Words by Frank Hyman.
This story was originally published in Bicycle Times #25, October 2013.
My summer of hiking, biking and inflatable kayaking began with an embarrassing stumble. I planned to celebrate my fortieth birthday by spending four weeks hopscotching the islands of southeast Alaska. My boxed up bike had arrived intact with me at the tiny Juneau airport. The rainbow-colored Specialized mountain bike was all put together except for the rear derailleur cable. No amount of tugging could get it back into place. I’m kneeling in the airport with my bike upside down on the carpet and scores of travelers, in their Carhartt jeans or long skirts and leather boots, are moving quickly past me while I sit stymied. I’m not a wrencher. But before my trip I had met a guy who was. I brought my bike and a couple of six-packs to his backyard shop for some tutoring. I figured bike shops might be few and far between in what the locals call Baja Alaska. My new friend Tom helped me take my bike apart and put it back together again. We added a rear rack, a handlebar rack and fenders against the likely wet weather. Thinking back, by the time we were putting cables back into place, I’d had too many beers. A month later, I figured out how to pack my bike without disconnecting that cable. Whaddaya know? There’s not much of a road network in Baja Alaska so you couldn’t bike more than five or ten miles even if you wanted to. I was counting on getting from island to island on a state ferry with a little village of tents duct-taped to the aft deck. I made great plans to use my bike as a pack mule to cover the few miles from airports and ferry docks to hostels and campgrounds. My bike would carry me swiftly and scenically to trailheads, put-ins, restaurants and museums. With my inflatable kayak in a duffle bag strapped over the back panniers and a two-part paddle sticking up like smokestacks, I was only a short distance from any put-in. I could explore coves, harbors and icebergs. The planning and packing were almost as fun as the traveling. Baja Alaska is wetter than Baja, Mexico—the locals have thirty words for “drizzle”—so I bought a full set of rain gear. And I made up a recipe for a lightweight camping meal that was filling and delicious: quick grits, a bouillon cube and Parmesan cheese. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a cathedral-sized tunnel through Mendenhall Glacier waiting for me to explore its blue, icy-smooth interior. But for now, I couldn’t even get myself out of the airport. “Want help with that?” says a fellow with a beard and business suit as he crouches down with the bike between us. “Got it all together but the cable,” I say. The stranger reaches for the bike with both hands and, like a harp player, strikes a happy note as the cable pops into place. I’m speechless, but my face shows equal parts gratitude and wonder. “Lots of late nights putting bikes together before Christmas,” he says with a smile and a wink as he walks away. Thank. You. Santa.
Words: Suzette Ayotte
Photos: Maurice Tierney
When we coasted into the first winery less than two miles from the start, I knew we were in for a long day. It wasn’t even 9:30 a.m. when we were presented with our first tasting at Fields Family Winery in Lodi, California. Ah, hell, I thought; it’s noon-thirty, somewhere.
“The thing is, I just wish they’d give you the equivalent of a full pour so that I could really taste the wine,” said Maurice (aka Mo) Tierney, publisher of Bicycle Times. “All these little sips just don’t seem like they add up. And I can’t discern the flavors. I mean, if someone tells me what flavors I should be tasting, then I can taste it.”
“Yes, wine tasting is a skill and you have to learn the vocabulary to go along with it,” I replied. “Then you have to be willing to talk about it for hours on end.”
“I’ve already got too much going on up here,” Mo said, making a circle around his head. “I don’t have any more room.”
Underneath, I knew Mo could jam more in there, but you either want to learn how to talk about wine or you don’t. The same holds true for bourbon or beer. Some people just want to drink and enjoy the fruits of that labor organically; I think both Mo and I are those people.
That was why, when Mo asked if I wanted to join him on the Giro d’Vino in early November, the answer was a definitive “yes.” I knew from other bike adventures with Mo that when you show up to ride with him, you always feel like you’re exactly where you are supposed to be at that moment and that nothing else matters.
