Wine Country, CA

Text: Derrel Whitemyer • Photography: Derrel Whitemyer

Warm gusts push me left and I fight back, leaning right. The mile-wide Carquinez Strait not only funnels the Sacramento River's watershed to San Francisco Bay, but, so it seems, all of the San Joaquin Valley's winds. I've just another quarter mile of the Carquinez Bridge to brave before I can begin riding some of the incredible back roads leading into Wine Country and its exquisite vintages of Burgundy, Riesling, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay, where the hardest part for most is waiting until you're home to drink them.

My wife had followed me in our car as far as Oakland where we visited with friends and my return would have me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to reunite for a night in San Francisco before returning home. In exchange for this time to roam, my wife, a first-rate negotiator, wrangled shopping rights in the city with a promise not to wear out the credit cards in my absence.

The northern leg of my route scrambles over the back roads of Napa County and it's the one often used by Fairfield Harley-Davidson for the charity run ridden each year for the benefit of dependents living nearby at Travis Air Force Base. Stereotypically scenic, it wanders past all sorts of wineries, from multi-million dollar conglomerates covering whole hillsides to little Mom & Pop vineyards scratched out on just a few acres. My return route, south through Sonoma County, is one Lorenzo Lamas traveled when riding from Vancouver, Canada, to Los Angeles. He'd recommended it recently when I casually interviewed him on a park bench at LoveRide, a charity event for muscular dystrophy research.

So here I am confronting the howling Carquinez Strait, but it's the most direct route and worth the wrestling. Even though my Road Warrior weighs almost 600 pounds, a few gusts had me feeling like I was saddled to a corrugated bronco. Signs posted at each end of the bridge warn trucks not to cross if it's too windy. Luckily, it was a relatively mild day.

Once on the northern side, the winds subsided the farther I rode into the hills and soon my cardboard bike began to feel stable enough to turn west off Hwy 80 and tackle the gentle curves of American Canyon Road. This less-direct route takes you through a far more interesting landscape and, as you might have guessed, I'm one to avoid freeway riding whenever I can.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2003 back issue.