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January 22, 2010

As I sat down to write this trip report update, I turned to my travel journal to refresh my memory.  According to my notes, I arrived in the Nappa Valley after being on the road for 22 days having ridden just over 4000 miles.  I started in Missouri, rode through Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and into California.  My California visit so far included Death Valley, Los Angeles, Big Sur.

Leaving Big Sur, I rode through San Francisco over the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge towards my destination, the Petaluma KOA campground. One thing about KOA campgrounds is that they are always CLEAN. KOA’s however, can be expensive. When nightly KOA rates head north of $45.00 a night, a hotel might be a better choice. But, the weather was fine and I wanted to continue sleeping outside under the stars.

I checked in, paid up, and rode to my assigned location. I quickly setup camp and went to get some dinner before it got too dark. I ended up having dinner in a lonely Denny’s. I was the only customer in the place, but the food was good and they kept the iced tea coming.

Back at the KOA I bought an $8.00 bundle of wood and built a fire. The evening was crisp and the skies were filled with stars. It was a pleasant night to be sitting next to a fire under California skies. When the fire started to die, I stowed my gear for the night and hit the sack.

I had a fantastic night’s sleep and woke up refreshed the next morning. Some days are better on the road than others, and this morning I wouldn’t have traded my tent, air mattress and sleeping bag for a king size suite at the Ritz Carlton.   I took a shower and got ready for the day. Today I would ride through Sonoma, Napa and the surrounding countryside. As you can see in the picture below, the Futura is a great towel rack.

Rolling into Napa.

The Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Greystone.

Chateau Montenela (below) is located at the base of Mount Saint Helena just north of Calistoga, CA.  Founded in 1882, the vineyard was revitalized in the 1970’s by the Barrett family who began producing wine in 1972.  The Chateau is best known for the “Judgement in Paris” wine tasting in 1976.  Where, during a blind tasting, french judges chose several California wines over French wines.  This victory was the basis for the movie Bottle Shock.  As with most Hollywood movies Bottle Shock takes several liberties with reality.  I think the most glaring is crediting Jim Barrett with creating the award-winning Chardonnay.  For motorcyclists, there is a back to the future element when a Ural motorcycle and sidecar arrives in what is allegedly 1976.  What the movie does do, and every effectively, is make Napa look absolutely beautiful and it’s a sweet easy to watch movie.

So with that firmly in mind I headed for Chateau Montelena. Wanting to do my part and take part in California wine culture, I strolled over to the tasting room and was confronted with a scene from my college days. There was a frenzy to get to the bar. About two dozen well-dressed middle-aged folks were clamoring to get to the counter. Why? For a wine tasting. Somehow I think I imagined a more orderly process than standing in line watching the people in front of you slugging down glass after glass of grape juice.  I bought some Chardonnay and strolled the grounds.

I passed the “Old Faithful” Geyser heading back to Napa. I kept riding. For those of you who think you have everything allow me to prove that you don’t. I bet you don’t have a pair of these. Man, you travel to enough places and you will see everything. Apparently this place is also famous for their fainting Goats.

On the way back from Chateau Montelena, I visited Calistoga. It’s on the outskirts of Napa. One of California history’s greatest characters gave Calistoga its name, or so the story goes. Millionaire Sam Brannan, who once owned most of the town, was asked what he planned to do with his northern Napa property. He intended to make it the Saratoga Springs of California, but with his diction slurred by alcohol Brannan replied, “I’m going to make it the Calistoga of Sarafornia!”.

After being surrounded by so much high quality wine I needed a beer, cold and cheap, a Pabst Blue Ribbon to be precise. Where to find my favorite swill? Why Susie’s of course. What’s not to love about that martini glass on the top of the neon sign?

Susie’s is my kind of place. The walls are decorated with horse racing and Motorsports pictures. I can only imagine the crazy things that go on in here around two in the morning.

By far the coolest thing is the cash register.

Coming back from Calistoga I spotted this connector road on the NUVI. Basically its Oakville road to Trinity road and it’s seriously twisty. It was late afternoon and the sunlight left shadows all over the road making some of the corners a bit difficult.

Not the best place for pictures. One handed action shot in the twistys.

I rode back to the KOA and settled down for the night. I caught up on laundry, sent some e-mails,and cleaned, adjusted, and lubricated the chain. I ate a McDonald’s for dinner, built a fire, smoked a cigar and went to bed. It was an excellent day in the Napa Valley.

The next morning I decided to head for Bodega Bay and ride along the coast before heading inland for the Russian River Valley. US1 here is absolutely fantastic. I think the pictures say it all.

Near Jenner, I turned inland on 116 East. Another beautiful and twisty road, running through indescribably beautiful places. I think you could easily spend a week driving expanding concentric circles from Napa and Sonoma, exploring the countryside.

Back at the campground, I packed up and got ready to ride south to Carmel and Monterey.


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