Part 1. How to Ride Like an Idiot and Smile While Doing It
OK, so maybe my age is beginning to show. I used to be a pretty good rider, picking good lines, applying power, flying through the curves, stopping on a dime. Now I am lucky if I get 2 out of 3 basic good riding elements out of each curve. So be it. To me, at this stage, riding really is better than--- errr, I canít remember her name. At least now I think it's better. And while riding is so good, I still try to take advantage of every opportunity to ride. So it was a natural that I combined a heavy chore with a ride.
Dan (badsifu of the Pashnit forum) and I arranged to meet on a Saturday in June for a morning ride from Lower Lake (Clearlake CA area, Hwy 29 and 53) to Hopland, just south of Ukiah. I posted it as a potential group ride when I realized I could make the chore of moving my brother out of Ukiah into a treat. Hey, I could ride over there from the Central Valley area with a Pashnit Forum member or two! Several forum members posted their regrets on the short notice I gave, but one game rider responded.
Dan lives in Middletown, CA near Lower Lake in Lake County. He agreed to accompany me to Hopland in Mendocino County for breakfast, a nice short ride for him. Conditions weren't the greatest to ride this day, but I had a mission--the ride was for pleasure, but not the destination, if you catch the drift (who WANTS to move a piano?).
Saturday AM. 5:00 comes early! I'm due in Lower Lake at 7:15 to meet Dan. I'm thinking I'll make a bullet ride out of it by going up Interslab-5 from Sacramento to Hwy 20 in Williams, then lefty to Clearlake. But when I reach Woodland I'm making good time in the early AM non-traffic and think better of staying on I-5. I exit to take Hwy 16 through the Capay Valley instead.
At this point the massive black cloud front to the west is telling me: "It's March, not June, and we are going to wet you down!" I stop at Rd. 102 and bleed some hard cash for liquid gold and put on my rainsuit.
Hwy 16 and Capay Valley turns out to be a good choice. Capay is the home of Cache Creek, the main water supply to Yolo County. It runs out of a fairly gnarly canyon and plays out into magnificent open farm country and orchards. It eventually drains past Woodland into the Sacramento River Basin. It's home to the Rumsey Indian Band community who have built quite a modern and interesting development in Guinda from gaming proceeds.
Leaving the town of Esparto and its vineyards, the road begins a mild climb into orchard and cattle-ranching country with rolling curves and gentle whoops. Small dots of farming/ranching towns whiz by: Capay, Cadenaso, Brooks, Tancred, Guinda, etc. Rumsey is there, too, but Guinda is the Cache Creek Capital, with a couple of spots to pull over and a nice old general store. Capay Valley is popular to rafters and kayakers. Out of Guinda and Rumsey the climb into the canyon part of this run is characterized by fairly broad curves and predictable lines. The pavement is reasonably good and the grade and curves are friendly to all sorts of two-wheeled contraptions, including occasional bicyclists.
The good thing about riding really early in the AM is that the Hwy 16 drivers are NOT Cache Creek Casino gamers or kayaking microbus pilots. For some reason these folk never exceed 35mph for fear of breaking a mythical time continuum-speed barrier and turning themselves into molten cow curdle or something. This mindset can impede one's riding pleasure, so get out there early. While not absolutely tops as a road destination, Hwy 16 is certainly worthwhile as a diversion or shortcut. It's mildly entertaining as you dodge vultures and crows (or they dodge you). More about birds later. Early riding is also a good idea in mid-summer because the canyon often reaches more than 110 degrees in the afternoon. Rafters have told me that, in summers past, their hiking thermometers registered 120. Bring water. Don't get a flat.
I finish the canyon a mile or so later near the junction of Hwy 16 and Hwy 20. I turn left and notice Bear Creek/Wilbur Hot Springs Rd. continuing up the creek valley to the right (north) and note that it looks like a real winner for dual-sport riding. Wilbur Hot Springs is active, with a small resort and spa, and it is stuck out in the middle of NOWHERE, CA. Worth a trip one of these times.
Hwy 20 from this point assumes its own distinct personality. It has some gentle whoops in it together with broad curves as it breaks away from Cache Creek into different drainages. As it dives through a couple of small arroyos and valleys, the road snakes and climbs and rolls down, while, at the same time, offering passing lanes. These are decent passing areas but offer real challenges to the rider in heavy summer traffic (i.e., boat trailers and winnebagos, sometimes both in one package). When empty, the available passing lanes make for great fun. Good time can be made on this stretch, but be wary of John Law. In this part of the woods he tends to lurk in a construction zone. (More on this species of LEO in Part II, below.) At 6:45am this fine day no "black-n-whites" seem interested in my wheezer BMW. I am mildly insulted.
