On road trips, magnificent vastness, and incipient serendipity

Welcome to Twitsville!Unless we’ve walked the trail together or sipped a glass or two and had a chance to let our hair down, you’ve been getting only bits and pieces of me. It’s true: I have devolved into an unabashed microblogger. Like many around us, I’ve adopted a 140-character mentality, having steadily assumed the social attention span of a mosquito, copping the latest buzz. Couple that with the regular rigors of following my hiking muse, keeping my garden green and wearing 3 hats at work, and there’s simply been little left of me for developing creative, long-tail journalism.

Certainly my responsibilities have grown these past few seasons, ever since I closed up shop at California Wine Hikes and returned to my old job. Programs I had steered a half decade earlier had degraded in that time; I’d inherited a dismally broken website and a documentation program that had fallen into disarray. Having spent these past four years treading the grindstone to nearly single-handedly resurrect both, I felt I was overdue for an extended road trip. It had been 10 years since the last one. Ten years!

All work and no road trip makes Russ an indolent grouch.Skyping across the globe in January with my friend Niki had had us both dreaming of her flying from Zurich to California toward a summer road tour of Portland, Calgary, Kalispell and Estes Park; we were going to make one big circuit of things and take 4 weeks to do it. By April, however, commitments to the road had grown less solid; a potential new hire in my department had fallen through and things had changed with Niki’s employment scenario; I was faced with the prospect of picking her up at the airport in Missoula if she could swing it. But if I could manage to escape the office at all, it was beginning to look like a solo road trip.

When May rolled around, I hadn’t yet thought too hard about my road itinerary – I was cranking out the work while attempting to prospect another round of candidates. But when Adam Nutting reached out to me about joining him and 12 other outdoor social media enthusiasts for a sponsored backpacking and rafting expedition in Idaho’s Hells Canyon, I could barely prevent myself from jumping up and down at my desk like a hyperactive schoolboy on a sugar high. I instinctively responded “Yes!”idaho

I was going to Idaho!

Despite my travels thus far, I’ve not yet set foot in The Gem State. Though my company has always had a presence in the Boise area, my particular job role had never dictated that I be sent there on business. My infatuations with the southwest had confined the range of my more recent road junkets to such exotic locales as Ouray, Kanab, Springdale, Shiprock. But truth be told, I am smitten by the entire enormity of the Great American West, and the prospect of exploring northern Idaho excites me. It doesn’t hurt to know that I’ll be exploring it with folks with whom I’ve enjoyed inspiring and provocative dialog these past 3 or so years on social media.

Learn more about the #HellHikeAndRaft adventure!

Not so strange, perhaps, is that it is my social media backtrail that has established why I’ve been selected to participate on the Hell Hike and Raft Expedition. It’s an exquisite honor to be recognized for the efforts I’ve made at sharing my story and engaging in dialogs with you, and I find myself both humbled and grateful for the new level of experience that it brings.

And as to that experience, all of us participating in this expedition – we who call ourselves the #HellHikeAndRaft crew – have Parker and Becky of America’s Rafting Company to thank for their willingness to outfit us as we backpack northern Idaho’s Seven Devils Range and brave the rapids of the Snake River through the Hells Canyon gorge. A number of outstanding sponsors have stepped up to amply facilitate our effort, and we’re excited to test and evaluate their products on the trail, in camp, and on the water.

The #HellHikeAndRaft crew is proud to be sponsored by these fine establishments.

So buckle up, ladies and gents: over the next days and weeks, as the Internets allow, I plan to take you along on this serendipitous journey. After I clear my desk this week, we’ll embark on a 3-week road trip that’ll take us not only to the rugged beauty of northern Idaho, but to the magnificent soul-cleansing American vastness that is northern Nevada, southern Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon. It’s a pretty safe bet that plenty of hiking and wine will be involved.


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Phoenix rising: The New Winehiker Witiculture Blog.

No doubt many of you recall the frustrations of the 2008-2010 economic downturn. Housing bubble, financial crises, stock market woes, massive unemployment hitting home for so many of us. The course of my life and career were certainly on a parallel: I found myself scrambling for a paycheck – almost any paycheck that I could earn with a keyboard. Furthermore, I had developed problems with my left hip that precluded any hikes longer than 4 or 5 miles.

