By Suzanne Pletcher
Why travel halfway around the world for a bike adventure featuring great scenery when there are gems in your own backyard? I’ve lived in 12 states over the past four decades and along the way discovered that, almost anywhere you live, bucolic countryside awaits and offers a low-cost and invigorating getaway. String together a few weekends of the best spots in your area and you’ll discover—or rediscover—some good reasons why you live where you do.
That’s the premise I was working under when I put together a solo weekend bike trip to the Mendocino coast north of San Francisco. 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism and, in honor of low-carbon travel, I decided to visit California’s new Stornetta National Monument in Point Arena by bus and bike, leaving my car at home.
My trip encompassed the section of the northern California coast that stretches from Bodega Bay’s commercial fishing hub north to historic Point Arena, a masterpiece of serenity. North of the Russian River at Jenner, the tourists thin out, fog rolls in, and seagazing can be uninterrupted by anything but the sights and sounds of nature. This coastal paradise inspired Alexander Rotchev, a Russian colonist who managed the early 1800’s fur trading outpost of Fort Ross—now an historic national landmark—to declare that his years in this “enchanting land were the best years of my life.”
I chose late April, a tourist shoulder season, and it was a good choice because traffic on narrow Coast Highway 1 was sparse and the hills were brilliant green and bursting with wildflowers. The mornings were cool and foggy but by midday the sun was sparkling off the ocean and the balmy air was perfect for riding. It turned out to be a magical adventure that felt much longer than it really was.
You can make this trip as comfortable or adventurous as you like. I chose comfort at off-season hotel rates in Gualala, one mile north of bike camping under the canopy of old growth redwoods ($5 per person) at Gualala Point Regional Park.
The Mendocino Transit Authority (MTA) public bus company has a route and timetable perfectly suited to this weekend trip. The 20-person Route 95 jitney bus picked me up at 4:15 p.m. on Friday at the downtown transit center in Santa Rosa. The driver, Rick Davies, helped me lift my bike and panniers onto the front rack, ushered me aboard, and we were off. Davies drove first to Bodega Bay and from there up the coastal highway until he dropped me off at my hotel in Gualala two and one-half hours later.
Coast Highway 1 is a serpentine thread that connects the beaches, bluffs and hamlets strung along the edge of the sea. Driving it can be a white-knuckle affair, so it was nice to be free to look out the window and watch the scenery roll by while someone experienced manned the wheel. This is the Hippie Highway that sparked songs filled with superlatives such as “California Dreamin’ and “Mendocino,” and several of the buildings in towns like Jenner, Anchor Bay, and Point Arena retain a laidback vibe of the 60’s and 70’s.
In Jenner, the bus stopped for a bathroom break long enough for me to cross the street and grab a coffee at Café Aquatica, a fragrant bakery and beanerie. From here on north, the scenery is world-class. We rolled past the coast’s man-made attractions: restored Fort Ross; the commanding 93-foot tall “Madonna of Peace” obelisk at blufftop Timber Cove resort; and the Sea Ranch Chapel, a free-flowing architectural masterpiece designed by James Hubbell and built in 1985 of locally sourced materials. But the Pacific Ocean, its vastness, and the green hills abutting it stole the show.
If I had been camping, Rick would have dropped me off at Gualala Point Regional Park. Instead, I stayed aboard to cross the bridge over the Gualala River into Mendocino County. Rick dropped me off at the Gualala Country Inn, my destination, at 6:45 pm.
There was just enough time to check in for a two-night stay, drop my bags in my room and hop on my bike to ride two blocks to Trinks Cafe, a low-key locals’ eatery tucked into a small shopping mall.
Like most restaurants in town, Trinks closes at 8 pm. Choose from a half-dozen four-star entrees including burgers, fresh seafood and salads with a fine selection of wines and superb service to top it off. Trink’s fridge is stocked with yummy food and desserts to go, which you might consider for lunch tomorrow.
Gualala is a bustling town of 2,000 where coast residents stock up on groceries and catch up with one another. An historic lumber and railroad town, it is now known more for its broad sand beach, the Gualala Point Regional park with its starburst of coastal trails, and fine art displayed in galleries and the Gualala Art Center. “Downtown” is three-blocks long, and everything is within an easy ride from the hotel or campground.
