Approaching San Fransisco

Sonoma – Petaluma – Tomales – Point Reyes Station – Fairfax – St Anselmo – Sausalito – San Fransisco

Don’t worry – this is going to be relatively brief! Four days. Four delightful rides.

Arriving in SF was always going to be a highlight for us. Cycling over Golden Gate Bridge and being in a city so often captured in movies, songs and novels has been an exciting prospect ever since we thought about going on this journey. We decided to take it slowly.

From Sonoma we returned to the sea, anxious not to miss out on too much of this amazing coastline. We headed south and then diverted inland through Marin heartlands, before hitting the city. This took us on the following rides.

Sonoma – Petaluma – Tomales. A shift from vineyards to cattle ranches; from lush valleys to wider grassland scapes. It was a quiet route, avoiding state roads for the majority of the way. A bit bumpy (tame, mind after other recent rides!), hot, dusty and dry with blustery crosswinds.

We passed through Petaluma. A river town that grew considerably with the railroads. It became an important destination for storing agricultural produce and game to serve expanding markets in SF and Oakland. However, trade was badly hit once Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937. Local debate is ongoing about what to do with the former tracks – could become an excellent cycle route! The town was fortunate to be spared the ravages of the 1906 earthquake that hit California. Many of the old mills and warehouses still stand and are being renovated.

En route to the coast we skirted the US Coastguard Training Centre – aka ‘Force Readiness Command’. Also, swathes of farmland securely fenced off for ‘testing’. Have not got to the bottom of what is going on there.

Our destination was Tomales. What a lovely village. A number of well preserved historic buildings. The town was founded in 1850 and has a steady population of about 200. Unfortunately, we were too late to visit the local museum but took advantage of the deli, grocery and bakery – what more do you need? We stayed in a snug cottage dating from the 19th Century.

Tomales – Tomales Bay – Point Reyes Station – Fairfax – St Anselmo. This was a tremendous ride. Starting with breakfast in the bakery, where the official opening hours are ‘until we run out’ – brilliant. Given this situation we grew a little concerned when the guy in front of us in the que decided to order our breakfast pastries decided to order vast piles of buns…..but fortunately two small cinnamon rolls remained for us.

We cycled along Tomales Bay on a narrow, gently undulating and weaving road. It had just been resurfaced and works were still ongoing as we passed through. These works comprised a guy leaning out of a truck in front of us and replacing the cats eyes by hand – surely there’s a more efficient way? This painstaking and laborious process meant we could sneak by the truck leaving a huge long line of traffic to huff and puff behind the truck, which in turn meant we could roll along side-by-side, chatting, perfect. The Bay is actually an inlet about 15 miles long and only one mile across. Its northern end opens out on to Bodega Bay, providing shelter from the Pacific currents. The waters create perfect breeding conditions for oysters, clams and mussels. And as a consequence, little fish shacks and cafes perch along the water-edge and on jetties – oozing character and charm. Regrettably, too early in the day for us. (Editors note. I really thought about it but oysters at 8am, sadly not!).

We stopped in Point Reyes Station for lunch. Another former railroad town where loads were switched between different gauge tracks as goods traveled from Russian River in the north to Sausalito in the south. Today, the town is a popular stop for those traveling through – having a collection of artisan produce and craft shops – as well as serving the coast and its agricultural hinterland. It has a number of 19th Century buildings. According to local literature – a vaguely Italianate influence (many of the early settlers were Italian or Italian speaking Swiss) but this didn’t seem very evident to us.

The route then took us inland across foothills, through farmland and redwoods along the valley of San Geronimo Creek to emerge in Fairfax. Only 20 miles north of San Fran, it felt suburban – something we’ve not experienced for a while. Fairfax is a cycling hub and true to form there were Lycra clad cyclists aplenty!

Our stop-over was in neighbouring St Anselmo in an extremely comfortable AirBnB, thoughtfully catering for every need. Hey-ho, laundry time again!

Muir Woods loop. Fairfax, nestled in the south of Marin County, surrounded by hills and the birthplace of mountain biking. Therefore, we had to do a local ‘classic’. We checked out recommendations from cycling clubs in the area and opted for the Muir Woods loop. I thought I’d read it described as a good recovery ride, so we expected a gentle circuit. Oops, mistaken – climb, climb, climb some severe; a couple of short sections so steep we thought we could topple over handlebars on the up and drop off the back coming down. The route took us through outer city suburbs (including the gentille Ross neighbourhood), hills, redwood forests, virtually to the coast and back to Fairfax.

It was a lovely ride. Topped by getting our first distant glimpse of SF. As Jen said in one of her posts – the skyline looked remarkably similar to one of our ride profiles!

Fairfax – Sausalito – San Fran. An urban ride but mainly on greenways and cycle routes. We hit San Fransisco Bay just above Sausalito, renowned for floating homes on Richardson Bay that were built by artist squatters after WWII and is still a vibrant community. The houseboats are brightly coloured with attractively planted docks and boardwalks. After stopping for lunch we continued around the headland, in to the face of strong winds and low cloud – ever thus? All adding to the anticipation of reaching The Bridge…..Jen will tell more, anon.

And a few miscellaneous bits from our experiences along the way.

1. We realised we’ve climbed over 35,000m in elevation. That’s 4 times Mount Everest. Ok it’s taken many weeks but not too bad for a combined age of 107!

2. Thursdays and Fridays are the new Sundays – so many cyclists out riding.

3. Delicious ice cream in Tomales affirmed Jen’s penchant – hard to believe but it had waned following an overdose in Healdsburg!

4. The ‘Summer of Love’ lives on; first generation hippies are chilling in Tomales and Point Reyes Station.

5. Golden Gate Bridge is not gold or red; it is orange vermillion, officially Internal Orange.

6. The disappearing meno-pouch….umm, work-in-progress!

That’s all for now!

River valleys, wild coasts, winelands and a 1960s town planning vision….

Mendocino- Philo-Cloverdale-Healdsburg-Stewart’s Point- Gualala- Sea Ranch- Jenner-Guerneville- Santa Rosa (via Russian River)- Sonoma-Napa- St Helena- Tomales.

So the baton passes back to me to report on the events of the last seven days of the tour. It has been both memorable and eventful ……In the following we try to capture everything as succinctly as we can……Having said this there is a lot to get through so I would suggest you make a cup of tea, sit somewhere comfortable and read until you get bored!

In summary and on the advice of one of Ruth’s clients we have spent the week zooming down highway one and then zig-zagging west to east and back again, following various river valleys inland to towns and areas that sit in the heart of North California’s wine country, just north of San Francisco.

Six pretty tough, but beautiful bicycle rides have been completed as part of the journey, together with a more gentle wine tasting cycling tour of the Anderson Valley. The highlights of each may be summarised as follows:

Ride 1. Mendocino to Philo. Claire has given a brief description of Mendocino in the previous blog (pronounced Mendosino – we adopted (wrongly) the rather more romantic and Italian sounding Mendo’cc’ino and were quietly rebuffed on a number of occasions).