Nearing Clearlake, there is the Lake County Red Lava Quarry. They excavate and package this red rock for gardens. The poorer quality rock is used as highway and driveway ballast, or underlay. You see it sometimes in desert home landscaping. It was really popular for a while in retirement communities. This stuff is the reddest brightest rock ever, looking almost fire-engine red and very faked, even there in the quarry. But it's real. Red dust prevails everywhere.
A short while later I turn left on Hwy 53 and, in minutes, find myself in Lower Lake at a Shell station. 7:15am. Considering the gas stop back in Woodland and the change into my gorilla rainsuit, Iíve made good time.
There is a dark, 1988 Kawasaki 600 Ninja with a rider sitting next to it. I greet Dan. I see he's looking at my wacky set-up, a tired looking Ď94 R100RT sporting bright bungee cords that hold my sidebags shut. Duct tape holds various plastic bits together. A National Rifle Association sticker sports the back end along with an AirHeads Forever sticker (does this refer to the rider or the bike?). Iím wearing a grey-red-black full gorilla-suit and grinning from ear to ear, looking as if I have just arrived on Bostrom's personal Ducati racer. Dan, who is in a wool cap and "normal looking" rain gear, says nothing. He keeps a straight, almost serene, face.
ďMmmm,Ē he must be thinking, ďYoung Master sees a Squid-Grasshopper, Second-Time Teenager.Ē Clueless about this mystery guy, I look into the calm, strangely mature gaze of a 29-something-year-old and think, "This silent-type guy is serious business."
I look over his bike while getting off mine (don't we all, like dogs sniffing each other?). Nice canyon blaster, I think. But I notice Dan's got kind of a slick rear tire. For the moment I say nothing. It is still legal. Barely.
Sometimes web handles are fun to try and figure out. There was no indication by Dan's nickname as to what he was up to. Perhaps an anime cartoon name? Maybe badsifu got his forum nickname from his toddler trying to warn him not to eat greasy fish and chips--(ďDad, bad sea foodĒ).
He politely says Hi. After some small talk and downing some truly very bad coffee we begin the ride. Thanks to the battery acid coffee turning my stomach and my body just noticing its sleep deprivation Iím not real sure about all this. Just calm down and get some rest by cruising, OK? Don't push it, all right? Dan leads the way over to our target road.
In his postings Dan had written that Hwy 175 was "very good," and that it would be a nice run for breakfast over to Hopland, CA. "Very good" turns out to be an understatement.
First, as a teaser, Dan warms us up on Lower Lake Road, a part of Hwy 29. The road starts in Vallejo and is most famous for being the main drag up through Napa Valley wine country. It extends out of Calistoga up and over into Lake County, finishing at Upper Lake, in Clearlake. Our part of it leads us to Lakeport, junctioning with Hwy 175 along the way. Reaching Lakeport, Hwy 175 veers off to cross the Mayacamas Range into the Russian River Valley and Mendocino County. Its western terminus is Hopland.
Dan is very fast and smooth on Hwy 29 which, in this area, rolls through small valleys and dales between Lake County communities. His trusty Kwacker rarely displays a blinking brake light as he effortlessly enters curves, leaning and carving like a master, completing textbook lines, making very nice high speed exits.
It's entertaining, watching him ride, even if we are only ten minutes into this run. Note to self: ďDo not let this guy suck you into an overheated curve.Ē Not to worry, I think. On a good day I have maybe 56 horsepower and the acceleration of a city bus. How can you catch that guy on this?
Dan waits for me at a light in Lakeport, then turns left, off to blitz Hwy 175 to Hopland.
You could call Hwy 175 the "Dragonís Younger Sister." As it shows on a trusty AAA regional map, Hwy 175 looks like a simple connector road with maybe a mountain-top switchback, and then itís all over, like a cheap summer carney ride. It's not like that at all. Instead, Hwy 175 should be drawn depicting a pile of baby garter snakes fighting their way across a jagged picket fence. AAA does not know this road! But it's pretty clear Dan sure does.
