Winter in Northern California. Dan was going to run off to the other side of the Sierras for a long weekend to go climbing, something I couldn’t take the necessary Friday off to join him. So instead I made plans of my own. Carolyn and I would ride our bikes north and explore Wine Country in the off-season. The crowds would be gone and the vineyards full of colorful leaves. We ended up extending our stay for the entire weekend, thereby allowing us to see even more of the country than we originally intended.
November 22-23, 2008
Total Miles: 473 miles
Napa Valley and to the coast
I started out by not taking any of my bikes, but instead taking Dan’s KLR. He had offered, since he would be out of town anyway, and I had been very curious to take the “new” KLR out in real world conditions to see how it stacked up to my old and abused bike. I headed out early (too early for a weekend, but this would be worth it) and met Carolyn at a old time diner that she recommended. It was good, even though I generally don’t like to eat before a big ride. We checked out the maps and did some last-minute route planning, choosing to ride through the city and over the Bay Bridge to the east bay, banking that the early hour would be clear roads. Thankfully, we were right and it didn’t take long to cross the bridge and head north on I-80.
Finally we crossed over the Carquinez Bridge and passed through Vallejo before dodging over to Hwy 29 and into Napa. No stopping for us yet; we have twisty back roads to explore! And instantly we were rewarded with Hwy 121 as it rolled through forest, farmlands and vineyards. The roads were empty and Carolyn and I played leapfrog as we took turns stopping for photos. We took the turn off for 128 but shortly after that we took another turnoff onto Knoxville Road, now heading along the shores of Lake Berryessa. The lake level was low and the evidence of recent wildfires lined the road. But it was still beautiful, and the slight haze in the sky kept the sun from creating harsh shadows
Breakfast at Nini’s in San Mateo
Heading northeast on 121 out of Napa
Overflow from Lake Berryessa
For miles the road followed the lake, but rarely was there a good opportunity to actually see much of the lake until we hit the north end of it. We stopped for some pictures before we tackled the next section: the less-than-perfect pavement of Knoxville Rd into Knoxville. The road crosses a river numerous time – the sign itself warned of dangerous conditions in wet weather for the next 6 miles. The crossings were low paved sections where low water levels would pass under, but if there had been a storm then the river would have easily washed over the road surface, creating flooded conditions. Today everything was perfectly dry.
Riding along Lake Berryessa
The lake itself
At the north end of the lake
Dried lake bed
Knoxville Road at the north end of Lake Berryessa
One of many low crossings that is easily flooded
Beautiful Knoxville Road
Views along the road; what’s that in down the hill?
I think it’s been there for a while
Somewhere near Knoxville
The plan after Knoxville was to check out Reiff Road. The sign at the turn off said that it was closed permanently but one can never trust signs along the road. We were going to see for ourselves. It was the first dirt that we had been on that day and it felt good. Two miles in, with the first mile surprisingly busy with local traffic, before we ran into the gate. Yes, closed it was, which was incredibly disappointing. But what else was there to do, other than to backtrack and make a new plan. Which is what we did.
A barn along Reiff Road
Carolyn coming up Reiff Rd
The end of the road
Where we couldn’t go
Carolyn joins me at the gate
Chicken coop along Morgan Valley Rd
Carolyn deciding if she should wait for me
Lower Lake Stone Jail
Word has it that the builders were also the first guests
A jail, “Dedicated to the…People of California” – nice
North and west along Morgan Valley Road led us into Clearlake, where we found lunch at a place called “Cabos”. The menu boasted of a “killer burrito” and much to my dismay, they were right. I relived that burrito for the rest of the afternoon. But while consuming said burrito, we poured over the map and set up our next route: High Valley Road north to Bartlett Springs Rd. From there, we’d see where the sun was in the sky.
High Valley Road immediately lived up to it’s name, climbing quickly out of the valley along the lake until it was high above the surrounding scenery. It started out in cultivated fields but quickly became thickly treed. The views dropped off, except for brief sections of road that ventured closer to the lake, where we could see distant mountains across the water. I also saw what I thought were wildfires, although they seemed to be burning cleaner than any fire I had seen before. Later that night I learned that they are natural geysers and vent like that constantly.
