King of the hill

Rock-Beach-ed
Breathtaking seaside Monterey, Calif., is much more than its aquarium

NICK VIVION | Contributing Travel Writer
gaytravel.com

 

As I lay there all tied up in knots, with my right leg piercing the air near my ear, all I could think about was sea otters. Never mind the fact that my rational mind was screaming, “Your leg does not belong near your ear!” My creative mind was off with the sea otters, frolicking, swimming backwards, fetching shiny ornaments for a reward of an abalone liberated from its pesky shell.

This made me laugh, although my masseuse, targeting my tension with a force not unlike a sea otter slamming a rock on fresh food, hardly notices. I’m blissed out at the Spa on the Plaza in Monterey, Calif., and my wandering mind is exploring my earlier visit to the expansive Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The Aquarium is by far the biggest draw for travelers to Monterey County, as it is consistently rated the No. 1 aquarium in the U.S., and occasionally even the world. The tanks are full of shimmering fish, giant octopi, and furry sea otters, not to mention a healthy share of rambunctious children mammals. The aquarium’s popularity is also a bit of a curse, because the first thing that people say when you mention Monterey is usually, “Oh, that’s where the aquarium is!”

Lucky for us all, Monterey County has heaps more going on to whet the traveling whistle. So much so, in fact, that it keeps me coming back at least once a year.

The huge county of Monterey — one-and-and-half times the size of Delaware — sits two hours south of San Francisco, occupying a 100-mile swath of Pacific Ocean beauty and inland fertility. Its magnificence has made it world famous, and it’s hard to think of a chunk of earth that inspires more awe, respect and superlatives from most who pass through it.

There are no gay bars here, no clubs — no nightlife to speak of. This is a romantic place, where you come and frolic amidst the backdrop of natural grandeur. Kayaking, diving, horseback riding, biking, fishing and sailing provide a direct channel to beauty at every angle.

I started off my whirlwind tour of solo romancin’ with a sunset hike in Point Lobos State Reserve, also known as the crown jewel of the state parks. This is only one of a baker’s dozen of sickeningly gorgeous hikes nearby.

For the committed hiker, the Ventana Wilderness behind Big Sur is chock-full of remote camp sites. Day hikes range from the easy Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which takes you to the spectacular waterfall dropping from cliffs into the water, to the robust Ollason Peak in Toro Park, where you gain 1,800 feet of elevation. Other trails include the Pinnacle National Monument, 20 miles of beach trails at Andrew Molera State Park, and, perhaps the best kept secret of the area, the steepest coastal canyon in the continental U.S. that features abandoned limestone kilns at Limekiln State Park.

As the sun was setting, I set up my tripod and captured the sun dropping beyond Seal Cove, where seals were enjoying the last drops of sunshine. Briny patterns had been blasted into the rocks by the sea spray, and birds were gently riding thermals overhead. Robert Louis Stevenson was struck with the idea for Treasure Island while hiking in this very same spot.

The glamour of Pebble Beach is one of the primary features of Monterey County, with it’s exacting fairways, crashing waves, and bazillion- dollar homes that loom over the greens. There is also the Concours d’Elegance, where high-end car collectors from all over the world descend on Pebble Beach like bears to Sidr honey.

The elegance of the architecture in Pebble Beach trickles out to many corners of coastal Monterey, enticing movie stars, musicians and billionaire moguls to settle here. Clint Eastwood is the most infamous resident of the area, having served as mayor of Carmel in the late 1980s. Rupert Murdoch, Doris Day and countless others in the vaunted upper crust have purchased homes here.

Of course, this means that this can quickly become an expensive vacation as Michelin-rated restaurants and $500-per-night hotels have sprung up to cater to this wealthy clientele. Check out the plush L’Auberge in Carmel, and be sure to melt with a massage at one of the world-class spas like Accista Spa or the Spa on the Plaza.

One especially fruity note came in my glass — Monterey is known for its outstanding wines, especially chardonnay and pinots noir. The county produces more grapes than Napa and Sonoma combined, and that many grapes from the Central Coast go into Napa/Sonoma-branded wines. The soil has stellar mineral content, which makes for uniquely robust wines.

Monterey is one of those special places that is widely popular and accessible to many, while maintaining that rare ability to make someone feel like they are the only person in the whole wide world that knows about it.

Oops. Secret’s out now.