This road turns out to be a real workout. Lots of good pavement, plenty of curve banking, sharp esses, whoops and hooks, blind mountain curves with hellacious drop-offs, and small patches of rubble in the road at the really exciting spots to keep you honest. It also has light to non-existent morning traffic, featuring the occasional local pickup driver hauling barking dogs that want you for breakfast. They do let you by, though. Itís got everything you need. Did I say I like this road?
Dan makes quick work of the lower approaches into the really good stuff. I get more comfortable with his smoothness and pick up my pace a bit. At Manning Creek Valley, just a couple of miles from the junction, we enter a right hand declining radius curve at 70. It is blind (around a hillside) but flat, running along a creek at a reasonable elevation. Sure enough, I overheat it. I force myself to smooth it out and paythehell attention, ever so barely scraping the crashbars, struggling to keep it on my side of the road. Note to self: DOPE SLAP! Dan leaves me in the dust, so to speak, but uphill he slows for me. I suppose itís to show me how itís done, which, by the way, he IS doing right. First lesson for the day. Road, 2 points, Kluts, 0.
We proceed, picking up speed as the road tightens and turns into something delightful. Oh, in case you forgot, the rainclouds I mentioned earlier are still hanging around and looking very ominous by this time. I actually donít yet need my rainsuit, at least up to this point. Things change. Do they ever.
When itís wet, Hwy 175's got a mean bite. Near the summit the weather goddess applies her whole bottle of hair conditioner in gentle, pouring sheets. The road slicks up, turning this potential roller coaster into a menacing ooze of light dust-sanded muddied slickness, giving the pavement the feel of a wet water snake. Itís been years since Iíve ridden such a challenging wet, and itís teaching me an awful lot about cycling with my new Metzeler Marathon tires, such as two-wheel steering, sand drifting, squeegee braking, and steel guard rail appreciation. Note 2 to self -- keep it at a distance, puleez. I discover that the Metzlers, at least this pair, are not real sticky in cold wetness as more than once, they change direction from "forward" to "sideways". This is Lesson 2. Road, 4 points, Kluts, 0.
Meanwhile Dan is just eating up the curves as the rain starts to sheet down in gentle but full waves of almost snow-light drops, drenching the road as we head higher. Did I say it was cold, too? But Dan soldiers through it. I swear he must be testing rubber compounds for Bridgestone. Every curve finds his bald rear tire sticking like glue. Even in wet sand keeled over on a downhill left hander, Dan makes an Isle of Man TT champ look like a wobbler! A natural.
After summiting and taking some pictures Dan makes a reference to the road being "a little wet." Muted understatement. Dan slows for me again, but as we drift down out of the Mayacamas range, gingerly handling angry, wet, snakebitten corners, the weather clears. Dan picks up the pace and puts me to a test through several horseshoe curves nearing the lower hills of the Mayacamas. I am a little bit more up to the task. Dan, 3 points, Kluts, 1. Down in this area, we approach the Sho-Kah-Wah Casino near Hopland. Pretty quiet at 8:15am, it is still too early to wake the revelers.
After this the road begins to pay out into the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma/Mendocino County wine districts. We ride past Fetzer Winery, which has beautiful gardens, a fine tasting room, and plenty of picnic space. A great place to spend an afternoon.
We quietly glide into Hopland. It's an old farming and ranching settlement on a part of Hwy 101 that's still two lanes, desperately trying to look like, and hang onto, the past. The buildings are quaint and there are good food choices. Hopland, by the way, is the birthplace of the modern brew-pub phenomenon that has spread nationwide and has given birth to truly great beer and ale. Think of any of your favorite microbrews and they have Hopland to thank. The brewery is a great place to stop when you aren't a driver.
We walk to an old general store structure that is now the home to the Bluebird Cafe, featuring very good coffee and reasonably good pie.
Other available dishes show a lot of promise, both in quality and quantity, if slightly pricey (about $9.50 for a good breakfast plate). Naturally there is a real pretty brunette waitress with unbelievable small-of-the-back dimples and a sweet brown-eyed smile. (You KNEW I would find one, guys! ).
During pie munching we trade stories and Dan begins to smile. A lot. He's a proud dad, has a good sense of humor and is sensibly quiet. Also handsome as hell, judging by the glances the waitresses and yuppie moms throw his way. I discover that Dan is a martial arts teacher, and what he takes on he masters well. This quickly explains his riding talent. While riding he demonstrates excellent balance, smoothness and concentration.
