West County

West County

I was riding a road I now know is called Occidental. At the time it was just some road taking me uphill in the western part of Sonoma County, inexactly between the Pacific Ocean and Santa Rosa. The only other thing I could possibly tell you about the road could take all day, how it was shoulderless and trees began practically roadside, creating a canopy that might rain when none was falling, or protect you from actual falling rain. It smelled nothing like the city and evoked in me a memory of a place I’d long departed, a place I missed like my grandfather’s voice.

When I heard the car approach, my only internal remark was that it had been a while since a car had passed. But then I heard the car slow. It slowed further. That’s when I thought, “Oh great, here comes the beer bottle.”

But the car continued to trail me. I was nervous because the future cannot be known. And because I was climbing, the future was arriving a good deal slower than I would have liked.

The road began to level and then hooked left. No sooner was the car through the bend that I heard it gently accelerate, swing all the way into the other lane and pass me. Absent were any upturned fingers, flying glassware, overdriven voices, bulging eyes or the roar of an engine shifting into a passing gear.

In my stunned amazement I said out loud—though to no one in particular—”Well Toto, I don’t think we’re in LA any more.” I had to make a sound if only to prevent my cranium from caving in due to shock.

What I realized was that it’s not enough to have fewer cars on a road if the cars that pass you are blasting by at a wind-stinging 65 mph. The solitude I needed, the refuge I sought, is spelled out by the shared experience of being in a place that everyone present agrees is out of the way, that in a landscape dominated by redwoods, ferns and sprawling grasses, the pressure of modern life is barred from entry, that there is no rush, not even for the sun to burn off the fog.


  1. Peter

    This is part of why I enjoy riding where I take my Saturday rides: it’s just me an the occasional farm equipment. It’s away from the hullabaloo and lets me enjoy the present. Those moments are fleeting so might as well enjoy them.

  2. Kyle V.

    Thank you for this. Though they are often vilified, people in cars are not the enemy and some of them are very nice people.

  3. Howard

    nice. we know all drivers are not like that, but I try to remember…courtesy can be contagious. It feels good to be the recipient as well as the giver. One of my favorite courtesies is motioning to a driver to proceed at an intersection. It sure beats the standoff kind of interaction where all parties are trying guess who goes first. I also find a predominance of courteous drivers in Soco

  4. Andrew

    One of the reasons I enjoy riding gravel more than pavement. In the rural areas where our gravel roads take us, people in cars and in farm equipment seem genuinely pleased to see us, if a bit puzzled sometimes.

    1. winky

      Yes, I’ve had motorists stop and ask if I was OK when on some remote roads. They seem a bit puzzled that I would be on that road by choice.

  5. Paul W

    Riding in rural France a few years ago, I was initially irritated and incensed by continual hooting and honking of approaching traffic – until I worked out the correct translation, which was “When there’s a suitable opportunity, I’m passing on your left. I’m going to give you as wide a berth as possible, but this is just to let you know I’m here”.

    (In London the same signal means “you have delayed my journey by 10 milliseconds, please vacate the road immediately”)

  6. Joseph

    Just when I get to the point where I think everyone in a car hates me, someone stops and asks if I’m okay when I’m stopped on the side of the road.

  7. Tom in Albany

    If you do requests, I’d like to hear a story about that place that you miss like your grandfather’s voice.

    Glad you had a great experience.

  8. Curt Fsicher

    There is a flicker of recognition for me in this short article, taking my mind back to so many (often unexpected) cycling experiences both scary and joyful, painful and exhilarating. Perfect example of why RKP is, truly The Soul of Cycling.

  9. ken zukin

    Recently I was riding on a rural road in the SF Bay Area, and a large maroon Mercedes “buzzed” me (12 inches or so). I flipped him off as he sped by, only to be surprised to see the car waiting for me at the bottom of a decline. I rolled up, not knowing if I had a confrontation on my hands or not, to find an older guy looking at his smart phone. I tapped on his window: “sir, just wanted to let you know we have a 3-foot-minimum-passing-law in affect now — and you were a lot closer to me than 3 feet.” “I am so sorry; I had no idea. No hard feelings I hope.” “No hard feelings. Have a nice day.”

  10. Mike Terrell

    I’m not saying you should have done this, but what if you had stopped to let the car pass? That would have been a show of courtesy that he or she certainly would not have been expecting. It basically says, “You might need to get somewhere and I don’t want to hold you up. Hey, if I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be on a bike.” This comes from someone who is as goal-oriented, “can’t stop; won’t stop” as they come.

    1. Author

      I have a problem with that on a few levels. First, it sends a message that maybe we ought to get out of the way of cars, that we have less right to the road than they do just because we are slower. The implication of that is the fastest vehicle has the greatest right, and that’s bad for society. Also, the road was utterly shoulderless. For me to pull over, I’d have had to actually stop first, get off the bike and then step off the road, a far greater inconvenience to the driver.

      Of any road user, cyclists have the greatest right, because our use doesn’t require that we earn a driver’s license. It’s important that we act reasonably, but it’s also important that we stand up for our rights.

    1. Author

      Yes! It’s such fantastic news. Not all of that riding is great, but all of that riding is beautiful. People should definitely check that story out.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      I also do the friendly wave to any driver that gives me a break or acts with courtesy. The majority of drivers in our town treat cyclists fairly and in accordance with the law. That is one of the reasons I live here, Sierra Vista, Arizona.

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