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Photograph by Beth Hall

Best of the North Bay 2009


Writer's Picks

Best Place to Get Lost in the Movement

They're the kind of people who aren't satisfied with mediocre. No excuses float in the air around them, but discipline and fervor abound. They're CrossFitters, and their extreme exercise routine is called CrossFit.

"[CrossFit] is varied functional movements performed at a high intensity," CrossFit Sonoma County's (CSC) owner and former gymnast Dan Schmieding says, then laughs at the flat jargon he uses to describe such a strangely fascinating exercise regime. Schmieding knows there's much more soul to the activity than any verbal description can match. Started by former gymnast Greg Glassman, CrossFit's stated aim is to create the "quintessential athlete . . . equal parts gymnast, Olympic weightlifter and sprinter."

How do they do it? By using the simple power of the human body, as well as traditional weights, kettle bells, medicine balls and more unusual objects like heavy snow tires, pull-up bars and gymnastics rings. The daily workout varies, but could include 50 ring dips, a 400-meter run, 50 pushups, a 400-meter run, 50 handstand pushups and, oh yeah, a 400-meter run.

The crux of the CrossFit methodology is function. "We always teach the point of any exercise," Schmieding says, "and there always is a point." According to Schmieding, it's pretty much the exact opposite of bodybuilding, which isolates muscles to transform the look of the muscle. The bodybuilding philosophy is the traditional form of weightlifting that most people do in the gym, and then wonder why they don't necessarily see results in their everyday life. "When people don't see results, they're either doing the wrong things or not working hard enough, or both," Schmieding says. "At the end [of a CrossFit workout], everyone is on the floor, but with a smile on their faces."

Despite its vigorous demands, not everyone who participates is a hardcore athlete. There are some, of course, but there are also the moms looking to get the pre-baby bod back, the guy with a desk job who never stands and the senior citizen who wants to add a few years. The only bond that ties everyone together, Schmieding says, is the fact that every successful participant is a hard worker. "All different types come in here," Schmieding says. "Some for weight loss, some for other reasons, but within a few weeks their goals seem to change."

A goal to lose 20 pounds will along the way morph into a goal to crank out 100 pull-ups. CrossFit coaches, who are always certified, know that it is this change of perspective that brings results. When people focus on intensity, they get lost in the movement and ultimately work harder than they would standing around at the local big-box gym, waiting for a machine. "It always transcends into other areas of their lives," Schmieding says. "From healthy diet changes to improving mood swings, more positive thoughts, more self-confidence—sometimes people just have an easier time getting around the house, and that alone changes their life dramatically."

CrossFit is crazy. It's exhilarating. It's excruciating. It's challenging. And it just might be the most fun you've ever had in a full sweat.

1364 N. McDowell Blvd., Ste.19, Petaluma. 707.484.7847. —B.H.

Best Bike shop: Mike's Bikes

A few years ago, it was not uncommon to see people of all ages on the streets of Botswana riding rudimentary handmade scooters with wooden wheels. But these days, thanks to the fundraising and outreach of Mike's Bikes—voted by Bohemian readers as the Best Bike Shop in Marin County—the country with an average income of less than $3,000 has been embracing donated bikes from around the Bay Area.

People in Africa, many who can't afford a car, are clamoring for bicycles, says Mike's Bikes co-owner Ken Martin, but the bike industry in Africa isn't strong enough to fill the need for either supply or repair. Last year, Martin and Mike's Bikes co-owner Matt Adams decided to collect 406 two-wheelers from the community and set up a sister shop in Gabarone, called Jonmol Bicycle Services. The bikes sell for just 300–600 pula, or $30–$40, and response in Botswana has been overwhelming.

"Personal mobility and freedom are these things we take for granted over here," Martin says. "To give a kid the ability to get to school, or an AIDS worker the ability to see four times the number of patients in a day, it's just huge."

Recently, Martin and Adams returned to Africa to meet with bike dealers in Ghana and to work on upgrading their business models, improve marketing and establish better distribution. It's almost as if they forgot they had six Bay Area stores to run.

836 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.3747. Also at the start of the Mill Valley-Sausalito bike path at No. 1 Gate 6 Road, Sausalito. 415.332.3200. —G.M.


Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Way to Enjoy the Oil-Free Future

A running joke in the comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin centers on the predilection of Steve Carell's nerdy main character for bikes instead of cars, solidifying his loser extraordinaire status. If predictions by folks at the Post Carbon Instituteare correct, in the latter half of the 21st century we are all going to have to make friends with our inner Andy Stitzer and embrace two wheels (or feet) instead of four. Based on the theory of peak oil, fellows at the institute insist that global dependence on oil as a cheap, abundant energy source has led to a crisis. A finite, nonrenewable resource, new oil discoveries have declined each year. Just as humans cannot escape aging, oil reserves are not a replenishable bounty of black gold. They have an unavoidable geological limit.

"The economic crash we're seeing now is a foretaste of what is in store. We are seeing rapidly declining global trade, sharply declining auto manufacturing and a general contraction of the airline industry," says Richard Heinberg (shown), senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. "Life will change dramatically. If we plan for those changes, we could actually enjoy richer family and community life."

Reading through the extensive information about peak oil and its possible apocalyptic outcome can be depressing. But advocates of the movement are willing to confront the truth. Founded in 2003, the Post Carbon Institute—with the motto "Reduce consumption: Produce locally"—aims to help families, communities, governments and businesses understand and manage the transition to a post-carbon world. The first step, according to the organization, is to come up with alternatives to current oil-dependent lifestyles.

"Here in the North Bay, we need more public transit options. What if car ownership and ridership plummeted to 10 percent of its current level but people still needed to get to work and to the market?" Heinberg asks. "That's likely going to be the reality facing us over the next 10 years or so, and we should be planning for it. We need an integrated local food system that includes more local growers, food processing and storage centers, and neighborhood markets where backyard producers can sell their surplus."

Heinberg says that soon recreation will look much the way it did a century ago with people walking and gardening for exercise, playing music in living rooms and attending local theater productions for entertainment. And really, does that sound so terrible? Bring on the post-carbon world!

500 N. Main St., Ste. 100, Sebastopol. 707.823.8700. —L.C.

Best Lake with a Bizarre Past

Lake Berryessa is not only Napa's largest body of water, it's also the strangest. For one thing, the abandoned town of Monticello sits beneath its surfaces. Established in 1866, Monticello was once the center of farming and ranching in the area and included stagecoach stops, a general store, businesses, bars and hotels. In the 1940s, the government decided to flood Berryessa Valley and make room for the Monticello Dam. They forced all of the valley's occupants to sell their land, including those left in Monticello. The foundations of its buildings sit under the water to this day. But that isn't the end of the oddities of Lake Berryessa. Over 30 years later, the Zodiac killer chose the lake as the site for one of his grisly murders. College students Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were sitting on the shores of the lake when the Zodiac killer attacked them in broad daylight. Hartnell survived; Shepard did not. Given this, you would be excused if you found a certain eeriness in the lake's shores. Even its glory hole looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. As the lake's excess water slinks through the perfectly round drain, Lake Berryessa seems to be opening into another dimension. To learn about Berryessa's nonfreaky recreational opportunities, call 707.966.2111. —J.L.

Best Culinary Russian Roulette

There is a meticulous and urgent poetry to field-guide entries, made even more so when flouting them could end your life. The little books with their wet, moody photos are indispensable when mushroom foraging, and for the beginner, there are a few varieties around here that won't leave you shaking in your shoes as you shake your sauté pan. Me, I grew up in Manhattan where the foraging was limited to dimes in the pay phones, so I stick to plucking the varieties that have no known poisonous look-alikes, are easily identifiable and faithfully heed the Sonoma County Mycological Association website's motto: "If in doubt, throw it out." Mushroom foraging is restricted on many public lands in the state. The only local state parks where you can legally forage—taking home no more than five pounds per person—are Mt. Tamalpais, Salt Point, Samuel P. Taylor and Tomales Bay state parks. Mushroom season lasts from September to May, so if the rains stay good to us, there may still be time to squeeze in a fruitful trip to Salt Point. Warm up on the way home by stopping at the Timber Cove Inn for a hot toddy by the big stone fireplace. For more information on local mushroom identification, foraging, monthly meetings and group forays, check out —M.T.J.