A very lovely spot, pretty old seaside town, beautiful coastal scenery….but for me, something rather unsettling. For the first time on the tour I was not feeling chipper – slightly down even- and decidedly out of sorts. This mood lifted as soon as we climbed away from the town. I wondered why and then read that this part of the coast is one of the most earthquaky (such a word?) parts of the USA. It is in fact a meeting point of three tectonic plates that are always moving and grumbling at one another and it is apparently very common to feel the earth move. Well no earth movements for us! (Ed comment – grumbles, however, were noted!) But it was for me a very unsettling place. So maybe there is something about the terroir, which impacts our moods and karma.

Our cycle route climbed out of Mendocino, following Highway One and hugging the coast. The landscape felt very Cornwall-ish. Rocky headlands, small inlets and crashing waves.

Our plan was to turn inland and over the mountains along an old country road. However when we reached our planned turning we encountered a sign which said road blocked in 9 miles. We sat contemplating for a moment and for once decided to obey the sign and take an alternative route. We are very glad we did! As we continued along the coast we were eventually presented with a fantastic view of a dramatic river valley below us. We took in the scene from the coastal high point and then plunged down to the river below via a fabulous road that wound down the mountainside to the river’s mouth. Route 1 then crossed the river and climbed back up to follow the coast. We, however turned inland onto route 128, which meandered alongside the Navarro River and took us through dark and dense Redwood forests. A bit of a scary ride due to the denseness of the tree cover, which made visibility difficult.

The forest eventually open up into an area referred to as the Anderson Valley, one of the wine AVAs of the Mendocino County region (see below). The ride took us through the valley floor, which was planted with vines and fruit trees and forest and enclosed by gently undulating mountains.

Our home for the night was Philo, a tiny, sleepy settlement (pop: 349) situated in the middle of the valley. Our accommodation comprised a small farmstead surrounded by wineries and owned by a family who have run the farm for six generations. As we walked into the property we were a little fazed. A barn to our right was covered in skulls of various animals, road signs and a Twin Peaks sign. The farmstead comprised a ramshackle collection of barns, machines and a beautifully planted and well tended garden. Mel, one of two sisters emerged from the garden and explained that her mother who usually looks after guests was ill and that she had been assigned the task of taking care of us. She explained that she was new to the game of airbnb and insisted that we give her feedback. Looking at Mel and the farm, Claire and I knew instantly that any feedback would need to be delivered carefully and gently or if we put a foot wrong we might just join the skull collection festooning the barn!

The cottage was just great. Very rustic and basic but it had the best ever washing machine and we washed every single thing we owned. The sweet smell of fresh laundry! One issue, however, we lay the washing over the porch and some of Mel’s precious plants. As a result we were given short shrift and were instructed carefully to relocate them to the line at the bottom of the garden.

Postscript: Claire wrote a very lovely note to Mel’s sister with lots of helpful guidance. Bottom line they are sitting on a gold mine. A bit of well directed shabby shacking and they will be sorted. Not that I think they are entirely bothered. They seemed to suggest that the influx of all the wineries into the Anderson Valley was slightly bothersome and they would rather go back to the old days when people just drove quickly past on their way to the coast!

Ride 2. The Anderson Valley wine tour. One problem with a bike and a love of fine wine is that they do not really mix! – you cannot obvs. ride a bike and drink lots of wine. However the Anderson Valley provided the perfect solution – the vineyards are small and therefore the distance between them are short. In addition there are lots of them, and they produce half-bottles. Hurrah!

We decided to concentrate our wine tasting on this area because- based on cursory research – we thought it would have lots of wines we liked. The area is characterised by a cool, coastal climate and as a result it focuses on chardonnays ‘made in the French way’ and Pinot Noirs that are starting to compete seriously with French Burgundy.

So we picked two wineries: Navarro and Long Meadow Ranch. Both family owned and operated and both of which adopt organic production (see more below). Long Meadow Ranch, who have recently set up in the Anderson Valley also have a big operation in Napa.

At both we had a great time tasting chardonnays (and I liked them all- major revelation!) and Pinot Noirs. All super yummy and we ended up taking a bottle of Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Noir back to Mel’s and whizzing up a steak and salad supper….a perfect day!

Ride 3. Philo to Healdsburg, which started very early in the morning in freezing fog and took us through two Mendocino appellations comprising the lower Anderson valley and Yorkville and then onto our first Sonoma region appellation: Dry River Creek.

The first five miles of riding were almost unbearable. Our fingers were freezing, we could see our breaths and the mist was so thick we could not see more than about five feet in front of us. Fortunately the rest of the valley does not wake up until about 10am until the sun burns through the mist and hence our only encounter with traffic was early morning farm workers and a school bus.

After five miles we stopped in the slightly larger Boonville and found ourselves a diner. As we walked in a group of elderly locals were having their morning coffee, happily chatting in Spanish and English. I am not sure they were aware which language they were speaking at any one time they just switched happily between the two. However we could tell from a few recognisable words and the subject matter on the television that the big topic of conversation was Harry and Megan’s trip to Australia and all that flows from that!

Breakfast was welcoming. As the warmth returned painfully to our fingers, pancakes, eggs, omelettes and hot coffee arrived. We sat, ate and waited until the sun had removed every last vestige of mist and got on our way.

As we cycled down the street we could see that Boonville was slowly turning into Boom-ville. Lots of shops were being done up and houses were being constructed as the area transforms itself into one of California’s leading wine production regions. We had wondered the previous evening why Sake was sitting alongside Pinot Noir on the menu in one of the restaurants we visited and then we read about the love the Japanese have for the grape and the wine and how they are moving to, setting up restaurants in Burgundy and so maybe the same goes for the Anderson Valley (more below…).

The ride through the valley was long, hard and very hot. Eventually after lots of ups and downs we dropped into Cloverdale and found ourselves a delightful coffee shop serving all manner of vegan, vegetarians, GF foods (we are getting close to San Francisco!). We got ourselves a coffee and a bun and sat outside in the street. As we did a very lovely MAMIL stopped and had a chat. A native California in his early 50s who clearly rode a lot. He loved our story and told us how he was trying to persuade his 22 year old son that life is not all about work and money and that he should take some time out and not work so hard! (How times change!) He told us about how he had had a very serious accident and thought he could never get back on his bike again but that he had forced himself because of how good it made him feel and how much healthier he was. He also told us all about the rides we were about to do, as he had done them all and cautioned us to remember to pack our climbing legs (more on that later). As we spoke animatedly about the joys of cycling an older women sat smiling wryly reading a book on the next table. The book was titled something like how to be ageless. My answer ride a bike if you can! (Ed comment – check out Tandem Cyclists Graeme and Betty’s Sunlife Video – google it).

We finished our coffee, bid our farewells and then rode onto to our final destination, Healdsburg, along Dry Creek Road, a former river valley that has been damned and planted with acres and acres of vines and what appeared to be hundreds of small independent organic wineries.

