orinda the first incline was a few short miles ahead: Papa Bear. Typically we ride this in the other direction, from east to west and it comes at the tail end of the Three Bears loop. There are a couple of good reasons for not riding it in this direction: it’s a taller climb heading east because you start it at a lower elevation and it also happens to be quite a bit steeper, like about 10% in places. Despite being just the first climb (or perhaps because it was just the first of six hard climbs) we stayed together up the hill lamenting its difficulty. However on the other side Roger S blasted the descent and kept the momentum all the way over Mama Bear to the Alhambra Valley Road turn.

Conversely doing Mama Bear in this direction seems easier at least to me. The usual ride up Mama Bear is a long, steady slog up a 9% grade with the summit at the distant horizon, an always depressing sight. The way we rode it Mama Bear is broken up by two short climbs and descents, one of which may be the mysterious Baby Bear that no one seems to know the location of.

Turning onto Alhambra Valley Road it was starting to warm up and the cooling wind gone. The climb up Pig Farm—now called just Alhambra Valley—is another “save the best for last” climb with a ridiculous gradient just below the summit. Everybody used to call this hill Pig Farm because back in the day an infamously noxious pig farm was at the top whose stench was your summit reward. That sty is long gone—I can’t recall exactly when it closed—and replaced by a gentleman’s ranch. Another piece of vanished Bay Area cycling lore.

Roger S took off again on the descent and nearly got beaned by a car suddenly turning out into the road. Despite roaring at over 40 mph he managed to zip by and pass it without a scratch. The rest of us valuing our wellbeing and skin took it more slowly. Alhambra Valley Road has a Jekyl-Hyde personality: at times it’s a quiet and peaceful backcountry road and at other times it’s a cut-through race course for drivers looking escape the mess on Highways 680 and 24. For cyclists that means keeping an eye out for the impatient drivers and today seemed to be the day. When it’s quiet it’s a remarkable ride but today it was a typical road full of fast cars passing on narrow straits.

We turned off into Briones Regional Park to get some water and have a midride snack. The parking lot was full of mountain bikers, some just heading out and a bunch just back from their ride. A couple of bikers were enjoying post-ride cigarettes chatting away, reminding me of another Different Spokes ride in the distant past out of Orinda BART. Luis, Michael R, and former president-for-life Dennis pulled into the BART lot at the end of a hard club ride and went to their respective cars. All whipped out their smokes and lit up. I’ll always remember Luis for smiling while saying, “A cigarette after a hard ride is the best!”

After our break it was back to Alhambra Valley, which turns into Reliez Valley and slowly gets steeper and steeper. Roger S didn’t remember there was a climb up Reliez and was rudely surprised by the grade. By now I wouldn’t say we were baking but it was definitely the warmest weather we’d seen over here in several weeks and we were all sweating from the heat and the effort.

After a short descent we were back in civilization and just a brief reprieve before Deer Hill. This road is another commuter cut-through because it parallels 24, which is always jammed during the rush hour. Today it wasn’t bad traffic-wise but it’s an ungodly 14% and it looks it: a straight-up-the-hill climb. What followed after a brief sprint past the Lafayette BART station was Happy Valley Road, which really should be called Unhappy Valley because it too starts out slow and then gets steeper as you climb. The top is around 12-13%. By now we were all rather tired despite it being less than 30 miles. Near the top I stopped to catch a breath in the shade and Roger S joined me. We chatted away in order to delay continuing the climb. But eventually we did. The descent on the other side is hellish. It’s actually the better way to climb Happy Valley because the road is wretchedly potholed and uneven and that is less an issue when you’re going 5 mph. But descending it’s difficult to discern the incongruities when you can’t see in the shade and we were bounced left and right like pinballs.

What was left was Papa Bear the usual way. There’s nothing that needs to be said about it since you’ve probably done it yourself many times. Over the years Papa Bear has changed subtlely. The road quality is actually better these days than when I rode in the ’80s. Being county road it never gets much love but the pavement quality is pretty damn smooth for chipseal. And there aren’t any potholes! Which is good since you’ve got one of the fastest descents around. I used to hit 45 mph there when I was young and deluded. Roger S probably hit that this time but not I. I’ve never crashed on Papa Bear and want to continue that unblemished record!

At the bottom is a very short, steep, and annoying climb back to San Pablo Dam Road—is this Baby Bear? After grunting to the top we headed back to Orinda and got lunch at Petra Cafe. I was famished and ready for a recharge. For such a short ride—just 35 miles—it packed in 3,700 feet of climbing and much of it in double digits. Type 2 fun!

Ride Recap: Darth Veeder

The day before we were going to Mt. Veeder Gordon sent me some pictures of the road. I couldn’t believe it. They showed that Veeder was closed and the asphalt heaved up and crumpled up like arctic ice. Shit. For whatever reason Veeder had been omitted from Napa County’s road closure database hence escaping my notice. Gordon opined that despite the menacing ‘road closed’ signs it was easy to go around the barriers and walk through the mess. A quick message and reply from Stephanie indicated that she was still game. So onward!