…………………………

7 steps for staying fit on the road

All of us have priorities when we travel. For gay men, staying healthy while relaxing and over-eating in local cuisines is often high up on the list.  Unfortunately, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Here are a few tricks for keeping that beach body even when temptations abound.

Plan ahead. When staying at a hotel, inquire ahead about its gym facilities. Ask about the equipment and browse pictures on the website; and inquire whether access to the gym is 24/7 and free to all guests or comes with an additional fee. A lot of hotels claim to have gyms, but actually offer little more than a glorified storage closet with a few barbells that look borrowed from the Flintstones. If staying at a house or other single-family property, search online for any nearby facilities. Call those and ask about short-term rates and make a game plan. Get your ducks in a row.

Remember that there’s no such thing as “vacation” calories. You’ve probably heard people try to justify an unhealthy meal by saying, “It’s OK — I’ m on vacation.” Bullshit. While there is nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, it’s important to remember the obvious: Your body doesn’t process food any differently when you’re on a vacation than it does while you’re at home. Calories are calories. And the more you travel, the more important this rule becomes.

Stay hydrated. It’s easy not to get your daily requirement of water while traveling — on the road, it’s much easier to opt for soft drinks, alcohol, etc. Make an effort to drink water. It provides a ton of great benefits including boosting your metabolism and curbing your appetite.

Use your feet. One of the best ways to explore a new city and get the most out of what it has to offer is on foot. That’s also great way to exercise.  Push yourself to walk instead of taking buses and cabs everywhere. It will help counteract some of those extra calories we tend to consume while traveling — and you’ll probably discover a few hidden gems along the way.

Be flexible. Exercise doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing. Maybe your typical gym routine at home is a 60-minute intense cardio burner, but you only have 30 minutes of free time each day. As Tim Gunn would say, “Make it work.” Do what you can with what you’ve got! A half hour of exercise is better than none.

Stock the mini-fridge. For the record, there is nothing “mini” about this bar’s caloric content. If possible, squeeze some of your own grocery items into the space between the candy bars, chips and booze. Stock up on fresh cut fruit, veggies and sandwiches. Making smart choices with the mini-fridge will help you cut down on killer restaurant meals.

Exercise in your room. If your accommodations don’t include a fitness facility — or if you’re not adventurous enough to use it — you can still get a great workout in the comfort of your room. Browse some aerobic videos on YouTube to get some cardio, and use your bodyweight as resistance for strength training. There are a million possibilities.
Being a frequent traveler doesn’t need to be a death sentence for your fitness program or a prescription for obesity. Keep your game face on and you’ll be pleased with the results: More energy, better sleep and increased immune system performance, just to name a few.

— Davey Wavey Jacques

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Love on the down load

Phil Hendricks, the mind behind Manhunt.net and now Gaydar.net, says online dating can be about more than just hook-ups

MIKEY ROX  | Contributing Writer
mikey@paperroxscissors.com

We all have our Stuart Smalley moment: That nadir of self-esteem where we feel unloved and wonder if anyone will ever ask us out again. And we also can feel invincible, as if the world is full of men seeking out someone just like us. Or maybe it’s just about getting a date for Valentine’s Day.

Whatever your mood — especially this time of year — it’s wrong to think online gay social sites are all about hookups … though there certainly is that, too.

Phil Henricks, the marketing guru currently with Gaydar.net and previously a creative mind with Manhunt.net and M4M World, is a pioneer in online dating. And he doesn’t think it’s fair to say all sites are created the same — just like gay bars, there’s something for everyone.

Henricks talks about Gaydar.net’s humble beginnings (it started so the founders’ friend could land a man), whether online dating among gays is more about Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, which political circle has been caught quietly cruising for men and why its new mobile app is more than just another Grindr.

Dallas Voice: You have quite a history as the man behind the curtain of the world’s most popular dating sites — Manhunt, M4M World, and now you’re head of North American marketing at Gaydar. Is it true that that site was started because the founder’s friend wanted a boyfriend? Did he find one? Phil Hendricks: Yup. Necessity was the father of this invention. Gaydar began in June 1999 because the founders, Henry Badenhorst and Gary Frisch, had a friend who was desperate to find a boyfriend but didn’t have the time or interest in trawling gay bars. They recommended [the search engine] Excite, which had a personals page where one could post a profile, but it took the poor guy two weeks to get a response. Henry thought he could do better and created a personal site just for the gay market. Five months later, Gaydar launched and their friend got his boyfriend.

