Jul 30, 2017
by David Abbott
When I started cycling in 1982, I was a broke Air Force veteran in Tucson, Arizona using a bicycle as transportation because I could not afford a car. In those days, all I needed was a pair of cutoffs – it was the ’80s after all – and a backwards baseball cap or a bandana to take bike rides far into the shimmering desert. Or so I thought.
I often – and very stupidly – did not even take water on rides, usually depending on the kindness of strangers for survival.
It was not until my first attempt to ride from Tucson to Phoenix, about 125 miles, that I learned the importance of carrying sufficient gear and water on the bike for long rides to remote locations. I set out that hot summer day with nothing but the desire to get to Phoenix, one 12-ounce water bottle, a patch kit and a borrowed pump that turned out to be broken.
Late in the afternoon, about 40 miles into the ride, I pulled over for a break in the 100-plus-degree heat and wound up in a patch of goatheads that peppered my badly worn tires, leaving them in far worse shape than when I started.
Suffice it to say that before long, all the patches were gone, as was the water, and my tires were still flat. My attitude was shot and I felt completely defeated, resigning myself to die out in the middle of the desert.
I began hitchhiking shortly before sunset and was fortunate to be picked up by an off-duty highway patrolman who volunteered in his off hours to drive the lonely roads north of Tucson to save unlucky or stupid people (I was definitely in the latter category) who stranded themselves out in the desert.
I relate that story to emphasize the importance of being prepared when you are out on rides that take you far away from the comfort of what we think of as civilization. In modern society, we don’t often think beyond our cell phones, so cycling can be a good way to remind us of the fragility of the human condition beyond the thin veneer of civilization.
It is a good idea to have sufficient water, a few tools, with the ability to use them, and, in Sonoma County, extra layers for the inevitable microclimate shift that can have you sweating as you climb to the peak of one hill and freezing in a dense fog on the next.
Learning to fix flats can also be a path to enlightenment, as one has to be in a good philosophical space to have that type of disruption and be flexible enough to not let it spoil the rest of the ride. I like to look at roadside maintenance in a Zen-like manner and think of it as an opportunity to enjoy my surroundings while I hone my mechanical skills in less than optimal circumstances.
Good maintenance and preparation go hand-in-hand, so be sure to have a mechanically sound machine and the capacity to carry what you will need on the road, including snacks to avoid bonking – hitting the wall.
This one is a trip southwest through the windswept coastal hills dotted with stands of eucalyptus trees, bay and Cypress, replete with dairy cattle and the occasional sights and sounds of the chicken coops that made this area the “egg basket of the world.”
At times, the topography brings the landscapes of Ireland to mind, particularly on winter rides when it is green and damp, which is a lot more fun than it sounds.
The occasional song of the Western Meadowlark punctuating the sound of the wind blowing through the trees calls to mind the rolling prairies of Kansas, my home state where the state bird is the meadowlark and not the Jayhawk.
The east end of the valley returns to the oak-studded hills southeast of Petaluma. Helen Putnam Regional Park offers a shady place for a break before the final 12-mile push back to Cotati.
Beer-loving cyclists will love Petaluma, an often-overlooked Mecca of the microbrew revolution. Not only is it the home of Lagunitas but there is also a tap in one of the bars in town devoted to Pliny the Elder. I will leave it to the adventurous beer drinkers to find it.
Be sure that you are comfortable with higher speeds that can take you in excess of 45 MPH on some downhills, and be sure your bicycle is mechanically up to the task.
This 45-mile loop begins in Cotati at a centrally located park known as the Hub, a park on Old Redwood Highway and W. Sierra Avenue and an apt place to begin a bike ride. The park is near the Hub Cyclery, one of the oldest bike shops in Sonoma County, owned by Chaz and Claire Fetrow since 1990.
The park is also home to the Cotati Accordion Festival, taking place Aug. 19 and 20 this year. For information, go to cotatifest.com.