Saturday morning, I grabbed an early breakfast at Trinks, then began peddling in tights, light fleece and wind jacket up the Old State Highway, signposted Gualala Street. It’s a steady climb to the local airport at 940 feet elevation, and by then I had shed layers down to a T-shirt. The main road heads north and parallels the coast on rolling terrain for more than 20 miles of woods and occasional forever views of the ocean below, though the road changes names frequently from Gualala Street to Stage Road, then Iverson Road, and Ten Mile Road. I finally turned left onto Eureka Hill Road and enjoyed a well-deserved downhill coaster ride to Riverside Drive and down to the coastal town of Point Arena where sustenance awaited.
Point Arena is an underappreciated gem of a “city” with a population of 450 and, as bus driver Rick put it fondly, “a long and tarnished history.” From its earliest settlement by whites, Point Arena was a boom and bust party town where booze flowed and brothels glowed. A major shipping port for lumber and mining supplies, it voted itself a home-rule city during Prohibition in order to sell liquor in a dry state. Its quiet cove and wharf now host a small commercial fishery and good surfing.
I immediately headed for Franny’s, a bakery that I had heard about and found simply by following the enticing aroma of freshly baked muffins and croissants.
Fortified by a generous slice of frittata and hot cup of coffee, I biked down to the historic harbor a mile west of downtown. Two youths donned five milimeter wetsuits, tucked surfboards under their arms and ran across the sand to ride nice waves on the right side of the pier. On the left side, a rock cod fisherman loaded his kayak with rod and net and paddled off to the nearby estuary. I walked out to the end of the pier and met the harbormaster, who pointed out the spray from gray whales out at sea. He gave me a quick tutorial on how to identify a whale by the shape of its spout when it exhales (a gray’s spout is heart-shaped, while a humpback’s is like an ice cream cone).
I rode back to town and north for five miles on the coast highway, then turned left onto Lighthouse Way, which leads directly west for a mile or so to Point Arena Lighthouse and Stornetta public lands.
Stornetta is named for the pioneering Italian dairy ranchers who still farm here, and its 1,665 acres is the most recent addition to the California Coastal National Monument. In her on-site dedication of the land in 2013, U. S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called it a “world-class destination for outdoor recreation.”
Here, I experienced the immensity and timelessness of sky, ocean and ancient trees. I locked my bike at the trailhead and spent the next three hours wandering the colorful bluffs, exploring tidepools and napping in the tall grass. I saw a pair of humpback whales pass so close to the cliffs that even without binoculars I could see their mottled backs rise above the water. Finally, I hopped back on the bike and rode the coast highway back to Point Arena and 14 miles down to Gualala.
On the way, I stopped for dinner in the bar at St. Orr’s, just a few miles north of Gualala. St. Orr’s is a local landmark with a story, and serves the best food around. I scarfed fish taco and seared scallops with watermelon small plates that were as a delicious to the palate as they were to the eye. Then in waning daylight I biked the last miles back to my room and a good night’s sleep after a long day.
On Sunday, I packed my bags, enjoyed the Country Inn’s hearty continental breakfast, then hopped on my bike and rode south across the bridge at Gualala River and explored the bike trails at Gualala Point Regional Park in a last two-hour commune with sky, sand and sea before returning to the hotel to check out and catch the 10:30 am MTA Route 95 bus back to Santa Rosa. I was back home by 1 pm, savoring the weekend nature retreat ride that felt days longer than it actually was.
If you go:
Gualala Country Inn, 47955 Center St., Gualala, 707 884-4343. Sprawling yellow country inn featuring rooms with views of river and ocean. Some rooms have gas fireplaces. Robust continental breakfast served in the sitting room.
The Breakers Inn, 39300 Highway 1, Gualala, 707 884-3200. Condo-like hotel featuring 28 themed rooms with balconies that overlook the Pacific. Most have fireplaces and spas.
The Surf Motel, 39170 Highway 1, Gualala, 707 884-3571. Comfortable but basic lodge-style rooms on the ocean side of the highway. An overnight stay comes with full breakfast.
