Caryl and Brian's World Bike Tour

Calistoga, CA to Pismo Beach, CA

Back Home Up Next


Date: Thu, 7 Nov 96 21:01:00 GMT

Copyright (c) 1996 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.

Chapter 32 - Oct 13 to Oct 26 Calistoga, CA to Pismo Beach, CA - 12,403 miles cumulative

Getting out of Napa valley and back to the Pacific coast proved to be one of those horrible, worst ever riding days. Our initial inclination had been to ride south to Napa along that nice quiet Silverado Trail, stay at Napa for the night, and then work our way to the coast via "red" roads, those larger roads marked in red on our maps. These roads may bebusy, but they usually are wide, have big shoulders, and are flat. But, we made a fatal mistake, we asked local folks or recommendations. They all recommended going north as "it's such a pretty ride" and the hills aren't supposed to be so bad. Why won't we ever learn, never, never really believe the advise given by a strictly car driver. It is almost always wrong.

So we headed back north to Calistoga, turned left, and started up what was supposed to be the only hill for the day, only one mile long, and pretty steep. Ha! It was two miles of gut busting, leg straining climb before we finally saw the crest. Traffic was heavy and shoulders nonexistant as we wobbled back and forth pushing ourselves up the hill. We raced back downhill toward Santa Rosa falsely thinking, rather smugly, that the rest of the day would be flat.

A quick stop in town for lunch and we headed as directly west toward Bodega Bay as possible. Now here was our biggest mistake for the day. We wound up on what appeared, on our maps, to be a small country road. Well, it was a small country road. But, it had the traffic of a major super highway. As we once again struggled uphill on this incredibly narrow, winding road we could feel the rush of wind as mirrors whizzed past our shoulders. Drivers would not move over, the yelled at us, some even seemed to be literally aiming their cars toward us. For the first time in over 12,000 miles we turned around to go another way. California drivers are just toooooo crazy.

So we turned right, headed north into our next big mistake. We quickly discovered why that road was so busy, it was the flattest, quickest road to the beach. Our new route headed right into the hills forcing us to climb over hill after hill the likes of which we haven't seen since western Pennsylvania. Up down, up down at least three separate times over hills we just couldn't ride. Gasp, I hate to admit it, we pushed instead. Finally rolling into the Bodega Dunes hiker/biker campsite we found one last obstacle to our destination, sand. Deep, soft sand that simply swallowed the lower portion of the wheels. I couldn't go anymore. Brian hd to grab my bike for the final shove. We were beat, tired, and not happy. We have decided, once we reach San Diego our goal will be to find quiet roads in rural communities of Mexico. No more dealing with this kind of traffic.

Just south of Bodega Bay is a rather unusual geological formation known as Point Reyes, originally named Punto de los Reyes (point of the kings) by the Spanish. It's a small spit of land just stuck off the west of California. What is unique is that it has rocks and soils that belong near the town of Monterey, some 100+ miles further south. It's that durn plate tectonics again, messing up the rock structure. At this location the San Andreas fault leaves the coastline and heads inland. Point Reyes is riding on the Pacific plate while land just east is on the north America plate. The plates are grinding past each other at an average rate of 2 inches per year. Actually it's not 2 inches every year, it's zero for many, many years and then a sudden 20 feet in just seconds. If you wait here long enough, say some 50 million years or so, you could go shopping in the LA garmet district without driving more than a mile.

The infamous 1906 San Fransisco earthquake that leveled and ended up torching much of the city actually was centered at the small town of Olema at Point Reyes. Since Olema was just a tiny village at the time, the earthquake ended up being named after San Fransisco. A small trail discusses that earthquake as well as plate tectonics and what you can do to prepare yourself for the next "big one". But, most impressive was the 20 ft gap in a fence that was not there one day earlier. The park service has meticulously maintained this small, run down looking fence for its demonstration. So here's a question, in one day this fence suddenly developed a 20 ft jog. So just what does that mean for the property line? Is there now also a 20 ft jog in each person's property. I suppose there is.

Continuing south on Rt 1 through the very affluent and yuppie looking towns of Fairfax and Sausilito we finally came to one of our west coast milestones, the Golden Gate bridge. We just had to get off the bikes to take our time walking across rather than ride. We stopped again and again to look straight up the tall tapering towers, or admire the incredibly huge cables, bolts, and fittings, or wonder at the raw courage of those long ago construction men who braved fierce winds to erect this wonder. Everything, from the tall towers to the wooden tool storage shed is painted a bright orange. I've heard that painting and maintainance are continual, year round tasks. In fact, we even saw two separate two man work crews out doing something.