The other potential disaster was the Bottlerock festival scheduled in downtown Napa for this weekend. The three-day wine and rock concert draws about 180,000 ravers. Prez David already gave his hard “no” to Veeder thinking that traffic and parking would inevitably be a nightmare. Where the rest of the Spokerati wasn’t clear—fled town for the weekend or also put off by the festival? Dunno.

The cognomen Darth Veeder was bequeathed by David some years ago. Presumably it was because the climb up Veeder is on ‘the dark side’. In any case it’s no walk in the park and like another well-trod ride, Pinehurst, features the delight of an increasing gradient as you ascend from the Redwood Road side. Redwood side? Yes Mt. Veeder Road is actually the north side of this climb and Redwood Road is the southern side but Spokers know it only as “Veeder”.

So it was just Roger, me, and Stephanie. Stephanie hadn’t done Veeder in quite a while so this was on her checklist for the year. Roger and I? Despite the sometimes haphazard road maintenance in Napa we like riding in the Napa Valley but even more in the hills around it.

We were using David’s route that begins at Buttercream Bakery in the north end of Napa. We didn’t allow enough time to go in before the ride and the place closes at 2 PM. So it looked like it was going to be another year without tasting their fares. Darn!

It takes just a little bit of time to get out of the city of Napa and on Redwood Road proper. This morning it was mostly devoid of traffic and the overcast just added to the atmosphere of climbing into the woods. Before long there was the dreaded “road closed” sign, which we of course ignored. Cars heading up of which there were very few had to be mostly residents. The climb gently steepens the further you proceed and parallels the placid and peaceful Redwood Creek right next to the road. I’m sure in winter the creek was a roaring mess but now it was back to its benign best—gurgling, placid, peaceful.

The positive side of road closures is that if a bike can get through one gets to enjoy the experience senza macchine. The closure sign seemed to have cut back on the traffic even though Redwood is hardly on the tourist radar. We climbed and were passed only by the very occasional car. There were several sections of road where the asphalt had completely eroded away leaving only the road base—how does that happen? I wouldn’t have been surprised by gravel and dirt, of which there was plentiful, but how the storms just peeled back the surface is strange. There were a couple of sections where half the roadway had collapsed down the slope forcing all traffic to use just one lane. Just past one we took a break to shed windbreakers and catch our breath. This was hard work! Then it was back to the business at hand, upward.

Finally at the top, where the vineyard with the fancy wrought iron gate sits, we got a real break before the ‘descent’. We still hadn’t run across the road closure and it was obvious now that we were going to confront it on the downhill side. Stephanie cheekily suggested that I take the lead; so I was left to “clear the minefield” since we had no idea of the road condition.

The descent from the top actually has several short uphill sections, some of which you can almost get over by momentum providing you’re going fast enough. The problem was I sure as hell wasn’t going to go hellbent when there might be gravel, washed out asphalt, or worse yet, no road! So each little treat just added to dulling the knife a little more. And then there it was, what we saw in Gordon’s photos: K-barriers and wavy, crumpled asphalt. And no, riding over it was just asking for a helicopter evac, so we dismounted and carefully plonked over the cascade of broken roadway. It wasn’t a difficult crossing but seeing it in person impressed upon me the damage winter storms inflicted on Bay Area roads—Redwood Road near Castro Valley, Old Stage Road, Calaveras, Palomares, Mines, Patterson, and now Veeder.

Once past the blockade we started swooping down through the trees before reaching the last stretch of the startlingly steep decline. We passed cyclists crawling up Veeder barely making any progress and one cyclist parked by the side of the road gasping. We had actually come up the “easy” way! The descent continued once we turned onto Dry Creek, the sort of traditional way to do this ride; the other option is to instead continue straight ahead and descend the 15% Oakville Grade. Dry Creek is much less formidable but today we had a headwind reeling from the south making progress effortful. It didn’t help that the county seems to have largely ignored doing any recent repaving on Dry Creek as it was pockmarked beyond despair with potholes and crevices of various sizes and gruesomely lumpy old asphalt that looked like it had been unceremoniously dumped on the road and then left to be flattened by whatever vehicle had the misfortune to smack into it. Of course the worst was left for last with a pothole obstacle course just before we turned into the valley proper.

David’s route heads north again to Yountville. You can either take Solano Street or the Vine Trail MUP; we learned that the road is, like everything else in the area, lumpy and cracked, whereas the trail is divinely smooth.

In Yountville we stopped at the budget lunch spot, Velo Deli aka Ranch Market for a sandwich and pasta salad. Yountville is littered with chic high-end dining spots including Bistro Jeanty next door, which always seems to be doing great business. We were so ahead of schedule that we got there well before lunch time and got the prime outdoor table under the gazebo. The sandwich counter was devoid of customers and it was a breeze to get our food and get out. Lunchtime chatter revolved around our recent cycling trip to Japan, the upcoming club picnic and pool party, and various goings-on in the club.

I was pretty tired at this point and the lunch break only slightly alleviated my fatigue. Post lunch we had two southern legs, Silverado Trail and then Big Ranch. I could tell as we left that my legs were only one or two notches away from cramps and I needed to be careful to avoid ending up by the side of the road in convulsive spasms; that’s what happens when you don’t drink enough. We now had a constant headwind out of the south and I steadily went slower and slower. Roger eventually took the lead and let us draft him all the way back to Buttercream. Roger on his e-bike has no problem roasting at over 20 mph into a headwind.

