Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bike California, Day 2: Samuel Taylor State Park to Bodega Dunes

[Back to Day 1] [Continue to Day 3]

The sun rises late under the tall redwood trees in Samuel Taylor State Park. I had slept reasonably well, but when I emerged from my tent it was chilly. My cue sheet indicated three possible options for the day: A stretch goal of riding all the way to Gualala—140 kilometers (86 mi) and a major climb—, Salt Point State Park—115 km (70mi) and the same climb—, or Bodega Dunes State Park, at about 100 kilometers (60 mi), skipping the worst of the climbing.

But before making any decisions I needed to get coffee and breakfast. Knowing that the Bovine Bakery, where I had stopped last night, wasn't far, I didn't bother making breakfast at camp. With the high humidity and cold temperatures, everything was damp. And packing up damp gear on a cold morning makes for cold fingers.

Instead of backtracking on the road that I had come in last night, I took the beautiful Cross Marin Trail that runs on the other side of Lagunitas Creek. The morning sun in my back created a beautiful landscape, but my hands were way too cold for me to take any pictures. Even in late February, however, the California sun is strong enough to warm you up quickly (and the short and steep climb out of the Lagunitas Creek Valley probably helped as well). By the time I got to Point Reyes Station, it was warm enough to enjoy my coffee and large vegan scone outside. Apparently only Mid-Westerners like me were of that opinion, though, and so I had the benches in the little town square all to myself.

As I got ready to roll out again, I roadie couple on fancy carbon bikes also arrived on the square. They circled around my parked bike and I chatted with them for a bit. They were fascinated by my carrying all my luggage in the front, and when one of them lifted my bike by the handlebars, she exclaimed: "Oh my gosh, Larry, lift this! It's soo heavy!" I decided to take this as a compliment...

Out of Point Reyes station, the ride took a wonderful start. On one side the undulating grassy hills in the soft morning sunlight; on the other side the still waters of Tomales Bay. The scenery could not have been more beautiful.

After about an hour, Highway 1 turns inland, toward the small village of Tomales. I could feel the effort of the previous day in my legs and made a quick refueling stop at the general store. Across the street, a lot of bikers of the other kind and a bunch of Porsche owners also enjoyed the Sunday morning. I continued on Highway 1, and traffic kept getting heavier, with no good shoulder to ride on. Reviewing my route later, this seems like one of the cases where the requirements of a sanctioned randonneuring route clash with the aims of the bike tourist: Instead of taking the most direct but busy Highway 1, I could have followed the Porsche drivers toward Dillon Road and then turn on Valley Ford Franklin School Road until it meets with Highway 1 again. A little more distance, and possibly quite a bit more climbing, but probably it would have been worth it.

Traffic conditions improved once I left the coastal highway in Valley Ford to head toward Freestone. On the side of the road I found an Astana cycling cap, and of course I had to stop and pick it up as a souvenir. Once in Freestone, a tiny hamlet that nonetheless sports a bakery, an artisan cheese store, and a general store, Bohemian Highway begins. Bohemian Highway—an evocative name, and maybe it was bit too evocative to not disappoint. The road was going uphill and my legs and mind were tired. No shoulder and a surprising number of cars for a Sunday. A headwind. And by the time I got into Occidental, I probably was also bonking a bit.

Occidental is logging-turned-vacation town and was bustling with people. The brevet cue sheet listed Howard Station Cafe as a control and food spot. Looking at their menu, the options were either vegan but too healthy/low in calories, or full of delicious salt and carbs but not vegan. Or I was just bonking and therefore bad at making decisions. At any rate, I skipped the cafe and continued down the road to the local supermarket instead for bread, avocado, and hummus.

I ate lunch at a picnic table in the middle of town, which exposed me to the chilly winds but made for good people watching. Nearby a young white guy with dreadlocks was selling jewelry, which, according to his explanations to customers, had something to with Buddhism and quantum theory and a whole bunch of other things... He later came over to chat and offered an alternative route to get to Bodega Dunes, apparently consisting of an amazing multi-mile downhill all the way to the coast.

At this point it was clear to me that Gualala was out of reach for today. Salt Point State Park (the 70-mile destination also including a major climb), however, I had not completely given up on. I also know my body well enough to not make these types of decisions until at least 30 minutes after eating after a bonk. And even had I decided to go straight to Bodega Dunes, I would have been hesitant to follow the route suggestion of someone combining Buddhism and quantum theory (and more importantly: a general mistrust in route advice from any non-cycling locals). And so I continued along my planned route along Bohemian highway toward the Russian River.

The descent on Bohemian Highway continued about as mediocre as the ascent had ended. Rough pavement paired with inconsiderate people in cars and buses. And my al fresco lunch stop had made me chilly. Only near the end of the descent, the highway lived up to its name at last: A split in the road took car traffic left and left me on a narrow road lined by tall trees and secluded houses, some of which may very well have been inhabited by people leading a Bohemian lifestyle.

The Russian River was brown and swollen. On the bridge across the river in Monte Rio it was time to decide on the day's destination: Tackle the big climb on the Orr Springs route or follow the river to the coast. My spirits were up, but the warning on the cue sheet—“King Ridge Rd - steep grades - 11 mi”—combined with the tiredness in my legs and the increasingly grey skies made me opt for the coastal option.

In Duncans Mills I resupplied at the general store and enjoyed an afternoon coffee at Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery. While they didn't have any vegan baked goods, they do have a beautiful garden terrace with little birds flapping around everywhere.

After a few more kilometers, I was back at Highway 1 and the coast. Time to turn south and find the Bodega Dunes campground. The ocean greeted me with strong winds and dramatic mix of sun and low-hanging clouds. Without much warning, those same clouds opened up and a heavy mist blew on and around me—the first and last time it would actually rain on me for the whole trip! By the time I had stopped, made sure my panniers were properly closed and put on my hood, the rain was already over again. I stopped at the first campground I saw, tucked away between the highway and the beach. But it turned out that the state park has several campgrounds along the coast in the area, only one of which has hike-bike sites. So I continued through the strong winds for another 10 kilometers (and passing the intersection with the road the quantum hippie had recommended to me) before finally reaching my destination for the day.

And what a destination is was. This was my favorite campground of the whole trip: Protected from the wind by large sand dunes and pine trees was my flat and soft camping spot. Again I had the hike/bike site all to myself, and the campground host was just across the park road.

There were still a few hours of daylight left and they sky looked less foreboding now. After setting up the tent and buying firewood from the campground host, I set out to walk to the beach. The campground host didn't have the map and only gave me vague directions, but after a 20-minute walk I made it to the beach. It was well worth it.

My day ended with baked beans, prepared on a camp fire, and the obligatory avocado and beers. I had covered less distance and elevation compared to the previous day. But clearly it had been plenty, and sleep came easy.


  1. Killer blog and a killer ride! Can you contact me about a story concept I have about Gravel Bikes.

  2. You made the right choice to skip King's Ridge. Awesome views from the ridge, & it runs for miles, but a really tough climb. The jewelry vendor in Occidental was probably sending you to Coleman Valley Rd. The views from the top are spectacular and the downhill is epic. You were touring some of the best areas in the US.

    1. Oh yeah. I did King's Ridge the following day and kept thinking to myself, "I'm really glad I didn't attempt that yesterday..."