And I crashed head-on with the realization that I could no longer operate my tour business, California Wine Hikes.

It was a grim time, and I felt its deep, bitter bite for weeks, even months. Feeling the heavy weight of failure, dwelling more than I should on how I’d wasted five good years, and desperately searching my soul for any kind of meaning as to where my life had gone and why, I realized I needed to close operations on my business, shut down my website, and springboard full tilt boogie for Jesus into the job search.

Those were dark, dreadful days. It was not easy to appear enthusiastic during job interviews, but somehow I managed to dig deep and shine. It took a long while, and it was damned hard to stay focused and positive. Thankfully, after many months, the phone finally rang and I came away with a technical writing job that pays the bills – a job that I still hold today, nearly 2½ years later.

I quickly discovered that landing that job was not the only silver lining to my recent dark storm cloud. While I had already possessed the chops to fulfill the role of technical writer, it had become very apparent to me that my company’s website needed work. A massive lot of work! It helped immensely that I had spent the better part of the previous 5 years managing a business and website, honing my HTML, SEO and content-creation skills, building an understanding of social networking, and even building the vocabulary, the jargon, of the web developer. Right then and there, two weeks into the job, I volunteered to own the company website.

Those 5 years of skill-building hadn’t been wasted after all.

I threw myself lock, stock and barrel into the job. I worked hard to heal my hip. For two years, I rarely came up for air. Though on salary, I worked nights. I worked weekends. Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, to me, were abstractions I could not afford. And, though I felt all the while a strong compulsion to drastically improve my company’s website and technical documentation, I felt equally strongly about resurrecting my own sense of self-worth, of contribution, of accomplishment. As I ticked off each painstaking milestone, both job-wise and hiking-wise, it began to occur to me that light was actually beginning to appear at the end of my own personal tunnel.

And I began to reach out again.

Many of you who are reading this post have certainly noticed an upturn in my social media activity, which I returned to in the Spring of last year. Some of you are even reading my online paper, Winehikers’ Daily, which I felt was a way to not only inform and perhaps enlighten my audience about the topics they find interest in, but also a way for me to keep my finger on the pulse of current topics – and reconnect with my social network. Though I had been away from social media for what seems an extended hibernation, this journey back has, in retrospect, been very much a sound mental health decision.

Let's hit the trail.

Let’s hit the trail.

I don’t regret that journey.

Today, despite the ritual and the process of these past few years, I realize that this journey has turned out to be a very redeeming one. I have emerged from the other end of my long, dark tunnel. I’m largely satisfied with my job accomplishments. And I am hiking again!

And, if you’ll permit me to be so bold: I have returned to blogging.

Behold the new winehiker witiculture!

I am deeply grateful to you, my readers, for your abiding warmth, understanding, and patience. I hope you’ll join me on the next leg of this journey.

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Folks, what do you think? Was my return to blogging a good idea? Or, is blogging dead?
Did I wait too gol-darn long to resurrect my blog?
Are these all just silly questions?

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Share your story on Winehiker Witiculture

On occasion, a story comes to my ears that I feel I should share with the readers of Winehiker Witiculture. It’s pretty common to hear a good story being told when I’m out hiking with friends and guests; certainly some of the better stories occur during those times when the wine is flowing. Often, the storyteller is not a blogger, nor has a mechanism for publishing his or her story online or in print. Yet the story is often compelling enough to be shared with a wider audience. If I could just compel myself to remember all of the salient details….

Thus, the blog.

If you have a good story but no bully pulpit from which to share it, why not consider posting it here? I can tell you as the author of this blog that getting feedback on my posts, whether positive, critical, or otherwise, can be immensely gratifying, as well as affirm my desire to keep doing what I’m doing. And I’m willing to share that kind of excitement with you.

Good stories – and good content – are worth their weight in gold. Therefore, what I never want to do is present a hack job to my readers. That’s why I’ll never stoop to being a wholesale content aggregator or use some content-generating tool that cannot possibly filter out the off-topic (and the outright crapola) from the truly worthwhile.