Speaking of Buttercream, we finished our ride at 1:30, way earlier than last year, and the bakery was still open! We dashed in to peruse the sweets. Buttercream seems to be a popular place, probably helped by having a diner inside as well as the bakery counter. It was redolent of sugar wafting out of the bakery. There were too many kinds of cookies, donuts, and cupcakes to recount; we settled on carrot cake cupcakes to tide us over until we got home. Gawd, they were good and the perfect way to end an unexpected adventure over Veeder. Next time we do this ride I am definitely going to make it back to Buttercream again before it closes at 2 PM!

And the traffic? Easy peasy both ways. As we breezed south on 12 we couldn’t help noticing that the northbound lanes were packed to the gills and not going anywhere fast. Perfect timing!

Ride Recap: New Speedway Boogie, Take 2

You can’t overlook the lack, Jack
Of any other highway to ride
It’s got no signs or dividing lines
And very few rules to guide

—Robert Hunter

David asked me why this ride is called New Speedway Boogie and not “Patterson & Altamont Passes”, which is surely a more accurate and less cryptic name. Those familiar with my posts through the years may have noticed that they’re populated with idiosyncratic references to late Twentieth Century US culture. In this case it’s a tilt toward that infamous “hey, we wanna get some of that cool Woodstocky vibe too” Rolling Stones concert that took place in December 1969 at Altamont Speedway, which happens to be just off the route of this bike ride.

Unless you’re an old Bay Area hippie like me or you recall the 1970 documentary film Gimme Shelter, which was about this concert, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. The Rolling Stones, whose image at that time was distinctly not countercultural flower power (despite His Satanic Majesties Request, one of their early abysmally poor albums) but more self-indulgent, excessive, lower chakra— oh wait, that is countercultural after all!—thought they could replicate Woodstock here on the West Coast when the “San Francisco sound”—Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, etc.—was climbing the charts and the Haight Ashbury was attracting youth from all over the country. They put on a free concert and 300,000 of their favorite strung out dealers, groupies, and fans showed up. They got more than they bargained for because the event was violent—multiple deaths including a stabbing by a Hells Angels who was doing stage security. It was ugly, like a very bad acid trip (and it probably was a bad trip for about half the participants). So endeth the illusions of a Woodstock nation. Ironically it got so violent that the Grateful Dead didn’t even get to play; or rather refused to play after Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane got KOed by a Hells Angel, and so they left the event. But the GD’s songwriter Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia bequeathed a gem of a song, New Speedway Boogie, which was about the disastrous event. The Altamont Speedway is still there although it’s been closed since 2008 and the meme that was Altamont has faded into insignificance.

Fifty-four years later here we are doing a bike ride. Whatever remnants of that era have long gone into the aether and almost everything surprisingly is as it was: a verdant, green set of rolling hills that turn dusky brown after the rains cease. Oh yeah, and the wind turbines and plentiful cows. Springtime is the best time to ride Altamont Pass, Patterson Pass, and Corral Hollow Roads because of the explosion of green grass. We lucked out with a most sunny and clear day. Roger and I were joined by Prez David and Stephanie. Jen also graced us with her presence at the start but she wasn’t up to going up Patterson and was doing a shorter ride. David and Stephanie were intent upon doing the Chico Wildflower and were in search of some training undone by our wet winter.

We headed out Tesla and turned on Cross Road to get to Patterson Pass. Hardly a car in sight but plenty of greenery to bless our eyes. Riding out Cross/Patterson is like a time warp: there was a time in the Bay Area when you could find pastoral roads this deserted much more easily; many of those areas are now dense suburbs. (I remember cycling through Cupertino when it was mainly orchards.) Cross Road is really quite gentle and eventually drops down Patterson Pass where the climbing gets more earnest. But even there it’s reasonable until the last kick to the pass, which is quite unreasonable! Stephanie as usual was intent on keeping a steady, brisk pace. We chatted and seemingly lollygagged until it got steeper (and quieter) and Stephanie just slowly moved ahead. At the pass we realized why we were having such an easy time: we had a west tailwind that was howling over the pass.

That tailwind also blew up down from the pass on one of the best descents in the Bay Area. With hardly any cars, great sightlines and only one blind corner it’s a delight. Oh, and it’s long so you get to enjoy it for quite a time. The only uglification along the descent was the PG&E substation, which sticks out like the eyesore it is in the middle of all that countryside.

We stopped at the outskirts of Tracy just across the California Aqueduct at the Valero station. Here the big trucks for Safeway, Costco, and Amazon roam the area due to their respective warehouses and logistics centers. The Valero is well stocked. I was originally going to get the fried chicken but got a sandwich instead so that I could share it with Roger. David had brought along some of his homemade dill pickles to share. There we stood next to the trash bin eating our early lunch. A steady stream of men were heading into the Jalos Taqueria next door. Hmm, we’ll have to check it out next time.