Gualala Point Regional Park campground, 42401 Highway 1, Gualala. 707 785-2377. Ask your bus driver to drop you at the campground. For those camping without a car, it’s $5/pp/night, and several sites are left open for first-come-first-served. Campsites 1-5 are next to the river. All sites are shaded by massive old-growth redwoods. There are also several walk-in sites with more privacy.
Trinks,Café, 39140 Highway 1, Gualala 707 884-1713. Family owned fixture of local diners and visitors alike, offering fresh, tasty breakfast, lunch and gourmet dinners, and featuring mouthwatering desserts. Reservations advised during summer.
St. Orres, 36601 Highway 1, Gualala, CA (707) 884-3303. Russian-style lodge and restaurant offering top-line dinners and small plates in the bar where you can sit at high tables near a cavernous (and in winter, very cozy) fireplace.
Upper Crust Pizzeria, 39331 Highway 1, Gualala, 707 884-1324. Local pizza lovers’ favorite spot. Small and comfortable with a friendly atmosphere and reputation for great pizza and calzones. Build your own or order one of the specialty pizzas. Beer, wine and soft drinks.
Franny’s Cup and Saucer, 213 Main St., Point Arena 707 882-2500. Nothing but slavering reviews for this iconic bakery that anchors downtown Point Arena and offers a variety of baked goods, frittattas and quiches. However, Franny’s doesn’t offer any tables for eating, so buy your goodies and go down a half block to…
Arena Market and Café, 185 Main St., Point Arena 707 882-3663. The coffee here is better than at Franny’s, and the market offers sandwiches, organic fruit, nuts and groceries. Best is their free internet service and tables at the front where you can eat and watch the locals go by.
This trip used one bus route: The MTA 95. Total roundtrip cost for Route 95 Santa Rosa to Gualala and back: $16.50/pp; $8.20/pp for ages 62+. Bikes ride free and the bus can hold up to 4.
If you prefer a shorter bike ride and more time exploring Stornetta National Monument, then on Saturday hop aboard the MTA Route 75 bus at 7:45 am that will deliver you and your bike to Point Arena in 25 minutes, and start your bike trip from there. One-way Route 75 fare is $2.20; $1.10/pp for ages 62+. Both the Route 75 and 95 buses conveniently drop off and pick you up at the Sundstrom Mall just across Center Street from the Gualala Country Inn.Tweet Print
By Adam Newman, photos by Jordan Clark Haggard
Almost as soon as mountain bikes burst into the public consciousness in the late 1970s, the bikes themselves began to stratify. Downhill, trials, cross country, enduro—the list goes on and on. But it wasn’t always this way. For a few glorious years, the mountain bike was just a bike, and all racers competed in all types of races with essentially the same machine.
While there’s no disputing modern bikes outperform the bikes of a generation ago in every way, riders are rediscovering the simplicity and camaraderie of those heady times. For 28 years, mountain bikers have been gathering at the Keyesville Classic stage race in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The bikes that were cutting edge when the racing began are now organized into their own vintage category, competing on the same course as modern, carbon fiber wünderbikes.
“This race always has a downhill and cross country [segment], and both are hard and challenging by today’s standards,” said Sky Boyer, who raced at Keyesville for the first time in 1990 and houses a substantial vintage bike collection in his bike shop, Velo Cult, in Portland, Oregon. “Back in the day, we [raced] them on rigid bikes so there’s really zero excuses for anybody showing up on a vintage bike. We did it back then, so you can do it now.”
For Eric Rumpf, the passion to both collect vintage bikes and to race them is fueled almost entirely by nostalgia. He takes special joy in finding bikes he idolized as a kid.
“Once I got older, not only could I afford the dream bike from my youth, they were cheap! The challenge became how many dream bikes could I find? How many could I rebuild just as I would have as a kid? There’s great satisfaction in finding something you’d only ever seen in magazines, rebuilding it back to a running mountain bike, and actually getting to ride it.”
Boyer saw that collectors had a passion for their bikes but were looking for a be er way to enjoy them, not just put them on a pedestal. He worked with the race organizers to start the vintage category in 2006. Now there’s such a diverse collection of vintage mountain bikes at Keyesville that the race has divided them into categories of “1986 and older” and “1987-1996.” The course itself has a variety of terrain to challenge anyone with a rigid fork, super long stem, rim brakes and sketchy tires.