Healdsburg itself is a town that supports the many wineries and farms that surround it. It is also the base for tourists visiting the wine region and as a result supports a whole host of eateries, shops and wine tasting rooms (heaven!). Our home for the night, a small BnB owned by an English couple who live in Oxford. Being European our bed attire consisted for the first time of a beloved duvet rather than sheets and blankets…bliss!

This was also the point to get our bikes checked. Both of us were starting to have a few niggles with gears and brakes and the bikes were starting to make the odd noise that did not sound good. So we checked them into SpokeFolk. A great shop run by an English couple. They did a great job on putting our bikes back together and ensuring that we could make it to the end. I wish there was the same facility for the body! In response we took ourselves to off to Yoga and did an early morning Vinyasa flow and this coupled with two great dinners and some fine wine seemed to return body and soul to equilibrium.

Ride 4. Healdsburg to Stewart’s Point via Skaggs Spring Road and then onto Sea Ranch. A ride that when we mentioned we were intending to ride it to local people in the know gave rise to a raise of an eyebrow or comments like ‘make sure you bring your hill climbing legs’ or from the lady in the bike shop ‘well you can always get off and walk can’t you?’

As a result of these comments our last night in Healdsburg was a tad restless as we both worried about what was about to befall us. My overriding thought was that it couldn’t be as epic as our Lost Coast adventure!……and no in retrospect it was not quite so dramatic…..but it was yet another epic, comprising three rather special hills – bits of which I – due to the fact that I could not fit my spare hill climbing legs into my small bike bags!- ended up walking a couple of particularly strap sections. Claire on the other hand faired somewhat better and managed them all – apart from an almost vertical section on the last climb.

The road known as Skaggs Spring Road after taking us up and down mountainsides took us through more Redwood Forest before eventually opening out to the sea at Stewart’s Point and this signalled our return to Highway 1. Our home was one of the buildings that comprised the Sea Ranch community, which was located 3km from Stewart’s Point but we had to pick up keys from Gualala, located some 20km further north and so after some 100km of riding we had to battle against a massive headwind to collect our keys (massive sense of humour failure from both riders!) and having retrieved them had to cycled back to our very special home – Condominium 1 (more on this below), located next to the Sea Ranch Hotel.

A quick shower was had and then it was straight to Sea Ranch Hotel for dinner.

Ride 5. Sea Ranch to Jenner to Guerneville to Santa Rosa (via Russian River). This ride was the longest of all six rides and after the Skaggs Spring Road ride we were not sure we could quite face yet another Treanor/ Ross epic and so tried to find a point to stop half way to break the ride into two. However there was absolutely no accommodation available at the half way point so Monte Rio/ Guerneville area for a particular reason which became apparent to us only once we started riding through the area.

Given the lack of accommodation we decided to stop being wimpy and do the ride. We got up super early, whipped up a serious bowl of porridge each and set off. Being Saturday the roads were really quiet and we were treated to an absolutely dream ride along the coast to Jenner. The coast road followed the rugged coastline rising to rugged headlands and falling to small beach coves. The landscape comprised rough grassland and weather beaten gorse and grasses on the higher ground and redwood and eucalyptus forest in the lower lying and more sheltered cove areas. The coastline is very rocky and the rollers crashed dramatically into the shore as we zoomed past. The sea itself was very clear, made up of shades of deep blue and turquoise. As we rose high above the coast we could see the odd whale coming up for air .

The ride itself was hard. The roads were narrow with no shoulders and in a number of places had started to crumble into the sea. The wind was also very strong and again my extra poundage meant that I could hold the road much better than the other small one. Both of us kept our eyes firmly on the road ahead and avoided eye contact with the cliff edge immediately to our right.

Eventually we dropped into the small settlement of Jenner, which overlooks a beautiful turquoise bay and signifies the point where the Russian River meets the sea. A whole series of super groovy wooden shacks, each one individually designed and with their own very specific personalities lined Route 1 into the centre of the village and also pepper potted the hills behind.

At its centre, Jenner comprises a gas station, a hotel, a wine shop and the most amazing cafe, which overlooks the bay: Cafe Aquatica, a brightly painted and flag adorned wooden shack, with a lovely outside seating area. A small wooden stage was occupied by a grey haired, grey bearded dude who sat with his guitar and knocked out a set of flamenco tunes.

We ordered two, two shot espressos (best coffee of the tour so far) and two Gluten Free, vegan etc etc buns and sat listening to the tunes. The other patrons comprised gay couples with rather smart dogs, older hippie types in brightly coloured knitted items, young people in Lycra, bikers in leathers who had ridden their very beautiful Harley Davidsons up from San Francisco (Note: It would appear from observation over the last few weeks that anyone who wants to ride Route 1 on a motorcycle can only do so in packs of 3 or more, must only ride the most expensive and pristine Harleys and must be over 40, have greying / former rock star rugged looks and don serious leathers and other black or grey clothing) and us.

We sat for a couple of hours listening to the music and the chat around us, which was very entertaining. We had it all relationships, work colleagues, work issues, personal issues!….and various bits advice being given in thick Californian accents.

Eventually we dragged ourselves back onto our bikes and started to head inland, following Russian River. The landscape quickly changed from floodplain, to pasture, to forest and we found ourselves meandering through the canopies of trees and dappled sunshine. Hidden in the trees we caught glimpses of more funky weekend shacks and associated vegetable/ garden plots.

Eventually the tree cover broke and opened onto pasture land and the hamlet of Duncan Mills (population 175), comprising two cafes, a pub and a couple of shops and on this particular weekend host to “The Best Buck in the Bay Annual Rodeo”….and we are not talking just any rodeo! This is northern California’s LGBT rodeo, run by the Golden Gate Gay Rodeo Association…..Absolutely brilliant! Yes a serious rodeo, with seriously good wranglers, cowboys and cowgirls participating in the sorts of conventional events that comprise rodeos i.e. riding horses fast around poles, lassoing calves, wrestling calves to the ground and some other less conventional events involving a lot of dressing up and dressing goats (don’t ask!), sponsored by those well known rodeo names: Six Pack, Rock Hard, Lazy Bear, 9 x6 Lube!

As with every top LGBT event, however the cowboy and cowgirl outfits were suitably exaggerated and personalised by their respective owners – leather chaps, plaid shirts, jewel encrusted and feather Stetsons, cowboy boots and spurs (a must), suitable facial hair and lots of cowboy related jewelry. We had great fun mingling, looking completely out of place in our cycling kit and with trusty bicycle steeds.

After spending way too long at the ranch we saddled up again and got on our way. Traffic was heavy and the sun was very hot so we stopped at Monte Rio- Vacation Wonderland or so the sign said and partook in our first burger of the tour. Well we had to really the restaurant announced that they served the best burgers this side of San Francisco. Unfortunately, however we are not well versed in the language of the burger- size 1/3 pound, 1/4 pound, 1/2 pound etc… your own….multiple cheeses to choose from…multiple bun types to select…and then numerous other choices of stuff. After much cogitation we picked the small size, on a regular bun, with cheddar, mushrooms, bacon and salad….everything else on the side. A mighty stressful experience BUT a delicious one when it eventually came.

