California Winter Fit Multisport with Backroads: Sugar Bowl, Sonoma, Sausalito, San Francisco

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Backroads, the active travel company. California Winter Fit Multisport Trip 2013 (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

This incredible adventure trip with Backroads began with a flight to rainy Reno, Nevada, on Easter and a short drive to Sugar Loaf Mountain in Tahoe. Not knowing what to expect, I met one nice family in our casino meeting spot and another single older lady, and before you know it, we picked up another couple, and we were off on a five-day adventure of cross country skiing, snowshoeing, yoga, hiking, biking, and culture. The amazing food both at the restaurants and unreal food spreads created for us on-the-go really enhanced this outdoor travel excursion. Coming home every night to a luxurious hotel or inn in just the right setting was comforting. We never had to worry about our bags or equipment or food arrangements. I would go on another one of these trips in a second – as a single person, a couple, or a family.  Trips are tailored to what type of experience you want as well as whether your want to stay in a premier inn or hotel or a more casual spot. Backroads, a premier travel company that has been around for over 30 years, once only offered biking trips, but now offers walking and hiking, and multisport excursions all over the world. Private trips are even possible.

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One of our trip leaders to the right and that is our group way in the back center cross country skiing – heading back up a huge slope. (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

Since every detail is planned by Backroads, you can rest assured that you are getting the most out of each day with this active travel company. What better way to immerse yourself in the life of a region than to explore hidden corners and appreciate nuances that have already been researched for you.  It was kind of nice not having to figure out the best trails and outdoor spots when the options are already considered.  As the Founder Tom Hale states, “These are experiences you cannot have behind the wheel of a car, or on a train or a tour bus, or in a few excursions from a cruise ship or a secluded resort. Active travel is, at its heart, a way of connecting more authentically with the world.” He couldn’t be more right. I felt at peace with nature and was happy to go off the beaten path when I wanted to…Sometimes it is important to unplug and connect with nature. Our trip was a perfect mix of culture and outdoor exercise.

Keep close to Nature’s heart…. and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. – John Muir

 

Highlights of Our Five-Day California Winter Fit Multisport Adventure:

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Writer Melissa Curtin trying out the snow shoes wearing the ultimate travel gear jacket by Scottevest. (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

  • The Lodge at Sugar Bowl –  We had to take a gondola to whisk us to this rustic alpine ski lodge on Donner Summit. Although the walls were thin, my room was glancing at the snow-packed mountain for two nights.  The Lodge served absolutely incredible food for all meals (filet mignon, French onion soup, so many breakfast choices).  Morning yoga was offered as well.
  • An incredible picnic spread was created for us slope side before skiing, as well as a plethora of snacks (i.e. beef jerky, peanut m&m’s, nuts, dried fruit) laid out for us to take in baggies on each daily excursion.
  • Cross country skiing and snowshoeing in Royal Gorge, the largest cross country ski resort in North America, was memorable. In a hop, skip, and a jump from The Lodge at Sugar Bowl, we could go downhill skiing for the day, but our group decided to start out with a warmup cross country skiing loop that had me sweating through all my clothes and really just needing a T-shirt and my awesome new tech jacket with over 15 secret pockets by Scottevest.  The Royal Gorge’s beautifully groomed tracks offer the best cross country skiing (Big Palisade: 2.1 miles, Lyle’s Lookout: 3.1 miles). The scenery is breathtaking – just you and the snow with woods on each side.  We spent the next morning cross country skiing again and snowshoeing 7.6 miles through Van Norden Meadow to a tiny picturesque little Warming Hut.
  • The Warming Hut lunch was a special treat to be out in the middle of nowhere with comfort foods. Our expert guides put every possible food and hot beverage you could ever want for lunch on a sled, so that we enjoy our food break at this hut.  This makeshift hut was the perfect rest. I enjoyed so many yummy treats, like gingerbread cookies, hot chocolate, deli sandwiches, and dark chocolate.
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    The Warming Hut (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

  • And if that wasn’t enough, our first night we had a mini wine reception to welcome us to our two-day snowy adventure.

Sonoma – From the Sierras to Sea Level

  • Jack London State Park – We walked through the woods and gorgeous natural grounds to arrive to this natural-looking Jack London museum.  I kept thinking of my dad’s spirit of adventure and his love for the ocean as I read every detail of the author’s life. Founded in 1960, this National Historic Landmark is 39 acres including the museum, London’s gravesite, and the ruins of Wolf House. Jack London is known for writing Call of The Wild (1903), White Fang, and The Sea Wolf (1904). He was so popular and good looking that he was often in the news.  From 1900 – 1916 he completed more than 50 fiction and non-fiction books, hundreds of short stories and numerous articles. We ambled through a eucalyptus grove and woods to stumble upon a the giant remnants of a home London never lived in since it caught fire, the Wolf House. What was left was a memory for us of a massive stone home and its rooms and fireplace, and what it must’ve felt like to have such a fortress in the woods before there were paved roads and lighting. We ended with a hike to his rustic gravesite now with some wooden fencing around this natural plot of land. Thanks to an impressive guide selected by Backroads, London’s life came alive as we explored his literary work, adventures, and passion for the land.  I would have wanted to have been friends with Jack due to his adventuresome spirit and love of writing.
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The remains of Wolf House, esteemed author Jack London’s dream home that never was lived in due to a fire. (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

