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Kickin' Back


From Sausalito, over excellent, park-like boulevards, through the splendid redwoods and homes of Mill Valley, across the blossomed hills of Marin County, along the knoll-studded picturesque marshes, past San Rafael resting warmly among her hills, over the divide and up the Petaluma Valley, and on to the grassy feet of Sonoma Mountain and home. We covered fifty-five miles that day. Not so bad, eh, for Prince the Rogue, the paint-removing Outlaw, the thin-shanked thoroughbred, and the rabbit-jumper?

--from 'Four Horses and a Sailor' by Jack London



Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Hourlong Boot-Camp Nightmare

I had never dreamed that my first aerobics instructor would be a 200-pound, 6-foot-tall bodybuilder who'd been competing for years, and had been named Mr. Arizona. "I'm not into the bodybuilding aspect of fitness anymore," quips L.P., top trainer at Gold's Gym in Santa Rosa. "I'm really more interested in the health and nutrition aspect of it now." L.P. is, indeed, a paragon of health, and if anyone has the mental and physical strength to stick with his class, surprising results will be inevitable. The class, an hourlong session on Tuesday and Thursday, fills to maximum capacity fast, so be sure to get there early for a good step-spot. When one hears the word aerobics, the immediate picture that comes to mind is a Barbie doll in butt-floss jumping all over the floor. (Well, that's the immediate picture that comes to my mind.) L.P.'s class is nothing of the sort. He combines kickboxing, cross-training, weight lifting, and a little bit of dancing the twist in the high, high-impact aerobics class. "Chizzled" attendees are a hardcore group, and the class will make you sweat like nothing else (except maybe Bikram's Yoga!).

515 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 707/545-5100. --E.L.


Best Place to Soak Up Night Sweats

Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, a resort/motel off Calistoga's main street, opens its four outdoor naturally heated mineral pools and steam room to the public each day between 7 and 9 p.m.--and at a bargain price. For seven bucks, you can float, steam, and soak to your heart's content. Part of the thrill is that you're in the open air, under the moon, stars, clouds, mist, or fragrant smoke wafting over from the barbecue joint nearby. Alternate between the outdoor mineral pools of varying stress-melting temperatures, the dark and aromatic steam room, and the bracingly cool swimming pool. The large, palm-tree-lined soaking pool, which retains a mellow 100 degrees, is the perfect temperature and perfect depth. This is where you could spend an entire lifetime-- punch-drunk and prune-limbed. The spa is open to the public between 8:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Mondays-Fridays at $10 per person, and on Saturdays-Sundays at $15. There are $7 bargain rates between 7 and 9 p.m. daily on a first-come, first-served basis.

1006 Washington St., Calistoga. 707/942-6269. --P.H.


Best Finale to a Grueling Hike

Sonoma County hikers have plenty of tough trails to choose from. But surely the Pool Ridge Trail in Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve is among the more challenging. It doesn't lead straight up the steep hill, but it's damn close. After several miles of high-grade roadwork among the redwoods, even the fairly fit are often gasping for breath and ready for refreshment--so it's a good thing there's a nice reward in store. At the top, like a dream, is an extremely fruitful grapefruit tree. Hikers pick a piece, peel it with their hands, bite into the bittersweet fruit--and promptly forget all about that burning sensation in their legs. At least until it's time to head downhill.

Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, north of Guerneville on Armstrong Woods Road off Highway 116. 707/869-2015. --P.S.


Best Place to Really Get Bitten by a Snake

OK, so I've never been bit by a snake there, but Mt. Tamalpais' Cougar Trail in Marin County is one of the loveliest backpacking spots in California. Some of my first memories of this place come from high school and weekend backpacking trips with my best friend and one of her three older brothers. With backpacks stuffed with a weekend's worth of Clif bars, bread, and mustard packets, we'd tear madly down a mountain and through a ravine in search of a quicker and more scenic route. The routes we took never were quicker, and we often faced actual death, clinging onto the side of a cliff, hundreds of feet above the sea, or racing the tide two miles along a beach cove, hoping we'd beat it and not be drowned against the rocks. And while I have never forgotten the worst case of poison oak I've ever had (I was hospitalized for it), I also recall the sheer beauty of the tree-covered cliffs with the ocean crashing up against them. --E.L.


Best Place to Work Out Aggression while Swinging a Stick

Life is tense--there's no denying. And there are plenty of ways to work off stress: Jogging, dancing, swimming, sex (not necessarily in that order). Or you could go and swing a hickory stick at a speeding baseball. The Redwood Baseball Institute offers nine regular batting cages--from slow-pitch soft ball to fast-pitch baseball--and a couple of instructional cages that for $35 an hour allow wannabe sluggers to work with an experienced instructor and work out those kinks. But be forewarned: If the sound of a cracking bat (or several cracking bats) and screaming kids stress you out, you might want to take up knitting instead.

917 Piner Road, Santa Rosa. 707/284-2880. --G.C.



Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place to Sweat and Groan and Pass Out

In the yoga Olympics in India, Bikram kept winning year after year. Finally, the judges made Bikram a judge, too, so that other yogis could have a chance at the gold. Then they went to study why it was Bikram had won, year after year. The judges found that where Bikram came from was over 100 degrees hot, all the time. This meant that Bikram was stronger and more flexible than the other yogis from practicing in the heat. After Bikram got tired of judging the yoga Olympics, he moved to Beverly Hills to teach his yoga to the stars. Over the next 10 years, Bikram's Yoga has moved northward (as trends seem to do), and Santa Rosa now has two studios where students can practice the 26 postures in heat ranging from 100 to 105 degrees. Torturous as this may sound, it is the most rewarding form of yoga that I've ever practiced. The heat makes the body wonderfully flexible, and the 26 postures are designed to be practiced in an order to stimulate the internal organs to release toxins through the copious amounts of sweat being produced. (Bring at least two bath towels; you will need them.) The best part of the class is afterwards, going out on the balcony and watching your body steam in the cool air.

4527 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. 707/539-8118. --E.L.


Best Place to Savor the Heart of Saturday Night

From the outside looking in, it's been noted, motor racing looks like so many rednecks doing the same thing, round and round, in overpowered machines steeped in a megacorporate, yahoo culture of beer, cigarettes, and machismo. And there's certainly some truth to that view. But at the Petaluma Speedway, regular folks--men and women--stage a grassroots version of that world. All summer long, after a long winter spent rebuilding their midget racers and stock cars in the garage, these competitors hit the raceway--the poor cousin to Sears Point Raceway's NASCAR extravaganza outside of neighboring Sonoma. But whereas NASCAR is revved up in media hype and fueled by cash, these low-key Saturday night rumbles are all about grease, guts, and glory. This blue-collar Mecca--at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds--draws scores of fans week after week, all of whom sip their brews in the stands amid the incredible racket created by speeding demons driving in tight circles around the oil-stained dirt track. Bliss.

Petaluma Speedway, Payran and D Street, Petaluma. For schedule and admission info, call 707/778-3100. --G.C.

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From the March 22-28, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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