Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Motorcycling with George Lucas

March 21, 2013
OK, not with George Lucas, just through his land.

When we signed up for a wine club on our last Sonoma trip, we committed ourselves to quarterly treks out to Sonoma to pick up the wine. Horrible, we know, having to go to wine country at least every three months. Our first pack was ready last weekend, a perfect excuse to take out the bike!

We devised our own route last time that avoided Route 101 and wove through farm country. The main downside was the several miles of suburbia between fields and highways. This time we chose to take Lucas Valley Road, which avoids suburbia and runs past Skywalker Ranch. Double win.

Skywalker Ranch (photo by terribomb)

Hollywood director George Lucas tried for decades to construct a studio for Lucasfilm on the land. After residents blocked that plan, he announced last year that he would instead sell to a developer interested in building low-income housing (Marin is the third-richest county in the country in per capita income, according to Wikipedia). It's unclear whether that's actually happening, but Lucas reportedly only builds on 3 percent on his land, and with 1,000 acres in Lucas Valley, that leaves plenty leftover for passing motorcyclists to enjoy.

Ben liked the road so much, he wanted to ride it twice. I was hungry and nixed that plan and instead we stopped at Hopmonk Tavern in Sonoma for a burger, beer-poached pear salad and garlic fries. Our crush on Sonoma continues unabated.

We picked up our wines, and rather than wandering around Sonoma, decided to retrace our steps and enjoy the ride in reverse. If anything, I think it might have been more beautiful in that direction (so beautiful that I declined to take out my camera and just enjoyed the ride).

- Steph

Photos: Old-town charm

March 20, 2013
Half Moon Bay is one of the many cutesy towns that dot the California coast. With hand-carved placards, pumpkins and street signs for "swim school," it's hard to deny its charm. The sun was out at our apartment a few weekends ago so we decided to take a ride down. (I dare you to find the sun in any of these photos.) Here are a few photos to enjoy, without having to endure the wind and cold that set in once we reached the coast.

- Steph

Powder skiing on Friday, beach on Sunday

March 10, 2013
The ski resorts around Lake Tahoe got a bunch of fresh snow last week. We had skied three days so far this season, but the mountains hadn't gotten snow in weeks, so we couldn't judge Tahoe's reputation for great powder skiing. We also had never really skied in deep powder before. (Every time we've mentioned to people on the slopes that we're from the northeast, they joke that New England skiing is ice skating, and there's definitely truth to that.)

So seeing the reports of fresh powder — with 17 inches at Kirkwood — and expecting the conditions to draw enormous crowds over the weekend, we decided to beat the horde and ski on Friday.

We hitched a ride to Kirkwood through SnowPals.org in the back seat of a pickup truck, departing from SF at 4:30 Friday morning. We were on the slopes at 9 a.m. There were several inches of nice powder, with clear sunny skies.

(Video of me skiing in thick powder)

By lunch time, the clouds had moved in, and it started snowing very hard. The powder piled up fast. Around 3 p.m. it was hailing. We were going to do a few last runs, but being exhausted and getting pummeled by hail, we decided to call it a day.

We were back home by 9:30 p.m., and slept very, very soundly.

Saturday I worked at home, making up for the lost time on Friday. (That way I kept my PTO for later and [hopefully] set a good precedent with the boss.)

Sunday morning, the weather was beautiful, and we decided it was a good day to start planting an herb garden on the porch. So we started up the motorcycle to drive to a nearby nursery. As we loaded up, we realized it was too nice a day to waste merely on errands. So we took a detour for an hour and a half and drove south on Route 1. Along the way, we stopped at a beach, where (despite what had to be very cold water) there were people surfing and swimming.
(All photos were taken with my iPhone.)

- Ben

Steph on the slopes

March 3, 2013
I shot some video of Steph skiing at Northstar last weekend, on my new iPhone, and compiled it into this clip. (There are also clips of me, but I don't look nearly as graceful.)

- Ben

Photos: Skiing at Tahoe

March 2, 2013

The Nevada desert, just beyond our snow-covered mountains

They weren't kidding when they said Mott Canyon was steep. But not to worry, we made it down.

My first time in Nevada!

We finally got to see Lake Tahoe. Heavenly definitely wins in terms of views.

The sign says: California left, Nevada right

Ski buddy

Sporting all black. I'm the genius who remembered suntan lotion, a pocketknife and cookies, but forgot my ski jacket.

We could be in a brochure.

The morning drive from the south side to the north side of the lake

One of the few views of the lake
Us at Lookout Mountain

Read more about our impressions of the two resorts.

Most photos by Ben, courtesy of his iPhone. 

