The Biking Lifeby: Naomi Bloom 8/1/2009
Rollin' on the River
Every summer one of my local clubs, Almaden Cycle Touring Club, hosts a campout on the Russian River. It's a chance to ride some of the stellar roads in BikeCal's (original) home territory of western Sonoma County. I love this part of Northern California for cycling, but sadly, it had been at least 13 years since I'd participated in the Russian River Rally. And a long eight to nine years had passed since I'd done Santa Rosa Cycling Club's Wine Country Century in some of the same territory.
High time to correct that missing link in my California cycling repertoire, I decided. So I signed up for "RRR" 2009, which took place in mid-July at Casini Ranch near Duncans Mills.
I'd forgotten a lot of other things about riding along the Russian River. For instance, I didn't remember how truly beautiful most of the countryside is thereabouts. I didn't remember all those small country roads reminiscent of European bike routes, especially the ones I've ambled along while touring in southern France. What a delightful re-discovery!
Nor did I remember the blessed shade on those country lanes, especially on Moscow Road and parts of Bohemian Highway, just the ticket for pedaling on a hot day. And we needed it, because the weather the weekend of July 17-19 was just about the hottest you can imagine. Yeah, the perpetual morning fog rolled in early every day, but as soon as it burned off the mercury soared into the 90s. I'd forgotten how hot it can get "up there," even so close to the coast.
I'd also forgotten how steep the grades are on Bohemian Highway, all the way to Occidental! Come to think of it, I do seem to remember that those windy, rolling little roads were in much better condition a decade ago. Talk about your budget deficit! Potholes, cracks, bumps and grinds kept my teeth rattling and my keister bruising.
Good thing the ride I chose to do on Saturday led to a couple of excellent local wineries, providing not just a butt break but also a refreshing taste of the local grape.
And no, I didn't remember so many wineries and vineyards dotting the landscape back in the day. Now there are new enological discoveries to be made at nearly every turn. Our "top-secret" route -- courtesy of Steve Sloan -- took us from Occidental through Graton, and on to River Road through Guerneville. We stopped and tasted, then treated ourselves to lunch at the Korbel Winery deli -- great food at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Rally rides and revelry
One of the best things about the RRR this year was the freewheeling camaraderie of our fellow ACTCers. Most of them drove up Friday to set up their tents and enjoy a great camp-cooked dinner courtesy of the club. A select few took the train to San Francisco, then rode across the Golden Gate bridge and on to Duncans Mills. And the truly dedicated long-distance enthusiasts rode all the way from San Jose in fell swoop.
Most of these bagged rides back home with friends, like Joan and Donny, whom we spotted on the road as we drove to camp. But Russ and Sheila not only pedaled all the way from San Jose, they also rode all the way back home on Sunday. They did claim to be "a bit tired after a 300+ mile weekend, but definitely ready to do it again next year!" At the Rally itself, they logged "39 miles, 547 feet of climbing, six hours total, ~3 hours rolling. One bakery stop, one picnic in the redwoods, one ice- cream stop, and four berry-picking breaks." Now that is what the RRR is all about.
That and the huge variety of routes available to cyclists of all abilities and desires. The club maintains a compendium of route sheets ranging from slow, short and flat to an OMG!-who-put-this- wall-here? near-century.
"Choo-Choo Cha Cha follows the flat road that was once the narrow-gauge railway from Duncans Mills to Monte Rio, billed as a perfect ride for youngsters because there's so little traffic.
"Heading to Healdsburg" rolls through most of Dry Creek Valley, some of the finest Sonoma wine country, for over 50 miles. An optional side trip of almost 21 miles crosses the Yoakim Bridge to the rest of Dry Creek, and more wineries.
"Fort Ross Fun Fest" tackles Fort Ross Road from the coast. "King's Ridge Roundabout" climbs Fort Ross Road from Cazadero, looping back to that tiny outpost via Seaview Road, Timber Cove Road, Hauser Bridge and King Ridge Road.
And of course, who could resist a "Coleman Valley Fun Fest"? Yours truly, for one. Like the Fort Ross ride above, it's listed as a Class 5 ACTC Billy Goat, with 1,591 feet of climbing over 10.2 miles. No thank you!
Five mountain bike rides were added in the early 90s, giving fat-tire fanatics an opportunity to explore Willow Creek, Old Cazadero Road, Armstrong Redwoods State Park or even the old Sonoma Quicksilver Mine.
All in all, 34 routes to choose from. Not to mention the ones we make up for ourselves.
In camp, the food and drink never stopped flowing. Pancakes for breakfast Saturday, choice of blueberry or peach, hot off the griddle. A gigantic potluck Saturday night. What to do with the leftover tri-tip from Friday night? Why, make breakfast burritos Sunday morning!
And let's not forget the s'mores over a real campfire. Oh, let's just call it carbo loading.
Each year a different club member steps up to plan and execute the RRR. This year Brian Chun took the reins, transporting all the club's equipment in his own van, cooking and cleaning in camp, and still finding time to get out on the road himself.
Thanks to Brian and his "handy helpers," I had a blast at this year's RRR. And my dog, Cindi, enjoyed the company of Wesley, Miles and Lou while Jim and I hit the winery tour road. What a crew!
Naomi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org