Valley Spokesmen 3-Day Ride to Paso Robles - 2012
Point Of No Return
Every year during the three days before Memorial Day weekend, the Valley Spokesmen Bicycle Club runs a bicycle tour from the Bay Area to Paso Robles for the Great Western Bicycle Rally. The ride is organized and lead by Bonnie (and Bob) Powers. I have gone on this tour several times in the past, but had not ridden on it for several years. I decided to participate this time to see what has changed along the route. My other motive was to see if I had enough physical endurance for a future tour in the mountains of northwest Italy. I was particularly anxious about the relative high daily mileage.
On the Sunday before the ride, I drove the Odyssey to Paso Robles. I stayed overnight at the Adelaide Inn and used Sunday afternoon and most of Monday to do some scouting for the BAC tour that I will be directing next February. I left the car at the Adelaide Inn on Monday afternoon and caught Amtrak to get back to Oakland.
On Tuesday to prepare for the ride, I rearranged the gadgets on my Trek 5200 handlebars. I installed a handlebar bag from my old Bike Friday that I had used and liked a lot. I could fit my wallet, iPhone, camera, extra batteries and some food in it. I also moved my GPS mount so that the bag's mounts would fit. This made the front of the bicycle a little heavy, but I got used to the handling difference. That evening, I removed the wheels from the bike and stuffed everything into the back of our Honda Fit. This wasn't as much of a challenge as I thought it would be.
Wednesday, May 23 - Niles to Hollister
Ann, KD and I were on the road around 6:45 to go to the ride start at the foot of Niles Canyon at the Alameda Creek Regional Park. I anticipated lots of traffic, but I was fooled - we got there on time at 7:30. While I got my bicycle ready, changed into my riding gear and loaded my luggage into Bonnie's rental van, Ann walked KD around the park. Other riders trickled in. Because some of them ran into heavy commuter traffic, our departure was 15 minutes late at 8:15.
Our morning route took us through endless suburban streets of Union City, Fremont, Milpitas and San Jose keeping east of I680 and I880. We rode as a group with the faster riders getting ahead temporarily when the rest of us were stopped by traffic. I was happy to ride with people who had been on the route before. They kept me from making wrong turns. Bonnie met us at a Shell station near Sierra Road around mile 16 and put out some snacks to tide us over until lunch. The weather was sunny and the temperature was warming up.
Continuing on, we skirted the southeastern edge of San Jose, went under and over the freeways and stopped at Erik's Deli at mile 36 at 11:30. I had a Pilgrim's Progress sandwich (Turkey Breast and fresh Avocado on 9-Grain Wheat Bread with Erik's "Secret Goo", Tomatoes and Sprouts). Most of the group ate outside on the patio. I didn't see any space that was shaded, so I stayed inside.
At lunch, it was getting much warmer. I took off my jacket, arm warmers and leg warmers. We left Erik's after noon as a group but soon teamed up with riders of equal speed. My partners were Christy Simpson and Peter Rathman as we rode the rolling hills past Calero Reservoir and on to Uvas Road. Bonnie set up afternoon snacks at the boat launching lot at the reservoir. She had a great spread of drinks, fruit and salty snacks.
We had caught up with the faster riders at the reservoir and took off with them after snacking. After a few miles, Christy and I found ourselves riding together again through Gilroy. We stopped to help John Woodworth change a flat tire in Gilroy and rode as a threesome to the end of the route. As we left Gilroy, we were in a convoy with one of the farm tractors as we rode past some odiferous garlic fields. Christie was freaked out with the tractor following us so closely especially when John went to the front leaving her at the rear.
The ride into Hollister was very windy. Heading south, we had a 45 degree headwind which was wearing us out. Going east, though, the wind was mostly at our back and we could maintain a pace of well over 20 MPH. We reached the Best Western San Benito Inn in Hollister at around 3:15 after putting in 84 miles.
Here are my statistics for the day:
After cleaning up, we met outside of Bonnie and Bob's room for a Social Hour. Chips, dips and drinks were plentiful. Bonnie handed out route sheets for the next day's ride and talked about the high points. Then we crammed into three cars and drove to The Best of Times Cafe in the center of Hollister. I sat with Gail Blanco, Alberto Lanzas and Richard Hedges. I carbo-loaded on spaghetti with meat sauce.
