We carefully packed . Long lists trying to remember all the things that we swore we'd remember from our last 2 trips. We decided on Super Shuttle so we'd not have to worry about the car being parked somewhere near the airport. Especially since we'd have another, rented car parked for a week at the Madrona Manor in Sonoma County, California. The Super Shuttle was not-so-super arriving 45 minutes late. They called to tell us that the van was stuck in traffic and we waited. It turned out not to be a problem for us, but one fellow we shared the van with was still in the van waiting to get to his Delta flight as we got off the van at DFW International Airport. His flight departed 15 minutes before ours and left from a different terminal! I wonder if he made it?
We arrived at San Jose International and picked up our rental car, a full-sized bluegreen Dodge Intrepid. We both made careful note of the make, model, and color since we've both lost rental cars before parked in restaurant and hotel parking lots with only the information written on the key to find them! We decided on a rental car instead of the Backroads van transfer because we wanted to visit with the Brews in front of the trip, and Anne's brother Gil and his family at the end of the trip. Besides the prices were pretty close for 4 people, and we planned on picking up Don and D'Ann Hunt at SFO on Sunday afternoon on our way to Madrona Manor.
We got our car about 5pm and drove up 101 to Bill and Jane's house in Palo Alto. Since we had lived out here in 1989 and 1990 I thought I'd remember the roads. And I did, to a certain extent. But I quickly discovered that I was landmark-based and, while I got the general vicinity right, I was usually off by one or two stoplights or streets. Even so, we found our way to their house soon enough. They had done some remarkable remodeling of their house a few years ago, and this time we got to see some beautiful landscape improvements. A new trellis with flowers growing, some artwork, the old fence removed, new grass in the back yard with a new sand box forming in the far corner. We met Jane and Connor , Bill and Jane's 5 year old boy. She had come home to get Connor ready for swim class. We had a nice "Hello", visited for a while, then got out of there so Jane could get Connor ready for swim class. We drove down to Stanford Mall. When we first arrived in California back in 1989, one of the 1st places we visited was Stanford Mall. It is a magical place for us. We walked it, stopping for mocha and latte, and looking at all the shops we remembered. Anne got cold (just like last time in 1989!!) walking in the cool evening air and we stopped at Eddie Bauer so she could get a nice fleece jacket.
We returned to Bill and Jane's a while later and had a wonderful pasta meal that Jane fixed and we all helped while talking, drinking wine, and being entertained by Connor and his boat (a plastic laundry basket filled with lots of "cargo" (toys)). It was a wonderful evening. We phoned Maria, our friend from Dallas, who had traveled out to Gilroy to meet her husband Alan who was attending a car race in Monterey over the coming weekend. She wasn't sure what she was going to do the next day, but may come with us (as it turned out, she opted to goof off in Gilroy instead). We had just about decided on going to Angel Island up in the bay between San Francisco and Tiburon for a hike and a picnic.
Next morning we packed up and headed up through San Franscisco, across the Golden Gate and into Marin County. Turning off to Tiburon we stopped at the ferry dock and caught the next ferry out to Angel Island. The day was beautiful, with a strong breeze (as usual), fairly warm, and very clear. There was no fog in the air the whole trip! Amazing. The ferry ride was about 15 minutes and dropped us on the north side of the Island. Angel Island has been preserved as a park with WW-I and WW-II bases and fortifications on it. This Island was a place that Asian immigrants passed through on their way to the US. And US soldiers passed through on their way to the pacific theater during WW-II. My father passed through here on his way to the Phillipines in 1940. The island has a 5-mile paved bike path that goes all the way around it, and hiking paths that criss-cross all across it. You can rent nice mountain bikes and hybrids at the ferry dock and enjoy a very nice (and probably strenuous) ride there. We hiked , picniced , and sight-seed all day, heading back in the late afternoon. We had a wonderful time.
