My time in the Bay Area was quite pleasant. San Francisco is one beautiful city. It’s up there with Prague in my top five. I cycled around the city and its surrounding suburbs, naturally getting quite lost – at one point it went from rather nice houses to dense parkland in one block.
In 1906, San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and consequent fire, which left the city in ruins. With 80 per cent of the city destroyed, the rebuild took on a style typical of the early 20th century and they’ve done a top job.
I get the feeling I didn’t understand the bike routes though, because the infamous hills wreaked havoc on my recovering legs.
My first day’s cycle north fell on a Saturday, when a large and widely attended St Patrick’s Day parade shuts down the main street of San Francisco. Picking my bike up from the shop, it took me far too long to get out of the CBD, before navigating tourists swerving erratically across bike lanes on rented bicycles by the water. The streams of cyclists led me across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the seaside town of Sausalito.
I had been following the Number 1 highway, knowing it would take me north, and it had served me well. A few miles out of San Francisco, I should have done a little more investigating, because Highway 1 broke me. Instead of following the vague bike signs on the road, I followed the highway up a mountain to which only Google Maps’ gradient graph can do justice
I cruised into the town of Olema and met up with the smug-looking signpost for the bike tour I was supposed to be following. Though I would have loved a shower, the inn was full on a Saturday evening, so I paid a fraction of the outrageous premium they were demanding at the local campsite, and rose early to hustle out before the owners woke up.
I trundled back on to Highway 1 and ran into Point Reyes Station, precisely the village I was looking for: a delicious coffee and breakfast, and a nice lady offering me accommodation in Chicago – this is happening often. Americans are so nice!
A few minutes later, another lady came over and asked whether I’d come to town to visit the Bovine Bakery. I answered that I had very little idea of where I was, and she said that people travel to Pt Reyes Station especially for the bakery.
She insisted I get a photo in front of the bakery.
The scenery was pleasant, but my legs weren’t up for it. Fifty kilometres later, I trundled into Bodega Bay, saw a candy shop and decided that I would invest in good quality sugar before deciding what to do.
Serendipitously, the owners of the store were bike tourers, and had toured in Australia, cycling from Adelaide to Far North Queensland. They told me there was a big climb in my way and two camping spots outside town, so I pursued the one they recommended 10km down the track on the beach.
On arriving, I was informed by the cheerful park ranger that the campground didn’t offer discounted rates to hiker/bikers, so I headed the 10km back to Bodega Bay and set up camp at Bodega Dunes Camground. There I met Erik, who was to become my cycling companion for the next few days. I also met Steve, a man who lied about so many things so frequently that I had no idea what was true and what wasn’t, but I am fairly sure he was a crab fisherman.
Erik was a different sort of dude. A machinist by trade, he was cycling to the forests in southern Oregon, where he intended to live a largely subsistence life on his own for a few months. He didn’t carry cutlery with him; he’d carve chopsticks from sticks on the ground. He planned to hunt animals with a bow and arrows that he would make from scratch. Different sort of dude.
He made this ornamental spoon and pipe.
He was highly intelligent, and knew huge amounts about the natural world, from geological and meteorological patterns to the local flora and fauna. He was coming from San Francisco, where he’d been living for the past few years, and mentioned his ex-girlfriend a lot.
Erik was in Bodega Bay resting his knee so he could get to a cycle shop in the nearby town of Sebastopol and get a granny gear installed on his bike. I made the day trip with him, before we headed up the coast north together.
Our first day’s cycle took us up Jenner Hill, the climb I’d been warned about in the candy shop. The incline itself was not so bad, but no one mentioned the buffeting winds as we climbed, especially towards the summit. However, we were amply rewarded by the outlook.
I’m a bit of a sucker for US politics, and before this trip, words and phrases like ‘sequestration’ and ‘Congressional logjam’ had all been part of a perverse spectacle where the Democrats and GOP ate each other and their own alike, while I observed from the other side of the Pacific and could remain materially unaffected.
Now, Congress’s refusal to pass various budgetary items without repealing Obamacare has resulted in the parks’ budgets being cut, the campgrounds being closed in the goddamn Spring, and hiker/bikers being reduced to common criminals in order to get a decent night’s sleep on the road. Cheers dickheads.
Anyway, we slept in a hiker/biker campground of a closed state park, but paid the fee, and were joined a few hours’ later by another tourer, though she kept her distance.
The next day’s cycle was a hoe-hum affair along the undulating coastline. Spectacular scenery for sure, but the constant blast of headwind from the Arctic was starting to get elderly. That night, in lieu of any open campgrounds of a reasonable price, we decided to free camp in a patch of scrubland between a farm road and a beach, just south of a small town.
We rose early, and dried our tents outside a massive hardware/grocery store in the otherwise quiet settlement of Manchester, before continuing up the coast into a relatively still morning. The sun was starting to shine through the fog as we rode next to the ocean, making for some charming riding, save for the rolling landscape, which made the pace slow. We ended up finding the very much open Van Damme State Park and booked in for the night in the biker campsite, nestled next to a creek.
Having only a short ride to Fort Bragg, we rose late and enjoyed a decent campfire breakfast. Only a few miles north, we stopped at the quaint village of Mendocino to write letters and fix bikes, before pushing on to Fort Bragg.
After some laundry in the fairly bleak city, Erik and I parted ways – him, to free camp somewhere in the surrounding National Forest, and me to the cheapest motel with free Wi-Fi.
The next instalment concludes my trip through the state and is mainly concerned with Redwoods and California’s largest cash crop.