Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Slow Motion

Exactly one week ago today at this exact time (9:18am), I was fixing my flat tire on Henno Road, on the outskirts of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County. I was on Day 3 of leading my third bicycle tour in wine country. The tour was going great so far - It was a singles group and everyone seemed to be connecting and having a great time. The evening before, we were ahead of schedule and I actually had time to enjoy myself and soak up the luxury of staying at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. I sat in the most comfortable chairs made of old wine barrels, poured myself a glass of wine (naturally) and called my dad to brag about this wonderful way of life.  


As I was riding along with a couple of guests on the quiet, windy road through the humble farmland surrounding Glen Ellen, I suddenly felt the instability of my bike and knew I had a flat tire. Dang thorns! I was glad that I caught it before the descent down to Warm Springs Road. A few minutes later my bike is upside-down, old tube out, new tube in and my arm looks like it's having spasms as I attempt to use my ridiculously tiny pump to fill my tube to 100 PSI. This could take awhile. I think I see an angel as the white, 15 passenger van plastered with photos of people on Backroads adventures approaches. Suzie pokes her head out the window, "Need a spare wheel?" We do a quick swap and I am back on my bike, down Henno Road. 

A mile later, after crossing Sonoma Creek, I am in my lowest gears, climbing up the steep Sonoma Mountain Road. It's a 3 mile stair-step climb, with breaks in-between. Compared to Colorado Mountain passes, the climbs around here are steeper in some sections (up to 18%!), but they aren't as long and sustained. The elevation is also much lower, making it easier (for me) to breathe. I like this climb. Some of our guests choose to skip the climb and shuttle directly to our morning stop at Matanzas Winery. 
I look at my watch. It's 9:50am. Good. My training leader gave me a hard time for not having a watch on my first trip. I don't like wearing a watch. She was so insistent that she gave me her extra watch to wear for the trip. I now have on the old sporty Timex that my mom used to wear when she was in nursing school. It needed a new battery, so I made friends with the guys at Radio Shack and they replaced it for me. As I climb along with two other guests, we all become silent, breathing and pedaling to our own rhythms. My thoughts drift back to our dinner last night. 

We all ate like kings at the famous Santé. I tried the lobster pate with shaved truffles for my appetizer this time. For a moment everything around me was silenced as all my senses focused on the smooth, savory morsel that I just introduced to my taste buds. Such decadence! The waiter comes over and informs me that my co-leader would like to treat me to a glass of wine. I look over to the next table and my co-leader raises his glass and smiles. I'm seated across from a pretty woman in her early 60's who is as sweet as can be. She's delightful and engaging and I am secretly relishing that I am able to enjoy this without feeling like it's straining me to get through the long dinner. As she shares her chocolate soufflé with me I ponder why she's been single all her life. 

As I approach the top of the climb my foot slips off my pedal. I try to click it back into place and I can't get it to stick. What the heck? I'm stubborn and don't want to stop so close to the top so I continue pedaling without being clipped in until I reach the top. It feels strange to lose the power to pull up on my pedal on one side. Upon inspecting my shoe and pedal I realize that the spring in the pedal is broken. Hmph! I'll have to replace my pedals with toe clips for the rest of the trip. I'll make the swap at the winery. By 10:30 we are all at the top of Sonoma Mountain Road. Hurray! Now it's all downhill until the winery. I've been down this road 4 times before - Twice driving and twice on my bicycle. I warn guests that the first section is extremely steep and bumpy and has a sharp turn to the right. One guy starts down and shortly after I follow. Three more are behind me, including the Suzie, our support driver. 

I felt good about my route rap this morning. Since the horrendous route rap I gave on my very first day as a trip leader over a month ago, I feel like I've come a long way. I used the map, I was clear and enthusiastic and set realistic expectations. It was especially rewarding to have everyone's undivided attention and to see the looks of excitement on their faces. I've learned to have my bike ready to go and to have my helmet and gloves on so that I can hop on my bike and ride with the front riders for the first part of the day. 

The descent down Sonoma Mountain Road makes me a little nervous. I take the sharp right turn with controlled speed, and it's a good thing, because a car is coming up the hill as I am going down and makes my turn even tighter.  I continue down the straight, narrow road, gaining more speed, and suddenly my front tire hits a bump (or pothole) so hard that it forces both my hands to come free up off the handlebars...You can probably guess what happened after that. (It wasn't good.) As much as I hoped in that millisecond that I could grab a hold of the bars again, it was out of my control. Instead, my handlebars turned back toward my bike almost 180 degrees, stopping my bike and propelling my body forward, with only the black, bumpy asphalt to catch my fall. It felt like things were happening in slow motion. I think my shoulder and elbow hit first, then my helmet and knee and hip. It's hard to say, since there was no one to witness it and I obviously did not have the most ideal view. I remember the sound of my helmet scraping the ground, and it seemed to go on for a while. I'm guessing that I skid about 10 feet. Are you cringing yet? My apologies to any queasy readers (myself included). The comforting thing is that it wasn't as painful as one would think. The body is amazing at pumping out endorphins when you need them and allowing you to think clearly when you need to. I gathered myself and my bike off the road and sat down. Three guests came down and stopped to help. They did a good job of staying calm with me. I asked them for both my water bottles and to call Suzie to come down. I rinsed my wounds with water and one of the women tried calling Suzie but it was a bad connection. Our German guest (bless his heart) started riding his bike back up that steep bitch of a hill to get Suzie. He didn't have to go very far because between the choppy connection Suzie caught the words "Tracy" and "fell" and was on her way. I looked at my blood covered body and started to feel queasy. I noticed that the band of my watch was just barely hanging on to the watch face. My inner Goddess that could care less what hour it is felt quite satisfied at that moment. The time displayed was 10:43am. When I heard the sound of a motor coming I looked up and that big, white, 15 passenger angel was there to save me again. 

