On a recent Saturday, Jonathan Hero and Tyler Harris headed out from an old ranch in Napa; an old ranch converted into a vineyard and owned by a guy called Sam.
But before heading out, and indeed before arriving at the ranch, a few late preparations needed to be taken care of. Jonathan had characteristically forgotten something. This time it was his cycling shoes. The intrepid tourists headed to Davis, the Cycling Capitol of California. Davis has an excellent roadie shop, Davis Wheelworks. Davis does not have an excellent touring shop. After some research, a touring-centric shop was discovered about twenty miles away in Sacramento, the capitol actual of California. The aptly named Bicycle Business was a fixed-gear shop well on its way to transitioning into a touring shop. Jackie Musick, that’s what his business card said his name was, was extremely helpful. He went into the back room and soon emerged with three pairs of shoes. The first shoes were a black Mavic pair of touring shoes. They fit and they were less than $40.
How did people write before typewriters had Internet access? I am in a Motel 6 in one of the finest cities in Nevada (which is like being in the 6th finest city in Nebraska, or the 18th finest in New York). But this Motel 6 charges for Internet. Why do all the fancy places charge for Internet?
Eventually, and without further event, the boys (a euphemism or a youth-emism, because they are technically men) arrived at the staging area, a vineyard with tree-sized lilacs, tall, arching hedges, herb gardens, roses, tulips and lavender, lots of lavender. Our generous host greeted us from the end of the driveway where he was trimming hydrangeas. After exchanging niceties and agricultural tips, our heroes headed to Petaluma. The plan was to start Friday morning and the boys were officially on the road by Saturday at 3:45 pm. Between Napa and Petaluma they were only called assholes once and honked at a three times. But who counts?
Petaluma: home town of Winona Ryder. Home of Tom Waits. George Lucas filmed his awesome famous movie, American Graffiti, in Petaluma.
Jonathan Hero has some annoying food allergies (aren’t they all?) and he only eats “ethically” produced meat. This only served to make the abundance of delicious smelling taco trucks a tantalizing frustration. They ate at a forgettable brewpub style restaurant. Not only was the restaurant forgettable, the waitress forgot to take the adventurers orders. So she was forgetful.
The guys stayed at a KOA campground that cost only slightly less than this Motel 6. But the campground did have free WIFI. The KOA also had a small farm custom designed to make Jonathan feel at home. Roosters crowed at the break of day. A few hours later Tyler emerged like a butterfly from his tent. They mounted their steeds (bikes really) and headed straight to the farm to pet the goats and chickens. After a light breakfast of eggs, pancakes, croissants, home fries and coffee, the young men rode the Petaluma/Point Reyes road to Point Reyes Station.
The road was beautiful and they agreed that it was one of the top 100 prettiest rides either had done in the last few months. At Point Reyes Station, a quaint town not far from the Nation Seashore of almost the same name, the gentlemen drank coffee procured from a window in a place that looked like an old fruit shed. Famished, they headed to the best restaurant in town, Osteria Stellina. The delicious smells preceded their entrance. Their entrance, it turned out, never happened. As they approached, the open sign was turned over so that the opposite side of the sign showed through the window. Unfortunately, the open sign read “Closed” on this newly relieved side. Unfortunately does not begin to describe the situation. Tragic may be a better word. The local San Francisco writer, Nick Czap, had written a review that was playing over and over in the minds of our intrepid and hungry heroes more and more as they approached Point Reyes Station. It took all of Tyler’s skills as a professional negotiator, weight lifter, and psychologist to calm Jonathan down and keep him from doing something he would regret. So they coasted their bikes a block down the street to eat at The Station House Cafe. It was fine.
Taunting us a couple hundred feet to the west was a bike shop called Black Mountain Bikes. “Hey Tyler, we like bikes, right?” “Yep.” Answered Tyler in his typically taciturn way. So it was settled. They would check this place out. This writer is not accustomed to hyperbole. Nor is he prone to exaggerating adjectives. So he does not have the word-skills do describe the feelings that our young gents encountered upon entering this old wooden edifice. It would take a poet to do that. Do you remember the first time you and a fellow bike nut talked about how cool it would be to find a bike shop that had not changed since 1988? Or even 1993? Remember that? Well, that is how it felt to enter Black Mountain Bicycles. There were rows of mint Ritcheys, Fishers, Bontregers, Breezers and even Marins, but cool vintage Marins. We had entered a museum of Marin County mountain biking, which is to say, a museum of mountain biking. As far as we could tell, the only bikes for sale were Black Mountain bikes, designed by a tall guy that we saw fixing bikes behind the counter. That was another thing about the bikes on display; they were all tall bikes, because they were all his bikes. By the way, the Black Mountain bikes were classic and handsome looking mountain bikes. The travelers both agreed they would happily ride a Black Mountain bike with pride.
