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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vacation at Home Part 3

Summer is almost over and kids are heading back to school, tourists are going home and we're all trying to get our last licks in before the rains start - please let the rains start! NOW is the time to get out on the roads and reclaim our home. We are so blessed!

Welcome Home
By Alan Joseph

Here we go again, another unsolicited testimonial for exploring the wonders in our own back yard. After the first two tours, I have been cornered by enthusiastic readers who advise, “You should try…” or “The best place is….” So I am offering up a double feature of reader recommendations along with some of my favorites. Find Star #1 on the handy map, fire up your pony and let’s get rolling.

#3 Coleman Valley Road: Steve and China make their home in Graton and come Sunday, you’ll find them tending their garden. But as the afternoon shadows grow long, they’ll exchange a wink and agree: it’s time for Calamari at the Coast. Let’s take their suggestion and head west out of town on Graton Road. Up and over the hill, you’ll drop into a narrow valley, pass the Dutton Ranch and bend to the right on your way to Occidental.

Cresting the ridge, you’ll drift into open pasture land dotted with cows and the occasional llama; the trees up ahead will guide you into Occidental. Turn left at the stop sign and just beyond Negri’s Restaurant, you’ll find Coleman Valley Road on your right. This little gem climbs steeply out of town, leveling out with views across high meadows. The pavement will meander for a while and then bear to the left, bringing you to a “T” in the road marked by a hand painted sign that simply says, “Ocean.” That’s an understatement; the next 8 miles are simply amazing.
This is Sonoma County at its undeveloped best, a chance to ride through land that hasn’t changed much since I first rode here 35 years ago. The same can be said for the pavement, which is pretty choppy at times. This is a narrow, undivided road with no shoulder to speak of, so watch for the occasional truck or bicycle coming your way. You’ll curl through quiet valleys, tunnel through overhanging forests, climb hills covered in giant oaks and rise up where the views go on forever.

These vistas are some of the best in the County, sometimes you can see all the way to Mount Diablo. Approaching the crest of the hill, you’ll cross a cattle guard and the fences will simply vanish. You may find yourself sharing the road with a bovine buddy, slow down and give ‘em room, this is their home, after all. The road tilts downhill, the land falls away to the coast and the horizon line surrenders to the Pacific Ocean. At the summit, there’s a dirt pull-off, but there’s so little traffic, you can probably just pause on the road. Like the saying goes, on a clear day, you can see forever.

The pavement winds steeply down to Highway 1, turn left and you’ll soon be looking down the long beach where Salmon Creek flows into the ocean. Vesta and I were here last week and rode right by the perfect photo opportunity; we’ve regretted it ever since. Well, we were distracted, thinking about something to eat in Bodega Bay.

Satisfaction was found at Lucas Wharf, four miles down the coast, perched on the bay just to your right. Take a seat at the bar and say hello to Henry, he’s that tall drink of water with a flair for mixing drinks. Now’s the time for that Calamari, maybe with a Caesar salad and some French bread. If that doesn’t suit you, the manager, Michelle, will be happy to suggest something to go along with the world class views. Whatever your taste, gaze out on Bodega Bay and thank your lucky stars you live near such a place. I trust you can find your way home by heading inland to the town of Bodega; you ought to be old friends by now.

#4 Tomales Bay and Point Reyes Station: And talking about old friends, please find Star #2, it’s the town of Tomales and the start of our next Two Wheel Tour. Chuck is a Sonoma County Sheriff who rides a BMW GS, a long legged bike known for journeys on and off road. He recommends the turkey sandwich with dressing at the Tomales Deli, says it’s like Thanksgiving all year long. It’s the perfect warm up for the amazing ride on Highway 1, down along Tomales Bay.

Now I’ve been asked why I love motorcycles so much. Well, you drive a car but you ride a motorcycle, and the best ride is when you and your bike move as one. Add a great road and you have the ingredients for magic. Flowing along the Estero, Highway 1 is indeed a great road. The turns are graceful and the pavement is perfect; this road has rhythm. Lean to your left and roll through the corner, lean to your right and roll through the next. You and your bike fly through the air in a swaying motion unique to two wheels. And they say white men can’t dance.

