Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ride the West - Day Six

Petaluma to San Francisco: Today is my final day of cycling on this 6-day, 404 mile tour of the California coast! What a trip it has been. The day promised to be a beautiful one and the weather was perfect, even as we entered San Francisco. Our start took us through downtown Petaluma, which reminded me a lot of Bellingham, where I went to college. The historic, old town feel of the place is confirmed by several 100-year old buildings and store fronts followed by historic homes as we rode out of town and toward the hills.

The surrounding countryside of Sonoma County has rolling hills, farms, wooded hilltops, and golden valleys. This was the first day of our six that I saw other cyclists. On the coast, I saw a few self supported cyclists, but today we were passed by numerous riders out on a Friday morning ride. We were traveling on popular cycling roads and the local guys and gals flew past us in either direction. One older rider past me exclaiming, "What a morning!" As he passed, I saw his jacket emblazoned with "Sonoma County Cycling Club."

Our route included a few hills, but since our distance was fairly short today, I wasn't worried about taking my time riding up them. The descents, as always, were great. Soaring down recently laid asphalt, I was sweeping in and out of the turns under the warming sun. We turned Nicasio Valley Road which led us toward a series of small towns. In Nicasio, I stopped to photograph a century-old Catholic church. Against the backdrop of the golden hills, it was a postcard-perfect setting.

As we entered Fairfax, we joined a bike route that we would continue on for a few miles. This town was small but charming with an active downtown of shops, cafes, bookstores, and gathering places. A group of local cyclists had already gathered for a rest stop outside of a cafe and were enjoying the sunshine. I don't know who these folks are that get to ride during a Friday mid-morning. But, who am I to talk? I haven't worked in over a week!

Our SAG stop was a few blocks up the road in a parking lot. I was among the first to arrive, so I knew I had to slow down and enjoy the day. We weren't going to be able to get into our hotel rooms any earlier than 3 p.m., so there was no need to rush on this final day. A few past clients of AbB had already dropped by the SAG and donated some freshly baked goodies and local cheeses. Apparently, there are a lot of local riders that have taken part in an America by Bicycle tour. Our current route was at the suggestion of one of those locals. And, boy, was it turning out to be a good one!

Leaving the SAG, I noticed that the towns all ran together. We rode through San Anselmo, followed by Ross, next was Kentfield, then Larkspur. Each of these towns were attractive enough that I could have parked the bike and wandered around them for an hour or so. It seemed each town had it's own bike shop, too. The town of Ross was celebrated it's centennial that weekend and preparations were being made for a big festival.

In Larkspur, we began climbing up Chapman Drive, a narrow residential street that wound around and around a 600 ft. hill overlooking the valley below. On the north side, we stopped for a photo, taken by a local resident on a morning walk. We shared with her our adventure of riding that day from Petaluma to San Francisco. She said, "Well, you're almost there! Just over this hill."

As we crested the top, we had our first view of San Francisco, about 10 miles away. We could see the city skyline, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge. The Golden Gate bridge was obscured by the hillsides directly south of us. Our descent dropped us down to Mill Valley and Marin City where we joined another bike route. We stopped briefly at Mike's Bikes, a large bike shop right on the trail.

Our route continued southeast along the San Francisco Bay Trail bordered on either side by wetlands. At a brief stop on a low bridge, we admired a blue heron and white crane fishing within 5 ft. of where we stood as the tidewaters went out. A pelican soared overhead and then crashed into the water to fetch his lunch. That made us think of lunch, too. A nice cafe in Sausalito was our destination.

I was riding with Rachel, a 50-ish professor from the University of Bristol in the UK, and my roommate, Boaz, a 44-year old retired military officer from Israel. We selected a waterfront cafe just before downtown Sausalito, and sat down for a small lunch and latte. As we chatted, I realized that if someone had told me a month ago that I would be having lunch in Sausalito with a Brit and and Israeli, I would think they were joking. Then we all agreed it sounding like the start of a good joke... "An American, a Brit, and an Israeli walk into a cafe in Sausalito..." We never got around to writing the punchline.

Downtown Sausalito is a beautiful area. The historic storefronts are busy and active with tourists shopping, eating, and taking photos. The number of cyclists increased dramatically, in part due to those renting bikes to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and ride further along the trails. We took photos of each other and then pushed up the climb to the visitor center overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Not only was it an international affair, traveling with Rachel and Boaz, but I could hear at least a dozen other languages being spoken all around me. What a change from a few days earlier when we were all alone riding along the California coast.

A couple of turns later, we were on the bridge itself. We were riding on the bay side of the bridge and for most of the time, we were riding at little more than walking speed. Thousands of fellow tourists were walking and biking along the bridge with us. If I had a dollar for each photo taken on the bridge on this day alone, I could probably have paid for this trip a few times over. I took at least 20 photos myself!

We crossed the bridge, stopped at a restroom, then continued on our course into San Francisco along the waterfront. We rode through the Presido, along the Marina, past gorgeous waterfront homes painted in bright colors, and then turned south, uphill, toward Lombard Street where our hotel was located.

Lombard Street... hmmmm. We've got some time, what say we ride east uphill to the Crookedest Street in the World? The three of us voted "Yes", and headed about 10 blocks up Lombard. The climb begins at Larkin Street and as we headed toward Hyde Street, the incline has to be at least 25 percent. For a cyclist, that's almost like climbing up a wall. We leaned forward on our handlebars, dropped into our lowest gear, and huffed "I think I can, I think I can." as we rode upwards.

As I reached the intersection of Lombard and Hyde, I shot my arms up in a victory salute, admired the cable car in front of me letting passengers off, and walked over to the top of the crooked road below. Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth is a series of curvy switchbacks with flower planters on either side and dozens of tourists taking photos from the sidewalks as cars slowly navigate down this famous street.

Boaz and I talked nervous Rachel into joining us on the ride down. We squeezed the brakes tightly and cautiously weaved our way down the brick surfaced street. Tourists walking up the stairs snapped our pictures, probably thinking, "Look at those crazy cyclists! I'll take their picture and wait for them to crash!" But no crashes for us. We reached the bottom, high-fived each other, and then realized we needed to carry our bikes up the stairs to get back to the top. It was like an urban cyclocross route. At the top, we rode back down Lombard heading west to our hotel. We pulled into the hotel, congratulated each other, and celebrated an amazing day of riding.

In many ways I was sad to have to box up my bike and call this ride over. But, a good sign was that I could have continued. As eager as I was to head home and see my wife and kids again, I knew that I still had plenty of energy in me and the desire to see what was on the route ahead. I've learned this week that while I'm by no means the fastest cyclist around, I can push myself day after day to cover more miles, appreciate God's amazing creation around me, and enjoy the company of complete strangers with one thing in common: the desire to ride.

My motto for this week was "More miles, better stories." (A phrase birthed from last summer's ride across Washington state with my good friend, Bryant.) And that will be my goal for the year ahead as I plan to take on the Cross Country Challenge in 2009... More miles, better stories. What a ride!

(If you'd like to read the blog by our route leader, Mike Munk, visit this link and see more photos of the route and meet the other riders.)

Dist: 52.16
Time: 4:43:20
Avg: 11.0
Max: 36.7
Total Ascent: 3667 ft.
Max Elev: 640 ft.
Temp: 51 degrees in Petaluma, 73 degrees in San Francisco
Weather: Clear and sunny in the morning, overcast in the afternoon


Trip Totals:
Total Distance: 435.82 miles
Total Ascent: 27,298 ft. (for comparison, Mt. Everest is at 29,029 ft.)
Maximum Elevation: 1,848 ft. (Leggett Hill)

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