Built during the heart of the depression years, 1931 to 1937, this engineering marvel was the culmination of the very industrious career of one Joseph Straus. Straus was a graduate of the University of Cincinatti civil engineering school, which dispels the widey held belief that UC engineering schools only generate sales folks for SDRC software and services . I've heard that even though safety nets were strung under the cables, many men were either killed or injured during construction. But, being depression times, for every one man that could no longer work, ten were in line to take his place. Even though the depression spelled tough times for a lot of people, the shear magnitude of public projects that were completed, such as the CCC work and this bridge, is truly stunning.

Pushing, shoving, pulling, and dragging we gradually made our way up and over the steep, steep San Fransisco hills past the colorful hubbub of Chinatown and the fancy upscale shopping district to the east side of the penninsula. This is where a long time friend, Jamie, and her beau, Steve live in a gradually being renovated Victorian home. Jamie and I have quite literally known each other since before we were born. While in graduate school her parents and mine started a tradition of spending Thanksgiving together. Soon after graduation, during one of those dinners both her mom and mine were pregnant at the same time with us. So Jamie has been a constant fixture in my life from day one. The Thanksgiving dinner tradition continued every year until, when in our teens, Jamie and family packed up and moved to California. But those memories of long weekends roller skating in their basement or tormenting one of our many cats will be with us forever. We still keep in touch, although recently it hasn't been very regular. But hopefully we'll remedy that soon.

Jamie and Steve are both quite proficient in folk music, singing and playing guitar. Jamie says it's been a great outlet for her incredible artistic talent and is in many ways her equivalent to our worldwide bike tour dream. Together they perform at various faires and festivals, occasionally at open mike nights in clubs, and put on in-home concerts. We were blessed with an all too brief concert of our own and were very, very impressed. Oh how I've always envied Jamie's varied talents. For those of us with over developed right brain capabilities, the artistic world seems as alien as a man from Mars might seem.

We stayed two nights in Jamie's house, spending one day wandering downtown. Managing to negotiate some of San Fransisco's extensive and uniquely varied mass transit system we got ourselves back to the Golden Gate bridge and the San Fransisco Presidio. This city has one of the most amazing mass transit systems I've ever seen. It's composed of a subway, electric and deisel busses, and the famous cable cars. It seems that nearly every block has some sort of transportation coming by at not much more than 15 minute intervals. You can easily get from where you are to within a couple blocks of where you want to be all for just $1. Transfer passes are valid for two uses for up to 3 hours. If it weren't for our misreading the map a couple times and being a bit too late for the last bus back, we wouldn't have had to walk more than one or two blocks during the entire day. As it was, we did end up walking quite a bit in the end.

We started with a walk along the old Seaside airport in the presidio to the 1850s Fort Point. The presidio, located right at the foot of the Golden Gate bridge, is one of those casualties of the 1989 base closing commission. Turned over to the National Park Service in 1994, the grounds have been added to the expansive Golden Gate National Recreation area that already included Fort Point, Alcatraz, and the S.F. Maritime museum. The Seaside airport is now undergoing a major rennovation to remove old, decaying buildings and put in grassy fields and wetlands. This will result in a long park extending from the embarcedero to the bridge.

The presidio area has been an important military site since the Spanish occupation in 1776. Recognizing the economic and military importance of such a well sheltered bay, the Spanish constructed a small adobe fort on the rock outcropping where Fort Point now stands. But the Spanish were soon ousted during the Mexican revolution and the Spanish system of presidios and missions along the California coast were essentially abandoned. The U.S. took control of California in 1842 following the war with Mexico. Having been alarmed by the ease with which British troops landed, marched to Washington D.C., and burned down the whitehouse, the U.S. decided to build a coastal defense system that eventually encompassed 30 forts. In San Fransisco this meant the construction of Fort Point at the end of the penninsula. The rock cliff where the Spanish presidio was located was blasted away, leveled, and the enormous 3 story masonry Fort Point building constructed. Being the only 1800s masonry fort on the west coast, Joseph Straus actually modified his bridge design specifically to make sure the fort would be saved. Forts were also constructed on Alcatraz island, later used for that most famous prison, another opposite Fort Point, and several further down the bay. You would have to have been crazy to try to bring one of those old wodden ships into this well fortified bay.

