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.


Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Klout


Setting group expectations when you haven’t yet hiked the trail

Sunday morning I read a post on WildernessDave’s blog that delved into how diffident you can feel when you’ve decided to host a group hike but haven’t yet explored the trail you’re going to be hiking.

As Dave recounts:

We got an early start on a cold morning just as the sun was coming up.  I may not have made it entirely clear from the beginning, but I had never hiked this trail before.  I was going off of a pretty decent map and a trail description found online.  I didn’t know if there would be trail markers or not, or how easy the trail would be to follow once we got out of Spur Cross Recreation Area.  There is an expectation, when hiking with the person who has suggested the trail, that they are leading the hike.  This dawned on me shortly after we got started and I felt the pressure of needing to know where we were, where we were going and how far we still needed to go.  Every time someone asked, “is this the trail?” or “do we cross the creek here?” I felt like I should not only know the answer but be confident about it.

I appreciate Dave’s frankness in spite of what we may suppose are his ideal notions of himself; he encapsulates his experience well. I’ve certainly experienced the emotional struggle he was feeling; after all, every new trail is one you haven’t walked before. But when you’ve got other people joining you who may be new to hiking or haven’t yet hiked with you, or even seasoned hikers who may respect your abilities by reputation or proxy but don’t know the trail either, delivering on expectations can be of prime importance well before everybody arrives at the trailhead.

So how do you deliver?

Advance research is crucial for ensuring a fun, worry-free group hiking experience.

Advance research is crucial for ensuring a fun, worry-free group hiking experience.

Certainly a responsible hike organizer doesn’t show up at a trailhead as host of a group hike without doing as much advance research and planning as possible, as I figure Dave tried his best to do. Trail research can mean a good scouring of the available guidebooks, online trail descriptions, route-finding apps, weather predictions, seasonal trail conditions and hardcopy maps that you can lay your hands on – even enlisting the help of one or more of your fellow hikers – then taking the next step by setting proper expectations for the group. By all accounts, Dave is an experienced outdoorsman and, as he and I have learned from honest experience, one must also have confidence in one’s abilities as a seasoned hike leader, as well as confidence in the tools one uses to navigate the trail safely and as planned.

Which, for me, naturally begs two questions: what tools do you trust while researching a new trail and, aside from much of the typical gear you might pack with you, what tools do you trust once your group convenes at the trailhead?

I alluded to these questions in my comment on Wilderness Dave‘s post:

Once, in Paria Canyon, having seen 3 different GPS waypoints for the same trail destination prior to a hike into the Coyote Buttes, I’ll be danged if I’ll ever solely trust a GPS. Thank goodness I had my wits, a friend, trail descriptions and a map – and we reached our gruesomely twisted sandstone destination, The Wave (where we took another GPS reading that yielded yet a 4th coordinate).

While it’s preferable to have scouted a trail prior to leading a group hike over it, one doesn’t always get the opportunity, especially when the trailhead is a little further afield. But whether you know the trail or whether the hike will be a new experience, it always pays to set the group’s expectations early – once in the event write-up, then again at the trailhead before embarking down the trail. It’s at the trailhead that I tend to use words such as “discovery” and “adventure”, which I find resonate with folks. I also ask my fellow hikers to confirm my map readings so that there’s more of a consensus than an undue trust in my map-reading abilities. And that means more than any GPS interpretation can provide.

Entering The Wave, September 2003.

Entering The Wave, September 2003

It’s best to know what you’re getting everybody into…

Experience aside, you don’t want to lead other trusting souls on a group hike if you don’t know what to expect once you’re committed to leading it. But if you first take pains to characterize your hike so that you are reasonably satisfied with your expectations of what lies ahead, then when you publicly convey it as a bonafide hiking event, you’ll likely also attract the right people to your hike, simply because they will have reasonable expectations about the outing too.

