In my short time living in the Bay Area, I’ve had various friends visit and want to experience Napa Valley. I think back to all the time and effort spent trying to put together the perfect trips, including bicycle trips. While each one turned out very nice, what I happened upon on accidentally with Steel was fantastic too. Turns out that Napa-Bothe State Park set in the heartland of Napa Valley is a beautiful park with campsites and yurts nestled under trees and boarded by a lovely river – the bubbling brook sounds were a nice add to sleeping. However, the location is what was unbelievable. Located 5 miles North of St. Helena, and 5 miles South of Calistoga, it is perfectly situated for wine tasting experiences whether on bike or in car. Unbelievably, the park had a $6 hike/bike site, and super clean showers & restrooms. I made it my home for close to a week, thanks to the nice hosts and ranger, who kindly let me extend my stay. So wouldn’t you think that this place would be packed with bicycle tourists? Well…not so much it turns out. Only one fellow arrived during our entire stay.
Steel and I indulged in one wine tasting experience while in the Napa Valley. Steel loves chocolate, so how could I resist indulging him with the wine and chocolate pairing advertised at the beautiful Beringer Brother’s winery -historic stone complex just down the road? Our budget-blowing $20 sampling turned into a seemingly endless pour as the nice wine hosts explained not only wine and chocolate, but also, the history of Beringer. Adorning the wall was a cool picture about 5000 visitors outside the winery on the day prohibition was repealed (only 500 were expected). The buzz kill to the romantic history was learning that Miller Brewing Company now owns Beringer. How’s that for keeping it real?!
We returned to camp with healthy buzzes and came upon Mike, a 52 year old manager with UPS who loves to fish. Fortunately Mike had a buzz going too. He sported a full-size cooler on the front of his bike (first cyclist I’ve seen with that setup) and had loaded it with beer and ice in town before setting up camp. His interest in bicycle touring is his latest approach to adventure fishing. Mike has been married for 30 plus years and has four kids (one an adult, the others all teens), and lives about 30 miles South of the campground. This overnight ride was his inaugural bike tour. He was trying out camping gear that he does not normally use, before launching on his intended rides up the coast of California to enjoy fishing getaways (basically his preferred stomping ground is the area I had just come from). He was cyclist number three to prefer a hammock to a tent-although Mike’s setup included some sporty lights that he got as a swag gift recently. When asked about his lure to cycling, he explained how he’s been hiding out places since he was a kid, and has always bicycled. “I have lots of brothers and sisters, and said he would just escape outdoors at time.” He described being envious of homeless people, and said, somewhat ingest (but perhaps not), that his hope for retirement is to be homeless. He likes that biking does not cost anything and it’s powered all my ones own self, despite having the means for more traditional getaways.
Mike rode a new touring bicycle with Dynamo hubs pedal-powering his lights. It was cool to see those up close and personal. Given that one must have special wheels to use them, I still do not think that would be optimal for a long distance ride that includes getting off the beat and path in other countries, as I would not want the challenge of trying to find parts if something goes astray. However, on a commuter bicycle, they would be fantastic. Just pedal and they are on –all the time. I find myself not using my rear light during the day so as to not use up my AAA batteries, despite thinking it a good idea to have them on at all times. A few days later, it was fun to see and share a campfire meal with Mike and meet his nice wife when they returned for a weekend getaway together (Mike rode again and his wife met him at the park with car and camp gear).
The next day at around lunch time, I decided to check out the Culinary Institute set in a huge old former monastery perched intimidatingly up on the hillside. I learned that the famed Institute (with it’s original and larger campus in Hyde Park, NY) offers students associates degrees in the culinary arts. The restaurant on the property was staffed by the students, and another cafe was open to the public. Finding the cafe was a bonus. I enjoyed a large delicious soup and salad lunch for $7.50 from the comfort of big leather comfy chairs…and got a couple hours of some writing done too with a boost of Illy coffee (thanks you to my sweet friend Arleen for the big turn on to Illy).
I made my home each morning for a few days at a great coffee shop/restaurant, Sogni Di Dolci, in downtown St. Helena. One day, a couple of friendly older Italian fellows sat down at a table next to mine. We got chatting, and I told them of my hope to make it to Italy on this trip. “South! Ride South!” they both chimed. When I asked about a recommendation for a good local restaurant, the one fellow, Carmen, turned me on to his daughter, Marcia. He proudly explained how she was a food critic, and I could ask her through www.tablehopper.com. “She’s written books, and reviewed restaurants in this area,” he explained. Although I intended to depart the next day, I decided to hit her up for a lunch recommendation anyway –full well knowing it would be a long shot that I would hear from her at all, let alone before I left the area. Well I’ll be darned, she actually wrote me back, and suggested the restaurant Archetype in St. Helena. Then unexpectedly, a friend decided to come visit, and so we opted to try her recommended dining suggestion. Wow! Thank you Marcia!
Archetype was amazing! Not only was the both the indoor and outdoor seating lovely, the food was superb. We began with inspired cocktails…my first ever infused with Rhubarb syrup. My friend got their signature Mule drink which I think even trumped mine. The very knowledgable and friendly waitress recommended the tarragon flavored crab salad, and said they were know for their cauliflower. I could not tell you all that was on both, but they were easily the best of either that I’ve tasted. Lots of different flavors going on, but somehow each shown through and complimented one another. We shared the bone-less-babyback ribs, which were also delicious, and finished with the million dollar bar chocolate dessert extravaganza -also, nothing short of “wow”!
The Napa valley proved to be an excellent place to make some serious advances in my dissertation while breaking for lovely bicycle rides through vineyards and down less traveled backroad. I assure you, it was hard to leave…