San Francisco
and Sonoma
March 28 / April 6, 1993

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index


1  Montréal
2  Sunday March 28, Dorval
3  Monday March 29 to Friday April 2, San Francisco - Fisherman's Wharf
4  Thursday, April 1, San Francisco
5  Friday, April 2, San Francisco
6  Saturday, April 3, Rohnert Park
7  Sunday, April 4, Rohnert Park
8  Monday, April 5, Mill Valley
9  Tuesday, April 6, South San Francisco
10  Maps

1  Montréal

I am on my way to San Francisco to attend Infocom'93. Although I am not presenting a paper, I am ``animating'', the literal translation of the French word for ``moderator'', a panel on Formal Methods and telecommunication software. I am hoping that the panelists will be outrageously controversial.

I had hoped to go skiing in Squaw Valley after the conference but couldn't find a car rental in San Francisco that supplied their cars with chains. The fine for not having chains was $75.00 thirty years ago - I wonder what it is now. This year there is a snowpack of over thirty feet in the Sierras, and there have been several nights of three feet plus. I didn't want to get snowed in and miss my plane. I discovered the car chain problem after I had my non-refundable ticket and am scheduled to return Tuesday April 6. I have decided to suffer and ride my bike up to the Napa/Sonoma Wine Country and go wine tasting. I haven't done that for thirty years. I suspect that there are lots of new quality(?) micro-vintners - we shall see.

2  Sunday March 28, Dorval

Virginia drove me to the airport, arriving at 5:40am for my 7:00am (really 7:19am) flight. Air Canada insists on charging $40.00 for my bike. I was unable convince them otherwise. They claimed, perhaps with some conviction, that they were only following the rules and suggested that they needed rules such as this to get more money to survive. I have not been charged transport internationally within North America for four years.

I wasn't the only one with a bike. The man in front of me was going to LA to sell Patagonia sports wear and was taking his bike to train. He had just paid for his bike so there probably was not much chance for me to change minds. His meeting is in Ventura, approximately 125km north of the airport. That was his excuse for renting a car in Los Angeles.

It is a beautiful morning in Montréal - it has been raining all week in San Francisco - this means snow in the Sierras. We took off to the east and then swung around to the west towards Toronto. The ice bridge across the Ottawa River between Hudson and Oka looked as though it really existed and has been used. Earlier in the year I was discouraged from using it - a truck and a skidoo had been lost trying to cross on the previous day. I accepted the discouragement.


The CN Tower looks rather small and not at all imposing from our vantage point.

We are approaching from the west again - unusual winds. The landing here rates a 10 - very well done. We even arrived on schedule. There is an hour wait for our new plane, but same number, to San Francisco. Terminal 2 is dull - a long warehouse holding area and only a small magazine store and Uncle Sam's Deli - hopefully Uncle Sam will not be insulted.

** Most distressing - I was supposed to have a window seat prearranged. It appears that I have an inside aisle. I did really want to see the snow cap in the Sierras - perhaps I shall get a window after all - 27 G seems to be empty.

Approximately ten minutes after takeoff we are above the clouds and see nothing. There is going to be a movie - the Body Guard has been rated as forgettable - perhaps I shall forget it. The other possibility was The Last of the Mohicans - maybe something better coming back.

It has been clouds all the way. I did not see anything of the Sierra snow pack. We are 25 minutes early and there is no gate for us. We are now waiting - hoping that either the Air Canada flight at gate 16 or the Continental at gate 11 will soon leave. We are safe though. Too bad they couldn't have parked in such a position the baggage handlers could unload us while we are waiting.

San Francisco

It is not raining ... the sun is even shining ... there is water on the ground - evidently it was wet earlier.

My bike is in a new bicycle bag that is small enough to come out on the ordinary carousel here in San Francisco. Because I did not take off the pedals and the rear rack, I was hoping that it would be a fast and easy assembly. It was not to be. I even have a new quick way of attaching the front fender but that was not enough. For some reason the front rack and even the single bolt left to complete the attachment of the rear rack gave me trouble. It was over an hour to assemble. I also carefully saved the small piece of padding that Air Canada managed to separate from my helmet.

