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Choose Your Own Adventure: North Bay 

In which our Resident Tourist Guide lets you be the star of the story

click to enlarge DENNIS BOLT
  • Dennis Bolt

At 10,000 feet, your parachute opens and you're floating above the North Bay. The clear sky allows you to see for miles in every direction, each holding its own set of adventures. With navigation in your hands, the choice is yours. Do you head north, to the land of wine and open country; south, to the edge of the Golden Gate; west, to the shore of the Pacific Ocean; or east, to the warm valley of vineyards and cheese?

To go North, go to No. 1.

To go South, go to No. 12.

To go West, go to No. 17.

To go East, go to No. 7.


You decide to land north. Or at least you think it's north. It's a big patch of ice, after all. Yes, you crash through the roof of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, right as the Zamboni is about to mow you down. Look out! You scramble off the ice, ditch your 'chute and amble over to the Warm Puppy Cafe. But the Parents & Puppy Practice session has just gotten out, and all the tables are full—except for one. It's in the corner, near the fireplace, and a sign tells you it's reserved for some guy named Sparky.

Do you head even farther north to eat somewhere else? (Go to No. 2.) Or do you ignore the person telling you "Look buddy, no one sits at Charles Schulz's old table," and sit down at it anyway? . . . (Go to p27.)


Hunger gets the best of you and you continue north. Somehow, you've got a car, a 1964 Volvo. After driving a while on 101, you smell the glorious aroma of hamburgers. And they smell like old-timey hamburgers, too. Sure enough, when you pull into the Hamburger Ranch in Cloverdale, you're so hungry you can hardly choose between the pasta, burgers or smoked barbecue. After chowing down on a quarter-pounder, you need to burn off those calories.

Do you head out to the Green Trail of Dry Creek Valley? (Go to No. 3.) Or do you ditch the Volvo to join a couple of hitchhikers on the Highway 101 onramp holding a sign that says "Bolinas"? (Go to No. 4.)


You buy a bike at Lytton Springs Salvation Army and ride from winery to winery on the Dry Creek Valley Green Trail—Ridge, Quivira, Martorana, Hawley. Between learning about their biodynamic and organic practices, you pull up to the Dry Creek General Store, open since 1881, and sit a spell on the wooden front porch. An old man tells you how this all used to be olive trees, and how some wineries are even converting back to olive production. You ride on up to Lake Sonoma, and marvel that in June, Bret Michaels from Poison will perform here. The very thought requires another round of high-quality vino.

Do you go to Matanzas Creek Winery? (Go to No. 5.) Or to Kunde Family Estate Winery? (Go to No. 6.)


You wait it out along 101 with the Bolinas-bound hitchhikers, who've just returned from Arcata with a stop to protest the Willits bypass along the way. Their dog has a bandana and a rope leash; you feed him the rest of your quarter-pounder. After five minutes, a car pulls up and you pile in with your new traveling companions, but when you start down the freeway, the car takes to the air and starts flying . . . you feel dizzy . . . and . . . (Go to No. 22.)


Good heavens, you've arrived at Matanzas Creek Winery during the 17th annual Days of Wine and Lavender, and the place is packed. You take a trolley ride. You listen to live music. You lounge under the oaks, even get a massage, and, too bad for you, you discover you're allergic to lavender. Like, really allergic. Better get out of there, because this place is like the outskirts of Marseilles—there's lavender everywhere. But just as you're about to bid your adieus, you feel a tingly feeling. The bountiful lavender has consumed you entirely . . . (Go to p27.)


What do you know, Kunde Family Estate just got a new tasting room bar, and, yes, you take advantage of it. After a few tastings, some guy named Jeff comes by and introduces himself as a fourth-generation winemaker. Jeff takes a shine to you, and furtively sneaks you into something called the Wildwood Room, where he promises reserve tier wines and proprietary blends. But, alas, the Wildwood Room seems to be some strange portal, because you feel hazy and groggy, and you don't remember going unconscious, but the next thing you know you wake up and look around you . . . (Go to No. 22.)


Landing in a petting zoo in Calistoga, some of the goats faint at your presence. Disrobing from your chute, you realize where you are—the Old Faithful Geyser of California. This looks pretty cool, you think to yourself, while petting a four-horn sheep. Maybe you'd like to explore a bit. But maybe that rumbling isn't just the geyser. Maybe it's your belly crying for sustenance.

Do you stay and explore the geyser up close? (Go to No. 8.) Or do you head out to find something to eat? (Go to No. 9.)


