Friday, April 22, 2011



Skaggs Springs / Stewarts Point - from a former ride
YESTERDAY, we rode ninety miles from Healdsburg on US 101 to Elk on California 1 via Skaggs Springs Stewarts Point Road.  We detoured through a little berg called Annapolis sticking to roads that sport bike riders might refer to as "Meccas." Each blending riding challenge with stunning views.

Sam's wonderful Bonneville Black
The routes corkscrew in and out of countless canyons and hollows, across rusted steel bridges, atop ridges and through groves of redwood forest. Along the way, we enjoyed a mixed bouquet of silage, wood smoke, honeysuckle, diesel exhaust, must, and salt air.   The eighty degree temperature of the Dry Creek wine growing region dips to 53 on the coast at Gualala and maintains that through Point Arena and Manchester: all the way up to Elk (nee: Greenwood.) What a delightful ride!

Evening view from the cottage
 Today would be different.

FROM MY MORNING VANTAGE POINT on the couch situated in a tiny cottage across Highway 1 from the bluffs and beach, I can see the Pacific and the storms that are to come. The constant rhythm of the waves on the tiny beach provides a subtle symphony for relaxation, contemplation and calm. A second cup of coffee would be nice. The rain, light though it is, curtains the horizon line. The sky and sea are one. The universe seems but various shades of gray.

I venture out to see rainwater beaded up all over the GSA. I swipe the tank with my hand, scan the sky and ponder. Riding in the rain is not a favorite activity. Still, on this layover day at the cozy house in Elk, it is probably a good idea to practice those wet riding skills, especially if a hot shower awaits. I have a rubberized suit that goes over my riding pants and jacket, but a couple of years back, I purchased a BMW “Santiago” jacket from Santa Rosa BMW. It was last years model so I got a break on the price. It came without a waterproof liner – extra at additional cost – but I told the nice lady that I had a rain suit. “Try this,” she said. “If you have a Gore-Tex® shell, put it on under the Santiago. I bet you won’t need your rain suit jacket nor will you miss the liner.”

I DON THE SANTIAGO with my REI liner over a layer of recycled pop bottle (fleece), slip on the rain suit pants and head off. Immediately I realize that it is a misstatement to suggest that everything is gray. The clouds and the sea are muted tones of blue and purple, the coastal hills muted greens and golds; the red barns softened. Riding in this weather, the most brilliant color comes from the owl clover, aster, ice plant and poppy that ribbon the sides of the road.

Note the curving center line to the upper left
I use an anti-fog wax on the face shield of my Shoei helmet, but it doesn’t work worth a damn. The best option is to crack the windscreen a fraction and let the cool outside air vent inward and prevent condensation on the plastic. This chills my cheeks and causes my nose to drip, all of which is part of the multi-sensory nature of the riding experience. But the Touratech wind spoiler diverts most of the rainwater up and over my helmet.

My route takes me east over the Philo-Greenwood Road. The road rises to a ridge top where an apple orchard is completing its bloom, then dips into stream courses supporting stands of redwood. I suspect the origins of this road have something to do with the harvest of those giants. The rain picks up as I scale the west-facing slopes and turns to mist or fog as I descend into the hollows.

The road is wet but not particularly slick. Still, I use caution with the throttle and the brakes. Every action is gentle and gradual. I don’t want any firsthand knowledge about the coefficient of friction and the effects when one exceeds it.

AT A POINT, I am one with the weather, impressed with the subdued nature of a muted, misty world. The rain has pushed the wood smoke and diesel from the air. The honeysuckle is faint. Just as the colors have faded, so the air has become an aromatic meritage – each element indistinguishable, but the resultant blend delicious.

I battle the drippy nose, the cold hands, and the slippery pavement, deciding to ride a little further and explore a little more before turning homeward. My jacket and pants are keeping me dry and the long-gauntleted winter gloves are keeping my warm – critical for both comfort and safety.

California Highways 128 and 1 are Mecca routes. Places like Navarro, Comptche, Little River and Albion take form and then fade in a veil of mist in the rear view mirror. Running along the bluffs, the view to the west extends into the fog and thus, well past infinity. Where the road dips into the mouth of the Russian, Garcia, Navarro or some other river, engineers built switchbacks and twists that, when dry, require judicious jabbing into second gear. When wet? Just keep in mind that coefficient of friction.

With the right attitude and the right gear, the rainy ride is not something to fear. The day is good. But that hot shower back at the cottage in Elk makes it even better.


Note:  Thanks to Sam Bilbro for his constant efforts to introduce and reintroduce me to Sonoma County's coastal roads.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Envious of the the ride, the roads, the scenery, the smells. Positive comments on the rain,however sound like rationalizing BS - I'm just saying...

  2. Spoken like a somebody, living in the Pacific Northwest, who deals with rain more frequently than those of us here in sunny California.