 

  • Benziger Winery Tour and Tasting- This biodynamic vineyard is the model in sustainability since they use everything from the land to run and sustain this winery. Benziger vineyards or the area known as Glen Ellen is a teaching facility for many all over the world, as far away as Chile.  There are actually 80 certified facilities like this one, but even more use the same techniques.  The 35 acres boasts 21 different kinds of soil that affects the grapes. They only use water if the plants look like they are going to die, so the roots grow deeper, which makes the grapes apparently grow nicer. Originally once the land of the Pomo Indians, tons of arrowheads can be found made from obsidian.  This land was also a place people escaped to from the city due to the hot mineral springs. In 1906 the major earthquake affected the earth greatly since the epicenter was only five miles away, and then there were no more hot springs.  It is hard to believe that no one lived in this idyllic landscape until 1970. Before that time, bootleggers tried to sell brandy in Glen Ellen. Fast forward to the 70’s, and a couple of Hayte Asbury guys (one a doctor) came to this Sonoma land and turned it into Sonoma Coma. Originally from New York, the Benziger family owned a successful scotch and liquor business, so they gave money to their son who saw the bounty of the land and moved their whole family to Sonoma in 1980. Their very first wine won the Grand Sweepstakes Awards, and they produced 4 million cases. The Benziger family now has 27 family members, and in the 1990s, they switched over to organic farming.  The same guy who started the Waldorf School helped guide this movement – 30 acres of plants and 300 species used for compost. The manure of the cattle and sheep are essential.  The plants that are considered are the ones needed for whatever is lacking. For example, avids were a major problem and since ladybugs eat them, they planted plants that attract the ladybugs. No sulphites are used (which creates headache wine) – instead hot water and steam.  The overall reason for this sustainability, as you can imagine, is improved fruit and wine, and therefore a more distinctive, better taste. They say the only thing that leaves Benziger Vineyards is the wine.
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Benziger Vineyards (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

  • We had a chance to meet hysterical Kathy Benziger Threlkeld who lives in Glen Ellen. She spoke of her brother Mike Benziger who lives right on the vineyard nearby and his brother Joe who started their sister winery called Imagery right down the road, where the Imagery Art collection commissions hundreds of international artists to design one-of-a-kind artwork for Imagery labels.  Did you know that Sauvignon Blanc tastes better grown in the shade? The wine tasting experience was divine.  Some of the most delicious tasting wines I sampled were the Obsidian Point Cabernet Sauvignon, the Signaterra Three Blocks Cabernet Sauvignon and the Signaterra Shone Farm Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.  Many from the tasting menu you can only buy at the vineyard, but their wine club will have Sonoma, California, coming to your doorstep monthly.
  • Picnic lunch at Benziger – salmon, chicken, sandwiches, fruit, cheeses, nuts, and every possible gourmet specialty one might crave. Really quite over the top!! The trip leaders created this spread outside in this lush vineyard environment with endless options.  I was hoping there were some homeless people around like in LA so we could give them the leftovers of this outrageous, fabulous feast.
  • Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa – You can never go wrong with a Fairmont hotel with its luxe spa of ancient mineral waters. This sprawling 1927 replica of a California mission greets you with an outside check-in next to a elegant circular fountain.  Most of the guests on our trip even had fireplaces in their rooms. The headboards had paintings on them and it felt so nice to curl up in the soft luxurious sheets after a stint at the Roman bathing ritual spa with its numerous showers, baths, and steam rooms.
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    Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

  • Dinner at the Harvest Suite with award-winning Michelin restaurant Santé was gourmet perfection. The lobster macaroni and cheese, the multi-colored fresh vegetables, filet mignon, and dessert that looked too pretty to eat – cheesecake and chocolate purse with caramel popcorn ice cream. Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa boasts the award-winning Michelin restaurant Santé. Nothing will disappoint.

