This is a tale of two amazing rides. One threads its way through some of Northern California’s beautiful wine, lake, and hill country. The other winds its way through my very being to the center of my heart.
Recently, my wife and I traveled to California’s Sonoma wine country to attend a ceremony in which our son‑in‑law, Lt. Col. Joffre Lander, assumed command of a squadron at Travis Air Force Base. Since I don’t like to be far from a motorcycle when traveling, I took my BMW G 650 X‑Country along for the trip.
A Wine Country Loop
During a lull in the military and familial activities, I snuck the BMW out for a loop ride through the golden hills and grapevine‑lined terrain in the Sonoma region. I rolled out of Vacaville on Interstate 80 to reach the sweeping corners of narrow, scenic Wooden Valley Road, which is lined by trees and passes through rolling grasslands and vineyards.
The turn onto State Route 121 provided even more varied terrain as rock outcroppings added texture to the ride. Various wineries staked their claims with stone archways and beckoning signage. As SR-121 morphed into State Route 12 on my approach to the town of Sonoma, the density of wineries increased.
When I threw down my kickstand at Sonoma Plaza, I had no idea of the historical significance of the town of just over 10,000 souls. Across the street from the beautiful centerpiece park rests the Sonoma State Historic Park, which is a cluster of historic sites. It’s an open and easy stroll through locations like the Mission San Francisco Solano, Sonoma Barracks, Toscano Hotel & Kitchen, and other fascinating buildings.
After walking back to the vibrant green shade of the 8‑acre Sonoma Plaza, I stood in the shadow of the impressive Bear Flag Monument, which commemorates the spot where the Bear Flag Party raised the Bear Flag and declared California free from Mexican rule in 1846. After a walk around Sonoma City Hall in the center of the plaza, I continued my clockwise loop ride.
SR‑12 led me to Trinity Road and other narrow, winding byways that are thoroughly entertaining, curvaceous rolls beneath trees, beside cliffs, and over hills, often with panoramic views.
After passing through Oakville and Rutherford, I headed farther east on State Route 128. This stretch was arguably the most beautiful part of an already spectacular ride. I rolled past Lake Hennessy, Lake Berryessa, and several family wineries. Finally, I headed south back to Vacaville and to my daughter’s home. Would this be the end of my tale? Hardly.
A First Long Ride
In 2011, I welcomed my first granddaughter into this world. I vividly remember the overwhelming love I felt when I held little Skya for the first time. The tiny black‑haired treasure in my arms was so perfect and so lovely that I was instantly and indelibly smitten.
Over the dozen years since she was born, I have taken Skya on many short motorcycle rides around the yard or the block with her planted securely in front of me on the saddle. She has grown from a fragile cherub to a vibrant, smart, lovely pre‑teen, and motorcycle rides have been a vital part of our deep and loving connection.
On this occasion, Skya was waiting when I rolled into my daughter’s garage. As we sat and talked, it became clear she was ready for her first longer motorcycle ride. Parental permission was secured, and I fitted Skya in my wife’s riding gear. We discussed what it takes to be a safe and secure passenger on the back of a motorcycle.
With a wave to her mother and grandmother, Skya and I headed north for a loop ride. Almost instantly, she found the groove and became a settled “sack of potatoes” on the back of the BMW. The repeated portion of my earlier route took on a new significance as I could feel the wonder Skya was experiencing. She would occasionally tap me to point things out, and as we flipped up our faceshields to talk, I could see the joy in her green eyes.
We stopped often to decide on routes, take in views, and just chat. At one stop, I pointed out the smooth, pale hills on the horizon. I mentioned that they reminded me of Hills Like White Elephants, a short story by Ernest Hemingway, and I recommended that she read it someday. Back on the motorcycle, Skya chose the routes, including a long road to a dead end that gave us both a laugh.
I have ridden thousands of miles in my lifetime, and the miles that Skya and I shared that day are some of the most significant. We agreed that when she gets a few more years under her belt, we will reconvene for an extended ride. We can’t wait.