Then it was a slight backtrack onto the Aqueduct parkway, which is just a very wide frontage/service road adjacent to it. Other than a few fishermen and walkers the parkway is largely empty and a great escape from the trucks on the local roads. Unfortunately we were now heading north with that delightful tailwind now transformed into a gruesome sidewind forcing us to lean to the left to stay upright. Midway through you pass the old Altamont Speedway in the hills to the west of the Aqueduct but you can’t see it from there. After three and a half miles we were at Grant Line Road and returned to a brief automotive fray. Grant Line is one scary road with intense traffic that makes crossing over to the westbound lane feel like you’re in a real-life version of Frogger. Waiting for that short break to zip across rewards you with continued life and the joy of being passed by cars blitzing onto 580. That brief hell lasts less than a half-mile and we were on Altamont Pass Road, which is also deserted although less so than Patterson. Here Stephanie took off again along with Roger while David and I took it more slowly.

Altamont Pass Road is surrounded by grassland but interrupted by a couple of automotive repair businesses in the middle of nowhere and what look to be ranch houses that had seen better days. Oh yeah, and of course we now had a distinctly unfriendly headwind. But we all made it over the pass and left Altamont for Flynn Road and crossed over 580. It’s a short, easy ascent from there and a nice, long drop back to Livermore, suburbanity awaiting. Another fantastic ride in the Altamont hills done. Alas, by now those hills are probably shorn of green and turned to golden brown. We shall return next year!


Just in time for Easter and Passover the club finally held a ride on April Fools Day. The last club ride was February 19. After that the heavens opened up—again—and we started looking for Noah’s ark! Every single club ride in March was cancelled although not all of them because of rain. But we finally had a clear weekend and not only was it free of rain but it was also brilliantly sunny making for a belated spring day.

It was a simple, easy jaunt from Orinda to Moraga and then down to Danville for lunch. The good weather brought out a lot of folks ambulating and strutting so the six of us had plenty of company on the Lafayette-Moraga Regional and the Iron Horse trails. Everybody was in a good mood! Alas, not many Easter bonnets were seen but perhaps they’re saving them up for next weekend! (You do have your Easter bonnet ready, don’t you?)

In Danville we rolled by Domenico’s–I was very much looking forward to their salads–but the outdoor tables in the sunshine were packed with folks finally able to enjoy the good weather and a delicious lunch. So we strolled over to Sultan’s Kebab instead and had the entire outdoor patio to ourselves. Much conversation later we remounted and rolled back to Orinda the quick way through Lafayette.

We are all very much looking forward to more days like today!

2022: Parting Glances, part 2

There were some club rides in 2022 that I found especially enjoyable and I hope we shall do them again this year. And there were a few rides I didn’t get to do last year and that I desperately want to do this year, Allah willing, and I’ll address those in a separate post.

Tony’s 2022 favs, in no particular order.

Stage Road and Coastside. These roads are wellworn and no surprise—they’re beautiful, scenic, and mostly quiet. Who doesn’t love riding down the San Mateo coast along Highway One? If there is no fog or rain, the views of the Pacific are borderline astonishing accompanied by the redolent salt air. And despite being so close to SillyCon Valley, the tiny town of Pescadero and Stage Road are usually untrafficked and quiet allowing you to ride in pastoral serenity undisturbed by the mishegoss just over the hills. And I and many Spokers have ridden it many times. But what made this ride a breakthrough for me last year was that we did it without starting in either Half Moon Bay or Palo Alto, which would have made it a 60-mile day. Instead the Davids’ innovation was to start it in Pescadero making it only a 31-mile loop and without a big climb over the Coast range. I finally understood the meaning of “eat dessert first” and how impatience can be a virtue.

New Speedway Boogie (Patterson and Altamont Passes). The club doesn’t go up Altamont very often. It is infamous more for the daily logjammed commute on Highway 580 than for its beauty. But beautiful it is when you go there at the right time. Hit it in winter or early spring when the as-yet undeveloped hills are intensely green and you’ll experience what it used to be like decades ago when all of the land east of Livermore was pristine: no cars, lonely country roads, and grassland hills with oak trees. In 2022 we went up Patterson and took the California Aqueduct bikeway north to Altamont Pass for the return. Right at the turnaround point there is Valero minimart with—among many other things—coffee, fried chicken, a taqueria, a Subway, and a Wienerschnitzel! And the views at the top of both passes can’t be beat!

Velo Love Ride. I’m an unadulterated proponent of this ride, which until 2022 Roger and I were the only Spokers who had done it. It’s a beautiful winter ride around the Sutter Buttes not too far from the Oroville Dam, a slightly long drive from the Bay Area. Chico Velo offered this supported century at the oddest time of the year, early February when it is likely to be rained out and at the very least would proffer up challenging weather. It’s been on hiatus for a few years but not for us: we go up there every year as long as it isn’t raining. It’s dead-flat for 60 miles with only one small hill. The loop takes in the rice fields, ag land, and many fruit and nut orchards, which often are starting to bloom around Valentine’s Day, the traditional weekend to do this ride. It can be cold and since it’s during the rainy season it can be wet. But the real challenge of the ride can be wind since you’re completely exposed for much of the ride. But other than the start town of Gridley and midway hitting Sutter the ride is completely rural and devoid of traffic. In 2022 David Goldsmith decided to join us and we got to gape at all the flowering orchards this time. Maybe you’ll join us in 2023?