We had to pickup Don and D'Ann at about 11:00am today at San Francisco International airport. So we visited a bit more with Bill, Jane, and Connor , then packed up and headed north. We arrived just as the flight got in, met Don and D'Ann, packed them into the car and started north. The weather was, once again, perfect. We had a strong breeze, cool temperatures, and clear skies. We had discussed turning off of 101 just north of the golden gate and visiting Muir Woods, then driving up the coast road, Highway 1 on our way to Healdsburg and Madrona Manor where we were to meet up with the Backroads folks and the rest of the 26 members of our biking team. But after further discussions we decided to go into town to Pier 39 and Ghiradelli Square , shop and sight see a little, then park on the north side of the Golden Gate and walk across. Instead, we parked on the north side and crossed under the bridge then hiked up the side of the hill to the old fortifications on the hillside overlooking the pacific, the golden gate , San Francisco, and the Bay .
With the shopping and the hiking we decided to head straight north on
101 to Healdsburg and the
Almost as soon as we arrived we saw Bud and Betty Miskell, our biking friends from Fallmouth, MA, that we had met on our North Carolina trip 2 years ago. We "Hallo"d at them for a while, and each went our way to take care of business. Madrona Manor is an old mansion with a number of separate houses that each contain rooms, and each having a separate "flavor". Anne and I were in the mansion itself, while Don and D'Ann were in a cottage behind the mansion. Bud and Betty were in a separate building north of the parking lot called the "Carriage House", near the garden shed where the van was parked and the bikes stashed.
All the bikers and the two Backroads staffers met on the porch of the mansion at 6pm and we all introduced ourselves . Heather and Randy, our Backroads leaders, had each person tell what the first record album they had bought. It was a nice way to break the ice. We also had a few bottles of wine which also helped a lot in getting everyone comfortable.
We didn't know what to expect on this trip. Our first Backroads trip in Northern Vermont had a lot of older couples that liked to party at "Cocktail Hour" betwee 6 and 8pm. We would all get dressed up and meet in the Inn somewhere and drink wine and talk and socialize (usually very loudly) until dinner then have dinner sometime between 7 and 8pm. It was somewhat formal (and somewhat uncomfortable). Nothing like this occured on our North Carolina trip. When we arrived at the Inns we'd be on our own until dinner, usually 2-3 hours. Sometimes we'd nap, other times sit outside and read, other times go on a boat ride or something.
On this trip we always ended up at the pool before dinner. Also, we arrived at the Inns quite a bit later than on the other trips because we spent a lot of time stopped at the various wineries. So we usually had about 1 hour to blow before dinner, and the dinner's were long and completed the evening activities. Also, on both the Vermont and North Carolina trips we spent some nights at the same Inn(s). So we wouldn't have to pack/unpack each evening and morning and could do shorter loops, or not bike at all if we found something else to do. On this trip, each day's ride ended at a different Inn.
Dinner was served in a modest sized room with 4 large tables sitting everyone. We all ate, talked, and got to know one another. It was very relaxing with good food and conversation.
Day 1 Impressions
Here we go, the biking starts this morning. We ate a fine breakfast and headed over to the van where the bikes were. Heather and Randy gave a bike introduction , a safety talk, and generally described things would work each day. We all listened attentively, prepared today's directions, and headed out. Don, D'Ann, Anne, and I started dead last because Don had a problem with his breaks squawking like a duck. You could hear him coming from far away. Randy worked on it a couple of times until it stopped and we started. Day 2 led us from Healdsburg to Calistoga over a 39 mile route. There were shorter options that included a van ride, and 2 longer options, one to a winery, and the other to pick up a fun hill at the end of the day (Don chose to do this one).
We started the wine tasting part of the tour here. There are wineries all over the Napa and Sonoma valleys, and grapes are grown everywhere. We stopped at the first winery, Mazzocco Winery and tasted some wine and had some very special chocolates. Like chocolate covered cherries except the cherries were replaced with zinfandel. They were very good and D'Ann and Don bought a box of them (We drove by here with the car on the last day thinking we'd buy some more, but one of our biking cohorts had already dropped in and bought them out!!).
