Soulful Travel: Alexander Valley
As a premier wine and food destination, Sonoma County attracts travelers seeking a getaway that feeds the senses, connects people through meaningful experiences, and provides memories that last a lifetime.
Bicycle Built For Two
“What are you laughing at?” asks the Bluetooth-enabled voice in your ear.
“Nothing really,” you reply with a certain embarrassment. “I was just thinking that with these high-tech bikes and walkie-talkie helmets, it’s kind of Steampunk.”
Your guide confesses ignorance of this strange word, and suggests you explain it over an ice-cold sarsaparilla – otherwise known as root beer – at the nearby saloon. You’ve just arrived in downtown Geyserville, and it feels like you’re back in the Old West, except that you rode into town not by horse, but electronic bicycle.
“Actually, make that velocipede,” you say with a chuckle as you sit down in the aptly named Geyserville Gun Club. Steampunk, you explain to your trusty guide from Russian River Adventures, is a genre of fiction in which Victorians are given access to the technology they dreamed of in the novels of HG Wells and Jules Verne. You’ve no doubt seen it in movies like “Wild Wild West,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman,” the various Frankenstein movies, and even “Back To The Future Part III.”
“Got it,” your guide says, wiping the root bear from his walrus mustache. “Sorry we couldn’t provide antique goggles.”
You embarked on your adventure into Wine Country – and the high-tech Frontierland of your imagination – half an hour earlier in Healdsburg, where Russian River Adventures has spent decades providing bicycle and boating excursions through some of the prettiest parts of Sonoma County. After a quick lesson on riding the e-bike (the only thing faster than its acceleration is the smile it puts on your face), you sped off on your trek through the winding hills and picturesque vineyards of this northeastern corner of Wine Country, little known even to locals. The standard tour takes about two-and-a-half hours, but it can be customized shorter (or even longer) upon request.
If that sounds like a lot of pedaling, then you’ve obviously never ridden an e-bike before. All you need to do is keep the pedals turning, in whatever gear is the most comfortable, and the battery-powered motor takes care of the rest – all the way up to a top speed of 25 miles per hour. Cruising in comfort and efficiency, your eyes can enjoy the beautiful scenery while your imagination is free to run wild, taking you on a scintillating journey from Gold Rush-era California to sudden insight into the mysterious forces of nature, with just the lesson you need for navigating these strange times we’ve found ourselves in.
From Geyserville, your cycling excursion heads east through an exceptionally pretty stretch of Wine Country known as Alexander Valley. It’s named for Cyrus Alexander, who arrived in the area in 1840 and called it “the brightest and best spot in the world.” And if Cyrus weren’t the most perfectly old-fashioned name for your make-believe Old West adventure, then consider that the Alexander Valley’s first winery was called Lone Pine Vineyard and was founded in 1889 by the equally colorfully named Shadrach Osborn.
There’s something about being surrounded by vineyards that instills a sense of calm. Such a compelling contrast between the random rolling hills and the orderly rows of grapes, quietly and slowly ripening in the sun until harvest, when they will undergo another slow transformation into wine. A sign tells you to slow down and enjoy life, something you feel you should tape to your refrigerator to remind you – or better yet, your wine rack.
But there’s a time to slow down and a time to speed up. Zipping along at full speed with the wind in your hair and the sun on your cheeks, you imagine waving to those pioneering Alexander Valley vintners atop your high-tech electronic velocipede, which shares its linguistic root with the word velocity. Bicycles have come a long way since the first 19th-century high-wheelers, but some things are impervious to change. This includes the laws of nature, which were all but capable of granting superpowers to the ancient adept who sought to understand and harness the secret powers of the universe.
“Everything alright back there?” your guide says through the Bluetooth mic mounted in your helmet. “You’re falling behind a little.”
“Sorry, spaced out,” you respond. “Some kind of weird epiphany. Let me go radio-silent for a few while I work it out.”
The mental gears begin cranking, and an astonishing insight takes shape in your consciousness, emerging from opaque fog to sudden ray of light. “This bicycle pushes you along with a silent power,” you say to yourself, “but only if you keep pedaling. If you don’t put in the effort, you don’t get the assist.”
The gears crank a little more, eager to extract a golden nugget of wisdom to help you on the journey of life. Suddenly you see Grandma in your mind’s eye, who liked to say that there’s no such thing as coincidence, and nothing happens by chance. “The universe helps those who help themself,” she would say. “It means you have to try. If you sit around feeling sorry for yourself, things will never improve, but if you work toward something that’s positive and good, no matter how modest, you’ll feel an invisible power come along and help.”
The oak trees that line the backroads of Alexander Valley stand like silent sentinels, filled with some unspoken wisdom. Give them voice with your imagination, and they might just reveal to you that they began life as mere acorns all the way back in the years of the Old West. But inside that acorn was a mysterious power that slowly and silently grew them big and strong. “It is with you and it is for you,” they would say of this power, “but it’s not you. But it will help you along the journey of life, so as long as you try.”
As your ride comes to an end and you find yourself once again passing through the charming town square of Healdsburg, you remember something else about your dear sweet grandmother. When you were a child, she used to sing old-fashioned songs to put you to sleep, and one of them was the 19th-century parlor tune “Bicycle Built For Two.” It’s a fitting description of the e-bike you’ve been riding, and the poignant lesson hidden in its smooth and silent power, that speeds you along, but only if you keep trying. And so, as you return to the place where you started, you make a silent vow. When times are tough and life has you down, when it feels like the hill you’re forced to climb will never end, just keep pedaling, and trust in your higher power.
Other Soulful Adventures
This trip through Alexander Valley in Geyserville, California is just one of a series on soulful travel. For other experiences, visit our Soulful Travel page.
Remember the Leave No Trace Principles
Experiencing our destination through the Sonoma County Leave No Trace Seven Principles gives travelers an opportunity to make a difference. Together, we can protect and preserve this special corner of the world for generations to come. Find more info about sustainable travel in Sonoma County here.
For a list of local businesses helping promote the important message of Leave No Trace, click here.
Written by Chris Chensvold