Upon telling friends and family that my husband and I had decided on a summer vacation to California wine country together without the kids (while all at camp), I sensed some jealousy masked in their exaggerated “Oh, how wonderful for you!” Upon hearing that we planned to cycle through California wine country together, they added some raised eyebrows with obvious concern that a reasonably decent 20-year marriage was about to fly over the handle bars and into the ditch. I’m not actually a cyclist, you see, but the brochure looked so good that I signed off on the payment with reckless abandon throwing caution (and the two-page waiver form) to the wind.
After a brief layover in San Francisco during which I clearly did not conserve sufficient strength in my legs walking up and down hills with grades not meant for mountain goats let alone humans or cars, we left the city behind and were shuttled to our first winery not far from the town of Sonoma. After an introductory wine tasting at Etude Wines, delightful shady picnic lunch, and bicycle safety briefing, we took to our ride for the afternoon. This warm up ride (HA!), intended to get to “know our bicycles”, began at 2 o’clock in the afternoon… on a hot, sunny Californian day … it was at least 90ºF (32.2ºC) out there. I was not yet phased for I knew today’s route took us only 18miles (30km; never mind that I’ve actually only ridden 30k once in my life) via the historic village of Sonoma along with a visit to another winery. The slogan for Ravenswood Winery is ‘No Wimpy Wines’ but thankfully not ‘no wimpy riders’, because I stumbled into their tasting room donating a lung and a barrel of sweat. Their other motto is ‘if your colour is beige, you should probably drink something else’. No worries there as my pale skin had just recently fermented into the colour of their beloved 2006 Cab. Along with the heat, we also endured this totally freakish swarm of locust-like flying bugs, some of whom I believe are still making their home in my hair. If these were the detested glassy-winged sharpshooters which I read threaten the wine country, then wine country and its tourism don’t stand a chance. Resuscitated at Ravenwood, we set off again for the remaining 17 miles. Our first night’s rest was at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, so I pedaled furiously thinking if that spa closes before I get there, someone’s going to get hurt – real bad. Still married after Day One.
At some point during my dinner of roasted Sonoma duck breast with glazed cipollini onions, duck confit, foie gras farce, scarlet beets with port wine sauce, someone mentioned something about tomorrow’s invigourating climb up out of the valley over Sonoma Mountain. I ignored them as I sipped my wine ; I’ll get the highlights over bacon and lemon cottage cheese pancakes in the morning. We do not speak of my walking up and over Sonoma Mountain (just slightly smaller than Mont Tremblant). We do not speak of my riding the brake the whole way down the other side. Nor do we mention that we passed the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center which was inexplicably closed (no meditating today, just haulin’ ass up a big mountain). No, instead we speak of my first sighting ever of a coast redwood, under which I stood in utter amazement. And speaking of udder amazement, our afternoon ride led us back toward the Pacific Coast along rolling farmland. Though not on their résumés, an impromptu lamb herding exercise along Valley Ford Mountain Road tested my husband and our guide, who shall be henceforth be known as The Lamb Whisperers. Though parts of the pot-holed Fallon Roadin the afternoon weren’t suited to a military tank, let alone a road bike, we arrived safely at Bodega Bay Lodge . No marital flat tires yet. Hot tub overlooking the ocean eases some of the aches and tension; dinner and wine afterward assures peace for another day.
Mile 62 (Day 3)
Must pay closer attention to elevation chart today. The morning ride up Pacific Coast Highway 1 was almost dreamlike. The initial fog, so common to this region, soon gave way to glorious sunshine. This is good. This is good because there is no cycling lane on Pacific Coastal Hwy 1, and I seriously wanted that cedar redwood logging truck to get a good visual on my location. Though my eyes were glued to the obvious lack of any paved shoulder, I did steal the occasional view of the Pacific Oceanand the numerous state parks that dot that roadway. A sidetrack to Goat Rock Beachwas strategically averted upon noting the elevation down to the beach and then back up (surely the view can be no better down there?!). After following the Russian Rive rfor a while, we entered Armstrong Woods State Reserve (What’s the difference between a reserve and a park? I do not know), where I got up close and personal with some of the largest and oldest living things on the earth. Their size escapes description. All I know is that it was so peaceful and all too soon I was hustled back to the roaring traffic. Shortly after we stopped to ask about the well-being of our fellow travel mate and her new road rash after an unfortunate encounter with a parked car, my husband decided to take an alternative (read: longer and/or different from my own) route, and I bravely forged onward to Napa. He got a little lost and appeared at our agreed upon meeting sport (Twomey Cellars ) an hour later than scheduled. There’s a ripple in my wine now. I am a little pissed off that I have no time to check out the town of Healdsburg and only 15 minutes to dip in the pool before showering for dinner and meeting our guest speaker from one of the local Russian River Valley vineyards. I make a secret pack with the ghost the purportedly haunts Madrona Manor to haunt my husband all night long (but to no avail, and of course it’s me who wakes up and scours the room with my teeny weeny reading light before heading the bathroom). I resolve to find my happy place on Day 4 and the chip my travel mate lost from her tooth.
