Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bike California, Day 3: Bodega Dunes to Gualala

In the middle of the night I woke up to the sound of rain falling on my tent. A quick check to make sure all zippers were closed and my shoes were under the vestibule, and I went back to sleep. When I got up just before sunrise, all traces of the night's rain had already disappeared. The sky was all blue and I took in the warming rays. Today would be a climbing day. Gualala was the only logical destination for the day.

While packing up, a RV camping neighbor came visit. He was visibly cold, despite his down vest, and clearly projected his own temperature perception on me, offering me a can of heated Starbucks Coffee. I much appreciated the gesture and gave the usual, "Well, I live in Wisconsin, so..." response.

My new REI tent passed the rain test
Unfortunately the coffee had dairy in it and I left it in the food box at the campsite for the next bike tourist. My own plan for getting coffee was to return the coffee shop in Duncan Mills, where I had also stopped yesterday—about an hour from the campground. I discovered a nice unpaved trail that connected the campground access road and the tiny village of Salmon Creek, cutting out one or two miles of highway riding.

But traffic was light anyway, and in this stretch the highway follows the beautiful coastline closely, making the ride pure joy. Instead of yesterday's dramatic clouds and strong wind, I had clear skies and soft morning light, transforming the landscape.

Again I crossed the mouth of the Russian River and followed Highway 116 upriver into Duncan Mills. After the coffee break, it was time to leave the Russian River valley toward Cazadero.
Russian River
I was mentally prepared for the climbing to start right away, but things started out mellow. The road to Cazadero follows Austin Creek, with Cazadero Highway on one side of the river, Austin Creek Road on the other. I took Austin Creek Road, which was amazing, with tall trees, the rushing river, and interesting residences lining the road. The only traffic I encountered were a road crew fixing yet another mud slide.

Dozens of totem poles on someone's property

Austin Creek
Switching to the other side of Austin Creek, onto Cazadero Highway

Soon I would arrive in Cazadero. My familiarity with Cazadero was limited to knowing that it is the name of SOMA's Cazadero tires. In addition to that, it is a little former logging town, with its highlight being the historic general store. The store is over 100 years old, and inside and out it still seems to have many of its original elements.

Soon after leaving Cazadero, the climbing began in earnest. King Ridge Road made the limitations of my gearing obvious quickly. With a low gear of 34/30, getting up the hills was a slog. My everyday bike has a fixed gear drivetrain, which provided me with the necessary strength to power up the hill at very low cadence. But this style of climbing is hard. In Wisconsin, I'm able to get away with it because the climbs are rarely longer than a mile or maybe two. But here the climb just kept going, the grade often going above 10%. And of course I had all my camping gear on the bike. The upside was that I had plenty of incentive to stop and take pictures of the amazing landscape around me.

High above the creek

More slides, taking my tires to the limits of traction
Up and up and up

While I encountered very little traffic, the area never felt particularly remote. Residences and farms would appear regularly, and I even saw a USPS delivery van huff up the steep inclines. Occasionally I also encountered what looked the road graffiti common in European bike racing, making me wonder if this road featured in any races. I later found out that King Ridge Road is part of the course for  Levi Leipheimer's Gran Fondos.

After much more climbing, I finally reached the actual ridge. I was pretty spent at that point, but the open vistas in all directions made the exhaustion easy to forget.

I stopped to sit down and eat something under a big, gnarled tree. Unfortunately, being up on the ridge meant that the cold wind from the ocean made things quite chilly, despite the sun. And my level of exhaustion probably didn't help keeping me warm. So I got going again rather quickly, most of the climbing now behind me. I passed the T-intersection of King Ridge, Hauser Bridge, and Tin Barn roads. Turning onto Hauser Bridge would have led me toward Salt Point State Park, my stretch goal for yesterday's ride. Let's just say I was very glad that I hadn't attempted to reach that goal yesterday.

Instead, I continued on Tin Barn Road. Another very scenic road, with my only complaint being the frequent cattle grates that made the downhill less enjoyable than it should have been. One curious sight were the long stretches of barbed wire fencing, with nothing but forest seemingly on the other side. My initial hypothesis was weed farm. What it actually was only became clear once I reached this gate:

Out here in the middle of nowhere is the enormous Odiyan Retreat, a 1000-acre Buddhist retreat. None of it is visible from the road, but the website and aerial imagery look very impressive:

Image: Google Maps

A little further on I reached Stewarts Point Rancheria, a little village of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. Turning onto Sakggs Point Road toward the ocean, things started looking really remote. In a deep valley of Redwood trees, the steep road was barely wide enough for two cars (not that I encountered many...). Even though riding down here required a lot of attention and hand strength for keeping my speed in check, I was very happy not to be going the other direction.

Without much transition, Skaggs Spring Road eventually brought me back to coast. I was definitely feeling symptoms of bonking, probably because the chilly winds had prevented me from stopping much. The sight of Stewarts Point Store, therefore, made me very happy.

My wholesome meal consisted of buckwheat noodle salad, a Pepsi, and a can of Torpedo--my go-to beer on this trip. Gualala was now in reach, just a little over 10 miles up the coast. While the food and drink had reinvigorated me, I was very happy not having to deal with more hills. What I did have to deal with, though, was a headwind. But again, the scenery helped, a lot. The highway hugs the coast, leading through “The Sea Ranch,” an expansive vacation/residential community with a distinctive architecture and design. The Wikipedia article about its history and design makes for an interesting read. Would vacation here, for sure.