Then they hightailed it to undulating Limantour Road that lead to the Beach of the same name. They passed through densely overgrown forests and by idyllic homes and eventually to the beach parking lot. They waited. They waited some more. Soon a Volvo of an undetermined vintage meandered down the hill and came to a stop directly in front of the tourists. Two lovely San Franciscan’s exited the car, we’ll call them Belinda and Nick, with what turned out to be pizza. A nice evening of food, wine, conversation and campfire songs commenced.
After Tyler acted out a Youtube video he was struggling to describe, a ranger about 15 years of age came and reminded the bicyclers that they had a long ride to get out of the National Park. The fellows said, “Damn straight. Good thing we have good lights.” As soon as the underage ranger turned his back they snuck off into the bushes for a wakeful and illegal sleep – unless that offends your sensibilities. If so try this: Then they lugged their fully loaded touring rigs over the painfully steep rollers back to Point Reyes Station and stayed in a fancy hotel if there is such a thing.
After rising from either a wakeful night of sleeping and hiding or a restful night in a fancy hotel, the gents headed East on Sir Francis Drake through farmland, redwoods, then Fairfax where they briefly got lost until a friendly local pointed them in the right direction. The right direction took them through one small North Bay town after another small North Bay town thus avoiding the busy streets near highway 101. Each small town had what looked like a pretty nice bike shop, all of which were closed. The delightful young men wended their way inevitably to the ferry in Sausalito. Next stop: San Francisco. Then a quick ride in dense traffic to the ferry terminal at Pier 1 for the ferry to Vallejo. In Vallejo Jonathan asked a young teen on a BMX bike if they were on the right road to Napa. The boy said, “Napa? Wow. I’ve never ridden that far. Do either of you have GPS?” They did but their batteries were dead. “Oh, that’s a shame,” said the boy without a shred of irony. He was maybe the politest 14-year-old boy on a BMX bike either of the journeyers had ever encountered. The boy wished them luck and said something like, “May the wind be at your back…” They didn’t hear the rest as they were trying to get to Napa before the sun went down. It turned out that they were indeed heading in the right direction. After 20 some odd miles of worn out road with traffic to their left, glass under their tires, and ugliness on their right, they finally pulled into the paradise that is Sam’s vineyard. Tyler lovingly laid his sleepy Velo Orange Campour into his Nissan Moreno and drove back to the Gold Country where he lives and works. With mixed feelings, already missing his partner in crime, Jonathan cozied into one of the many vacant beds and slept like a baby – one of those rare babies that sleeps all night. The following morning Jonathan shared a Nespresso with Sam before he had to leave for work and Jonathan helped himself to Sam’s well-stocked larder. With a full stomach he went outside, wiped off the layer of salt that had accumulated on his Campour, mounted the saddle and headed to Yountville. There is a bakery in Yountville, owned by Thomas Keller no less, to rival any bakery in France. And Jonathan has sampled at least ten French bakeries and none in Paris so he knows of what he speaks. He got a delicious croissant to stay, and a tiny French sandwich to go. He ate his croissant in the company of hungry and, in some cases, crippled Brewer’s blackbirds.
Back on the bike, back to Silverado Trail and off to Calistoga. While looking for yet another place to eat, Jonathan encountered a gruff old gent carrying a litter of squirrels. He was saving them. Or kidnapping them by accident, which is sometimes the case with animal rescue.
Stomach refilled, somewhere, Jonathan climbed onto his bike then climbed what he thought would be a hill but what turned out to be a mountain. After uncounted units of time and countless hairpin turns he started the long descent that ended in Clear Lake (the town, not the lake) where he stayed in a dirty Travel Lodge and ate crappy Chinese food. He attempted to get soft serve at Dairy Queen but they did not have any. He repeats: they did not have soft serve at the Dairy Queen. Disappointed, he made his way gingerly from one busted carload of teenagers to another, then finally made it back to the grungy motel and slept, he is sure he slept. The Clear Lake area, an area surrounding the lake of the same name, is, no offense to the locals, a bit red-necky. Jonathan could be wrong but that is the vibe that he got and has gotten on many past trips through Lake County. Jonathan, in his pink Rapha wind jacket, back on the road, feared for his life every time he heard an approaching vehicle. Eventually, after surviving every approaching vehicle and every passing vehicle, he relaxed and enjoyed the ride through oak strewn hills. Highway 20 is quite beautiful. The road meanders through idyllic pastures, over babbling brooks, and through miles of walnut orchards. Part of the highway is paved with red volcanic rock and is red – red asphalt. It reminded Jonathan of the movie of the same title that his driver’s education teacher showed, except the red in the movie was blood. Finally Jonathan pulled into Williams. Williams is a town on Interstate 5 and is a great place to stop if you like authentic Mexican food. Jonathan remembered that Williams was where he first ate tongue tacos. But as mentioned above, but differently put, Jonathan only eats ethically raised tongue. So he ate at a Granzella’s, a deli, restaurant, grocery store; a great place to eat more than you could possibly need and then some. Then he rode to Yuba City, bird watching all the while. In Yuba City, Tyler and a young associate, Noah, met Jonathan at Starbucks and the bike portion of the journey ended. What happened next, this story does not tell.
Birds identified by bike: