The thing about playing competitive sports after a certain age is this: You get hurt. Whether it's because you're a weekend warrior, another player haplessly bashes into you or you want your body to do things it can no longer do, it's going to happen. Hello, ice and ibuprofen. But there is one middle-age-and-beyond competitive sport that's essentially noncontact (except for you and the ground), usually pits you against a player of your own skill level and affords you those all-out glory moments you miss so much: Ultimate Frisbee.
Now, this is not a bunch of barefoot hippies lazily tossing around a disc between tokes. Cleats are essential, and it is wise to be in some sort of shape as Ultimate combines the nonstop movement and endurance of soccer with the passing skills and field size of football. The friendly Sebastopol pickup game that happens at either Brookhaven Middle School or Analy High School, depending on the season and weather, is one of several in the North Bay (including those in Windsor, Petaluma, SSU and a slew in Marin County; see the Ultimate Players Association site, www.upa.org for details). But the Sebastopol game seems to be the friendliest of them all.
Hugh Williams, 50, is the informal captain of this game—or at least the one who cares enough to do the leg work to keep it organized. "It's a great mix of people, young and old, experienced and beginner, fast and slow, male and female," he says. "We teach eight-year-olds how to play, challenge high schoolers to get better, encourage strangers walking by to join in and try to keep up with the active college players and past national champions."
But what makes Ultimate special is a combination of the attitude of the players, the beauty of the flying disc and the way the games come together in an almost anarchic fashion ("anarchic" in the self-governing, not the Sex Pistols, sense, though that's cool, too). Heather Shepherd, 42, is one of the toughest, most athletic players on the field. "There is pure joy in running hard to catch a soaring disc," she says. Williams agrees. "A flying disc has so many ways to get from one point to the other," he says. "It can go fast, slow, around things, over (and under!) stuff, way out of the field of play and then back into it, upside down, multiple arcs in one throw—a flying disc is a thing of beauty to watch."
Shepherd and Williams both find Ultimate unique among sports because of its guiding light, the "spirit of the game," a tradition of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the players rather than the referees. "For me, the notion of a self-refereed game that is as competitive as, if not more so than, any sport I've ever played, is crucial," Shepherd says. "It means being honest, reflective, level-headed and, mostly, being responsible for yourself. It also means being good-natured and trusting. OK, not everyone is this all the time, and there are heated moments in tournaments, but people have to work it out or the game stops. Think about it—it could change the world."Sebastopol Ultimate Frisbee pickup. Sundays 9:30am-ish to noon. Brookhaven Middle School or Analy High School. www.upa.org/pickup.—M.T.J.
Every schoolchild thrills at the grandeur of our beloved Sequoia sempervirens. These mighty giants have prospered along a narrow belt of California's northern coast since the days of dinosaurs. A few of these redwoods, some stretching back well over a millennium, are still living with us today. One stand grows not far from the ocean near the mouth of the Russian River. Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve is a living jewel adorning western Sonoma County. First attempts to preserve it began in 1870. Col. James Armstrong saved the grove from the logging activities gobbling up redwood forests from Oregon's southern border on down to Monterey. Later, the LeBaron family teamed up with the Colonel's daughter, and in 1917, Sonoma County purchased the grove. Seventeen years later, Armstrong became part of California's State Park System.
Millions have been humbled and overjoyed by what's truly one of the earth's finest natural preserves. But enjoy it while you can, because Armstrong Redwoods SRA and the adjoining Austin Creek SRA will shut their gates to the public should Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts get enacted. Schwarzenegger wants $13.3 million trimmed from the park system's current $150 million budget, leaving administrators with nothing but tough choices. They've concluded it would be better to close 48 parks statewide than reduce services to all 278. Besides these two Guerneville area parks, Mariano Vallejo's Petaluma Adobe SHP and the 2,000-acre Tomales Bay SP in Marin County are also on the chopping block. The Save Our State Parks Campaign is a project of the California State Parks Foundation. They say there are five things people can do to stop the park closures:
1. Contact your legislators and tell them to oppose any park closures.
2. Write a letter to the editor to your local paper.
3. Involve others in the campaign to save our state parks.
4. Share your story about enjoying California's state parks.
5. Participate in Park Advocacy Day, Monday, April 7, 2008 .The Save Our State Parks Campaign website is www.savestateparks.org.—P.J.P.
Gals, are you looking for a workout? Camaraderie? An alter ego? Want to wear trashy-sexy outfits and indulge your aggressions in a sanctioned forum (read: smack some other chicks around)? Well, have I got the place for you: the Sonoma County Roller Derby. Get out those fishnets and hot pants, pick your derby name and prepare to rumble. OK, so the current incarnation of amateur, indie-style flat-track, quad-skate roller derby doesn't take place on a banked track, nor is it as akin to pro wrestling as it was in the '70s. And while some elbows and hips fly on occasion, and there's quite a bit of bumping and jostling, mostly it's about having fun. Don't know or don't remember how to skate but still want to roll? No worries, because as the SCRD says, "We can teach you how to skate, but the desire must be within." You must be 21, and health insurance is highly recommended, because as they also say, "It's not a matter of if you get hurt, but when." Open practices are held every Tuesday, at CalSkate in Rohnert Park. Check out the SCRD website (www.sonomacountyrollerderby.org) for more info. Sonoma County Roller Derby at Cal Skate, 6100 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park. 707.585.0494.—M.T.J.