Setting these kinds of advance expectations in your event write-up also raises the probability that you’ll keep out the riff-raff, which is to say, you’ll discourage those would-be attendees who, by seeing how you’ve characterized the hike, will likely realize they are not adequately conditioned or prepared; most will simply not show up for it. (Seasoned hike leaders will tell you: that’s a good thing.) Over time, you’ll become aware, and even thankful, that setting adequate expectations for your group will mean that your experience will be the fun outing that you planned rather than, as Dave may have experienced (and as I have too), an endurance exercise in people management.

So what kinds of expectations should you take pains to convey to your would-be group? The following list is a reasonably comprehensive one, and I consider its elements to be tantamount to crucial. So should you:

  • Always list the total distance. If there’s no adequate trail description handy, grab a good map and tally up the mileage between trail junctions/waypoints. Then, double-check your math – even triple-check it.
  • Always characterize the outing as a function of terrain and distance, and include seasonal factors such as weather, potential thunderstorms/flooding, and boil it down to a basic difficulty level, i.e.:
    • Easy
    • Moderate
    • Strenuous
    • Very strenuous

    As an example of this, a 10-mile hiking route in late Winter can be a very different experience than hiking the same route in the heat of Summer. What may seem like a moderate hike early on can seem brutal, unforgiving, and therefore very strenuous later in the year.

  • Always offer as much detail as necessary to get your hikers to the trailhead. This consideration is likely the most important one once people have committed to a hike’s distance and characterization, therefore requiring due diligence on your part so that all attendees arrive where you want them to – even when you want them to; i.e., how long they can expect to drive getting there.
  • Always state when you will meet and when you will hike. Because some people will have a tendency to show up at the last minute, I usually set a 15-minute window to allow for traffic conditions and to give early arrivers adequate time to get parked and perform their pre-hike ablutions.
  • If at all possible, always list an office phone number for the jurisdiction that manages the land you’ll be hiking in.
  • Always provide your own phone number or some other means of quickly contacting you during the hours and minutes preceding your hiking event. It’s reasonable to share this information privately with confirmed attendees rather than post it publicly in your event.
  • Optional, yet can make the difference in attendance numbers for many group hikes: a description of the expected experience, e.g., bird life, forests, grasslands, scenic views, tug-at-the-heartstrings chamber-of-commerce stuff if you prefer, plans for after the hike.

Do all of these things, and they will be the things that set a great hike leader apart from an armchair hike leader.

…so don’t be solely reliant on technology.

I’m sure it’s readily obvious from my comment to WildernessDave that I don’t place much faith in GPS technology; I surely don’t abide using a GPS system as the sole mechanism for safe and sane trail passage. I don’t believe other folks should do so, either; GPS technology is not nearly as reliable as some people tend to believe it is.

But whichever technojimcrackery you may hold in your hand, just because it’s got a microchip and software to control it doesn’t mean that it’s flawless! Don’t let technology (and its flaws) control you – or, by extension, your hiking buddies.

That’s not to say that GPS tools don’t serve a useful purpose. After all, they’re used to support land, sea, and airborne navigation, geophysical exploration, mapping and geodetic land surveys, vehicle location systems, and a wide variety of additional applications. The key take-away here is: a mobile GPS system is designed to be a support tool, not the only tool you should rely on.

————————— ♦ —————————

There are other life- and safety-critical reasons for not placing too much trust in your GPS system, as determined by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University. To learn more, read an article titled Researchers Detect Big Flaws in GPS on the Tom’s Hardware website (a self-billed Authority on Tech).

————————— ♦ —————————

Researching my brain for a few final thoughts about…you guessed it: research.

If I may make one additional observation about setting expectations for your group hike, it is this: do your homework. And also know that placing undue faith solely in technology in lieu of adequate research one too many times will likely result in your being shunned as any kind of responsible leader by your local hiking community.

It’s a hard truth to saddle your horse with, but I’ve seen my share of this kind of bravado, and I cannot condone it. Indeed I’ve at times felt it necessary as a hike participant on another host’s event to step up and, using not much more than my wits and experience at reading unknown trail, help lead others back to where we started when confidence in the hike leader has been lost. Deciding to override the presumed authority of the hike organizer does not come easy, but when it’s a necessary decision, it’s always been the right decision in retrospect. Nevertheless, the profound outcome is that the experiences of all concerned could have been much more satisfying if the group host had been responsible in the first place. Fortunately this type of episode was not nearly the case with WildernessDave at Spur Cross; after all, his confidence in his abilities is hard-won from years of experience and experiment, virtue and volition, the tried and the true.

