West Sonoma – Willow Creek Loop (Sunday – August 26, 2012)

A few months ago, Mr. Phil had proposed a self-supported century from SF to Santa Cruz and back, and then sometime early July added it to the preliminary ride listings for Aug.26, and when I scheduled my birthday ride partly around that date, selecting the previous weekend to ensure I kept the date open for the Santa Cruz loop.  However, when the August listings went “live” on July 20th or so, i noticed the Santa Cruz ride had been replaced with a Willow Creek loop instead.  I knew Phil was planning on doing that ride sometime, too (since we’d talked about it in April or May on the King Ridge ride), and for me it had been about 10 years or more – maybe 15 – since i’d taken my little purple Bianchi Sport SX w/ skinny skinny tires up the dirt and gravel on Willow Creek… so I was looking forward to another try and although initially disappointed to see the replacement, was happy for the option:

Sun Aug 26   4!/TM/45-ish   West Sonoma – Willow Creek Road
Meet at Ragle Road and Covert Lane in Sebastopol. Meet outside Ragle Ranch Park, in Sebastopol at 10:00 a.m., roll at 10:15 We’ll take a fairly direct route to Occidental, and then out to the mouth of the Russian River. After we cross the river the fun starts. Willow Creek Road goes for about six miles through farmlands and potholes. Most likely there will be one or two muddy bits. Then it’s closed to cars. After that it’s a peaceful climb through the redwoods – quite rideable with with road tires with just one steep pitch. Return via Freestone. Directions to start http://g.co/maps/2nmux. Any ? Phil M, Janet M. Carpool recommended; contact Phil to arrange it.

I ended up forming a carpool, me driving w/ Philippe as a passenger; I’d spent part of the morning cleaning up my bike and messing about with a botched attempt to “slide” it into the trunk/back seat area in one piece in the interest of keeping it squeaky clean, and because the back seats don’t fold down flat, the upward angle is just enough to make the prospect of an easy flat-slide extremely awkward…… so I ended up taking off both wheels anyway…

This turned out to be fortuitous, for as soon as I was done getting showered and dressed, and then had come back upstairs from moving the car out of the garage onto the street, I received a call from Chris around 8:05 a.m. who also wanted to do the ride, so i said, sure – come on over, we’re leaving at 8:30.  Philippe arrived, we loaded his bike (with some help from Ben, since we couldn’t figure out the gizmo on the new Thule setup Ben has put onto the roof-rack for his new recumbent, different from the familiar Yakima setup on the other side of the car).  I’d erred on the extremely conservative side for our Sunday morning drive out to Sonoma, so when Chris showed at 8:35 we were still in good shape, time-wise.

In fact, traffic was blessedly light, and we made it out to Ragle Ranch Park at 9:38 a.m., including the wrap around/U-turn up Ragle Road and back to Covert where the rest of the party was assembling (no parking available this day on Ragle Road, due to little-league practice or some such.)

We all made our respective trips to the park restrooms, and I went through my usual wardrobe agony… deciding wisely to leave the thermal vest in the car, as well as the long-sleeved GPC jersey, favoring instead the sleeveless Sheila Moon 1960s “Laugh-In” pattern shirt w/ matching “arm-coolers” over my Pippi-longstocking SmartWool base layer.  Nikki pointed out the sleeveless shirt should go underneath the long-sleeved one, but i said “but then you can’t see the flowers” or something, and she said “no, because when you get hot, you’ll want to wear the sleeveless shirt… ”

aha, not a problem… being 1/2 Swedish in heritage and having grown up at the beach, i have my methods for taking off the under-layers in stealth mode.  Turns out, my bike glasses today are also in stealth mode, as I have left them sitting NOT in their normal location inside the helmet, but on my dresser in the back room….. so luckily i’ve worn my glasses for driving and have some type of eye protection.  One the one hand, it’s good thing, for these are my regular glasses and i’ll actually be able to READ the cue sheet more easily; on the other hand, my eyes will be weeping all day from the wind whipping around inside the lenses.  Nothing that frequent blinking won’t fix, though.

Kevin shows up shortly before take-off time, so we are a nice little tidy party of eight, and we start off from Covert turning westward onto Ragle Ranch Road, several more turns in a general southwesterly direction and then southbound onto Graton Road.

at mile __ we turn right onto Bohemian Hwy, which today was surprisingly lovely.  I’d ridden it a few times with denser traffic, and it was not a pleasant experience, but this Sunday morning, it almost felt as if we had the road to ourselves …. and later making the left turn onto Moscow Road in Monte Rio, I was happy to be in my old stomping grounds…. all familiar territory from spending about 10 years in the area on weekends and vacation time with my ex-BF/fiance’, Blender Bob the cabinet maker, even re-roofing the house out on Freezeout Road a few months before we broke up in 1996.

Moscow Road eventually crosses the Russian River at Duncans Mills, and we also cross the Hwy 116 to visit the restrooms and for some, to buy snacks and sandwiches at the newly improved General Store.

Kevin and i compare our respective Olympus E-PEN 4/3rds format cameras.  Kevin’s camera was the inspiration for my purchase after seeing his on the club’s NYD ride up Mt. Diablo…. something small enough to actually bring with you on rides but still offer features of a “real” camera that a point & shoot doesn’t.  It turns out his is the “micro 4/3rds” model, a bit sleeker than mine in both body and lens size, but so far i’ve been happy with mine, also (it arrived a week before my solo vacation to Kaui’i late January, and performed nicely with “rolls and rolls” worth of footage of the high winter surf.)