- Steph

Tahoe comparison: Heavenly vs. Northstar

One of our goals this winter was to evaluate the ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area: Heavenly (one of the best-known Tahoe resorts), Squaw Valley (site of the 1960 Olympics), Alpine Meadows, Northstar and Kirkwood. There are also several smaller resorts, but if we are going to drive all the way up and put on the ridiculous amount of gear that skiing entails, we want good skiing.

We enjoyed our day trip to Kirkwood at the beginning of February, but there wasn't enough snow to get a real feel for California skiing. After it snowed last week, we decided to bite the bullet, rent a car, get a hotel and get in two good days on the slopes. Since Squaw and Alpine Meadows merged a few years ago, we decided to leave them for a future trip and focus on the two remaining Vail-owned resorts: Heavenly and Northstar.

First, an overview of skiing at the two resorts:

Heavenly is the much larger resort, with 4,800 acres of skiable terrain. Several bowls and canyons consist exclusively of double black diamonds. These areas don't have trails, you simply get down any way you choose. It's steep, there are trees, and nothing is groomed. With more snow, expert skiers could spend all day skiing these steeps, but without fresh snow last weekend, no one looked like they were having much fun getting smacked around by the crusty terrain. And without those areas to enjoy, the rest of the mountain is basically an intermediate resort; there are very few black diamonds outside of the designated expert-only zones. The resort straddles the California-Nevada border and it's difficult to traverse between different sections of the mountains. The veteran Heavenly skiers we met were focused on avoiding the crowds, but if you guess wrong, you're going to spend a lot of time making up for it.

Northstar is much more compact. The front side of the mountain is set up traditionally, with a lower area for beginners, and a mix of expert and intermediate terrain off the top. For us, the best part was the back side of the mountain, which features mostly black diamonds. The division between expert and intermediate terrain meant these trails weren't crowded and that we didn't have to worry about colliding with beginners who overestimated their abilities. The trees are thinned between the trails and there was enough snow to pop into the glades and have a little fun, before exiting back onto the main trails. There were also several bumped trails, but like at Heavenly, the snow was too hard to enjoy these much.

Our experience at Heavenly:

We had decided to spend Saturday at Heavenly and boarded the gondola that morning for a ride midway up the mountain. On the advice of our gondola-mates, we headed to the California side of the resort and for the first few runs were amazed at the quality of the resort. The ski was nice, the lifts were fast and the views were fantastic. Color us impressed.

But by 11 a.m., the crowds had arrived and we fled to the Nevada side. We endured the flat trail back across, and veered off into the Milky Way Bowl, one of the expert-only areas. The snow was good enough and the grade was manageable, so when we reached the gate for Mott Canyon, we decided to go for it, even though it's supposed to be considerably tighter and more difficult than Milky Way. We got down fine, though not very elegantly, and headed straight in for lunch.

See photos of us at Heavenly.

This is where our positive impressions of Heavenly really got shot to hell. Every seat in the lodge was taken, with five people circling every table looking for a possible seat. We ended up sitting on the floor and an annoying drunk man spilled beer on me. It was the least relaxing lunch break imaginable. (We thought maybe we had just chosen the wrong lodge, but one of the others looked just as packed when we passed it after lunch.)

Desperate to escape the crowds, after lunch we headed to the Stagecoach area, at a lower elevation with mostly intermediate trails. It was nice to have room to turn, but the terrain wasn't very challenging and the snow quality wasn't as nice as it had been up top. Overall, not a bad day of skiing, but definitely not overly impressive, and not worth the hassle of the crowds.

And finally, why we preferred Northstar:

See photos of us at Northstar.

As soon as we arrived at Northstar on Sunday, we made a beeline for the back side with its 10ish black diamonds, and no beginners. We picked a trail at random and started skiing. I'm not sure I stopped until I reached the bottom. The snow was soft and well-groomed, the grade was steep enough to work up plenty of speed and you could just roll from edge to edge on your skis. It was glorious.

We loved the trail so much, we did it again. And again. We spent the rest of the morning exploring the backside, including a bump run just before lunch (Ben has gotten much more comfortable on the steep stuff, but neither of us is an expert mogul skier). This time we were much smarter and went in for lunch before the main rush, and enjoyed a much more relaxed meal.

After we headed to Lookout Mountain, another area with almost all blacks (!). Like Mott and Killibrew canyons at Heavenly, this area seemed mostly designed for better snow, but we got in a few good runs. We explored a few glades then spent the last hour of the day seeing what the front side had to offer. The runs there were shorter than on the back side, but it was nice to switch it up a bit, and for the last run of the day, we devised the longest route possible back to the lodge.

Overall, we definitely enjoyed Northstar the most of the three mountains we've skied so far, but you know what would be really awesome? Fresh powder. We're still waiting.

- Steph