And: pre-hike research.

For the greater good, then, it’s better to deliver on your group’s expectations by always conducting thorough research – which, for the sagacity (and therefore, confidence) of the budding hike leader, should always mean advance trail reconnaissance – prior to even thinking about posting your group hike at that new trailhead.

————————— ♦ —————————

Have you ever organized a group hike but hadn’t first walked the trail?
Have you ever participated in a hike in which trust in the hike leader was compromised?
Please feel free to embellish upon my thoughts by adding yours.

But please, don’t judge. No group hike leader is ever a good group hike leader
until he or she makes the commitment to being one – a commitment that must renew
with each group outing.

————————— ♦ —————————


From sexyhotbeauty: Ten Easy Steps To Getting Started In Hiking

Today’s guest post, albeit a “stylized” one, which you’ll readily notice if you click through. My conclusion? When all else has you in conniptions, hire an experienced guide. Like me, for instance.

Ever dreamed of hiking but do not exactly know where to start? Don’t worry. You are not alone. You are one of the many who have chosen to embark in the process of staying fit by means of hiking. But good hikers haven’t reached that level literally and figuratively overnight. They were also briefed on some basic things every hiker must know.

read more | digg story

It’s our fault

Choosing bonehead technology over trees. Where are we headed from here?

Choosing technology over trees.
Where are we headed from here?

I’ve been reading some of the posts on Cutter’s blog. In one of them, Whose fault?, Cutter, with reference to a Nature Conservancy study, examines why there’s been a nine-year decline in visitation to our National Parks. He raises such questions as “Are we distracted too much by toys and technology?” and “Is it a case of today’s generations going soft and lazy?”

Says Cutter:

“We’ve become afraid of the outdoors. And worse, we have no patience for it. In the process, we’re driving out our natural need to remain connected to the outdoors.”

I have heard — yes, even felt — that siren call of the outdoors for so many years that it’s almost hard for me to grasp that most other people don’t hear it. So Is Cutter’s pronouncement true? Sadly, I feel that it is. Just look at today’s trends — we as a global society tend to admire style over substance, as if being fashion-conscious rates higher than exploring our natural surroundings.

As parents, it’s our fault — we’ve failed to honor the relationship with Nature that we once enjoyed as kids. We’ve failed in our commitment to pay it forward.

Nature giveth. Nature also taketh away. Which is why we need to remain connected to Nature.

But time accelerates. It’s not a case of “need to” — we MUST. We must place less emphasis on our supposed need for toys, set them aside often, and realign ourselves with what’s really real out there. We must honor the real and the tangible (the real rock.) We must continually strengthen our natural connection with our one-and-only Mother Earth, and do it as a matter of course — as part of our educational system, and as part of educating each other, young and old.

It’s either that or hurtle pell-mell toward oblivion because we can’t persuade enough of the next generation that this planet — whether in the macrocosm of global warming or the microcosm of local disappearing species — is worth saving. If we as a society choose to lose our connection to Nature, the consequences are deeply foreboding.

Tell your friends to “go take a hike.” Better yet, take them by the hand, and lead them. I can help


Diva redux

No doubt you’ve been waiting with breathless anticipation to read about this man’s first Man-Pedi experience. After over a week of my own anticipation — or should we say trepidation? — it almost didn’t happen! But that particular element had nothing to do with the bubbly.

Breakfast mid-morning was, indeed, immensely satisfying, and a fine way to start a weekend of excessive pampering. Need I list the chicken-apple sausage, the scrambled eggs, the Belgian-style waffles with real maple syrple, the fruit compote (oh, those fat blueberries!), and the strawberry/pineapple smoothies?

Yes, I suppose I should list them.

And yes, too, so satisfying was my first experience pouring a bottle of “J” – my initial sips alacritously fulfilling my expectations. Many of my readers will, I’m sure, agree that there’s nothing like a great fizzy “Wow!” to complement one’s breakfast.

