Thursday, 1 May 2003

SANTA ROSA, Calif.

Morning came early on this fifth day of the ride, with the sunrise spreading shades of vermilion across the sky. Our breakfast stop was about five miles outside of Fairfield, in Suisun City, where the waitress at the Valley Cafe has been the same every year I’ve done this ride. She always seems completely undaunted by the large group of riders that comes click-clacking in with our cleated shoes. The coffee is good and the oatmeal is hot.

Riding away from the cafe, the road leaves all traces of the city behind and turns into a landscape of farmland and vineyards. It’s a lazy ride, through a place called Mankas Corner that is just that: a storefront on a corner.

Wine, but no whining.

Photo: Mike Kahn.

Wooden Valley Road follows the creek to the intersection of Highway 121. A quick climb followed by a fast descent leads us into the Napa Valley, onto the Silverado Trail, past the famous names on the wine bottles. There is a long history of work by the Greenbelt Alliance in the Napa Valley. Dorothy Erskin, one of the alliance’s founders, spearheaded the agricultural preserve that is today’s Napa Valley. In 1968, Jack Davis, owner of Schramsberg Winery, fought for the Napa Agricultural Preserve. That same year, Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks, Greenbelt Alliance’s earliest incarnation, convinced two county supervisors to support vineyard preservation. The resulting policy continues to protect Napa’s vineyards. If not for CRRP’s vision, the Napa Valley might look just like San Jose.

Stag’s Leap Winery hosted our lunch. In year’s past, we have eaten in a beautiful spot behind the winery by the grassy banks of a pond. Because of the amount of rainfall in April, the area was too wet this year. So, instead, we ate inside in one of the cellars, where our hosts had set a long table with a white tablecloth decorated with vine trimmings down the center. It was both elegant and generous.

After lunch and another 10 miles of the Silverado Trail, we traversed the town of St. Helena where the infamous Spring Mountain Road waits on the other side. This is one of the steepest climbs on the ride and, many riders will say, the most difficult. After peeling off my arms and legs, (bike lingo for removing excess clothing), I made my way up with Steve, the Greenbelt Alliance development director. He knew a lot of the wildflowers we passed along the way and pointed out the fairy lanterns and wild delphinium. He also taught me that following the centerline would make the climb less steep. “How much less steep?” I wanted to know.

Fairy land.

Photo: Mike Kahn.

To help me out, he told me a funny story during the steepest part of the climb, about a cyclist he knew who was riding on a country road and came across a farmer in the middle of the road on a tractor. As he rode by, the farmer said, “If I had a gun, I’d shoot it.” Thinking he was talking about him, the rider started pedaling as fast as he could. About a mile down the road, his heart still racing, he realized that the farmer was talking about shooting his tractor, not the cyclist! Before I knew it, we were at the top, where our support vans greeted us with fresh organic strawberries and homemade cookies.

Tonight we are in downtown Santa Rosa. The weather report is calling for heavy rain tonight and into tomorrow morning. With only two days left of our seven-day adventure, we are hoping we can complete the ride and arrive back to San Francisco on Saturday, across the Golden Gate Bridge, on two wheels, powered by our legs.

I know that tomorrow night, we will have dinner together in Olema, no matter what happens with the weather. Each of us will be asked to reflect on the high point and low point of the ride for us. I haven’t decided on a low point yet, but the high for me was the windless afternoon in the Montezuma Hills with the white bursts of clouds spreading light and shadow across the miles of green hills.