“There’s no arguing that modern sports and muscle cars are faster, but the soul of driving an early 911 or classic Mustang is something that can’t be replicated. It’s the same for vintage mountain bikes,” Rumpf said. “Vintage mountain bikes are more challenging to ride. You get the same thrill of being on the edge of control, it just comes a little sooner.”
Despite the challenge, or perhaps because of it, more and more people are discovering the joy in simplicity, Rumpf said. Half are riders were barely even born when these bikes first hit the trails and are looking for a way to connect with a bygone era, he said, and half are folks who have been riding since these bikes since they were new and like things just the way they are.
“The number of racers grows slightly each year, but there is always a core group of collectors who make their way back year after year. I think that’s telling of a quality event.”
Boyer cites the laid-back vibe of the weekend and the positive camaraderie as the biggest draw.
“The general vibe of the race is exactly the same as back then,” he said. “Seriously, this race has never changed.”
It was imperative that we stay vigilant against the danger. Our enemy would not discriminate. Young or old, strong or feeble, all were within its sights. It could sink its vicious teeth into our flesh and not release for days or weeks. Few would escape our journey without falling victim to its ruthless aggression.
Our expedition leader and Blackburn’s brand manager, Robin, tried in vain to prepare us for the threat. He gathered us up and spoke in hushed tones.
“It’s important to remember that if you’re not on the trail, you are almost certainly standing in poison oak.”
It was a valiant warning, especially since I’m still scratching two weeks later. I joined Blackburn and its 2016 class of Blackburn Rangers for an introductory ride through the mountains of coastal California. With a little help from Santa Cruz and Big Agnes we escaped from the arid asphalt plains of the San Jose airport parking lot and ascending through sun, wind, mist and fog to a quiet Boy Scout camp perched high in the hills above the city. Tucked beneath the massive evergreens we cooled our heels and warmed our hearts with a campfire and some of Kentucky’s finest.
Blackburn is the kind of brand that doesn’t just spit out products to make a buck. They’re out there using these things—both the employees and the brand’s annual group of Blackburn Rangers. The six Rangers chosen for 2016 will complete some of the most famous bike touring routes in North America. While off-road bikepacking is very on-trend right now, it’s really bike travel of all kinds that Blackburn is promoting, as many of the routes its Rangers travel are entirely paved.
Meet the Rangers
Brian Ohlen – Cody, Wyoming
Brian hails is an avid fisherman and cyclist. He intends to combine his passions and bike-fish his way from Canada to Mexico, in search of the elusive Steelhead Trout.
What is your goal for the route?
“I’d love to catch a steelhead in each of the three states I’ll travel through. Three fish doesn’t sound like much, but those buggers are hard to catch!”
Sorry Laura, this is the only photo of you I took.
Katie Hawkins and Laura Brigham – East Palo Alto, California
Katie, left, and Laura, right, are neighbors in East Palo Alto and decided to apply together to tackle the Great Divide this summer.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
Laura: “I hope to share the enthusiasm that I have for biking and the outdoors with those on the Great Divide as well as those following from home. I hope at the end of this crazy ‘Canadian gone Mexican’ adventure, Katie and I will leave with unforgettable memories, strong legs, sweet tan lines, and a bunch of awesome new friends.”
Katie: “I see this as a soul-searching adventure for 2 months. I want to be able to get away from my normal 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. job and be on an adventure that separates me from life’s distractions. I want to share my experiences with various biking communities along the route and hope to learn from them, as well.”
Courtney Lewis – Brooklyn, New York
Courtney followed the Blackburn Ranger program for the last few years, and the variety of their backgrounds and approaches were immediate inspiration for her to tackle the same path in her own way. Courtney’s ‘own way’ includes stepping off the bike and hiking nearby summits along the route, and also bringing her dog along.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
“I’m excited to shake up my routine, and the routines of my friends (and friends-to-be!) along the way. I want to push my limits to get the most out of the time I have, and to learn more about myself.”
