My lady friend and I have just finished an eight day, 212 mile biking trip across five valleys in northern California: Napa, Sonoma, Dry Creek, Alexander, and Russian River. We saw many things including acre upon acre of beautiful autumn-tinged grapevines, shady country lanes and active geysers. We ate food at Michelin-starred restaurants, sampled some of the best wines we’d ever tasted, talked with new friends and learned the value of time spent in a local country store.
I thought I would share just a few of my insights, gleaned while pedaling, napping, eating, and drinking on this very active, always-moving vacation. Indulge me, if you would be so kind.
First of all, flying standby is just what it says. You show up at the airport, boarding pass in hand, but it says STANDBY on it. You get through security, TSA-Precheck if you’re very lucky, and you STANDBY some more until your name turns blue on the little board. Sometime the evil gatekeepers make you STANDBY until the very last minute, as the boarding doors are closing, even though there are clearly thirty open seats on the plane. Am I complaining about this? Of course not. I did make it out to San Francisco and back, after all. (Thanks, Scooter)
San Francisco is a very neat city. It has clam chowder; sourdough bread; vocal, nine foot, aggressive, hungry sea lions; and hills. Lots of hills. You get the hill street blues in San Francisco, especially if you decide to get off the cablecar and walk. (I would not recommend this).
This Just In! The Golden Gate Bridge is not golden. It is a rusty orange. It had no visible gates that I could see. I had Trina take my picture standing on it, for my birthday, anyway. You never can tell when the painters might actually get the color right on the next coat, or when the whole thing might be closed off by a piece of swinging wood with a Master lock on it. it could happen. I guess The Rusty Ungated Bridge would not attract as many tourists.
Alcatraz would make a nice place for a game of hide and seek.
If anyone tells you, “Hey, it’s easy! Just like riding a bicycle!”, don’t believe them. If the last bicycle you rode was red, had a big padded tush toter and had one gear, beware of the hybrid bike with twenty seven gears and a skinny-ass unpadded (read HARD) seat being fitted to your middle-aged body. It is about to be your home for five or six hours a day for the next week.
Day One: wine is your friend.
Goats are funny. Some of them bleat. Some of them butt their offspring. Some goats faint. I kid you not. Look it up.
Geysers are playful and cantankerous. They tease. Even when the nice lady up front says that the Old Faithful Geyser of California should treat us to a show every thirty minutes, and that she expects the next eruption in twenty minutes (just enough time to resuscitate a goat that just fainted), she then offers us some wine while we wait. It is ten in the morning, This is not a good sign.
The geyser does its geyser thing, but after nine, count ’em (Trina did, and videoed them all too) nine false starts. Ten times was the charm. It was underwhelming, but hey, we could have flown STANDBY to Yellowstone, yes?
Grapes picked off the vine surreptitiously are the sweetest, juiciest, best in the whole world. (No, I did not have to bail her out, thank God.)
You can have chocolate, really, really good chocolate, and coffee, and more chocolate on your birthday and nobody can stop you.
The tall white hats that chefs wear used to have 101 pleats in them to signify the 101 uses that the egg could be put to by a well trained chef. You’re welcome.
There is a characteristic smell, pungent and grape-y and musty and fertile, that one experiences when riding a bicycle through the wine country. I would bet that no one riding in a car ever experiences this wonderful smell in quite the same way that the cyclist does.
French oak barrels are works of art.
Porch sitting with your companion, reading a newspaper, planning the next day’s ride, eating cheese and drinking wine, stretching your tired legs and petting the cat are as close to heaven as you need to be on this earth.
Watching olives being harvested is too cool for words.
Standing next to the actual desk that was used in the filming of The Godfather is surreal.
Finding that there is a hill, a winery driveway to be exact, that is so steep that you can barely get off your bike and push it up to the top with all your might and determination is quite humbling.
I never knew that sitting in the sun, having lunch and good conversation, and drinking excellent champagne could bring such midday joy.
Entering a redwood grove is like entering a cathedral. Cool, misty, mysterious, and so quiet that you hardly want to break the silence by whispering your awe. Can you just imagine the stories a 1400 year old redwood tree could tell?
The Pacific Ocean has more hues of blue and green than can be described in words.
A boat on the bay. A kayak. A mailbox. A flower. “It’s that spot of red…” (Trina Watters, the painter, paraphrased)
Finally, why do they insist on calling it the shoulder of the road, anyway?
“You will have a much narrower shoulder for the next three miles”, or “You will enjoy a much wider, smoother shoulder on tomorrow’s ride”.
I suppose they could have called it the “butt” of the road.
But then, the Kardashians would not have been pleased at all at the prospect of “wider butts” in California, now would they?
After all, the shoulder is the first thing that might likely hit the ground if a logging truck crowded you and pushed you off to the right, just short of the Pacific cliffs.
No. luckily, that never happened.
This was the best vacation ever.
No ifs, ands, or butts.