Saturday, March 31, 2018

Bike California, Day 4: Gualala to Healdsburg

Office/breakfast room at the Surf Inn. Grando is packed and ready to roll.

Perfect breakfast view
The fourth day of my tour: From my cue sheet I knew that again there would be tough climbing ahead, as well as the first unpaved section of my tour. This would also be the last day on the coast, and so I made sure to make good use of my ocean-view hotel before getting on the road. The Surf Inn served breakfast, freshly prepared by the owners. I had a nice bowl of oatmeal and fresh fruit. Once again I was the only person sitting outside, taking in the view of the Gualala River estuary and the ocean in the morning sun.

Photos can never capture the steepness of a road...
Rolling, winding road in the soft morning light
Once on the road, the route started with a leg breaker right away: Getting out of Gualala on Pacific Woods Road was straight up. According to Strava, the climb averages 8%, with ramp as steep as 20%. Fortunately the climb was not too long and eventually gave way to a beautifully rolling road. Soon it was time to get off the main route and turn inland. Fish Rock Road started with a screaming descent on rough pavement. I was quite concerned about my rims overheating and decided to stop twice on the way down, just to be safe.

Once at the bottom, the pavement came to an end and the "rough road" climb began. As promised on the cue sheet, Fish Rock Road was a formidable challenge. The steep uphill on gravel pushed both my tires' traction and my muscles' strength to (and occasionally beyond) their limit. Adding to the challenge, the road also had a very pronounced crown. At my low speed and the heavy load all in the front, it was difficult to stay on a straight line and not get pulled toward the edges of the road. I generally don't like walking my bike—not so much a matter of pride but more so because I find walking a bike uncomfortable. So it is telling that several times I had to push up a particularly steep section, or at least stop for a while and let my heart slow down.

Fish Rock Road also was also the most remote-feeling section of my tour. Cars were few and far between, as were other signs of civilization. Once up on the ridge, great vistas popped up between the trees. In the far distance, snow-capped mountains appeared (sadly, my camera's autofocus failed to capture them).

..and gravel sections taking turns
The first part of the way down was not exactly easy either. Sizable rocks were strewn across the gravel road and I took it very slowly to avoid pinch flats. Even then, the bumps were enough to dislodge my third water bottle somewhere along the way. That was not good, as I had consumed much of my two other bottles already, and resupply was nowhere in sight. But there wasn't much to be done about it, and so I pushed on. The road condition improved as I went along, alternating between pavement and gravel sections. After riding through a Redwood nature reserve I eventually reached a main highway.

Here I had to make a decision: Turn left and continue north on the Orr Springs route, or turn right and start making my way back toward San Francisco. Overall my progress had been on the slower side, and for the northern alternative I also didn't have a good plan for where to stay for the night. There were some campgrounds on the map, but I had doubts whether they would be open. Going further north would likely also lead me toward colder temperatures. All in all, going south, toward wine country, sounded like the better option, and that's what I did. Healdsburg was a little under forty miles from here. Still a good ways, but I figured at least it would be relatively flat and a net downhill.

Riding on Highway 128 appeared sketchy at first. While making up my dehydrated mind which way to go, I saw two logging trucks blowing by on the windy, often shoulderless road. The fact that there were signs about it being a "safety corridor" did not further my confidence either. In the end it wasn't too bad. Car and truck traffic were relatively light, and there were enough spots to pull over for a few seconds when I noticed a truck approaching. And it was nice to be back on relatively flat pavement.

I was delighted to see a sign for the "Yorkville Market" after only five miles. In typical California fashion, even a tiny village of 317 people had a market serving gourmet foods and a halfway decent espresso. I took my time to consume espresso, Gatorade, Pepsi, and a bunch of water, which definitely restored some of my physical and mental condition.

...will have a village of 317 have a fancy general store.

Caffeine, sugar, electrolytes

The remainder of the way to Healdsburg was nicer than expected. After some more up and down on winding route 128, I reached the Russian River Valley in Cloverdale, and from there on, it was all flat. With Highway 101 channeling all the through traffic, the parallel route that I was one was mostly devoid of cars and quite scenic. Vineyards all around, trees lining the road, mountains in the distance.

Mount St. Helena behind the Russian River Valley's vineyards

Several years ago the SO and I had been in Healdsburg for a friend's wedding. I had some fond memories of that trip: We rode a tandem together for the first time, and we had good beers at Bear Republic Brewing. In the evening I had the opportunity to relive some of those experiences: The bike shop where we had rented the tandem was right on the way between my motel and the brew pub, where I was headed to for dinner. Unfortunately the food menu at Bear Republic isn't vegan friendly. Between that and probably still being severely dehydrated and generally out of it, instead of eating I consumed several beers in not much time. This didn't help with my indecision, but eventually I managed to leave the pub and pick up food from a Thai restaurant. I didn't hold back with my ordering, but nonetheless on the way home I suddenly started worrying whether I had really acquired enough food—and I stopped at a McDonald's to supplement my dinner with fries. Yeah, I know...

I ended the day exhausted, happy, with a full stomach, and a resolution to take it real easy tomorrow.

Freshly paved path in Healdsburg

In promptu celebration in Healdburg's town square

Bear Republic Brewing

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