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EBass Tours Sonoma Co. California
Sonoma County Loop Ride
While Sonoma County is better known for its excellent wineries to the east, the western edge offers some truly breathtaking coastline and a tranquil, solitary forest traversed by one-lane, marginally maintained back roads with challenging curves and not a few hazards. This is "road less traveled" stuff, so be forewarned, the route is chock full of adventure and not for the faint of heart. Your skills will be tested even as your soul is soothed, and that can be a ton of fun. For those who'd prefer to vacation on a cruise ship sipping Mai Tais and snarfing caviar, this isn't your loop.
However, if you are the kind of guy who thinks that summiting Mt. Everest would be a great way to spend a couple of weeks, I've got a ride for you!
Timber Cove Inn acted as my base of operations for the day's journey. The posh resort occupies 26 acres of premium coastline. I don't want to know what it cost to purchase that real estate, but I'm guessing the owner isn't a retired motojournalist. You can get a room for as little as $78 on a weekday, but they'll be happy to relieve you of $590 per night to stay in their luxury suites, which come equipped with a private spa, fireplace and balcony.
I called Sean to let him know that I would be ringing up a night in one of the swank suites on MO's dime and to please be sure there was enough available credit on the MO plastic (all in the name of thoroughly investigating my subject of course). Then I hung up real fast before he could reply, figuring his innate sense of moral fairness would kick in and that he wouldn't want to leave me hanging all the way up in Sonoma with no place to stay, and would therefore be obligated to infuse the MO card with beaucoup dinero to save my ass from a night of sleeping with the bears. As it turns out, there's apparently an inverse relationship between a man's ability to ride around a curve really fast on a motorcycle and his innate sense of moral fairness. Oh well, it was worth a shot. Back to the hostel for me, I suppose.
The restaurant at TCI is open for breakfast and dinner. However, it only serves lunch on the weekend. Be warned, the menu is somewhat pricey. An omelet will set you back around $9, lunch items such as a New York steak sandwich or apple wood smoked bacon BLT will run $9-12, and standard surf and turf dinner fare will put a $16-26 dent in your wallet. Myself, I went with a Gorgonzola burger on a poppy seed bun with a green salad and fries for $10.95. If you're at a loss as to why someone would pay $11 for a hamburger, simply put, it's for the view and the ambiance. The dining room features wrap-around windows looking out onto a sweeping view of the ocean and a cozy central fireplace gives warmth to the room. The burger was delicious, but I couldn't help thinking that back home, my $11 would have bought lunch for the whole MO staff at our local taco joint (or some eggplant-purple colored candy coated beef at the staff's favorite Chinese joint -Sean).
Leaving the creature comforts of TCI, I head south on Route 1 towards Fort Ross. This tantalizing stretch of two-lane coastal curvature features a sweeping wraparound S-curve with amazing ocean views. You may even want to go back and take this segment a few more times until giddy lightheadedness sets in. The sumptuous swirls of well-groomed asphalt will tempt you to set an aggressive pace. Watch out for cows though, as one had escaped the fences separating the pasture from the highway and was wandering the road just past a blind curve, waiting to be turned into hamburger. As I rode past, I flagged vehicles headed in the opposite direction to slow down and could swear I heard distant shouts of, "Thanks, biker dude!", as I continued south.
After three miles, Fort Ross Historic Park, founded in 1812 by Russian fur traders, appears to the west. Not much to see, but if you're a history buff, you'll want to sniff around. On the opposite side of Route 1 is Fort Ross Road. If there was any doubt about Fort Ross Road's rural nature, it was dispelled within the first few hundred yards along this one-laner.
I was immediately greeted by the pungent and musky aroma of a freshly-dead skunk and the sight of three large turkey vultures hovering overhead. I can't imagine being so hungry as to find dead skunk to be an appealing meal, but I was newly thankful for the gorgonzola burger I had just enjoyed. A quarter mile further up, I accidentally re-routed a covey of about twenty quail, which all turned in perfect unison and flew away at the blatting of the Road King.
Not even half a mile had gone by and the only thing missing from this Wild Kingdom was Marlon Perkins. When I was a kid growing up, I used to love that show. My favorite part was at the end where they'd try to tie a Mutual of Omaha sales pitch into whatever animal behavior you had just observed on the show. This of course led to bizarre trains of thought like,
"In the wild, a female praying mantis will frequently bite the head off of the male after they've finished mating. Mutual of Omaha offers life insurance policies that will ensure that your spouse can maintain herself in the lifestyle that she is accustomed after she bites yourÉerr, in case an "accident" were to lead to your untimely demise".