Janet – Duncans Mills General Store, cruising the lunch selections (photo credit: S. Reineman)

Duncans Mills General Store – healthful offerings
(photo credit: S. Reineman)

Kevin and the “other” E-PEN (photo: S. Reineman)

lovely shaded porch – Duncans Mills General Store; Nikki, Kevin, Greg and Phil (photo: S. Reineman)

With our small group, there is plenty of time to chat and loiter a bit.  We share stories, Phil shares delicious Jalapeño Ranch potato chips, and Nikki tells me my “outfit is very bright and colorful, in a sort of mis-matching way…”

as Nikki sez, my outfit is “very bright and colorful, in a sort of mis-matching way…” (photo credit: K. McLoughlin)

We eventually mount our trusty velo-steeds and head westward the short but bracing trek along the last stretch of the Russian River to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean and Hwy 1 and I am thankful that Janet had reminded me “are you kidding?  into a cold headwind?” — when I announced before leaving Duncans Mills I was thinking of striping down to my sleeveless jersey for the upcoming climb — for indeed the wind was not only ferocious but chilly.  At Hwy 1 we turned south.  I was familiar with the turn and then the next one, from previous bike rides up Willow Creek, and Phil had instructed Kevin (who was going to ride on ahead in order to plant himself on the side of the road for photo-ops of the group – to NOT head uphill to the right after the bridge (which I added, correct, NOT up to Goat Rock).  So when the group crossed over the river at Hwy 1, Kevin was properly stationed for some photos as we approached…

Russian River – Hwy 1 Bridge (photo: K. McLoughlin)

We turn left onto Willow Creek Road which is well-marked and also had our instructions (for those not familiar with the place) that the turnoff was at the Indian Tandoor Restaurant on the left.  Willow Creek Road runs inland and paved for about 1/2 mile, then turns to mostly unpaved hard-pack clay dirt and, as Mr. Phil would say “redwood duff” (maybe he actually said “redwood dust” but i sort of like the sound of what my ears heard — evoking downy, feathery softness, something to which one can look forward that’s more forgiving if your rear wheel spins out and you fishtail onto the gravel…. and in any case much preferable to the “muddy bits” Phil described in the ride listing and which I’d also experienced first hand in my earlier rides up it.

Eventually (about mile 4 out of 6 in the uphill “offroad” stretch), we come to a sunny clearing out of the redwoods, a small glade with enough felled logs for our entire party to spread out and eat our picnic lunch.  During lunch there is much discussion on whether this route would be welcomed by the Wednesday riders, and the consensus — as I understand it — seemed to be that in the past not so much, but since many of the hill-avoiders (hill-whiners) are fewer and fewer, Willow Creek might be a great offering for a Wednesday ride.

Our illustrious leaders, Mr. Phil and Janet, taking a break (photo: K. McLoughlin)

It’s a beautiful day for a picnic, and I almost feel like Winnie-the-pooh should be there (it now occurs to me that my stripey/flowery outfit might be more like Piglet than Pippi-Longstocking).

Sherie, Chris and Philippe…. seriously, what’s UP with over-stuffing those pockets?? (photo: K. McLoughlin)

picnic lunch in the meadow (photo: S. Reineman)

Lunch over, and it’s time to press on, upward through the dense redwoods which will eventually become sparser and replaced by the chapparal and manzanita.

Redwoods on Willow Creek Road (photo: K. McLoughlin)

Around mile 4 of the unpaved stretch, we come around a steep, left-turn, uphill turn in a switchback.  Phil has advertised that there is one steep section, and I ask “is this it?” and both he and Chris emphatically correct me “you’ll know when you get there!”.  And indeed a few more turns, around mile 5, it rises before me… I see a few riders walking up and steel myself to ride it.  However, in my approach, I misjudge the distance/speed at which I need to move around Nikki, and rather than stall out and re-injure my ankle, I jump off my bike and then end up walking the entire steep part (about 300 yards!) until I reach a place near the top that’s flat enough for me to mount and start riding again.  Meanwhile, Chris, Nikki and Kevin have all managed to stay on their bikes to the top, and Phil has only had to jump off his for a short bit.  As Ben would say, back to “Bike 101” for me!!

Sherie and Phil…. uphill after lunch, Willow Creek Road (photo: K. McLoughlin)

At the top of the dirt section, we find the rest of the group, near a sign that tells of “permit” for trail use, also prohibiting hunting, firearms, etc. (Phil later sends me a link to the permit info, as well as a map: willow-creek-trail-map

We follow the paved road further uphill and along the ridge-line until in intersects with Coleman Valley Road, and turn right.  Eventually we intersect Joy Road (it IS!), and Bitner, and then onto the Bohemian Hwy to Freestone, where we have our welcome and mandatory stop at the Wildflour Bakery.  Last time i was here I devoured an entire Cinnabun by myself.  Today I’m more sensible and share it… and am still stuffed.

After our coffee and sweets break, we take a moment to tour the lovely herb, vegetable and flower garden on the grounds of Wildflour before setting off for our return stretch.

A short piece on Bodega Hwy, then right turn onto Barrett Road which is a pleasant, if pot-hole ridden alternative to the heavier traffic on the highway.  Most of us comment that the pavement on this road is bumpier and more teeth-chattering, bone-rattling than the off-road portion of Willow Creek Road (but I imagine that’s also because we are now going mostly downhill on the cruddy pavement, whereas we were riding mostly uphill on the dirt….).  I’ve said it before and will gladly maintain that i doubt if i would ever ride Willow Creek Road in a westbound/downhill direction on my road bike (but sure would like to try it sometime on my mountain bike!!!)

Thanks to Phil and Janet for a wonderful day and fantastic ride!  Tiger’s happy, too!

happy Tiger… must belong to that chick with the whacky outfits!! (photo: K. McLoughlin)

Let’s do it again, soon….


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