Russian River Ride

Discussion in 'rec.bicycles.rides archive' started by Jobst Brandt, May 24, 2003.

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  1. Jobst Brandt

    Jobst Brandt Guest

    Sonoma County weekend Ride

    Friday 23 May 2003

    Late Friday afternoon, after driving to Occidental from the Bay Area, Jeanie Barnett and I rode over
    Bittner and Joy Roads to Bodega Highway that passes through Bodega, a small historic town that seems
    to be tuned for tourists. I prefer Bolinas that I think is more natural and has more charm. We
    continued to Bodega Bay against, what seemed to be a moderate head wind. I found the bay interesting
    because it is full of silt and only partly navigable at high tide. It has no river to flush sediment
    and a breakwater prevents the ocean, that originally formed the bay, from doing it. Upon heading
    back, the wind was noticeably stiffer than I thought, about 25-30mph, so the ride back on HWY1
    (Valley Ford Cutoff) was swift and easy. As we turned north on Freestone Road on our way back to
    Occidental we were out of the wind. An enjoyable dinner was savored at the Union Hotel with
    Healdsburg Stout and Coleman Valley Boone Ale.

    Saturday 24 May 2003

    On Saturday we rode down to Monte Rio and took the former railroad route along the south shore of
    the Russian River to Duncan Mills, that looked a lot more touristy than in 1947 when I first saw it
    as only an abandoned railroad station and freight house with no town. At that time the road crossed
    the river on the old one lane wide railroad bridge. This was the west end of the North Pacific Coast
    (NPC) narrow gauge railroad although the branch of the standard gauge Northwestern Pacific railroad
    (NWP) went a bit farther. We rode inland along the north shore of the Russian River on HWY116,
    turning up Austin Creek Road to Cazadero where the NPC RR ended and the roads begin to climb.

    We took Kings Ridge Road and began climbing out of the dark redwoods. This well paved narrow road
    makes me wonder who and why were this and many similar steep roads built at the dawn of the
    automobile when cars had a hard time with average grades. At the Summit, so to speak, we stopped for
    pictures and found that a large group of Western Wheelers from Palo Alto CA were riding over much
    the same route.

    We rode with them to Tin Barn Road where we and some Western Wheelers took Stewarts Point Road to
    Stewarts Point on the coast while others took the loop through Annapolis. We got something to eat
    and talked about our adventures with the others before catching the brisk and pleasantly cool wind
    going south to the Kruse Rhododendron Preserve. On the way we scared a sea otter that had climbed up
    the cliffs and was about 100 yards from the beach, trying to cross HWY1. I hope our encounter
    deterred it from trying again.

    We took Kruse Ranch Road and visited Kruse Rhododendron preserve where large rhododendrons rose
    overhead as we walked the loop trail. Although many bushes were already in bloom, it seemed that
    more would blossom in the coming weeks. We continued beyond the end of pavement to Plantation, on
    what seemed to be a railroad right-of-way because it climbed so gently and uniformly. Plantation is
    a beautiful old ranch with an elegant well maintained Victorian mansion beyond a white picket fence
    and well trimmed lawn. Some large sculptures on the lawn and at the edge of the forest add an
    interesting ambience. A short way beyond, a short steep rise got us up to pavement at Seaview Road
    (from which the sea can hardly be seen).

    We continued along the ridge past Timber Cove and Fort Ross roads to Meyers Grade, of which I had
    often heard of dashing descents on its steep grade. Although steep, I found it a winding bumpy road
    on which I doubt anyone has topped 50mph, although if it were straight and smooth, 60mph would not
    be difficult. We rejoined the Western Wheelers at Jenner for a snack before heading south across the
    Russian River. We turned inland at Bridgehaven on Willow Springs Road that that runs parallel to the
    river before heading up Willow Creek.

    Willow Springs Road is an especially scenic but unused route that was once a logging railroad that
    connected to Duncan Mills over what is now Freezeout Road. We saw an Osprey gliding gracefully into
    the wind below innumerable Turkey Vultures soaring overhead. After a mile or so of marshland, Willow
    Springs Road enters a beautiful dense redwood forest with remnants of giant stumps from logging 100
    years ago. Although this area was formerly timber for Louisiana Pacific Lumber company, there was no
    indication of its current status.

    The pristine creek was full and gurgled nearby between the trees. After following the creek for a
    few miles, the road began to climb, never exceeding 4% except in hairpin turns, where the railroad
    apparently used switchbacks to get by. The road levels off after reaching a ridge where it connects
    to Coleman Valley Road that descends to Occidental. For dinner we joined the Western Wheelers at
    Negri's for an Italian dinner and an entertaining evening.

    Sunday 24 May 2003

    We rolled down the hill to Monte Rio, that was just waking up, and crossed the Russian River where
    I suddenly had a two-way freewheel. I turned around and returned across the bridge using hand
    propulsion on the railing. With tools in my touring bag, and a suitable rock for a hammer, I was
    able to dismantle and repair the freewheel. With pawls cleaned of debris, they began clicking
    again as they should. However, I noticed I had a cracked axle and using a Crescent wrench borrowed
    from a bystander waiting for the store to open, I was able to install a new axle in my ancient
    Campagnolo hub.

