November 2013


These were all taken at or near my place last weekend. The weather last weekend was quite nice in comparison to today – a week later. It was like 80+ last weekend and this weekend 40 degrees and raining. What a switch.

These were all taken with a 45mm macro lens on an Olympus OM-D EM-1. Not that tells you a lot if you’d just rather look at the photos.

PB170005

fall-butterfly

anole lizard

This one of some leaves was actually taken just yesterday. It’s surprisingly bright considering there was little to no sun out yesterday. It was a cloudy and cold (high 30’s) day. Fall color this year seems to be pretty muted and you have to go looking for it.

fall color 2013

Day 6 of the bike tour was the last day and as such it was going to be relatively short. We needed to finish by late morning in time for a farewell lunch at noon and a shuttle at 1pm.

I opted for the 27 mile loop that took in the Oakville Grade. Figured might as well get in a workout that morning. Only a few of us took that option. Some shuttled in the van to the top of Oakville Grade and rode the rest. A couple opted to just take in the spa at the hotel. But the weather was once again great so why not get one more good ride in. As you can see from the elevation profile, the Oakville Grade is something of a wall to climb up. Temps were in the 40’s that morning but as you might imagine climbing that grade worked up a bit of a sweat. Click thru the image for all the Garmin info.

The rest of the route was easy and pleasant – except for the section on the Silverado Trail. Plenty of shoulder on the side of the road to ride in but just lots of traffic. And of course after a week of riding and only a few miles left to go, I managed to get a flat tire. After fixing that, only a few miles left to go.

Below you’ll see a birds eye view of all the routes of the bike tour. We covered a pretty good chunk of the area. I’d really like to go back again some time and do some of these roads again and maybe take in some others we never got to.

The Sonoma coastal area offers the quieter roads I would say. It’s hard to get too far in the Napa area without encountering quite a bit of traffic. But the roads in Napa County are better maintained.

This was an excellent tour for guys like me that wanted lots of options to choose from. You could ride longer or more challenging routes if you wanted or just do a short one and van the rest of the way if that’s what you wanted. The overnight stays were great, the food was great and the tour leads were helpful. I rarely actually rode with any of them though.

I think Backroads does this tour very frequently through the summer. And during the peak, I think they’re over lapping tours. The inns and wineries must love the bookings/visits. None of the places we stopped though seemed like they were tired of what must be a constant stream of cyclists throughout the year. Especially the wineries that were on the agenda. In fact, they seemed to go out of their way to cater to us.

Now to figure out what the next bike tour might be…

Day 5 of the bike tour was the best of both worlds. At the start, coming out of Yountville there was very little chance of avoiding the Silverado Trail to get to, first, the Sage Canyon Road and then subsequently the Chiles Pope Valley Rd. There were choices this morning and once again I opted for what I hoped would be the most scenic and least traveled roads.

You can see the route I took here. As with other mornings this week, it started chilly and overcast. Yount Mill Rd was a beautiful start to things though.

The St Helena Hwy was a different story though. Lots of traffic. Thankfully, a nice wide shoulder. Same could be said of the Silverado Trail. Lots of traffic. The shoulder is identified as a bike lane though so that’s at least helpful but the heavy truck and car traffic whizzes by pretty fast.

The turn off onto Sage Canyon Rd then up to Lake Hennessey is a welcome change of pace. I was chilled to the bone that morning (temps in the 40’s) but things seemed to start to climb a bit after the turn so that helped me warm up.

That 5th day, the only person that wanted to take the option with me was Mark. We had a good time riding this section of road. Very scenic and enjoyable. The reason it wasn’t so popular with our fellow riders was it was going to entail climbing over Ink Grade Rd. That was indeed a long climb, but the grade was better than some others we had done and it was up a quiet country road with little traffic so it was fine. Weather was ideal by that point because not only had it warmed up a bit by that point we were working up a sweat.

After we crested the climb, it was a fantastic curvy descent down into St Helena. Along the way, we stopped and I took the above photo of the valley. Too bad I couldn’t manage to get the camera out in time to take photos of the deer that were up ahead of us at one point and ran up the hill.

St Helena was bustling. Lots of traffic in town but at least it was moving slowly. It was pretty clear from the morning ‘route wrap’ that the tour van and therefore the primary meet-up point would be Gott’s. It’s a roadside burger joint that seems to be really popular. Not that they just have burgers. In this case, I got the California grilled chicken burger – and fries of course. I think this must be one of the original Gott’s. It seems to now be a chain. In fact, I went to the one at the Ferry building in San Franciso and took this photo from there.

I could have easily finished the ride back to Yountville at this point but given it was all along the St Helena Hwy, its only promise was going to be heavy traffic so I bagged it after my lunch and just grabbed the van back to the Villagio in Yountville.

