After several days of good riding conditions, our luck with the elements was about to turn. Riding out of Van Damme State Park, we could feel a cool breeze in our faces and see the clouds rolling in. Five miles into our fifty mile day, clouds turned to drizzle and drizzle turned into downpour. In turn, the road greeted us with abrupt climbs, hairpin turns, and a stiff wind right in our faces. The combination of wind and rain made for a pretty miserable ride, and we found ourselves pushing our bikes up hill after hill. About fifteen miles in, things got so bad that Alex muttered “I wish one of these truckers would just pull over and offer us a ride.”
Well, ask and you shall receive. Not ten minutes after she had said these words, and as we were pushing our bikes up yet another brutally steep hill with the rain driving into our faces, a truck pulled over and out jumped a middle aged guy with a handlebar mustache. “Do you guys need a lift up the hill?” he asked, with a hint of a smile. We didn’t hesitate for a second. Dripping wet and freezing cold, we could not believe our luck. He introduced himself as Charlie the lineman, helped us hoist our bikes onto the truck bed, and apologized that we’d have to sit with our bikes on the back. Not a problem for us, of course. We hopped on and up that hill we went. I mused whether we should ask him to take us further, and Alex immediately shot me down, saying we shouldn’t push our luck. Well, what do you know, at the top of the hill Charlie hopped out of the truck and asked how far he could take us. It turned out that he was headed through Gualala, where we planned to camp for the night – so we scored a ride THE WHOLE WAY. And saved ourselves about five hours of miserable, wet riding.
Sometimes, the road treats you well. Charlie quickly rose to the top of our “favorite strangers of the trip” list. We tried to give him a couple of dollars for helping us out of our misery but he refused, saying that he tries to do a good deed every day and that we lucked out and got it that day. Well Charlie, you definitely made our day. To me, you’re like Clarence the angel in It’s A Wonderful Life, you definitely earned your wings. Now, when we think of Charlie, we just imagine a little girl on James Stewart’s arm saying in a high pitched voice “Every time a truck stops, a lineman gets his wings.” We love you Charlie!
We arrived at Gualala Point Regional Park to set up camp, which turned out to be a pretty cool little campsite. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones that thought so. There were very few other campers, but the mosquitos were out in force. Hordes of them, honing in on us and swarming once they sensed our sweet human blood. We set up the tent faster than ever before, literally running in circles as we unpacked to keep those bloodsucking little beasts off of us. Needless to say, the stove stayed cold that night. Instead, we spent the entire rest of the day in the tent, eating cheese sandwiches, listening to podcasts, and watching Inglourious Basterds. Nothing better to cheer you up than a violent Tarantino romp!
The mosquito situation hadn’t improved much by morning, but the weather situation was looking up. The sun was out and the wind had turned again to blow strongly from the northwest. Riding along the coast that day was as beautiful as it was brutal. Winding roads and narrow shoulders combined with gusts that tended to push us off the street made for a rather complicated ride. But there were also some nice little touches in there. Our lunch was spent at an abandoned campground, which had been taken over by cows. And if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you know cows are our new favorite animal. They were roaming the campground, the hills, and the highway in between, forcing cars to stop and wait for them to move out of the way. Which was pretty entertaining, and made us feel great to be on bicycles instead. After a good 45 miles we arrived at Bodega Dunes campground, just north of Bodega Bay.
Lucky for us, the favorable weather conditions continued into the next day. The wind kept pushing us hard and we barely needed to pedal through the scenic farmland that lay before us. The highlight of the day was stopping at a roadside stand to buy a massive bag of cherries, which lasted for about the next hour. We wound our way south down long, narrow Tomales Bay, where hordes of spandex-clad cyclists zoomed by us and throngs of weekending city folk flocked to the many oyster bars lining the bay. Every other car was a Mercedes or an Audi, and at one point a whole herd of Lamborghinis glided by, driven by smug looking silver foxes with their immaculately coiffed wives in the passenger seat. Looks like we’re getting close to San Francisco!
In no time, we made it to Samuel P. Taylor State Park, located just north of Lagunitas. We were really hoping to spend the evening relaxing (read: drinking) at the Lagunitas Brewery, until we discovered to our dismay that the brewery is actually in Petaluma. False advertising! Well, we made do with adequate substitutes – see photo evidence below. Unfortunately, we needed about six more to put up with the high brow, condescending San Francisco lawyers overnighting with us in the hiker-biker camp. Hey guys, thanks for the unsolicited education in prison culture, mud flaps, fishing licences, Modesto, and other fascinating aspects of your lives. We turned in to sleep (escaped) early.