Of course, the second reason why I quickly said yes was the wine. It had been a while since I’d done any wine tasting and it’s always a good time no matter where you are doing it. But … Lodi? Lodi is a town of about 65,000 people located 35 miles south of Sacramento.
But Lodi is where we found ourselves at 9:30 a.m. Neither one of us had looked at the map handed to us just as we left the Woodbridge Winery parking lot a mile and half back. We’d been more focused on the 100-percent probability of rain and whether or not we’d brought enough cold weather gear than the route.
We knew we’d be riding 48 miles—not too strenuous for either of us—and we knew we’d be drinking lots of wine. Those were the givens.
When we rolled into St. Jorge’s winery just five miles later, we were already wearing full grins. Sure, I am laced with Irish blood, but at 112 pounds and my breakfast of rice cakes and banana long ago digested, the red stuff was going straight to my head.
Thankfully, at that time, we learned to leverage the tricks of our trade.
“I’ve got an idea, pour a little more red into that glass so that I can take a photo,” Mo suggested to our host. “I’m the photographer; she’s the writer.”
“Okay,” our host acquiesced.
“Hey, good trick, Mo,” I said as we stepped away with a full glass of red. I inquired about the next stop and Mo discovered it was at Oak Farm—mile 9.5.
“Wait, what? That’s only three miles from here,” I said. We had started riding an hour ago and hadn’t even covered eight miles of pavement.
As we arrived at Oak Farm Vineyards’ tasting room thirty minutes, an extended photo session and one missed turn later, it was starting to sprinkle. “No problem,” Mo said as the rain quickened its pace, “we can hang out here for a bit.”
I took a look at the map as we settled into a 6-glass flight and began counting: one, two, three, four … 13, 14, 15. Fifteen?
“Mo, did you know we’re stopping at fifteen wineries today?” I asked, looking past Mo’s shoulder at the downpour.
“Well, in that case, we’d better get moving,” he said. “There’s a snack stop coming up.”
We pulled into Jessie’s Grove at mile 14.5 and almost three full hours into the 48-mile tour. We were only on our fourth winery and trailing the pack. Mo and I were probably two of the most experienced cyclists on the tour and we were literally dead fucking last. Things were looking ripe for a “did not finish” award.
But we were fast unearthing the Lodi charm. Indeed, it is a world away from Napa. It wasn’t that the wine was better or worse or that the tasting fees (we were told) are bargain-basement cheap compared to Napa. It was, instead, the cast of characters we were meeting along the way.
Jessie’s Grove was like walking onto the set of a John Waters film lacking only Divine and a few pink flamingos. At Ripkin we met Maxine, the 80-pound sow who still had some 18 years of growing to do. And at Michael David, we walked into a festive holiday party vibe where all were welcomed. We heard stories best reserved for behind closed doors and we tasted the salt of the earth. This wine tour was gritty—just like all of Mo’s improvised adventures.
By the time we reached stop number eight for what the map indicated was lunch, the day had darkened further with heavy rain. Things were going south; somehow I’d forgotten to clip out of my pedals as we were pulling in for yet another tasting and literally fell off the bike. But I wasn’t alone. Inside D’Art Wines I met a woman who seemed to be having the same issues. “I’m so embarrassed,” she whispered, “I just fell over, straight off my bike.”
We made it to one last stop for yet another tasting, a hot cup of soup and some live music. By that point, Mo was ready to join the band and I was ready to take a turn on the dance floor. Our only concern was darkness. We’d covered only 30 miles in eight hours: probably a personal slow-mo record for each of us.
A quick map consultation offered a direct route to the start/finish, shortening the final stretch from 18 to eight miles and allowing us to make it back just as the last of the event equipment was being packed in.
In all, we tasted grapes from nine of the 15 wineries on the tour in almost as many hours and were chilled only halfway to the bone. Our only regret was wondering what we’d missed.
The Giro d’Vino is production of the Delta Velo Racing Team and supports local community cycling programs.