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Sunday, June 29, 2014

First trip, check!


I can now check off leading my first trip of the season. I had two back-to-back trips, one as a support leader, which involves driving the van and having the evenings free, and the other as a leader, which is much more intensive and involves long dinners with guests and more responsibilities. I'm going to be real: the work is extremely exhausting, both physically and mentally. From roughly 7am to 10pm it is game on time with very few breaks to rest your body and head. I personally started the day even earlier and ended later to give myself time to read my notes, prepare talks, and get a grasp on the details for each day. We are expected to know everything from the history, geology, geography and economy of the area, to the elevation, distance and road conditions of the ride, and of course specific information about wineries, restaurants and other points of interest. On top of that, there are about 20 new names to remember and it's important to make connections with everyone because their evalauations of us post-trip carry a lot of weight with Backroads. Physically, we are using our bodies the whole day, loading bikes on the van and taking them down, schlepping around heavy luggage and coolers (we make 4 picnics throughout the week), and in general just lots of running around. 

It was just my luck that on my first trip ever, one of our guests was a journalist, writing a 6 page article about his experience in Bicycling Magazine. He was riding the newly released ebike (electronic bike) and was accompanied by a friend who is an avid cyclist, riding one of our pricey Specialized Roubaix bikes. 

On the very first day I was a wound up ball of stress. My job was to drive the 15 passenger van and cumbersome trailer to pick people up from their hotel, load up their luggage, and bring them to Tamber Bey Winery, where we all meet, have lunch and set off on our first bicycle ride of the week. I manage to deliver everyone safely to the winery withhout getting lost or driving into anything. I'm trying to learn who's who, what exactly I should be doing, and I nervously stumble over my words as I stand up in front of everyone and attempt to explain the route that I've never actually riden. I can't admit that I'm new to anyone because it's important that they feel they are in good hands, with an expert leader. By the end of my speech everyone looks thoroughly confused and I optimistcally add "Don't worry; you'll figure it out as you go!"...Nice. I'm pretty certain that was the worst route rap ever. (My route raps during training went so much smoother!) As we're getting people fitted to their bicycles everyone seems to need something and have questions so I am running back and forth, fetching things and helping people with their bikes. Suddenly I hear someone to my right shout, "Oh my God! He's fainted!" I look to my left and see a man in his late 50s straddling his bicycle, hunched over his handlebars, head hanging low. (Is this seriously happening!?) A group of us rush over to help him off of his bicycle. My co-leader and two guests, who thankfully are doctors, take him to the grass to lay down and I am instructed to entertain the other guests with a bike demo while they figure out what to do. NEWS FLASH! I could be dancing around naked and no one would pay any attention because there is a man (that for all they know could have been any one of them) laying in the grass going in and out of consciousness! It wasn't until the ambulance came and took him to the hospital that the last group of riders left, about an hour and a half behind schedule. 

So THAT was the start of my first trip. And let's not forget that we had a journalist witnessing everything! 

The week tested my mental and physical abilities. The ample supply of gourmet food and wine and plush beds in beautiful hotels were a welcomed treat after working so hard. Also, as a leader I ride my bike with guests every other day, which gave me such mental releif and joy amidst all the chaos. It was also fun getting to know the guests. They all have unique stories and all of them were so happy to be there. (Even the guy who went to the hospital and couldn't ride his bike all week because he tore his rotator cuff). 








Time will tell if all of this is worth it. It's not easy being away from home for this long. Jarrod came out to visit me once already and after he left I couldn't stop crying for days. I am surrounded by people, yet feel so alone. I love all the new experiences, but what I yearn for right now is familiarity. I miss my familiy, my friends, my dog, my house, my town. I miss my Monday night yoga, my regular massages, my favorite trails, the wine shop and mornings at the cafe. Being away really opens your eyes to what you love most. 

For the first time, I'm not afraid of failure. If this doesn't work out for me (and for us), at least I can say that I tried. Years ago, Jarrod told me that the most worthwhile things in life are scary at first. I've found this to be true in so many circumstances. It's essential to take risks in life - those risks can create excitement and fufillment and bring us the most joy. Taking risks also helps you to see what doesn't work and saves you from having regrets later.  We are both taking a big risk without holding back; and for that I am grateful. 

The saying holds true: Distance does make the heart grow stronger (or fonder). I just purchased a plane ticket to fly home for a week after my next trip and Jarrod and I are both SO excited! 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Wine Country!

It was exciting news to get the little slip of paper that told me that I would be leading trips in California Wine Country. 

It's been a whirlwind since arriving in here and it's looking like it will only get busier! The leader house where I will be staying between trips is in Berkeley. Besides coming out here for my interview back in January, I´ve never spent time in Berkeley. I used to always think of California as a big, hussle and busstle metropolis. It's like that, of course, in the cities, but I was pleasanty surprised to discover that Berkeley is pretty low key. The house is in a nice neighborhood that is just a few blocks from restaurants, caf├ęs and groceries and less than a half mile from the bay. 


Pretty cute, huh?
At any given time, there may be up to 12 leaders staying here (3 beds per bedroom). Yep, total dorm-style. People are always coming and going so we basically just claim a bed when we arrive and take the sheets off before we leave. Leaders based here lead trips in Wine Country (to the north), Big Sur (to the south) and Yosemite (to the east). 

Considering the exhorbently high cost of living in the Bay Area it's pretty sweet to be able to live here rent-free!



The day after arriving I was scheduled to take a tour of Wine Country with 4 other leaders to get to know the area. There are several different trips that we will lead and we had just 4 days to see everything for a weekend trip and two 6 day trips. It was a lot of information to take in, but being up in wine country felt so right for me- I love all the little towns, beautiful wineries, great food and coffee and quiet backroads. It's so luxuriouus and rugged at the same time. We spent part of the trip in wine country and part along the beautiful coast near Bodega Bay. We even ride alongside the tall coastal redwoods. 


This castle-like structure is the famous Culinary Institute of America in Napa. At any given moment chocolatiers might be making gourmet chcocolates and pastry chefs decorating beautiful cakes. The students run an award winning restaurant and have food demonstrations and a tasting bar with wine, cheeses and olive oils. It is a food lovers delight! 

Much more to come, but I'll end it there for now. Thanks for reading!