I walked my bike to the door - San Francisco is small enough so that walking makes sense - not like Atlanta. As I was about to leave, one of the baggage handlers asked if I needed help to get out. I told him that I would go north on South Airport Blvd. and take the small service road by the main exit. He was not satisfied with my explanation so he gave me explicit instructions, including turning in the direction of the long term parking. I followed his advice, and discovered that I had managed to take a hard way out the airport on the four or five times I have gone south. His proof that he knew what he was doing - he rides his bike to work.

South Airport Blvd. is, interestingly enough, entirely north of the airport, and after 3.8 miles (advertised as 3 miles) found my Monday night destination, an Econolodge and confirmed that they had my reservation.

South Airport becomes Airport and then Bayshore on its way to Brisbane. California, at this time of year, is its usual glorious green - especially because there has been so much rain. The honeysuckle's brilliant yellow by the road and up the sides of the San Bruno Mountains delighted two senses. The concrete cherubim and cupids in the several Monument factories that lined the road did not.

Bayshore becomes 3rd st. as it enters San Francisco and goes through a mixed hispanic, black, and chinese neighbourhood. It was Sunday morning - a time for gathering in your Sunday finest at the doors of Faith Evangelical Baptist Church, and possibly your finest, in front of the drive-in laundromat. It was also time for an 8 year old to be proud of his mountain bike, exclaiming, ``Hey, my bike is just like yours!''.

It was only 2:00pm but I was hungry, having had only two breakfasts and one lunch so far today. I passed a monument to indecision that has been around since the sixties - a freeway, I280, abruptly ends 40 feet in the air at 3rd street, and stopped at Island Burgers for an Island Bacon Burger. It was big, delicious, and almost unfinishable. I also discovered that I had done a real dumb - I left my keys at home, to reduce bulk and dangers of loss, and discovered that I had only one key to my Kryptonite lock. This is too dangerous a situation - I shall have to look for a locksmith tomorrow.

I really have not explored this part of San Francisco for a long time. The Moscone Convention Center looked entirely new to me and this area of the Mission district has been replanted with a forest of new buildings. The new forest ends abruptly at the sixties line of indecision.

My immediate destinations were Staceys, a technical bookstore, and Rand McNally Travel Bookstore at 2nd and Market - they were both closed - tomorrow. My map is inside my packs so I am navigating by feel. I actually managed to go around Nob and Russian hills staying on the flat land all the way to Ghiardelli Square. When I found my quaint Travelodge at Ghiradelli Square, on Columbus, I discovered how my confusion of the at in the name was covered. Columbus actually ends several blocks away from Ghiradelli Square. The sign at the motel actually says near not at - the head office takes some liberties. It is not entirely quaint, but it is acceptable. They had a ground floor room and assumed that I could take my bike into my room.

** San Francisco's poor are much more evident than I remember in the distant past. There was even the occasional family group begging, and almost living on Grant - very sad.

I had supper at Ricos, a small Mexican restaurant just up Columbus. They have an award for having the best salsa in San Francisco. I had a huge plate of burritos and a Cerveza beer for a total of $11.00. It was excellent. As I was eating, two guys came in wearing Northern Telecom sweatshirts. They sat down beside me and I suggested to them that I hadn't realised that NT had a rugger team. They were very surprised - how did I know of NT? I explained my strange case and they were suitably surprised. Sam worked for NT marketing in San Ramon and his friend just liked the NT sweatshirt so Sam bought him one while he was on an ISDN training course in Raleigh/Durham. They wanted to know how I had managed to find the best inexpensive Mexican restaurant in San Francisco. I told them I was partial to good Mexican food and had seen their modest advertising in their window as I passed it on my bike.

I walked back to my hotel and collapsed early to bed. One of my panel members, Ted Ralston, left me a message that he would be unable to come. I played telephone tag with his answering machine for most of the night.

3  Monday March 29 to Friday April 2, San Francisco - Fisherman's Wharf

The Marriott across the street advertises themselves as being at Fisherman's Wharf. I guess everyone has their own delusions.