Sausalito

  • Hiking from the top of Mt. Tamalpais State Park through Muir Woods to the waves at Stinson Beach was by far one of the major highlights for me on this trip. The Dipsea Trail is where the oldest cross country races occur annually.  I heard the Founder of Backroads often wins it, even in his sixties.  There are a few moments in your life where you feel fully alive. This is one of mine. The group was traipsing fast and I wanted to stop and really “see” and smell and touch everything. I wanted to become one with the land. I didn’t want to worry about keeping up, but wanted to stop to check out the moss, the hanging branches, the insects, and just feel the fresh air.  I miss this getting away from the world.  I was happy I got lost on the way back because it meant I could be alone in nature with my thoughts, that is until I realized my phone was almost dead and I better be able to read the map correctly to find my group and the van. After walking several miles back up from the Point Reyes National Seashore in the glowing sun hanging off the cliffs with the ocean to my right, my ascent began to head straight up – multitudes of stairs back into the great Redwood Forest (John Muir Woods) meandering through mossy hanging trees, then thousands of massive soldier-like trees. That’s when the shadows mixed with the sunlight started to scare me. I kept thinking of mountain lions and all this untouched land, and how I hope I don’t look too tasty to a happy mountain lion. If I had more time I would’ve just stayed on the edge, looking at the sea, watching Peter Cottontail hop to and fro with his big fluffy cotton tail. The total distance back and forth was about 12 miles I believe.
  • Seaside lunch at the Parkside Cafe. I wish this place was next to my house with its multitude of healthy choices. After all that exercise, I couldn’t wait to drink a fresh fruit smoothie and devour a lusciously filled crab cake sandwich in this cute setting.
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    Hiking to Stinson Beach through Muir Woods (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

  • Cavallo Point Lodge – A sort of mini campus of beautifully restored military officers’ quarters under the Golden Gate Bridge, my room view looked at the majestic bridge structure. This hotel is a member of Historic Hotels of America and was named one of the Top 10 New American Landmarks by Travel+Leisure. My room felt like my own apartment space. One family on our trip had an entire historic home. Every day the hotel has a wine hour. The spa was magnificent with its tea bar and outdoor Jacuzzi and heated pool. I enjoyed yoga in a church, which is part of the hotel’s “campus.”
  • Sushi at Sushi Ran, a block or so behind the main strip in Sausalito. I am still dreaming of the fresh sushi I ate there. There are a few places in LA that come close to this freshness.  I also forgot what it was like to see guys in suits after living in LA.
  • Biking from Mill Valley to Sausalito in the rain. After shopping and enjoying expensive Mill Valley with its high end shops and cafes, I braved the trafficked streets and head with one of the trip leaders to a bike path past sailboats and pedaled head-on into the misty rain as I enjoyed the scenery whizzing by and the final stretch of giant hills as we glided into the town of Sausalito.
  • Dinner at Murray Circle dining room at Cavallo Point Lodge = a night to remember, a top Northern California culinary destination. They even have a cooking school. Every item was exceptional. Here are some items that might delight your fancy:  eucalyptus marinated burrata, seafood bouillabaisse with gulf prawns, shellfish, monterey squid, and house chorizo, quinoa mac and cheese, buttermilk fried asparagus.
  • Room service was such a treat for breakfast when returning from yoga in the church. So nice to have a cafe mocha and fruit parfait waiting for you.
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    View from my room at Cavallo Point Lodge, Sausalito (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

  • Hike to Cavallo Point – In a misty gray rain, our group took this five or so mile hike up, up, up on a muddy gravel road as we passed wildflowers, then hung off some steep terrain, but unfortunately couldn’t see the views due to the weather as we spiraled back down to our hotel.
  • Ferry to San Francisco – Right passed Alcatraz, for a few dollars this ferry gives you neat water views of San Fran as you get off near the Ferry Building, a wonderful spot with great bites to eat and neat items to buy.

San Francisco

  • Walking over The Golden Gate Bridge – Ten years later and I was happy to walk over this beautiful feat from Sausalito to San Fran in the misty gray rain and watch as the lighting changed and the views came and went with the fog.
  • Lunch at Ferry building at Market Cafe was the final lunch with the group. Another perfect selection for food, the seared tuna salad and deviled eggs covered with crab still make my mouth water.

I was off on my own to take a warm Jacuzzi bath at Hotel Monaco and explore the city for the weekend. I spent two days walking everywhere, meeting up with old friends, and exploring Chinatown, the waterfront, Grace Cathedral, shopping in Cow Hollow, meandering through neighborhoods to get to the Tower, and watching a young group of high school kids make music near the Business District.

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The end of the Backroads journey. Writer Melissa Curtin after walking over The Golden Gate Bridge in San Fran (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. – Ernest Hemingway

 

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Melissa Curtin

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About the Author

Melissa Curtin

Melissa Curtin‘s globetrotting and love of learning was fueled after traveling around the world on Semester at Sea in college. She has been a passionate elementary educator for over fifteen years. Melissa taught in England in 2004 thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. After teaching in the Maryland public school system for almost a decade, she left the conservative East Coast environment in Washington, DC, for West Coast living. Melissa is the Co-Founder and writer of LaLaScoop (Never Leave LA), an online hub for discovering the beauty and vibrancy of life in Los Angeles through a plethora of reviews on LA’s hottest trends, places, products, people and happenings from the coastline to the Hollywood Hills. After living in LA for seven years, she is officially a proud, happy, warm Angeleno. Some of her favorite destinations include Formentera Island off of Ibiza, Costa Rica, Thailand, Fiji, Morocco, Vietnam, Belgium, Italy, Sicily, Prague, Egypt, Australia, Greece, and Paris.

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