This was the general nature of the wine tasting. Ride a little, taste a little. If I liked it I could buy a bottle or more. The Backroads van would pick it up and it would be waiting for me at the end of the trip. Some of the folks in our crew lived in Canada (Paul and Corinne) and had to carefully select what wines they wanted because they had to carry them back with them on the airlines. Others (Chuck and Cindy) had driven here and had a van waiting to carry their wine back home to Phoenix. I had hoped that we could taste the wines and selective order cases or half-cases and have them shipped. We had done this before. But it didn't turn out as effective as I thought. More on this later. If I had to do it over again, I think I would do the wine tasting and carefully make notes. Then when I got back to Dallas I'd connect with a wine warehouse or distributor and order the wine locally The other thing I discovered wine tasting was that, even if I didn't swallow the wine, it makes my mouth very, very dry. That combined with the constant stops and stiffening of my legs made the wine tasting a bit less enjoyable than I hoped. Anne even strapped an extra water bottle on her rack and refilled all 3 bottles at lunch!
The biking directions were very detailed, with lots of turns. There were seldom long stretches of many miles the way it _always_ is in Texas biking. Probably the longest stretch was 6.6 miles with most in the 0.5 - 1.6 miles.
Lunch was at the Field Stone Winery . The van had preceded us and was setup for sandwiches, chips, and some very good salads. There were cookies, fruit, and fruit bars. The lunch location was beautiful located under some trees with enough picnic tables for everyone to sit and relax. Anne hit some large gravel and fell down on our way out and broke her mirror and got a flat tire here too. Luckily we were very close to the winery when it happened and Randy quickly replaced her wheel and we were back on the road.
Randy and Heather had pointed out in the safety talk in the morning that many riders would have flats on this ride. Don figured out that in many places the roads were lined with blackberry bushes that grew right out onto the street. We decided that most flats were caused by these when people rode too close to the edge of the road. There actually weren't all that many flats (well, that we knew about anyway).
It was after lunch that we got a taste of the hills to come. There was a 2.5 mile hill to climb going cross from Sonoma county to Napa county. Very tough. Lots of folks walked it up. Of course with every long uphill comes an exhilerating downhill! And this was no exception. It was just a few more miles and we rolled into the Mount View Hotel in Calistoga. Anne had packed both her and my swimsuits in her handlebar bag at Heather's suggestion. Although our suitcases and bags had arrived at the Inn, they had not been distributed out to the rooms. So Anne changed out in the pool house and dove right in. I walked across the street to a package liquor store and bought a 6-pack of beer and distributed to the 1st luck folks who got to them. It was goooood!
Day 2 Impressions
We moved to a new Inn every day on this trip. So every morning we had a monumental job of forming "clothes tacos" of yesterday's riding gear, repacking everything, and putting our luggage out to be picked up. What a pain. We had a giant breakfast (every day the same, giant breakfasts... ugh), prepared our bikes, and Heather would give the "route rap". Today they had invited a guest speaker from the Sterling Winery to tell us about wine taste and smell (bouquet). The first winery that we stopped at was the Sterling Winery and they had a wonderful self-guided tour that took us through how the wine was made. We were able to see grapes coming in from the vines and placed on a conveyor to start the wine making process. Very interesting. And it smelled _so good_!
As we left the Sterling Winery we got a brief downpour of rain from a line of clouds. It was very unusual because we could see the blue sky in front of the line and the blue sky behind the line, but as the line passed over us it rained hard. It was just enough to get us wet biking from Sterling to Clos Pegase which was just .5 mile down the road. Clos Pegase had a neat wrecking ball artwork with a very frayed cable suspending it from the ceiling. Luckily the rain stopped quick and we dried in the fresh breeze. It was this route that Anne and I wanted to stop at the Joseph Phelps and Caymus wineries. At Joseph Phelps they had an hourlong tour with the wine tasting at the end (for a total of 1.5 hours there starting in .5 hour!) which we didn't have time for, and at the Caymus winery they were out of most everything and wouldn't ship what they had. Bummer. I decided on this day that the wine tasting was getting in the way of the biking. It was either tasting or biking but not both. So I stopped tasting most wines from this point forward and the trip improved a lot for me.
