September 14, 2013, Saturday
Bodega Dunes State Beach to Golden Gate Bridge, California (north end, southern Sausalito)
68 miles (running total = 596 miles)
This morning as we are all striking our tents and gear, and as we are eating our breakfasts, we all talk about each other’s intended itinerary for the day. A logical overnight tonight is a popular camp at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, south of Olema, California, an ideal stop-over prior to pedaling into San Francisco the next day. This is a common practice for many cyclists on the Pacific Coast route. Staying at Samuel P. Taylor sets up the cyclist to travel the following day to Half Moon Bay State Park, which is a distance of 58 miles. Sounds logical enough.
Essentially, many cyclists want to camp as close to San Francisco’s northern end as possible, thereby making it within grasp to negotiate the sea of humanity en route to Half Moon Bay. It sounds entirely doable to think of 58 miles in one day as a realistic goal. Vic and Bert have other plans. They will enter the city of San Francisco on Sunday and penetrate its heart as they wish to stay at a hostel there for a couple of days rest, over by the Fisherman’s Wharf area. They invite me to accompany them, but I am not really interested in pedaling my trike into and through the downtown portions of this densely packed metropolis. Alex is only traveling as far as San Francisco, to a friend’s house, so this will be her destination point on Sunday. Then, she returns to Germany after staying there a month.
I joke around with Bert and Vic, asking them if they are worried about bed bugs in the hostel. Bert answers, “We are now!” and we all have a great laugh. Hostels can be havens for these tiny creatures if the business operators don’t keep things immaculately clean. I then ask if they know why the San Francisco bay is as it is, explaining about the San Andreas fault, the mother of all faults in this region. We are having much fun with this conversational thread, as I point out all the reasons, in addition to the insane automobile traffic, that they may wish to reconsider their hostel plans. It is all a good time this morn.
All the while, I am contemplating my own plans. True, we have all more or less been traveling companions for several days now, but we ride separately for the most part, only seeing each other at campgrounds and grocery stores along the way. We have grown our friendships during this time, and the thought that very soon we will likely never see each other again has a certain sadness to it. I ask Alan his plans, and he is going to follow the “tried and true” plan of camping at Samuel P. Taylor State Park tonight, and riding the 58 miles to Half Moon Bay on Sunday. So shall Vic, Bert, and Alex camp at Samuel P. Taylor tonight, before the big day on Sunday when our little ragtag crew disbands for all eternity.
I tell Bert and Vic a few minutes later, after breakfast, that I may not stay at Samuel P. Taylor State Park tonight with the rest of them, that I may pedal on by and position myself as close as possible to the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. I contemplate this because it is well known among cyclists that the route to access the northern end of the bridge is somewhat convoluted, and can very much challenge even riders who have done it before. Even Alan, who has indeed pedaled these very miles in the past, says it’s no easy task to arrive at the bridge’s cycling entrance. Alan tells me that the trick is to get to Sausalito, and to do so, follow Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. He talks of little hidden bike paths that make the ride easier, but they are difficult to find.
Contemplating my past trike journeys on an inland route, where campgrounds are rare, and where predetermined overnights are not the name of the game like here on the Pacific Coast, I realize that normally I would ride until sunset is about an hour away, giving me time to pitch a camp and eat. So, I wonder if that strategy might prove more beneficial to me today, to return to the habits of former trips even though everyone else is meticulously planning precisely where they are going to stay. Knowing each day’s destination does indeed instill a certain confidence in one’s head, removing the sting of uncertainty, but to achieve this, lower mileage days are often the consequence.
My decision is to go with what feels right at the time. I will pedal today and see how far along the sun is when I arrive at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. I will think this all over as I pedal along, and by the time I need to decide, it will all come to me, one way or the other (or so I hope). There is no right or wrong in all this, after all. There is no best answer. Life is an adventure. This Pacific Coast trike ride is an adventure. What is adventure without a whopping big dose of uncertainty?
Before I go, I tell Vic and Bert to be on the lookout for where Highway 1 departs the main road southeast of Bodega Bay. Just past the miniature village of Valley Ford, the PCH takes a 90 degree turn south, and it is far from obvious if one is not looking for it. Heck, even if one IS looking for the turn, it can be missed. If this turn is missed, the traveler does not know about the mistake for many miles, and eventually finds himself entering the city limits of Petaluma, California, over by Highway 101.
Then, our crew breaks ranks and silently rolls onto the pavement. Off I pedal, up the long entrance road back to Highway 1, where one of the bicyclists from last night turns left and heads north, straight for that horribly steep cliff hill not too far distant. I happily turn right, for some long stretches of easy pedaling on flat ground. In a few miles, I reach the turnoff for Highway 1, just past Valley Ford (population: 126), and stop to photograph the sign, which is well hidden behind some overgrown bushes (a big reason people miss this turn). Since there is no sign prior to this alerting travelers to the turn, this sign in the bushes is all the warning an uninitiated cyclist, or motorist, gets. The sign reads Tomales and Pt Reyes to the right.