Stacey's and Rand McNally were open when I finally arrived there at just after 9:00 am. After some research in Rand McNally, it really appears that the Sonoma valley is the wine valley of choice - however it will really depend upon whether I can make some reservations. The ferries to Sausalito also still run. I am presently on one - I never have done this before. Somehow the hills don't look as formidable from out in the bay. San Francisco really is a beautiful city - too bad the weather is not better.

Sausalito climbs right up the hill towards 101. It is quite cute but does not seem to have any grocery stores amongst its stuff shops. I had picked up some picnic lunch fixings in San Francisco just before I got on the ferry but didn't have time to find butter for my bread. I finally found a small deli that had some butter hidden away in the back. He really didn't want to sell it.

I went across the street to a small park looking out on one of the many marinas. According to a local, I am looking at Belvedere - really part of the Tiburon peninsula. He cautioned me that I should be careful on Tiburon. The natives are very fussy about their 8 mph speed limits. When he heard that I was going deep into the heart of Mill Valley - really to surprise some friends at PCTEX, he was worried - ``It is a very long way!'' - hopefully not too long to get the Tiburon ferry.

Tiburon starts at the top of the peninsula and runs its full length. The bicycle path runs right by the bay leading to a flotilla of shops for tourists and commuters alike. I arrived about an hour early, went exploring, and discovered the Windsor Vineyards wine tasting room. The hostess was originally from Toronto and came here in the late sixties. We discussed the realignments in the wine industry and the joy we both had with the Charles Krug Chenin Blanc and the Wente Grey Riesling, both sadly gone from their days of glory. One major change in the industry is the making prized varietals out of what used to be the junk filler grapes such as Merlot and Petite Sirah. I tried their Pinot Noir, always one of my favourite California red wines. It may have won a prize at the prestigious(?) Orange County Fair, but I was unimpressed - not much character. I did like their Cabernet Sauvignon though. I feel that the California Cabernets are generally overrated and over priced. I didn't find out its price so I don't know if it satisfied my second bias. This is a good time of year to do this kind of thing - I had the entire tasting room to myself and we could discuss all manner of irrelevant subjects.

I wandered back to the dock just as the ferry was disgorging its 200+ passengers. There were only about 20 of us going back. One other nice thing - I didn't have to carry my bike between decks like I did on the Sausalito ferry.

We arrived at the ferry building where 250 people were waiting to go home. There was barely enough room to push our bikes past the crowd and up the gangplank to the shore.

4  Thursday, April 1, San Francisco

Some random thoughts:

San Francisco has much charm and interesting character(s) but I still am not sure I would like to live there.

5  Friday, April 2, San Francisco

I am on my way to the Sonoma wine country early this morning. The first leg of the trip is far up the bay to Larkspur, whose neighbour is San Quentin Prison. At 6:45 am, the ferry from Larkspur arrived from Larkspur and dropped off its 200 or so passengers. Five minutes later, the four of us boarded our private yacht for the voyage north.

My route north runs roughly parallel to 101, which is freeway most of the way, and is illegal for bicycles. I have detailed maps. but they don't show bicycle paths or roads. I played tag with 101 all the way up. One of the sailors directed me south from the ferry dock towards San Quentin to avoid the first part of 101. The bicycle path went along the bank of I580 and end up almost on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge before it turned around to go north. I was next blocked just as I left San Rafael, but then found another path on the west side of 101. It died, becoming a track through the bushes, ending at a stream and railroad track. At this point I could have crossed and continued north (maybe), or crossed under 101 to what looked like a real road on the other side. I opted to go under and continued north on the Redwood Highway. Just north of Smith Ranch Road the Highway abruptly stopped. I had to back track and thread my way through a tract of houses, was forced back to 101 at its next exit and stumbled upon another bicycle path. This got me into southern Novato where the map suggested that I had to go away from the highway about 2 miles and up over Sunset. It was indeed true. This area was a clumpy mix of very new California-style houses and older, small, migrant worker housing - very strange, but still pleasant.

