April 8, 2006

Spring Break
This is a lengthy post. I recommend a glass of wine as you read.

“ You know, it’s kinda nice, even riding on these windy roads without a shoulder, not ONE car has honked at us.” Just then, the ONLY car to do so, barreled past us with a “HOOOOOOOOONK!” But really, that was the only one. The Sonoma Valley seems to be bike friendly and very Oregonian it it’s landscape with the exception of an occasional, lone, random palm tree. It thought that it would make a nice area for a stage race. Oh yea, the first stage of the Tour of California ended in Santa Rosa.

Other than the complete downpour just south of Redding, the drive was quite pleasant. We arrived at the Worldmark Windsor resort around 3:00 on Tuesday. Anxious to stretch our legs, we embarked on what we thought would be an hour ride. An hour and forty minutes later, we rolled back. The next town to the north, Healdsburg is connected by the Old Redwood Highway, with about 9 winery vineyards on the way. By the end of the week, I would decide that Healdsburg is my favorite town. On the ride, Chuck discovered that something was wrong with his pedal. Luckily, we already found 2 of the 3 bike shops within 5 miles. That evening, we dined in on homemade tacos and a store bought bottle of Kendal Jackson Merlot, which was silly, since their vineyard is just down the street.

Wednesday morning, we drove back to Healdsburg to Wine Country Bikes. Rumor had it that they were the folks to talk to about rides in the area. Querley, the deaf, shop dog, welcomed us with Jack Russel Terrier kisses and jumps. The guy marked off a route, popular with the locals. He warned us that parts were a bit hilly. We’d head southwest and loop around to the Armstrong Redwood Park. I wasn’t too worried about the hills. It couldn’t be any worse than Germantown. Besides, we were in the Sonoma Valley right (valley not equaling hilly)? I neglected to remind myself that I live in the Willamette Valley, with plenty of hills. Based on the distance we rode yesterday and how today’s loop looked in comparison, we estimated it to be 25-30 miles- with some hills.

Within the first 5 miles of the ride, we discovered what “Flooded- Road Closed” really meant on the sign. Deep enough that we weren’t willing to ride through yet, the water didn’t look much more than a foot deep, since we could see the yellow line. Unfortunately, we were about 3 miles past the sign and had to double back and edit our course a little. The scenery was amazing. Just miles of vineyards, with curly branched trees and green grass on the hillsides. Happy cows really must come from California. Little more than foliage sprouts burst from the bark of the grape vines, this time of the year. Some vines are very young and others are old, with trunks up to a foot thick.

Before reaching the redwoods, I noticed that we were already about 15 miles in. Luckily the weather was only partly cloudy. The Armstrong reserve was beautiful and uncrowded we casually rode through the park. At the end of the park trail is a one lane, paved trail that heads up, up, up to a nice view. These switchbacks towards the top forecasted the climbs to come. We didn’t actually make it to the top, knowing that we had some work coming up.

The map that we got from the shop is made for cyclists, by cyclists. For only $11, we could tell which roads were busy, where bike lanes or shoulders were, and grade percentages…. According to the map key, one “>” indicated a climb 5-9%, “>>” meant 10-14%. Guess what “>>>” meant for the riders? BAD NEWS FOR THE RIDERS! Sweet Water Road began with the sign, “One Lane windy road- next 10 miles.” Um, there were 6 sets of “>>>” on that Sweet ride. I think the views were worth it, but I was delirious at the summit. Then there was a teaser descent, before more climbing. I also got a flat somewhere in there. I get about 2 flats on average per year. Ian, this ride is for you! Just imagine Logie Trail, over, and over, and over again. (cattle guard) BUT, since I had my new climb worthy Orbea Orca (cattle guard), I did survive and would actually do it again someday, but not until next fall (cattle guard). Brian says no more hills for me (cattle guard). Finally we reached Westside road, and the end of the cattle guards keeping the happy California cows safe. One mama cow was actually in the road. I stopped to talk to her, but she was more interested in crewing on some luscious green grass and re- joining her posse, sprinkled along the hillside. Returning to the flooded area from three hours prior, the water had receded enough for us to brave the forge. It was worth not riding the long way. Back at the resort we had 46 miles, 3.5 hours, and a 14mph average (shut up about the speed- you weren’t there.)