    After the delay, we rolled on up river to Guerneville before passing the noted vintners, Korbel and
    Hilton, turning on Wohler Road that crossed the river on a beautiful multi-span truss bridge that
    was sadly in need of sand blasting and paint. Turning east on Westside Road we passed Mount Jackson,
    Williams-Selyem, Rochioli, Davis Bynum, and Hop Kiln wineries.

    Westside Road meandered through grassland, wineries and thin oak forests before we turned north on
    Sweetwater Springs Road, a road that looks more like a well paved driveway than a county road. We
    climbed steeply over small ridges to drop into a densely wooded valley, an idyllic mixed forest
    along the rushing clear waters of Potter Creek. Because sections of the road are wide enough for
    only one car, signs remind drivers of two way traffic. Then the hill. The road climbs steeply from
    Potter Creek (200ft) to crest a ridge at 1200ft elevation.

    The divide is dry grassland with a few oaks and pines, a stark contrast with the lush forest
    below. Besides that, the descent passes the remains of the Sonoma Mine, a huge mess of bravoite,
    metacinnabar, vaesite, and cinnabar (mercury) tailings, rusting machinery and collapsing
    buildings. We returned to the forest at the bottom of the grade, leaving the ugliness behind as
    the road follows meandering Sweetwater Creek. We rode to Armstrong Redwood Park and viewed the big
    trees before returning to the Russian River at Guerneville where we took the Old Cazadero Road
    toward Cazadero.

    For some reason we went straight ahead on Chimney Rock Road where Old Cazadero Road made a sharp
    turn and began climbing out of Mission Creek. We followed Mission Creek and up Chimney Rock Road, an
    amazingly steep narrow but freshly graded dirt road. We to the top of the ridge where there were two
    houses and no apparent road beyond. Although I could ride most of it, the better then 20% grade got
    me off the bicycle now and then for a rest. Old maps show it as a through road to Cazadero, but
    roads have a way of vanishing. The man who lives on the ridge explained that he had just graded the
    road that morning and that we should be careful when descending. It was amazingly steep and curvy!

    Back at the junction we took Old Cazadero Road climbing steeply on good pavement, although signs
    warned that the road was not a through road and that end of pavement was four miles ahead. After
    cresting at about 1200ft, the road runs along the south side of a ridge, exposing a view over steep
    meadows and a ridge to the west beyond which Austin Creek flows. A locked gate blocks the road at
    the end of pavement with easy passage for hikers and bicycles. After descending across meadows on a
    saddle, we descended the north side of the ridge into East Austin Creek. The descent is moderate to
    steep but the road was destroyed last winter from failed drainage. This was apparent because there
    were no leaves in the deep rocky gulches that had been eroded down the middle of the road. I would
    rate this as impassable for most bicyclists who would rather not carry their bicycles. Judging from
    motorcycles tracks, even they had visibly turned back.

    At East Austin Creek, concrete abutments, that once supported a bridge, remain where there is no
    trace of a bridge today. Although the creek flowed briskly, a wide gravel bed made carrying bicycles
    across easy. On the opposite shore the unpaved road is well maintained up to a single house next to
    the bridge site. As we began climbing over the ridge to Austin Creek and Cazadero, we came upon a
    doe and her tiny baby. The doe dashed off leaving the youngster to fend for itself. Its defense was
    to play dead and lie motionless as we passed within arm's reach. I took a picture before we
    continued over the ridge to descend to Cazadero. Finally, the last half mile of this steep descent
    was paved.

    We stopped at the bakery at Elim Grove that lies one 'elim' from Cazadero. Here we were told that in
    former times, local men would car-pool to the top of the old road to drive the cars of terrified
    tourists down the steep mountain. Jeanie though that would have been appropriate for our descent as
    well. We took the main road, the former NPC right-of-way, to Guerneville and followed the Russian
    River to Duncan Mills. We took the old railroad route on the south shore to Monte Rio and then to
    Occidental. Interestingly, the NPC right-of-way from Camp Meeker to Occidental is still in perfect
    shape as Occidental
    - Camp Meeker Road, running parallel and on the opposite side of Dutch Bill Creek from
    Bohemian Highway.

    We saw many deer, a group of three velvet antler bucks, sea otter (on the road), Bobcat, baby deer
    playing dead, and traces of feral pig digs. Flowers were marvelous in all colors of Wild Iris, many
    varieties of California Poppies and many Forget-me-nots in the woods.


    We saw relatively few birds but heard and saw many favorites, like the Wild Turkey (gobble-gobble),
    Black Headed Grosbeak (wolf-whistle), Red Breasted Nuthatch (mini quack-quack), Hairy Woodpecker
    (grating screeches), Steller's Jays (noise), Acorn Woodpeckers (Woody Woodpecker) and most
    beautiful, the Hermit Thrush that has an ascending warble with built-in reverberation:

    "Narrow Gauge to the Redwoods" Bray Dickinson:

    "Trains to the Russian River" Fred Stindt:

    Jobst Brandt 22/05/03 [email protected]

    Jobst Brandt [email protected] Palo Alto CA

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