Signs of the rodeo pre-event/ post-event were everywhere in the towns of Monte Rio and Guerneville were packed with real and wannabe cowboys and cowgirls and hence the reason for no room in the inn and the reason that J & C had to cycle a very long way to get a place to stay.

Then it was back on the road and the final run into Santa Rosa, which was lovely as it comprised – like so many cities we have been in- cycle/ pedestrian tracks, which are well surfaced and which link up with designated cycle routes on roads. The route led us to the door of our hotel. We unloaded, showered, found ourselves a lovely restaurant (as always!) ordered a Chardonnay (more on that below) and a pile of crunchy vegetables (too much cow earlier in the day!) and toasted what was a very eventful and fun cycling day!

Ride 6. A short one from Santa Rosa to Sonoma. Well after the last few days we thought we needed a rest and needed to wash some clothes. So another laundrette, followed by breakfast and then we hit the road again. The ride took us through Sonama’s vineyard country and some small hamlets. All very easy and relaxing and we arrived early afternoon to find our home for the night….yet another rather cute wooden shack! And a fridge full of lovely local farm products.

Ride 7. The Napa, St Helena, Sonoma loop and a great ride because a. we did not have to carry our bags and we could ride our bikes free of some 10kg of stuff (bliss!) b. Because the scenery was so breathtaking c. Because of the varied vineyard architecture (traditional USA, Italian hill town to contemporary very out-there!). And finally c. Because of the great lunch we had in St. Helena at Long Ranch Farmstead.

The ride comprised a 100km round trip that took us through the three towns and on a newly formed Vine Trail cycle route out of Napa. A very relaxing and unstressful ride!

Things we learnt along the way…..

So after all of that what of the highlights and musings of this part of the journey. Well many and too many to write here. However there are probably a few interesting things worth sharing! Here we go in no particular order:

Overcoming a fear of Chardonnay: The focus of the last week has been upon the regions that make up North Californian wine country. Prior to coming to the USA we new very little about USA wines and what we thought we did know has been proved to be largely wrong! No longer will I walk past the USA section in Waitrose.

So what have we learnt. Well winemaking in the region can be traced back to the 18th century when Spanish missionaries planted vineyards to supply communion wine. The wave of European settlers in the mid 19th century, however saw the beginnings of a commercial industry, which is today a multi billion dollar business.

The North Californian region also supports a very diverse climate and growing conditions and a wide range of grapes. It certainly isn’t all big, brash Cab Savs/ Zinfandels or ‘urinal’ oaked Chardonnay’s. The small levels of production, however means that much of the good stuff remains in the US and never makes it to the UK except through a few specialist producers. Given this we thought we better make the most of our short visit!

We cycled through the three main counties of Northern California wine country: Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. Each of these counties is made up of small appellations, which were traditionally determined by political borders such as state and county lines. In 1981, however a system of American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) was introduced. The borders of each AVA is based on climate and geography. Using the name of either an appellation or an AVA on a label requires that a certain percentage of the wine in the bottle (75 to 85%, respectively) be from grapes grown within the designations.

AVAs, in contrast to Appellations, are defined by such natural features as soil types, prevailing winds, rivers and mountain ranges. Wineries hoping to create an AVA must submit documented research to the administrative authorities proving that the area’s attributes distinguish it from the surrounding region.

Napa has 18AVAs, Sonoma 20 and Mendocino 15 and they together support about 800 wineries. We cycled through pretty much all of them but sampled only a fraction of the wines produced (sadly!).

So what did we find:

Napa, a narrow scenic valley defined on east and west by two mountain ranges, which is jam packed with wineries (about 400). The valley bottom and the slopes (to 2000feet) are planted. We cycled the valley between Napa and St Helena (via route 29 and the Silverado Trail) passing the AVAs of Yountville, Rutherford , Oakville, Stags Leap, St Helena and Napa Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in the valley, with Chardonnay the most widely planted white variety. It is also very up market and expensive!

Sonoma. The most diverse and geographically the largest region encapsulating the moist Pacific Coast, dry inland valleys and the hillsides of the Mayacamas mountains that define the eastern borders of Napa County. The oldest vineyards are situated around Sonoma. In the northern part of the county, the City of Healdsburg has recently evolved from a small backwater into a very buzzy destination and sits at the hub of three major growing regions -Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley.

The area supports around 15 grape varieties. Chardonnay takes the lead as the most planted variety of grape in the region. Pinot follows on. But the region also has small specialisations ranging from sparkling wines to Zinfandels.

More laid back than Napa and a lot less ritzy. We particularly enjoyed our stay in Healdsburg. A bright, ambitious place that supports a whole range of small, independent restaurants that are doing some great food and a really good bike shop!

Mendocino. Cooler and coastal. The area supports around 90 wineries and over 250 growers. Grape varieties include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier and Chenin Blanc. Taking route 128 we road through five AVAs: Mendocino, Mendocino Ridge, Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands.

I think in retrospect we probably both enjoyed Mendocino the most. It is more laid back, not so ritzy and you felt that the vineyards all formed part of larger family farms. We could lie under an olive tree next to the vineyards and no one seemed remotely bothered. The wine tasting was largely free and people seemed generally pleased to see us and to tell you about their wines and their methods of growing. It also supports the most all-organic wineries (see below) and the Anderson Valley produces some of the most amazing Pinot Noirs I have tasted. Plus and this is very important I really liked their Chardonnays!

(Note all figures taken from Wine Institute of California……so if not correct…soz!)

Organic, biodynamic, sustainable: what is the difference? Confused and unsure about these descriptions, we did some research. In brief: organic grapes are grown to certified standards and organic wines are made using no non-organic additives; biodynamic is an holistic approach to agricultural based on practices to ‘improve’ farm health; sustainable production embraces a broader range of environmental, social and well-being principles.

A bit of planning, Sonoma style. Whilst sitting in Cloverdale we came across an article in the local paper about planning. The headline announced: ‘Planning Discussions Cloud the Horizons’. Well of course we had to read on. The Sonoma County fires destroyed 5,300 homes last year and new pressures abound to built new homes. As a result the future of housing, transportation and the economy are becoming hot topics of conversation.

Free market, non interventionist policy making is resulting in huge disparities and inequality in income, health and education.

The County’s homeless population has increased by six per cent over the last year and yet looking to the future it is anticipated that the area will continue to attract people with incomes greater than 100,000 dollars a year and hence disparity between rich and poor will increase without a little bit of positive planning.

The goal is to build 30,000 new homes by 2023, which represent a massive jump in completion rates compared to previous years and whilst all appear to accept the need for increased supply the big debate is revolving around where to build and for which income bracket (forever thus!).