We found dinner in the town of Windsor, where every downtown building has been restored to look like it’s original architecture and an obvious sponsorship from the local paint company- without much brown- more reds, greens, and mustard. That night we hopped the shuttle bus to the River Rock Casino. So, this bus drives along this dark, windy road, which outlines various vineyards. All is dark, until in the distance, we can see one lone, well- lit compound. Don’t know why Hotel California popped into me head just then. By strange coincidence, the cover band of the evening plays this song not long after we get inside. This casino does not have a liquor license. Imagine that- the reservation is not allowed to compete with the counties biggest business of wine making. That and the government is reluctant to grant a license to a bar that sits half way up a hill, with a teensy, windy road as a 10 mile driveway. However, the pineapple slushies I drank were super great, and after winning over $300 on the quarter slot machine, Blazing 7s, I felt drunk anyway, knowing how much wine we’d be able buy tomorrow on our tasting excursion.

Thursday morning, we awoke with a mission- ride to Starbucks for jet fuel, then round out the ride, while admiring a hot air balloon for a light hour’s spin. Off to Healdsburg we drove, with that cash begging to be exchanged for some old grape juice. The first stop was the Kendal Jackson tasting room. We left with an overpriced bottle of merlot.

I recommend that everyone purchase wine from the next hole in the wall, tasting room, the Toad Hollow Vineyard (www.toadhollow.com). Known as Dr. Toad, the winemaker himself, was our host. Turns out that Dr. Toad (Todd Williams) is half brother to another funny man, rather famous, with the same last name (Robin). We shared the bar with two other couples. This man was such a character, with a story behind the name and label of every wine, along with jokes to boot. One riesling is rumored to be the choice wine at gentleman’s clubs, because he said, it keeps the girls from falling off the pole! To top off, the wine is pretty good, and most are $10-$15. One special blend was created in the spirit of his business partner, who recently passed away. We joined the wine club, saving 20% off our eventual case of Toad Hollow variety. The man signed a poster for us. Seriously, you have to meet this guy.

Further north, the Clos Du Bois Winery greeted us to some sampling and quite an education about the art of winemaking and the history of the winery. We were right on time for the afternoon tour. Our only classmates were a couple visiting from Georgia. A heavy oak smell permeated the enormous warehouse, where we witnessed the crew topping off the barrels. We were lucky enough to barrel taste two different red wines in process. At this point, they do not even know which tier of wine it will become, but the raw version was awesome. A free souvenir glass was packed in with our single bottle purchase of their reserve zinfandel, only available at the winery.

A little fuzzy, but still well able, I drove myself and my very good looking boyfriend along the relaxing scenery of the Silverado trail en route to the Sterling Winery. Many nicer restaurants serve their merlot, which is the most asked for wine by the glass in the country. A gondola carried us from the parking lot up to the southwestern style establishment. The tour here is self guided, which was nice, since we getting a little tired by this point. A very nice woman showed us to our table in the tasting room. We purchased two bottles of their yummy finale, a desert or cheese wine, Malvasia Bianca, and one of that merlot I mentioned. A chilly Chuck picked up a Napa Valley sweatshirt.

Coming down from our buzz, the cozy Chuck chauffeured us back to Healdsburg. We had done the wine thing. It was time to check out the local micro- brewery. The Bear Republic Brewing Company served up a mean burger in the Speed Racer themed pub. The beer sampler reminded me of most of our microbrews in town (Lucky Lab, Mc M’s.), with names like “Racer 5” and “Red Rocket.” Sat next to a west- facing window, we got to “eyesdrop” on an apparent bridal shower on the patio. We tried to figure out who all the people were at the party. It was a fun way to pass the time and beer.

Walking around the town after dinner, reminded me of Bend a little, with quaint shops and groomed landscaping. Powell’s candy shop was quite the find. Chuck found an area of the shop with movie theatre seats in front of a showing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the real one.) He watched Agustus Gloop get sucked up the chocolate tube as I dispensed various mixes of m&ms in colors like maroon, gray, purple, and navy blue. Powell’s has all types of nostalgic sweets and gooey gelato, which we enjoyed on the rest of our walk around town. Tired, full, and sober we headed back.

After watching the new version of Bad News Bears, we hit the sack. The drive north went by surprisingly quickly. We took the small-highway-through-towns-and-lights-that-you-shouldn’t-take-ever-if-you’re-trying-to-get-to-I-5-by-way-of-the-Napa-Valley route for the first 2 hours. But after that. And a stop at Starbucks, it was smooth going all the way to Chuck’s parents house and his mom’s yummy spaghetti. Tomorrow, the boy races and I officiate King’s Valley Road Race and Sunday I race in Seattle. I just might need a rest day to recover from vacation!