Old La Honda and Tunitas Creek. Also no surprise here since these roads are so well-trodden as to be posterchildren for Northern California riding. But I hadn’t done them in quite a while (because there was a time when I did these roads ALL the time and burned out on them). But this time was special because the Loma Mar Store finally reopened after about a yearslong remodel and it’s now an even better place for a midride stop. Their new restaurant is a welcome change from Arcangeli Store in Pescadero. Loma Mar’s food and coffee are excellent and the new owners are a peach. We also took our time on this ride and turned it into a day-long jaunt! Taking a long—even if unnecessary—break at the Bike Hut just to chat and look at the birds made it a special day. That’s something we don’t often do: stop to take a break just because we could!

SLO Wildflower. This is a century that I have known about for ages. But like many of you I never did it because the drive to the Paso Robles area is long enough to be a deterrent. The San Luis Obispo Bicycling Club also usually mounts this event the same weekend as the Chico Wildflower and/or the Primavera. The latter is a mere hop, skip, and a jump away in Fremont making it the lazy person’s default century and the former was for many years the club spring century must-do with hordes of Spokers driving up to Chico to make it a default getaway weekend. So when David Goldsmith and Roger Sayre suggested this ride I gave it a pass until my husband’s eyes twinkled at the prospect of riding someplace different for a change. When Adrienne, a former member who now lives near Paso, enthusiastically offered to host a barbecue at her place, the deal was signed, sealed, and delivered! It all turned out to be a fabulous weekend with almost 30 Spokers making the trip. The weather cooperated with a beautifully sunny, if chilly, morning. Although I had ridden in this area about 30 years ago, it was a welcome rediscovery as the Wildflower route is amazingly beautiful, quiet, and even had decent pavement! Oak woodland in California in its unspoiled state is charming and inviting during spring. Those who did the full hundred-mile route had to endure some the worst county roads in California for about 15 miles. But those of us who did the 80- or 50-mile route escaped that and had a totally perfect day. That won’t be a problem in 2023 since SLOBC has axed the one hundred mile route due to the disappearance of the wildflowers along the long route due to climage change. Just maybe we’ll go back in 2023?

Alpine Dam. This is another club fav, which in a previous incarnation was called the Evil Stepsisters ride when it was offered annually on the same day as the Cinderella Century, which is for women/girls only. You can climb Tam and descend to Alpine Dam or come from Fairfax to the Dam and then climb up the Seven Sisters to Tam and down. This ride was planned to be done clockwise, which I like less because then one has to descend the Seven Sisters. That descent is almost a straight line down to the Dam so either you go very fast or you ride the brakes. I prefer to climb up through Fairfax, which is less trafficked than Pan Toll, and go up the Seven Sisters. Fortuitously Jeff and Mark decided at the last minute to invert the loop, so we ended up riding it counterclockwise! This is another ride that I had done to death when I lived in SF. But after a twenty-year hiatus revisiting this old ride reminded me of why I used to ride it so often: it’s beautiful and challenging.

Cavedale. This was a discovery for me. I had never done Cavedale before and probably for a good reason: until now it was a wretched, pothole-ridden example of why riding in Sonoma county is a blessing and a curse: the scenery can be so enticing yet the road quality is akin to what one would find in an undeveloped country. It also intersects with Trinity, which often is heavily trafficked. But we fortuitiously chose a day to climb this steep road when it was being repaved to a glassy sheen thanks to none other than PG&E. For most of the climb it was beautiful, fresh asphalt as smooth as can be; the last third hadn’t been reconstructed yet and we got to taste what it had been like for the past 30 years or so. The views of the Sonoma Valley are robust and breathtaking making stops a must even if you don’t have to catch your breath.

But what made all of these rides so pleasurable? It wasn’t just the road quality, the weather, or the scenery—it was the company. Riding with fellow Spokers who enjoy riding in Northern California as much as I do, having idle yet memorable conversations with Spokerati, sharing a midride meal, and building memories of fun days on two wheels. That’s what made these rides my faves for 2022!

Ride Recap: Mt. Hamilton in the Fall

Ed. Ride leader Stephen Shirreffs submitted the following ride recap of our annual Mt. Hamilton in the Fall ride. Looks like it was hella fun!

On November 19 seven hardy but cheery club members gathered at the Berryessa Community Center in San Jose for the club’s annual Mount Hamilton in the Fall ride. Thanks to President David Goldsmith’s efforts four of the participants arrived together by BART and for future reference that mode of transportation went well now that BART is only three miles away. As is pretty usual on this ride, once we got into the climbing we quickly devolved into a few groups but we reconnected at the first rest stop at Joseph D. Grant Park and again at the top where we had a lengthy regroup and refresh. Stephen, in his first stint as a club ride leader (ably assisted by co-leader Roger), enjoyed his annual Starbucks chilled Frappucino from the tuck shop. Eric was meanwhile geeking out at the astronomy tech. We eventually herded the cats back together for a victory photo. A usual the descent was long and magnificent with very little traffic making it all the more enjoyable. The weather was surprisingly warm. But all those layers shed on the way up were still mighty welcome for the long descent in the cool autumn air.

