|There, and Back Again
||[Jul. 31st, 2012|09:28 am]
When I was little I dreamed of bike touring. I didn't know that's what it was called, or even that it was an actual thing that people actually did. I just knew that I saw these mysterious little signs on the road during trips to see xandyssin, and the idea of hopping on my bike and following those signs all day sounded marvelous. I used to sit on my bedroom floor with my NC road map spread out in front of me and try to trace the routes I wanted to take, mapping out how I'd get there from home or Dad's and how I'd get back.
I never thought much about the logistics of it--how I'd carry my stuff, where I'd sleep, how long it might take--because it was just an idle fantasy, not something I thought I'd ever be able to actually do. Once I outgrew my childhood bike and left home I pretty much forgot about it.
Then a couple years ago I started cycling and absolutely fell in love with it, and suddenly I started dreaming of touring again. Sometime near the end of last year I started reading touring forums obsessively, and thinking that once I became a stronger rider, I'd start planning one- and two-night bike trips. A few months ago I realized that doing the sort of rides I am motivated to do is exactly what will make me a stronger rider, and started planning for real. And early Saturday afternoon I took off for my first overnight bike adventure.
The plan: Leave from Embarcadero BART around midday, ride to and over the Golden Gate Bridge, then head ~30 miles north to Samuel P. Taylor State Park to enjoy the scenery, camp overnight, then return the next day the same way. It was a solo trip, partly because I wanted to work out any awkward navigation or loaded bike handling issues on my own, and partly because I've been needing a bit of a retreat and this sounded like the perfect way to get it.
I got a much later start than planned since breakfast with Paul and a visiting friend took longer than usual, and then getting to the bridge took a ridiculous amount of time because tourists on rental bikes. After that, though, the ride up was mostly very pleasant. I was surprised by how much of it was on bike paths and well-marked bike routes. I was using a route I'd created on Open Street Maps and loaded onto my Garmin for navigation and that worked really well, but it doesn't recalculate for the many detours there were. I had my phone, of course, but the bike route signs kept me from having to consult it much. I wasn't sure how much my gear would slow me down, but I was able to keep up a decent pace, at least on the flats. Climbing the hills was of course much slower and harder, but even they weren't that bad until the end.
The worst part of the ride--of the whole weekend--was White's Hill on Sir Francis Drake Blvd, about 8 miles from the park. It's a short, steep climb that would have been challenging for me under normal circumstances, but with 20 pounds of gear strapped to my bike, at the end of a long day and right after another long, steady, draining climb, felt nearly impossible. I had to stop a lot, and I walked the steepest parts. Knowing how long it was taking me to travel a single mile, and how little daylight I had left, was really disheartening. There was a bit of a fun descent after I reached the top, though, and then I shifted into the big ring and booked it toward Lagunitas, where I planned to stop at the last little store before the park for water and dinner supplies.
It was, of course, closed. D'oh. Thankfully there was an Indian restaurant nearby that was still open, so I bought water, soda, and dinner there. The food was meh but it was fuel, and I foraged some blackberries from the roadside for dessert.
I finally made it to the campground just before sunset. The ride through the redwoods in the twilight was stunning, and mostly melted away the frustration of the hill ordeal. I stopped at the ranger station and asked if there was any space left at the hiker-biker site and the ranger said, "Technically no, but I'll let you in anyway. That'll be $5, please." I love state parks.
I had just enough time to claim a rough, uneven little spot and set up my tent before it got fully dark. A couple of the other bike campers stopped by to ask if I needed any help and remind me to lock up my food to keep the raccoons away, but after that I had the evening to myself. Well, once I shooed the two GIANT FREAKING RACCOONS away from my bike, where they were trying their best to get to the empty food bar wrapper I'd accidentally left in my top tube bag.
I was really happy with all my gear. My tent sets up in minutes and is exactly the perfect size for me and my stuff, and my sleeping bag and sleeping pad were quite comfortable and warm--even with a minor zipper malfunction. Having both my lantern and headlamp as well as my bike headlight for light was useful, and I love how my white tent amplifies the light. The backup battery I brought was perfect for keeping my phone charged through two full days of heavy use, though I wish I'd brought the cable that would have let me charge my Garmin, too. And little stuff like the headband I wore around my wrist to wipe the sweat and dirt from my eyes, the insulated Klean Kanteen that kept my iced coffee cold and my chicken biryani warm, and the comfortable technical shirt I wore instead of a bike jersey were really nice to have. I packed pretty well, too: I was aiming for 15 lbs. of gear, allowing for 30, and ended up with 20. Other than my camera and first aid/emergency kit I didn't pack a single thing I didn't use--and I wish I'd used my camera. I really should have brought an extra pair of bike shorts, though, and more food, and maybe my camp stove. Sunglasses would have been great, too--riding into the setting sun on Saturday and then into the rising sun on Sunday was kinda rough. I've been putting off ordering the nice prescription sport sunglasses I want because they're so expensive, but I think protecting my eyes is definitely worth it.
In the morning I packed up and headed out early enough that I'd have time to enjoy the scenery I wasn't able to on the way there, and make any stops I wanted to. The Lagunitas Grocery & Deli was open so I had a leisurely breakfast in the sunshine there, and 10 miles later I stopped for coffee at a little Java Hut in Fairfax that's such a popular stop for cyclists that they have nice pumps leashed to the benches and the gaggle of young, giggly baristas seemed to know many of the cyclists by name, even the ones who weren't local. I chatted with a bunch of other riders, including couple of French roadies who invited me to join their ride up to Point Reyes and reminded me that "There is no bike ride without coffee."
I was having an issue with my bike shorts that was starting to make riding unpleasant, so instead of riding all the way back to the bridge I stopped in Larkspur and took the ferry back to SF. I love ferries, so it was a nice way to end my adventure.
Next time--there is definitely going to be a next time!--I will leave earlier, bring more food and extra bike shorts, and either take a different route to get to the bridge or just skip it and take the ferry from SF to Sausalito and start there if I'm heading north again. And I might consider reserving an actual campsite rather than taking a spot in the hiker-biker camp, since that way I'll get a flat piece of ground and my very own table, firepit, and raccoon locker. :)