In response to the above, the article stated:

…In theory, planning should be easy- conduct some studies, listen to the people, draw up a plan that sort of pleases everyone. In practice, as seen by the recent failure of the Affordable Housing Bond for Sonoma County, it can be difficult to find a common vision…’

Oh yes! And so what appears to be happening is a series of parallel planning processes. Sonoma’s County’s Office of Recovery and Resilience is consulting and gathering information with a view to drawing up a ‘blueprint to address the immediate and long term recovery efforts needed to ensure the future safety, livelihoods and economic prosperity of all residents’. Several cities including Healdsburg and Santa Rosa are holding their own planning meetings. Because of the interrelated nature of jobs, housing, transportation and environmental concerns some groups are studying the North Bay’s needs regionally as part of a nine-county Bay Area and finally a number of representative from the business community have started their own planning efforts for the future of the area!

One such private group have established Rebuild Northbay Foundation, which is focussed on ‘understanding what went right and what went wrong in the past, whilst developing a comprehensive plan for recovery and rebuilding’. Rebuild wants to anticipate what workers two generations in the future will find appealing. It intends to draw on urban design experience in Europe and new housing developers looking at co-living/ dorm living for professionals.

Liking the ambition of Rebuild, which comprises businesses, community groups and not for profit organisations……but can this ever be pulled together and secure a proactive and positive response that pleases everyone? Hopefully, notwithstanding procrastination and self interest, it does not lead to the haves, having more and the have nots being forgotten – which leads me very nicely on to thoughts on Sea Ranch….

The Sea Ranch vision. The visit to Sea Ranch was billed pre-tour as a big highlight. I had read a bit about the background to the place and its architecture but could not quite visualise what it was all about. So we booked our stay in Condo 1, one of the first places to be built in 1965 and a place which has been applauded and which has subsequently impacted and influenced the way we now design many of the places we live in.

The town’s origins can be traced back to 1964, when Oceanic Properties Inc decided to build a new town. Al Boeke, architect and Vice President of Community Planning for the company was sent to California from his Hawaiian HQ to find the right site. He fell in love with the barren and grand Rancho Del Mar and he recommended the purchase of the whole property.

As part of his sales pitch AB suggested that the place would:

‘……lure hardy, conservation-minded residents who would find satisfaction in helping to heal the grass-starved terraces, the wind blow hedgerows, the crumbling cliffs, the tangled and matted forests. The Sea Ranch community would become a regenerative country-life colony within a wildlife preserve. The setting was austere and demanding, but it was also inspiring’. (Island in the Coast).

AB assembled a group of stellar architects and designers to help realise his vision. Lawrence Halprin, landscape architects drew up the original master plan, based on a study of the topography , weather and vegetation. The concept was about dynamic conservation or ‘living lightly on the land’. It was envisaged that a covenant would enforce stewardship of natural resources through an owners’ association of residents.

The concept of ‘living lightly on the land’ started with a respect for nature. Each landscape element was to recognised and nurtured. Buildings were to be placed within this landscape, not upon it. Materials were to be drawn from nature: rough and simple I.e. the environmental setting was to be more important than the individual buildings.

Four prototype buildings were designed, including our home, Condominium one designed by Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull and Whitaker. It is a complex of ten units, arranged around a central courtyard and it was intended to be seen as a single structure and inspired by barns and other farm buildings in the region.

Reading the original vision for the place Condo 1 fulfils the brief and vision perfectly.

The Sea Ranch’s constitution established an owner’s association to administer the community and a design committee with authority over the review and approval of house designs. Rights, duties, privileges and obligations of all owners are spelled out in the constitution. One of these obligations is to develop and maintain their property in adherence with the Sea Ranch concept as embodied by the covenant.

The delivery of buildings is administered by a very involved design process. The design committee advises owners to engage an architect with great care and then each owner and their chosen architect is required to participate in a four stage design review process: Preliminary Site Review, Conceptual Design Review, Preliminary Design Review and Final Design Review. I rather liked this process as it involves everyone from start to finish and hence becomes a collaborative sharing step by step process that should in the end avoid abortive work and frustrations.

Following approval by the design committee the owner applies to Sonoma County for a building permit. Once the permit is granted the Sea Ranch design staff monitors the construction to be sure the house is being built according to plan.

So what did we think? Well we spent the day cycling around, ignoring the many signs reminding us that this was a private estate made up of private roads and the many rules that exist in relation of where you can walk and look. We did a lot of staring and a lot of looking and yes it is true most of the architecture and the way it sits in the landscape is understated.

But after thought and reflection, elements felt like a rather indulgent, soulless and privileged private estate, which does not welcome outsiders. Access to the beaches are strictly controlled and links between each building zone are retained only for those who live there. There is no real centre and limited places for people to work and participate in real life. Plus I would suggest some of the later buildings have lost some of the design principles established in the 1960s and look like more like large mansions plonked into the landscape, rather than the collective ethos of the condo barn of the 1960s.

Further digging and research revealed a long history of lawsuits and bickering, which has resulted in the original 5,200 units planned for the town being reduced to 2,329 and as a result and according the developers the economic viability of the project being irreparably harmed.

The developers estimated that 3,500 units was the rock bottom number the development needed to break even. They settled the law suits, however because of the enormous front end costs in setting up the development and in settling confirmed that they just could not afford any more delays.

In an article in the LA times in 1985 a spokesperson for the development company stated that she felt no body would ever attempt anything as ambitious and aesthetic ever again….which is a real shame!

The article also confirmed the economic consequence of the reduction in plots had inevitably increased prices and Sea Ranch had indeed (as we expected) become pricey and exclusive, catering to a narrower and narrower social-economic band of buyers.

The article also confirmed that the shift in buyers and life styles had also prompted various design changes. When Sea Ranch was first planned, the thought was that it would be a relatively modest second-home community. But with flex time, telecommunications and early retirements more and more people are making the community their prime residence.

In addition the more affluent buyers sought greater privacy, which has resulted in less clustering and bigger houses. This is disappointing as it has lost some of the original ethos established by the hedgerow condominiums that were affordable and community orientated.

…and finally a big bit of trivia!

Meno pouches and agelessness. Well we have had a bit on this already but we did meet a rather glamorous hippy – in a California kinda way – woman in her mid/ late 50s coming our of the whole food store (obvs) in Mendocino who asked us what we were doing and based on our explanation proceeded to tell us how she felt she ought to do the same in order to get rid of her ‘Meno-pouch’. Treanor and my eyes raised in unison and we asked what on earth a meno pouch was. In response she pointed to the small spare tyre around her tummy area and explained to us its medical origins, which I won’t go into here but in summary it is the depositing of fat around the middle that happens in response to drops in oestrogen levels in menopausal women. Nothing can be done about it, it just happens. So I look down at my own little pouch and now understand even after 3,000 Kms of cycling and weight loss from every other part of my body the reason why I still have this small little protrusion or life belt……not to be beaten, I have agreed with Treanor to do 100 lower stomach exercises a day to defy the odds…..more reporting on this fascinating (hopefully, disappearing) topic later!

