Growing up in the remote confines of Northeastern Wisconsin, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined having scenery and terrain as lovely as the Santa Cruz Mountains a few clicks from my doorstep. Like most of the finer things in life, though, it comes with a cost.
A new lunchtime route of mine takes me through neighbouring Los Altos, Cupertino and Saratoga. Bicyclists flow along with auto traffic, and not a day goes by without my seeing several dozen fellow riders of all sizes, ages and abilities pedaling away. Regardless of the weather (although it doesn't rain here much, and snow is as rare as a Paris Hilton sighting - thank God), the surrounding hills are alive with the sound of chains snaking through derailleur pulleys and across chainrings, coupled with the gentle scrubbing of rubber on the road.
The bike sightings, however, are almost as impressive as the homes lining the surrounding mountains. Parlees, Treks, Looks, Scotts, Orbeas, Sevens, Ridleys, there's always a steady stream of two-wheeled eye candy. Local juggernaught Specialized may rule the roost when it comes to highest volume of road bikes spotted from one company, though. I've found that the older the rider, the older the bike; steel is king amongst the elder set, with LeMonds, Merckxs, Pinarellos, Colnagos and Serottas among the most popular choices, and it warms the heart to see a Richard Sachs or Ritchey sail past on the opposite side of the road now and then.
My world is encompassed geographically by the Silicon Valley, home to Apple, Yahoo, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Stanford University, Cisco, AMD and other high-tech companies, which means the money flows like wine. And thanks to the mild climate (we have the Pacific Ocean to our west over the mountains, with the San Francisco Bay to our east), vineyards are aplenty. The famous Paul Masson winery, promoted by Orson Welles (remember the commercials?), has been a Saratoga staple for a century, and is now on my daily lunch route. Sold in 2004, it's now called The Mountain Winery, and hosts seasonal concerts with the likes of Peter Frampton, Lyle Lovett, Steely Dan and UB40.
Orson Welles: Paul Masson commercial
The rolling hills and steep mountain roads of the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains in Los Gatos, Saratoga and Cupertino are training grounds for local pros as well, and the steady bike traffic is reassuring, even on cold or rainy days. The vistas, redwoods and Douglas firs are breathtaking, something not taken lightly when one is slowly running low on oxygen when climbing the ever-steepening inclines.
But the homes; oh, the homes around here. Back in northeastern Wisconsin, $1 million buys ample acreage and square footage, privacy and sometimes lake- or river-front property. In the Silicon Valley, the same amount gets you a three-bedroom fixer-upper and a swift kick in the pants. With the current economic crisis, it's actually a good time to be renting a house versus watching one's investment swirl down the drain.
Me? I'll ride my bike happily past the homes, over the mountain passes and near the ample vineyards, knowing that true happiness comes from within, and there's no better bliss than one experienced in a warm climate on two wheels.
There's no price tag associated with that.