Namesake golden hills blanket the wine region of California

Namesake golden hills blanket the wine region of California

While in San Francisco and Sonoma we listened to:
The Stable Song by Gregory Alan Isakov
Perfectly Aligned by Milo Greene
Here it Goes by Jimmy Eat World
Click the links provided for an enhanced reading experience!

“This tastes terrible!” Adam quipped in his Kiwi accent after taking a gulp from a tall, silver can.

“What did you end up buying at the grocery store anyways?” I asked, crossing the dirt road between our campsite and the one occupied by our new Aussie friends, Adam and Emily.

“I picked up these Budweiser Clamatos and some Limearitas.  I wanted to get what you Americans drink.”  I tried to explain to him how terrible a choice he’d made, and should have equated it to going to Australia and drinking Fosters, but instead I simply suggested we take a little road trip.  Twenty minutes later we were cruising in the Jeep down the winding road from Sugarloaf Ridge State Park on our way to Petaluma and, later on, Santa Rosa to find the Lagunitas and Russian River breweries, respectively.  It was about time I got my hands on some Pliny the Elder anyways and showing Adam good beer was easier (and more enjoyable) than telling him about it.

We’d met Adam and Emily on the evening of our first day in San Francisco, or Marin to be exact.  We’d pulled up in mid-afternoon to the only reputable trailer park we could find in the Bay Area set just off the shoulder of the 101. It was occupied by a mixture of permanent residents and passers-through like ourselves.  Only the haunches of the hills around Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge separated us from San Francisco proper and we planned to ferry into town that night, have dinner with our college friend, Annie, and then bike back through Sausalito and over the Golden Gate the next morning to spend a few days at her Russian Hill apartment, which she very generously offered to us even though she was headed to a music festival in Southern California.

The Golden Gate Bridge is all that separates us from San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge is all that separates us from San Francisco

As we locked up the Vibe and began mounting up for the short bike ride to the ferry terminal, a rented RV backed into the vacant spot beside ours, a blonde woman our age guiding her male companion into the slender plot.  We gave cursory hellos before pedaling off.  The blustery ferry ride took us past Alcatraz Island at sunset, framed by the Golden Gate to the west and shortly we docked at the pier, finding Annie waiting for us at the bottom of the ramp.  It was a great opportunity to catch up with her as we hadn’t had the chance to see her in almost a year.  She gave us the scoop on good things to do in San Fran and then took off to get a ride to the airport for her flight to LA.

Upon returning to our site later that evening, we found Adam and Emily out enjoying the cool evening beneath their RV awning.  I decided to offer them a 5-pack of Smirnoff Ice bottles (leftovers from “icing” Jon Mark in LA), which prompted an invite to hang out with them for the evening.  Emily and Adam are the type of the people who instantly make you feel comfortable.  They hold no pretentions, are unfazed by everything, are hilarious and have endless interesting stories.  Adam, they informed us, though originally from New Zealand, now runs a logistics company in Australia while Emily writes press releases and articles for the Australian Government.  They were on the first week of a 7-month trip across the US, Mexico and Europe, an epic that made our near-3 month journey seem like a quick weekend on the Cape.  They’d flown into Vancouver, taken the train to Seattle where they rented an RV, then cruised down through Oregon to San Francisco.  We shot the breeze with them until the early morning hours until an irate full-time resident in a bathrobe and with curlers in her hair reminded us that quiet hours were long in effect.  Thankfully, Emily and Adam didn’t have plans to leave the RV park until the same day as we did, so we promised to reconvene before we went our separate ways.  It was another welcome bit of friendship and we wanted to be sure to exchange information and follow each other on our respective voyages.

Biking through Sausalito the next morning was fantastic.  The path led us up and down verdant hills with views of the city interspersed and along the fingerlike coves of San Francisco Bay, where we saw the stubby fins and thrashing tails of Dogfish not a yard from the shore.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge around mid-day and, after meandering along the San Francisco Bay Trail, we found our way to Annie’s apartment and then headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing.  We ate decadent milkshakes at Ghirardelli Square, watched a street musician and gave him a few bucks, wandered up to the famous curves of Lombard Street, had a happy hour drink at a bar with a giant Sasquatch looming in the corner, and grabbed Thai food for dinner before calling it a night.

The Painted Ladies are famous from Full House

The Painted Ladies are famous from Full House

We began our Saturday at the Embarcadero Farmer’s Market, a must-see for farmer’s market enthusiasts, wandering aimlessly between stalls selling fresh herbs and greens, roots and every bounty California has to offer.  We tasted olive oils and samples of delectable charcuterie and hand-made donuts and finally dragged ourselves away upon realizing how much money we’d spent, tufts of scallion stalks and beet greens sprouting from our overstuffed backpacks.  Next up was brunch with two of my second-cousins, Lisa and Gloria.  We’d all grown up in the same town in Massachusetts, but they’d moved out to the Bay Area a fews years ago and this was the first time I’d seen them in a while.  It was really great catching up and realizing we’d be living on the same coast as them.  I think it was also the first time we’d all sat around and talked as adults, which was refreshing.  As afternoon fog rolled in, we saddled up again for the start of a 20-mile trip back to our camper in Marin.  We dawdled our way through Alamo Square and the Haight, along the northern edge of Golden Gate Park, and turned north through the Presidio back to the Golden Gate.  After pedaling directly into a headwind, we emerged in Sausalito and abundant rays of sunshine, the fog dissipating at the northern edge of the bridge.

