Mill Valley, CA to Rohnert Park, CA

48.0 mi / 10.1 mph / 1892 ft. climbing
Home: Will and Sierra’s place

A couple weeks ago, Rett asked “when do we go through wine country?” Well, wine country is inland, and we’re riding down the coast, so, never. Or, we at least would have to do a significant detour to hit anything wine-related. But wait, there are no rules to this thing, right? So let’s go to wine country!

My initial thought had been to somehow cut over to Napa if we had time before our due-date in San Francisco, but that just would have added too much pressure, so why not do it after? Yeah, it would send us back north for a stretch, but who cares? The weather is generally warmer and drier in the Napa Valley than at the coast, and by the time we’d reached San Francisco, the forecast was looking really good, we looked to have plenty of time to kill before our next touchstone of Christmas in Palm Springs, and we’d already decided to go back north across the Golden Gate Bridge to camp at Kirby Cove, so all the stars were aligned!

Well, there was one more bright star to supernova into view. Sierra and Will, a couple who had shared our campsite for a night at Lake Quinault a year ago when we did a bike tour of the Olympic Peninsula, had noticed on Instagram that we were in the area, and generously reached out to offer to host us at their place if we were going their way at all. And where did they live? Rohnert Park, basically the exact halfway point on our 2-day route from the Marin Headlands to the Napa Valley. Stepping across the aligned stars to get to wine country? Perfect.

First we had to climb back out of the hole we had camped in, which was the usual damp foggy mess. The bridge’s foghorn had started blowing as soon as we got into the tent last night, blasting with tones and a pattern seemingly designed to drive people insane, or, at a minimum, keep them awake. Luckily it seemed to have stopped shortly after we finally made a serious attempt to fall asleep, and never restarted.

Morning view of the Golden Gate Bridge from inside our tent.
View back down to Kirby Cove from the climb out.

While I was finishing packing up, I sent Rett ahead. Regular gravel riding makes her uncomfortable, much less wet gravel up an 8% grade, so I figured she’d take a long time walking back up. I was surprised with pride to find that not only did I not catch up to her before the top, but she had ridden enough ahead to see, frame, and capture an awesome photo of me on the bike!

#FindNeil climbing out of Kirby Cove in front of the Golden Gate
Golden Gate view that I realized was the exact shot included multiple times in last night’s movie.

Then, after a little backtracking through Sausalito, we had 40 miles of suburban-type development to traverse, largely near the path of our old nemesis, US-101, with no Adventure Cycling route-planning to assist us. This would normally be a complete nightmare of a ride, with high-traffic, shoulderless roads, scary 8-lane intersections, and difficult navigation. But here in Northern California, it was a dream.

Well, it still posed some navigational issues (like the time a woman in a passing car needed to point us towards a cyclist-only entrance to an under-construction bridge as we stood there lost and confused), but on the whole, it was the most cyclist-accommodating 40 mile escape from an urban area that I’ve ever encountered. Most was signed as California Bike Route 5, and there were sections of bike trail along the rail line (including sharing half a tunnel), sections of bike trail along US-101 after a frontage road dead-ended, and bike lanes basically the whole rest of the way. Pulling that all together through multiple jurisdictions indicates some serious effort from the cycling community in this part of the country, an effort we’re extremely grateful for.

A brand new bike trail connecting a frontage road on one side of US-101 with a frontage road on the other side.

We hit an REI (in an outdoor mall with a farmer’s market in the center between the designer shops) for a wine pouch, another in a long line of Trader Joes’ for lunch and groceries and chats with the bike-curious, and then with another warm sunny day, got ice cream sundaes at a fancy candy shop in Novato.

Don’t look at the back of the car, or you’ll be disappointed like me (after taking what I thought was the coolest picture in the world) to find a “normal” license plate there.
Rett’s plastic Birkenstock camp shoes are one of her favorite pieces of gear, so it was unexpected excitement to ride by their US headquarters!

Just after sunset, we rolled up to Sierra and Will’s (well, technically Will’s sister’s, by way of their parents) house, and were warmly welcomed in by the whole family. We finally got to try some of @bikingandbaking’s wonderful baking, along with a lentil soup that, when you combine “homemade” with “not made by us”, brings a meal to the peak of luxury for bike tourers!

One of our latest nights out on a long day of riding, with more of the “is this still Northern California?” of Will and Sierra’s subdivision.

Despite having had only the briefest of periods to get to know each other a year back, they made it feel like visiting old friends. As the midpoint of the longest 2-day riding stretch since our first week out, their hospitality, conversation, and walls to protect us from the wet were exactly what we needed.

Will and Sierra showing off their two-person camping quilt / Halloween costume.

I’m sure that when we’d parted that morning at Lake Quinault, they’d said something like “if you’re ever in Sonoma County, you’re welcome to stay with us!”, and I’m sure that we laughed and thanked them and assumed such a thing would never actually happen. Instead, not only did it happen, but our minimal effort in sharing our campsite back then was repaid tenfold. I’m not exactly sure how we’ll then up it by another tenfold in a few years’ time, but we’ll give it our best shot!



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