While I am taking this series of photographs, Bert and Vic pedal up behind me and ask if this is the intersection I warned them about. I tell them yes. They ask if this is where they turn right, and I confirm this is our turn to stay on track for Tomales and Samuel P. Taylor State Park. They thank me, turn right, and pull ahead, eventually riding out of my sight.
I’m starting to get a complex on this trip that has never affected me before: On my inland treks, I never even see a bicyclist on tour, so I have no gauge as to my overall speed, but on the Pacific Coast, where upwards of 10,000 cyclists tour every season, I am continually passed every single day by many touring bicyclists. I put out the same amount of effort, yet they pass me anyway. Dynamics of tricycles versus bicycles are part, but the fact that my rear wheel is only 20 inches in diameter, versus their 26, 28, or 700c wheels, makes a difference. Further, they can stand on the pedals and use bodyweight on the uphills, whereas tricyclists cannot get that strength and leverage advantage. This allows bicyclists who are not as fit as me to pass me on uphill grades. Of course, on flat ground or downhills, the tables are turned, but since this route has so many uphill sections every day, the two wheelers pull away consistently. Maybe I need a trike with a larger rear wheel?
Just north of Tomales, in the early morning fog and overcast conditions common to the coast, I pass a turkey farm, and feel sorry for these bioforms, knowing their ultimate demise is close at hand. Past the little town of Tomales, the road really levels out for many easy and fast miles along Tomales Bay, where I see huge bulls with big long horns and shaggy fir sitting in the tall brown grass, along with large white birds that have long necks and long yellow beaks. It is as if they are all good friends. Trees, sculpted by wind and the elements, are lining the road in all kinds of shapes. Overhanging trees form natural tunnels through which I ride. Eucalyptus trees share their distinctive aroma, and the bark sometimes borders on brilliant orange.
For the most part, Highway 1 is well signed along the way. At Point Reyes, a little bustling town that many San Francisco cyclists ride to and back for a long day ride, the signs are clear, leaving little doubt I am on the right path. I stop at the Palace Market for my daily Odwalla protein monster drink infusion (usually 3 bottles, for a total of 75 grams of protein), and some bananas and cherry tomatoes. Vic and Bert have just shopped and are on their way out as I arrive. Alex catches up with me here, and joins me for lunch. I watch her bicycle and possessions for her while she walks to a nearby bank to get some cash from the ATM machine. She watches my gear while I walk a block behind the store to use the town’s only public bathroom facility. I even take my own self portrait as it reflects in the glass doors of the market, the produce in the store visible all around me – I love bizarre images now and then.
Chores complete, I bid Alex a fond farewell and pleasant rest of her journey, realizing that this will probably be the last I ever see of her. I am inclined at this point to pass on by Samuel P. Taylor campground today, so I may be totally on my own for a while. I pedal on south through the small town, traffic courteously giving way to my little tricycular form. Just south of town is the Point Reyes National Seashore, managed by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. At the rural town of Olema, I turn the trike’s handlebars left and head up the hill to begin my ride on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which is a key route change off of Highway 1 for trike gypsies if they want to get to Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge.
This road goes up and down over the rolling countryside, but the hills are short and not so ridiculously steep as many on the coast route. When I pass the boundary line of Samuel P. Taylor State Park, it is still way too early to stop and pitch a tent, especially since it is getting warmer, and I feel like putting in some more miles. I keep on pedaling past the campground entrance farther up the road, thinking about all my new friends and how I’ll miss them. The road becomes narrow and curvy in places, with large forests and redwoods. Quite a few miles after my turn at Olema, I finally see the first proof I am on track for my golden goal of the big bridge: a sign reads SIR FRANCES DRAKE BLVD. Then, I see a white sign with green lettering, depicting a bicycle, with the number 20 underneath it. Below the 20 route designation is a straight arrow and the word FAIRFAX. Since this area of the coast is so heavily populated with an active cycling community, the government marks main cycling routes as they do for marking main auto routes. It is a fantastic idea I have never seen anywhere else! Since I know the town of Fairfax is one I wish to go through, my mind relaxes, knowing I’m where I need to be today. I think I’m slow at times, but now I pass a hiker with pack and guitar, traveling only a fraction of the speed the trike is capable of on this flat road.
