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 by: Bill Oetinger  4/1/2024

April = Wildflowers

Sooner or later, almost every year, right around now, I will fall back on one of my favorite old topics: Springtime! Kissing Winter goodbye and rejoicing in the changing seasons and the improving weather…the temps going up and the rainfall not coming down and all that implies for our cycling lives. I might jump on it as early as February, if it’s one of those too-soon false summits of weather wonderfulness we get some years. Or perhaps as late as May, if other topics have kept me occupied until then. But I rarely let a year go by without beating this drum. I just can’t help myself. It’s my favorite time of the year.

Sonoma COne of the things I like best about the season is the arrival of the wildflowers, waking up from their long winter’s nap, popping their pretty heads up and populating the meadows and hillsides with their colorful confetti. I haven’t heard any supposedly smart people talking about this on the news yet, but I have to think this is going to be a great year for the blossoms…perhaps a superbloom. We’re into it already and it’s only going to get better for the next couple of months. In our neck of the woods—the North Bay—March, April, and May are prime time for wildflowers…especially April.

I saw my first California poppies of the year on March 16, out along Marsh Road, south of Valley Ford, during the annual Apple Cider Century. Someone this year suggested a “cider” ride should be in the fall, and I guess I’d have to agree. (I created this ride 31 years ago and named it in honor of the gravenstein orchards that used to surround Sebastopol, where the ride starts and finishes.) But the name Apple Blossom was already taken for the town’s annual festival, held in April, celebrating the orchards and the agricultural industry that prompted boosters, back in the day, to dub the region The Gravenstein Capitol of the World. Most of those orchards are gone now, replaced by pinot noir vineyards, and we just learned the last of the apple-processing plants is moving out of the area. There just aren’t enough apples being grown here anymore to support the plant. When I was first riding here, in the early ’80s, the blooming of the apples in April was one of the highlights of the year…pink-and-white popcorn covering every tree, almost anywhere you looked.

But I digress…

I saw my first blue sky lupine on March 21—the Vernal Equinox—along Westside Road. That ride, a humble little Thursday jaunt up to Healdsburg and back, was so staggeringly gorgeous, with the yellow mustard and oxalis in the vineyards, the lupine putting in their first appearance, purple owl’s clover, and those little orange and white mini-daisies whose names I never manage to remember…not to mention the grasses as green as Ireland. It felt like riding in a dream, or perhaps in a movie where the cinematographer has put some clever filters on the cameras to make everything super intense…lucid, luminous, numinous…


One of the best North Bay locales for wildflowers in April is Pope Valley and Pope Canyon, out on the far side, the quiet side, of Napa County. It isn’t always a knock-your-socks-off spectacular, every April, but even in a weak year, it will still be a good show. And when it’s really cranking, it is sensational. Make plans to do a ride out that way this month.

ChicoAnd speaking of making plans for April, have you ever done the Chico Velo Wildflower Century (April 27)? It’s a great ride, and it deserves its “wildflower” name. In a good year, the blooms along Cherokee Road on Table Mountain are amazing…worth whatever effort it takes to get up there. Chico is a fun town on the weekend of the Wildflower. Cyclists everywhere, cruising the streets, in the many excellent restaurants, and hangin’ out at the ice cream parlor after dinner.

But you won’t have to hop in your car and drive to Chico or even to Napa to revel in the wildflowers this month. They’ll be out there along every country road, anywhere you look, from Chileno Valley to Knights Valley; from San Geronimo Valley to Alhambra Valley. You do have to look though. Don’t be so focused on your cyclometer or your powertap or whatever that you forget to notice the great show Mother Nature is putting on all around you. You only get so many springtimes in this life; don’t let this one slide by unnoticed.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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