Not used to riding in groups, Dan asks about what riding with them is like. What if there are too many riders? Does crowding affect riding? What are the personalities like? Are there different types of rider groups, such as cruisers vs. sport riders? What do you do if you do not like the riding style of the group members? I give some descriptions and tell some anecdotes about my preference, small group riding. (For a sample ďsmall group rideĒ check out this write-up: "Roseville to Quincy June 11".)
I ask Dan about his riding experience. Turns out, Dan has a reason for bald tires and very good riding skills. The Kawasaki is his first motorcycle and heís only been seriously riding about 6 months or so. But in that time he has run over 7,000 miles. He commutes out of the Lake County hills of Middletown to his businesses in Napa, Fairfield, and soon, other cities. He covers 100 miles every day, rain or shine. To ďget thereĒ from Lake County there is only one choice of road type and that's the 2-lane twisty. Amazing to think of an entire county like that situated so close to the Bay Area. I guess somebody has to put these roads to good use.
Breakfast quickly passes and itís time to part ways. Dan has a parade to catch in Middletown and has promised his family heíd be back for that. He decides to ride down from Hopland, catching 128 from Geyserville where it meets Hwy 101, and back to the Anderson Valley from Calistoga. In itself it is a very fine ride. Dan will brave a bit more rain this day, which barely clears in time for the town parade.
Dan is a very good rider, especially considering his relative time in the saddle, and has been a great host for his neighborhood. Iíd do a ride with him in Lake County and the surrounding wine areas any time.
Part Deux: Moving Vans Can Hustle if You Want ĎEm To, Especially to Get a Taste of Lake County's Little Bits of Heaven
The "purpose" of this weekend is to ride on to Ukiah, to move my brotherís piano and other things to Chico to his new home. I am the designated "Bob-the-Diesel-Van-Driver" for this job. His household belongings and a piano with an attitude are supposed to fill a 14 foot-bed, 10,000 pound van. I start for Ukiah up Hwy 101 to begin the chore.
Riding a mile up Hwy 101 it dawns on me that this is no place to hum along on the slab. I decide to turn back around to Hopland, cross the Russian River, and take the Old River Road up to Ukiah. I know it will literally drop me on my brotherís doorstep in Talmage, a village one mile east of Ukiah. Consider taking this road wherever it appears on the map. It follows the Russian River with its vineyard and ranchland, oak groves and river bank. It rarely surprises, but it's a classic two-lane country ride with beautiful sights and light traffic. You can have a good time on this road and it absolutely beats Hwy 101's traffic wars. To me, Hwy 101 teems with vacationers and commuters fighting for pieces of road real estate, flashing headlights to get semi-trucks to pull over, all the while shaking cell-phones at each other. Pah!
I arrive in one piece, and fifteen minutes off schedule, at Brother's house. Arms folded, he is standing there waiting for me to get the rental truck. Hmmmm..... The idea, it seems, is for me to drive the truck to Chico, download Saturday night and Sunday AM, and return the truck to Ukiah. I would then ride home to Sacramento using the R100 for the back roads it was built for.
My brother thinks moving to the HOT summers of Chico and leaving his house in Ukiah is a good idea. I suppose so, if you look at the job-- new career--that could be good. Don't get me wrong, Chico is a good town. If you slice out July and August, that is. And get this: he lived three blocks from the base of Mill-Creek-Scotts Creek road, a twisted demon of track that I have only glimpsed at for a mile or two, but which looks like a right fine goat-trail challenge back up to Upper Lake in Lake County. On the map it seems to make Hwy 175 look like a cakewalk. Also, just across the valley from his house lies Ukiah-Boonville Rd. (Hwy 258) in Mendocino County, which hooks up to Hwy 128, both some of the mostest excellentest roads for two wheels in the region. Perhaps it's all for the better since Bro wouldn't have ridden them. Brother is no longer a member of the unwashed riders clan, having given up his '76 CB400F.
Chico: Alright, so at least he moved to within 3 blocks of Hwy 32 and Deer Creek Canyon, a classic Sierra-Cascade transition highway leading to Lassen National Park and Lake Almanor, fine for my riding and for Bro's passion, fly fishing. I can forsee great fishing trips accented with a ride when I visit him.
