Thursday, March 22, 2012

So long, Route 128

Well the 200k and 300k have done their job - build fitness in familiar territory. Beautiful routes, but as you might be able to tell from the last 2 posts, tradeoffs had to be made. By accepting the structure and support, I ride more as an athlete and less as a tourist.

On this type of ride the focus is to solve problems that keep me (and only me) from moving forward. Time matters. Philosophical questions, self-reflection, historical points of interest...everything except the here-and-now gets pushed aside.

These days I'm more able to be in the present moment. Post-TBI I can focus on one goal in a way that just wasn't possible before. In a sense, this type of ride is great practice for life after TBI. Don't worry about what's behind you. Take what you need and just keep going. It's the opposite of nostalgia, the big draw for most visitors to Route 66.

But I am ready to savor the journey a little more. Slow down, see things that are all around but a bit hidden, let them come into focus. As a warm-up for a Route 66 adventure, here's a tribute to some interesting places and stories from Route 128.
  • The Native American people of this area were the Patwin (southern Wintun). They lived here for at least 1000-4000 years before malaria and smallpox epidemics in the 1830's killed most of them. There are very few visible traces left of these people. Around 2500 descendants and relatives live in Northern California today. The closest rancheria where they live is Rumsey, home of the Cache Creek Casino (which is not that close). However, a cultural center is being built on a 20-acre parcel along Chiles Pope Valley Road.
  • This area was divided during the Rancho era of California and has been settled by the white man since the 1840s. Before that it was officially part of Mexico. Rather than the automobile, the history of this area was made on foot, and by wagon and horse. The land here is good for farming and ranching.
  • The Putah Creek area was part of Rancho Las Putas. You can easily see the Wolfskill Grant marker, in a beautiful driveway to an orchard along Putah Creek road, near Winters. I always meant to look up why the site is officially marked. Now I have!
  • Mike Madison, a farmer and writer who lives in Winters, wrote this book about the bioregion along Putah Creek. As a native of this area, he provides one authentic, local perspective:
An occasional car may speed by, but traffic on the county roads is sparse. More commonly one sees bicycles. Some I think of as bicyclists from Mars. They wear bizarre costumes of stretchy, shiny material, and pod-like helmets strapped to their heads. Mostly they travel in tight packs at high speed. They seem to be aliens in the landscape, on tour from outer space, and probably one such returns from his thirty mile ride having seen nothing more than the rear wheel of the bicycle that is six inches in front of him.
Mr. Madison may not think much of cyclists, but I still recommend his book. You can also buy his olive oil at the Davis Farmer's Market. I haven't tried it, but opinionated people probably make excellent olive oil!
  • Lake Berryessa is the result of a post-WWII project to dam Putah Creek. In 1954 the town of Monticello was destroyed to build the dam. Several Patwin village sites in the valley were also lost under the lake. Here is a map of how the Berryessa valley originally looked. Two photographers, Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones, documented Monticello, California just before it was destroyed. Aperture magazine devoted an entire issue to their photo essay. Click here to see a few photos...
  • Chiles Grist Mill was the first flour mill in Northern California. It was built and operated by Joseph Ballenger Chiles, who also gave his name to Chiles Pope Valley Road. He was in the first party of emigrants to cross the Sierra Nevada by wagon train. 
Apparently the historical marker lies at the intersection of two roads on the brevet route, so while having passed it many times I've never actually seen it! The mill was built on Rancho Catacula, an 8456-acre Mexican land grant (relatively small compared to other ranchos).
"The plaque lies almost hidden from view in tall grass at the top of an embankment on a quiet stretch of the beautiful Pope Valley Road."
  • Nichelini Winery is my favorite winery in the area, just off the brevet route on Highway 128. It also happens to be the oldest.
  • Litto's Hubcap Ranch, just north of Pope Valley. This folk art project began as a way for owners of fallen hubcaps to reclaim them. As Litto Damonte hung more and more hubcaps, people started dropping off spare ones. Over a few decades it got a little out of hand!
  • Pope Valley was part of Rancho Locoallomi. April 21, the day of the SBI auction, is also Pope Valley Day at the Napa Valley Historical Society. They're doing a whole field trip thing, with lunch and guided tours. I'll be riding to Williams Arizona on that day. But, you could go!
Here's to returning some day, at a slower pace, to explore this "familiar" territory more!

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