In one of our many "crossovers" from the Silverado Trail to Route 29 running southeast through Napa valley we we came into St. Helena, CA. We were on our way to the Beringer Winery . Right there on our right we ran into the Culinary Institue of America (CIA). I watch the "Cooking Secrets of the CIA" every Saturday on our local PBS channel KERA. I would have loved to stop and take a tour, but I wasn't dressed appropriately (nor did I smell quite right to visit a cooking school). I'll add this to my list for the next time we're there in a car!
We dropped in at the Beringer Winery just down the street from the CIA. Don took a nice break at the fountain and we walked the grounds. It was very crowded there, and very beautiful with lots of Eucalyptus trees, with shady breezy benches to relax on. The gift shop was in a beautiful stone building with inlaid wood floor and stained glass windows.
It was this day that we had to fend for lunch and dinner ourselves. We ate at the Gilwoods Cafe in St. Helena . We walked the town looking for lunch spots. The main street was small and very touristy. Main street was shaded by planted trees and every business had a nice awning providing even more shade to visitors. As you might expect, each tree and light pole had a red Backroads bike locked to it as our crew hunted lunch in St. Helena.
We continued on crossing back over to the Silverado Trail then southeast, visiting Caymus Winery, then back toward Route 29. Route 29 was terribly crowded. Crossing it was a chore at this time of the day. As we rolled into Oakville we stopped at the Oakville Grocery Store. Jane had suggested we stop here because they have great mustards, salad dressings, flavored olive oils, and other great tasting stuff. We met a bunch of Backroads bikers here sitting on the porch having a cool drink and we joined them. Heather and Randy were to stop here and pickup for us, so Anne and I bought a bunch of stuff to take home with us. Just up the street was the Mondavi Winery which we have fond memories of from the last time we visited, so we biked up there to visit. They were very crowded and had changed their tasting policy. They charged $4.00 _per_taste_ and didn't tell us the full story until after we'd tasted one type of wine. It was a real bummer and reinforced our decision not to do the wine tasting anymore.
From here, we continued on the route rolling into the Vintage Inn in Yountville about 4:30pm. The Vintage Inn had beautiful rooms with wooden venetian blinds all throughout. I have vivid memories of the sunlight splashing through the blinds and lighting up the room. It was very nice. We checked in and Anne went to the pool while I lounged around in the room.
I had talked to my brother Morgan and his wife Mary Jane just a few weeks before we traveled out to California for this trip. Turns out they also had a trip planned for Wine Country at the same time! Further adding to our amazement, they were staying Oakville just 5 miles north of Yountville this Tuesday, and had dinner reservations within 5 minutes of where we were at Don Giovannis, a nice italian restaurant! Since this was our only night on-our-own for dinner, they dropped by and picked us up and we had a great time with them and their friends from Beaumont, Dan and Belinda. I'll never forget Dan's comment when we were talking about beards: "Why cultivate something on your face that grows naturally around your asshole?" He attributed it to his brother, but I wonder...
Up and atom, breakfast was a buffet and we ate a little breakfast and met by the pool for the "route rap." Again we packed and prepared for our next move, and then headed out. Today we head west to the town of Sonoma and the Sonoma Mission Inn. We started with a large group that slowly shrunk as people turned into various wineries. It was a beautiful biking day and we continued on. Don and D'Ann and Anne and I took the Hess Collection Winery option, uphill the whole way, a tree-covered 3.8 miles route. Gradual at first, it continued to increase and got very hard as we got to the top. We rested for a few minutes and headed back down. Don and D'Ann went in to see the "Flaming Typewriter".
Lunch was another nice picnic at the Mont St. John Cellars. Anne and I picked up Bud there and we rode together to the Sonoma Mission Inn . There were a few hills, but the most noticeable part of the trip was a long western stretch into the wind along Duhug and Ramal roads . It felt distinctively Texas, warm and windy. We tried to form a pace line, but it didn't seem much worth the effort. Biking into Sonoma Mission Inn was kind of strange. The route wound its way through a subdivision of Sonoma that had very small houses on very small lots. Some had chain link fence all around the lot with dogs. It felt a little unsafe, but nobody had any problems, and there were kids playing all around. The route was detoured for a little and it threw us for a few minutes, but we picked it back up quick and turned into the Sonoma Mission Inn for the evening.