Fortification of the bay and use of the military installations around the penninsula continued until just recently. Fort Mason, a mere 3 miles north of the presidio, was the main embarcation and debarcation location for army soldiers headed to the Pacific. But, with today's more long distance approach to waging war and a reduced need to fortify the actual coastline, the need for these forts has disappeared. They now better serve the city and country as preserves and parks.

Fort Point an interesting, triangular shaped, 3 story fort originally designd to house some 142 cannon and at one time had a compliment of over 450 men. Having been completely restored, it is a fine example of a rather atypical fort. What was most interesting were the displays contained throughout. They had representations of typical officer's quarters, privates' barracks, the powder room, and sutter's store. A large sign posted at each display gave a brief quote from the military regulations governing each room. It was comforting in some respects and comical in others to see that military regs were just as detailed, specific, and arcane as they are today. As they said, once a soldier enlisted his life was no longer his own. The government will tell him what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and what to wear to do it. From polishing shoes to loading black powder in shot balls were spelled out in exacting detail. But I guess that's what makes our military work so well. Every soldier knows precisely what is expected and can execute his particular duties without having to recieve specific orders from high command. That autonomy within individual ranks that is all aimed at achieving a common success makes for a well prepared military force. Hopefully continued cutback won't further degrade that capability.

Heading back east via bus and, due to accidentally getting off at the wrong stop, much foot distance we dragged ourselves up and over that steep, steep San Fransisco hill coming down right into the heart of China town. With three streets and about 6 to 7 blocks length, San Fransisco has perhaps the largest most extensive Chinatown in the U.S. secnd only to the one in New York City. The difference between a normal western style shopping district and an Asian or even old style European shopping district is remarkable. Western shopping districts have everything behind glass. They're clean, sterile, unwelcoming. In Chinatown, merchandise fills the stores and spills out onto the street beconing the passing throngs to stop and shop. Colorful things of all shapes and sizes are available, some quite expensive some quite cheap. Pictures, jewelry, plastic doo dads of marginal value and use, kitchen gadgets, and just plain stuff. Intermixed are vegetable stands with wooden crates of apples, oranges, spices, and strange things that I've not seen before all being carefully inspected and picked over by potential customers. Spicy smells exude from the many tiny five table restaurants ready and waiting to fill the hungry shopper's stomach. On these streets caucasians are the outsiders. We did have a successful shopping spree when we managed to find a new pair of rubber flop flops to replace my broken ones. At $1.24 the price was just right.

We returned to Jamie's for a wonderful dinner made by two very, very good cooks, lots of talking, and our own little concert of folk art. The next morning, to gray, drizzling skies, we gave our hugs goodbye and headed back over that blasted hill one more time and down the coast. It was so nice to see Jamie once again and great to meet Steve.

The nights were cold and the days only somewhat warm as the throws of winter nipped ginerly at our heels for our final push toward San Diego. We quickly noticed that the road conditions improved dramatically south of San Fransisco. In areas where we had to ride on Rt 1 shoulders were generally nice and wide. Otherwise there were lightly traveled side roads to ride. We rode the route from Pacifica to San Luis Obispo about 7 years age and I honestly didn't recall it being all that difficult with the traffic. With our experience in north California, though, we were beginning to wonder if our memory was flawed. But, alas, it really is a difference in the road. We road easily through towns with names like Pacifica, Santa Cruz, Seaside, and the very, very wealthy Monterey. Joining us were many other cycle tourists from all over the world, riding from all over the U.S., headed to all sorts of different destinations. The California coast bike route is definitly an international destination place.

The 80 mile stretch south of Monterey is what we consider to be the jewel of the west coast ride. This is where the mountains lie right on the coast and highway 1 was built by blasting away rock and dirt to make a narrow ledge along the cliffs. The cliffs are covered with brown late fall grasses and occasional groves of trees. The water is a dark blue/green crystal clear with spots of light blue where cold water is churining up from below to replace warm water moved off shore by the winds. The road is narrow with no shoulders. But, we discovered the secret to an enjoyable ride, start early before the traffic picks up. You'll have the road to yourself. If you ever catch a commercial or magazine ad showing some fancy car schmoozing along on this road that is chizzled into the side of a cliff with the ocean below, it was probably shot in this area. In fact, there happened to be a commerial shoot in progress. It will show a very rare, British sports car, some 1950s Alfa Martin I believe, and will be for the Newberger Berman mutual fund. What you won't see are the 4 highway patrol cars used to stop traffic on either side, the black pick-up truck toting the cameras, the helicopters for the arial shots, the trailers, cars, and other miscellaneous stuff for the film crew, and the approximately 30 or so crew members. Ah yes, it will just be this lone, isolated car purring smoothly down the road, around the curves while the announcer probably talks about obtaining financial freedom or reaching your financial dream or some such thing. All so artificially staged.

