(Long rides, quiet rest stops)
The John Muir House in Martinez, like the Mystery Spot, also has a tour that requires walking uphill--a small charge—but this house is a tasteful 19th century shrine to California’s premier environmentalist, set in a peaceful orchard away from busy boulevard below. For those not so inclined, the ranger office at the entrance is free of charge, air-conditioned and full of books by and about the native Scot.
There are several biking reasons to be traveling through the neighborhood but the best one is Carquinez Scenic Road. Due to several landslides over recent years, much of it is now off-limits to cars and has great views of the surrounding shores of the Delta narrows. After rejoining the open-to-traffic section, there is a turn downhill into Port Costa is dipping back in time when the port busily ferried people, cars and trains to Benicia across the straits.
Overall, the road goes eight miles from Martinez to Crockett, where biking over the river mouth is possible now that the rebuilt Carquinez Bridge has a protected bike lane. Across the bridge, in Vallejo you can cross the Napa River and bike to Mare Island, a retired US Navy shipyard with its own several places of interest including a scenic chapel.
From Vallejo, you can also bike east to Benicia is the Arsenal, a former old-time US Army base with its stout stone-block fortress guarding the Delta mouth. Most autos travel over the Benicia Bridge without anyone noticing it, but it’s the local Guns of Navaronne without the guns, just stoned up cannon ports. Nearby are two large mansions, including the commandant’s home.
In town is the modest former State Capitol Building, worth the visit to see how government was housed in the early days in an interim period before permanent locating to Sacramento. There aren’t many scenic rides that loop through Benicia, but a loop east of town offers a view of the militant-gray mothball fleet aging in the Bay waters, with Mt. Diablo rising above.
North Bay rest stops
If you’re ever biking around San Rafael, to the far north of the Bay Area, Point San Pedro Road is nice once you’re beyond the houses and harbors. After a little climb, you curve onto a bluff with an entrance road, quickly drops to a former shrimp fishing village that is now China Camp State Park. Some old buildings remain, the water quietly laps a pebbly shore and there’s a dock leading out over the waves, cool and pleasant.
Circling north, it’s all parkland and open space until you’re soon back in civilization, coming upon the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Marin Civic Center. After crossing under 101, the first left takes you up a steep cul-de-sac to a bike trail back to San Rafael, completing about an eleven-mile loop to 3rd Street and back into the fray.
Mountain rest stops
Many Bay Area mountaintop climbs have something to offer at the top, such as found at the end of the paved road on Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tamalpais and Henry Coe Park. But a mountaintop where you can bike to and keep on going is Mt. Hamilton with its James Lick Observatory. No matter if you bike there from San Jose or Livermore, the big white dome, one of several on the crest, beckons as a goal to make whether you’re riding up and down or doing a century loop. The observatory includes the featured main telescope inside an old-style building, containing an infrared photo of Yosemite Valley taken from the site, a working seismometer, a small museum, and a gift shop—not enough to attract tour buses but plenty to rationalize a biking break.
If making a loop, you’re doing a century. But, still, the good news is that, from the observatory at least, you’re then headed down. It’s 19 miles back to Alum Rock Road in San Jose, where maybe you’ve parked before tackling the 4400’ climb to the top. You may have started by taking the Mines Road turn-off Tesla Road in Livermore, which meant you’ve done some 41 miles with 4800’ of climbing, with hard climbing of 1800’ for the last four miles to the crest. If you returning or continuing in that direction, you still have some serious climbs before you reach Livermore. Halfway back, you will be biking past The Junction Café in desolate San Antonio Valley, an oasis amidst a grassland oak-treed savanna. If you still have to bike back to the Bay Area but you can’t resist a vino call, better wet your pallet with something that has a lot of body.
Published Cycle California, August 2008, Vol. 14, #7