……and so as we conclude this epic adventure we go back to the coast and the run into San Francisco! Fantastically exciting ! The view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the walk over said bridge into SF was one of the main features for this whole big adventure!… back to Claire to tell the tale!……

To, along and from the Lost Coast

Crescent City – Orick – Eureka – Ferndale – Petrolia – Honeydew – Shelter Cove – Benbow – -Leggett- Mendocino

There’s no simple way to sum up this little (editor’s note- EPIC!) journey – it has been full of surprises.

The Plan: To take ourselves away from Route 101 and experience the Lost Coast of California. Miles of wild, rugged shoreline. Described as an area that has changed very little since today’s redwoods (some over 2,000 years old) were seedlings. After some research we decided to take Mattole Road from Ferndale to Shelter Cove (editor’s note – maybe not enough research in terms of gradient and contours! – Ruth Sturkey and Clare Fielding may recognise this as a commons theme from previous adventure planning!).

To the Lost Coast: A ride to Crescent City via Bald Hills Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, where there are some of the oldest Giant Redwoods. The trees are simply HUGE. They have a thick fibrous bark (up to 30cm), rich cinnamon red when freshly exposed (hence the name), giving good protection against disease, pests and fire. One of the reasons they can grow to such a size (up to 115m) and survive for thousands of years. This is a gravel road which has shrouded the undergrowth in dust, making it appear ghostly. The following day we had an equally spectacular ride through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, this time a wonderfully smooth descent and we glided through the trees. On both occasions (and apart from many mosquitos who also thrive in the cool damp coastal conditions) we had the road virtually to ourselves – a real treat.

Crescent City had a bleak and melancholy air, particularly after our serene time on the Smith River. We learnt the town is the tsunami capital of continental US – suffering 31 since 1933 (It is also the incarcerated home to 3,000 of the US’s most notorious criminals- nice!).

We wove our way in/ out of Route 101 to Ferndale. We had our first experience of really dense fog. We stopped at the arty Trinidad and Arcarta; Eureka, named after the (found it!) claims from gold rush miners, now another logging centre; Ferndale, a well preserved Victorian town. Quaint and looking like a scene in the movies. But a very alive community – we overheard some intriguing chats.

Along the Lost Coast: OMG! The epic day, Ferndale to Shelter Cove via Petrolia and Honeydew. It started well. An early, nourishing breakfast in Mind’s Eye Coffee Lounge in Ferndale. Then a long steep climb, winding up through the forests. The road opened on to grassy plains at the top, golden yellow with herds of black cattle, and isolated ranch buildings. It was spectacular with hazy distant views of the sea. We had an awesome descent. But it was tricky – very steep, negotiating potholes, ruts, gravel, cattle grids, occasional vehicles and all the time wanting to take-in the view which revealed more drama with each turn. We dropped down to the shore and followed a sweeping road. It felt remote. The beaches were windswept and deserted apart from the odd intrepid surfer.

We got to Petrolia where California’s first commercial oil well began production in 1865, but supplies proved scant and production ceased shortly after. We stopped at the Country Store, seemingly the hub of life of the small settlement (pop 360). It was getting hot and we took a breather. We were about half way, knew there was another store at Honeydew (even smaller, pop 99) and felt confident continuing (editors note: albeit that a few locals had a few raised eyebrows and gave us a number of suggestions on where to stay along the way should we get tired! – we smiled and thanked them and rode on (well we are made of strong stuff)).

The ride to Honeydew followed the Mattole river valley, passing apple orchards and verges crammed with wild fennel. We had hills but mild compared with earlier in the day – and what was to come.

We knew there was a shocker of a hill out of Honeydew, followed by another ‘blip’, and then (we thought) a long descent to Shelter Cove. These hills were tough, extremely steep in places, sections missing (heavy landslides) and gravelly detours. We had to walk long stretches. Tiring and slow. Hot sun. Mosquito central under the trees. We got to a fork marking the start of our decent, yet another gravel road. We flagged a passing truck and were told it was like this the whole way, 20km. We knew it would be tedious, very slow and time was getting on. We took the alternative – two sides of a triangle – longer but better road condition. What we didn’t know – we were on a ridge of mountain peaks. We subsequently discovered the day’s route was traversing the start of the highest coastal mountain range in the 48 contiguous states.

We had cycled 90km but were making such slow progress it was clear we wouldn’t get to Shelter Cove before nightfall. We needed a lift. Eventually, a truck passed and the galant Mike from Barcelona got out. He took us all the way. As the road continued to climb, climb, climb we knew our little legs would not have made it. We were so thankful. The drop down to Shelter Cove was dramatic and again steep. A dense layer of fog engulfed the bay. It looked like a steaming cauldron from above but once in it, visibility was barely a couple of metres – hideous and scary, had we been on the bikes. Mike saved the day for us, quite literally.

We learnt fog in Shelter Cove is commonplace. The next day it had lifted enough to see the beach, the relocated Cape Mendocino Light, a 9 hole golf course with a tiny airstrip running through the middle (good coordination required) and watch fishermen preparing their catch. Life in this tucked away spot.

From the Lost Coast: It started with a 10km climb (steep, of course) to leave Shelter Cove. We took it slow and steady, wound our way up through the fog to glorious sunshine and blue skies, a relief. Our hero, Mike drove past on our way up – a fitting departure. We had a gentle run through back to Route 101 and to Benbow.

The last leg on this journey – Benbow to Mendocino and our start on Route 1. A long but wonderful day’s ride. One big hill (out of Leggett) but a lovely (yes, truly!) climb through the forests. Route 1 took us right to the coast and stunning views of a blue, green, turquoise sea. We hugged the coast for most of the afternoon. We dipped in and out of fog as the road dropped down to cross small rivers. Traffic was really light (mid week and after Labour Day marking the main end of holidays), allowing us to cruise along. We briefly stopped at Glass Beach where the sea has ground down years of refuse dumping to create ‘gems’ – ruby reds from pre-1967 auto tail lights, sapphire gems from apothecary bottles. A long ride but rewarded when we arrived at Mendocino – big scenery and small ‘old’ town charms.

Our homes: We have stayed in some atmospheric places over this period – remote cabins (shacky chic style), historic inns with tales of legend film stars who stayed on their journey to visit the redwoods, a chintzy B&B and cliff top retreats. Very special!

Wildlife: Much to report. We saw the elusive Roosevelt elk, one munching and snorting by our shacky chic cabin. Jen saved a hummingbird that flew in to the cabin and who sat on her finger as she carried it outside. We saw zebra – yes – on Mattole Road (called LC – Lost Coast!). We also saw our first sheep. In Shelter Cove we passed deer munching the grass on the ninth green of the golf course, had seals basking right outside our room and watched turkey vultures devouring fish. We came across om-ing gnomes – ok, not wildlife but they need a mention!