The scenery here consists of rolling brown pasture lands, low hills, and scrubby bushes and trees. It is Saturday afternoon, and traffic is moderate, but the shoulder is mostly wide, so it is comfortable to pedal along in the bright sunshine. In Fairfax, bicycle lanes and routes are the order of the day, and I enjoy knowing the government here supports human powered humans to such a great extent. I see many more bicycle route signs, and am amazed at the level of support for cyclists.
I had heard that the west side human powered human path over the Golden Gate Bridge was closed for repairs, so when I see a California Highway Patrolman finishing up issuing a traffic citation to a motorist up ahead, I decide to ask him if he knows about this. He is parked on the shoulder, so I pedal up to his driver’s door on my ICE Q trike. His window is closed, air conditioner on inside, and he is busy writing in his log. The top of my helmet is just barely at the level of his window, so I’m nearly invisible down here. The patrolman does not even know I am here, having arrived so silently as trikes always do, and continues writing, oblivious to my presence. I extend my right arm way overhead and tap gently on his closed glass window, which truly startles him, and he jumps with surprise. Then, a huge smile comes over his face, his electric window comes down, and he says I scared him. We have a great laugh, and then I inquire about the bridge passageway. He is not sure, but thinks I can get over. I bid him a good day, and pedal on, still chuckling over the encounter.
As I get to Marin City, still on Sir Frances Drake Boulevard, traffic gets heavier. I stop at a bicycle shop to ask directions. The lady hardly knows English, and is unable to help me, other than to let me use the shop’s bathroom. I pull into a large shopping mall and ask a business owner about finding my way, as I notice the Highway 101 freeway is looming a couple blocks ahead, and knowing I am not allowed on it. She tells me some directions, but is not sure of all the bicycle routes. Two blocks farther east, I pull into a fire station, which is next to the 101 freeway, dismount, and talk to the firemen working on cleaning their large red trucks. These guys are very cool, give me tons of information, show me a gigantic wall map of where I need to go, and even give me a Gatorade because the afternoon is warming up as it marches on.
The fire personnel tell me of a hidden bike path a few yards past their station, and warn me to look into the bushes to see it. I thank them, still in doubt as to my way, and slowly pedal back out onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which by now is very crowed with cars since the freeway is literally right in front of me. The firemen said the bike path is just a few feet prior to getting onto the 101 on-ramp, and what do you know! Yep, sure enough, over a little dirt area through the oleander bushes, I see the bike path. Never would I have found this had it not been for their coaching! The path puts me onto a private roadway just for human powered humans, and leads over a bridge and river bed, with the Highway 101 on-ramp just to my left, over the concrete divider. Then, it parallels the freeway with a little yellow line just like the big automobile roads, and is separated from the surrounding territory by a chain link fence.
Cars are speeding by me on my left, and I notice the sign for Mill Valley off-ramp ahead. This is an area I know I must pass through also, so it’s another clue I’m doing this correctly. Through some residential neighborhoods I ride, up a steep hill, and then down to a busy intersection where I am not sure of the best way to proceed. It’s my lucky day, as a veteran local cyclist in spandex on a fancy racing bike is stopped momentarily on the sidewalk. I ask him directions, and he tells me to take this bike path for the next couple of miles into Sausalito. He says I will arrive at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge eventually. I thank this young man, pedaling off with due haste as the day is wearing on quite quickly now, and I have absolutely no idea of where I will be sleeping tonight.
All my cycling pals are already eating their dinners, cozy and ready to bed down in their tents at the Samuel P. Taylor State Park campground, while I’m out here in a sea of humanity that does not care about my sorry state of affairs – oh, the adventure is running high now! If nothing else, I am many miles farther down the road than any of them, and I have been successful at finding my way almost to my end goal for today, the big orange bridge. If I had stayed with them tonight at the camp, I would have had to do all this tomorrow morning on a day where I would have to ride 58 miles to boot. The way I figure it, regardless of what tonight brings, tomorrow’s ride will be a much shorter and easier 35 to 40 miles instead of the nearly 60 they will have to do. And, since tomorrow is Sunday, I reckon I’ll be pedaling across the bridge first thing at sunup. I like the plan, although I’m not crazy about the hours of darkness between then and now.
On this final bike path, I see I am on bike route 5 to Sausalito, so I shift up to high gears and book along as fast as my legs will pedal. The sun is close to setting now, so I must find some sort of sleeping arrangement. Fortunately, the air is still comfortably warm. The bike path crosses the 101 freeway, which is now on my right. I see a freeway sign for motorists that points to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, and an off-ramp to Marin City and Sausalito, so I know my goal is imminent. In Sausalito, I see how I need to go (up some very steep hills), and stop quickly to ask two female power cyclists about a potential place to stay. They know of no options this close to the bridge, but tell me that if I follow them, they’ll show me the final mile or so to the bridge. These gals power up the hills and leave me in the dust, but I see the lay of the land now, and know it’s only a matter of minutes.