Ride Recap: Cavedale

View of Sonoma Valley

In the compendium of Different Spokes rides there are the usual suspects and the unusual suspects but rarely do we encounter a Bay Area road that we have never visited. However Cavedale is such: as far as I know it has never been offered as a club ride despite sitting glaringly in the middle of the Mayacamas range connecting the Sonoma Valley and the Napa Valley.

Ten years ago for the 30th anniversary Roger and I resurrected the undead and led an ancient Michael John ride from Santa Rosa to Calistoga and back. That got us interested in the various ways one can map a loop between the two valleys. Michael John’s route took in Mark West and Petrified Forest Roads. We checked out Saint Helena Road and tried to make Kortum Canyon Road work only to find that the latter’s midsection is privately owned. Or at least has a big-ass locked gate in the middle of the road, which was never disclosed in AAA maps, Mapquest, nor Google Maps. So we stuck with Michael John’s original route. These roads are in the northern part of said valleys. Towards the south you’re left with Trinity, which has plentiful car traffic since it’s the only way to cross over. Except for Cavedale. Cavedale starts on the Sonoma side, summits the Mayacamas, and drops to intersect Trinity. Because you’re descending Trinity at that point it’s not so bad riding with car traffic downhill at speed.

Not having ridden Cavedale before I looked at Google Streetview, which shows that it’s a little-used, narrow road with several steep hairpins climbing quickly about 2,000 feet. The views of the Sonoma Valley are fantastic but in exchange is execrable Sonoma county pavement that looks that it hasn’t seen a paver in over thirty years. The road patches have patches that have patches! But at least it was paved all the way. Once you’re on Trinity the pavement is good.

Roger and I were joined by Stephanie and Darrell. Lucky for us Darrell is an old-hand at Cavedale and knew all the roads like the back of his hand. He was able to warn us of all the steep sections, where the cave was—it is called “Cavedale” for a reason—and how much more climbing was left. We started in the Sonoma town square early enough that the day tourists hadn’t arrived yet. It was a chilly 50F but we knew we were going to warm up shortly. A quick four-mile jaunt north along busy Highway 12 got us to Cavedale. We were in for a pleasant surprise: it had brand new pavement. This was no slurry seal but actual thick asphalt on a reconstructed road bed. That was good news for Darrell since he was riding his back-up bike that had mere 23mm tires. The rest of us had good sense to bring the fattest tires we had although now it looked like we didn’t need them.

Smooth as glass!

Cavedale is no slouch. You don’t get an easy introduction to the climb, you just start off at 8+% and regularly hit stretches in double digits. But the sun was out and view was great and there was almost no car traffic so we were able to use the entire roadway, especially nice in the sharp hairpins. We were stopping to rest, take pictures, take off jackets.

Taste of the soon-to-be old Cavedale

Alas, the repaving was not entirely finished. About two-thirds of the way up we were on a mixture of old pavement and short sections of ground up roadway, which made for a bumpy ride. However for newbies like us it was good to get a taste of the ”classic” Cavedale knowing that it will soon be history. We won’t miss it! The pavers were parked on the sides of the road so we knew that this was a work in progress. When it’s done Cavedale will be as smooth as glass.

Summit of Cavedale looms

This section of the Mayacamas was burned severely by the Nuns fire in 2017 and it shows: the upper portion of Cavedale is completely exposed having lost any tree cover it once had. Houses that miraculously had survived (or perhaps had been rebuilt subsequently) stood imperiously atop the range no longer concealed by any foliage whatsoever. Burnt trees still stood stick-like against the horizon.

At the top we had to descend carefully in order to avoid the most egregious pavement disorders until we hit Trinity. The fire station at the intersection had water but it was terrible, probably well water, with a sharp metallic tinge. There we began the descent down Trinity towards Napa. The road was in good condition although being unfamiliar with it I rode it carefully never knowing if I’d drop into a pothole since we were now deep in tree cover. Like Cavedale Trinity is steep with sections of about 11 or 12 percent. (It would make an challenging climb and then a fantastic descent down Cavedale once the paving is done.) Eventually Trinity becomes Dry Creek and passes the intersection with Mt. Veeder Road and it all becomes familiar.

After the long, always pleasant descent down Dry Creek we veered east into Napa to get lunch at Fumé. Although practically empty when we arrived, by the time we left it was full of diners enjoying a delicious brunch. For the record the huevos rancheros and the quiche were both excellent. Darrell had a ricotta pancake and Stephanie the butternut squash soup. I’d come back again!

With almost all the climbing now over it was mainly a flat and rolling run back to Sonoma. We headed back to Dry Creek and then by Redwood and Old Sonoma Road to the Carneros viticultural area south of Highway 12. This area south of the highway used to be grazing land. No more: it’s covered with young vineyards, and the few tracts of ranchland are hemmed in by them and probably soon to be converted. The grape leaves were all turning bright red, yellow, and orange making for colorful hillsides. A quick run back into Sonoma and we were done, all 47 miles.