The next major break in the path was north of the Marin County Airport. I stopped in a small bicycle shop to ask for bicycle maps and/or advice. There were no maps but lots of advice. The preferred route was up into the mountains, with climbs of about 15%, total climb of at least 1000 feet and an extra 10 miles. However, 101 was legal riding north, had a decent shoulder, but you had to remember to get on about 2 miles south of the airport. The road is fenced and there is no access from the small road that led to the airport. I decided I was tired on this my first day of riding since last November, and opted for 101. It was indeed, very busy, but the shoulder was more than adequate. I arrived in Petaluma at about 12:30 and stopped for a huge, and excellent, bacon burger and onion rings at ????? char-broiled burgers in a small square on Petaluma Blvd.

Petaluma is supposed to reek with Victorian charm, but I didn't see much. I continued north through the green hilly, mostly treeless, countryside to Rohnert Park, 7 miles south of Santa Rosa. It was really too early to stop, but the Motel 6 here was the best deal around ($25.95/night) and Rohnert Park is home to the Sonoma County Wine Museum. I was hoping to be able to plan my two days here, and to taste some featured wines. The wine tasting was delayed because the ABC had rejected their original permit - the exhibits were also very far behind schedule. It should be worthwhile next year, but now ...

** Orange California poppies brighten the sides of the road and it is the time of farm babies - a tiny colt sleeping beside his mother and the occasional lamb.

6  Saturday, April 3, Rohnert Park

It is now 7:30 and the morning mist still hangs over everything - I wonder when it will burn off. Today is supposed to be nice but tomorrow there is rain. I would like to be able to catch both a special wine day at the Simi tasting room (advance reservations required, unfortunately) and perhaps the Apple Blossom Festival in Sebastopol. We shall see.

After a Breakfast Burrito at Burger King, I was on my way north - the morning fog had gone but the high clouds were still there. The Old Redwood Highway was depressing sluberbia for the eight miles to Santa Rosa and continued like that for another fifteen miles to Windsor. In the last two years, Windsor has sprawled to become bigger than Healdsburg, the real service center of the north central wine district. One reason is, perhaps, that the soil and climate in that area, is good enough to grow houses but not grapes. The whole area south of Healdsburg, including Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma and on down through Marin County is completely devoid of grapes.

Just north of Windsor, you drop over a ridge into the Russian River valley and, finally, there are vineyards spread out from horizon to horizon - a welcome sight. Piper Sonoma and Rodney Strong vineyards, both owned by Piper-Heisdeck of Reims, France have new, soaring tasting rooms. Piper-Sonoma was a little disappointing. They specialize in sparkling wines - in California these used to be called champagnes, but what can you do when your owner is French and you are trying to be legitimate on the world market. They let you taste their brut - only ok - and for $4.00, you could try a glass of all three of their wines. It was still early morning so I declined. Rodney Strong was next door and was much more enjoyable. They had an excellent Chardonnay, a mediocre Pinot Noir, and an acceptable Cabernet Sauvignon. It was uncrowded and I much enjoyed discussing the growth and yuppification of the Sonoma wine district with one of my hosts, who happened to arrive in the bay area in the early 60s too.

My last stop before Healdsburg was Foppiano vineyards. Although I have never heard of them, they are over 100 years old and still owned by the original family. It was another occasion to discuss old times, and the corporate destruction of some of the best Napa wineries, for example Inglenook, with my hostess. Their Cabernet was decent but confirmed my prejudice of being over-priced.

From their it was a short ride to Healdsburg. This was supposed to be a delightful old town, at the confluence of three prime growing areas, Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, and the Russian River. It is pleasant, with some charm, but perhaps I am trifle over critical after having ridden through the Loire Valley and Bordeau.

Clos du Bois and White Oak vineyards, among others have tasting rooms here. I was too late to impose on the Simi wine day so decided not to ride the four miles north to visit. Clos du Bois have won several awards for their wines and had the best Pinot Noir that I found. They are right in town, and although one couple had set up their beach chairs on the 10 foot square front lawn to picnic, I didn't feel very enthusiastic. The prettiest tasting room and picnic area that I saw was at the Belvedere vineyards on the Westside road. It did indeed have a belvedere across the Russian River valley to the eastern Mayacmas Mountains. It was too late when I got there, and I couldn't see buying a bottle for lunch, so I missed lunch entirely.