Bonus for me, he's only 10 minutes from Ozzieís BMW dealership in Chico, one of the best BMW shops in the west and one of the few that still lovingly works on airheads. Ozzie, in his mid-60's, still races boxer twins in the antique classes of AHMRA and is a character. His wife is tolerant of his bad jokes, laced with political criticism, and she's a friendly shop manager. So I can go get service and repairs and bum a meal off Brother. Sweet.
We get to Reddy's "We Got It U Rent It" site in Ukiah. A very disinterested shop monkey informs us our reserved truck isn't there. They DON'T "got it". Off to U-Haul. There the owner tells me he has one 14-footer left, a beat up (Good! Pre-Disastered!) Ford Diesel with a box that "leaks rainwater in the mother-in-law attic-- a lot." He cuts the price in half. Today is apparently the Annual "Let's all of us Move Out of Ukiah Fest," and there's no other truck around. We take the deal and hope the rain will stop for good. I buy insurance, just in case.
We take the 10,000 pound beast to Bro's house. It begins raining heavily. We load up, wrestling what sounds like a growling upright piano. It is old and mean looking, playing an off-key honky tonk tune by itself with each bump. While loading, at least one man suffers a temporary back strain. Tarping things inside we cross our fingers and say our good-byes. We slowly trundle up Hwy 20 out of town, back over the hills past Lake Mendocino, through Clearlake. We file in behind droves of Camrys and campers, Buicks and pickups, on our way to I-5 in Williams. From there it's north and east to Chico.
The piano is secure, but its weight, and that of its friend the refrigerator, make their presence known. It is slow progress in the hills. This, the motorcyclist's challenge--the moving van, pickup and soccer van--becomes a rolling caravan of things to pass. I pine for something fast and light on this bit of road, but itís just as well--we aren't the only slow-goers this mid-Saturday afternoon. Even Harley troupes are slowed down.
The weather clears as we make our way across the Central Valley from Williams. We see rice fields sprouting green stalks in their man-made lakes, wild life abounding in creeks, ducks and egrets everywhere. The clouds are breaking, allowing sunlight shafts to reflect on the paddies. This is the glorious Central Valley that William Saroyan and other writers sang praises over, and for once it is not just another place for a rider to jet through, looking for challenging roads and vertical scenery. Crossing the Sacramento River and cruising through the forest along its shores, reinforces why it is so many people happily live here.
We arrive at the new house and set to work, leaving Bigfoot the piano for the next day. Father's Day AM, Brother stomps around the new digs wondering why Doug, a friend volunteer, is 30 minutes late. I learn that he is coming all the way from Nevada City, about 1-1/2 hours away, just to help move the piano. Did I say my Brother is impatient... and a little, uh, driven?
We set to it. Bro's wife is openly amused at the planning, er, arguing over the move from the truck and the ensuing battle up the steps, arms waving, gesticulations flying and loud grunting, not to mention the invention of new words as we posture and struggle. The piano, however, is unamused, its tune unchanged from the bumps of the day before. Two hernias and a decimated disc later, it resides proudly in the living room.
Finished (boy was I), we rest a bit and then itís time to hustle the truck back. After Chico, I race across the rice paddies to get it back to Ukiah before the day's rental expires. Also, I want to have enough time to pick up the R100 and take my ride "the long way home."
Iím running late. This Diesel has to hustle. ďDO NOT OPERATE AT HIGH SPEEDS. HEED ENGINE SPEED BUZZER,Ē the warning label says. I discover that the 10,000 GVW van can run relatively peacefully at about 70mph without the buzzer screaming, "Stop beating me!"
I roar through the Valley and, at Williams, stop for fuel and to pee, treating myself to a Granzella's Ciabbatta sandwich.
Van-beast and I tackle Hwy 20 and Clearlake. The road is laid to waste as I howl the rumbling beast up the grades and slew through curves at speed, terrorizing an unsuspecting grandmother in her Buick Regal at the junction of Hwys 16 and 20, leaving a cloud of diesel smoke as my signature.