While Gualala has camping options, I was ready for sleeping in a real bed. I aimed for what I assumed to be the cheapest motel, the Surf Inn. At this time of year, getting a room was no problem. While my room was simple, the location was amazing, overlooking the mouth of the Gualala River and the ocean. Just in time for sunset I walked to a nearby grocery store to gather dinner supplies.

I went a bit overboard. Turns out an avocado, hummus, a can of chili, a loaf of bread, and a 20oz bottle of strong IPA is a little much even for me, even after a hard day in the saddle.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Spray.Bike: A easy and fun way to rejuvenate your bike

“Spray.Bike DIY painting party.” That's what the poster said at Cafe Domestique, a bike-themed coffee shop here in Madison. I was intrigued but didn't have a clear idea what such an event would look like. Crappy rattle can paint jobs that are a big mess and start peeling off immediately? After looking at the Spray.Bike website and Instagram account and talking to Dan, the owner of Cafe Domestique, I was intrigued. If the claims were true, Spray.Bike paint was quite different from regular rattle can paint. And the paint jobs that people were able to achieve, with intricate patterns and great colors, looked great.

Before: From a distance, the paint doesn't look too bad...
My everyday ride, a 9-year-old Surly Cross-Check was a prime candidate for new paint. Numerous scratches, dents, and rust spots had accumulated over the years. For $59, Cafe Domestique offered two cans of paint, one can of clear coat, work space for at least four hours, and unlimited coffee during the event.

...but when you look more closely....

Sanding, sanding, and more sanding

Picking colors wasn't easy. Most of the colors offered look amazing, and fortunately the Spray.Bike website groups them by collections, making it a little easier to pick colors that will go together well. In the end we chose “Battersea” and “Coldharbour Lane,” aiming for some kind of snakeskin effect two-tone paint job, with masking materials to be acquired at some point. Of course, life was busy and the date of the paint party crept up on us. I barely had enough time to take apart the bike and sand the many rust spots on frame and fork. But with a hardware store across the street from Cafe Domestique, we figured we could just wing it on the day of the event.

Nicole applying the first “Battersea” coat

Two other people were signed up for the party. Teddy repainted a vintage Trek 760, and Sean gave a modern carbon Trek frame a facelift. Ealier in the day, Dan had already experimented with some of his own bikes and offered good guidance. The first step for all of us was to do more frame prep. While Spray.Bike paint doesn't require the old paint to be stripped completely, both Teddy and I kept discovering rust spots that needed sanding. And Sean spent a lot of time taking off the clear coat on his frame. While we were sanding away, Nicole went exploring the hardware store for masking materials and returned with a mesh laundry bag.

Full coat in an awesome color
Second coat, leaving the frame joint areas uncovered, except for the head tube
Our initial plan was to start with a coat of the darker Battersea and then add the light Coldharbour Lane over it. After laying down the Battersea, though, we were both in love with the color and wanted to make sure that in the end it would remain very prominent. So we added a solid coat of Coldharbour Lane to most of the frame and only applied the mesh masking before the final color coat with Battersea.

Applying the laundry bag masking

Great results!

On the headtube I added a coffee cup stencil, supplied by Teddy, who had access to a CNC vinyl cutter and brought all kinds of cool stencils. The edges on the stencil turned out nice and crisp!

Teddy's tesselations turned out great as well. He finished the frame with a gold sparkle

Dan of Cafe Domestique acting as a human shield
Application of the paint was easy: Shake the can for 5 minutes, and then apply from a distance of 5-8 inches, with the can always moving. Occasionally we'd get spots with bubbles or other imperfections, but overall the paint went on nice and smooth. To improve durability and add gloss to the otherwise very matte paint, you finish the painting with a clear coat (available in matte and glossy, and also with golden sparkle!). The paint dries very quickly--within a few minutes it's dry to the touch, and after only twenty minutes you can apply another coat.

Fork detail: snakeskin on the legs, full coat on the crown, with a masked lug window

So how did it all turn out in the end? Both Nicole and I are very, very happy with the end result! For relatively little money and a manageable amount of effort I got an awesome new look for my bike. A lot of credit goes to Nicole for her creativity with the masking. The mesh masking worked great, produced a pretty result, and was easy to apply.

Re-assembled. We had considered painting the fenders as well, but I think they look better in silver

Hauling the frame set back home by bike

One concern is the durability of the paint. Within the first week I already noticed chips on the top tube. They were located where my heavy u-lock touches the frame. I tried to address this with another layer of clear coat, and we will see if this helps.

Chips on the top tube

My overall rating of the Spray.Bike experience is 4/5, with one star taken because of durability issues. If those are indeed resolved, I'd go with 5/5. Doing the painting as a party with others is highly recommended and added a lot to the experience. Dan of Cafe Domestique was a great host, keeping us caffeinated and offering help in many ways. In the party setting you can also experiment with more colors, learn from others, and exchange masking materials and ideas.

Regular colors are $16.99, sparkling finishes are $19.99. Available directly from or locally at Cafe Domestique.

Disclaimer: I received a 25% discount on the registration fee for the event.