March 2014 Sonoma Trip - Annadel State Park - Day 1

NOTE:  I have broken this post into two parts, as I have lots to share after this trip! Most of the posts on this blog are about biking, but this time I've added some travel related information about our trip out to Sonoma.  You've been warned.

Matchy matchy outside of
a building on campus.
Wendi and I  are incredibly grateful for the benefit of our flexible work situations. Whenever one of us has to travel for work, we do our best to travel together.  It may not always be for the entire duration of the trip (or every trip for that matter), but we do try to make it work.  In order to take full advantage of this, we typically like to build mini-vacations on either the front or back end of a work trip. We both work in the tech sales industry, so we are often called to the west coast.  The last time we went to the Bay Area we took a day go go south to Santa Cruz.  We rented bikes and rode Wilder Ranch State Park then snuck over to the UCSC trails which were supposed to be off limits.  Awesome buff and flowy trails.

This trip to the tech motherland took us north to Sonoma County for the weekend. We wrapped up work on Friday, checked out from the hotel in Milpitas and hit the road north for a 90 minute drive through the rolling NorCal countryside.  By the time we got checked into the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country we were starving.  Just a note.  This hotel is not nearly as fancy as it sounds with it's majestic vistas overlooking trailer parks, but it had great rooms and an awesome breakfast.  For pre-rides it satisfied my need for oatmeal, yogurt and fruit.  Breakfast was free as I have Hilton Gold status, but I don't think I would have paid the $18 face value for the buffet.  Pro travel can get the Amex Hilton Surpass card for $75 a year and get automatic Gold status.  That $75 membership fee more than paid for itself in breakfast for Wendi and I for just this one trip.

View of the beer board
at Russian River
Anywho....back to the starving part.  So I forgot to mention that I have been to Santa Rosa one time before to visit a very special craft beer landmark.  If you are a beer junky like me, you know where I am going with this.  Other than it's proximity to Annadel State park, the prime reason I put us in Santa Rosa was due to the even closer proximity to Russian River Brewing Company.  The brewpub is kind of an unassuming storefront in a quaint downtown area of Santa Rosa.  There is a little patio up front, but once you walk through the doors you can see exactly why you came.  Right in front of you is a bar that spans nearly the entire depth of the building. Behind the bar are rows of taps with the day's servings on colorful chalkboards above.

Awesome beer taster!
Any time I visit a new brewery with a selection as extensive as Russian River, the best thing to do is get a flight (this is essentially just a taster tray of 2oz pours).  Some bars and breweries have flight selections, but here you get one of everything they have available.  It is a great way to try a lot of different beers and styles in a single sitting.  Wendi isn't a fan of hoppy beers but she is always interested in trying new things.  She gravitated towards the belgians but didn't make friends with the sours.  For dinner, we ordered their charcuterie plate (we've had an obsession with olives lately) and shared a pizza.  After I finished most of the taster, I followed it up with a Row 2, Hill 56....I can't get enough of Simcoe hops.

On our walk back to the car we smelled the sweet, sweet aroma of sugar in the air. Just around the corner, we found a '50s inspired cupcake shop called Sift and just had to stop in. Carrot cake was my pick, but Wendi got a little more adventurous and went with the Stud Muffin. This confection consisted of brown sugar beer cake with salted caramel frosting and cayenne dusted bacon on top. It was pretty awesome. As we were finishing up, one of the girls behind the counter was putting out a new tray of cupcakes on display. What happened next I didn't think was possible. Turns out they make a Samoa cupcake! We got two for the road to eat after a hard ride the next day. Somehow we were able to keep them in the hotel fridge all night without trying even a lick of frosting.

Piled into the back of the rental
The next morning, we woke up excited to start an awesome day in the saddle.  We ate breakfast at the hotel and packed up to grab some bikes.  Wendi found a great little shop in Sonoma that rented really nice bikes.  When we got to Sonoma Valley Cyclery they already had a pair of Specialized FSR Elite 29ers ready to go.  Just a quick fit and spin around the block, and I was loading them up in the rental.  After a quick countryside drive, we easily found the parking lot for the Lawndale trailhead at Annadel State Park.  A couple of cars in the lot with empty bike racks told us we were in the right place.  We kitted up and hit the trails.  Over the years of riding together Wendi and I have agreed to ride around each other rather than with each other.  I had a really hard time with this at first, but I am now good with it.  It gives us both the opportunity to ride our ride without constantly worrying about the other.  We see each other on the trail occasionally and we text every once and a while just to check in.
Incredible views

There were some big differences in terrain between a coastal town like Santa Cruz and the mountain/valley area of Santa Rosa.  I should have known by the bikes we were renting that this terrain would be much different than at home. I headed up the Lawndale trail, which turned out to be a brutal 800' non-stop climb to the top of the dome for about two miles. The climb was very technical and littered with rocks and boulders to navigate.  It really forced you to keep your head up and plan your way through the trail.  The next three miles consisted of a few rollers on muddy open single track and fire road which continued the climb to the summit on South Burma trail.

Beautiful sweepers like this
were all over the place
This is where the fun started.  South and North Burma were a combination of fast, climbing sections followed by both rocky descents through flowy forest bottom single track, as well as fast tech rock descents.  The rest of the afternoon was spent scouting through the northern trails and slowly finding my way back down to the southern most trailhead at Schultz road.  Due to the rains earlier in the week, both the Ridge and Marsh trails were pretty sloppy - I got turned around a few times - but finally found my way to the powerline, which crossed over onto Schultz trail.  This trail was a blast! It was nearly all redwood forest descending.  It spit me out on asphalt, where I spent a couple of miles rolling pedals back to the Lawndale trailhead.

Overall it was an awesome day of riding on big trail bikes, finishing up with about 25 miles and nearly 4 hours in the saddle.  At the car I ate some bread and hummus from Trader Joe's, slammed a bottle of coconut water and packed up my now filthy rental rig. It was starting to get late, so I checked in with Wendi.  She too got turned around on some of the north trails and didn't have enough time to get back to the Lawndale trailhead.  She made her way to a store just outside the Summerfield trailhead where I picked her up.  The best surprise of the day was finding Wendi parked next to a couple of Girl Scouts having bought a couple of boxes of Samoas (my weakness).

Highly recommended shop
We headed back to Sonoma to drop off bikes and swap stories about our day of riding. We both had a great time but slightly underestimated the difference a few rocks can make, and also how much it helps to have a long travel bike for conditions like these.  The guys at Sonoma Cyclery were happy to see us and only gave us a little trouble about how mud covered the bikes were.  Not much we could do there.  We settled up and headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up.

Riding a good part of the day, we were both pretty exhausted. We decided to find a quick place to eat in Santa Rosa. I am always drawn to Mexican food after a tough day of riding, so we went to the highest rated local joint in town named Chelino's.  It was pretty unassuming and had only counter service.  The word carnitas jumped off the menu as I'm a sucker for roasted pork.  After dinner, we got back to the hotel and went right to bed- but not before we destroyed those Samoa cupcakes that we brought home from Sift the night before.  Lights out!

Click here to see my Strava activity for this ride.

Jason Shearer