Searching for the relaxing beauty of the Napa Valley on a shoestring budget can be like trying to find an outfit on Project Runway that you'd actually wear out in public; in both cases, the figures just don't match yours. Thanks to the after-hours special at Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, however, the question isn't whether you're in or you're out, because for the price of just a couple yards of fabric, you can make it work. All four of the spa's naturally heated mineral pools are open to the public year-round, but the killer deal kicks in at 7pm, when for only $10 you'll have two luxurious hours soaking under the clear nighttime skies of Napa Valley. There's a lap pool, an octagonal Jacuzzi pool, a kids wading pool with fountains and a 100-degree soaking pool. Palm trees and landscaping line the swimming area, and the surrounding buildings are low enough to offer a refreshing view of the hills. Bringing in snacks, drinks and floaties is OK, and there're showers for rinsing off afterward. Added bonus: if you really need to get away from the kids, there're plenty of watering holes nearby, and in a flair of the globetrotting, there're almost always two or three foreign languages being spoken around the pool. The whole experience is so affordable and chic, you'll hate to say auf Wiedersehen. Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, 1006 Washington St., Calistoga. 707.942.6269.—G.M.
Established exactly 100 years ago this January, Muir Woods National Monument attracts some 800,000 visitors each year and in the height of the summer travel season, it certainly feels as if they've all come at once. Those of us foolhardy enough to venture to Muir Woods on a July weekend will find parking nonexistent and that whole communing-with-nature concept a joke, as the horde of 8 x 105 slowly todder along the spacious redwood trails, talking loudly, eating voraciously, laughing racously and just generally embodying urban white noise while outside. Poke along past the "full" signs at the parking lots only to discover that just a brief mile or so down the road, there are trails and hills and pretty bird songs with perhaps only 8 x 10 other people as the redtail flies. There, trailheads come right down to the road in a friendly manner, and it is possible to take a stimulating uphill hike among nature's many splendors without hearing a word of German or having to sidestep a rabid, leashed toddler. It is fairly miraculous. The woods themselves will still be there in late October, when the crowds have returned home and the weather is at its finest. Muir Woods National Monument, take Highway 1 toward Stinson Beach and follow the signs. Continue placidly past. 415.388.2595.—G.G.
At the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition's annual festival in Santa Rosa's Juilliard Park, the public is encouraged to enter an unusual bike race. The starting line is chalked on the asphalt, along with the finish line—a mere 30 feet later. Huh? That's because the goal of the race is to ride slowly, without falling, and to actually cross the finish line last. Last year, while SCBC director Christine Culver lined up the dueling diehards and counted them off on their snail-paced way, a rapt crowd, including Santa Rosa City Council members Lee Pierce and Veronica Jacobi, rang bells and cheered wildly for the slow racers like it was the Tour of California. Semi-finalist (and current city council candidate) Gary Wysocky, after besting a particularly lean-legged hopeful, advised that "the trick is in the start—you have to go slow right at the beginning." Trying to ride your bike as slow as possible without toppling over is an addictive habit (as evidenced by the multitudes of semi-stalled cyclists standing on bikes at traffic intersections), and as far as spectator sports go, watching the SCBC's contestants barely skirt the topple at a near standstill is more suspenseful than most ESPN programming these days.—G.M.
Vineyards, check. Mustard fields, check. Three-star restaurants, winetasting rooms, upscale boutiques—check, check, check. Learning about the Napa Valley's pivotal role in the 1849 Gold Rush, seeing stingrays and jellyfish while traveling under the largest "flyover" migration path of birds in Northern California? Gotta check. Which is easy to do when boating along on a Napa River Cruise. Created in 2002 by Coast Guard&–licensed natural historian Kevin Trzcinski, Napa River Cruises are an adventure in Napa's little-known and richly diverse natural world. "We're on one of the biggest protected waterways" in the West, Trzcinski explains, and in two hours, he takes visitors from the saltwater estuaries of Richardson Bay to the high desert climate of Calistoga. "We really show the diversity of the area," Trzcinski says. Trzcinski encourages his guests to bring picnics and wine, and has just started a wedding service aboard his boat where a married couple and two witnesses can enjoy a riverine renewal ceremony conducted by Trzcinski, a licensed minister, replete with cake, chocolates, music, photos, a printed notice in the local paper and even ring cleaning for just $275. Napa River Cruises depart seven days a week, but launch times vary depending on the tide. "There's plenty of water in the river," he says cheerfully, "but the city is a little slow on dredging the docks, so we have to wait for high tide to take off." While tourists are assuredly his bread and butter, Trzcinski is just as eager to educate locals about Napa's lesser-known charms. "Napa is a deep water port," he stresses, "but no one thinks of us as a maritime community. I have taken guests on the boat who live here, who are prominent members of the community, and time and time again they say, 'It's just a completely different perspective.'" Napa River Cruises, $40 per person, available daily. For reservations, call Kevin Trzcinski, 707.224.4768.—G.G.