Clearlake from High Valley Road
Valley of vineyards from High Valley Rd
A better view of the valley
Not much dust today, thanks to an earlier rain
Once we entered the trees it was nothing but miles and miles of dirt roads, all in excellent condition and thanks to some rain the other day, very little dust. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Digging the road in deep
Views of Clearlake along the way
Clearlake below High Valley Road
Carolyn comes along
Exploring off the main dirt road
Once we reached Bartlett Springs Rd we had a decision to make: how far could we go but still have some semblance of daylight to get to the hotel in? It was a delicate balance of having as much fun as possible without having to ride on dirt roads in the dark. I’d done that once before (in Mexico, no less) and I was in no mind to do it again. We saw a sign for Pinnacle Rock and figured that it might be a fun “mini destination”, especially since Barletts Springs Road was on our radar for tomorrow anyway. We poked around up there, finding the roads getting smaller and less defined, and stopped when we came to a three-way fork in the road. None of the options looked optimal, and the not-too-distant sound of gun shots didn’t make exploring any more enticing. We turned around and went back to the main dirt road and made our way down to civilization, and Hwy 20.
I can’t resist a good puddle
Leaf-covered forest roads
Geysers in the distance
Vineyards along Hwy 20
After a quick “scenic route” to get to Clearlake (Sulfur Bank Road) we pulled into the hotel parking lot just after sunset. Perfect timing. We amused ourselves with bad movies on cable and dinner in the attached restaurant. Bored, we went to bed early so as to get an early start to our next day’s riding plans.
Grafted trees in the orchard
There’s a water fountain in there, too
Sulfur Bank Road
Sunset in Clearlake
The fancy Best Western in Clearlake
Sadly – not very enticing for a hot tub
The hotel during the daylight
Sunday morning dawned clearer and brighter than the previous day, but it was still chilly. Last night’s map inspection left us with dozens of “I want to ride there!”, but we had narrowed it down to what we felt would be manageable. The first thing was to ditch a return to Bartlett Springs Road. Instead, we’d head south around the lake and then west to Hopland. But not just any old road to take us into Hopland. No, we were going for the intriguing-sounding “Old Toll Road”, a most excellent sounding name.
The road started out as Bell Hill Road and then Highland Springs Road and it meandered through flat farmlands before starting to gain elevation as it reached the Mayacamas mountains. The pavement wasn’t very good, but good enough for the KLR. We eventually ran out of pavement, much to my delight, and were now on good, narrow dirt roads. It snaked through a mossy-treed valley and frost-lined fields before shooting back up another ridge and into the sunshine. Again, recent rains kept down the dust but left me no puddles to play in.
Heading west on Highland Springs Road
Rough pavement on Highland Springs
End of the pavement on Highland Springs Rd
Carolyn, looking cute
Highland Springs becomes Old Toll Road
Plenty of frost in the shadows
Carolyn on the Old Toll Highway
One of many gated (private) roads along the way
Looking west towards Hopland
The perspective is off – this truck is about 40′ downhill
Coming down the west side of the Old Toll Highway
Back into the vineyards
Maple Ridge Vineyard just off of Hwy 175
Carolyn crosses the bridge to 175
The Old Toll Road ended well, with pavement returning along with the vineyards. Carolyn and I had reached the outskirts of Old Hopland and the fun but “modern” Hwy 175 that most people take across these mountains. We rolled through Old Hopland and then Hopland, fueling up but not stopping otherwise. Next on the agenda was Mountain House Road. I have yet to find out what the name comes from, but I found it intriguing. What was even more intriguing to me was the “Hopland-Yorkville Rd” that left Hopland but then stopped half way to Yorkville. What was that all about? I wanted to know, but there wasn’t enough time today to do much out-of-the-way exploration. Next time, perhaps.