I'm lucky that road rash and sore muscles are the worst of my injuries. I could have broken bones or worse, injured my head. I am pretty religious about wearing a helmet and now I have even more of a reason to wear one. My helmet saved me; there's no doubt about it. 

How I was really feeling:

Another leader filled in for the rest of my trip. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone early, and I questioned whether it was really necessary, but eventually I understood that I needed to take care of myself and let my body rest. Before heading back to Berkeley I took some time to reflect and relax on the bay. I found a little gem, and then a gem within a gem: Café Aquatica in Jenner, California. This beautiful coffee roastery with healthy food, delicious coffee and a great view of the bay, sits in the quiet town of Jenner. I ordered a big salad and a latte and soaked up my surroundings. The woman playing the guitar and singing classic Beatles and Bob Dylan covers added to the serene ambiance.  I better enjoy this while I can. These next few days (and possibly weeks) are going to be rough...



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Second Time's a Charm

My second trip leading in wine country went much smoother. We had a smaller group, nobody fainted or went to the hospital, I felt more comfortable with what we were doing/where we were going, and I had amazing co-leaders. The best part was, it was SO FUN! I had more energy to loosen up and connect with guests and it was very apparent that we were all having a great time. On our last night together at a private wine dinner in Healdsburg, I toasted to everyone and told them that it was my second trip leading (which they couldn't believe). I explained that after my first trip, I felt so exhausted and overwhelmed that I wasn't sure if I liked my new job. After this second trip and a great week, I can confidently say that I love it. I thanked them for being such gracious guests. We all clinked glasses and there was talk of them booking a private trip and requesting my co-leader and I so we can all get together again. 

It was a high note to end on. We said our goodbyes after a short bike ride and lunch on Friday, and drove an hour south to Berkeley to unload and clean out the van & trailer. Then I had to say goodbye to my co-leader, Melissa, because she is off to Costa Rica for a few weeks, and then to the Tetons to lead more trips. I just met her 7 days prior, but I felt like I had a new best friend and I didn't want her to leave. It's amazing how quickly you get to know someone when you are spending every moment with them for an entire week. This is her second year leading, so she's used to making close friends and then saying goodbye: It's part of the Backroads lifestyle.  I drove the van solo back to the leader house, did a quick load of laundry, ate some leftover pesto pasta with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc on the deck, and put sheets on one of the 12 twin beds. (What a change after 5 nights in plush kings with turn down service!). By 10pm I fell into bed and closed my eyes until my alarm went off at 3:45am for my 4am shuttle to the airport. 

From this:
To this:

Being back in Durango for the week has been a breath of fresh air. I've been able to rest my mind and do the things that I love here. It felt like vacation at home: I went mountain biking on my favorite trails, floated the river in duckys, went to my favorite yoga class, and cooked lovely meals with Jarrod. A smorgish board of grilled salmon and veggies one night; Another night we roasted lamb with a fresh sage and mint rub from the garden and drizzled it with a red wine and portobello reduction sauce - The Michellin starred Santè that we dine at in Sonoma has nothing on Jarrod's cooking!) It's been such a treat to just be home. Jarrod has all kinds of colorful lettuce growing, as well as tomatoes, kale and soon corn and beans and squash. We've been able to have fresh salads every day. Alpe greets me in the morning, tail wagging and happy and ready for a hike. It's quiet and peaceful in the house and I can just be with little distraction. 

On our last day together we spent the morning mountain biking the high alpine Engineer-Coal Bank trail among the beautiful Colorado wildflowers and impressive Engineer mountain. By the afternoon we were on the river once again in the inflatable kayaks (we set up our shuttle with a car and a bicycle). Then, by the evening we were dressed up and seated at a private wine dinner with a German winemaker and the Chef at Seasons explaining each course and wine that was placed in front of us. It was like having our own private Backroads tour! 

Next week I'll be back at it again with 4 back-to-back trips in wine country. Two of them are support roles, so I will have the evenings to myself. I plan to get out and enjoy some evening rides past the vineyards and on the coast. When I'm in a leading role, I am on my bike every other day and usually get in a good amount of exercise. I like to use the hiking dog analogy to describe my day: Lots of back and forth, checking on everyone in the front and in the back. 

Last week, as I was waiting at a park for the slower riders to arrive, I met an older woman who was also on a bike ride, stopping for a quick break. She told me that her favorite ride was a 49 mile loop from her house and part of it was up Chalk Hill, a climb that some of our guests were choosing to shuttle to avoid the uphill. She grinned and said the climb was the best part. She must have noticed me studying her wrinkled face and offered, "I am 73 years old". I was stunned. She looked great and was obviously very fit. She took a hold of her bicycle and said, "This is the fountain of youth; don't you forget it". She has lived in Sonoma County since '72, before the big wine boom started. She's seen a lot of changes but said that she still loves it. "I've traveled and seen a lot of the world, but I've never found a place that fits me as well as here."  There is something special about home, isn't there?