After returning to the hotel, I tried to read in bed but soon fell asleep shortly after 9:00.
Thursday, May 24 - Hollister to King City
I had no trouble waking up at 6:00 after sleeping reasonably well. Most of our group went to Jerry's Restaurant for breakfast but I optioned to eat at the motel. Except for the lack of fresh fruit, the motel served the same food as I eat at home - coffee, cereal and toast (I had a sweet roll instead). Besides, the coffee machine brewed some really good espresso. I ate at a very small table with Richard Hedges.
At 7:30, I loaded my luggage into the van and rode over to Jerry's. I told Christy Simpson that I would swing by so that we could ride together today. When I got there, nobody had been served. So Christy released me to start without her.
The last time that I rode out of Hollister on Hwy 25, the country road started at the city limits. This time was a lot different. New Housing and strip malls stretched on for several miles and the road had four lanes. Finally at Tres Pinos, the road narrowed to two lanes and I was out in the country. Much of the land was still undeveloped, but there were some new vineyards that stretched on for several acres. The terrain was mostly low rolling hills with a few steep pitches thrown in to test lower gears. As I approached "Fire Station Hill", a fire truck going the opposite direction stopped, turned on its lights and flagged me down. The firemen were out on a call to chase a cow from the road. They warned me to look out for it. It was a slow day on Hwy 25. I didn't see a cow on the road, but several of them in a fenced-in field were watching me very closely.
I found "Fire Station Hill", spinned up it and turn into the fire station where Bonnie and Bob had the morning snacks set up. It was about 9:45 and I was surprised that I was the first rider to arrive. The fire station is fairly large with several buildings including an office and a bunk house. There is a helipad with a small helicopter in front. The snacks were excellent again. This time they included fresh strawberries with chocolate syrup. I really enjoyed the cantaloupe, too.
The riders from Jerry's were catching up to me here as I was starting out riding solo again. The temperature had warmed up and I dressed down to my shorts and jersey. (This was TOSRD jersey day). There were a few more steep rollers to climb as the route went past Pinnacles National Monument and beyond. I have ridden past Pinnacles several times and have never visited it. I will sometimes soon. Pinnacles National Monument is a release site for the endangered California Condor and I would like to spot one.
Shortly after 11:00, I reached "Marker 7" - our lunch stop at the intersection of Hwy 25 and G-13. Bonnie has been using a farm shed (Jim Duncan calls it a slaughter house) slightly off of the road for several years after arranging it with the owners. It was pretty rustic, but the owners had set up old benches and tables for our use. It looks like they have been here forever and that they will stay here longer than that. The pigeons have found a few of the benches. I helped Bob unload some of the food. The feeding table was set by the time most of the other riders arrived. We had lunch meat, cheese, tuna salad, egg salad, chips, drinks, cookies and a lot more. Nobody goes hungry on Bonnie's tours.
I didn't mention that we had a good tailwind for most of the morning. I am pointing that out now because the route into King City turned southwest forcing us into a strong cross wind. I left lunch first and turned on G-13 to climb the one-mile hill. After crossing the summit, it was a 14 mile decent into King City. The fast riders caught me on the first part of the downhill. I grabbed a wheel and held on for my maximum speed for the year - 45 MPH. After I watched some bicycles twitching in front of me because of the wind, I eased off and rode into the city at my own pace. The cross wind was definitely a factor on the pace.
The veterans on the ride traditionally stop at a cantina at the outer end of King City for beer, salsa and chips. I joined them as did everyone on the ride including Bonnie and Bob. We bought out all of their Negra Modelo.
Weaving our way down Broadway, we reached The Quality Inn around 2:30. Here are my statistics for the day:
The usual party ensued outside of the Power's room. With the steady wind, the temperature was a little chilly - enough to wear long pants and a jacket. Bonnie handed out the route sheets for the Friday ride and reviewed the critical parts of it. We also celebrated Mary Hernandez's birthday.