I was suprised by how big the Inn was. It was a resort really, with two swimming pools, a spa and workout area. There were multiple buildings of rooms with ours being close to the back parking lot and the larger pool. We saw the van at the front entrance and followed Heather around back and parked our bikes near the trailer. Then to the pool and bar for refreshments. We figured out that the pool was filled with mineral water when Cindy said "Either I'm sweatier than I thought I was or this is salt water!". Anne said she seemed to be floating really good in there too. We sat around drinking beer and reading the paper for a while enjoying the beautiful cool, dry, breezy weather then headed in to checkin and cleanup. Dinner was setup in waves down at the restaurant in the Inn. 2 groups were scheduled for 7pm, 2 more groups for 7:30pm. We were in one of the 7pm groups. Ours sat inside, the other sat outside at the far end of the restaurant.
Day 4 Impressions
This was the most challenging biking day of the trip. There were 2 big hills, one before lunch, the biggest one after. We had breakfast at the Sonoma Mission Inn restaurant just outside the gate. Randy and Heather gave the route rap there and we headed out. We started in a large group heading north-northwest through the town of Glen Ellen. It was tree-covered, cool, with a bit of traffic. Little did we know a hill was awaiting us, a big one. It went up for about 2.5 miles then a long cool downhill with a chance to stretch. Usually the downhills were blind without a chance to open up, mostly just ride the brakes. This hill gave us the opportunity to really crank it up and fly. As I topped the hill Paul came rolled by, we talked for a bit, then I fell in behind him and we flew down the hill. At the bottom I stopped and jumped off and got a picture of Anne as she flew by . Anne and I stopped in at Matanzas Winery for a little break while Don, D'Ann, and Bud kept on going. Lunch was a carry-it-yourself sort of picnic thing today. We had built sandwiches and loaded chips and cookies into our front packs in the morning. So around lunch we rolled into Sonoma State University and ate lunch. It was warm and pleasant. Jim conked his noggin on the metal artwork so someone stuck their butt safety triangle on it as a warning.
After lunch we headed toward the town of Valley Ford. A small town just at the intersection when the Occidental Option turnoff was. Heather had told us that the Occidental Option loop was most beautiful part of the trip and, if we could do it, it would be well worth it. So Anne and I decided in Valley Ford that we'd do it. The van was supposed to stop in Valley Ford for a shuttle opportunity. We had emptied our water bottles and were hoping that the van would be there for a refill opportunity. We waited a while then turned onto Valley Ford Freestone Road toward Occidental. Not 2 minutes later the van passed us and pulled over. Randy helped us refill our water bottles then turned around and headed back. We were very lucky. The van doesn't ride the Occidental Option because of the downhills we were to find later. The uphill started almost immediately. It was very gradual and we thought "nothing to it!" all the way into Occidental. It was breezy, cool and we stopped for a breather and a drink of water. The directions at this point say "Turn left onto Coleman Valley Road in the town of Occidental. Uphill Begins." And for the next 4.5 miles we climbed and climbed. It was the most intense biking of the trip, and the most intense biking we had ever done. There were sections where we could let up for a bit, but it culminated in a turn about 4 miles in. "I hope this is it, because I don't have much left in me!" Then the road turned and the hill got even steeper!! We had separated at this point. I was in front, Cindy next back, Anne back there, then Don and D'Ann. I came up over the top to incredible vistas of northern California to the east, and rolling fields of grass stretching west to the Pacific Ocean . We could probably see 100 miles east! The temperature dropped maybe 20 degrees and the wind had picked up. It was very cool. I stopped and took some pictures. Then Cindy , Anne, and I headed westward over a rolling, winding narrow road toward the Pacific .
