Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Am Eating a Frozen Dinner* (An Occasional Other Matter)

And not the sort I make myself.  Hypo-glycemics do not have the luxury of going off feed, even though eating is the last thing I feel like doing.

I have been deeply, fundamentally hurt by three people in my inner circle in as many months, and my chain has officially come off the sprockets. (I haven't told you the Ducati chain story yet, so you don't get the reference, although you probably do get the point.)

This summer, as I chipped away at my self-professed off-road phobia on my XT, I found myself marveling at this little motorcycle. Li’l Burro!  So steady and surefooted! There’s nothing it can’t do!  Li’l Burro! The machine for the apocalypse!  Whenever I came across a challenge in the road, I’d steel myself, ask “What would Li’l Burro do?,” and ride on, ride up, ride over.  The possible, redefined!

Now, as I sit here, mortally wounded, staring down my “Organic Four Cheese Stone Baked Pizza”, I ask myself once again, “What Would Li’l Burro Do?"

Frozen Dinner

Ride on, ride up, ride over.

*Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It’s just not my way.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Napa and Sonoma on Four Wheels

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Twelve, Thursday June 14

It’s an Eating on Two Wheels dream of mine to ride to (and eat at) the French Laundry in Napa Valley.  And although I’m darn close to attaining it, today I’m going to Napa in a car and roaming around the French Laundry produce gardens instead.  I want to spend some time with my friend and perhaps taste a bit of wine (both of which require a car), plus it seems one needs to reserve a table at Thomas Keller’s three star restaurant months in advance. Shrug.  C'est la vie.

Not surprisingly, the vistas are rolling and vine covered.

Napa View

The French Laundry gardens are full of produce (and chickens!) of all sorts.  Artichokes plants, related to thistles, seem an improbable food source.  I'm glad someone thought otherwise.

French Laundry Gardens

Bouchon Bakery, another Thomas Keller venture, doesn’t require any advance planning.  Time for our first culinary tasting!  For the second day in a row, I find myself at an extraordinary bakery, and have a difficult decision to make.   Likely I can’t go wrong.
 Bouchon Bakery Display Case

The Ham and Cheese on Baguette (not shown) and a lemon tart both score well.
 Bouchon Bakery Lemon Tart

We’re thirsty, and Etude Winery calls us, if for no other reason than its musical name.  The enormous black and white photographs of the property displayed in the tasting room are simply spectacular - much more so than the palatable but not amazing wine, although I admit we didn't spring for the reserve tasting.   The real point of interest is the property's history.  It was once a brandy distillery connected to the Remy Martin name, and when it was purchased by the Etude folks, a number of fine barrels of aged liquid gold were included in the transaction.  So if the wine doesn't please, you can bring home a bottle of pinot noir or blended brandy instead.

Tasting at Etude Winery
Helmet hair sans helmet.  Hmmph.  I'm going to have to start going through the strenuous routine of actually combing my hair if I'm going to include photos of myself.

The surprise hit of the day: A fried oyster Po’ Boy at the funky retro Fremont Diner in Sonoma.  Fantabulous.

Oyster Po' Boy Fremont Diner Sonoma CA

Evidently one can eat well in wine country, even without a table at the French Laundry.  But happy taste buds aside, two days out of the saddle is plenty.  Tomorrow it’s time to get back on the bike.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Parked for a Day (A Pastry and A Walk - Tartine Bakery)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Eleven, Wednesday June 13

Today is a designated quiet day, hanging with my friend, and making the most of having both internet access and a big table on which to lay out maps.  The Ducati is going to remain parked for the first time since I left Tucson and when I’m not using said internet and coffee table to plot the next section of my journey, I’ll be using two legs instead of two wheels.  Which that seems just fine.  Because my two legs are going to get me to the famous Tartine Bakery, which, like Lucca, also happens to lie within dangerously close range to the apartment I’m staying in.

Lots of bakeries make pastries that look delicious.  Some of them make pastries that look delicious and even taste… pretty good.  And with a little trial and error,  one can usually find the occasional excellent croissant without too much trouble.  But Tartine is the exceptional exception.  They make beautiful pastries, every sort imaginable (and some that are not), and each one is a three star work of art to all the senses.  They’re not stale, not dried out, not bland, not anything except dead on perfect.

My god, how do we choose?

Tartine Bakery
I wish I had taken the time to get a really good photo of the display cases.  This photo shows perhaps a third of our options, and not very well . But I always feel I’m being rude, taking extra time with the camera, while my dining companion’s coffee gets cold.

My friend has some experience to draw upon, which is handy in these sorts of difficult situations.

Tartine Bakery (1)

The bread pudding is deadly rich and fully loaded with uncommonly ripe zingy berries and nectarines.  The “morning bun” - so seductively simple! - is elevated far beyond the mundane with its sprinkling of not just sugar,  not just cinnamon sugar, but cinnamon orange sugar.  Why haven’t I thought of that?  And the frangipane croissant is a perfect execution of a classic.  Flaky and buttery almondy-rich.  I don’t buy many cookbooks any more, but I’m considering one from Tartine when I get home.  Let me tell you, that is saying a lot.