The weather had turned nice in the afternoon after such a chilly start to the day. I grabbed the following photo just outside the Villagio in Yountville after a nice visit to the spa’s hot tub.

By day 4 we’d become pretty accustomed to chilly and foggy mornings. This morning was no exception. The fog was very thick. Again, I was really happy to have brought along so many layering options – and a flashing red tail light. We typically left by 8:30 and that was the plan this morning too so the fog and early morning light left it fairly dark out. Here’s the route for the day.

Breakfast at the Madrona Manor was buffet style and very European in style. Lots of cut meats and cheeses. There was also a varient of Chilaquiles that I’d have to say I wasn’t a big fan of. Regardless, there was plenty of tasty stuff to fuel the day.

Despite the fog, which was going to burn off pretty quickly, the ride up West Dry Creek Rd from Healdsburg area was a really pleasant ride. Highly recommended.

At the point we crossed Hwy 101, things got less interesting to look at until we got past Geyserville. That was a nice section of road as well but more highly trafficked than the early morning. Lots and lots of pleasant vineyards to look at along this section. And in fact a winery along that route, Robert Young Estate Winery, was our lunch stop for the day.

It was a pretty long lunch stop. The weather was fantastic and had warmed up by that point. We never really got into the tasting room. We were greeted with early tastings of wine and also fresh pressed Cabernet. See the picture above. It didn’t taste exactly like grape juice you might buy at the grocery store but it was definitely fresh juice but tasted nothing like the wine it will eventually become.

Backroads put on the usual spread for lunch – wow. While we munched on that there were tastings of multiple Chardonnay’s, Merlot and Cabernet. All really excellent.

With all the food and wine, there was a fair amount of lingering at lunch before getting back on the bike. I opted to take the Franz Valley Road option that day. Much less traffic than Hwy 128 and much more scenic. Also much hillier! If you check out the elevation profile of the route you’ll find a big climb in there. From the top of hill on that route it changed from Sonoma to Napa county and was a pleasant descent into Calistoga. Napa county maintains their roads better than Sonoma and there was a stark difference between the lumpy pot-holed climb and the smooth descent. Locals apparently lament the disparity.

I landed in Calistoga to find the van just about to shuttle some people into Yountville and I’d been told the rest of the day’s route was more highly trafficked highway (with a shoulder) but that didn’t sound all that appealing. I’d already done 50 miles so why not just go enjoy the hot tub at the Villagio in Yountville? That’s exactly what I did.

It became readily apparent after day 2 that bike fit was going to be an issue. I thought I had placed things reasonably well when I took off that first day but it’s really better to actually measure things and I wish I had. With the climbing on the 2nd day and a seat that was positioned too low, the back of my right knee took on more than it usually does. Consequently, it was pretty well torqued by the 3rd morning. The damp, foggy and cold morning only exacerbated things. So despite being an otherwise awe inspiring ride up Hwy 1 to start the morning, it was also a painful one. I took some pain reliever after a bit and it helped some. I also raised the seat – again. And it was something I did a few more times before finally arriving at a point that felt like it was right.

Our start that morning was back up Hwy 1 till we got to the turnoff toward Guerneville. There were only a few of us that chose that option and only two of us rode together along Hwy 1 until we got to Duncan Mills. (The other had left earlier to take in the Cazadero hwy route.) Here’s the whole route for the day.

The fog broke enough along the way to snag this pic of the coast though. And maybe because it was mid week, the traffic along hwy 1 was pretty light that morning. It turned out to be a really nice morning ride.

By the time we rounded the turn and made our way to Guerneville, the weather had improved dramatically. Another sunny day at hand. It certainly hadn’t warmed up much though.

We veered off to detour into Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve. It’s a beautiful park of old redwoods. We lunched there before heading on. In the shade of the trees it was downright chilly. Was glad to get back on the bike and into the sun.

On this day I took the Green Valley Road option and like other options, it was a scenic route with very little traffic. Eventually it joined up with the route most everyone else was taking and that was up the Westside Road. I’ve been up that road before tasting wines back in 2010 so it was familiar looking territory. Taking the option put me behind the others so when I arrived at Arista Winery to taste some wine most everyone else was just leaving.

Arista had some great Pinot Noir and was a nice spot to just park for a bit. Nice views there. Warm temps. Later, I rode on with Maureen, the ‘sweeper’ lead for the day.

From that point to our stay at Madrona Manor, it was a relatively short ride.

All in, a 57 mile day. We enjoyed a wine tasting and dinner at the restaurant at the Madrona Manor that night. We never did get into Healdsburg. (I went back on the weekend after the tour to see a bit of Healdsburg though.) This old house was very cool but considering we were so close to Halloween more than a few of us thought the house was just a little creepy looking. And yet, I slept fine that night after all those miles and a belly full of good food and wine.