Ivan Kilroe – Lancaster, Great Britain
Ivan has a great approach to cycling that is based on sharing beauty and joy with friends that we can appreciate.
Have you traveled by bike in the past?
“In the last year I’ve done a handful of short trips travelling by bicycle and really enjoyed the freedom you feel from carrying everything you need to survive. I’ve definitely got a bad case of ‘outdoorism’ – seeing the sun rise and set everyday, and waking up outside all becomes kind of addictive.”
Photo by John Watson
Christian Ayoob – Watkinsville, Georgia
Christian hails from the robust , but often overlooked, cycling community around Athens, Georgia, and is one of the first Southerners that has been selected as a Ranger.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
“By the end of this journey, I hope to have collected stories, met as many people as possible, and all around have had fun. Along with doing this, I would love to have a very detailed journal and blog for others to follow and get inspired.”
While the Rangers plan to ride thousands of miles, you don’t need to quit your job and drop off the grid to have a great adventure on a bike. Most of Blackburn’s products are just as useful on a commute to school as they are on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
We also got a look at some of Blackburn’s newest products on the ride:
Blackburn’s unique frame bags ($60 or $65) come in two sizes and are expandable depending on your cargo needs. They’ve been updated with stronger zippers and will soon be available in a limited-edition camo print. The Seat Pack ($120) and Handlebar Roll ($100) will be available in camo as well. All the bags will continue to be available in black.
These little 2Fer lights were one of my favorites. These $25 USB-rechargeable lights have a clip on the back that holds them snug on a loop like you find on backpacks, or on the included stretchy strap. The name derives from their ability to run with white or red LEDs so they can go front or back.
The new Switch Mini multi-tool is a bit of a crossover between something that stays packed away with your bike stuff and your at-home tool kit. There are four pieces with a tool at each end that can be held either perpendicular or inline with the handle. The rounded ends make it useful when working in tight spaces where you can’t hold the tool perfectly inline with the bolt. It includes a 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, T25 Torx, T30 Torx and a flat head screwdriver that all pack away in the included case, with room to spare for an ID and a couple bucks.
My favorite item introduced was the new Chamber HV floor pump ($80), the highlight of a whole new line of floor pumps. Designed for big tires, it has a high volume piston and a HUGE gauge that only goes to 50 psi. Some trick features include a bleed valve in the head for precise pressures, a bottle opener (natch) and a 31.8 mm clamp for the handle that lets you bolt on an old set of handlebars for some custom flair.
Courtesy of Specialized
In this episode of The Adventure Dispatch, we head out on an overnight ride with Sarah Swallow through the Humboldt Redwood State Park. Sarah is an expert when it comes to creative route planning, which is why we’re happy that she decided to share her methodology for sub-24-hour overnight riding (S24O). So take notes or just enjoy the scenery and get motivated, because you’re about to learn what happens when you saddle-up, slow down, and take notice of the world around you.
Read more about the Swallow’s pioneering ride along the Trans American Trail.Tweet Print
As more and more riders find themselves pulled by the lull of adventure in big mountains, new bikepacking races and events are popping up across the country. The California Sierra Trail Race is a self-supported monster and one of the few that makes a loop back to its starting point, in this case Auburn, California. While it might make the logistics of participating a bit easier, the ride is anything but: 430 miles and 70,000 feet of climbing along old roads and singletrack in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
This short film by Aaron Johnson gives some background on how the route came together and follows the second running of the race in July 2014, when only four men lined up at the starting line. Will you be there this year?Tweet Print
In 1998, a small group of California engineers developed bicycle components and called the company TruVativ. Six years later, the mighty SRAM purchased the San Luis Obispo company, followed by the company’s introduction of its Rival, then Force, then Red road group sets. We were in the area for a Zipp 30 Course wheel introduction, so on the way out of town we toured the new SRAM lab, a brand-new 20,000-square foot facility across from the SLO airport, about a mile down the road from the original 8,600-square foot building. Thirty employees—engineers, lab technicians, marketing, public relations and machine shop wizards—share a custom work space which might be the envy of the industry.
