With spring weather comes great cycling in Texas. Two of my favorite organized bike tours are the LBJ 100 and the Easter Hill Country tour.

Finishing the LBJ 100

Both of the rides have come and gone at this point but I thought I’d jot a few notes and a couple photos.

LBJ 100 Ride

This will be my 5th LBJ ride if I’m counting right. The ride starts at the LBJ ranch. I’ve written before about the logistics of this ride and this year things were just as well organized. There was once again a bit of speechifying at the beginning but not much and we were soon on our way.

Price for registration was again $50 ($55 last min) though this year they didn’t even include the shirt for that. At least not at the packet pickup I did at REI. Thankfully there’s good support on this ride and good food/beer after but I’ll note once again it seems like an expensive ride despite the charity nature of it.

Ride attendance was very good. I don’t know the count but it seemed like a thousand people were at the start. Maybe it was only hundreds but sure seemed like a lot. You can see a photo here of the group at the start.

You can also see in that photo at the start that the weather was picture perfect. Temp was also great. I was cool enough to be wearing leggings and a long sleeve but that wouldn’t last long. It was going to warm up.

It didn’t take more than 5 miles from the start to also realize that wind was going to be a factor. Wind was stiff coming out of the southwest. That meant you were either going into it or had it as a cross wind for much of the ride. There was of course a few miles near the apex of the loop ride where you got a tail wind and that was fantastic. But the last 20 miles was into the wind. I counted ourselves lucky the temp was so good and it was otherwise a beautiful day.

The photo at the very top was at the end of the ride heading back into the LBJ ranch. The Live Oaks there on the drive in are beautiful and their shade covers the road.

Post ride there were tacos this year – and some tasty beer. Can’t recall what the beer was but it hit the spot as you can see by my goofy grin in the pic here. It was refreshing.

Easter Hill Country Tour

I’ve been doing the EHCT on and off since the 90’s. The bike tour has been around a long time. It’s still based out of Kerrville and for whatever reason, this year it seemed to have a bigger crowd than last year, at least judging by the number of cars in the parking lots. It’s otherwise hard to tell how many people are doing the ride because there is no mass start. There are 3 days of riding – though I generally do just the Fri and Sat rides – and people take off whenever they’re ready.

On both days I chose to alter our routes a bit from the published ones. The problem with cycling in the Kerrville area in my opinion is the roads have more traffic than the remote roads up around Fredericksburg. So the Friday ride in particular had a long stretch on the return leg of the loop ride on RR 783. Not my favorite. It’s heavily traveled. So instead, we got the same amount of mileage in by simply making the ride an out and back. By contrast, Zenner-Ahrens Rd is a quiet country road with loose livestock and lots of cattle guards. Almost no traffic – ‘cept bikes and cows.

On Saturday Peter and Bryan joined Tony and me for a longer 55 miler. It too was a hybrid route because I refuse to ride on Hwy 27 for anything but a short distance. Way too much traffic going 70+ mph. Instead, we took Wilson Creek. The photo of the three guys below was taken on Wilson Creek. Obviously you can see you don’t have to worry about traffic on that road. It’s a great road to bike.

The other photo is of me and Tony coming into the little town of Comfort. As you can see the weather was still cool enough we had plenty of gear on. And obviously Tony noticed that Bryan was taking the photo and I was oblivious. Or, I knew the rest stop was just ahead and was making a bee line for the snacks.

Wind was a factor on that Saturday ride. We slogged against it all morning to Comfort and then a good portion of the ride back from Comfort. Winds were out of the NE so it wasn’t until we were well past the apex of the ride and practically 10-15 miles out that we picked up some of the tailwind. That last section of the route from Comfort back to Kerrville is quite hilly though so the tail wind was only so valuable.

All in all, good rides both Fri and Sat. And we lucked out with no rain. Just some drizzle on Fri.

This one last photo of the wagon was taken on the drive back to Austin from Kerrville. Actually, on the road – Ranch Road 473 – between Comfort and Blanco.

Wagon in the Texas Bluebonnets

Following my brief Santa Barbara stopover on my recent visit to Calif I made my way to Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley. My intentions were to find back roads to cycle and interesting food and wine. I was not disappointed.

I think I only scratched the surface on cycling the back roads around the area. But a few of my favorites included Happy Canyon Rd east of Santa Ynez, Ballard Canyon Rd between Solvang and Los Olivos and Foxen Canyon Rd out of Los Olivos.

The photo of my bike leaning up against the tree here is on Happy Canyon Rd. This one I would definitely like to do again. I only rode part of it. There looks to be a long and interesting loop ride with some interesting climbing on that road. Plus it was just beautiful scenery. While the weather looks great in that photo, I could tell it was changing quickly, so I did an out and back ride and got back just before it rained (and sleeted).