But beware, as you make your way down to the shoreline, “Deer Crossing” signs are posted everywhere. Last month I was on this stretch around dusk, just having a grand old time. I came flying around a turn only to find Bambi and his mother straddling the center line, wide eyed and frozen in place. Throw on the binders and dodge, brother! Watch for movement in the brush and remember to cover your brakes. Hit one of these darlings and it will ruin everyone’s day.

Despite the deer, this amazing highway is one of my all time favorites. Dipping in and out along the bay, your Two Wheel Guru predicts you’ll be leaned over and smiling big time. Here’s another reason to smile: 8 miles down the coast you’ll find Tony’s Seafood Restaurant. You know me, I like my eateries a little seasoned, with waitresses who ask, “What can I get for ya, Hon?” Open only on weekends, Tony’s has been serving up oysters and fresh seafood since 1948; funky and friendly, my kind of place.

Across the water, the Pt. Reyes Peninsula rises behind the town of Inverness, offering up a lesson in plate tectonics; the San Andreas Fault runs straight through the bay. You are on the North American Plate; the Pacific Plate is across the water on its way to Alaska; moving very slowly. In 1906, the San Andreas lost patience and ruptured, sending the far side of the bay 20 feet north in one BIG jolt. Before the next one hits, let’s get shakin’ to Point Reyes Station.

The town got its name from the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who landed his ship just over the hill in Drake’s Bay in 1603, a long time ago. The original version was “Punto de los Reyes,” meaning the Point of the Kings. The “Station” was added in 1871 when it became a stop on the North Pacific Coast Railroad running from Cazadero to Sausalito. From there the ferry carried timber, grain and produce over to San Francisco. In exchange, city residents traveled north on the “Railroad to the Redwoods” to visit the wilds of Sonoma County. Apparently, the idea caught on.

Nowadays, Point Reyes Station is a busy hub of tourist activity, especially on weekends. It’s also one of the few places to get gas, on your right when you enter town. Turn left onto Main St. and you’ll notice quite a gathering in front of the Bovine Bakery. Known to locals and visitors alike, this family enterprise has ‘em lined out the door. Along with fresh coffee, you will find a tantalizing array of baked delights; their Bear Claws are particularly persuasive.

The town has lots of opportunities for retail therapy, but my favorite is Marty Knapp’s Photography Gallery, one block down the street. Marty has spent a lifetime creating black and white images capturing the unique beauty of this area. I’ve collected his work for years and always look forward to stopping in to say hello and see what’s new. I suggest you do the same.
Well, enough of this big city life. Head back up the hill, turn right and you’ll be riding past Black Mountain towards Petaluma. You should turn left just after you cross the purple bridge. The road rolls through tree lined canyons and then winds past the Nicasio Reservoir. Up ahead, there’s a tall sign on your left, it’s the Marin French Cheese Company. Talk about history, they’ve been hand making cheese since Abraham Lincoln was president. Founded in 1865, this is the oldest cheese manufacturer in the country, quite impressive, so is their cheese. Surrounded by willow trees, the picturesque pond is the perfect setting for a picnic with your sweetheart, she’ll be amazed at your good taste and refinement.

Back on the road, you will be heading east towards Petaluma, but not for long; turn left on Hicks Road in about a mile. This is wide open ranch land, more or less untouched for decades. In 3 miles you’ll turn right on Wilson Hill Road and climb to the top; and what a top it is. Stop at the summit and take in the view of golden hills stretching out into the distance. Come back next spring and you’ll find the land cloaked in green velvet, beautiful indeed.

Down the mountain, the road levels out and curls through oak studded farmland. You should be looking for Chileno Valley Road on your left in about 2 miles. Now bear with me, because here the story takes a turn. You see, I’m not a religious person, not the type to worship in a church. But on any given Sunday, you’ll find me riding through these valleys giving my thanks to God. I can’t explain why this place moves me so, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Chileno Valley is a place of remarkable peace and tranquility, an outdoor cathedral. But this sanctuary will end all too soon. In about 10 miles, you’ll turn left on Petaluma-Tomales Road, and head back to where we started. But as you return, I hope something of this place stays with you, I know it stays with me all my days. My thanks to Vesta and the West County Gazette for helping with this invitation to discover and enjoy this wonderful place we call home.

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