A Series of (mostly) Fortunate Events

Jennivanting through wine country

It’s March, so here’s a limerick to sum up my latest jennivanting adventure:

There once was a girl named Jenni

Who traveled and ‘vanted a plenty

She chose wine over rum

A bike ride bruised up her bum

But it takes more than that to spoil the party

A few weeks ago, I headed up to Sonoma and Napa counties for some weekend RRW (rest, relaxation and wine). I’m no stranger to these parts. In the almost eight years that I’ve lived in the Bay Area, I’ve been up to wine country more times than I can count. Their warm, rolling hills constantly beckon to fog-weary San Franciscans yearning for sunshine. It’s an easy trip out of The City, just head north for about an hour and there’s more vineyards and tasting rooms than you know what to do with.

One of the properties I booked over the weekend was a B&B called Beltane Ranch. Looking at the website, this place pretty much sells itself. The grounds are gorgeous and it feels more like a plantation than your typical wine country inn. At the time of booking, there was no way that I could have known just how special this place would be, but I would soon find out.

As luck would have it, the winery I decided to visit before I checked in was literally right next door to Beltane Ranch. Not enough of a coincidence for you? The person that I ended up tasting wine next to was the cousin of the owners. It was great to hear her talk about the ranch and how her family has been custodians of it for generations. Still looking for something more? While talking about the history of the property, she mentioned that one of the ranch’s previous owners had been Mary Ellen Pleasant.


Ok, let me back up so you can see why mentioning her name gave me goosebumps.

I became fascinated with Mary Ellen Pleasant, the ‘Voodoo Queen of San Francisco’ and the ‘Mother of Civil Rights in California’ after going on a Ghost tour around Pacific Heights a few years ago. The tour ends at a small park in front of her former home, which contains eucalyptus trees she personally planted (and the spot where you make a wish). Pleasant had an incredible life, to say the least: she was born into slavery, but was later freed; worked on the Underground Railroad; supported John Brown; was a successful entrepreneur; and became a key figure in SF politics, fighting for equal rights, helping to end segregation on trolley cars in 1868. There are rumors of voodoo orgies and her being responsible for several mysterious deaths (which I personally think have more to do with her being a successful, powerful African American woman), but no matter what you believe, it’s undeniable this woman was a force.

To find out that I was staying at her home, one that she reportedly designed herself, was pretty surreal. I wondered if I would happen upon her ghost during my stay. That unfortunately, didn’t happen, but I did walk the grounds, thinking about what her life was like and where she must have gone when she was here. Time seems to stand still a bit here, and I think this is part of the reason why.

Sometimes, you’re quite physically led to being at the right place at the right time. It’s pretty incredible when it happens.

Let’s change gears a bit shall we…quite literally, I mean.

My last day in Sonoma, I decided to go on a sip & cycle, which is exactly what it sounds like. You get on a bike (not the beach cruiser kind, these are serious bikes), head out to a few wineries, listen to stories about the varietals from the tour guide, stop to get up close and personal with the grapevines. Basically, gaze at the world around you in a different way and a different pace than you would if you were looking through the window of your car. Sounds amazing! Count me in!

Sip, cycle, repeat. What could go wrong?

Well, if you’re me, anything could happen and usually does. Bikes are a great idea until you hit your third winery and you underestimate how many miles you have to bike back to your car. Going a few miles in your car is nothing and takes just a few minutes. Going a few miles on your bike, well that takes a little bit longer. Look, I’m no slouch on the exercise scale (I run, dance and yoga regularly), but apparently, I need to up my bicycle game. Sheesh.

And then there’s the seat. First, it wouldn’t adjust properly to my height, so I was sitting on the bike a bit higher than I should have been (silver lining: I got pretty good at swinging my leg over the frame and jumping off the bike when I had to stop, instead of climbing off of it because I was so high up). Once that was finally taken care of, I quickly discovered that seat height was the least of my problems. The seat itself was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve had to sit on in a great while. Gel seats aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, people. They are uncomfortable, ungiving and aren’t cushioning anything. So, you do the math here (and you already know what’s coming because you read my poem). It’s all fun and games until I end up with a bruised bum from a bike ride; then shit gets real.

I do have the ability to laugh at myself when absurd things are happening, and I certainly did it more than once that day (I’m doing it now, as I write this), but at the time, I just wanted to get off the bike and go drink.

Which I did.


To be continued…

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