By Dante DeAmicis
I’ve seen Healdsburg on maps, hanging off the side of Alexander Valley like a grape. It’s smack on Highway 101, two towns up from Santa Rosa but I’m coming up by bike from Calistoga on Highway 128. Before 128 angles into 101 at Geyserville riders need to take a cut off to get to Healdsburg, possibly with a side trip to Lytton Station.
This is a bus-bike trip. I took the 7:55 Route 3 from Clearlake but I could have taken an earlier run. Riding from Callistoga, 128 goes over a small clump of hills. This is the boundary between Napa County and the Northern towns and vineyard valleys of Sonoma. The hills are bigger and the canyons deeper between Knights and Alexander Valleys so the vineyards are less as-far-as-the-eye-can-see like Napa Valley. This is Lake County’s competition in this department.
I pass Ida Clayton Road which turns into the highly lethal Western Mines Road on the Lake County side. These are serious mountain bike roads for serious road warriors with millions of calories to burn. After I pull off 128 for the Healdsburg cut-off I cross over the mighty Russian River and follow the railroad South to Healdsburg. Running low on fluids? Stop at the conveniently spaced roach coaches for your diabetic refreshment.
The hinterlands of Healdsburg start out with a couple of boring strip malls but I’m expecting something like Calistoga in the old town area. When I get there I find a newer and bigger city than I was expecting. It’s a little like Calistoga in places but there’s something else. There’s an upscale trendiness that smells like San Francisco with a Santa Rosa ambiance. Even the Goodwill looks more like a Ross than a yard sale graveyard.
I’m short on time because of all my inbound goat head flat tires but I hit enough bike and book shops to notice that the clerks all had either English accents or good hair cuts. Oh yes, and not one green swastika neck tattoo on the sidewalks. What a freaky place. So weird for such an enclave to be so close to Lake County – A $5 bus fare and a leisurely 3 hour bike ride away.
But enough Chamber of Commerce hype. It’s time for my return loop. Bike excursions try to plan loops as much as possible to keep the views new. The plan is South on Redwood Highway to Chalk Hill Road, going over the rolling hills I went around to get to Alexander Valley. I wish I had time to snap a picture of the rickety single lane bridge but I was flying. Before I earlier veered off the Redwood Highway I crossed the Russian River again and stopped to check out the excursion company selling their old double kayaks. The owner looked like she just rode off the range. Proof that herding yuppies on the river is similar to moving burgers on the hoof cross country.
I connect back up to 128 off Chalk Hill 14 miles North of Calistoga where I arrive 15 minutes to spare to catch the 5:50 pm bus 3 back over Highway 29 to Lake County. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until you look around what’s near you.