The food report: The highs – bean creations (a la Ross Treanor), seafood stew (being prepared as I write this), vegan at Wildflower Cafe (Arcata), ribeye at Gyppo Ale Mill (Shelter Cove, particularly as nothing was open when we arrived after our gargantuan ride the day before), discovering porridge packets! The low – gluten free sour dough pizza base, don’t go there! The saviour – sushi, when faced with fast food options.

Next up….the Anderson and River Valley the home of big Californian Chardonnays – will we be able to overcome our Chardonnay-phobia? And then onto Sea Ranch (a utopian vision of some San Francisco planners and architects – so obviously a must!).

Oregon Coast II (road to California….)

Waldport- Yachatas- Florence-Dunes City- Reedsport-North Bend-Coos Bay- Bandon-Port Orford- Gold Beach-Brookings- Gasquet

After Claire’s A-Z report of our inland tour through the Oregon wine lands and our city visit to Portland we return to the coast via route 34, which meanders alongside the Alsea River from Corvallis to Alsea Bay, terminating at the small town of Waldport.

First thing to say upon arrival is ‘brrrrr’…after enduring sweltering heat inland we hit the beach and the mist falls and the temperatures drop dramatically. In this dank and dull environment our spirits drop a little. The coast has that end of season, tired and depressing feel. We shower and search out the best place to eat, which turns out to be a real deal Mexican. After a ‘Modello’ beer, tortillas and beans our spirits are restored and we prepare for the next part of our journey, which will take us down the last part of the Oregon coast and across the border into California.

I sit writing this post at the end of this journey in a small place called Gasquet. Our home is a small wooden hut sitting on the banks of the Smith River, deep in Redwood Country. A magical spot. I hear the river flowing below, as I sit writing this in a hammock overlooking the river, watching humming birds and listening to wind chimes as they blow gently in the wind……all pretty OK!

In contemplating what to write it is difficult to put into words how amazing the last few days have been. From the start point in foggy, dank Waldport to now has given us one of the most spectacular 450km rides of our lives. In the following and in no particular order I provide a summary of some of the highlights:

1. Climbing a steep hill, passing through a tunnel and emerging to hear the loud bark and the smell of many seals and then viewing them basking in their hundreds on the rocks below us, just after our departure from Waldport.

2. Coffee in the Green Salmon café in Yachatas. We stood in long line waiting in anticipation for this legend coffee experience! The board (see below) described many concoctions, including a sprinkle of hemp or cannabis for an extra $3. We of course settled for the usual double shot espressos. Keeping it real and pure!

3. The Old Town of Florence and the slow dawning on us that this side of America is not very old at all!.

4. The beaches of Bandon and the beginning of a series of the most spectacular unfolding vistas that revealed themselves as we turned a corner and then stretched for miles in front of us. One mile, two mile, five mile and ten mile beaches and only a smattering of people. Rock protrusions punctuated the sea and and the sand of these beaches. Unlike Cannon Beach these ‘stacks’ and formations are due to violent eruptions through tectonic plates rather than giant larva flows from far away and as a result their many forms give rise to much more dramatic and dynamic formations.

5. The giant sand dunes, some of the biggest in the world (of course!) that dominated the landscape south of Florence.

6. Our accommodation, comprising of yet more over the top chintz in Coos Bay to a pink and green shack called the Fortunate Fish in Port Orford.

7. Spicy fish stews eaten at the Redfish and Griff’s on the Dock in Port Orford and Edgewater in Bandon (creatures of habit!) All delicious with lovely scallops (huge), clams (also huge!), halibut, mussels, crab and prawns. Which one was best? Well each restaurant also gave us great seats overlooking fabulous beaches, but I think Griff’s – simple crab shack, no frills and fish straight from the boat onto our plate I think.

8. The smells of pinewood forests, blackberries baking in the sun, sea and sand drifting in and out as we zoomed along the coast.

9. The many dramatic bridges crossed, all of which were designed and built by Conde B McCullough who was Oregon’s State bridge engineer from 1919 to 1937. He was, as the records state: an impassioned promoter of state-sponsored bridges that incorporated engineering efficiency with economic practically and aesthetic appeal. He built five bridges along the Oregon Coast in 1936 – all of which we crossed (some on foot (to scary to ride) and some on bike) and all of which share distinctive gothic and Art Deco detailing.

10. The Wild Rivers Scenic Bike Trail. A 100km ride from Port Orford through the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and along the Elk River. A lovely round trip ride. Although on the way back we had to fight a mighty headwind. For once this is where my extra poundage has an advantage over Claire. I drive through, whilst Claire had to fight to keep herself on the bike.

….and so this brings us to the final ride of the Oregon Coast – a ride from Brookings to Gasquet. A deep mist presented itself on the morning of our departure. So we decide to hold up in a café and wait for the mists to clear. This it does slowly and after bagels and coffees (many) we decide to set off. We can see no coast and take it slow as the mist drifts over and around us. After a few miles we hit the border and two signs – one thanking us for visiting Oregon and one welcoming us to California. We take the obligatory picture under the California sign and I take the first picture of the Sunshine Coast – a foggy misty scene, more reminiscent of some apocalyptic vision of an abandoned, hostile land, where someone turned off the lights and left rather than the vision of sunshine Californian beaches as presented to we Brits via many TV shows.

We ride on and take a left onto Redwood Highway. The sun comes out and we follow the river upwards through many Redwood forests. These trees are spectacular and the ride is amazing as we ride in and out of dense tree groupings, which open out onto views of the river valley below.

Eventually we find our isolated home for the next two days. As discussed a rather groovy wooden shack with a fire, overlooking the river. We stock up on supplies and then unpack the bikes and just sit, chill, read and cook our own food (I had my first shot at American pancakes, bacon and maple syrup this morning- pretty OK I think). No bike riding for two days! But we are hatching a plan to ride along the Mattole Road, which forms part of what is referred to as California’s Lost Coast. The descriptions include like ‘the wall’ for one particular climb (well of course, we are in California – where all is totally awesome!) Sounds a bit more challenging and we me thinks we will need our best pedElle heads and legs on!….looking forward to it.

…ah a final foot note…..Claire has just called me and below us a black bear is in the river and is trying to catch a fish. A very rare sight according to our neighbours. We watch and eventually the bear disappears with the fish into the woods.

An inland interlude…..

Pacific City – Willamina – McMinnville – Portland – Corvallis – Waldport

It was always our intention to visit Portland on this journey. We deliberated about routes and which part of the coast to forgo – reluctant to go/ return the same way. After some investigations we decided to follow a route inland that weaved its way through the Nestucca valley. This had the added bonus of taking us straight through Oregon wine lands (more on this later). Our stops along the way were Willamina and McMinnville. We spent four days in Portland, staying in Chinatown, which is downtown and in the Hawthorne residential neighbourhood in the SE quarter. For our return route we followed the Willamette valley south to Corvallis and from there, the Alsea valley to Waldport.

We cycled around 600km and have had days of constant contrast and variety. It has hit all the senses – chattering swallows; the scent of herb farms and blackberries; wine tasting; intense heat; expansive views.