Plus: I think what you have to say is worthwhile. Quite possibly you wouldn’t be here reading this post today if that was not true!

Thus, the story.

So, back to this great story you have. (Because everyone has at least one great story to tell, right?) Yes, whether it’s a tale from the hiking trail, why the fabulous wine you drank is one that others should try, or the trials and tribulations of going from crush to bottling, you have only to share your story with me, and I’ll in turn share it with your fellow community of people who read this wine and hiking blog. I’ll even create a new category on my blog that I’m willing to let you name yourself. (I’ll willingly entertain all input I receive on this naming idea in the Comments section for this post.)

So, if you have a story that you’d like me to publish in Winehiker Witiculture, I welcome your enthusiasm! You may submit your story by following the six requirements below:

  • Be on topic. Your story must be relevant to your fellow blog readers, and therefore must be about at least one of the following three topics: hiking, wine, or California. Your story can be about, though not necessarily be limited to, trends in the active travel industry, the wine industry, or any experience you may have had with me personally.
  • Your story must be no longer than 1000 words.
  • If you are a blogger, you are ineligible to submit a story unless the story you submit is off-topic for your own blog; please provide valid reasoning to support your submittal.
  • Please write your story in a plain-text application such as Notepad, then copy it and paste it into a new email (or just write it directly into an email, but use your email client’s Save Draft feature often). Submissions copied from Microsoft Word or other word processing software that include extra characters or truncated sentence fragments may be cause for rejection. If you’re using Word, you might want to turn off any Rich Text or HTML editing features first.
  • If your story includes hyperlinks to other publicly-available information on the Internet, please verify and include your links. If you wish to link to an online profile about yourself on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, feel free to include it.
  • Submit your story via email to rkbeebe [at] yahoo [dot] com. You must include “WW Story Submittal: ” in the Subject line followed by the official title of your story.
  • You consent to your story being edited for clarity prior to being posted to Winehiker Witiculture.
  • You consent to your story being available publicly under a Creative Commons License.
  • All submissions are considered to be in final form; post-publication editing just ain’t gonna happen.
  • Include your full name; I’ll include your byline upon posting and provide a link to your story when it’s posted so that you can forward it to your friends, family, boss, or whomever you wish.

Thus, a new story unfolds.

I’ll continue to post my usual wine reviews, group tasting notes, and “grape squeezins”. But blogs, unlike television, magazines, and newspapers, are not just a one-way street – they represent a great way for authors and readers to engage in interaction. I hope you agree and that you’ll want to see your story – and comments in response to it – published here.

Often, the beauty of a story told is that it prompts the telling of another. Together, let’s encourage and engage each other in the age-old storytelling tradition! I thank you barrelsful in advance, dear reader, for your contribution.


Beau’s reasons why once a year is enough for Beau-jolais Nouveau

As a follow-on to my previous post, Beau Jarvis over at Basic Juice offers a fairly detailed perspective about the other wines and Crus of the Beaujolais region – a “Wine 101: Beau Knows Beau-jo-lais”, if you will.

As a lead-in to a discussion of the better wines of Beaujolais, Beau writes:

This past summer I came face to face with Francois Mauss, the French wine critic who referred to Beaujolais as ‘not proper wine’, and ‘vin de merde‘. In fact, upon meeting Mssr. Mauss, his guide/translator excitedly told me that, “this is the guy that called Beaujolais shi**y wine.” Were this bloviating critic referring only to Nouveau, I would be hard pressed to argue with his summation (let’s face it, B.Nouveau is, in the pantheon of wine, fairly unremarkable). However, to drag the oft decent Beaujolais Villages and frequently fabulous Beaujolais Crus into the merde is, in my opinion, wrong.

For more of Beau’s fun and informative read, I invite you to click over to Beau Jo Crus.



It’s Wine Blog Election Day! Make your vote count.

Many event planners in the wine industry favor Eric V. Orange’s Local Wine Events website to announce and list their wine-related events.