After that always too short 80 miles of spectacular scenery the terrain levels into rolling, brown grass covered hills. Almost a bit of a let down after the previous 80 miles. The route passes directly in front of the famous Hearst Castle, a mamoth estate of the newspaper publisher filled with all those late 1800s exotic, garish stuff. After Hearst Sr died the sons really did not know what to do with it. So they donated it to the state, a big tax write-off I presume. Tours are now available for a rather pricey $14 per person. There are four tours covering everything from the bedroom quarters, kitchens, bathrooms, pools, dining rooms, and the umpty ump other rooms. Imagine trying to live much less feel comfortable in a place so large you could just about spend one day each year in a different room and still have rooms left over. Since we've taken tours on two previous occasions, we decided to forego it this time.

Not too much further on we stopped in the college town of San Luis Obispo to wander the downtown for a while and to peruse the goodies for sale at their little Octoberfest celebration. Smells of beer and mustard covered sausages met our nostrile as my mind quickly grasped on the idea of finding a bathroom. Bike touring constantly has taught me one very important lesson, you never ever turn down a bathroom that is convenient. Upon my return to where Brian was carefully guarding the bikes I find him talking excitedly to an older, gray haired gentleman, totally clothed in denim, touting a bit of a pot belly. Brian quickly exclaims, "This guy makes White Lightening."

My eyes light up. "That's great stuff", I cry out. Paul Maples was a bike tourist with a chemistry background who got totally frustrated with the grime and gunk the available chain lubes that are petroleum or teflon based attract. So he started dipping his chain in parafin wax which in itself is a pain. You have to get the wax, heat it up, dip the chain, and then figure out what to do with the leftover wax. It's not exactly conducive to using on the road. So he came up with his White Lightening, a parafin based lubricant in a bottle. We've used it since the very beginning of our tour and it's great. It's the only lubricant that keeps the chain clean, and I absolutely hate cleaning chains. We6Ve been in touch with the White Lightening folks, in particular Lorna Paul's wife, when we had trouble finding it. So just the shear coincidence for us to run into Paul in an open air Octoberfest was quite astounding.

For the first time in 14 months since leaving Denver we finally had time on our side. Nights were a bit nippy, but the cold, rain fronts were only dipping as far south as San Fransisco. So at long last, we could slow way down. We started riding from hiker/biker campsite to hiker/biker campsite, liberally taking days off when we felt like it. Now this was the way bike touring was meant to be. It's not easy with seasons continually forcing you to move south or north at a faster pace than you want. This was wonderful. Too bad LA has to be in the way of ourr San Diego destination.

Appendix A - Route


Rt 29 to Calistoga Petrified Forest Rd to Porter Creek Rd to Mark West Rd Old Redwood Hwy to Piner Rd to Fulton Rd Occidental Rd to Rt 116 to Mill Sta. Rd to Ferguson Rd Bodega Hwy to Furlong Rd to Occidental Rd Coleman Valley Rd to to Rt 1 Rt 1 to Valley Ford Franklin School Rd to Valley Ford Rd to Dillon Beach Rd to Romales Rt 1 to Pt Reyes Station Petaluma Rd to Platform Bridge Rd to bike path Sir Francis Drake Rd to Fairfax Rt 101 and all sorts of back roads to the Golden Gate Bridge Rt 35 to Daly City, Rt 1 and Adventure Cycling Association back routes to Monterey and Pismo Beach

Appendix B - Campsites


Bodega Dunes State Park ($), Samuel P. Tylor State Park 2 nights ($), Friend's house 2 nights,Half Moon Bay State Park ($), New Brighton State Beach ($), Vets Memorial Park in Monterey 2 nights ($), Pieiffer Big Sur State Park ($), Plaskett Creek NFs Campground ($), San Simeon State Park ($), Pismo Beach Oceania State Park 2 nights ($)

($) indicates fee camping


Copyright 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.



We'd like to thank my father, Charles Johnson, whose diligent mail forwarding and other logistical support make this journey far easier than it could be otherwise.


Wendy Strutin Riedy for archiving the newsletters on her WWW site,

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