Rather than recount day by day, I invite you to come on a tour: my A-Z of observations along the way.

Adopt a highway programme – an anti litter campaign to build civic pride. Citizens work in partnership with the authorities and ‘adopt’ a segment of highway and keep it clean and they are named as a sponsor on the road signs. We particularly liked Debi and her feet, very apt! The lack of fly-tipping and rubbish is noticeable and makes a massive difference for us cyclists, residing in the shoulder.

Biodynamic – one of the oldest farming methods, keenly followed by many of Oregon’s winegrowers. We visited Maysara, established by a Persian using biodynamic principles passed down from his grandfather. Vines are grown on half of the estate, the remainder is left uncultivated. On the uncultivated section there is forest where eagles are nesting, they eat rodents that would otherwise become a pest; land provides pasture for cattle and in turn, manure for the vines; nettles are allowed to spread to provide a nitrogen fix for the growing vines. All cyclical. The processes are strictly controlled and there are regular, random inspections by the biodynamic police to ensure certification standards are met. The wine we tasted there was delicious. Pinot noir is widely grown – the Willamette Valley is on the same latitude as Burgundy with similar climate and terroir conditions. Most of the vineyards are small and young, less than 40 years old. The focus is quality rather than quantity. Watch this space. Some of the vineyards are already competing on an equal footing with the best of the French Pinot noirs but at a much cheaper price.

Corgi-fest – we stumbled across at least 50 of these canines early Saturday morning in Portland, dressed to the nines with neckerchiefs and coats! No sign of HRH though !!

Dan, Steely Dan (yes the band!) – who took us up the pesky mountains. There are times when you need an American with a good guitar riff!

Entrepreneur – seemingly the zeitgeist of Portland at the moment; a city where an idea goes a long way. This is drawing people in and the city is seeing some rapid expansion.

Fast cars – we saw “The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles 1930-1942” exhibition at Portland Museum of Art. We’re no car- ofgeeks but it was fab – a fascinating merge of design/ engineering/ physics to up the aerodynamic stakes. To us, the lines seemed organic, elegant and cool colours – just needed kid gloves, headscarf, big shades and vroom!

Gravel – encountered when we decided to detour en route to McMinnville and unwittingly ended up on The Old Mountain Road – the clue is in the name – 20+% inclines, 2 to 3 inches of gravel. Much pushing! It eats your cleats.

Heat haze – smoke from fires in the east of Oregon and California was hanging in the air most of the time. It was very hot and still, over 90 degrees on days. Distant views were very murky, which was a real shame. We also realised how important it is to stay hydrated. Poor Jen suffered for a few days.

Ice cream – so, Portland has an eccentric ice cream parlour serving flavours such as baked bean, duck crackling with cherry preserves! It’s called Salt & Straw. We couldn’t face queuing so can’t comment but it is in LA too.

Jam – an abundance of wild blackberries perfectly ripe, almost cooking on their branches in the heat. Sweet and juicy.

Kitsch– check out the flamingos at theTravelling Taphouse. We saw this at a pop-up in the Mississippi area of Portland.

Logging – we are sure getting our fill. Mile upon mile of pine forests with trees that must be 100ft tall. In places a steady stream of logging trucks carrying said timber, pretty hairy when they don’t give you much room on the shoulder. Willamina (we spent a night there, in bunk beds) was an important lumber rail town and still has large timber yards where trunks are de-barked, graded and transported.

Mangarie – a friendly Italian restaurant in Independence where we stopped one day, hot and hungry, and to our surprise on questioning us about our journey the chef gave us lunch on the house ( I think he was gobsmacked at the fact that two middle aged ladies could cycle so far with such small bags – where is all your stuff!!!)

Nuts – Oregon is considered to grow the world’s highest quality hazelnuts. We passed many fields of nut trees, growing in tidy rows. And of course, have been eating them too.

Orange – the colour of Biketown, the cycle share scheme in Portland. Needless to say sponsored by Nike. Surprisingly, not nearly as prolific as the cycle hire in Seattle.

Powells in Portland– the largest independent chain of bookstores in the world. Almost too much choice but a wonderful place to peruse and we replenished our travelling library. With limited packing space we have to acquire/ leave books as we go along. Later in our stay we came across a local bookstore promoting a ‘date with a book’. Books were wrapped in brown paper with only the opening paragraph written on the front; don’t judge a book by its cover. A brilliant idea, and I bought one.

Questions , questions, questions– why so many people living on the street? we have been shocked at the number of rough sleepers and those living in make-shift shelters; people of all ages. It is evident in the towns as well as the cities (and will become worse as we head towards San Francisco and LA). We realise issues are complex but it seems many people are falling through the net….indeed is there a net to catch these people and give then a little bit of help?

Regeneration – apologies but there has to be a planning reference. Of note, the Granary Quarter in McMinnville where old livestock food warehouses are being converted in to studios, workshops, bars and restaurants with new street planting and public realm tying it together. It is early days but there’s the seed of a creative vibe. It’s great the industrial buildings are being adapted rather than flattened. Areas of Portland are also being transformed – flexible, mixed uses moving into former warehouses and striking new buildings. Controversial, however, as local communities are being priced out. An eternal problem.

Scooters – the latest sustainable transport share scheme. But with apparent contradictions – people register to drive around the city collecting scattered scooters to take them to the depot for re-charging. Is it a fad?

Taste sensations – it wouldn’t be a blog without mention of restaurants. Little Bird (creative French with a Portland twist), Bollywood Theatre (Indian street food with a Portland twist), Shalom Y’all (Middle Eastern), Water Avenue Coffee (the best in Portland).

Unusual – wonderful glass sculptures in Old Town and China Town, Portland by artist Dan Corson, inspired by tropical plants. With photovoltaics, they glow in the dark.

Valleys – we cycled through many, always beautiful, generally quiet and atmospheric following the Nastuca River, Willamette River and Alsea River. They took us winding up through the mountains, across sweeping fertile plains, over wide estuaries to the sea.

Weed – a curiosity. Marijuana is legal under Oregon State law although not under Federal law. Cannabis shops are prevalent, often boutique, some with architectural panache. Products are reviewed in the local newspapers – appearance, taste, THB content, effects. Much like the weekly wine review!

X – extras. We are still getting our head around the tipping/ service protocol. Having read the federal minimum wage is only $7.25, this is an important top-up for many. And whilst on this – the process of paying by card seems way behind the UK, the card is usually taken away, certainly no chip & pin or contactless.

Yoga – naturally, we have dropped in to several classes along the way – 4 Elements in McMinville our teacher’s brother was a cyclist and also a student in our class and she uses him to test and develop moves to stretch and bend the static cyclist, perfect. And Pearl in Portland, where we sweated out in hot Vinyassa flow.

Zinfandel – fortunately, not a whiff around here. Although we may change our minds once in CA.

Which leads neatly on to Oregon Coast, Part 2 – the road to California.