Best Exurban Lolly

It's not hard for wine country sophisticates to cast Rohnert Park as Bud Light Couch Potatoville, but actually, mile upon semi-wild mile of raised, paved and well-kept pathways thread through the town. Framed by clusters of redwood, willow, oak, shrubbery and sycamore, which track the westerly flow of half a dozen meandering creeks pouring down from the Sonoma Mountains, crossing the town and flowing out to the Laguna de Santa Rosa on the farthest flanks of the city, Rohnert Park has terrific walking trails. One of the many popular bike and hike routes begins on Hinebaugh Creek. Take the trail east, peeling away for forays along both Crane Creek and Five Creek, crossing two wooden pedestrian bridges, circling Eagle Park, stopping for a sip from the ballfield fountain and a trip to the clean restroom or for a snack on a bench or picnic table, and pushing on to equally well-maintained adjunct trails on opposite sides of each waterway. Walk briskly, don't stop, and this particular route takes close to an hour and a half to complete. Best of all, this entirely in-the-city-limits nature jaunt requires you to cross exactly zero motor-vehicle thoroughfares. Beat that, Healdsburg, Belvedere and St. Helena! To get to the Hinebaugh Creek trail, take Rohnert Park Expressway east from Highway 101. Turn left on Country Club Drive. You'll find the trail a block and a half up on your right. —P.J.P.

Best Way to Sink Up to Your Ankles in Mud

Do not dis the spiritual glories of Pt. Reyes mud. As the good, creative people of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore Association learned long ago, the very earth beneath one's feet can be positively packed with transformative power—if you've been taught how to look for it, and what to do after that. In hopes that visitors will do a lot more than just visit the popular national park's beaches and trails, the Association regularly offers a dizzying abundance of classes and workshops, all of them variations on the theme of sinking (literally or figuratively) up to the elbows in the loamy goodness of this local natural treasure. Merely perusing the list of classes on the website can be a heady experience. Along with artist Ane Carla Rovetta's occasional chalk-making class—which demonstrates Leonardo da Vinci's technique for making chalk out of different clays, soaps and "fillers"—the average human being can take an assortment of birding classes, revel in the scientific wonders of shore life in one of the association's regular Sandy Beach Science classes, settle in around a campfire for an evening of tall tales and Indian legends, take classes in trailside sketching, and shocking amounts of more. Pt. Reyes is not just a single-sensory experience, and the Pt. Reyes National Seashore Association is eager to help you open up all five of your senses. For a full slate, go to —D.T.

Best Place to Flip a Canoe for a Good Cause

Now that being green is not only important but hip, I thought I should jump on the bandwagon. The yearly Russian River Watershed Cleanup offers the chance to help clean up the river and the community. In a canoe, no less. An exciting idea, but no one mentioned "the Flip." The Russian River seems a tranquil, calm place, but get eight canoes full of inexperienced proto-hipsters on it, and it starts churning. Being competitive, my boat was the first one down the river, and soon I noticed a tree branch hanging right in the path. Within seconds I was pinned against it, and my partner and I poured into the shallow water. As my partner screamed about our impending death, I grimaced as my ass hit rock after rock. Using cunning survival skills in six-feet-deep water, we made it to shore while our leaders wrangled our canoe. Feeling slightly embarrassed, we lay on the bank, hoping no one had noticed. They hadn't. One after the other, all the canoes flipped. Everyone was screeching and clawing their way onto the shore. In the end, we collected 10 bags of trash, a tire, a chair, many bruises in various shades of purple and a newfound love/hate relationship with canoes. Russian River Watershed Cleanup is usually held in September. For details, go to —H.S.

Best pilates studio: Tone

Here's the thing about pilates: It's all about the pelvic floor. Different from, say, the ground floor or the cutting room floor, the pelvic floor is that group of muscles that allows women to exhibit unique control in the ladies room (different from, say, the powder room; we're trying for a unique bit of anatomical delicacy here). Furthermore, in an odd bit of upside-down corporeal logic, when one holds in the pelvic floor, one simultaneously exhales. How? Just like getting to Carnegie Hall: practice.

Practice may not make perfect but it certainly makes for a regular pleasure at Tone, your pick for Sonoma County's Best Pilates Studio. No one is too plump or too old or too stiff for the expert roster of instructors who teach at Tone, and everyone is reminded to appreciate the good fortune of having a body that works at all, no matter how that work is done. Those who wish private instruction are accommodated, those who want to work on those Medieval torture (–looking) machines known as "reformers" are accommodated, and those who really just like to lie on the floor atop a piece of cylindrical foam are more than accommodated.

In addition to pilates, Tone offers yoga classes of all disciplines and such aerobic encounters as "Zumba" (salsa dance meets hip-hop meets enthusiastic arms) and "Bodeci" (pilates meets yoga meets step class meets weight training meets napping later). It's all a practice and it may never be perfected, but at Tone, the journey truly is the point.

850 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.526.3100. —G.G.

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