Tacos and Turpentine

Guest Post by Rich Sullivan. Text by Rich. Photos by John and Rich.

Winter is a time of patience. As the rains pushed farther into March, I feared that my plans for an adventure would be thwarted by the seemingly ceaseless rain. I called John, “Hey, dude, looks like we need to move our trip—again.” In his ever assuaging way, John assured me we could see about future weekends. I continued to work through the week, waiting and hoping I could cash in on that “sun tax” we pay here in the Golden State.

Finally, a weekend with a perfect forecast could be seen on the 10-day forecast I stalked obsessively. I played the campground musical chairs to secure a spot, and was successful. Everything was set, and yet, I wondered if I should even go on the trip. The fact is, I needed this trip. Work and life had been frantic, requiring a lot more of my energy than usual; plus, all the rain. My wife encouraged me to go enjoy myself, unplug, have fun. Still, the denying voice was strong. When I called John to coordinate, he also had quite a difficult week. A tool that refuses to work, parts that never showed to finish a project, and general stresses that come with being an independent frame builder. Nevertheless, his wife had been encouraging him, and he was stoked that the trip was finally upon us. At last, adventure awaits.

We set out Friday morning from the Caletti Global Headquarters with the pickup packed and bike-rack racked. We both opted for our All-Road rigs, assured that they would be enough for whatever we would encounter. Our first stop was in Mill Valley for a classic Mt. Tam gravel loop up the Old Railroad Grade. The weather was stupendous, albeit a little windy. We parked at the local recreation center and rode into the Old Depot portion of town. If you know Mr. Caletti, rides are best started and concluded with a cup of espresso. Equator Coffees off Miller Ave. provided the perfect spot to park our bikes and our butts in the fresh sun while we caffeine’d. Then, we clipped in and set off. The terrain in a word: chunky. And I felt free, finally on the adventure I had planned for several weeks with a dear friend: laughing and creating more inside jokes for our repertoire. 

After the paved descent back into Mill Valley, we turned a corner and saw Joe’s Taco Lounge on the corner of Montford and Miller, where we sat down for our post-ride lunch. Serendipitously, we found ourselves sitting behind an eccentric gentleman, who was telling his friend about the government-subsidized nanobots in our systems, which could be cleared with a turpentine cleanse. According to his logic, maple syrup comes from trees, and turpentine is a synthetic material that comes from Home Depot to be, presumably, ingested in proper quantities to kill the aforementioned nanobots. He then relayed that cigarettes are good for you, and that is why there is so much push to eliminate nicotine altogether in our country. Then, he lit a cigarette while proclaiming that the moon landing was a farse. Marin County is a gold mine. Naturally, John and I were cracking up, now equipped with even more inside jokes to get us through the weekend. We rolled into our campground in Santa Rosa later that afternoon, stoked and weary in the perfect combination. We basked in the light of the setting sun, enjoying the first, truly good weather that marked the approaching Spring. That night we slept under the bright constellations, awaiting the approaching day.

After enjoying a morning bonfire with a king’s breakfast of instant oatmeal and coffee, we loaded up our bikes and drove into Occidental. The first seven miles down Bohemian Hwy descended into the cold forest that eventually led us over the Russian River. Neither of us knew exactly where we were, hence the adventure, but I had a low-resolution concept of our route. We found ourselves on antiquated dirt roads that connected the old mines and railroad towns of yesteryear. The crown road was Old Cazadero, which is a four-mile ascent up to the ridge, with a screaming dirt descent on the other side. Even so, it was no easy-going. The recent storms had blown trees and debris onto what would have otherwise been well-groomed trails. Muddy bogs slowed us down and caked our bikes in sludge. John commented that perhaps he had underbiked, just a bit. My sentiments exactly as I threw myself over another fallen tree.

I knew in theory that our descent would eventually lead to Austin Creek, which was reportedly passable depending on the amount of winter rain. And California has received a lot this year. When we arrived, the creek was about thirty-feet wide with a fast-moving current. I laughed nervously and looked at John, then made some stupid joke about dangerous creek crossings being part of adventuring. Shoes and socks in hand, bikes over the shoulder, we crossed the creek without mishaps other than very cold, muddy feet that had to be stuffed back into our shoes and socks.

Nearly half of the ride was now behind us, as we followed Cazadero Hwy along the same creek, eventually intersecting with Hwy 116 to make our way toward Jenner. The Russian River is a behemoth of a waterway that sprawled through the valley on our left. Encapsulating both serenity and power as it made its way down to the Pacific, I connected to a feeling of deep reverence to see a river of that grandeur. I realized that all those creeks, stream, and rivulets that we crossed fed into this amazing river. By now, we were drunk on the incredible Sonoma County views that inundated us on all sides and around every turn. The final climb of the day was ahead: Willow Creek Rd.

Immediately after crossing over the Russian River, an immediate left took us onto a road started off lazily enough: a well-paved thoroughfare with more amazing views, until a closed gate marked the dirt section. What came next was 9 miles of thick mud juxtaposed with exposed, rocky sections, more fallen debris and streams flowing across the path. For years now I have been talking to John about building me one of his stunning Scramblers. At this moment I wished desperately that I was already sitting on one: a flat bar gravel bike that encapsulates the efficiency of my current bike, with even more tire clearance and capabilities for this exact kind of day. This ride solidified that the Scrambler would eventually be my next bike, especially as I longed for more days like this one. I think I perceived that the ride would conclude shortly, because I already started to miss what had only just transpired.

Cresting the top of the climb could not have come a second too soon. Empty bottles and stomachs aside, we zoomed toward Occidental in high spirits. For lunch, we decided to drive back into Sebastopol, a quirky town with lots of culture. The Barlow offered numerous cuisines to choose from, plus many smiling faces and laughing children enjoying the good weather. In comfortable silence, we sat over our second day of tacos, capped off with a post-ride coffee. Perhaps it was the exhaustion, the digestion, or the meditative mood that follows a truly world-class day on the bike, but John and I sat quietly for a good while, soaking up the sun, lost in our individual thoughts. Until John pointed out a man who looked like he had just come from Marin County. We busted up laughing.

The following afternoon, we returned to the Global Headquarters. After unloading John’s bike and gear, I stopped in briefly to nerd-out on all the bike candy he has in the shop. I took another, long glance at the Scrambler on display before I headed out the door. John followed, probably making another joke about Turpentine. “So, ride next weekend?” “Sure! As long as it isn’t raining.” I just checked the weather for next weekend. Rain.


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