Previously, my friend and fellow hiker, Tami, had made arrangements with a salon in Los Gatos for us each to have a pedicure (again, my first!) this late Saturday morning. By some unfortunate misunderstanding, however, the proprietress had not realized that it would be a problem for her. Could it be that she saw dollar signs but didn’t hear the questions Tami had asked her on the phone? Questions such as, “Do you give pedicures to men?” “Do you take men?”

“Guys, maybe?”

Oh, Tami’s questions were answered, alright. What Tami heard in response was, “We make you very happy!”

And then we actually arrived for our scheduled pedicures. We were met with a too-big smile and a moment of confusion, as the proprietress sized me up and down and realized my maleness. “Oh, we no take man. No room!” After further confusion, shared glances of disappointment, and an “are you sure?” or two, suffice it to say that we exited the salon and walked straight over to the wine shop.

I’m still pondering that “no room” comment, though.

In the meantime, however, with some deft cell-phone networking by Tami, we both managed to score early afternoon pedicure appointments in the next town over.

And so, after procuring a fine bottle of Pinot Noir (Tami’s first!) we went.

For the extra amount that we paid — about forty bucks instead of twenty-two — we soon found that we were getting our money’s worth; our pedicurist, Diana, being knowledgeable, personable, and quite adept at pampering a man’s toes just as well as a woman’s. Her experience, like an overlooked undergarment, definitely peeked through. In other words, we found that we liked her straight off. Especially in light of the fact that nobody had to strap me down to The Throne like an astronaut about to launch. I can’t say that I have the most ticklish feet in the world, but I swear that if you even so much as look at my feet, I might start laughing (nervously). Or you’ll start laughing (tauntingly).

Perhaps it was the (Diana swears it wasn’t from a box) wine that calmed me. Rather “blecchh” on most counts, but it did its job. And I was putty in Diana’s capable hands.

Anyway, after a calm hour of sidecutters, sandpaper, sawblades, assorted goopy clear stuff, and a calf massage, I walked out of that salon feeling like a new man. Tami, too — with proper gender accreditation, of course.

From the knees down, anyway. Sure as grapes bein’ wine in pill form. And we still have ten toes apiece!

And, having picked out the color for Tami’s bright-yet-right pink new tootsies, I felt it almost heretical for us to cover up our radiant shiny feet with big clunky boots for yesterday’s ultimate Mt. Tamalpais 13-miler. Talk about pampering! Mm-hmm.

Ah, but that’s a walk down another foot path.


Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Gewurztraminer

I recently began hosting biweekly blind tastings at my home as a series of small-group learning experiences. Five of us got together last Thursday evening to taste Gewurztraminer wines.

Gewurztraminers, with their floral, spicy aromatics and slightly sweet lychee-nut taste, are an excellent match for fresh fruit and cheeses and a good complement to many simple fish and chicken dishes, especially recipes that include pepper spices, oriental five-spice, or even curry. These are especially excellent wines to serve chilled in warm weather, and I complemented them with slices of sourdough bread and Chevre, Gruyere, and Boursin cheeses; one bottle’s label suggests trying Munster or blue-veined cheeses.

Of the five wines we compared, three were produced in Alsace, France; one originates from Alexander Valley in California; and one is from New Zealand. As you’ll see from the results below – and being no great surprise to me – the Alsatian wines tallied well with the group.

The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content). If no link exists for a particular label, that label is quite possibly no longer available.

In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my 20-point Wine Scoring Sheet.

Group Ranking
+3: 2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
+1: 2003 Pierre Sparr, Alsace, France; 13.5%
-1: 2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
-1: 2004 Huia, Marlborough Vineyard, New Zealand; 14.5%
-2: 2005 New Gewurz North Coast, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Healdsburg; 12.8%

Winehiker’s Ranking
2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2003 Pierre Sparr, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2004 Huia, Marlborough Vineyard, New Zealand; 14.5%
2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2005 New Gewurz North Coast, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Healdsburg; 12.8%

The Alsace appellation was a definite influence on my purchase of the Schlumberger; the interesting aspect being that at this particular tasting, we scored two identical bottles. Why did one win group favor and the other take third place? Probably because I had poured mine right out of the refrigerator; the other, though having been chilled all day, had ample chance to warm up inside an attendee’s car on an evening that was a tad above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The group, on such an evening, easily favored the cooler of the two.

