From golden hills to Golden Gate

Day 23, Bodega Dunes to San Francisco, 74 miles

4:30am: Under the huge cypress, I dream of beaches and waves and home. I wake to rustling sounds, raccoons, squirrels, woodrats? I’m anticipating the day ahead, as I’m planning to ride all the way into San Francisco. Nervous or excited, I sometimes can’t tell the difference. No matter, I’m having a hard time getting back to sleep.

6:25am: Alarm about to ring. Rising before dawn is a requirement of such a long ride. I resist getting up, I can feel the cold outside. So warm in my sleeping bag. Why not stay awhile longer? OK, up! Packing up camp, carrying my gear and rolling my big past the sand of the Hiker/Biker site. My companions are up too, all six, packing and making breakfast. I wish them safe riding and push off. The chill bites at my fingers and toes, just over 40°F.

7:30am, 3 miles: First coffee, Bodega Bay market. Bustling already with people helping Santa Rosa evacuees at the neighboring grange. Clerks offer advice on places to stay. Shelves are sparse in the store. I buy a breakfast burrito, nuked by the deli clerk. Coffee is hotter. I’m standing by my bike, watching the sun rise over the hills to the east. I ride on down Route 1, begin the first of several hills from the coast on south towards Tomales Bay. The sun and physical exertion help warm my core, though fingers and toes become numb from the wind chill. I pass through Valley Ford, remember sitting the porch of the market there, talking with Alex about his previous tour. Onward, the golden rolling hills are stark, covered with tall dead grass that is, one reason the wildfires are so fierce and unpredictable.

9:30am, 20 miles: Second coffee, bakery in Tomales. I sit outside, listen to locals chat. Sun warms my face, familiarity of the location, the route, the scenery. I’m remembering myself too, losing the distractions of previous days, more present and grounded. Cycling is smooth, easier than I remember, even last year. Knowing the turns, the stops, the hills, frees my mind of concerns. My stop is short, I want to ride on. I follow the river out to Tomales Bay, begin the winding rolling ride around the eastern shore. Water is blue, sky crystal clear for the first part of the ride. Then about halfway down the bay, the smoke returns, darkens the sky, I don my face mask again. I pass oyster farms, food shacks, golden hills. My mood shifts with the smoke too, I worry at the air, at the people getting burned out of home and livelihood. Empathy is a blessing and a challenge.

11:30am, 33 miles: Third coffee, bakery in Point Reyes Station. I keep this stop brief, like the others. I’m about halfway to the City, not wanting to break the momentum. I’ve found inertia is a very real phenomenon, particularly emotional inertia. Once stopping a long ride, on a break, it can be hard to get back on and continue pedaling. Legs become sluggish and pained, even after a short stop. My mood can shift too, a fatigue and questioning: why am I riding such a marathon? To what goal or purpose? Then there’s the long hill just ahead. Ok, ride! I push off, pedal the few miles from Point Reyes Station to Olema, then turn left onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, begin the long climb towards Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Slow, steady, the ascent is over before I know it, then the long glide down to the park. Golden hills replaced by tall redwoods and a rushing stream. Sir Francis Drake levels out, then climbs gradually through the San Geronimo valley towards the summit near Loma Alta. I take the rapid descent at full speed, winding through tight curves, taking the lane, then the grade relaxes and I’m in Fairfax, riding on to the next stop.

2:30pm, 53 miles: Fourth coffee, Barton’s Bagels in San Anselmo. Toasted sesame with light lox cream cheese. Delicious! I take a much longer stop, lunch break, anticipate the remaining 20 miles, winding bike lanes through suburban communities north of the Golden Gate. Smoke is still an issue, wearing my mask feels cumbersome. The more heavily I breathe, the mask seems to become damp and harder to inhale through. I’m glad it has the valve for exhaling. Still, better than breathing the heavy air directly. I rely on Google for just a few turns as I head south. This is my nineth bicycle entry into the city since I resumed touring in 2010. It does feel routine at this point. I stay on Sir Francis Drake to College Avenue, then Magnolia, descending and then climbing to Meadowsweet. At the end, I reconnect with the bike path that parallels the busy 101 freeway.

4:30pm, 60 miles: The Mill Valley Sausalito bike path begins, my final leg towards the bridge. The bikeway follows Richardson Bay, then crosses under 101, continues along past house boats and marinas and busy tourist attractions. Today the smoke obscures what would normally be a stunning view of the city skyline. At last I join Bridgeway and begin the climb to the north end of the Golden Gate. Steep ascent, grateful for my lowest gear, excited to be reaching this landmark on the tour.

5:15pm, 67 miles: I’m riding on to the west path of the Golden Gate. Still a thrill after all these crossings. I marvel at the phenomenon, over 1000 miles from Seattle, I’ve ridden here only by the power of my legs and these pedals, this simple machine for transit and pleasure. And here, this massive beautiful bridge, a feat of engineering and insight. Inspiring so many, the gateway to the city which has held such promise. Now, a center of the economic boom of the tech sector, cost of living priced far beyond the average. Signs of desperation are here too, literal signs with suicide prevention outreach numbers, all along and around the Golden Gate.

I feel anything but desperate now. This crossing is a turning point for me, another accomplishment marking a year passed, a step closer to where I want to be, whom I want to become.I stop for a few too many selfies, texting my friends. Squiddie wants in on the action too. Then I descend the south side of the bridge, past Crissy Fields, pedaling the remaining miles around the bay. I ride through bustling Fisherman’s Wharf, past pier after pier, all along the Embarcadero. I arrive at the BART station on Market Street, board the train with deep satisfaction, ready to cross under the bay, visit friends and family. I’ve left part of my heart here in San Francisco, glad to return to this home.

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