** The White Oak vintner was enthusiastic about his zin and suggested that it was ready to drink now - it did not have to be put away to age for a few years. California winemakers are reconciling themselves to the fact that most Californians don't have cellars, and have no place to age wine for optimal taste. They are designing their reds to be ready earlier. Beltramos, a slightly pretentious liquor store in Menlo Park, will rent you a temperature controlled wine locker if you really feel the need.

Before I left the Westside road, I also was able to visit Alderbrook, Hop Kiln, and Rochioli. The ``zin'' at both the last two was incredibly flavourful, robust, and smooth. I am beginning to see why the zin, a grape of unknown origins, and possibly unique to California, is becoming the definitive wine of the California wine industry.

At about 4:15, I was passed the Davis Bynum tasting room, 200 yards up a hill, and decided that I really had had enough. It was after 4:30 when I passed my next two tasting rooms (everything closes at about 4:30) decision to quite for the day was confirmed.

** The highlight of this tasting tour was the discussion of the near past (20+ years) with my hosts in several of the tasting rooms. They all agreed that there had been a great sophistication in the local wine area but remembered fondly that in their youth could only afford the rotgut, Red Mountain Burgundy. Now they still serve table wines to heir guests, and keep the great vintages (there are vintages!!) for themselves.

This route south along the Westside road, through the hills and vineyards was much prettier than the way north in the morning. The apple blossoms were in bloom, and the lambs and kids were common. It was almost dark when I got to Sebastopol and quite dark when I made it through town. Route 116 finishes in Cotati, a small town contiguous and south of Rohnert Park, where I arrived, starved, at about 7:45. Supper was not to be easy. The uncrowded pizza places were only takeout and the Round Table had a 40 minute wait. My choice for a pastrami sandwich, and the fine local Red Tail beer was just closing. I finally opted for a taco salad at Taco Bell.

I arrived ``home'' at about 9:00pm. I am obviously still out of shape - only 65 miles and 1900 feet and I am exhausted.

7  Sunday, April 4, Rohnert Park

This morning is crystal clear - perhaps the scheduled rain is over.

It was - It is now 11:30 and I am sitting amongst the buttercups and violets overlooking Tamales Bay. The ocean shore attracts the birds - giant white egrets, great blue herons and ducks of every imaginable style. Even in the coolness, the eucalyptus are fragrant. Three does were also bouncing along Walker Creek.

The twenty miles or so to Tamales were hilly, green, and almost barren dairy farms. The cows looked bored and the calves happy. One calf still looked as though the umbilical cord was clipped.

** This is Sunday race time - I have been passed by about half a dozen groups, and singles - maybe someday I shall actually pass someone.


This town of 50 persons boasts almost 75(?) houses and Tony's Seafood. It is now 12:30 and crowded. Tony's opens at noon on weekends. There doesn't appear to be any thing for miles in any direction. I guess it is very quiet during the week. I am having sautéd prawns and some rosé. I don't think I have had any rosé since my last trip in France.

California Route 1 (Ca 1) was positively benign all the way to Stinson Beach. It ran along the water the entire length of Tamales Bay and the Bolinas Park Lagoon - the water on land side of the spit that is Stinson Beach. Even the section that went overland between Pt. Reyes and the Bolinas road was just gently rolling. However, the section between Stinson Beach and Mill Valley more than made up for it.

I was going to stay in Stinson Beach but couldn't raise the manager of their only(?) motel. It might have been fun - this appears to be a local fun spot with lots of stuff shops and a number of restaurants.

I had seen a road rise to the top of the cliffs, but some bicyclists that had just come down Mount Tamalpais said that it hugged the shore so it couldn't rise much. Perhaps their empty bikes, and better conditioning made them oblivious. The road went up and down about 450 feet several times before it turned inland to climb the coastal hills. To get over them it climbed again from sea level at Muir Beach to 600 feet. It was rugged and I was exhausted. However the compensation was a spectacular cliff and astounding rock formations right at the water's edge. The road was also very busy, with all the Mill Valley natives racing home. They were mostly polite, though, giving me considerable margin, and thumbs up as I rested by the side of the road.