My picks were fairly consistent with the group’s; I definitely like my Gewurz’s chilled. Conclusion: you sure can’t miss with those Alsatian Gewurztraminers!


Wear Wickable Fabrics to Avoid Blisters!

One recent Sunday at one of my volunteer hikes, twelve of us were assembling prior to entering the trail, and I overheard two of them recounting a 10.5-mile hike they had done the previous day at Point Reyes National Seashore. I knew I had some serious hikers with me, since we were about to embark on an 11.5-miler at Portola Redwoods State Park. And yet one of them, in pulling her boots on, winced a little, and asked point-blank if anyone had any moleskin.

I said I did and proceeded to set down my pack (I carry a large-capacity Camelbak) and pull out my bright-red Backpacker’s First Aid Kit, its 12″ x 3″ x 4″ dimensions causing an audible buzz among the group.

“Geez, that thing’s huge!” exclaimed one hiker. “How do you fit your lunch in your pack?” inquired another. A third calmly remarked: “I know who I’m getting hurt with from now on.”

I smiled and, having deftly rolled out the contents of the kit to grab the moleskin and a pair of scissors, I cut out a piece of moleskin and handed it to the hapless hiker. She was ready for me by this time, having removed her socks to display a dime-sized blister on her heel. I conferred with her briefly about applying the patch of moleskin, and we were soon ready for the trail.

As I shouldered my pack, I asked her to consider wearing two pairs of socks when hiking – one of them an inner pair made of wicking fabric – and mentioned how the incidence of blisters can be vastly reduced by doing so. I was speaking from experience, having worn wicking socks inside my boots for nearly 20 years. I’ve carried moleskin in my pack even longer, but I’ve found in recent years that I distribute it much more often to others than I’ve used it myself; I’ve only had 3 hot spots (pre-blisters) in all that time.

Made of polypropylene or nylon, wicking socks function as an inner lining to reduce foot friction under a pair of outer hiking socks, which are typically made of wool or a wool/nylon blend. Wicking socks are less abrasive than wool, too, but their main purpose is to move moisture away from your feet. Cotton socks can’t do the same job. In fact, if you hike distances longer than 4 or 5 miles at a time, never wear cotton socks, since cotton absorbs moisture and can practically guarantee that blisters will form.

When it comes to blister prevention, I consider the most important rule to be a pretty easy one, and that is: STOP! The second you feel the slightest hint of a hot spot on your heel or other part of your foot, don’t keep walking, and don’t wait until it becomes a painfully large blister to do something about it – even if your friends don’t want to stop and are egging you on.

If something is chafing in your shoe, stop and remove your shoe, and find the pebble, seed, dirt clod, or wrinkle in your sock. And, if you know you’ve got a vulnerable trouble spot (or a blister already formed, like my fellow hiker), put a piece of moleskin on it before you begin hiking. You don’t have to carry a serious humongosity like my Backpacker’s First Aid Kit, but you should consider always packing a Swiss Army knife that includes a pair of scissors and a patch or two of Dr. Scholl’s. If you’re a serious hiker (or want to be), you might also bring two pairs of socks – an inner pair and an outer pair – along with you to your nearest outfitter so that you fit well into that new pair of hiking boots.


Reaching the Pinnacles of early Spring

This past weekend, I led a group of hikers over the singularly unique trails of Pinnacles National Monument. There’s something about this place that attracted me – really gripped me – right from the start. Could it be the Spring wildflowers? Could it be the bat caves? Or, possibly, the chance to see California Condors on the wing? Maybe the wildlife, the chiseled trails, the far-off vistas? The tunnels, coves, grottoes and groves? Perhaps the rock itself?

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle's High Peaks.

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle’s High Peaks.