After a breakfast like that, continuing on two legs is a good idea.  Plus, this guy would like a walk.

Birch the Dog

We pass by countless interesting things, and I’m in full on tourist mode, snapping photos here and there.

Flynn Elementary Spirit of Mankind Mural
"Spirit of Mankind" mural, Flynn Elementary School

Up to Bernal Hill we go, and I am enamored with the exercise, the view…

Bernal Hill Walk (1)

… and the fog!

Bernal Hill Walk
The fog here really does seem like a living thing.  Watching it approach was absolutely fascinating.  Not much of that in Tucson!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day Ride with Fellow EX-er: Marin

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Ten, Tuesday June 12

Even though it turns out to be a popular rendezvous point, a parking lot seems like a strange place to meet up with some guy I’ve known only from  EX.com.  So I email him the night before and suggest that perhaps starting our ride from a cafe might be nice.   He’s agreeable.

But between the cafe and the Ducati lies an obstacle of sorts.

Golden Gate Bridge

I can not believe I’m about to ride across the Golden Gate bridge!  I’ve been marveling at the thought of it since I left Arizona, jabbing my friends in the arm and informing them of this over and over until they wanted to whack me on the Shoei.  But today is the day!  Even though I’ll ride many more miles, and find myself much further from home than San Francisco, for me, the bridge has come to represent the relative bigness of my ride.  It’s so spectacularly, well… landmark!  I’ve come a long way!

Here’s “Apriliarider” arriving at the BridgeWay Cafe on his Italian rocketship.
 Aprilia arrives in Sausalito

Meeting at a cafe turned out to be a good idea.  These eats are the real deal!

Croissants at BridgeWay Cafe

After enjoying our croissants and coffee, (and after I’ve decided Apriliarider is not going to cut my body into pieces and throw them off the bridge), we head off to our parking lot, which happens to afford spectacular views of the bridge. We are not the only ones here, though, oh no.  The spot is mobbed with tourists (many of them on motorcycles) all angling this way and that to get a shot like this:
 Ducati Meets the Golden Gate Bridge

Apriliarider is a gracious tour guide, allowing me time to take countless photos of the Ducati and the bridge, and he has planned out a nice loop for our day.  We stop at the Marin Headlands for another view.

Marin Headlands

But the scenery for the rest of the afternoon flies by faster than any camera shutter.  The Panoramic Highway (“Mt. Tam Road”) is freshly paved, and we have it 100% to ourselves, which, in a populated area such as this, is a near miracle.  Never in my life have I seen switchbacks in this kind of shape: the pavement is flawless, and there’s not a speck, no not even a crumb, of gravel or sand or road surface hazard of any sort to worry about.  It’s one thing to arrange for a good sporting run on your own turf, it’s quite another to have one fall into your lap while touring.  The only fly in the ointment, and it really is just a small fly, is that I’m moving at “never seen this road before” speed.  Apriliarider is outriding me easily, but he’s a polite enough host to honor my reconnaissance pace and I’m hoping he finds it respectable, at least.  Still and all, my boots kiss pavement a time or two as we dodge about the redwoods, bikes swinging left and right beneath us.  We fly north next, squeezing between the Point Reyes National Seashore on our west and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on our east,  and then dart southeast with a zig and a zag,  before we – whoosh! - close the loop and part ways with a friendly wave and salute.  It was Splendour on the Asphalt, Glory of the Throttle!  And with that I offer my thanks to Apriliarider... and my apologies to William Wordsworth.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Pacific Coast Highway (Big Sur to San Francisco)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Nine, Monday June 11

After a night’s sleep under the redwoods, I’ve regained the good sense and ability to actually photograph a view or two from the wondrous Pacific Coast Highway that had me so transfixed yesterday.

Good morning!  The gentle cool undergrowth of the redwood forest wakes up my eyes...

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Trails
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

…before I head back into more improbable razzle dazzle.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (1)
Ho hum.  More spectacular blues of every sort.  No photo-shopping necessary.

Pfft.  You know what this place is missing?  A waterfall.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
On the left you can see the 84 foot drop of McWay Falls.  Because a turquoise blue cove simply isn't enough, I guess.

Oh, silly me.  Of course there’s a waterfall.

If you have the foresight (and luck) to reserve one of the two campsites at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park a good year in advance, you can enjoy the first overlook from your tent.  But you don’t have to be at an actual park for this kind of view.  Any old stopping place for hundreds of miles along the Pacific Coast Highway will serve equally well.  It really is absurd.

And so I continue, torn between a wonderfully twisty road and nearly paralyzing scenery, until cold, wind, and hunger get my full attention.  I’m hoping to scout out the Italian restaurant in Half Moon Bay my friends speak highly of, or perhaps the famous Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, but I’m just too cold and hungry to  make the effort. I pull over at the first sign of potential nourishment I see, which happens to be Cameron’s Inn and Pub, complete with British phone booths, Royal Mail post boxes, and red double decker busses.  Despite being a wacky funny place, with endless U.K. knick-knacks up and down every wall, and restroom ceilings lined with game boards, I’m not entirely convinced I’m about to get a world class meal.   But I’m ravenous enough to not care.  I suck down cup after cup of hot coffee in an effort to defrost, and although in a different situation I might not be fully impressed with the chowder, I am grateful for the complimentary bowl, since my meal is inexplicably delayed.  The fish and chips are good, I think, but chewing my food is not really a priority at this particular moment.

