Russian River Ride

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Jobst Brandt

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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