Mountain House Rd. was a wonderful exercise in empty pavement, perfect corners and beautiful countryside. Only about 20 miles long, but a very enjoyable way to head towards the coast. The road met up with Hwy 128 and we took a right and headed towards Yorkville. It was just a dot on the map and it wasn’t much bigger in person. But they did boast a Deli, so we stopped for some mid-day grub. The proprietor was a pleasant man who seemed helpful and knowledgeable, so I asked him about the Hopland-Yorkville Rd. “Ah yes, that used to go through but now the western portion runs across private land.” He seemed to know a couple of the owners and my mind started to work on how to get permission to ride this road someday.
After lunch we continued west on Hwy 128 for a few miles until we saw the sign of Fish Rock Rd. Another intriguing name that I don’t know the history of, but it was a good dirt route to the coast, and since Carolyn and I were out for dirt, there was no reason not to take it. We had been told back in Yorkville that it was “partly paved”, which usually means that it starts out paved, goes to dirt and then becomes paved again just before the end. That wasn’t to be the case. It did indeed start out paved, snaking through a massive Redwood preserve but then the pavement ended, and started, and ended and started. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason as to when the pavement resurfaced, but it was a little disconcerting not to know just when it might switch back again. Regardless, it was a pleasant road, well-maintained but without much in the way of views, as the trees obscured anything more than 30′ away.
This time the road ended not in a cluster of vineyards, but at a county refuse site. Exciting. We took the Old Stage Rd (not nearly as exciting or romantic as it sounds) south to the town of Gulala, where we were now on the Pacific Coast.
Riding on Mountain House Road
Open roads and plenty of sunshine
Historic bridge from 1913
Lunch at the Yorkville Deli
The name says it all
Redwoods along Fish Rock Road
Views of the ridge we had just come from
Sun-dappled, smooth dirt roads
Fortunately, traffic wasn’t too bad along here. Sure, there were obnoxious mini-vans who didn’t understand the concept of using the turnouts to allow faster traffic to pass. But for the most part I blew along the coast, enjoying the massive panoramic views of the calm waters and slightly hazy skies.
Carolyn stopped in the small coastal town of Jenner to re-fuel, so I took some pictures. Towns along here, if they’re not catering to surfers, are catering to other vacationers. It was the off-season, so most places were closed or empty, but the towns still held onto their vibrate look that “business was good.”
Views along the Shoreline Coast Highway (#1)
The shoulder drops off precipitously
Not a lot of guardrails along this section
The coastal town of Jenner
Another view of Jenner
I let the GPS tell me which way to get home, but I didn’t necessarily pay any attention to it. Three times I let it tell me to take the next road inland, but I resisted, knowing that it would just spit me out onto Hwy 101 and then I’d be stuck on highway hell for the rest of the way home. Instead, I let it go until we hit Bodega Bay before going inland on Valley Ford Road. This was a very pleasant, easy road that rolled through green farmlands and well-populated cattle farms. Another slight detour onto Spring Hill Rd led us directly into Petaluma and, much to my pleasure and surprise, the Petaluma Creamery.
We stopped so that I could buy Dan some cheese (and Carolyn bought some of her own tasty treats), all the while listening to an old man bang away on the piano in the corner. It was quaint and homey place, and a good chance to prepare for the drab slab ride home. I told Carolyn that once we got to the city (SF) I just might take off, as she has a much lower cruising speed than I do and I had lots of things to get done at home. It turned out that I accidentally lost her on the Golden Gate Bridge anyway, but since we had already discussed this, I didn’t feel (too) bad about leaving her behind.
It was a great trip, and with amazing weather. I’m glad that it didn’t rain while we were out, as the road we were on would have become slippery quagmires and impassible. Dan’s KLR did a great job. The brakes are superior to mine, but I prefer the body style of mine. I couldn’t really tell much difference on the road, and especially on the dirt roads. Except that I didn’t like the tires – not very good for the dirt roads I was one. It was nice to check out the “new” KLR, but just confirms that I’m very happy with my old mule.
Green winter wheat along Spring Hill Road
Spring Hill Road
Mmmmm – Petaluma Creamery