Cave decorated for Halloween

Footnote: I found out that Cavedale was scheduled to be repaved “by the end of October”. Apparently it is behind schedule but they are about two-thirds of the way up to the summit. The revised schedule now shows that repaving is supposed to be completed by November 10. The paving is for the entire length of Cavedale including from the summit down to Trinity. In addition the upper section of Trinity is also being repaved. When it’s completed, it will be time to revisit this route!

Ride Recap: Fall Social

This year’s Fall Social was back at Phil Bokovoy’s house in a slightly slimmed down version. Somehow the intoxicating allure of grilled turkey enticed just twelve Spokers over to the East Bay despite the weather being near-perfect for a jaunt around the Three Bears and an afternoon spent idly in Phil’s backyard noshing homemade goodies. Due to lack of interest the Rosie the Riveter ride was cancelled. Where were all you Short & Sassy followers? Ah, you were all riding your indoor trainers while watching the 49ers game! Nine of us led by Roger Sayre rode al fresco over the Berkeley hills and into Contra Costa. When you live in wall-to-wall asphalt cities like San Francisco or Berkeley there’s nothing better than to head over to Contra Costa for some inspiring open space. The route of the Three Bears is still protected—for now—from development by copious EBMUD watershed, East Bay Regional parks, and a few ranches and farms. Although it was chilly at the start, traipsing over hill after hill had everyone warmed up quickly. Slathered in sunlight we warmed up in a trice. Other than Roger suffering a flat the ride was uneventful.

Back at Phil’s we had a first: no one brought any chips! Some variety of chips is the common potluck fare at the Different Spokes events but not this year. Jeff brought a delicious homemade shrimp salad instead. Roger S. thought stuffing was the perfect accompaniment to turkey and Tony knew that carbs, fat, cheese, and lots of salt were in order so he made scalloped potatoes. We had a wide assortment of desserts including Roger H’s homemade apple pie with two kinds of apples, poppyseed cake, german chocolate cookies—yum!—and other cookies and sweets I didn’t partake of because I was stuffed. Although he didn’t ride, the Den Daddy made a surprise appearance and broke bread with us all.

Next stop: the Holiday Party!

Fabulous Forty Festivity

First club president and founder Bob Krumm welcomes his acolytes!

I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren
—Dylan Thomas

You’re likely aware that for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the club, we set aside the weekend of September 17 and 18 for a special ride and an anniversary bash at il Casaro restaurant in the Castro.

The 40th anniversary bash on Sunday September 18 was special and memorable for so many reasons. First, we had several “old farts” from the very earliest days of the club grace us with their attendance, in particular the two surviving founders Bob Krumm and Dave Freling. Although Dave continues to live in the Bay Area, Bob along with his husband came all the way from New Jersey to honor us with his presence and to recount in detail how the club formed. Only three years after helping found the club he relocated to New York and has remained on the East Coast ever since. Of course there were many old farts who couldn’t make it because of scheduling conflicts or just living too far away (Germany!), and some we couldn’t find despite the Internet’s sleuthing tools. And there were a few who just weren’t interested. Second, courtesy of Supervisor Rafael Mandelman the City of San Francisco issued a Certificate of Honor and he came to present it to us despite his busy schedule. In addition the San Francisco AIDS Foundation also took the opportunity to send two representatives to present a congratulatory letter for assisting it in raising funds against AIDS over the entire history of the club. Third, the gathered crowd was able to enjoy a recently uncovered long lost video of the 1988 AIDS Bike-A-Thon featuring a throng of Spokers some of whom were present at the anniversary dinner!

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman presents letter from SF honoring the club

The evening was overshadowed by the prospect of the first serious rain of the season, something nearly inconceivable. A warning was sent out to all registered participants that we may have to move the event indoors and that may have accounted for a number of no-shows. We waited until 3:30 PM to make the final call and decided that holding the dinner outside and then being rained on was worse than just dining indoors, perhaps unnecessarily. Although it wasn’t the end of days, moving the dinner meant we also had to rearrange our plans for the program as well as shoehorn a movie screen and projector into the tightly packed restaurant. By 4 PM there was still no rain, so celebrants were able to enjoy the back patio for some heavy-duty catching up, which for some meant decades! Unfortunately the rain did come and we scurried inside.

Il Casaro was very accommodating and offered us the entire restaurant, allowing us to decorate the inside with club jerseys and t-shirts from the beginning of the club to today. The fare they prepared for us was delicious and copious—various pizzas, pasta, antipasti, salads, and desserts. In fact there was so much leftover when the event was over that the staff kindly prepared doggie bags for everyone.

After dining the program began, the highlight being Bob Krumm’s detailed recollection of how the club came to be in 1982 as an indirect consequence of the Gay Olympics, how the four principal founders met, and how they planned and organized throughout the year before formally opening in November 1982. Bob acknowledged the contribution of many “old farts” throughout his presentation several of whom attended that evening. Although Bob had been interviewed about the founding before he moved to the East Coast in 1985, it was published in the old ChainLetter in an abbreviated form and included some errors. During the program he gave us the “unexpurgated” version! If you weren’t able to attend the event and hear Bob’s presentation, you will be able to read it here on the ChainLetter blog shortly. Stay tuned!