The other photo at the end of this posting is on Ballard Canyon Rd. Wonderful vistas along that route. Where it ended in Los Olivos turned into Foxen Canyon Rd across the highway. Together they made for a great out and back route.

I’ve heard that the Santa Barbara area was good for both cycling and interesting wineries so with a very slight lull in the work schedule and very little planning in advance I thought I’d take Southwest Airlines up on their ‘wanna get away?’ slogan and take a little break from Austin.

I make a point to note Southwest Airlines because when I travel with my two bike cases that measure at the limit of what’s considered ‘checkable’ luggage they are one of the few airlines that include 2 checked bags with the fare. With fares about the same in any case, it’s been convenient in the past so I booked ’em for a direct flight to LAX.

As you can see in the photo at right. Santa Barbara also has some interesting people wandering about. This photo was captured at the weekly farmers market in the heart of Santa Barbara. I think it says something about the casual outdoors culture of the city.

My ultimate destination wasn’t actually Santa Barbara, but rather Solvang or more generally the Santa Ynez valley. But with a long flight plus a pretty good car drive up there I opt’ed to spend at least one afternoon and evening bumming around Santa Barbara.

I found a little motel (they call it an Inn but seems like a motel) just a block from the beach called the Harbor House Inn. TripAdvisor led me there – as it often does to the destinations I find – and it was a really great find. Nice room. Clean. Even a little kitchenette. It’s the sort of place you could spend more than the one night I was planning.

It was convenient to everything I was likely to find interesting for one day stay. And by convenient I mean it was easy to walk to beach, to the ‘funk zone’ (as they call it in Santa Barbara) nearby for restaurants and winery tasting rooms and even close to the main downtown State Street with all its shops and things – including that farmers market I mentioned.

It didn’t take me long to venture out and about and take in some of the pier, beach area and one of the tasting rooms. I’d done at least a little online browsing and had concluded I wanted to check out a place called The Lark for dinner. Pali wines was a block or so down and given that the Lark didn’t open till 5 (which was 7pm my time) I pulled in. They had a nice selection of wines and an inviting little space and while the wines were good I wasn’t up for lugging any around or signing up for delivery/club membership.

The Lark turned out to be a fantastic restaurant. I like finding a place like this one – especially when traveling solo – where you can find a spot at the bar and they serve the full dinner menu at the bar. The bar staff was really friendly and helpful. And seated like this inevitably you strike up a conversation with others at the bar. The couple next to me was from Dallas.

Food at The Lark was great. I started with their appetizer of fried brussel sprouts. Nice flavors. Who’d a thought brussel sprouts would ever become so popular? but, it’s a staple of this and many other places I’ve been in the last few years.

The main dish was really, really good. It was a braised lamb served with house made pappardelle. Can’t tell you at this point what all was in the sauce but there was also acorn squash in the mix and it worked really well. It was something really different and delicious.

Fast forward to the next morning… I was up early. That 2 hour timezone change always has me up with the birds when I visit the West coast. It was good though because it would be time I could reassemble my bike. That always takes at least an hour and more like two.

On my walk around town the evening before I’d noticed a nearby bike shop. A little online snooping suggested it was highly regarded so I planned to take the bike over there after assembling so I could get it checked out. It was a place called Hazard’s Cyclesport. Really nice bike shop and some friendly folks. They also let me change into bike gear in the shop dressing room. Handy. From there I took the bike out for a spin up and down the coast and around town a bit.

Santa Barbara Cycling

I didn’t spend too much time riding though. I still needed to make the trip up to Solvang. So I packed up and headed north.

I’m back-dating this posting because I realize I never posted anything about my stay in Annecy, France.

Annecy is beautiful small city south of Geneva situated on a picturesque lake. While it’s touristy and there are throngs of people that visit I really enjoyed my stay there and would go back. I really enjoyed walking around the city and several of the restaurants. And cycling in the area is excellent. There’s a fantastic route that goes along the lake. You can spend hours on that route alone, but the other ride I did there was to bike up to the top of Semnoz.

The Sunday of the weekend I was there turned into one helluva day of cycling. It had its ups and downs both literally and figuratively. I’ll explain…

From Annecy to the top of Semnoz is up hill all the way. It’s quite a climb. But then that’s half the point of choosing such a route. It’s the challenge of it. I went by way of Leschaux to get there. The grade at 4 to 5% is not bad for the first part to Leschaux. From there, it gets interesting and a fair bit harder.

