Biking Northern California -- Wine Country and Coast

Day 3 -- Healdsburg Loop

We don't ordinarily like to do loop rides. It's just a psychological thing; like you're not getting any place. However, in this section of the country the interesting parts are concentrated in a region of perhaps 50 miles by 50 miles and there aren't that many roads, so it's very hard to plot out a straight line route of several hundred miles, as is our usual trip. So Tony at LifeCycle Adventures had given us two occasions where would stay in the same town while biking a nearby loop. This was to be one of those in-place days. I looked at it as a day off -- no panniers to pack and carry, our choice of several optional rides, and no pressure to get to some destination before dark.

In the morning I opened the shade in our apartment to a gloomy, almost foggy day. It looked cold, and I was in no hurry to bike. We debated about breakfast. In spite of our understanding that all breakfasts had been included in our price, the manager at the Inn had told us that since we were in the apartment annex, we weren't entitled to breakfast at the Inn. We did have a kitchen in our apartment, and some previous occupant had left a box of raisin bran. On the other hand, we could walk the block to the main street and have a sit-down breakfast at a nice-looking French cafe.

The French cafe won. It was a good thing we weren't in a hurry, because the service was slow, though the food was good. Afterwards we walked in the town. It was turning sunny and this was a most pleasant Saturday morning. People were walking dogs and pushing baby carriages. There was a special air in the town of wealthy people enjoying their day off after a tough week of making a lot of money selling stocks or something like that. We stopped at an upscale toy store where Len bought a little gift for his granddaughter.

Next we stopped at the Camellia Inn, where we were ostensibly based, and asked if we could please have some toilet paper for our apartment. The manager obliged and offered to make dinner reservations for us, which she said were very hard to obtain on a Saturday night. We gratefully accepted her invitation and continued on our way with the toilet paper in a concealing bag.

The Camellia Inn, Healdsburg

A couple of blocks away was a local bike store. Len wanted to see if he could his heart monitor/watch fixed. On the previous evening it had frozen and had refused to respond to any sort of button pushes. I told Len that seemed pretty scary when your heart monitor froze. Being advanced techies, we figured that all that was required was to reboot the thing by taking the battery out and reinserting it. That sounded simple enough, but our attempts to remove the battery had been fruitless. The people at the bike store -- which was an excellent one, by the way -- had no better luck.

The main street in Healdsburg

Back at the apartment Len used the computer to surf the net for instructions on removing the battery from his monitor. He found the instructions, which said that only an authorized service person should open the monitor. While he was doing that, I was trying to patch our two flat inner tubes. We were regretting our offhand decision to take only two spare tubes, having had two flats on our very first ride. In fact, the repairman at the bike store had shown us a jar full of thorns that he said he had collected from flats. He had said that the roads were full of these things.

I was able easily to patch one of the tubes -- the one with a presta valve -- but the patch failed on the other one, which had a Schroeder valve. More aggravating was the fact that I couldn't get the air out of that tube to fold it up for carrying. It seemed to be full of some gunk that presumably was supposed to prevent flats, but had failed miserably on the nail. I had to carry the stupid thing the rest of the trip half-inflated and using up a good portion of one of my panniers.

Finally we were ready to hit the road. We had chosen to ride a relatively short and mostly flat loop of about 21 miles to the north and west of the town through vineyard country. It was fast getting very hot, and I was struck again by how brilliant the sun was here and how stark the contrast was between the sunny portions and the deeply shaded portions of the road.

We started by biking north along the main highway on which we had come into town, then turning west to join Dry Creek Road and going north from there. The guide book recommended a particular (well, the only one actually) general store as a good place to get lunch. Len, as usual was considerably in front of me, and he was out of sight when I got to a fork in the road. Looking at the map on my handlebars, I figured that I had to take the right fork to get to the general store, which seemed to be somewhat off the road we had been biking. But I wasn't sure about this, and I stopped in somewhat of a quandary.

In other trips in Europe we had sometimes had difficulty in getting separated, and in fact had spent an entire day along the Danube in Austria where we couldn't find each other at all. One of the great advantages of biking in California, or so we thought, was that we both would have cell phones. It would be impossible to get separated for long. So I pulled out my cell phone and called Len. No answer. I tried again several times and on one occasion got a "Hello," before the connection was lost. After multiple tries I finally got a connection long enough for Len to tell me that I shouldn't go off the road we had been following at all. We didn't know it at the time, but this was the beginning of cell phone purgatory. For probably 80% of the rest of our trip we were out of cell phone coverage. Here we had had the comforting thought that we could call LifeCycle Adventures in case of any road emergency, but little did we realize that our cell phones wouldn't work.

This didn't look right to me, but I returned to the fork and continued on the road for a mile or so. And there was the general store. It was at the top of a moderate hill and I was sweating in the sudden heat. Inside the store Len was in a long line to get sandwiches. I explained to Len that the map was wrong, since it showed the general store on a different road. But no, I was totally screwed up, thinking I had come in on some other road. I'm not usually directionally-challenged, but this was the second straight day when I had been looking at a map completely wrong.