I shall make the conversion for you: I have now travelled 168km on two wheels. Perhaps our friends pictured the two of us frolicking in the hot tub feeding each other Californiagrapes and wine. To which I would say, “fuhgeddaboudit” (as my newest cycling friend from Long Island, NYwould say). IF my east coast body clock managed to let me stay up until 10pm, I would shout out a couple of ‘woohoos!’ and pass out. If my husband so much as looked at me and my aching quadriceps, I would come back with, “Are you an RMT? No? Then don’t talk to me.” I know – the trip was my idea.
Today, some of the group decided to make a full day of it and ride from Healdsburg to Yountville (some 63 miles) bypassing our lunch at Robert Young Winery in the beautiful Alexander Valley of Sonoma County. I was thinking, “Bypass lunch at the winery…?” Then some others decided to head off quickly after lunch to tackle the challenge that included the words ”up” and “over” and then “down” into the town of Calistoga. There was no way I was making the same mistake twice. Nuh-uh. Pack ‘er up; I’m riding with the Van Man. Day 4 brought me closer to heaven. There is a god and Napa by thy name. I think I could live in Yountville, California. I’d be fat and poor but really I could. Dinner at the Thomas Keller restaurant Bouchon http://www.bouchonbistro.com/ left me a little uninspired and even questioning if a visit to its more famous sister restaurant, The French Laundry, would have been any different. The spa, however, at the Villagio Inn and Spa, left me wondering when I could move in.
So many wineries … so little energy left in my legs … so very little money left in our wallets. Knowing our mode of transportation would not take us too far off track, we rode along the Silverado Trail and soon stopped at , Silver Oak Cellars , following soon thereafter with a visit to Beringer. Morning wine tastings? Why not? We had arranged to have lunch at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Restaurant (former Christian Brothers winery). Browsing the campus store was almost as enticing as lunch. I’m sure equally excellent food was available in the town of St. Helena where I spent far too much on a single bottle of Napa Valley olive oil. By the time we arrived back at home base (I did so enjoy calling The Villagio Inn and Spa, home, even if only for 48 hours!), I was ready toss my brand new cycling shoes. You know something else, after 5 days cycling trying to look beyond the back of my ass, even my husband tired of saying “the view is great from back here!”
Screw this, I’m done, going to the spa. Go away everyone and everything! Especially you stinking cycling shoes! Four hours and a year’s worth of my son’s tuition costs and I am restored! And so… after a lovely lunch at NapaStyle, we bid adieu to our new cycling friends. We boarded our shuttle to return to San Francisco, where my husband and I planned to spend the weekend before returning to reality in Ottawa. We still had some sightseeing to do in San Francisco, you know, not having accomplished much on our initial visit upon arriving. So, If you thought whipping through the streets of San Franciscoin a go-kart might be conspicuous, try doing it a GoCar painted bright yellow wearing the Great Kazoo’s helmets . Though initially I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, I did determine that it was way more fun to smile and wave exuberantly at all gawkers who pointed and laughed at us. By the way, a 6am flight out of San Francisco International Airport requires a 415am hotel pick up. Remind me not to do that again.
Ahhhhhh, home sweet home. Next stop? The Loire Valley (it really is a valley, right?)!
I should make it clear – we both agreed that this was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had! Though mostly accurate, my blog post was tongue and cheek because I knew the memories of phenomenal people and sensational vinos, vistas and victuals would far outlast the painful moments described above – along with the numbness in my right arm. Backroads, the tour company with which we travelled, is second to none in service, tour excellence and local lore expertise. My husband made a most deserved toast to our tour leaders Jill, Tony and Kaliegh over our last group dinner at Hurley’s in Yountville, and hopefully we see them again in our travels (hopefully in Yountville).