Crossing back over the Golden Gate was a much foggier affair than the previous day

Crossing back over the Golden Gate was a much foggier affair than the previous day

Back at the RV park, Emily and Adam relayed a setback in their plans: Yosemite was still mostly closed due to snow.  They were thinking of heading straight on to Las Vegas before we proposed they accompany us up to Sonoma for a few days of vineyard and brewery tours.  Sugarloaf Ridge, our campground destination, would be a much more bucolic backdrop for camping than the paved RV resorts in which they’d been staying and wine country is simply iconic of California.  They accepted and we rolled out the next morning.  We found the campground almost empty and unpacked our campers under the shade of a few sprawling oaks beside a trickling stream.  A few small herds of deer grazed in the fields around us fascinating Adam, who hadn’t seen many wild deer as they aren’t ubiquitous in Australia, and exciting myself, still considering the possibility of photographing a cougar or bobcat predation (no such luck).

Deer graze near our campsite at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Deer graze near our campsite at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Sonoma is beautiful country.  California’s moniker, the Golden State, is fully appreciated here as gilded hills run in every direction, mottled green with trees and bushes.  The cool, cloudy coastal climate we’d found ourselves in since Los Angeles was replaced by the hot, dry interior climate and we enjoyed sunny skies and temperatures near 90 degrees.  It hadn’t been this warm since we left West Texas and the summery days with wall-to-wall blue skies were welcome.  We toured a few wineries including Ravenswood (on a recommendation from a few friends) and even a sparkling wine vineyard where we were treated to delicious bubbly and views straight out of Tuscany, replete with rolling vineyards separated by Poplar-lined dirt roads (the only downside being that we were encouraged to “frame our receipt to show we’d gone somewhere fancy” on our way out–clearly my six-month beard didn’t imbue an air of elegance).

A little bubbly in the shade hits the spot on a warm, sunny afternoon

A little bubbly in the shade hits the spot on a warm, sunny afternoon

For me, however, the breweries were what I’d been waiting for.  Lagunitas greeted us with the sounds of live music wafting over the fence from a beer garden drenched in afternoon sunlight and a laid-back, celebratory attitude that complemented their excellent draughts.  Of all the breweries in the area, Russian River was the prize on which I’d set my eyes, particularly for their highly sought-after IPA, Pliny the Elder.  Many of my Californian friends insisted we stop through Santa Rosa on our way north and the brewery was a mere 15 minutes from our campsite, so we relented.  After waiting for over an hour we finally got a table and sampled their taps, everything from double IPAs to sours.  While the Pliny wasn’t the best IPA I’d ever had, it sure was tasty, so we filled two growlers and headed back to the campsite.

Vineyards stretch in every direction in Sonoma

Vineyards stretch in every direction in Sonoma

Around the campfire on our last night with Emily and Adam, we basked in new friendship and the dull light of a near-full moon, talking about the differences between the US and Australia, regaling each other with tales of what it’s like where we come from, and sharing our thoughts about life on the road.  Our journey was coming to an end and in a week we’d be in Seattle, our new “home,” sleeping under a real roof and thinking about jobs and apartments.  Adam and Emily were on the first leg of a mammoth endeavor that would take them to over a dozen countries with many languages, through mountains, deserts, plains, to beaches, villages and giant cities.  The better part of the next year of their lives would be lived in constant adventure and exploration.

The deer in this area remain alert for predators like Cougars.

The deer in this area remain alert for predators like Cougars.

As we burned through bundle after bundle of firewood, Adam returning to his Clamatos, Kelly and I began to remember what it was like to live life with other people around all the time.  We’d been alone, just the two of us, for much of the past 3 months on the road and, while I’ll never complain about spending time with my wife and best friend, including others again in the narrative of our life was becoming more and more enticing.  Adam and Emily provided that spark and a bit of companionship for our tour through one of the most enjoyable regions of California.

The shriek of a bobcat shook us from our conversation and, after a brief and unsuccessful attempt to find him in the dark with just a couple headlamps, we called it a night and retired to our campers.  I awoke the next morning to the gobble of two enormous toms strutting through our campsite just after sunrise,  and we said our goodbyes and drove our separate ways, their sights set on the Sierra Nevada and Las Vegas, ours on the behemoth coastal Redwoods to the north.

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