We meet on Sunday morning in San Francisco at a central location to gather guests and luggage. Setting out in our team vehicle, we'll make our way north across the Golden Gate and into Sonoma County. After a brief orientation, we fit everyone on our carbon road bikes and head out on a ride on country roads to tiny Occidental and an easy spin down the redwood shaded Bohemian Highway to our base camp: the charming Village Inn on the banks of the Russian River. Avid cyclists can add on the "breakaway route" on Coleman Valley Road to the coast, then north to the Russian River.
When we arrive at the Village Inn in Monte Rio, we will have an afternoon wine tasting with wines from the Russian River and Sonoma Country, complemented with award winning cheeses made by artisans throughout Sonoma County. To accompany the cheese and wine, we'll sample locally baked breads.
After the wine and cheese reception, we sit down to a team dinner at the Village Inn.
We meet for breakfast at 8:00 A.M. at the Village Inn & Restaurant. After a brief overview of the day to come, we head out on a ride under the redwood trees of the Bohemian Highway to Occidental. From there, we travel along the Russian River Valley to a small family-owned winery (that makes exquisite zinfandels) for a tasting, afterwards a guide prepared picnic lunch awaits. Returning to Monte Rio along the Russian River. The "breakaway route" adds on a fast ride through the redwoods to Cazadero, then to Duncan's Mills, then back along the Russian River.
After a continental breakfast, we head out on our bicycles for a tour of the Russian River Valley and northern Sonoma County Wine Country. We'll do some quality bicycling along miles of sun-drenched vineyards, stopping along the way at one of our favorites. If you wish to pick up a bottle or two at the wineries, our team support vehicle will carry them for you. We ride through the inviting Wine Country town of Healdsburg, where we'll stop for lunch, before continuing on our way to another winery for a select tasting. After lunch, we return along the west edge of the Sonoma Valley in the afternoon light.
Breakaway options for the day include some short but steep climbing through remote roads in the Green Valley wine region, and a challenging climb and technical descent on Sweetwater Springs Road.
Dinner tonight will be at the Village Inn Restaurant, providing fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere, overlooking the Russian River.
Today's ride provides a completely different experience than the prior two days, as we head straight for the coast to where the Russian River empties into the sea. The Pacific Ocean has carved out the country's western border mile after magnificent mile, so we follow the Pacific Coast Highway south, past the bluffs and beaches to the bustling fishing village of Bodega Bay. Made famous by Alfred Hitchcock's film 'The Birds'. We make a lunch stop here at the Tides Wharf (which makes an excellent seafood chowder!), relax on the sunny deck while the gulls and sea lions entertain us.
After lunch in Bodega Bay, we head inland through rolling pastures to the tiny village of Bodega, we continue inland past the oak-studded coastal hills to the Bohemian Highway and the welcoming town of Occidental. Then it's a gradual downhill ride through the shady redwoods back to Monte Rio, where we complete our relaxing getaway. Our team vehicle awaits to return cyclists to San Francisco, where they may continue their journey independently.
My wife and I rode with another couple who we hadn't met previously and were accompanied by one guide; it was one of the best trips we have ever had.
Guide and support - It's hard to believe that UDC could have another guide as good as Susan, there was nothing more she could have done for us (guide rating = 6 stars). She has all the skills and more right down to being a paramedic (very handy for patching up some scrapes that I brought upon myself). Riding with Susan on the rest day was a highlight.
Food - quality of all meals, snacks, restaurant ambience, American regional experiences (e.g., peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ollaliberries, and so-called biscuits), right down to the electrolyte water was excellent. Lodgings - perfectly pitched and probably all rate high on TripAdvisor (we'd give them all 4-5 stars, especially the Burton Inn in Cambria but they were all of similarly high standard).
Bikes - I ride a TDF Cannondale EVO back home and was more than satisfied with our Scott Carbon Ultegras. Perfectly set up to our specifications, brought our own saddles just to be fussy, and rode well all week. The ladies had the uber-comfort frames with thinned rear stays and the boys got more standard racing styles - perfectly pitched! They even provided a USB stick with all the routes that could be downloaded to a Garmin.
Riding in company - UDC are very skilled at managing different clients with different preferences, speeds and so on. We were fortunate to be paired with a lovely couple of cycle enthusiasts and enjoyed their company as much as the ride, learning a lot about life in America, the various nuances of language and etiquette (and snow globes!) We breathed a sigh of relief every time we rode past a different tour company with dozens of people, phew!
Countryside and routes - Lovely little maps were provided every day at nightly briefings that clipped on to the handlebars. These were apparently the work of "Terry", who's a bit like Charlie of Charlie's Angels fame - omnipresent but never seen. The daily rides were very well chosen and reflect a lot of thought and planning. The option to do top ups and extras like the Nascimento hill and loops on the rest day ensured that everyone got their fill of good riding.
Value for money - worth every penny and apparently considerably cheaper than some other companies. I would be surprised if anyone else could deliver a better experience.
Wouldn't hesitate to recommend them and wouldn't hesitate to do another ride with them, including trying to match our schedule with Susan's.
TripAdvisor September 2012