I’m feeling better after a bit, and gear up for the final short hop to San Francisco.  I wonder how difficult it will be to find parking, and with greater concern,  I wonder exactly how many times I’ll have to struggle with my too-far-to-comfortably-reach-with-my-little-hands clutch lever while stopped at the top of the city's famous (and dreadful) hills.  It's been several years since I've dropped a bike, but between not really being able to reach my clutch lever properly, and the added weight of my luggage, this seems like a good opportunity to reacquaint myself with the technique of picking up a downed motorcycle.  I take a deep breath and head north.

Motorcycle specific parking abounds. For free, even!  The Ducati makes its home amongst two wheeled neighbors of every sort on (I Am Not Making This Up) Hill Street.  Someone was nice enough to let us two-wheelers have the flat bit.

Motorcycle Parking San Francisco
My host and her dog meet the Ducati.  The dog doesn't seem appropriately impressed.

Turns out it’s just as well I didn’t eat Italian food back in Half Moon Bay.  Because upon arrival in San Francisco, my good friends providing me with a much needed “hospitality stop” greet me with all manner of tasty treats from Lucca. This Italian deli, along with many other fine establishments I’ll sample over the next few days, happens to be dangerously located just around the corner.  I have chosen well!
 Lucca Deli Snacks

Lucca Ravioli

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pacific Coast Highway (Ventura to Big Sur: Elephant Seals and Redwoods)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Eight, Sunday June 10

Joshua Tree – check!  Santa Monica Market – check!  Angeles Crest Highway – check!  Channel Islands  – check!  I make a big swoosh with my imaginary pen, smugly cross off my successes, and point the Ducati’s front wheel northwards.

I knew it would be beautiful.  The Pacific Coast Highway, that is.  I really did know.  In fact, I’d traveled it before, from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz, albeit in a car, and many years ago.  Even so, I am simply not prepared for this kind of scenery.  For over 200 miles, as I round every bend (and there are many, much to my delight), I’m slapping my palm on my helmeted forehead, while making unintelligible sounds of disbelief.  I’m torn between the view and the twists of the road, and the view wins. Yes, the view wins, and I wind my way slowly, slowly, taking it all in.  My inner speed demon is quiet - some might say good has (temporarily) triumphed over evil.  Somehow I can’t even manage to stop and get off the bike to photograph anything, because I’m far too star struck to choose one spot over another.*  Every shade of brilliant blue is represented by the ocean waves – here a deep royal, there an eye popping turquoise, and most often, all the variations in a single psychedelic eyeful.  Lest one tire of the spectacular monochromatic display, enormous jagged boulders, strewn about artfully as if by some larger than life supernatural hand, catch the eye and give the ocean waves a reason to splash and froth joyously.  Wild flowers spring up here and there, and if I can tear my eyes away from the west, grassy, gentle, peaceful mountains greet me on the east.

Early on in my journey, there is one moment, one sole moment,  perhaps only because I am not yet fully under this road’s spell, when I am shaken loose from my transfixed state.  I see the sign, and hit the brakes hard.

I can not leave without photographing this spot, not because Point Piedras Blancas is the most beautiful view on the PCH (it isn’t, although it’s lovely, no question)…

Point Piedras Blancas

….but because I see, lounging up and down the beach, like cats napping in the sun, these:

Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony (3)

Yeah, that’s right.  An entire colony of elephant seals.  This photo shows perhaps half of them, the other half being behind me.   Not everyone is fast asleep however.  Some of the males are vocalizing and sparring…

Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony (4)

…and others peep comically over the flowers…

Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony (1)

…but most of them are content to simply sunbathe.

Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony

Once the animal encounter is complete and I’m rolling again, my last remaining bit of free will is quickly consumed by great waves of intoxication.  For the rest of the ride, I am powerless to do anything other than gawk and gasp.

It’s probably a blessing that Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park isn’t actually on the Big Sur coastline.  I think I need some time to clear my head after such an intense blast of nature’s glamour.  Even so, just as soon as I touch down and set up camp, I’m racing up two miles of switchbacks to catch the only water view to be had – a too far away glimpse of blue at the top of the Buzzard’s Roost trail.

Mostly, though, I’m finding the steadying hand of solid and silent redwood trees.  They bring a welcome softness to the end of a day filled with almost blinding sparkle.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Trails 
Actually, it was a sunny bright day in the redwood forest, too.  But it didn't FEEL that way.  It felt cool, shady, and mysterious. So  I spent about a zillion hours adding fog to this photo.  I'd feel guilty not telling you as much, but this really does capture my feeling better, and that's the point, really.

*Photos next post!