Monday, June 4, 2012

Memorial Weekend Mendocino Coast Bike Tour--Day 1: Ukiah to Mendocino

On Friday night of the first weekend of Summer, we drove up to Ukiah where I work 2-3 days a week with M's Trek 720. I already have my Specialized Sequoia there. We went to bed ready for a morning start to Mendocino. In the morning, we got ready and packed lightly. We had the option of camping on the coast this time, but we were wary of the monster climb on the way over and back on Orr Springs Road. We found a place on airbnb (follow the link if you are interested in joining; I get some referral credit) in Little River, which is 3 miles south of Mendocino so we don't have to bring our camping gears.

M. uses a single Ortlieb shopper pannier on the Tubus Logo rack. She carried her change of clothing (including some layers for the cool coaster weather), toiletry, a pair of lightweight street shoes, locks, sunscreen lotions, and some school book to read for a class she is taking. I also brought a change of clothing, lock, a book to read, energy bars for the two of us, bike tools, my iPod touch for Internet access, and my trusted Olympus EP-1 camera. I used Shimano touring shoes for riding with my crank brothers Candy pedals and walking around and didn't bring an extra pair of shoes. 

We ended up setting off closer to lunch time, and ate brunch at Ellie's Mutt Hutt first. The big vegan breakfast that we ate ended up being great for the physically demanding ride. After brunch, we meandered through Ukiah to get to the north end of town. On North State Street, we turned west on Orr Springs Road and quickly began the first and the toughest climb of the day. 

Starting from the base, Orr Springs Road climbs for 4 miles pretty relentlessly for an average of close to 10%. Some pitches are steeper than that. Climbing it on a lightweight road bike without carrying anything can a challenge and today we were on our touring gigs with approximately 15-18 lbs of load each. We both had our heart rate monitor on to make sure we don't blow our tops off on the first climb. I dropped down to 34T/28T combo (and M was on 36T/28T) and tried to spin as smoothly as possible going up. I think my speed was hovering between 4 and 5 mph. One great thing about Orr Springs Road is that it's very pretty, and not too much car traffic.

The second half of the climb is also slightly easier than the first half. We talked about taking a break but ended up climbing all the way to the top. At this point we get a expansive view of the valley and began riding on the ridge for a short stretch. It's very scenic on the top and represents the best of rural pavement riding I have seen. (here is a video of coasting on the rollers at the top of Orr Springs Road)

The roller quickly turned into a screeching descent, as we labor to control our bikes with their center-pull brakes paired with modern tektro short-pull levers. We stopped a couple of times to rest our hands from getting tired from braking. The descent from the ridge down to the valley floor was also approximately 4 miles. 

The next several miles were rollers in very beautiful setting. We passed by Orr Hot Springs, a well-known hot spring resort in the redwoods, and Montgomery Woods, a state park of giant redwood forests. The entire stretch is very well covered, and the temperature was very comfortable for cycling. The only complain I have is that the pavement through this stretch is very poorly maintained, and riding requires mindfulness to navigate through the pavement. Even with our 650bx36mm wide tires, we still felt the bumps and potholes, though it's definitely much more tolerable. The first time we rode the route we were on 700cx28mm and 25mm tires, and the effects of the bad road were much more pronounced.

The next climb is short and not as steep, and even better covered than the first. After the day's first climb, this second climb was easier. We chatted and in a very relaxed way spun to the top. We stopped to eat some food and take out our wind breaker for the descent. The drop is fast but not too winding. We picked up some decent speed and rolled into the intersection of Ukiah Comptche Road and Flynn Creek Road, where the Comptche Store is. Comptche is a sleepy little town with a general store/gas station, a school house and a church.

The road toward the coast from here is a gentle climb under the redwoods. On this 3% grade I stayed on my big ring (46T) and worked on a low rpm spin. This is got to be one of the nicest stretch of road to ride for a road cyclist. The pavement is smooth, and one is under the canopy of tall trees. The road goes up, but gentle enough to invite you to apply effort. A few miles away from Comptche, the gradient increased for a short pitch before easing up again. The trees continue to cover the road and pavement continues to be smooth. Now we are getting close to our destination, and the miles of carrying loads over a couple of big hills began to weigh down our legs. We started to look for the turn off of Little River Airport Road, and soon we were there.

This road is a nice descent, except for a few stretches where the pavement is pretty awful. We were staying at the Woods, a retirement community literally in the pygmy forests that cover the landscape in Little River. After 3 miles of riding from the ridge, we arrived at our destination. It was a nice quiet guestroom with a nice window into the garden. I emptied my bag and continued to ride into Mendocino to buy some food for dinner, while M. stayed to clean up and rest. Though I was tired, the gentle rollers along the pacific coast offered some respite at the end of the day. Mendocino was buzzing, as this is the saturday night of a long weekend. I bought some supplies for dinner and breakfast, and eased my way back up the hill on Little River Airport Road back to the Woods. We were both eager to spend a relaxing day in town tomorrow.

Here is the whole set of video/photos:

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