We took our sandwiches with us a few miles up the road until we found a good place to pull off for a picnic lunch at the entrance road to a vineyard. During the half hour or so while we enjoyed our sandwiches only one car came up the road to the vineyard, and that looked like some sort of service vehicle. For a nice Saturday afternoon, this vineyard apparently wasn't doing a lot of business. Lots of competition, though.

The biking was fairly easy for the next five miles or so. The guidebook said it was "rolling" terrain, but that covers a lot of different conditions, and I don't trust the description, but this time it seemed accurate. Now we reached a turnoff, where to continue biking up to Sonoma Lake was described as being very steep, and the return trip would have to be on the same road. I wasn't up to it, and told Len to go ahead if he wished, while I would wait for him back here at the turn.

I sat by the side of the road in a small patch of shade for about 45 minutes. There was a vineyard across the street, and I watched bikers come and go.

I sit by the road with a vineyard across the street

A group of bikers was gathering here as I watched. At first there were about 3 bikers, but others kept coming up belatedly. The last to arrive, of about 15, were almost a half hour behind the faster bikers. Finally it seemed that they had everybody, and they were off. The laggards seemed to get immediately behind even as they started out. I knew the feeling.

A little later a threesome stopped briefly. There was a young couple and an older woman, perhaps the mother of the younger woman. The younger woman came over to me. "Are you with LifeCycle Adventures?" she asked. She obviously knew this from the irridescent triangle on the back fender of my bike that had been supplied by that firm.

When I confirmed that I was with LifeCycle Adventures, she said that I should say hello to Tony from "Cookie from Oklahoma." She said that Tony had arranged a previous trip for them, and they had had a great time. Now here they were back for another trip, but apparently now on their own.

Len called me and said that he had reached Sonoma Lake, and was now starting back. He asked how long it had been, and when I said he had been gone about 45 minutes, he promised that he would be back in about 15 minutes, since it was all down hill. In fact, he showed up in a little less than that 15 minutes.

I told Len about Cookie from Oklahoma and we both were somewhat puzzled. This was great biking country, but why come back for a second time from Oklahoma when there was a whole world to explore?

We were now riding south on a road that paralleled the road, Dry Creek Road, on which we had ridden north. The heat of the afternoon was fast dissipating, and variegated shadows were cast across the road by trees that lined the road. At one point there was a particularly beautiful stand of cypress trees.

Fall Colors and Beautiful Cypress Trees

A little ways down the road from here we decided to stop at a vineyard for a wine tasting.

Quivyra Vineyard

There was a private party outside, but inside was open for wine tasting. Here it cost $5 to sample their featured wines, but that morning the woman at our inn had given us a ticket that she said was good at many vineyards. We gave it a try, and the woman at the counter accepted our free ticket graciously and said nice things about the Camellia Inn.

We got the usual spiels about the several wines we tried. They tasted fine to me, but then they always do. I think I'm tone deaf on wine tastes. Or maybe all these people with the wine talk are faking it. Probably not.

The rest of the ride back to Healdsburg featured great fall colors.

Pretty fall colors along the way

Len and I were a little surprised to cross an entrance for route 101 a few blocks before we got back to the main street in Healdsburg. This is the main highway to San Francisco, and its proximity to Healdsburg helped explain the affluence of the town. It would only be an hour's drive from San Francisco, and a great place to get away for a weekend.

Back in Healdsburg we headed straight for the Camellia Inn, where we assumed there would be another wine tasting like the day before. We got there about 5:00pm and the woman manager told us that the wine tasting didn't begin before 5:30pm, but that she would put some wine out for us right away. She also added that they had been very lucky on our behalf at getting a dinner reservation at a fine restaurant, Bistro Ralph.

Len and I sat at the table in the Inn and sampled some wine and crackers.

Sampling wine at the Camellia Inn at the end of the ride

As we got up to leave, both Len and I suddenly felt saddle sores on our behinds. This had never really happened to me before, and it hurt rather bad. Later we concluded that sitting on hard chairs immediately after biking while still being sweaty was a bad idea. Fortunately, a hot shower helped a lot, and the rest of the trip was fine in that regard.

I checked Google maps to find where Bistro Ralph was located. It was right on the corner of the main street one block from our apartment. Impossible to miss. However, there seeemed to be no restaurant on that corner. Somewhat baffled, we asked three different passers-by where the Bistro Ralph restaurant was. Each of them said that they didn't live here and had no idea where it was. This seemed to be a town composed entirely of visitors.

We dropped into a store on that corner and waited patiently while a customer was tasting wine and getting the usual lecture. I suppose that all the visitors here were spending full time doing wine tasting and engaging in wine-speak. Finally, the woman at the counter told us that the restaurant was indeed right on this corner across the street. So we tried again, and this time we found Bistro Ralph slightly off the corner down the street and apparently unmarked. Maybe it was good enough that they didn't have to worry about people knowing it was there.

We did have an excellent meal at Bistro Ralph. Afterwards we visited an ice cream store to get cones for desert, and had an early bedtime.

Proceed to Day 4 of the California Trip

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