Mendocino Rides


“How about we circle Clear Lake and maybe grab a snack before heading out to the coast through some of these smaller twisties?” His finger traced the intended route. “Then after lunch we can take the PCH south to Jenner and follow the Russian River through the wine country.”

They pulled away from the diner and took Highway 29. Calistoga was an old town with a rich history that went back hundreds of years. Before the Spanish invaded, the valley north of Napa was home to the Wappo, a peaceful indigenous people. From its quiet appearance, you’d never guess the long and sometimes violent history the region had witnessed. As time unfolded and California was established, the fertile land came to support a mix of vineyards, wineries, and old family farms. The temperate climate made it a rider’s paradise of clean roads and varied terrain, sprinkled with natural hot springs.

The ride up to Clear Lake was so different from the landscape she remembered. They wove in and out of areas that had been burned in the wildfires. Some areas were devastated, while others were relatively untouched. The contrast was sobering. A number of ancestral farms had been reduced to ashes, and the land was just beginning to turn over. Fire and ash are good for the land, she reminded herself. But she couldn’t stop tears from streaking out the sides of her eyes and wetting her hair.

They circled Clear Lake before heading out Highway 20 to the coast. Mendocino was stunning any time of year, but fall was one of Abby’s favorites. Endless miles of bucolic, rolling vineyards were dotted with trees full of reds, oranges, and yellows, ending in rocky cliffs that dropped off into the spectacular blue of the Pacific Ocean. It didn’t get any better or more beautiful than this particular stretch of coastline.

They rode Highway 20 until it ended almost at Fort Bragg, then turned south on the PCH. It was a lot colder on Highway 1 than Abby remembered, so she switched on her grip heaters and closed the vents on her helmet. She wasn’t about to catch any shit for being cold from a guy with full fairings and a heater.

Mendocino was just as beautiful as she remembered, with low buildings perched on jagged cliffs that dropped off into the ocean. They pulled into the town of Jenner just as colors were filling the sky. Goat Rock Beach sat on a small peninsula, right where the Russian River comes in off the Pacific. The sky exploded in hues of blue, green, and orange, and they watched it without saying anything more, in awe of the power and beauty of Mother Earth. They stayed put until the sun was mostly down, then folded up the blanket and got back on the bikes.


 It was a silent ride the rest of the way home. They didn’t use the comms and tried to focus on staying alert as they navigated the dark, curvy roads. 

From: Steel Journeys – The Road to Patagonia

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By David Ballerini

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