You walk up the geyser, ignoring all signs telling you not to do so. "I wonder what's in there?" you ask, pulling out your phone to take a Valencia-filtered shot to post on Instagram. But a rumble startles you, resulting in the phone dropping into the geyser seconds before a gigantic blast of agua erupts in your face . . . (Go to p27.)


Using your stomach as a guide, you head down to Napa for something to eat. The painted side of a building reading 'Genova Delicatessen' catches your eye, and you pull into a strip mall. The wait is long, but the sandwiches are authentically Italian. Mozarella, proscuitto, mortadella, olives, fresh basil and even anchovies are on the sandwich list. Mmm. But the line is long, and there other things you want to check out.

Do you wait it out? (Go to No. 10.) Or search for faster food? (Go to No. 11.)


After the first bite you're getting emotional. It's like tasting fine art. The combination of meats, cheese and dressing paints your tongue like Van Gogh, and now other senses are getting jealous. To satisfy this artistic craving, you head out to di Rosa and take a two-hour tour around the premises. The giant sculpture garden is surrounded by nature's own works of art—giant oak trees. It's so beautiful that all you can think of is that Flaming Lips song "Do You Realize." So you head back to town, buy a ticket to the BottleRock Napa Valley festival and set up a sleeping bag at the Napa Fairgrounds. You're not even the first in line, and you settle in for a nap after meeting some new friends. "Wait, how long was I out?" you wonder upon waking. Your head is throbbing and light burns your eyes. "Where am I?" you say aloud. It looks like—no, it can't be! . . . (Go to No. 22.)


Your impatience guides you away from what might have been the best sandwich ever and toward the Oxbow Public Market. This outdoor space has everything—tacos, oysters on the half shell and even a store with an 80-year-old book on identifying psychedelic mushrooms in the wild. Good food is plentiful here. After the tacos, you try some cheese. And then a roast beef sandwich. Don't forget the pizza. And there's a whole restaurant with a menu that might change tomorrow, so you've got to try everything there. Last but not least, Anette's chocolates for dessert. But you can't eat another bite, you're so stuffed. You feel like you're about to explode. Oh, but this tiny little wafer-thin mint won't hurt . . . just one . . . (Go to p27.)


A gentle breeze suggests you head south, so you take the hint. The scenic landscapes of Marin County are breathtaking from the air, and you're so distracted that when it comes time to land, you forgot to find a landing strip! You scramble and find a space on the waterfront in Sausalito, knocking over the carefully stacked rocks while the artist yells at you and everyone taking photos: "Hey! That's a dollar per picture!" Hurredly removing your chute, you run down the street into the crowd of tourists eating ice-cream cones.

Do you duck into an art gallery? (Go to No. 13.) Or try your luck in the crowded rock concert at the Plant? (Go to No. 14.)


You escape your pursuer in the hushed tones and focused lights of Petri's Art Gallery. Looking around, you see large paintings by Dr. Seuss. The style is instantly recognizable from his children's books, and it makes you feel like a kid again. There's the red fish and the blue fish—and Horton the elephant. You hop on a bus to McInnis Park in San Rafael, where 18 holes of golf is just $8. OK, it's mini golf, but you're still feeling like a kid. A full course and driving range are available should you grow out of your Seussian childhood.

Do you give in to your bliss and stay on the mini golf course? (Go to No. 15.) Or do you grow up and take the wheel of a golf cart? (Go to No. 16.)


Phew, he didn't see where you went, so you can enjoy a concert while waiting out your pursuer. If this looks like a famous recording studio, that's because it is—well, it was. The Plant has taken to hosting concerts these days, and you're digging a guitar solo when you realize you're standing next to Giants pitcher Barry Zito, who says this unsigned jam band is his favorite group. Who are you to argue? You agree emphatically and strike up a conversation. Turns out you're both hungry, and Zito knows a great Puerto Rican place in San Rafael called Sol Food. You agree, suggesting that the $126 million man can pick up the check. This doesn't sit well with the tall southpaw, and he hurls Stevie Nicks' old microphone with a two-seam grip directly at your head. (Go to p27.)


Channeling your inner Peter Pan, you stay for another round of mini golf. It's getting dark, and you've got nowhere to go. Sneaking past security guards, you find a structure in the dark. It's roomy, and looks like it has wheels. You stretch out and fall asleep. The next morning, you realize you've made your bed in . . . wait, where are you? . . . (Go to No. 22.)


