Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: los angeles, malibu beach, oakland, sonoma
Throughout my travels, I’ve always left it to my hosts to decide on what activities, if any, we partake in. I haven’t asked to be entertained, but it’s not unexpected that people want to share their corner of the world with me.
Since accepting her offer to travel North of San Francisco to Sonoma County, Anastasia had been pulled together a full itinerary of sight-seeing and wine-tasting, a day long escapade through the spectacular landscape of Sonoma Valley. I didn’t really have the time to be enjoying such a decadent lifestyle, but I didn’t have anywhere else to be. I’d hadn’t taking Anastasia’s offer to enjoy a pampering at the hands of wineries, but to stay close to San Francisco; I figured my best chance of making it to New Zealand was by travelling to LA. If I didn’t find a way back South soon, I’d have to accept my only other offer – a trip further north, to Oregon.
An hour before I was due to leave on the tour, the most important offer of the trip to date appeared. A Twitter user living in San Fernando Valley called @alienelvis had piped up and offered to buy plane ticket from Oakland airport to Los Angeles the following day. Then this happened:
That was it. That’s what I needed. It meant accepting help from another airline, but I didn’t see what other way I could cross 7,000 miles of cold, deep ocean. And I was running out of time, in more ways than one; crossing the International Data Line would effectively see me lose a day’s worth of travel. I’d given myself until March 30th to reach Campbell Island – flying from LA on Saturday would see me arrive in New Zealand on Monday, leaving just six days to complete the challenge. I couldn’t wait, I had to take it.
Still spinning in delirium from the speed at which my plans had progressed, I took to the road with Anastasia and our host Mimi from California Wine Tours (@CalWineTours). From the Hampton Inn, we wound through Sonoma valley in a ridiculously well-endowed coach, champagne flute in one hand, iPod Touch lapping up free wi-fi in the other. It felt ludicrously indulgent but my plans for the next day were set, so I decided to enjoy my good fortune and not play the martyr.
The sky was endlessly blue, accompanied by the sort of startling sunshine seen in the UK for a fortnight in August (and only then during the two weeks you’re away in Magaluf), and Sonoma Valley splashed out on a view that caught the breath in my chest. Rolling hills of impossibly green hue swept either side of the road, with each turn a landscape more eye-widening, lush and sumptuous than the last. Why didn’t the world know about this place? Why do tourists get as far as the Golden Gate bridge and turn back?
Our first stop was the Imagery Estate Winery (@imagerywinery) where I was to indulge in wine tasting with Daedalus Howell (@DaedalusHowell) and Chris Sawyer. You can’t meet a man called Daedalus and let it pass without comment. Dressed in black, with that curious stub of beard under the bottom lip (it’s called a soul patch, dontcha know), Daedalus was a full-on, good-looking hipster who’d lived a media life in LA. All things considered, a man with such a ridiculous name, dress in black on a beltingly hot day, with idiotic facial hair should have been nothing short of a prize tit. He wasn’t. He was a stupidly handsome guy who liked wine and made short films and was utterly charming to me all day long. Bastard.
Chris Sawyer is something of a legend in wine-tasting, so he was no doubt disappointed to find himself educating a beer-swilling Northerner who could barely distinguish white wine from red, and who thought rose was a combination of the two. I swirled and smelt and swished and swallowed and detected next to none of the subtle textures Chris could. I suspected it was all a ruse to make me look stupid, and it worked a treat.
From the Imagery Estate, we travelled to the Kunde Estate Winery (@KundeEstate). Anybody who know anything about wine will know that to meet Jeff Kunde in the flesh is something of an honour. As I knew nothing whatsoever, he was just another guy running a 100 year-old family-owned business in the Sonoma valley.
We toured high into the hills with Jeff as our personal guide. I showed him the wonders of Tweetie and TwitPic on my iPod Touch, he poured wine and explained the history of the knotted and knarled Century vines on his estate. Along with Chris, Jeff performed a party trick involving a screw-top bottle; the end of the bottle is rolled along the inside of the arm at speed, unscrewing the top and spinning it up into the air, where it is caught in an altogether impressive manner. Jeff made the mistake of asking asking me to attempt this, which resulted in the incapable Englishman wearing a rather expensive bottle of the 2006 Chardonnay.
The rest of the day was indecently pleasant, with an epic $10 beer and burger at the Big 3 diner with @MJHeston and @FairmontHotels, an interview with the Sonoma Index Tribune, and beers at the Swiss Hotel on Sonoma Square with other renowned names in wine-making, including Jeff Bundschu (@SonoJeff) and Chris Benziger. The sun was still warm, the chatter was loud and friendly and Sonoma was a wonderful, wonderful place to be. Throughout this trip I’d found myself daydreaming about whether if I’d reached a place I’d like to live some day. There had been a couple, but Sonoma probably edged them out. If it was good enough for John Lasseter and George Lucas, it was rudely adequate for Paul Smith.
The beer was flowing a little too well when I received the call from New Zealand. Could I be available for a pre-recorded interview for Campbell Live, a national NZ news show? In an hour? Um. I’d been lightly drinking for the previous eight hours and wasn’t confident I could get through four minutes without saying fuck or bugger, or even saying either one without slurring. But it was pre-recorded, and if Twitter had indirectly created this opportunity to rustle up support in New Zealand, I had to take it. Steve the freelance cameraman from San Francisco was to meet me at the Hampton Inn in an hour, so I said goodbye to my new millionaire friends, and to Chris Sawyer and Daedalus. On reflection it was a fine name, and fitting of the unique individual it was bequeathed upon.
The interview wasn’t that bad. I appeared slightly sunburnt from my day romping around wineries, and I did ramble on an awful lot, to the point where the news anchor had to interrupt me. I’m glad he did – I’d been talking for so long I’d forgotten the point of the question.
Thursday morning saw me take up @alienelvis’s offer of a flight from Oakland to Los Angeles. My exchanging of gifts between tweeps had fallen down in a few places, through forgetfulness or the speed at which some encounters had occurred; I’ll list the exchanges at some point, but on this occasion Anastiasia received a hardback novel given to me by @thumbble in San Francisco, and in return I received Clo the Cow, mascot of the Clover Stornetta diary farms in North California.
After delays and the risk of missing my flight had passed (Southwest had oversold it) I arrived in Los Angeles and met @alienelvis, or Ben to his friends. A giant of a man in his fifties, the former software engineer and lecturer had a face full of stories, the crow’s feet around his eyes told tales of laughter and fun. Ben lived in the San Fernando valley, but along the way we stopped for mexican at a foggy Malibu Beach, before climbing into the hills of Los Angeles.
The views from Mullholland Highway were jaw-slackingly unexpected. A few minutes away from the chewed-up gridlock of LA, we stood overlooking valleys and mountains to rival the Lake District. Was this really Los Angeles? Or round the corner from Ullswater?
After a day of decadence, the evening was spent at Ben’s compact apartment in the valley, typing away and watching more appalling American television commercials interrupted by the occasional minute or two of programmes. New Zealand awaited me on Saturday and I was closing in on Campbell Island. Or at least I thought I was. The events of the next morning would throw everything into doubt.
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