And well they should. After all, with 83,274 wine tasting and food listings since July 2000 (and counting), Eric’s site has been the go-to place for people who wish to find good wine- and food-related events around the nation. With articles, events, a classified section, and hundreds of events listed by locale, it’s easy to find a wine country dinner, a tasting, a barrel sampling, and more near where you are.

You don't have to wait until a Tuesday in November. On LocalWineEvents, you can vote for your favorite wine blog every day!I’ve even posted winehiking events here, too, and I plan to post a whole lot more in the coming year.

Now, Mr. Orange (who calls himself “EVO”) has introduced a list of wine blogs on his site. What’s more, he’s allowed his readership to vote on their favorite blog (or blogger), which readers can do once every day if they’ve a mind to.

I hope you’ve a mind to! As I write this post, Winehiker Witiculture is listed as Number 19 on a list of 24 blogs. If you enjoy reading Winehiker Witiculture as much as I enjoy writing it, here’s a way in which you can show your appreciation and help me gain some welcome visibility.

You can vote anonymously. You’ll also send a message to readers of Local Wine Events that winehiking events are worth taking note of.

I sure appreciate your support, and I thank you a thousand barriques in advance!


Sensible Saturday Links

An Arachnoid Prediction for Friday the 13th

The harmless Hairy Mygalomorph

The harmless Hairy Mygalomorph.

Sunday morning, I’ll be meeting a few of my fellow hikers for coffee prior to embarking on the long and winding East Dunne grade out of Morgan Hill. From our coffee rendezvous, it will take one full hour to motor down Highway 101, up 10 twisty miles of East Dunne blacktop, and over the high ridge to the Henry Coe State Park Visitor Center.

It’s a fine drive, if you like narrow, tortuous mountain roads. When we finally get to where we’re going, we’ll have quite an expanse of state park acreage to revel in. This park is, after all, a hiker’s dream: it’s home to more than 250 miles of trails and ranch roads, deep wooded canyons, large lakes, and rolling meadowlands in its over 87,000 acres. Not to mention the little apples of the big berry Manzanita trees. (Yes, they actually are trees here in this park.) Nor the bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, mountain lions, turkey vultures, and javelinas.

Yep, we two-legged varmints will be in good company. We’re going to hike for nearly six hours Sunday, but we’ll only see a fraction of the park. If we were to spend a week, we’d still only see a fraction of it. It’s that big. And it’s anything but flat.

No matter – we’ll still soak in quite a bit of the park’s ample freedom. Our hike will take us to the site of an old mineral springs resort and to the park’s most popular swimming hole a mile farther along. Not sure we’ll swim, being that it’s now October and the nights (and probably the creek) are chilly, but the brave among us might dip a toe in for a brief exciting moment. Along the way downcanyon to the Hole, however, we’ll enjoy 13 creek crossings and survey what’s left of Madrone Soda Springs Resort, a creekside health spa that thrived during the horse and buggy era.

There’s not much left of the resort these days. The buildings and the dance pavilion were dismantled during World War II; the wood was trucked to the Central Valley where it was used to build houses during a time when wood was hard to come by. All we’ll see are a few concrete steps, fragments of the foundation, a stone cooler built into a hillside (no wine stashed in there, though – I’ve looked), and some of the larger remnants that have washed downstream.

After we arrive at the confluence of Coyote Creek, we’ll wander over to the natural pool at China Hole, which is deep enough to dive into during the early summer months – not that I would do that with my boots on. The Hole has a small, sandy beach and lots of big flat boulders for picnicking, sunning, and snoozing. In early Fall, this creekside oasis should be a great place to enjoy lunch. That is, if the ticks aren’t swarming like they did this past January.

After lunch, we’ll get serious. Needless to say, any time you venture downcanyon to a streambed, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up; the hike back up over Middle Ridge is an honorable one. It won’t hurt, however, to pause every few breaths just to enjoy the views, to the south and east, of untold distant blue ridges.

I’ll make what should be an easy prediction: now that it’s mid-October, we’ll see at least one marauding tarantula. (After all, Coe Park just held its annual TarantulaFest last weekend.) If we do see one, I hope to share a photo or two with you of the furry little bugger crawling up some lucky gal’s arm.