Great story, but be honest: Is Gaydar geared toward relationships, or are the people who are using it really just looking for hookups? I like to think of Gaydar as an online version of a typical gay bar, whereas I think of other sites as closer to being online versions of a bathhouse. At Gaydar you have people who are looking for a date, looking for love, looking for a quickie, looking to flirt or just watching the boys go by, just as you would at a gay bar. Cliché as it sounds, Gaydar is what you make it. There’s something for everyone.

Gaydar.net Exec Phil Hendricks

It seems like there are no lesbian dating sites — or at least not as many as there are gay dating sites. Why do you think that is?  There are very few lesbian dating websites. It’s a smaller market, but also I think girls prefer to meet under more traditional circumstances, such as being introduced through friends, girl bars, parties, events, cruising Home Depot. That said, Gaydar does indeed have — ta-dah — a lesbian dating site. It’s called GaydarGirls.com. It’s comparably smaller than the men’s site and not as heavily marketed, but busy nonetheless.

What’s the most popular time of day for users to log on? Can you pinpoint it? Like, for example, the third Wednesday of the month at 3:53 p.m. I have been in industry for 10 years and it is the same at every site. Believe it or not, Monday nights are hot. They’re almost always the busiest of the week. Sundays from 5 to 11 p.m. is second, followed by Tuesdays.

What your main demographic? Old, young, top, bottom? Gaydar is a very welcoming site — a friendly gay bar, if you will. There are all types, ages and sizes of guys. That said, we’re really welcoming to guys age 24 and younger, who get totally free, full-access membership. We figure younger and college guys could use a break and we could use the eye candy. As for demographics, as of six months ago, 20 percent of our members are total tops, 15 percent are total bottoms, and 65 percent are versatile.

Anybody famous have a profile on the site? You don’t have to say their name out loud, but a clever little blind item wouldn’t hurt. And then whisper the name in my ear. Apparently, Gaydar is big with British Members of Parliament, the discovery of which has been catnip to the press. They found photos of one in an act too disgusting to describe in a family newspaper.” But it’s Boy George who got Gaydar into the gossip columns after his arrest for [falsely imprisoning] a rent boy he met on Gaydar. Google it.

Who’s the person who approves them and their requisitely racy photos. I’m sure he’s seen it all. Can I shadow him for a day? Nuns. Seriously, it’s a room full of people. All kinds — gay, straight, men, women, out of work MPs  — who go at it, 18 hours a day. With over 6 million members posting in nine languages, including photos and video, it’s a daunting task — but Gaydar soldiers on.

What does it take to get disapproved? I’m sure you’ve got a story. Gaydar prides itself on its relaxed stance when it comes to profile text, so we prefer not to censor. Members can pretty much say whatever they want. When it comes to photos, of course, they have to be of the member [as in, the person in the profile] and images of children, penetration, ejaculation and sex with animals or office supplies are forbidden. We have had very few issues with member photos. We have a sexy, frisky, but well-behaved crowd.

Office supplies? I don’t even wanna know. Are you required by law to save the chat logs and e-mail between members? I bet some of those are a doozy. Logs are kept, but only for the protection of the site and our customers. Only in the case of a major harassment complaint are the logs opened, and even then they can only be accessed by the customer service director. We are exceedingly strict about guarding our members’ privacy. True, it’d be the ultimate fly-on-the-wall moment, but it’ll never happen. Your secrets — and lies — are safe with us.

Where is the future of the Gaydar site headed? A couple years ago Manhunt.net launched OnTheHunt.com, which facilitates real members hooking up on film, and the sudden popularity of Grindr sort of revolutionized the way gays connect on and offline. What’s next? Gaydar and porn? Uh, no. We’ve no interest in whoring out our members for profit. Works for some, but it’s just not what the Gaydar brand is about. Gaydar is about fun, meeting, dating, as well as gay culture. We have GaydarNation.com, which is our huge gay entertainment site, plus there’s GaydarRadio.com, with half a million listeners. Mobile technology also gets us hot. We just launched the Gaydar app for the iPhone, which was an immediate hit since we were the first major gay dating site to offer a fully integrated app, allowing app and web users the exact same access to its profiles and options. The Android Gaydar app should be ready shortly after Valentine’s Day! Beyond the app, we’re giving the website an extreme makeover, which will be really fun. Look for that in early summer.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright