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782. Ridge Vineyard Hike (06/11/11)

Hikers (27): Alan, Arlene, Carissa, Chris, David, Diane, Edward, George, Hima, Iris, Janice, John, Karri, Kevin, Linda L, Mike, Padraig, Paul, Peter E, Ross, Russ, Sabine, Scott, Sophie, Sparky, Stacy, Yipeng
Distance: 16 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 9 beauty
Park info: Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve in Cupertino

Write-up by Diane

This was slated to be a big hike day: Russ’ 500th leaf! Combined with Ross’ birthday falling exactly on this day as well, we had to do something special. On top of that, hopes were high that Padraig would show up for his 151st. A few weeks earlier, Ross had put together a Ridge Winery hike earlier: just the thing to commemorate this milestone event.

Ross's route was a 18-mile hike starting and ending at Ridge Winery, taking Waterwheel Creek Trail in Monte Bello OSP before looping through Rancho San Antonio. All we had to do is check with Ridge on logistics. I called and learned: (1) they couldn’t allow us to occupy more than one of their 8-person picnic tables, out of courtesy to their other guests; and (2) for liability reasons, we couldn’t leave our cars in their parking lot while hiking off-property for many hours. Oh no! Well, problem #1 was soon solved: I suggested we could bring folding chairs; the Ridge guy was very enthusiastic about that idea. The alternative was to schedule a private tasting for everyone, which would get us special seating at some VIP location, but started at $30/person; I figured the $$$ could be put to better use by going towards actual wine purchases than for special seating.

Problem #2 (parking) was a little trickier, however. I recalled a small parking lot at Waterwheel Creek, about 1/2 mile into Ross’s original route. Turned out to be permit parking only. Called MROSD and learned up to 12 vehicles could be accommodated (first come, first serve), and we needed to submit vehicle details at least a couple days in advance. Okay, this was going to require mandatory carpooling and a little more advance coordination than originally advertised. I broke the news to Russ, and he was remarkably game to put it together. In hindsight, I don't think he realized what he was getting himself into.

Russ designed a carefully constructed plan with meeting locations for carpooling, request for volunteer drivers, and a sign-up deadline so I could get the necessary parking permits in advance. He sent out the hike notice, and we sat back in anticipation of an orderly sign-up process. Straightfoward, right? Nope! Organizing the carpools was like herding cats. People signed up post-deadline, dropped off at the last minute, added guests, forgot to give their vehicle information, asked to squeeze into already full cars, lost their permits, etc. Being a hike leader is hard work! Probably harder than being a kindergarden teacher. Finally, after a gazillion e-mail messages to orchestrate everything, Russ got everyone who wanted to hike assigned to a car. He sent out a couple "final" notices, incorporating last-minute adjustments, with detailed directions and rules. I hope he gets paid well for this job.

Meanwhile, I had gotten the parking permits for our carpool vehicles from Leslie at MSORD, and had called Ridge back to confirm that we’d have ~30 people visiting on Saturday afternoon for post-hike food & drink. The Ridge guy was very laid-back about this. I asked if he wanted any more information. My name? A time estimate of when we’d arrive? Anything? Nope, didn’t want anything. In the end, I left my number in case he thought of anything and checked that off my list.

Finally, hike day! There was some delay getting carpoolers together, but we all arrived at MB08 shortly around 9 a.m. I was pleased to see that Padraig at the trailhead after all! He had kept us in suspense all along, but now he was here! A triple celebration was guaranteed! After everyone lubed and bundled up, gave Sabine everything but the kitchen sink to take back for Helen, and confirmed parking permits were properly displayed, we did the INCH cheer and headed out on Waterwheel Creek Trail into cold, heavy fog.

1-2-3 INCH!

Luckily I had Padraig's engaging tales of his Irish childhood to keep my mind off the numbing temperature, but boy, was I glad when we got to Black Mtn, touched the marker, and finally moved into the more sheltered trails of Rancho San Antonio.

The next part of the hike was a gentle downhill to Rogue Valley Trail, so there was plenty of conversation and merriment among the large group. Saw George taking beautiful pictures of red Columbine along the trail, and caught up with Ross and David as the sun came out and temperatures became bearable. After filling George and Ross in on the map-reading snafus and post-sunset arrivals during last week's hike, David and I continued our conversation.