Sports cars are grossly overrated. Van-beast is 12 feet tall and over 20 feet long from dented front bumper to hashed out backstep. And Van-beast is vile--it smells like junkyard metal and rubber with a hint of wet dog. Its dents seem to say, "Try me. You can't hurt me." Even so, with its tired Ford-Buda V8 diesel engine clackety-clacking and tires roaring their thick-treaded protests, I make a discovery: I can carve a curve marked 35mph at 60, no problem! Esses? Piece O Cake! The key is just to be smooth (now where did I learn that?). Who needs a Boxster? I actually surprise a Honda 2000 roadster by keeping up with it in twisties. I try running up close to the Honda to pass, for all appearances looking like a burned out, renegade A&W Rootbeer stand. On the fifth try, I fail to pass it. The Honda's driver is, like the piano, not amused by the challenge, and begins to pull away, from time to time nervously glancing in his mirrors.
A CHP cruiser lurks in a construction zone just past the Hwy 16 junction. Heís parked his cruiser between two aggregate piles. As I round over a ridge, truck shuffling, bouncing and rumbling, I see him on my left. Quickly I make myself look like I am transporting Waterford Crystal and nitroglycerin.
Just then, he gets distracted and sees his mid-morning feast: an oncoming speeding pickup being chased by a Harley doing 80mph, both drivers seemingly bent on buying a ticket bigtime and entirely unable to see the hidden LEO. As I round the next curve I see his gumball machine lights flashing in my mirrors, hot after the duo. I choose not to linger to watch the buzzard pick at the carcasses.
Ukiah comes on very quickly after that. Clearlake is nice to look at, but on this run, the lake gets only momentary glances in an otherwise blurred run. A friend picks me up at the rental shop. For all that wild ride and the time Iíve saved, Iíve also saved us an extra day's rent. As I walk away, leaving the truck behind, it seems to sigh and creak.
Back at the old house I hustle onto my bike and run straight south on Hwy 101 for Hopland and Hwy 175. Itís a dry, cool, clear day, and man-oh-man, do I want to ride that great road again. Despite the beauty of the Bluebird waitresses, there is no time to spare as I speed left off Hwy 101 and east onto Hwy 175. This time the road is everything it should be and more. Clear. Dry. No traffic as I climb up the ramparts of the mountain ridge. I scream in my helmet in delight, chasing down that part of road that looks like garter snakes writhing on a fence:
The RT whips dagger-like from left to right on esses and bends and corners, guard rails, bushes and rocks whizzing by.
The road truly looks like a writhing snake. (Does one sense a theme here? Dragons? Snakes?) On this road, you are right on its back and hanging on as it twists and coils.
I encounter a grandfather slowly winding down the eastern side of the Mayacamas, but I don't let him spoil the fun and make quick work of him. This is the view of the tortuous highway where gramps cooled his heels:
All too soon I am back into Manning Creek Valley, where I hit that same damn decreasing radius turn that I did yesterday, honkering along at 75mph. Iíve forgotten it was there. This time itís changed overnight into a lefty. Or did I just forget that when I was going the other way yesterday it was a righty? Left or right, I make the same mistake. Note to self: DOUBLE DOPE SLAP. I turn off the heat, keep the crash bars off the pavement, and nurse the bike along the double yellow, slowly reapplying gas to keep the drive on the rear tire. Lesson 3. Score: Hwy 175, 2 more points, Kluts, 1. (Hey, I made it through, didn't I?) I'm glad nobody has seen me do that; Iíd have a hard time living it down.
Running back along Hwy 29 the opposite direction from where we came the day before, I decide to see the other end of Hwy 175 and ride to Middletown, passing through the Cobb Mountain area. Here's a view of the vineyards you find along Hwy 29 in this section:
I note a sign for "Bottle Rock Road" and remember that it looked good on the map. It parallels Hwy 175 around the Cobb recreation area. I promise myself a return visit.
Shortly after the Bottle Rock Road sign you have the option to run on Hwy 175 to the right, a nondescript T-Y-intersection with not much warning for the diversion:
Like Yogi Berra, when I come upon this little fork in the road, I decide to "take it".
I had no idea how pretty this end of Hwy 175 would be. Before, Iíd been preoccupied by threatening weather and had barely even noticed this leg of the road on the map. Wowser, how completely different it is here, and how wild the roads are! This region is a must to ride in late spring, which I am still enjoying in this strange mid-June. The vineyards of the Lake County Valley break away to horse and cattle ranch country along a nicely whooping, winding, hilly road.
At Cobb Mountain the road changes character completely. It climbs into pine forest and twists madly, wrapping around a hill into the community. I rip through Loch Lomond Valley, situated in pines, and ramble down a canyon that has larger than life open curves and tight connectors. What a hoot!