You can see my progression up to the summit in the photos here. Starting from Annecy down by the lake and then winding my way up to Leschaux. The ride up to Leschaux is not too difficult but it makes a nice spot to take a little break in prep for the next leg. There’s a bar/restaurant there where lots of cyclists take a pitstop. You can see a bunch of other riders taking it easy in one the photos.

From Leschaux the climb gets a lot steeper. You can see in the photo right below the one at the restaurant that after a bit more climbing I’m looking back down on the small town of Leschaux. You’ll need to click to view the photo because otherwise the town is too small in the thumbnail.

More climbing … you can see the grade gets to 8% pretty frequently. Then finally, the summit. There’s a couple of restaurants and a ski resort at the top. I pulled in for a coke and a sandwich. It was actually pretty chilly at the top. I was glad I had some gear I could change into for the ride back down.

After starting back, now the bad news: I got a broken spoke on the descent! Ugh! A broken spoke means the wheel was way out of balance and so the wheel wobbled horribly and rubbed the brake on every revolution. That made for a long, shaky trip back to Annecy. Thank God it was almost entirely down hill into Annecy.

Click thru here for route map to the summit, from Annecy.

As with most bike tours, you don’t really get a completely full week. It’s typically 6 days/5 nights and both the first and last days are somewhat abbreviated to account for transfers. This final 6th day of riding was one such day.

There were at least 7 of us that decided to ride the last morning – plus Alessandro, one of the tour leads. The rest were just enjoying the last bit of down time. Unlike previous mornings the ride was to get started at 7:45 instead of the usual 9am so that probably had something to do with it too. We needed to be packed to hit the road by 10:45 and the bus was going to leave at 11am so we didn’t have a lot of time to ride plus get some breakfast, shower up and pay any last minute bills from the night before. So, it was a quick out and back of just over 10 miles.

We were treated again to spectacular weather that morning and it was just cool enough that it felt great to be on the bike. Our turn-around was in a sleepy little town named Mango. We all stopped in a little coffee place there before heading back. Total elapsed time of the ride, even with the coffee stop, was just over an hour. And if you check out the elevation data for the ride you can see it was a lot easier heading back to the hotel than going to Mango, so it was a fast return trip.

After the ride, only time for a quick breakfast, a shower, and last minute packing before we were all loaded up for the bus ride back to Turin.

Everybody on this trip seemed to get along pretty well and mix together well. That’s not always true on these kinds of tours. And even though 6 of the people all came together they didn’t just hang together, and that was cool. In Turin it was handshakes and a few hugs and then like that, we all scattered to the four winds. Below is a good photo of the group right before one of the dinners. You can see everyone is having a good time.

And one last photo below of the vineyard hillsides as seen from the Relais San Maurizio. Couldn’t get enough of the vistas in Piedmont.

This would be the last day there’d be anything like a long option for riding. Typically Backroads gives people a few options and today was no exception and you could opt for a pretty short ride to a wine tour/tasting and picnic lunch (and then shuttle back in a van) or you could bolt on an extra loop in the morning to make it close to 30 miles before hitting the tour/tasting and lunch, and then if you felt like more riding, you could bike back to the hotel too. I took all the options and got in a pretty good ride with plenty of time left to just hang out at the pool for a while before a fantastic last dinner with everyone.

We lucked out again with the weather. At the end of the 4th day, we once again got just a little bit of rain. But by morning it was beautiful again and maybe even just a little chilly. The ride out to the winery/lunch + bolted on loop was a roller. If you look at the Garmin details by clicking thru the map, you can see we had plenty of ups and downs. After those first ~30 miles, I was ready for that picnic lunch despite having the usual bountiful breakfast options (which almost always included mounds of some local cheeses and meats). I shouldn’t have been hungry but the hills were a workout.

The wine tour and tastings at Marchesi Alfieri were pretty good. We did some other tastings during the bike tour but this was the only winery visit we made. After the winery tour they had us tasting three of their wines. 1st was a Barbara D’Asti (La Tota), the 2nd was their Barbara D’Asti Superiore (AlfierA) and the 3rd was a Nebbiolo from the Monferrato region (the Costa Quaglia).

The 1st Barbara was an easy drinking and fruity wine. Lots of dark fruit but not much structure to it. The Barbara Superiore really stepped it up a notch and according to the woman that helped us with the tour and tasting, it was their best wine. Lots more going on. Dark fruit but also notes of oak and spice and some tannins to give it a nice structure though not overly so. My fav of the three. The Nebbiolo was just so so. Too thin and light for my taste.

By the time we finished the tour/tasting and a picnic lunch we were well into the afternoon. These kind of plush events are nice but they do make it a little hard to get back on the bike.