I have vivid memories of the rolling, wheat colored, grassy hills. The wind, the biking, the Pacific off in the distance. It was magical. At the end there was a long, very steep downhill that dropped onto Highway 1 on the coast. Some of the narrow downhill, twisty road was so steep that it was very uncomfortable. But we made it down with no mishaps. Turning left to the south we rolled along Highway 1 to Bodega Bay and into the Inn at the Tides. We checked in, went to our rooms and changed, and went to the pool and hot tub for a little R&R.
Heather and Randy had planned a wine and cheese reception (of sorts) before dinner in their room. Their room was directly below ours. We all sat around and talked and marveled at the trip (and drank some wine too!). Before dinner we talked a nice couple into taking our group shot . They were very gracious when we presented them with 10-15 cameras to take shots with!
Day 5 Impressions
We had breakfast across the street in a little mini-mall on the oceanfront. Randy and Heather gave the route rap after breakfast. I'll never forget Bud yelling "Why bother!? It's all a pack-a-lies anyway!!" Heather practically fell down! Everybody enjoyed Bud's comments. The ride today would end at the Madrona Manor back in Healdsburg. Randy and Heather wanted to get everybody in and the van packed and out by 3:30pm so they could drop the folks who needed the "van transfer" back in San Francisco that evening. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) was on strike this week so the riders into San Francisco had some unknown dread. The traffic jams had been at record levels all week long down there. It made for a very busy day. We decided to take the Bodega Head option which was a 7 mile trip out and back to the end of the Bodega peninsula . It was a nice warmup ride, then back onto Highway 1 and north through the rolling hills up to Route 116 just north of the Russian River. This is a scenic highway that runs inland along the Russian River up to the Armstrong Redwood State Reserve. The ride was mostly flat and very scenic with the Russian River to our right most of the way.
We leapfrogged with Cindy and Chuck part of the way and passed the van making a shuttle pickup. The route detoured onto Moscow Road at one point so we could get a chance to ride on a road that wound through the redwood forest just south of the river. The canopy was so thick that very little light trickled in. I had to take off my sunglasses to see well. I can't imagine how people lived there. Here in Texas we get full, direct sun from sunup till sundown. There they never see the sun except in pools that form and dissolve as the sun travels the sky. It felt claustrophobic to me.
Lunch was in the Armstrong Redwood State Reserve. It was cool and dark in there. And quiet. There were a lot of people around enjoying the park. We had a nice picnic then headed out to our last hill. Not 1 mile out of the Reserve we hit our last short, steep hill. It was a real pain having just eaten lunch. But it was over quick and we sped downhill to River Road then left. The rest of the ride was mostly flat, past a few wineries, with the longest stretches marked of the trip all week. We rolled into Madrona Manor at about 2:30pm. The van was already there and the luggage was being brought out. Since we had a rental car there, we stayed out of everyone's way as they prepared the bikes and the van to transfer the folks back to San Francisco. They had a single shower setup in the garden house where everyone could get a quick shower after the ride. We sat around at the pool for a while, then got our showers and packed up everything into the car. D'Ann wanted to stop and pickup some more of those filled cherry chocolates, so we traced out 2nd day route to the Mazz occo Winery. We arrived just a few minutes after they closed, but when D'Ann held up her box of chocolates they unlocked the doors and let us in. Turns out that Kathy had already been there and bought them out!
Day 6 Impressions
We drove south on 101 to San Francisco, dropped Don and D'Ann at their hotel in downtown San Francisco, then drove over to Petite Auberge, our little B&B in downtown, and settled in. We visited each other's hotels, hiking some very steep San Francisco streets, and had dinner at a cute little Italian restaurant, Uncle Vito's . On Saturday we drove over to Antioch, CA, about 45 minutes east of San Francisco where Anne's brother Gil and his family Deena, Julie, Debra, and Catharine lived. We visited with them, had some lunch, and drove down to San Jose to drop our rental car off. We stayed at the Sheraton that night, and shuttled over on Sunday morning at 7am to the San Jose International Airport to catch our flight back to Dallas.