The bay side of Ca 1 was even steeper than the ocean side. The road was punctuated with several sharp 15mph turns. Very few cars tried to pass me even though I was being quite cautious. It was about 7:00 pm when I made it all the way down. With the help of the Yellow Pages, and some detailed instructions from the manager, I found the Fireside Motel. It is clean, inexpensive, and rather rundown. The light in the bathroom does not work but it does not smell of smoke so I shall keep it.

I am truly out of shape from the winter layoff. I only went 65 miles and climbed 3000 feet and I am exhausted.

8  Monday, April 5, Mill Valley

Sunrise is a late 7:00 am with daylight saving - but it is sunny and beautiful. The sun is barely above the horizon as I start out. I am not completely certain of the way to the Golden Gate Bridge so I ask directions of a bicycle commuter from Larkspur. Fortunately he is an old man like me, so I can keep up with him, at least until the hill to the bridge - 280 feet up. We part there as he continues up, but he gives me a valuable piece of information - the bicycle path is on the east side of the bridge and you cross traffic to get to it. Just as I arrived at the entrance, one of the many bicycle commuters that passed me cut over to the entrance, carefully guarded with a red Do Not Enter sign.

** Thirty years ago, Scomas was the elegant restaurant in Sausalito. It is still there, right on the water pointing towards the city, and looking as elegant as ever.

The first stop before the bridge is Vista Point. It looks right along the east side of the bridge. Down on the Marin side is Horseshoe Bay Harbour - very sheltered but right at the bottom of the cliff.

The sidewalk on the bridge is at least eight feet wide. It is very easy riding and the first time I have seen the bridge so closely, the Marin Highlands to the north and west, and the gate side of the Presidio and Lands End - everybody has a Lands End!

I left the end of the bridge and went west on Lincoln Blvd. It is part of the 49 mile drive through the west side of the Presidio. Morning is a good time to see this shore. The sun comes over your shoulder and the rocks are sharply lit.

I stopped for breakfast at Sheng Kee café and bakery on Irving and 21st ave. There are many other Chinatowns in San Francisco.

I have two projects for the rest of the day, that involve me riding the 30 miles down to Palo Alto. Since I made it all the way to Mill Valley last night, it is possible.

I left Stanford at about 5:30 pm and didn't arrive at my Econolodge, just north of the airport, until 8:30 pm. It was quite dark. Today was a relatively long day of 72 miles and 1300 feet (all before I left San Francisco) of vertical.

Some random signs in the green, flowery, state of California.

9  Tuesday, April 6, South San Francisco

I got up inordinately early, 3:30 am, to get my stuff together. I am still not used to my new bicycle bag - it took me about an hour. Now I was ready to go to Lyons, all night eatery, for breakfast. Breakfast was delicious fresh fruit, a Denver omelette, sausage patties, and almost undrinkable coffee. I think I shall be forced to have tea or hot chocolate, in North America, with commercial breakfasts.

It was dark when I arrived last night, dark this morning when I left for the airport and dark when I arrived. It took me a while to unbuild my bike. My front and rear racks are bent and don't fit very well. I am going to have to fix them. However, I still have plenty of time.

** Air Canada is enforcing its rules again - they are charging me $34.50 US for my bike. It really is only the size of a large suitcase - however!!

Everything made it through the transfer at Toronto and arrived intact at Dorval. I was still debating about whether I should rebuild my bike for the ride home when I was greeted by a Hafed Mili, a friend from UQAM, who just happened to have his car at the airport and was on his way home from spending a weekend in exciting Lafayette, Indiana. He told me that the US immigration official was slightly skeptical when he said that the reason for his going to Lafayette was for pleasure. Hafed offered me a ride and indeed, my folded bike fitted in the back of his Honda Civic. It was an easy ride home.

10  Maps

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 12 Nov 2008, 13:53.