The afternoon option for riding back to the hotel included a long, steep 5K+ climb. It had warmed up at that point and so it was long and winding enough to having me wondering “ok, when’s this uphill going to end?”. But, I was back by 4’ish and out to lounge by the pool for a bit. We had plenty of time till dinner (meeting at 7:30’ish).

The restaurant at the hotel was said to be a Michelin rated though I couldn’t find evidence of that online nor in evidence at the restaurant. But in any case, it was really quite good and I liked the old wine cellar setting. The wine list was a thick as the phone book of a sizable town. They started us with some snacks and then moved to (at least for me) a big green salad. I then moved on to the primi course of risotto and finished with a main of some beef that I’d characterize more like really tender roast beef. I should have taken a snap of the menu to be more exact than that but that’s the quick and dirty.

At the end of day 3 we were treated to a big thunderstorm. It even hailed pretty hard nearby based on the iPhone video of it we saw from one of the women on the bike tour. Thankfully we had finished riding hours earlier and had even managed to squeeze in some hunting for truffles with one of the locals and his dog Jolly. I’ll post some photos of that separately. But the good news was it left a stunningly clear morning sky that let us get a good view of the alps in the distance from our vantage at the top of the hillsides.

The alps are a little hard to make out in the photo here so it doesn’t quite do the view that morning justice. Suffice to say it was hard to take our eyes off the horizon while we headed toward our next stay at the Relais San Maurizio later in the afternoon.

Once again I took the long option that day. (In fact I took them every day.) It took me down to Dogliani and then north to Neive for lunch. It included a sizable climb! I could have optioned to ride into Barbaresco first but I’d gone there the previous week and by the time I got there I was ready for lunch so I just headed directly to Neive. While I’d stopped in Neive the previous week, this time I got a chance to try a great little lunch spot right in the center of town. We were on our own for lunch on this day and it turned out most of us stopped in La Contea. I got a pasta dish with tomatoes and basil. Not chunks of tomatoes, but instead a light tomato sauce. Really good! Lunches here and especially at this restaurant tend to be lengthy. We settled in for a while. I joined Catherine and Jim that day and they were very nice to share some of their fresh fried mushrooms (which were fantastic!) and not only that, they picked up the check. Thanks again Jim and Catherine.

Following a long lunch with a big helping of pasta plus bread plus mushrooms plus a nice glass of Arneis it was a little tough to mount the bike and keep riding but it wasn’t too far at all before we landed at the Relais San Maurizio.

Suffice to say the Relais San Maurizio is a very nice place to stay. All of the places were nice but of the 3 stays we had during the tour this one just nudged the 1st stay at Palazzo Righini out by a nose. Both places were top notch. The 2nd stay at Boscareto Resort & Spa was nice too but by comparison the food and service at the other places were head and shoulders above it.

The end of the 4th day of cycling came with plenty of time to just settle in and enjoy the place. The weather was nice and they had both an indoor and an outdoor pool and it seemed pretty clear most of us decided to opt to head for the outdoor pool to catch some rays, cool off in the water and just enjoy the pretty hillside views. You can see what I mean in the photo below.

Hard to believe we’ve already finished day 3 of our bike tour around Piedmont. As rides go, this one was memorable with beautiful scenery throughout and challenging climbs too despite being relatively short.

You can click on the high level map here to link through to detailed Garmin data on today’s ride. Unlike yesterday, the Garmin seemed to actually capture something useful today. So just about 35 miles and right around 4K of climbing during the ride. Clearly a lot of up and down. If you check the elevation graph there you’ll see I immediately started the morning climbing away from the hotel. Then it was a very nice downhill before winding my way toward La Morra. The road up to La Morra then was a serious climb of 15% grade for a good portion of it. From La Morra an easy descent down into Barolo to meet up with others for lunch. (I was the only one that chose the longer option today.)

I’m really glad I had arrived in this area last week to take in some of these sights before doing the biking. It’s let me enjoy it so much more. I went to Grinzane Cavour last week and had a fantastic tasting in the castle there. Today though it was closed and I biked right by. I’d been to Barolo twice before and spent hours there so today I could just enjoy lunch with other riders – which was substantial and great – and be on my way.

I did stop again and take a photo op while near La Morra (rather than from La Morra). The vantage point up on that hillside is great. Photo below.

Weather this morning and yesterday were good for cycling. Warm enough to not need a lot of gear but overcast enough to not get too hot.

Tonight we’re on our own for dinner so have to figure something out there…

Day 2 of the cycling tour was significantly more interesting than day 1. 51 miles of pretty countryside and rolling hills, ending at the Boscareto Resort & Spa in Serralunga d’Alba.

