Biking from the Pacific Coast to the Redwood Forest
SONOMA COUNTY, approx. – It’s not a vacation unless you do something epic. I think my recent bike trip to Northern California qualifies.
During a week of bike touring in Sonoma and Napa counties in Northern California, one day stood out. Over the course of about 50 miles, I checked off two bucket list items and added one that I didn’t even know I wanted.
There’s cycling, then riding among some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in the world. This journey started in Bodega Bay, California. on the Pacific Ocean.
The first ten miles would be on California Highway One, which hugs the coast for 650 miles. It was exciting biking along ten miles of the highway, with the blue ocean to our left.
As we cycled, the high cliffs and rocky shoreline continued to produce picture postcard scenery, forcing us to follow our guide’s advice to stop for photos.
We toured with about 25 people from all over the US and Canada, with a company called Backroads, who provided the bikes, provided us with daily routes and support, made hotel reservations and planned most of the meal. All we had to do was ride.
” It’s breathtaking. It is absolutely spectacular. I have never been to the west coast to see this view of the Pacific. And it’s fabulous. There’s no comparison because you really enjoy the sounds and the scenery on a bike,” said Lucy Stephens of Charlotte, North Carolina, a member of our group.
It would have been nice to stay longer on the coast, but that was not part of the plan.
So be it. Those ten miles intersected with an item on this to-do list.
Drive on Highway 1. Check.
On horseback to Colonel James Armstrong Redwood’s reserve.
There was a good reason to turn off Highway One.
We would steer our bikes inland along the beautiful Russian River going for lunch in an 805-acre park where coast redwoods – the tallest trees on earth – are protected in a state preserve.
But first coffee.
Thirteen miles into today’s riding we stopped at Duncans Mills, 85, at a place called Gold Coast Coffee and Pastries.
The guides provided pastries, while we bought our own beer.
“It’s a great place. They have wonderful baked goods in addition to coffee that they roast themselves,” explained Justin Helmkamp, one of the ride hosts.
“Next stop today… We have about 10.7 miles and are heading to our lunch spot which will be at Armstrong Preserve, a state protected area that has some of the tallest trees on the planet,” said Helmkamp .
We started seeing a handful of redwoods almost immediately after we stopped. About an hour from the reserve itself, we drove on a small strip of asphalt called Moscow Road.
Trees towered above us, dwarfing the cottages and cabins that dotted the landscape and made me think of finding an Airbnb in the future. It was magical, and yes, we stopped for pictures.
Soon we entered the small town of Guerneville, turned north and arrived at the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
Redwoods covered most of the area at one time, but 95% was felled during the California Gold Rush.
Here, 805 acres are preserved forever, donated in the 1870s by Colonel James Armstrong, who ironically was a lumberjack.
Another of our hosts, Jason Stawiski, stood on a picnic table and told us about the trees.
“It is the tallest living species on earth measuring 300 feet. They can live up to 2,500 years or even longer,” Stawiski said.
“We are looking at 12 to 16 foot diameters with these trees. And what’s cool is their root system, it only goes six feet deep. That’s why you got all those bumps on your bike—they’ll go over 100 feet. And all of those roots will connect with all of their sibling trees here, and they can actually pass nutrients, they can pass water, and they can help each other survive. It is therefore the highest living species on earth,” he said.
The oldest tree, Colonel James Armstrong, named after the benefactor of the reservation, was a sapling when Europe was in the Middle Ages.
“The last time it was measured – over 50 years ago it was 308 feet and 1,400 years old. So it’s a substantial tree,” explained Ron Rahari, a park guide.
Three hundred and eight feet. A tree – taller than a football field is long.
Crossing the redwood forest, cycling among these giants is a lesson in humility. This creates a certain feeling of insignificance.
These trees have lived maybe 20 human lives.
As you ride, and the sunlight struggles to reach the forest floor, respect rivals awe – and the feeling that you’re just lucky to be there, on a bike and not only seeing the forest, but by experiencing it.
Check another item off this bucket list.
Wine tasting en route to Healdsburg
We had ridden from the coast to the forest, and more was to come on this bike ride.
With the redwoods towering behind us, the landscape gave way to acres and acres of grapes.
Our ultimate destination was our hotel in the town of Healdsburg.
But first, the wine.
What would a bike ride in Sonoma County be without a stop at a winery or two since the county has 425?
Over the next 20 miles we stopped at two tasting rooms. The first one, Gracianna is a small family vineyard whose micro-climate lends itself to the cultivation of pinot noir.
A few miles down the road, and acres of vines beyond, we parked our bikes at Deuxmeya modern design tasting room with winding, wraparound patios and views of the surrounding mountains.
From there it was a short two mile ride to the hotel, where there was time to take in all you could see in one bike ride.
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