I rode my first RUSA permanent last weekend while up in Santa Rosa for a wedding. Although the Santa Rosa Cycling Club hosted a full brevet series this year, this seems to be the only permanent route established in the area.
While never quite reaching the beaches or wetland preserves, the “Around Sonoma County” 215K is still a fantastic tour of the region, passing through surprisingly diverse micro-climates, landscapes, and towns. Here’s a map.
Rather than deal with the hassle of disassembling and transporting my Casseroll via three buses and a train, I decided to use this opportunity to rent a more “modern” carbon road-bike (in this case, a Trek Madone 4.7) to compare to my Casseroll. So, I made my way to Healdsburg and after a small amount of paper-work and the attachment of my Brooks saddle, I was out the door with three pre-paid days of test riding ahead of me.
Here’s the vehicle in question, sitting in front of the start/finish control in Santa Rosa, ready and rearing to go:
Some brief impressions about the Trek Madone 4.7 before I describe the ride itself:
I must say the Ultegra group-set seemed significantly more “snappy” than my 105, although I wasn’t as impressed with the Ultegra brakes compared to my Tektros. The geometry of the 4.7 is fairly upright for a road bike, without being quite as relaxed as my Casseroll. Generally the 56cm frame was a great fit for me, although I did start to experience finger numbness in one hand after 80 miles or so. This probably could be addressed by moving the position of the brifters, changing the handle-bar wrap material, tires, etc – though it could be a function of the way the fork transferred road vibration. The carbon felt stiffer than my steel bicycle, which seemed to improve power transfer such that I could pedal at a slightly higher cadence and in a slightly higher gear than I normally would choose, for an overall increase in average cruising speed of maybe 1-2mph. This doesn’t seem like much, but after a full day in the saddle, small increases in speed can really add up. On the other hand, the carbon didn’t have the same responsive feel of steel, particularly when accelerating. I have become accustomed to this small amount of feedback, and it was disconcerting to ride without it, though it didn’t really impact my overall performance. Climbing was maybe a little easier with such a light bike, but not as much as I was hoping for. Handling was swift but not twitchy, although I wasn’t quite as confident descending on the Madone – when I exceeded 40mph, any little input to the handlebars seemed to generate an exaggerated response and made holding my line a bit more difficult than usual. The 25mm tires seemed fairly durable, and were a good match for the smooth pavement much of this route is blessed with. I’d still want something a little wider for chip-seal, broken pavement, rumble-strips, pot-holes, etc. All in all, an impressive and (despite the lack of fender or rack mounts) utilitarian road bike, but more of a marginal step-up from the Casseroll than I suspected. Comparing bicycles is a bit like comparing different guitars – the construction of the instrument may impact the tone, but not nearly as much as the style of the player.
Near the start of the ride, I got on the the Joe Rodota trail, which follows the Santa Rosa creek and is part of the “Rails to Trails” conservancy program that creates multi-use paths along abandoned railways. It is a pleasant tree-lined trail, set back a fair distance from the highway. On a later day I would take it out to Sebastopol before getting on the Bodega HWY (not really recommended to bikes by the way – narrow, no shoulder, long steep hills, and busy traffic make for an unpleasant combination) on my way to a wedding in Valley Ford.
On the permanent I turned south, taking Stony Point Rd down to Petaluma. Along the way, I passed a Koi farm – an auspicious sign I thought, as I was also greeted by another impressive fish as my journey began. This must be one of the few public statues in Santa Rosa that isn’t related to the Peanuts or Charles Schulz:
After picking up a chocolate milk at the control in Petaluma, I started heading towards the Pacific once again, passing through fog-enshrouded rolling pastures and dairies, and entering into Marin county after passing by the immense barracks of the coast-guard training center. The blacktop was meticulously maintained here, and with no cars or airplanes rushing by, the only sound was the soft hum of my tires and the brazen moos of some cattle locked in a steamy embrace.
When I paused to take a photo and absorb the silence, I heard the sharp report of a rifle echo through the hills near-by. This coupled with the fog and some unfriendly “CYCLISTS RIDE SINGLE FILE!” signs were enough to wake me from my reverie.
I had heard that many farmers and ranchers are not fond of cyclists, but thankfully my experience didn’t bear this out. At one point, I met a group of sheep in the road, herded into a remote-feeling, idyllic, albeit disintegrating ranch by a white-haired gentleman on a slow moving ATV. As I stopped to let them by, he gave me a big grin and a wave. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but I think there was a hint of envy on both sides of our encounter.
When I reached the town, it was still early and not much was open – thus my quest to eat tamales in Tomales was doomed to failure; instead, I would have to fuel my climb up Dillon Beach Rd with fig bars. There is an old lugubrious cemetary out on this road, which I didn’t photograph, but I believe it was the original Catholic resting place that accompanied this church (which was rebuilt after a fire in the early 1800s I believe):
Come to think of it, I rode by three graveyards during this ride – a symbol to counter-balance the koi I suppose?
As I got closer to the coast before finally heading North, the fog became ever denser, obscuring the green fields and even the bulbous forms and tafone of Elephant Rock, which encased in a slow moving mist seemed darkly enchanted. As an extended family of cotton-tails darted across my path and crows seemed to scowl at me (you know, The Birds was filmed not far from here!) from their road-side perches, I felt as if I were traveling through a dream.
I next passed through Valley Ford, where my friend Rebecca was getting married the next day. Just as I was about to open my mouth in awe at the beauty of the spot she’d chosen, I passed through a massive cloud of gnats which briefly formed a secondary layer on my skin and jersey. With every brush of my hand, dozens of dead insects were swept away. I pedaled on face-down and full-speed, fearful that I would inhale another storm of no-see-ums at any moment. Anybody who thinks humans are the dominant species needs to get outside more…
As I headed inland and the morning wore on, the fog lifted. By the time I reached Freestone, it was quite clear. The distinctive aromas of yeast and a wood-fired brick oven made it impossible to ride by Wild Flour Bread without peeking inside. There was a cornucopia of organic loaves within, and it was tempting to proceed with multiple baguettes under my arm – instead, I departed with a large mocha-hazlenut scone which I nibbled on here and there all the way back to Santa Rosa, washed down by lots of chocolate milk, apple cider, carrot juice, water, and electrolyte mix.
Turning on to the Bohemian Hwy may have been the highlight of this route – as you suddenly find yourself in the midst of an ancient redwood forest, flanked by rivers, trees, and small pockets of 1870s buildings and stores. This beautiful place, dappled with shadows and sunlight is home to some of the oldest organic gardens and nurseries in California, not to mention perhaps the weirdest elite men’s club on earth, Bohemian Grove. I paused to make water at one point, but when I realized that every Republican president since 1923 had peed in these woods, the disturbing mental image made it impossible for me to do the same, and I continued on towards Guerneville.
Next up, I followed the course of the Russian River for a while before pausing to photograph it on the old historical Wohler bridge:
After cresting Dutcher Creek Rd (deceptively steep), and many rollers (I’ve never seen a flat vineyard after all) I made it all the way North to Cloverdale before turning back towards Santa Rosa, passing through Geyserville (without seeing a geyser unfortunately), and up and over the extended climb of Chalk Hill Rd before returning to the by now familiar Old Redwood Hwy back into Santa Rosa.
Many thanks to John Russell for creating this route – I highly recommend riding it if you have the time and are up in wine country.