It is difficult to pick out any one thing about Pinnacles that makes it so attractive, but in combination, a weekend camping and hiking experience at Pinnacles is so magnetic to me that I can’t ever resist wanting to bring other people there to share the experience with me. And you really do need at least two days to experience the full magic of Pinnacles. So, for the 5th straight year, I reserved two contiguous campsites at Pinnacles Campground for a weekend of outdoor fun and frolic in this uncanny, holy place among the hoodoo rock.

The end of March is a fine time to be at Pinnacles, too, when the wildflower blooms are beginning to peak and before the heat of Summer arrives, which it always does at Pinnacles well before it hits the San Francisco Bay Area. Having chosen the last weekend of March each of these past five years, it has been interesting to note the differences in wildflower blooms from year to year. This year, the weather has been much wetter than normal, and as a result, the wildflowers at Pinnacles haven’t quite cranked up to their full showy potential.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t see them! In fact, many species of wildflowers were popping out there on the trails, beckoning to us to take a look as we passed by them. From buttercups to blue dicks, bush poppies to golden poppies, indian paintbrush to indian warrior, and purple lupines to purple witch nightshade, there were quite a variety of wildflowers to see – just not as many of them as I’m used to seeing.

But it’s only going to get better as the rains taper away and Spring gets more than just a foot in the door. I hope to return to Pinnacles in the next few weeks just to note the difference. If you can, dear reader, snag yourself a campsite and go there for a weekend, before the 90-degree days of late April begin to fade Pinnacles’ many blossoms.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.


The Three E’s of the California Wine Hikes Active Travel Philosophy

[Over the past weekend, the following press release found its way to the World Wide Web.]

Capitalizing on the wellness trend, San Francisco Bay Area tour company launches e-commerce website dedicated to active wine country travel.

Sunnyvale, CA (PRWEB) March 4, 2006 — Many travelers to the wine country are finding that the typical group tour falls short when it comes to offering health and wellness. With today’s travelers trending toward more active, wellness-inspired pursuits, the prospect of multiple winery visits without acknowledging the local surroundings is quickly losing its appeal. Fortunately, there is a California-based tour company, California Wine Hikes, that expects to capitalize on the wellness trend.

Company owner Russ Beebe says his tours are unlike those of the typical wine touring company. “It’s all about the three E’s,” says Russ, “and the first E stands for Education. You’re actually going to learn something on our tours – about wine, about local culture, and about our connection with Nature. Like other wine tours, we visit local wineries, but that’s not our focal point. We encourage our guests to develop an understanding of why they like a wine, not just the idea that they like it and want to buy a case of it. So, we taste wine in a more formal setting. Our guests find these tastings fun, intimate, and educational. It’s an experience they can take with them.”

The second E denotes Exercise. Russ feels there’s more to the wine country than being whisked around in a limousine to 4 or 5 wineries every day, only to return home with an oversaturated cerebellum. “You’re going to get a workout,” says Russ. “Rather than encourage a quantity of alcohol intake during a wine country tour, why not embrace quality, and earn a fabulous reward for your outdoor effort? The moments on the hiking trails, after all, are stimulating and invigorating, and build an appetite for good food, good sleep, and a sense of well-being.”

The publicity these days does suggest a greater need for better diet and exercise. With a desire to live longer, more fulfilling lives, the demand is growing for healthier activities when traveling on business or vacation.

Rather than remain confined to a local wine region, the company offers hiking and wine-tasting tours that span the state from Santa Barbara to Mendocino and from Silicon Valley to Amador County. “That’s a lot of territory,” admits Russ, referring to his third E, which stands for Enormous. “Simply put, California offers so much. There are impressive hiking trails to be found all over the state’s major wine regions, and I guide my guests on the best ones. We then reward ourselves by tasting the local fruit of the vine.”

California Wine Hikes offers guided hikes and small-group experiences that combine the best of Nature, wine, fine food & accommodations in the California wine country.

Special “winehiking” packages are available. Many tours sell out and guests should book early. For information and easy online booking, visit http://www.californiawinehikes.com.

Russ Beebe
California Wine Hikes