As if I wasn't having enough of an Indiana Jones moment, hazardous conditions soon made themselves apparent. As I meandered in first gear along the thin ribbon of asphalt through the dense forest, I recall thinking that the posted 10 mph speed limit was definitely no joke. The roads along this route are mostly patched up and in pretty poor shape with no shoulder to speak of. There were also wet leaves on the pavement, making things slippery, and the occasional steel drainage grates were slick as snot. If you don't approach these straight on at a constant speed, you may find yourself staring up at the foliage from underneath your bike. This is just ridiculously poor engineering. It would have been so easy to add some texture to the grates for traction, but instead, they're as smooth as the Olson twins' nubile little bottoms. It is OK to lust after the Olson twins now, isn't it? Alright, just checking. Still feels kinda weird though, huh?
Three miles up, Fort Ross Road T-bones with Seaview Road. You'll want to stay to the right and head south towards Cazadero. Here, the road becomes a better-groomed two-lane and the forest opens up into country scenery. You will soon be redirected to make a left heading SE to continue down Fort Ross Road, and it returns to a twisty one-lane at this point. Despite being ready for a break, I avoided the turnoffs, as they were muddy and looked like a drop waiting to happen. Two slide areas added to the adventure as well, and as if that weren't enough, I had a close encounter around a blind curve with a logging truck and another with a cement mixer. There's nothing quite like staring death in the face to make you feel alive!
Well, perhaps I overstate the case. In a car, I would have been a goner, but as narrow as it is, the one-lane roads up here are in reality more like one and a half, which is fine for a bike to squeeze by any oncoming traffic. I probably only encountered a dozen or so vehicles, and they were all driving in a well-mannered fashion, so this really isn't as much of a deterrent as it might appear. Just take my advice and stay to the right around blind curves. You'll thank me someday.
About 11 miles past the Seaview Road turnoff, you'll reach a somewhat perplexing 4-way, X-shaped intersection where you want to make a near U-turn onto King Ridge Road heading north. Eight miles of one-lane, tree-lined twisties bring you to a pair of wicked hairpins before emerging from the forest. I encountered some potholes and loose gravel that commanded my attention but overall this stretch offered some soothing terrain that was so lush and green it'd make a leprechaun feel right at home, especially if he rode a motorcycle.
Five miles of wandering road through open country fields return you to another mile of tightly curved forest, past some grazing sheep and then back into rolling pastures where the road undulates over pastoral hills and past several "cattle Xing" signs. I'll give you a friendly tip, when you see a "cattle Xing" sign, don't take it to mean that there might be a cow in the road ahead. Take it to mean that there will be a cow in the road ahead. I had already reached my quota of hamburger for the day, and made sure to slow way down and let Bessie and friends clear the path before continuing on my way.
After 17 miles on King Ridge Road, you'll reach a T-bone where you turn left onto Hauser Bridge Rd. [Tin Barn Road accoding to Microsoft's map below.-fonzie] heading south towards Plantation. This downhill twisty through open country soon plunges you back into the even sharper curves of the forest. Two miles in, you arrive at a sinister blind uphill hairpin that may add a few gray hairs to your ponytail, so don't forget I told you so.
You'll continue past an intersection where Hauser Bridge Road turns into Seaview Road as the path continues to wind through dense forest. You can finally shift out of first gear now, as the two-lane road can be attacked comfortably at about 30 mph. My very own lane! What a luxury!
At Timber Cove Road, you head west towards the ocean, descending at an 18-degree incline as it snakes through two miles of forest. This last leg of the journey feels like the Autobahn as you finally have the confidence of your own lane to encourage an open throttle. Feeling like a marathon runner sprinting to the finish, you'll T-bone with Route 1 where you will want to head north. Don't get on the gas too hard though because Timber Cove Inn is immediately on the left.
While this treacherous route isn't going to be everyone's idea of a good time, I had a blast and concluded with a sense of exhilaration. For an intensely challenging ride that forces you to focus your attention on taking correct lines and choosing the correct gear and shift points, lined with lush forest scenery, bucolic pastures, and a tingling sense of adventure at every moment, this off-the-beaten-path route can't be beat!
Time: 3hrs + dining
Mileage: 52 miles
Timber Cove Inn
21780 North Coast Highway One
Jenner, CA 95450
Breakfast Mon-Fri 7:30-11:30 Sat-Sun 8-12
Lunch Sat-Sun 12-3
Dinner Mon-Th 5-9 Fri-Sun 5-10
reservations recommended for large groups
credit cards accepted