Most of the group went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I wanted something different to eat so I followed Bonnie, Bob and Bill Andrews to V's Diner. This was a real "find" - it has a senior menu. I had meat loaf, mashed potatoes and salad from the salad bar for $11 including the tip.
After we walked back to the motel and the rest of the group arrived, we gathered in the lobby a shared a cake for Mary's birthday. Then it was back to the room and to sleep just after 9:00.
Friday, May 25 - King City to Paso Robles
We awoke to cloudy skies and cool temperatures this morning. The forecast showed that this would continue throughout the day. This might have influenced everyone to have the motel breakfast instead of going to a real restaurant. I was happy with oatmeal and muffins. The coffee wasn't as good as the day before, but it worked.
We left as a group leaving King City via Lonoak Rd and heading to Hwy 25. Lonoak is a short step up from a farm road with lots of bad pavement and packed mud(?) on it. We rode past many fields with agricultural crops that most of us didn't recognize. There were several fields that had just been plowed. Traffic was sparse and the few vehicles that passed us were trucks. Shortly before we reached Hwy 25, we stopped on a newish bridge and counted old rusted out cars that decorated the banks of the dry stream bed that we were crossing over. The ride veterans had a contest for guessing the number of cars. There were probably two dozen of them.
The slower riders caught us at the bridge and we continued on to Hwy 25 until we met Bonnie, Bob and the van at Peachtree Road for our morning snacks. The excellent array of fruit, salty munchies, cookies, drinks, etc. were welcome. This is normally the time to shed our outer layer of riding clothes, but it was too cool to do that. The clouds were dark and it looked like we might get some rain.
The next segments of the route were some of my favorites from years past. The first segment, Peach Tree Road, is definition of a country road. It is narrow, has almost no traffic and runs through ranch land that reminds you of the Old West. Our group left together but it soon broke up with the faster riders forging ahead. I slowed down to my touring pace and joined Peter Rathman as we eased down the road. At the 40-mile mark we came upon the challenge of the day and maybe the challenge of the whole tour - "The Wall". This is a half-mile climb that starts out very, very steep and ends up very steep. My GPS didn't measure it properly but my guess is that the first bump is around 15-18% and the end is around 9% with some less steep sections in the middle. When I got there, the fast riders were already at the summit and got off of their bicycles to cheer the rest of us on. This gave us an adrenaline rush to help us get to the top.
Bonnie had lunch set up for us at the summit. We filled our plates and sat at the side of the road as we ate. The air was cool but the pavement was warm. There was no traffic so it was safe to sit there and relax. As we were eating, a group of several vintage motorcycles with vintage men drove past us - a surreal sight in such a remote location.
The second segment of my favorites was Indian Valley Road. This road goes almost all of the way to Paso Robles. It starts out from the summit with a steep downhill. It then continues with downhill rollers until it flattens out near San Miguel. It is another narrow country road with ranches and vineyards on each side. I again rode at my own touring pace and was joined by Peter Rathman until we got near San Miguel. It was warming up so I stopped and took of my jacket and leg warmers. From that point I was riding solo until I reached our regroup spot on the outskirts of Paso Robles. It was here that another ride tradition started. We slowed down the pace and rode into Paso Robles as a group with all of us wearing our Valley Spokesmen jerseys. I am not sure if anybody in Paso Robles noticed us, but we felt good.
I picked up my car at the Adelaide Inn, loaded my bicycle into it and drove over to the Black Oak. Bonnie set up snacks next to her van and I munched on chips and hummus until Richard Hedges arrived. He let me take a shower in his room and change into real clothes. After he did the same, we said good-bye to everyone, got into my car and drove to Hollister. He picked up his car there and drove back to Paso Robles. I left him and drove home arriving around 7:30. Traffic on I880 from US101 until I580 was very slow. Otherwise, it was fast.
This was a good tour. I am glad that I did it after several years' hiatus. Bonnie and Bob Powers do an outstanding job organizing and running it. The riders were friendly and nobody complained about anything except the cool weather and wind when it was in our face. The route was perfect - no safety issues, no extended bad pavement and no long climbs. The motels were nice with large, clean rooms and free internet. If I were to do it again, I would slow down and take more photos. Otherwise, I would not change anything.