Art Director Tad tells us about his epic 5-day cycling adventure through the beautiful Northern California landscapes…
I have always enjoyed bicycling for lots of reasons. From the health benefits, being outdoors, self-reliance, peace of mind and the simple freedom and fun that pedaling a bike gives me.
When an old college buddy (and big bicycling enthusiast) from St. Louis, MO, recently came to visit Northern California for the first time, I had the chance to rediscover and share the beauty of the state. Our plan was to ride our bikes during the 5-day window we had over as much of what I proposed to be the best of the best bicycling that defined California and the California Coast. We had hoped to include: Mt. Tamalpais, Big Sur, Lake Tahoe and the Wine Country. The plan was a tall order physically given our available time, but an exciting adventure, a chance at renewing a great friendship and an opportunity to see the Golden State from a different perspective – a bicycle.
Getting into town Saturday night, we quickly visited many San Francisco sight-seeing favorites: Lombard Street, Coit Tower, downtown, the Embarcadero and listening to the ‘singing seals’ at Pier 39.
Sunday morning we parked at the Presidio’s Sports Basement, picked up his great rental bike (Cannondale CAAD10 5 105), unpacked my Bianchi Imola from the car and began our bicycle adventure on what was an absolutely perfect weather day in the Bay Area.
We immediately climbed up and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge (west side on the weekends) and then climbed up again into the Marin Headlands to enjoy amazing views looking back over the bridge into the city. This view never gets old. Returning back over the bridge, sharing the path with lots and lots of fellow bicyclists, we carefully disassembled the bikes enough to get them both, with all of our gear for the next 5 days, comfortably inside my car. By noon we were in Stinson Beach, climbing Pan Toll to Mt. Tamalpais and along Ridgecrest with views of the Stinson Beach/ Bolinas Bay coastline. A challenging ride but worth every last grinding pedal for the scenery and views. Pan Toll is very curvy and lined with redwood trees and fern and Ridgecrest Blvd., which feels more like an exaggerated bike path, is used in many car commercials because of its fantastic location, panoramic views and swerving road pattern. Total ascent was close to 2000 feet and took about 2 ½ hours to complete. A true California Delicious moment came afterwards with a stop at In-N-Out in Mill Valley before heading to the Monterey/ Carmel area.
Once in Monterey, we stayed at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, an incredibly beautiful hotel on the water, in the middle of the action in Monterey – seconds from the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium in one direction and Cannery Row in the other. Hearty meals were enjoyed at Monterey’s Cannery Row Brewing Company.
Everything I had read about riding a bike down the Big Sur coast warned you about the lack of shoulder to ride on, the size (RVs!) and speed of the cars on the two-lane highway you’d be sharing the road with and the physical climbs, descents and wind that would all be a constant part of your ride. To answer the question if what I read was correct? Yes! Check, check and check to all of it. You had to stay very focused for all the reasons listed above but especially because the wind swirls, so crossing bridges and coming around bends is very unpredictable as the wind gusts. As challenging as it was on a bike, it was equally as dramatic in the views and natural beauty that the coastline offered.
It was so dramatic and so beautiful. Just when we thought we’d see the best angle or view of the coastline, we’d ride a little further and there would be an even more impressive sight to be seen. One of the many highlights going down the coast was crossing the Bixby Bridge. It is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world and one of the most photographed bridges on the west coast due to its design and scenic location. The River Inn and general store, located inside the Anthony Molera State Park – about 25 miles from the south end of Carmel was a much needed and appreciated rest stop for us, as well for a couple bicycle touring groups and vacationers we met while there. Out of reach for us on our ride, but worth the trip further down the coast would have been Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Total miles covered on the Big Sur coast was 50 miles.
Tuesday was a light day in comparison. We first biked to Pebble Beach, entering 17-mile drive from the Carmel-by the Sea side. This is recommended so you aren’t competing with the tour buses and traffic. After marveling at the spectacle of several holes and the clubhouse at Pebble Beach, we cycled by the Lone Cypress, The Links at Spanish Bay, Cypress Point Lookout and Carmel Bay. Looping back around to the very quaint downtown area of Carmel. Big Sur and the Monterey/ Carmel peninsula were truly magical. A must-do location whether by bike or automobile.
We packed up for the 5-hour drive up to Truckee, which is just a few miles from Lake Tahoe. Once in Truckee, we had a delicious, family-favorite, dinner at Village Pizzeria.
Riding around the United State’s second deepest (and maybe most beautiful) lake is a 72-mile adventure. Of course there is the constant natural beauty, little traffic, some very good climbs and descents and all of the little changes in location and appearance from town to town – Nevada side/ California side as you circle the lake. It’s highly recommended to ride around the lake clockwise so that you have the lake at your side the whole time and also recommended to start your ride in Incline Village, NV to help get through higher climbs earlier in your ride and to minimize traffic through busier parts of the day as you go through South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, Tahoma, Homewood, Tahoe City, Kings Beach and Incline Village. Riding on a non-weekend day was beneficial too. Although we started our ride at 28 degrees (8:30am) it warmed up into the mid 60’s by the middle of the afternoon. All of it was great riding filled with incredible views. A little more than seven hours later (lunch in Sunnyside), we proudly joined the fraternity of fellow riders that have circled the lake by bike. The Emerald Bay climb out of South Lake wasn’t as bad as I thought and the stretch from Tahoe City to Kings Beach was longer than I thought.
Thursday was our last riding day and when we got to the Napa Valley town of Yountville in the early afternoon, it was 86 degrees with not a cloud in the sky.
After stopping in for a map and some riding suggestions from the very helpful people at Napa Valley Bike Tours, we raced out to the Silverado Trail and up to the very comfortable grounds at V. Sattui winery in St. Helena and then on to Velo Vino (Clif Family Winery), which, especially if you are fan of bicycling, is a great little stop. Their friendly retail/tasting room pays great respect to the passions of bicycling, food and wine. We finished our ride with stops at the Robert Mondavi Winery and the incredible Silver Oak Cellars winery. The wine country in California is a treasured place, filled with great wines, beautiful wineries and some incredible restaurants. Total distance in the wine country, 30 miles.
Total for the 5 days: 194 miles.
Five days of all-out riding through head-shakingly-gorgeous parts of California, accented by the chance to experience it by bicycle and shared with a great friend made for a very, very memorable time.
Monterey/ Carmel, from SF: 130 Miles, 2 hours.
from Los Angeles: 320 miles, 5 hours.
Monterey to Lake Tahoe: 300 miles, 4 hours, 45 minutes.
Lake Tahoe to Napa Valley: 180 miles, 3 hours.
SF to Napa Valley (Yountville): 56 miles, 1 hour.
Read more from avid cyclist Tad Consani on his blog where he documents his first experience in the AIDS/Life Cycle Ride to End Aids from SF to LA: http://www.onepedalatatime.blogspot.com/