Sunday, June 7, 2009

Day 1 - San Francisco to Vallejo, CA

The dream has begun! Our first day of riding across the United States began early. The alarm awoke us at 5:00 a.m. We had a lot to do today. My roommate, Sean, is 29 and a doctor in London. Last night as we were headed to our beds, he remarked, in his British accent, "It feels like Christmas Eve!" But, when the alarm went off, our Christmas morning joy had somewhat faded. It was darn early!! We dressed, prepared our gear, and headed to breakfast. It's fun getting to know these other riders we'll be traveling with for the next 51 days. Following a hot breakfast in the hotel, we gathered our luggage and loaded it on the trailer. Gerard and Michelle, our ride leaders, gathered us around the front of the hotel and gave us our final instructions. We were going to ride as a group for the first handful of miles just to be safe and get us all going in the right direction.

Within the first three miles, we were already climbing a steep hill that had us breathing hard and standing on the pedals. A few of the less in shape riders were a bit shocked, but most of us took in stride and let the climb wake us up. At the top of the hill, we regrouped again and then we were cut loose to ride at our own pace. The day was beautiful with blue skies and a warm sun welcoming us on our ride. Our route took us from South San Francisco west toward Pacifica. We rode a portion of the morning along the San Andreas bike path and then took Hwy 35 toward the Pacific Ocean and the Great Highway parallel to the coastline. The Pacific was a brilliant blue. Seeing the waves crashing on the sand made me realize this dream was coming true.

We pulled into a parking lot above the wide strip of beachfront. Already many of our cyclists had removed their shoes and socks and were carrying their bikes across the sand to the water. I quickly joined them in this coast-to-coast cycling tradition. My roommate, Sean, took my camera and filmed my personal tire-dipping ceremony and took a few snapshots. It was a party atmosphere there in the cold water. Some riders had spouses, friends or family enjoying the scene with them. We walked back to the parking lot and gathered up for the official America By Bicycle group photo. A line of personal cameras had been placed on the sidewalk in front of the staff. After dozens of photos had been taken, we hit the road again. A block up the beach, we turned east and rode through downtown San Francisco streets. It was a quiet Sunday morning with only a few cars on the streets.

Our next turn brought us into The Presidio of San Francisco. Old barracks buildings and green lawns dotted the twisting roads as we worked our way north to the Golden Gate Bridge. Cyclists ride the east side (or Bay side) of the bridge on weekdays and ride the ocean side of the bridge on weekends. We hit the bridge deck and gazed upward at the tall orange-red towers looming above us. This was actually my third time cycling across the GGB, but I enjoyed it just as much as those riding it for the first time.

On the north end of the bridge, we pulled into a viewpoint where our first SAG stop was. SAG stands for Support and Gear. In short, it's a cyclist's rest stop. Our van driver sets up a snack table, pulls out the water jug, and we check in. This was also a great opportunity for scenic photos and portraits with the skyline and bridge as our backdrop.

Leaving the SAG, we dropped down from the highway into Sausalito. This trendy bay town is lively with tourists, storefronts, and more cyclists. It's the cute kind of town you could easily spend an afternoon in. But, we rode through imbibing the scents wafting from bakeries and restaurants serving breakfast. We continued northward on the San Francisco Bay Trail and then rode through small towns like Corte Madera, Larkspur, and Bon Air. I noticed more than a handful of plastic surgery centers. If you need "work done," this is your neck of the woods!

Our next point of interest was the entrance to San Quentin California State Prison. It must be a popular place to visit as they had guards posted and some serious fence to keep us onlookers out. (Or maybe they were trying to keep someone in... just not sure.) Although they offered three squares and a bed, all on the state's dime, I was glad this wasn't our overnight accommodations.

We continued north through San Rafael, Ignacio, and Bel Marin Keys. Our second rest stop was at a gas station. I was in the front half of the group so it was as good of a place as any to rest for a bit and take some time to fuel up. Leaving the SAG, we got on a bike trail and some side streets. I noticed a deer in the brush on the side of the road and then right after spotted several vultures soaring overhead. They might have been eyeing us for an easy lunch, but I wasn't going to give them the chance. We pressed on.

Soon we were on Highway 37. We would be on this stretch of asphalt for a solid 20 miles. The traffic was fast, but the road was good and by God's graces we had a tailwind. This was a great place to stretch the legs and fly for awhile. The scenery wasn't much, but the miles were flying quickly. By mid afternoon, I had reached the Vallejo city limits. Coming off of the highway and into Vallejo, three or four other cyclists caught up and we rode into Vallejo together. Three of us had been riding for some time when I thought to check the map and double check with my iPhone's GPS. Yep, we had overshot our turn and were now ten blocks south of where we should be. Oh well. As I learned two summer's ago, "more miles... better stories!"

We doubled back and found our street. Just a handful of blocks to go and we were at our hotel. As I entered the lobby, I could sense the smiles on the other riders' faces before I saw them. This was a great first day of riding! We had made it safely to town with most of us in one piece.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of slight crashes and one serious incident. Rick, a 50-something rider from New Jersey, had hit a small pavement reflector, bounced into a car, and then dumped his bike on the side of the road. We learned at the end of the day he had separated his shoulder and would not be able to ride for 6 to 8 weeks. After our evening "route rap", he invited anyone interested to stay around for a prayer for the ride—not because of what happened, but because that's who he is. I stayed and he shared with about a dozen of us that if what he experienced today would help us to stay focused and avoid a crash or injury or worse, then that was worthwhile. He prayed for our protection, safety, and for other motorists to see us, and for the remainder of our ride to be without incident. We shook hands and headed to our rooms. Hopefully Rick will rejoin us before the ride ends. For me, I received his guidance and prayers and will continue to err on the side of caution. There but for the grace of God go I. And I'm exceedingly thankful for His grace indeed!

Tomorrow's route will take us to Sacramento. It's a short day of 51 miles with the option of visiting the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield. I like jelly beans. I think I might have to take that in!

Overheard today: In the van ride back from dinner, Ed experienced a sharp leg cramp. Carole said, "You should drink pickle juice!" Ed replied, "I'd rather have the cramp!"

View more photos from today at

Learn more about the Ride for Impact at

Dist: 74.1
Time: 6:41:27
Avg: 14.0
Elev Gain: 3522 ft
Max Elev: 682 ft.
Avg Climb: 3%
Max Climb: 12%


Anonymous said...

Make sure to wear your vest your mother gave you. It will keep you safe as you ride!! :)

Marshall said...

Hope you have a great journey!! All the fellow cyclists here from Dave's office (FPU) wish you well!!