Cycling camaraderie on the California coast

Shoreline Highway, Leggett to the Golden Gate

I return again to the place of my origin, the Mendocino coast. A hundred miles of rugged, shoulderless highway, winding in and out of steep coves, headlands, and the rare straight stretches through ranch land and scrub. I’ve found this a lonely stretch, searching for memories to counter the narratives of my birth in Fort Bragg nearly six decades ago. I have very few memories, from the earliest time, but many from the many tours of recent years. Here the traveling bicycle touring community has carried me over the miles, looking forward to the chance meetings, the warmth of campfires, the humor and whimsy of people who choose this simple, radical way of travel. Though less company than prior tours, I’m glad to share the roads with several fellow cyclists.

Two nights at Fort Bragg, the second evening I meet up with Logan and Becky. Logan rode across the country from Minnesota, then decided to meet up with Liam and follow the pan-American route to Patagonia. Quite a fete to grasp on a whimsy! Such whimsy pulls at my own wanderlust as well. I’m not ready to take my touring to that level, not yet. Someday. Becky is a Brit who started her ride in Bellingham and is catching a bus to SF soon. She’s got a time deadline, needing to get back to the UK after finishing a gardening job in Washington. She tells of working for a lord in northern England who had a 100 acred garden on their estate. These tales are shared over a blazing fire built by Logan at MacKerricher Beach. I’m struck by the fact both Logan and Becky had not touring experience before this trip, just decided to get their bikes and bags and head out. How marvelous!

We meet in Fort Bragg for pizza, then part ways. I meet another couple at the bike shop, who are touring on a tandem. I first met them four nights ago at Burlington campground on the Avenue of the Giants. Less bags and weight, they will fly down the coast ahead of me. I opt for another night at camp, now alone again in the site. I’m resting up after the big climb at Leggett, preparing myself for the many hills ahead on the Shoreline highway.

I’m blessed by a wild stretch of tailwinds for the next few days, sustained winds above 20mph, gusts over 40. This is a delight at times, yet cross winds are challenging, especially on high speed descents. I grip my handlebars tightly, a brake my descents more than I might otherwise. I fly past Mendocino, Albion, Elk, on to Manchester as the sun is waning. A night at the nice KOA on Manchester Beach, too tired to enjoy the hot tub this time. The next day I decide a different destination. Rather than push through to Bodega, I stop at Salt Point for the hiker biker site there. High on a hill, I camp with several other cyclists in a lovely pine forest. Logan is there, and several others I haven’t met yet. The next day I climb the bluffs above Fort Ross with breathtaking vistas, surf far below and blue ocean farther than the eye can see, or the mind can imagine. Logan meets me right at the descent into Sonoma county, fast switchbacks before the Russian River.

A night at Bodega Dunes, another fire built by Logan. The warmth compensates for the cold shower, token machine broken and front office closed for the night. I meet again a couple cyclists from the night before, sharing tales around the blazing fire. The moon is out with twinkling stars, surf and fog horn in the distance lulls me to sleep. I ride the next morning, distracted by drama at home and memories of earlier tours. The highway winds along Tomales Bay, clear skies broken with clouds. On past Point Reyes Station, climbing the huge hill at Olema, then along Sir Francis Drake to camp in the redwoods at Samuel Taylor. More cyclists here who I haven’t met yet, sharing tales and humor into the night.

The next morning I head out early, climbing Sir Francis Drake over the pass at Mount Tamelpais. I stop at Bartons Bagels and then coffee. Just as I set out for the final stretch, two cyclists I met the night before pass me, Kenny and Dan who run kayak tours from Sausalito. I follow them along many bike paths to the bay, a flat route different that Google directions through Larkspur. I’m glad to get the local escort, thinking I must look them up and kayak to Angel Island. They turn off before I make the final climb up Bridgeway and onto the Golden Gate.

I make my crossing of the marvelous bridge, not as triumphant as prior tours, but no less ecstatic. I drink in the spectacular views from the western bike path, looking out over the Marin headlands and the vast ocean. I’ll catch a ferry across to the East Bay to visit my sons in Berkeley, a homecoming I’ve missed for a long time.

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