Then, up some more hills I ride, reaching a large pullout day-use area, which is part of the Fort Baker recreational area on the bay waterfront. Here, I also see the full San Francisco skyline, just as the sun is shedding its final rays on the towering skyscrapers. Even though my overnight activities are dubious and few at this point, I am clearly elated to have finally reached the famous bridge, bay, and city. I cannot see the bridge from this turnout, but I know it is literally just around the next bend in this road, so I am content to stop, eat some bars, drink some water, and offload some water in the bushes on the cliff to my left, which drops precipitously into the bay below.
There are picnic tables here, and a trash can, and the surface of the turnout is well covered with a reddish brown colored gravel. They spared no expense with this day-use area. I am out of options, so I decide to camp right here along the road. Sure, I could ride into San Fran right now, but I want to save that joy for sunrise tomorrow! If I pitch my tent here, I will be evicted in short order by the first cop to happen by, so, as I have done in the past at times, I choose to sleep on the tricycle.
This ICE trike has a seat that is 37 degrees off the horizontal, so it is very reclined. It is also very low to the ground, my rear end being only 7.5 inches off the deck, so I can spread my legs out straight ahead of me, lean my neck back on the neck rest, and be surprisingly comfortable. Since I pitch no tent, if questioned, it is clear that I am resting only, being a cyclist who was out of options. There is no law against resting, and the odds are in my favor. The growing moon is very bright, and rising over the eastern bay – it should be full by the time I reach Big Sur in a few days. I know from past experience that sleeping on the trike gets cold, so I pull all my coat type clothing out of my panniers and layer it on, zipping it all up all the way, and putting the hoods over my head, which is already covered by my polar fleece skull cap.
As I am settling in for a long chilly night, I cannot believe my eyes: I watch as a group of racing cyclists begin pedaling by my day-use area, from south to north, from San Francisco to Sausalito. I am talking on the telephone to my trike correspondent Desert Dune, offering the latest on the PCTA progress for the website, so I also mention the cyclists I see coming. “There looks to be about a dozen cyclists.” I say, as there is a fraction of a second where I see no more coming over the little rise in the road. But it doesn’t stop! These bicyclists all have headlights and taillights, and soon I realize that the first dozen was just that, the first wave. Only a few yards behind them come a continual stream of bicyclists on racing machines, all knocking down the miles at a very respectable pace – in other words, fast! I am dumbfounded. The line simply does not stop! I do not see an end until about 100 of these rugged souls fly past my little pathetic tricycle camp! Who were they? Why out so late? Wow! What a show that was! But the show is over, and I return to my life on the side of the road, while they all return to their warm showers and cozy beds.
In the past, on my inland route where it does get extremely cold in the Cascade Range and the Sierra Nevada Range, I bring much heavier jacket options, but this trip along the coast, I have minimized my clothing cache, so I hope for the best. At first, I am fine, but as time passes, I can feel the cold from the wind that is whipping over the hills to my west. The hills protect me from a full-on assault of wind, but still it curls around and takes its toll on my ability to generate internal warmth. It is coming off the ocean, and is loaded with humidity, making it seem even colder. Normally in a tent, I am in an insulated sleeping bag, inside a tent with fly that keeps me fully protected from wind. Not tonight! I am out in the elements with just the clothes on my back.
Well, not quite. I do have a very thin survival type space blanket, which is obnoxiously chrome colored and crackly when manipulated. I get it out, but the wind whips is around, making it a real challenge to get it wrapped all around my torso and legs so that it will stop the chilly fast moving air. It becomes too cold to rest my head back against the neck rest, so I keep it tucked down onto my chest to preserve heat. I draw my legs up under my knees to further preserve my body heat. Occasionally, I peek out and see the position of the moon, which is my way of telling time (I have not worn a watch for more than 20 years). No cops yet. The moon at long last sets behind the western hill, darkening me even more from prying eyes, except that there are no eyes out here to see me this time of night. A couple stops for a while in the wee hours to make-out over the bay, but incredibly, they don’t even see me sitting a few yards away. Finally they leave, none the wiser.
I sleep fitfully tonight, fighting cold, and hoping for the faint sight of an impending and needed dawn. The moon is gone now, so I know hours have passed. With every hour, the cold increases, and while my body never reaches a point of constant shivering, it seems to exist right on the border at times, never crossing over though. My mind reaches some dream states, so I am getting some sleep, but I realize how sweet it will be to arrive at Half Moon Bay State Park tomorrow, pitch a tent at the beach, and crawl into a fully protected bag for the night. Indeed, Sunday night holds the promise of luxury compared to tonight!