Sunday, December 12, 2010

Davis to Winters: My new favorite ride

I've got this idea of the ideal cycling tour.  It involves cycling along evenly paved but deserted streets, past farms and orchards, over rivers and creeks and enjoying nature at close range.  I'm aware this Utopian tour probably exists only in my head, but I found something today that was awfully close to it.

Taking advantage of 65-degree weather in December, I drove to Davis and cycled from there to Winters.  It was a route I'd often heard about, but this was my first time to try it.  In short, the ride to Winters was gorgeous.  And the ride back -- via a more remote route -- was even better.

The 14 miles to Winters takes you through miles of orchards and farm fields, many managed by research units at UC Davis.  Within a couple of miles from downtown Davis, you are suddenly in the middle of the country.

I've been lamenting how much less rural the Sacramento area is compared to when I moved here 20 years ago, so it was very reassuring to learn that I could cycle from city to country in something like five minutes. 

Photographs of pastures, particularly my photographs, never fail to disappoint.  They simply cannot capture the comforting nature of the landscape, the understated beauty.  I decided early on to leave my phone/camera in my saddlebag and to just experience the ride, but before long I had to capture how smooth, safe and bucolic the bike trail leading out of Davis was.  This runs along a county highway, but the beauty on both sides of it soon steal your eye and ear.

I was glad I did, for soon after I came across two gentlemen, old enough to think of me as a kid, standing on ladders picking kalamata olives from the trees that line the road.  The trees are on public property -- probably -- and are not harvested except by enterprising fellows like my new friends.

Our chat ranged from olives and how to brine them to the funnier topic of discretion versus self-expression.  Here, my Italian-American olive buddy is recounting how he handled being called a "spaghetti-bending Mussolini" by his NCO while in the Coast Guard in 1943.  His response employed a word that is not typically directed at military superiors, and, he reported, felt great to say.  He felt somewhat less great 24 hours later, when he was re-deployed to a mechanic's post in the far reaches of the Bering Sea.  The punishment, though, may have saved his life, as it kept him from being sent to the South Pacific, as the Coast Guard was under the direction of the Navy and frequently saw action. His brother wasn't so lucky: he served in the South Pacific, took part in 17 landings and came home "a 22-year-old man with gray hair."

Riding on a December morning may have added to the appeal.  I'm confident some of these roads are busier at almond or tomato or walnut harvest time.  But today, even the "busy" roads were nearly abandoned.

After coffee and a visit to the bike shop in Winters, I set back via a longer and even more scenic route.  This one meandered a few miles north and ran along Buckeye Road, through the spot where the village of Buckeye stood before the whole thing up and moved to follow the Vaca Valley Railroad in 1895 or so.  Here, the roads were completely, entirely mine.  I could have stretched out on the centerline of Highway 29 and had a nap.  Honestly.  I don't think I encountered three cars in an hour and a half.

Along the way, I was inspected by curious llamas, but the sheep and goats ignored my greetings.   It seemed rude to ride right past them without saying something.  I honestly did call out to the nearby livestock... after all, there was no one but them to hear me.

For a couple of miles, a kestrel followed me.  He would zip 100 yards ahead to a telephone pole and watch me ride past.  As I did, he'd alight again, make a few impressive swooshes in the air, and then position himself ahead once more.  I missed him when he finally tired of the one-sided race.

In other news, Nature is still not messing around. 

In one pasture, a dozen vultures sat atop a sheep carcass, lazily having Sunday brunch.  I've seen a lot of sheep pastures in my time, but this sight was a first. I also got a good look at a kite plunging into a soy field and rising with a struggling mouse or rat in its talons.

Nature: Not Messing Around Since 1 Billion B.C.
More puzzling and more disturbing was a gorgeous owl, cut in two.  My first thought was that he had been done in by a high-power line, but there were none in the area.  He hadn't been run over, and there were no feathers strewn about or other signs of a struggle.  I finally settled on the theory that he'd been blindsided by a hawk and then (neatly) pulled apart to get to the tasty bits.  I have no idea if such things happen among birds of prey, but it was the best I could do without my CSI kit.

No comments:

Post a Comment