Heading west on W. Sierra, the route winds its way a short distance under the freeway to Stony Point Road, past the now-defunct nine-hole Washoe Creek Golf Course. The two-mile stretch is another small gem of county road, with oak trees and eucalyptus, interspersed with a handful of houses and, of course, vineyards.
Turning left on Stony Point, the route goes past theStony Point Rock Quarry about a mile to Roblar Road and the Washoe House, a historic roadhouse built in 1859. The Washoe House served as a stagecoach stop on routes connecting Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Bodega during the 19th century and the building became a historical landmark in 1979.
There is parking to the west of the building, so it can serve as a handy starting point, and ready-made refreshment stop at the end of the ride.
Roblar Road snakes its way west for 6.5 miles through a valley dotted with dairy farms. It is mostly downhill as it drops to Valley Ford Road and follows Americano Creek past the settlement of Bloomfield until it turns into Highway 1. Bloomfield was briefly the second largest town in the county in the 1850s, but tapered off once the railroad passed it by as a stopping point.
Follow Valley Ford Road about 3.5 miles and turn left, heading south on Highway 1/Shoreline Highway.
From Valley Ford Road to Fallon-Two Rock, it is about three miles, but for an added treat, ride the extra 2.5 miles to Tomales for a break at the Tomales Bakery. The bakery is renowned in bicycle circles and people from miles around make regular stops to mingle with the locals and enjoy some of the best-baked goods in the North Bay Area.
Whether one cycles Tomales Petaluma to the south or Fallon-Two Rock, as I did, prepare for something completely different from rides to the north or east in Sonoma County. The oak forests and vineyards give way to wide-open valleys dotted with stands of oak, bay, eucalyptus, and Cypress and plenty dairy cattle, horses and chicken coops, as one nears the ocean. Be sure to bring extra layers on this one, as it can be warm enough for short sleeves in Cotati, but still foggy and chilly toward the ocean.
I chose to ride east on Fallon-Two Rock to Twin Bridge, but further east, Alexander Road is another option for heading south to Tomales Petaluma Road. However, one chooses to get there, head east on Tomales Petaluma and turn right on Chileno Valley Road, about 6 miles from Highway 1.
Chileno Valley Road is one of the most popular roads for cyclists in the area, as it is easily accessible from the south as well as the north and it features something for anyone that enjoys cycling. There are long rolling hills dotted with stands of oak, bay and eucalyptus with usually very little traffic of the four-wheel variety. The road itself is 13.5 miles from end to end where it turns right past Helen Putnam Park for a quick descent into Petaluma on Western Avenue.
Petaluma was originally settled in 1850 and incorporated in 1858, making it the oldest city between San Francisco and Eureka. Despite being only 18 miles northeast of the epicenter of the 1906 earthquake in Olema, Petaluma withstood the shock with relatively minimal damage, leaving behind a collection of buildings from the 19th century that still stand.
By 1917, Petaluma was the world’s most prolific egg and poultry producer in the world, a reputation bolstered by the dairy industry, making the city the undisputed dairy capital in the world at the time.
Modern Petaluma is a collection of the old and the new and is now part of the epicenter of another global industry and leader in the microbrew revolution. Not only did Lagunitas – now a global phenomenon owned by Heinekin – establish itself as an IPA powerhouse here, there are several other brewhouses offering their own beers or other local beer delicacies, including 101 North Brewery, Dempsey’s, the Petaluma Taproom and Brewster’s Beer Garden. McNear’s has a great selection of beer, good pub grub and it is also one of the premier music venues in the area.
From Petaluma, it is eight or so miles back to Cotati, depending on the route. Crossing the freeway and heading north on McDowell Road takes one right past the Lagunitas TapRoom & Beer Sanctuary, and from there up Old Redwood Highway it is a short jaunt back to the Hub and a final opportunity to reap the rewards of the day’s calorie burn at one of the many restaurants or bars located nearby.
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