But then, the day had finally come. Hopping on the bikes early, we enthusiastically crossed the final threshold and made it to San Francisco. What a glorious day! Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in bright sunshine while a nice breeze was blowing was nothing short of amazing. Unfortunately it was a Sunday, which meant that thousands of spastic tourists on rented bicycles were also out enjoying the bridge. Making it safely to the other site was closer to an obstacle course than a simple straight bike ride, but we made it across unscathed. Until we got off the bridge, at which point Alex promptly wiped out and busted yet another front pannier. Yes, another one. (Note from Alex: While one duct taped pannier connotes a certain street cred, a second one just kind of screams “this person doesn’t know how to ride a bike.”)
Anyways, we biked on into the city with somewhat frayed nerves, and got a quick lesson in San Fancisco bike culture. Stop signs don’t matter. Street lights don’t matter. Street directions don’t matter. Drivers know that these things don’t matter to bikers and so they treat bikes like cars. All of which was a little bit terrifying after four weeks on relatively calm stretches of highway. So, biking like grandpas, we made our way to Telegraph Hill, where we were welcomed at the apartment of Alex’s friend and former coworker Ryan. Ryan and his partner Marc showed us great hospitality and let us stay at their beautiful apartment for two nights. We spent our first night in the city touring around the neighborhood with Ryan and Marc, feasting on delicious Chinese food, and topping the day off with gelato in the park. Ah, creature comforts.
The following day we just let everything go, ditched our bikes and went all out tourist-style. We went out for breakfast, walked around the Mission, and stopped for lunch at Tartine for the goat cheese sandwiches that Alex insisted upon. That was one of the best bakeries I’ve been to in years (my big belly after our visit is proof of that), and for the hell of it we got an enormous cookie and a lemon tart with a flower on it too. We passed the rest of the afternoon riding the cable car, visiting the places where the Beats used to hang out, drinking coffee at Cafe Trieste (which is supposedly where Coppola wrote the script for The Godfather), and generally enjoying ourselves immensely. It all just hit home for us. To top it all off, Axel, an old rowing friend of mine from Rostock, invited us out to Orinda for beers and BBQ that night. How could we say no to that? After dinner, Axel and his wife Adrienne drove us up above Berkeley for the most gorgeous view of the whole Bay Area. That ocean of lights, all in this warm summery night, it was perfect. Thanks for having us, Axel and Adrienne!
The morning of our departure was tough for us. In just a few days, we had grown to love San Francisco and the surrounding area quite a bit. Especially the old Italian men (real Italians!) and the little old Chinese ladies doing Tai Chi in the park. With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to our unbeatable hosts Ryan and Marc, but not before taking a group selfie. A big hug and thank you goes out to both of them, without them our stay in the city wouldn’t have been half as much fun.
And then, against our better judgments and the sweet call of domesticity, we were off again. Getting out of the city proved to be quite a pain thanks to crazy traffic jams and constant red lights. Luckily, we found “the Wiggle,” a zigzagging stretch of bike lanes that skirts a major section of hills and has basically been taken over by cyclists. Once we hit Golden Gate Park, all of our stresses melted away and the day turned out to be a piece of cake. Riding along the Great Highway, passing miles of golden sand beaches, watching the surfers out on their boards, and being pushed by the wind… what else could we ask for?
The day ended for us at Half Moon Bay State Beach, where we met a great Polish couple who were wrapping up a cycling trip from Key West to San Francisco, then catching a plane to the Philippines to cycle there (so cool). And then, the best thing ever happened. We were watching the sunset at the beach, and I spotted a telltale plume of spray out in the distance. WHALES! A pod of three grey whales, migrating north for the summer. Alex almost lost it when one of them rose partway out of the water, waved his flipper (at us, obviously), and smashed back into the ocean. (Note from Alex: I have lived on an island, ridden ferry boats, and sailed in the San Juans for basically my whole life, and I had never seen a whale until now. I cried. I still feel like I’m going to cry when I think about it. Whales are awesome.) So that was a pretty good end to the day.