Childhood can't last forever, so you hop into a golf cart and drive to the Smith-Rafael Film Center to catch a grownup movie. There's no Wreck-It Ralph here—it's strictly independent films, documentaries and live recordings of ballet and opera. The films are so engaging, you grow wiser by the hour. At the day's end, you feel like you've lived a full life. (Go to p27.)


You parachute in over the water, toward that mini-peninsula known as Bodega Head. You land gracefully on the grass-covered slope, remove your parachute and walk to the coastline's edge, where you join a crowd of tourists staring out at the borderless blue. They pass binoculars around. They're quiet and seem like they're waiting for something. When a woman in khaki shorts passes the binoculars to you, you also stare out at the swelling water, wondering what they're waiting for. Suddenly you see it—white water, as something comes up that looks like a tail. Water shoots into the air through what can only be a blowhole. Exhilarated by your first whale-watching experience, you wonder what to do next.

Do you go to Freestone to eat delicious baked goods? (Go to No. 18.) Or do you wander into the city of Bodega? (Go to No. 19.)


In Freestone, you go to Wild Flour Bread. You order a sticky bun and are shocked by the giant mass of sugar, butter and dough that comes back. You sip coffee from Taylor Maid, and pull off chunks of the gooey pastry, amazed by how delicious it tastes. Someone tells you this building used to be an import auto shop, owned by Robin Jackson, and up the way, a little newspaper called The Paper had an office. (So did a guy named Doug Bosco.) You wander into the garden, through the flowers and lettuce and raspberry plants, and wonder why everyone around you seems so relaxed. They also have radiant, well-exfoliated skin. Alas, you walk down the street and discover why—it's Osmosis Day Spa. You decide to go in, get a massage and a cedar enzyme bath. When the cedar, rice bran, and plant enzymes have cleansed your aura, you have to decide.

Do you head to Occidental for a zipline tour? (Go to No. 20.) Or do you take on the mud in the Russian River Mud Run? (Go to No. 21.)


The small, idyllic town of Bodega is peaceful—full of white, antiquated buildings and coastal charm, and an old bar called Casino with great food. The flock of birds in this town seems nice. They're black and soft; you don't notice how oddly prehistoric they look. You also don't notice their sharp talons and beaks and small, dead-looking eyes. You wander over to a white church with a needle-thin steeple and stained glass windows. As you stand there admiring it, you look over at a large building with a Victorian tower. It seems like some kind of school, and out front people are taking pictures and saying the word "Hitchcock" over and over. Suddenly, you notice that the sun is gone. Inky-gray fog is rolling in from the coast. You look up. Birds are everywhere! The dark sky is full of screeching and flapping wings. As you stand there wondering what is happening, you notice one diving toward you, its claws outstretched, inches from your eyes! Everything goes black . . . (Go to p27.)


You don a harness and a yellow hard hat, and then—whoosh—off you go into the green at Sonoma Canopy Tours. There are moments when you can see all the way to the waterline and fog drifting in from the west, but mostly you see an ocean of redwoods. As you zipline through the trees like a flying squirrel, you wonder why anyone walks or bikes or drives. Every city, 'burb and country byway should just be strung with sturdy line, you think. You brush through spiny leaves, nearly missing a red branch, and realize that carbon emissions would be a complete thing of the past. You've solved the ultimate problem! As you zip into your final landing, you feel like you've reached Nirvana. Everything goes fuzzy, and then black . . . you're still floating? . . . (Go to No. 22.)


You're feeling energetic and sadistic. You get a number at the Russian River Mud Run and pin it to your shirt. You're off! You grab a log the size of a small tree and hurl it as hard as you can. Then you're down into the dirt, under a wall. Now you're scaling another wall. Down a bank, feet first and into a mud pit. The mud is warm and smells like a mix of old water and rotting fish. You almost can't take it, but you clamber out, covered in goop. You slide down another sandy slope, into the river. You run, until you fall, face-first into the water. The current almost takes your tired body away, but you manage to pull yourself up again. You climb another bank, then a trail, until you're falling, slipping down another bank. You fall face-first into yet another pool of mud . . . So much mud . . . it swallows you . . . (Go to p27.)


You're sitting in a wooden vehicle of some kind, with white nylon above. Is this some sort of tent? You poke your head out of the end and see the earth below, hovering in the vast, black atmosphere. You look on the side of your new home. "WELCOME MONTGOMERY VILLAGE," it reads. Good heavens! You're floating through space in the Montgomery Village Covered Wagon. (You'd been wondering what happened to it.) Luckily, there's also a supply of Lagunitas IPA in the wagon with you, and you crack one open and ponder your new life, and realize what a tiny speck the North Bay is in the grand scheme of the universe.


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