[Editor’s note: my prediction bore true! See my follow-up trip report.]


Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Syrah

At our Syrah tasting event last Thursday evening, six of us compared six bottles of Syrah – four from California and two from France. It was a pretty good lineup, but the top three finishers were all from California’s Central Coast appellation. It was clear that all six of us who formed the night’s tasting panel have true California palates.

The colors in our glasses were a deep violet – two with a slight degree of gold banding about the edges – but the aromas and flavors were richly contrasting between spiciness, fruitiness, and smokiness. A moderate degree of chewiness was present in most; aroma, taste, texture, and finish all combined to generate an exceptionally high score in the night’s eventual winner.

None of these wines were older than the 2003 vintage, yet all are drinkable now.

Paired with our Syrah were whole-wheat seeded breads, a sharp Wisconsin Cheddar cheese, a softer Edam cheese, and an excellent sun-dried tomato/cream cheese fondue prepared in my kitchen by Chef Tanya. All were terrific accompaniments to our Syrah wines.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. If no link is present, purchase information is not available online.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my thoughts about each individual wine.

Group Ranking


2004 “R” Runquist, Paso Robles, California




2003 Thomas Fogarty, Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California




2004 Andrew Murray Tout Le Jours, Central Coast




2003 Mas Grand Plagniol, Costieres de Nimes, France




2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s, Livermore, Califronia




2004 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitages, France



Winehiker’s Ranking


2004 “R” Runquist, Paso Robles, California


2004 Andrew Murray Tout Le Jours, Central Coast


2003 Mas Grand Plagniol, Costieres de Nimes, France


2003 Thomas Fogarty, Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California


2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s, Livermore, Califronia


2004 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitages, France

In this tasting, the group scores, as well as my individual scores, were quite widespread; in both we had a clear favorite in the Runquist and a clear nonfavorite in the Darnaud, which exhibited an incredibly earthy taste. I loved the fruity aroma, the rich vanilla smokiness, and the velvet textures of the Runquist; the only criterion I did not score it highest on was finish, which lingered perhaps only 15-20 seconds. My selection for the evening was the Fogarty, purchased directly at the winery above Palo Alto; I had liked it enough to buy it this summer during a post-hike visit, but it was much more of a hit with the group than it was with me. Indeed, I liked the Plagniol more.

Winehiker’s Bottom Line
If you would buy a California-grown Syrah priced in the mid-twenties, you cannot go wrong should you choose to lay in a stock of the Runquist and the Fogarty.

*It would appear that Fogarty’s 2004 Fat Buck Ridge Syrah has gone up in price in the few short weeks since I purchased it; it’s now $50 per bottle.

Link payback

A step apart from some of the activities I often blog about are the activities of a very active woman from the Yellowstone area. Skye profiles herself as being into competitive shooting, fly fishing, cooking, and running, and she maintains that her goals are a 22-inch trout, a 20-lb. steelhead, and professional competence. Add to that her obvious love of the outdoors, wine, and good food, and she’s surely welcome in my part of the blogosphere.

I suspect Skye found me via Tom Chandler’s prolific and entertaining Trout Underground blog. She’s been linking to my blog, so I’ll close the karmic loop and give her blog, A Step Apart, an honest plug. Take a moment to give her a look-see.


Outdoor Blogger Ho-Down a Fine Success!

From all points to a high point: “A pride of bloggers.” Photo courtesy of L&T Nancy.

From all points to a high point: “A pride of bloggers.” Photo courtesy of L&T Nancy.

After three glorious Indian Summer days in the vicinity of Mt. Shasta in upper California, I’m hard-pressed to catch up on things here at work this morning. Frankly, I don’t think I can capture the spirit of our weekend “convention” any better than fellow hiker, outdoor blogger, and compatriot Tom Mangan, so I’ll let him tell the story in his can’t-miss photo essay.

If this past weekend was any indication, the Internet is proving that hiking (and yes, flyfishing) in these United States is alive and well. It sure is a passion with each of us.