It probably surprises people that we didn’t bring inGamba to California sooner. After all, this is our home, and all of the terrific trips we’ve developed in Europe have been born, at least in part, at our base in Sausalito. California has been here the whole time, calling out for the full Mangia, Beve, Bici treatment. So what took us so long?
Well, we wanted it to be perfect. We don’t pick destinations just because they’re convenient, or simply because we think we can sell them. That’s not our style. We need a meaningful connection to everywhere we bring our guests because we want them to have a meaningful connection with the place, too. Paso Robles is that place. We know the town. The Hotel Cheval has just the right blend of cool and comfortable charm being one of the top boutique hotels in the country. We love the food. We’ve sampled all of the wine. And then sampled some more just to be sure.
Getting the full array of inGamba staff, support vehicles and bikes over to the US from our base in Europe is a challenge, but it’s one that the team relishes. Each year we round up a team of about a dozen staff – guides, mechanics and soigneurs – and a cargo plane full of equipment including our beloved Pinarello bikes and whisk them all off California. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? I’d like to say come along and see for yourself (spoiler alert: It is definitely worth it).
The Paso trip was originally conceived as an opportunity to get some of our regular clients together so that we could share the new season’s calendar and stoke their love for all things inGamba. But as it’s developed, we’re also noticing plenty of new faces, people who see this as a good introduction to what we do. Which it is.
With hills to the east and more mountainous terrain to the west, the riding in Paso is both challenging and beautiful. Other than the amazing ride up Peachy Canyon, I am particularly fond of the ride out along Nacimiento Lake, where the roads are relatively quiet and the climbing eye-opening.
The wine scene has also been a revelation for me. Around here, you can walk into any number of wineries and get a sampling of that their offering. But when we do a wine tasting, we prefer to ramp it up to 11. In Paso we didn’t want to settle for a sales pitch wine tasting, so instead, we chose to explore the world of Italian and California wines with local expert Ian Adamo, who is both very knowledgeable and very approachable. Chatting with Ian is always an education, and I know that I learned a lot, not only about the wines being uncorked, but also the history of wine growing and regional production. And with his clear articulation of the difference in the varietals, you leave feeling better prepared to enjoy not only the wines that Ian talks about, but all wine tastings in the future.
One late afternoon on this year’s trip, I was standing in front of the fireplace at the Hotel Cheval with a glass of the local zinfandel, wondering if life could get any better. Earlier that day, we had a glorious ride up Peachy Canyon, through the wooded coastal mountains and past idyllic vineyards, and after a shower I was looking forward to the soigneur giving my tired legs a rubdown. I was also feeling a little peckish, but knowing Chef Laurent Grangien was preparing something indulgently delicious, something in the French style with a twist of California for dinner, I felt sure that good things would come to the Jimmy that waits.
That wasn’t all I was looking forward to, either. In the days to come there’d be meal after delicious meal, accompanied by a bevy of California wines, and as much riding and glorious sunshine and Pacific Ocean views as our legs could take.
After finishing off a lovely glass of wine, it was time for a quick change before joining the group for the short walk to Grangien’s fine eatery, the BL Brasserie. I had been right. Dinner was worth the wait. The freshly made mushroom ravioli were perfectly coated in a wonderful beurre blanc. The fish of the day was perfectly prepared. And the wine was as lively and as interesting as the accompanying conversation. If it weren’t for the fact that I needed to be up the next day for a 96km ride out to Nacimiento Lake and back, I would have wanted the night to last forever.
The next morning began with a seriously good cup of coffee, thanks to our friends at Handlebar Coffee in Santa Barbara. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re one of California’s top micro-roasters, and they used to be pro cyclists too. The local brew is probably very tasty, but like our bikes, only the best will do because we don’t ever take chances with coffee. Add some fresh fruit, a bagel and an omelette made just the way you like it, and you’ve got the perfect start to the day. The breakfast room was aflutter with conversations of yesterday’s ride and analysis of the day ahead. Outside, the Pinarello F10s were all lined up in the parking lot. Spotlessly clean, as usual, looking like brand new bikes in the same way they did every morning.
There was some trepidation – there always is before a big ride – but plenty to be happy about. Eros Poli, the Italian stallion, was there, and always happy to break the wind and set the pace. Manuel Cardoso, still looking as lean and as toned as he did when he raced on the World Tour, was wandering around making sure all the Garmins were paired and in place. Ze, our own mechanical wonder, was adjusting saddle heights and making any necessary or unnecessary last minute tweaks. And Raul, the former Portuguese national champion, had already started his entertainment routine.
It was time to ride. Time to greedily consume all that California had in store for me, and time to chat and laugh and enjoy the company of my friends. I checked my jersey pockets to make sure I’d taken my phone and some ride food, because I had nothing else to worry about. And just like I’d done the night before, standing at that fireplace, I found myself wondering if there was any way my life could be better. Failing to think of any possible improvements, I smiled, clipped in, and took off down the road.