The SRAM SLO lab is where drivetrain components, seat posts, cranksets, handlebars and stems are developed, prototyped, and tested until failure. It’s in the early stages of development, and we weren’t able to take photos of the early development stuff, but one thing stood out: engineers have the equipment necessary to create a carbon prototype crankset in-house and have it on the stress test machines the next day, a process that just a few years ago would take months.
And yes, SRAM breaks a lot of stuff. They break stuff so you don’t have to!
And with the recent introduction of its expanded 1x drivetrain platform, it was cool to watch their chainline test, which took cross chaining to the extreme.
Shifting and all it encompasses includes too many variables for a feeble-minded journalist to count, but SRAM built its own test mule to cover all possibilities.
Zipp brand manager Declan Doyle—based in Indianapolis—hails from the Emerald Isle, and was pleased to see a conference room named in his honor.
This man gets to build prototypes, and has the world-class equipment to play with every day. Can’t wait to see how his workspace evolves over the next few months.
Click the magnifying glass to enlarge photos:
The 2015 Sea Otter Classic will be held April 16-19, 2015, at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey, California, home to Formula 1 and past MotoGP racing, and the Bicycle Times editorial team will descend to scour the aisles for new product news.
This four-day cycling festival features a full schedule of amateur and professional events, where nearly 10,000 domestic and international athletes compete over four days. The Sea Otter Classic also plays host to the largest consumer bike exposition in North America with 411 exhibitors and 65,000 attendees, but how and when did it begin?
“You guys should put on a mountain bike race.” That simple statement from a Monterey bike shop owner in 1990 was the genesis for the Laguna Seca Challenge, later renamed the Sea Otter Classic.
Co-founders Frank Yohannan and Lou Rudolph hosted the inaugural Laguna Seca Challenge on April 6 and 7, 1991. The event had a total of 350 athletes and 150 spectators. In 1993, the Laguna Seca Challenge was renamed the Sea Otter Classic. By 2010, the Sea Otter Classic had become a four-day celebration of cycling welcoming more than 8,500 athletes and 50,000 fans. The event is now regarded as the bicycle world’s premiere festival and one of the world’s largest. The little mountain bike race has grown up.
Racers make the annual pilgrimage to Sea Otter to participate in cycling’s best competitive and non-competitive events. Nearly 200 classes of amateur road and mountain bike racing for all ages and skill levels will toe the line. Mountain bike races include cross-country, dual slalom, downhill, and more. Road cyclists can choose from road and circuit racing on the world-famous Laguna Seca Raceway. And for those who want to bike in less-competitive fashion, Sea Otter offers the Gran Fondo, with two distance options.
The Sea Otter Village, hub of the event, pulses with free bike demos, stunt shows, and live entertainment, plus kids’ playhouses and special activities for kids 12 and under. Other Village hotspots are an international food court and beer and BBQ garden, and the Sea Otter exposition area. The expo features hundreds of vendors who display new products, give out free samples, and offer terrific bargains. And in the Sea Otter Village, hundreds of professional road and mountain bike athletes are present to share their racing techniques with fans and to sign autographs.
Look for our new product reports here soon!
For more information, visit www.seaotterclassic.com or call (800) 218-8411.
Carbon frames, integrated shifters, skin-tight clothing—all of these things make cycling easier, and faster, but for many folks there is a desire to celebrate a simpler, more authentic era of cycling before technology laced its inevitable fingers through our spokes.
The L’Eroica rides were founded in the Chianti region of Italy, a homeland of sorts for cycling culture. With a strict dress code and bike specification, they form a rolling time capsule along the famed Strade Bianche of roads through vineyards and orchards.
For the first time the spirit of the original L’Eroica is coming to America. The Eroica California will be held April 11 and 12 starting in Paso Robles. There will be three route options, from 41 to 123 miles, and they are only to be undertaken with strict bicycle regulations. These include only bikes that have been constructed prior to 1987, have exposed brake housing over the handlebars, toe-clip or flat pedals, and down tube shifters.
More than just a ride, the Eroica California includes a festival with local vendors, live music, a silent auction, a pasta meal for riders and a bicycle Concours d’Elegance.
Registration is open now. You can read more about what it’s like to ride L’Eroica in our recap of our trip to the original Italian event here.