Day 4 Ah ah ah ah stayin' alive, stayin' alive - BayCycle 2009 - CycleBlaze

June 10, 2009

Day 4 Ah ah ah ah stayin' alive, stayin' alive

Napa to Petaluma

Who else is always waiting for The Disaster? On a bike tour we know it's always a matter of when, not if. And it'll usually happen in the worst possible place. I was in the worst possible place today and I thought I had been hit by my disaster. Luckily, though, it was only a near-disaster.
But first, let's cue the tootly music and chirping bluebirds as soundtrack for the first half of the day. No more suburbia and urbia today. Leaving our hotel near the Napa State Hospital, the day's warm-up included a nice big up-and-over the Napa River. Bike lanes, thank goodness.

Napa River is still tidal at this point. On the Imola St Bridge.
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Then a little bit of residential area, then the rest of the warm-up, a heart-attack inducing hill.

Just a little something to start the day. But it took me from the Napa River valley to . . .
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But I really wanted to get over that hill so I could get to the vines. Grape vines, that is. Red or white gold. California wines. The Carneros district.

. . . the Carneros, one of the wine growing regions along the top of SF Bay, between Napa and Sonoma. Look closely and you can see the tops of the heads of some vineyard workers.
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For a few miles I was riding gently rolling back roads through nothing but vineyards, and pretty much by myself. It was overcast and cool -- perfect riding weather, perfect scenery.

I love riding through vineyards. Anyone who doesn't? And I love the smell of them. It's earthy and clean, with overtones of cherry and oak and just a hint of Welch's.

I've always wished they'd put giant seed packets on sticks so we'd know what grape variety is being grown.
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What the top of the bay looks like: vineyards and hayfields.
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Field workers were busy pruning the vines, which were starting to flower. I heard one bunch of workers loudly singing some song in Spanish. I don't know Spanish, and I'm not a singer, but I sure know when someone is singing out of tune. Which they sure were. Made me laugh.

My first pit stop was at Domaine Carneros, a huge pile right off busy Hwy 12. As I entered the building I noticed three men sitting at an outdoor table with some papers. Figured they were applying for work. When I came out, one of them asked me if I could help them. Those were employment applications, all right, completely in English. I was surprised. 99.9% of the field workers around there are Hispanic; why would there not be a bilingual form? I know only a few words of Spanish, and one of them had pretty good speaking English, so we got by. After I went back to my bike, one of them came running up to me asking if I'd be one of his references. I was touched, but had to decline.

My most elegant pit stop, Domaine Carneros.
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My new friends, Francisco, Jorge and Marcos. They were having trouble with an English-only employment application, so my Spanish skills were put to the test. I know cerveza, taco, burrito . . .
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I left most of the vineyards of the Carneros region behind me as I crossed Hwy 12 towards Sonoma. On more back roads I ran across a small alpaca ranch. Vicki, the owner, was out watering her boys (she keeps the sexes separate as a means of crowd control). Two of the younger ones had been fighting, which I gathered just means a lot of spitting. Vicki said one of them is a wannabe alpha male, the other one doesn't want him to be, but the real alpha male is so laid back he just lets them do their thing. She also gave me a short course on the different types of alpaca and the characteristics of the different fibers. Stuff I never knew I'd find interesting.

Keeping the faith. On Burndale Road outside Sonoma.
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The Alpaca Boys. Watch out, they spit when they fight.
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We're not in Oakland any more, Toto.
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Eventually I made it to the town of Sonoma to meet MBW for lunch and a joint ride. Sonoma is a sleepyish burg except for all the tourists. There's a lot of California history that happened here - first wine grapes planted in Nor Cal, the Bear Flag Revolt where Fremont declared the Republic of California just by running a flag up the flagpole. The local Californio, Gen Mariano Vallejo, founded the town. His home and part of downtown is now a state historic park. Sonoma was a wine region before that upstart Napa.

Never knew this before studying the bike maps, but there's a great rail trail across the upper side of Sonoma. MBW and I planned our rendezvous along there. It was lovely. Maybe a mile and half long, it cuts through part of Vallejo's estate, Lachryma Montis, and has a neat park using the old depot buildings. Also passes the senior center, which is called Vintage House.

Meadows in Vallejo Home State Historic Park. The Sonoma rail trail cut right through it.
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MBW's view of the world from her trike.
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MBW is glad to be in riding togs in Sonoma and not driving.
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We lunched right on the plaza at Basque Cafe. They are a great bakery, but short on the cupcake offerings. Made do with excellent chocolate chip cookies and a nicoise salad chaser.

Okay, now cue the dum-dum-dummmm music.

There is one major route between the towns of Sonoma and Petaluma, my destination for the day. That route is Hwy 116. It winds over a row of low hills to get from one valley to the next. Two lanes. Occasional strips of asphalt outside the white line. Big trucks. Little trucks. Tractor trailers. Sometimes a sedan. All of them going 60 or more. Just one question here: WHAT WAS I THINKING?!!!!

So I'm pedaling madly along the edge of the road with a death grip on the handlebars, wondering if I have a death wish, when all of a sudden there was a loud BANG and then bang bang bang bang bang. I found a little space to get out of traffic (which happened to be in a lovely wild rose bush). The banging stopped. I was still alive. I hadn't heard any loud escaping air sounds. Something definitely was wrong with the back tire. I tried rotating it but something was stuck under the fender. Eventually got a look at the problem: a lovely bent nail, stuck right through the tread of my Schwalbe Marathon. It had been banging against the stays of the fender. Get this, though - the tube was miraculously not punctured. I have saved that nail.

The culprit that caused the Big Bang along busy Hwy 116. No air was harmed.
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I hadn't even started the climbing parts yet, so I took a few minutes to collect myself. I realized that if I wanted to get to Petaluma I'd have to be a lot smarter. So I started timing the pulses of traffic. There were whole minutes without cars. So I pulled off the road when it got thick, and pedaled faster uphill than I have every before in my life when there was a lull. At one rest, some vineyard workers across the road caught my attention. They cheered and clapped and gave me the thumbs up. I could barely hear them over the roar of the traffic. I have come to love vineyard workers, bad singers and all.

The first Petalumans I saw. Stopped to get my heart rate down after the ordeal of Hwy 116.
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But wait, there's more!

Once out of the passes, Hwy 116 continues through some more rolling countryside while the flow of traffic goes onto Adobe Road. Nice wide shoulders. Nice high speeds. Lots of people who like to straddle the white line on the side of the road. One guy was half over it heading right for me. From then on I spent as much time looking in my mirror as looking forward. Spent too much time flapping my left arm like a one-winged chicken to get people to move into their own dang lane.

But I made it to my cousin's house for 2 nights of coddling. I had a beer and a half and it was lights out.

Still alive and in Petaluma.
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Read MBW's blog for her take on today.

Today's ride: 40 miles (64 km)
Total: 147 miles (237 km)

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