Somewhere around the Rhus Ridge junction, I ran into Russ, Janice, Stacy et al. as we continued onto Chamise Trail. Very interesting conversation about high-quality scotch, beer, and the special tequila that Janice had brought to celebrate Russ' big achievement. By this time, it had warmed up enough that I could take off my outer layer. Janice and Stacy kept going at this point (as they had a mission to accomplish at Vista Point), but Russ waited so I had the pleasure of his company all the way up Upper Rogue Valley and High Meadow Trails. Our conversation was an intellectually stimulating one, from cultural integration, to social changes arising from technology, to child-rearing, to medical perspectives, to imported beers. Shattering the stereotype of male INCH'ers, he did not even once bring up brown leaves as a topic of conversation.

In due course, Russ and I arrived at Vista Point, where Janice awaited with the tequila. Woohoo! After a rousing rendition of "Happy 5th Forest To You," Russ manfully downed his shot. Hima, Iris, Sparky, Peter Ei, Karri and I then followed suit in honor of his great achievement. (Truth be told, I may have had more than 1 shot as Iris only wanted 1/2. Would have been a shame to let the other 1/2 shot of very good tequila go to waste, and no one else stepped up to finish it off so I took one for the team.) I suggested 5 shots might be appropriate for 5 forests, but Russ was too smart to fall for that. Sadly, Janice, the woman behind the tequila tradition, was unable to partake as she was a designated carpool driver. We'll have to make sure she's not the designated driver when her 3rd forest comes around.

That tequila was just the thing to power me up the remaining section to Monte Bello OSP. Had a nice conversation with Peter Ei along the way, during which he gave me permission to address him with his full last name instead of simply the first two initials. I was suitably honored. Headed down Monte Bello Road, and instead of backtracking through Waterwheel Creek Trail, chose to continue down Monte Bello Road (and took Paul with me) for variety and stunning scenery. This section of Monte Bello Road is absolutely beautiful on a sunny day such as this, with amazing views of the Valley and bordered by grape vines planted in rows and flowering trellises. Highly recommend this stretch in the afternoon rather than Waterwheel Creek for future hikes.

Arrived back at MB08 and headed over to Ridge, where the festivities were beginning. We had a great spread of food, from fruits and salad, to Paul's famous homemade bread, to cheeses and crackers, to chips and dips. Yum! The only thing Ross missed was steak. (Let's remember that for his next birthday.) And of course, the wine! Couldn't keep track of how many bottles of fine Ridge varietals we purchased, but boy, seems like we were toasting Ross' birthday every 5 minutes for a while there. I'm partial to their Syrahs, and of course they're famous for their Zins, but there's not a single wine Ridge makes that isn't delicious. Those vintners sure know how to vint. Padraig also joined us for the celebration and received his own well-deserved toast for his 151 leaves.

Over the course of 2 or 3 hours, we had ~25 INCH'ers hanging out and enjoying food, wine and conversation in Ridge's beautiful landscaped gardens, with amazing views from the upper terrace. So nice to catch up with folks that I don't get to speak with much on a regular basis. Learned about Stacy's travels and magazine work, Peter Ei's backyard wildlife (including rattlesnakes!), George's thoughts on Priuses (Prii?) and Androids, and Russ & Hima's Lassen recommendations. In honor of the occasion, we even had a surprise appearance by local celebrity Peter Saviz, who showed up in the super-stretch white limo that took up the entire entrance to the tasting room & picnic area. Everyone was having so much fun that we didn't even mind as winds picked up and temperatures dropped. George brought out blankets for people to wrap themselves in and even had an extra warm fleece for me. My hero! Finally, we had to wind things down and head home shortly before Ridge closed for the day. All in all, a great hike and a great post-hike celebration.

Congratulations again to Russ on his 5th forest, Padraig on his 151st leaf, and Ross on his 39th birthday. In hindsight, seems kind of ironic that the day’s celebrity did the heavy lifting to coordinate the carpools, etc. Remind me to stop at Leaf #499 so I won't be on the hook to coordinate my own party. In any case, we all owe huge thanks to Russ and Ross for the great day. Many thanks also to our volunteer carpool drivers (Ross, Paul, Peter Ei, Sophie, Janice, George, Alan W.), as well as the nice folks at Ridge who accommodated our group. Couldn’t have happened without you! Let’s do it again for Russ’s 1000th INCH hike.

Alan's 20th leaf
Edward's 1st leaf
Linda L's 120th leaf
Padraig's 151st leaf (and shot)
Russ's 5th forest
Sophie's 20th leaf

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