The morning was fairly flat and ended at a lunch spot about mid way. My morning ride partners are in the photo below. Dave and MC from Denver.

In the afternoon we quickly transitioned into the Langhe region and things got hillier by far. I chose the long option with only a few others. Lots of up and down and at least one descent that was crazy steep and full of pot holes.

But otherwise, the ride was great and looking forward to more of it tomorrow. At the conclusion of the ride at the hotel you can see from the photo that it is surrounded by vineyards. Fantastic views.

I’ve had a helluva time with my tech on this trip. Wifi routinely doesn’t work and I’ve had trouble last night / today too so now posting this from the wifi in the breakfast room at the hotel. Doesn’t work in the room.

And my Garmin seemed to work yesterday and then when I went to upload the route it wasn’t there. Grrr. Hoping it works better today on Day 3.

1st day of cycling is done – except for what’s bound to be a pretty nice meal. As expected, the first day was pretty cush. Mostly it’s about shuttling to a start, having some lunch and just things putting things together or adjusting things. There are a lot of intros and the usual route discussions.

The ride was a short one (less than 30 miles). Because we got separated from our luggage at the start, I neglected to have the Garmin onboard so I have no route map for the route. We started at the Racconigi Castle and rode to our stay for the night at Palazzo Righini in Fossano. The place is so far fantastic. I have high expectations on the dinner later that’ll be in their restaurant.

The ride was super easy. That’s ok though. It just felt great to get out on the bike and get in some time in the saddle to spin for a while. I’ve been off the bike for two weeks now and have been eating like a field hand so it felt good to do something more active than running through airports.

As you can see, the lunch spread was plentiful. That’s one of our ride leads, Renee, relating what all we’ve got there. The other photo here is of me pre-ride.

Tommorrow we head into the Langhe hills so it should start to get a lot more interesting.

I like commuter trains. Well, trains in general I should say, but I like the convenience of well planned trains for getting around urban areas. Recently I discovered Seattle has a great train that runs to and from the airport that I had never used on previous trips. Tried it on the last trip up there and it was great. And a couple of bucks in comparison to the usual $40-50 cab fare into the city. I’ve used BART many a time to do the same kind of trip from the airport into the heart of San Francisco. But, I had never taken Austin’s relatively new commuter rail.

I hadn’t previously planned to go out of my way to ride the train. It’s not close to me and its schedule is such that it’s virtually useless to me on a routine basis. Kinda sad because it’s some fantastic infrastructure. So why bother? The logistics of a Friday car repair had me leaving one of my cars downtown at the office while I got a lift out to pick up the repaired car. So, I could trouble someone to give me a lift back downtown to get the other car or I could think of something else. I wanted to get in a bike ride anyway on Saturday so it occurred to me, why not ride over to the train and check it out. It goes right downtown. Cost for the one way trip: $2.75.

So I rode the 12 or so miles over to the Lakeline station in far northwest Austin. It was the easiest station to get to from my place. Cycling over to the Lakeline station in NW Austin is not hard and yet I would guess most people would have no interest. It’s not near much of anything other than Avery Ranch and the roads you have to take to get there are heavily traveled by cars going pretty fast. But at least there are back roads (not 183 or its frontage) that you can take to get there. But I did have to take hwy 620, which I hate to ride on. Way too much traffic. So it’s doable but really annoying.

The schedule on a Saturday is odd as far as I’m concerned. The earliest train on a Saturday from Lakeline starts at 4:48pm. If it went earlier, I bet they would get riders. The downtown is a growing and vibrant part of the city and moreso every day. People would go there during the day on a Saturday.

I wondered whether I would be the only one riding the train. Clearly not. The train is two cars long and the one I was in had at least 20 people in it by the time we headed south into the city. And we picked up more riders at ever stop. By the time we got downtown, the train was full and both bike racks were filled. You can see my bike hanging within the car in one of the photos here. There are only two racks in each car. The alternative is to stand with the bike while you ride. There’s limited space to do that but it certainly seems like it wouldn’t be hard.

There were 8 stops (including Lakeline where I got on and the downtown stop) along the way. Once we got going I was impressed that the train actually picked up some pretty good speed between some of the stations – particularly the ones further out. Total time to get downtown was somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-45 min. Along the way we went through parts of the city I almost never see, and it literally goes through a lot of people’s back yards in north and east Austin.

There’s not likely to be too many reasons I need to go out of my way to ride the Austin Metrorail – me and most of anyone that lives west of Mopac – and yet I think it’s a great start. Now if it just went to the airport, I bet I would use it.

Last photo: ‘end of the line’ next to the convention center in downtown Austin.

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.

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