I continue through to Middletown. No parade today. I wonder what badsifu is doing this Fatherís Day but can't stop--I have a barbeque to make in Sacramento. I turn right at Butts Canyon Rd into the Pope Valley region and find myself in what appears to be a different country.
Interesting roads, weird pavement, strange visions of wineries and vineyards, all capped by digger pine forest and steep, lonely mountains. This place is capital D Different! I wind around valleys and dales in a totally lost zone. It's supposed to lead to Berryessa, at least that is the what the map says.
While diving into yet another creek run canyon I learn that buzzards around here are very casual. They donít pay attention to fast moving objects and, as a result, I find myself just missing the flapping wings of a finally very surprised vulture. Same for crows! What is this? Do they all just hang out on the roads? Thereís no roadkill in sight. Must be in the water supply? Wait! This means they are not used to traffic in these parts! Get it? I do now! Come back and ride in your own private cafe-racing playground! This is Lake County/East Napa riding, their own little bit of Heaven.
I make some more turns and Lake Berryessa reveals itself. I join up with Berryessa-Knoxville Rd. I've come upon boaters and picnicistas celebrating Father's Day, and have to wind my way slowly around the lake, following trucks pulling their Reinells and sleepy (and maybe intoxicated) picnickers. Considering itís a holiday, I shouldnít complain. But this goes on for a few miles. No problem, I think, just wait it out. It's time for gas at Spanish Flats anyway.
Wrong. Not only no gas, but there are plenty more boat-n-rigs to follow. OK, there are other gas stops, I think, so I pass in, ah, ďinopportuneĒ places to get to a fuel stop more quickly. At mile 120, about the limit for my R100, I go by Steele Cove Cutoff and Hwy 128 (Napa-Winters), where there used to be a 76 station. Nope. Remember the last time you were here on a bike? What was it, 1995? Weeds are growing through the gas pumps.
So now, even though I have very little traffic, I have to take it easy going eastbound to Winters to find gas. What if the other resorts on the lake and in Putah Creek Canyon have no gas, too? My fears prove to be real. I squeeze the throttle gently, like a brain surgeon's hand, to save fuel while trying to remain at speed through the twisties (you have fun where you find it). Finally, I limp into Winters. Itís really not so bad after all, because Iíve been able to reel in the sights and have my fun. Note to self: Hwy 128 above Monticello Dam is really not in good shape, considering what a great road it once was.
From fuel in Winters I make a run towards Sacramento in Nasty-Wicked time. But the ride isn't over. I decide to do old Russel Blvd. to Davis and bag some sweepy curves before Davis. It's got a couple of interesting open sweepers in the flats, which allow for set-up and hard throttling. My Metzlers jump on the pavement breaks, adding a bit of standing hair on the nape of my neck as I strafe the curves and pour it on through tangents. The RT is howling and spitting gas out of the right carb as I reach the sign, "Welcome to Davis--Speed Limit 35". I quickly come off 90mph and quietly cruise West Davis' more genteel neighborhoods to Hwy 113 for a quick two-mile dash to I-80 and home to a Father's Day BBQ and some rest.
The weather and activity over the weekend offered a stark contrast. On the one hand, it would have been nice to meet up with a riding companion and have ideal conditions for an all-day ride. Fact is, the ride together was punctuated with rain and hazards and lasted only two hours. But in itself, it offered adventure in the form of new territory seen and great roads to travel, not to mention meeting up with Dan, who turned out to be a great ride companion. Lessons learned (aside from the riding techniques) were that you can make a short experience into a memorable one. The Saturday fun contrasted somewhat with the next day's ride, done alone but in good weather.
The second phase gave the opportunity, again, for me to see parts of Napa and Lake Counties I'd never seen before and a chance to revisit some of my old water-skiing vistas at Berryessa. The roads were unbelievable, from the great weather, to the quality of pavement, to the sights, and the generally light Sunday traffic.
This trip wasn't something you might call the great summer tour. It arose from necessity, not planned recreation. All the elements combined to make what could have been a routine family chore into one of the best motorcycle experiences I've had in some time. Perhaps the underlying point is that life can be interesting if the mundane is jazzed up with only a little extra effort.
Maybe this will help give you some juice for the next time you have an out-of-town obligation to attend. Hmm, I wonder if my old friend Annie in San Luis Obispo has a fence to mend? Let me get out the maps.....