A few tears were shed at the recollections that evening as well as during the Bike-A-Thon video. Nonetheless the overall mood was festive and animated. Although riding together generates its own kind of camaraderie, spending time together off the bike sharing tales, tribulations, and perhaps tawdry gossip creates another. Thanking the gathered “old farts” for a job well done in creating our favorite cycling club and thanking all the leadership over the years for a job well done was the least we could do. Onward to the next forty years!

Ride Recap: Forty & Fab 25-Mile AIDS Bike-A-Thon

Everyone can see we’re together/ As we walk on by/ (And) and we fly just like birds of a feather/ I won’t tell no lie –Bernard Edwards

You’re likely aware that for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the club, we set aside the weekend of September 17 and 18 for a special ride and an anniversary bash at il Casaro restaurant in the Castro.

Although this year we are hosting a Forty & Fab ride every month, September’s was memorable because it was a resurrection of a long-vanished ride, the 25-Mile AIDS Bike-A-Thon route. The first AIDS Bike-A-Thon in 1985 consisted of just one route: San Francisco to Guerneville in one long shot, over 100 miles. When the club decided to do a second Bike-A-Thon for 1986, the organizers knew that the event had to be expanded in order to raise more money since a one-hundred mile route was appealing only to the hardcore. So a second route of 25 miles was added and the hundred mile route became a loop from SF and back. In later iterations a 60-mile route was added to generate even more riders. Of course the 25-mile route was the most popular because even a casual cyclist could survive that if it were flat enough. And it was, being a loop up to the Presidio from the Castro, and then down around Lake Merced and back to the Castro, about as flat a ride in SF as possible while avoiding the car-crowded main streets. The only significant hills were the short, two-block grunt up Arguello to the Presidio and the short hill up to the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

All the Bike-A-Thon routes were marked with spray painted BAT icons. They lasted for many a year but eventually they all faded away or vanished under new asphalt. Did anyone keep a map of that route? Apparently not, so I had to recall as best I could where the route went. That became the route for the day, a “faux” Bike-A-Thon.

I thought that maybe ten, at most fifteen people would show up. Instead there were over 30, which is highly unusual for a club ride. Donald C. and David Gaus volunteered to help with guiding the cyclists along the route and thank god they did because it was a ride dwarfed only by our annual Pride Ride.

We met at the old Bike-A-Thon “recruitment center”, Hibernia Beach a.k.a. the Bank of America in the Castro. Almost no one knew why I referred to it as “Hibernia Beach”. I feel so old. Sigh. We were a large crowd in brightly colored spandex and polyester. No passersby even deigned a glance at us this being the Castro. After the obligatory ride orientation I gave a little history lesson and off we went. Even though it was windy the sun was bright and thus we had the weather on our side. Of course within seconds we scattered into a long line, with folks at the back getting delayed by one traffic signal after another. We had several regrouping points including the old standard start of many DSSF rides, McLaren Lodge, before Peet’s in the Castro became our regular JR start.

Although these days we get to Golden Gate Park via the Panhandle bike lane, back in the day that didn’t exist. So after the Wiggle we always went up to Page Street before turning west. Page is quiet and furthermore the Freewheel Bicycle Shop, which was owned by Jerry Walker, a club member and former president (or was it vice president? I can’t recall), is on the route. Jerry eventually died of AIDS in the early 90s like so many other members. Up at the Palace we regathered for a group shot and twittered together like the little birds-of-a-feather that we were.

I had routed us down the Great Highway even though I knew this wasn’t the original route. Nowadays the Great Highway is closed to cars and makes a safe cycling route to Lake Merced. But back in the day it was used heavily by cars to head south since it had no stops signs and only one light. We did a clockwise loop around Lake Merced, which is what I recollect, but in fact we may have done it counterclockwise originally. While designing the route I couldn’t recall exactly how we returned. But on the ride when I got to Sloat/Ocean it suddenly came back to me: we crossed Lake Merced Blvd. and headed directly north on Lakeshore. Too late now!

We were all scattered like leaves in the wind and since I was patroling the back end of the group I had no idea where everyone else was but assumed that they were fine and having a grand time. This was after all a social ride rather than a hammerfest.

I rushed back through Golden Gate Park and the Wiggle to Hibernia Beach; there were still a few participants hanging out and chatting. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to many riders being preoccupied by “leading” the ride. My old riding buddy and “old fart” Spoker Dr. Bob Bolan was still there as well as old fart Don Lapin, so I was able to catch up a bit with them before everyone drifted away. I waited for the rest of the group to arrive and they never did, having slipped off before the end to head back to their homes or their cars. So the ride just fizzled out kind of like the way Bike-A-Thon did! Despite the nondescript end I sensed that people had a palpably fun time even if they didn’t know the full history of the AIDS Bike-A-Thon. It’s good to keep the memory of that club accomplishment alive. It was an incredible ten-year effort by so many members and in the end generated $2.3 million dollars of funds for various Bay Area AIDS organizations. Some traditions are worth preserving.