Last month, I had the good fortune to travel to California and then on to Arizona for my first Sojourn bike tour since joining the staff last fall. This west coast trip, I knew, was an important opportunity to meet Sojourn’s partners face-to-face, view (and stay in) our beautiful lodging properties, and ride some the bike routes for myself. I was expecting to have a good time but, after all, this was still work, right?

It ended up being one of the most fun 16-day stretches of my adult life. (By the way, you can click on any of these thumbnail images to view these photos full size, if you like.)

Flying out on a Saturday, I spent a quick weekend of VERY rainy days in San Francisco, catching up with a close friend; the rain put no damper on our fun – I went to a great yoga class, had Dim Sum in the Castro, and had a stellar first visit to the de Young Museum, located in San Fran’s Golden Gate park. After this brief layover in the Bay Area, I drove north to Sonoma County to do a bit of route work and advance planning for Sojourn’s 2015 California Bike Tours.

Verdant farmland in Sonoma Wine Country

In my modest rental Chevy, I wound my way around wine country visiting the properties at which we stay during the Sonoma tour. A night at the beautiful, stately Madrona Manor brought me much needed rest, and offered a perfect location from which to explore the town of Healdsburg. The following night the Bodega Bay Lodge totally blew me away; my room overlooked tide pools filled with waterfowl, gentle dunes, and the Pacific Ocean just beyond. After thoroughly enjoying the pool, sauna, and whirlpool, I fell asleep listening to the soft sound of waves. WOW.

Dusk over tide pools in Bodega Bay, CA

I was also required to visit quite a few wineries – a definite perk of the job! The Japanese gardens on the grounds at Arista Winery are spectacular (bought a bottle of their Russian River Pinot Noir); the approachable and unpretentious tutorial from Jeff at Robert Young Estate Winery was inspiring and encouraging for this nascent vinophile (bought a bottle of their Alexander Valley Chardonnay). I also got to taste the award-winning Monte Rosso Zin at Seghesio Family Vineyards (bought it immediately, without hesitation); and I revisited Esterlina Vineyards (a favorite from a prior trip to the region) leaving with a nice bottle of rosé I’m saving to share with friends on the deck this summer.

The grounds at Robert Young Estate Winery

I should also mention that the Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves was an exceptionally fun stop too; the grape vines grow on top of the hill that covers the cave, with the tasting room nestled beneath alongside the barrel room.

Grape vines cover the hill atop the Bella Wine Caves

I tasted a full flight of their wines while chatting with some other really nice folks, also visiting from the east coast, and left with another great bottle of Zin.

Inside the Bella Wine Caves, looking out from the tasting bar

A sweet greeting and goodbye at Bella from a plump yellow Lab made me miss my own pups at home, but with only five bottles of wine purchased for a shipping box that held six, there was still work to be done.

The welcoming committee at Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves

I made one more stop at Hawkes Winery, a very cool spot owned by cousins of one of my Vermont-based Sojourn colleagues. Their Merlot finished filling my shipping box and I made a quick stop in Healdsburg to send it on its way, back to Vermont.

Hawkes Winery

One of the highlights of my time in Sonoma was visiting the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery that adjoins the huge earthen dam that forms Lake Sonoma. I hit the timing just right, as the steelhead salmon were making their way up the hatchery’s fish ladder during my visit (check out a quick video here). Although the recent and uncharacteristically heavy rains in the area had stirred up a tremendous amount of silt in the lake and adjoining waterways, we could all still see the big fish powering their way upstream as they wound down their three-year journey from the Pacific Ocean back to the hatchery to spawn. The morning I visited, I got a special tour that allowed me to watch the staff as they measured, tagged, and sorted the fish – the largest one I got to see was a whopping 31 inches long! I will confess I don’t know much about fish or fishing, but I thoroughly loved learning about the hatchery. It was especially cool to feed the young fish in their rearing ponds.

That is one big fish!

By mid-week, with my work wrapped up, it was time for me to rendezvous in Napa with two of our great tour leaders, Joshua and Kurt. Kurt had already been in our shop space in Napa getting our west coast bike fleet ready for the season, so the guys and I finished up a pre-tour punchlist before dinner and an early bedtime. Joshua and I hit the road the following morning at 5am to move the bike fleet to Tucson for the kickoff to Sojourn’s 2015 touring season.

Early morning gas stop in central California

Two days on the road gave Josh and I ample time to catch up, talk about the upcoming season, and to devour Kurt’s parting road trip gift to us – possibly the world’s largest Snickers bar that we dubbed the “Brickers.” Among many things, our trip included a patience-testing crawl through the Los Angeles area from Pasadena all the way to Palm Springs (I drew the short straw and drove that stretch), a beautiful early morning sunrise as we cruised through the desert  toward Arizona, and a solemn vow to never, ever again eat an ingot-sized Snickers.

Breakfast of champions! All that remains of the infamous Brickers

We arrived safely in Tucson just after lunch on Friday, and I was psyched for the next part of my west coast adventure: Sojourn’s Arizona Bike Tours.

Here are a few more pictures from my journey in Sonoma County, California.

Dawn over Healdsburg, CA

The grape vines were dormant for the winter, with a cover crop of mustard

Sunset over the Pacific coast

Beautiful Blue Heron at the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery

Sojourn is a boutique tour operator offering bicycling and active vacations in the US and Canada. Based in Charlotte, Vermont, Sojourn is known for its one-of-a-kind itineraries, exceptional tour leaders, and personalized service. Jim Beebe-Woodard is Sojourn’s Tour & Operations Manager.

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