In late May, 2018, I took a trip to California with (my then-acquaintance, now-friend) Matt Franklin to ride my bicycle from Eureka, CA to San Francisco, a distance of a bit under 350 miles. It was my second bike camping experience (the first one being an overnight group ride organized by Femmechanics) and my first significant bicycle tour.
Our route followed the 101 (via other parallel roads where possible) to Leggett, where it diverged onto Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. We followed the Adventure Cycling Association's Pacific Coast Section 3 map, which takes approximately this route, with some minor differences I didn't bother to include. I would highly recommend the ACA maps to any bicycle tourist. They contained very good information and advice and precisely described the challenges of this route, and the maps fit neatly into my handlebar bag's window.
This ride was extremely challenging for me. Nevertheless I loved everything about it and it was exactly the kind of vacation I needed. I have a lot I want to record about the experience, probably more than most readers will want to read. You can use the checkboxes below to hide topics that don't interest you; topics are also color-coded for easy skimming.
Events Leading up to 5 AM May 24 (or, Why I Chose a 40 lb Bike with 1.75 Inch Tires and an IGH to Ride California Hills)
The bike I wanted to bring along on this trip was my Soma Buena Vista mixte, which had many worn out components (including a unrideably worn rear rim) and was due for some maintenance. I had made quite a lot of progress toward rebuilding it in its fourth iteration (having previously had singlespeed, three speed IGH, and 1x9 derailleur drivetrains) as a relatively lightweight (~25 lb) touring bike with a Shutter Precision dynamo front hub (I have come to feel I would far rather pay the small weight and performance penalty for dynamo-powered lights than have to worry about forgetting to charge battery-powered ones and wanted a dynamo hub even on this "faster" bike), a lightweight but strong Tubus Fly rack, and a Campagnolo 2x11 drivetrain with a gear range of 24.7 to 110.3 gear inches. I already knew my rim brakes to be strong and reliable. This build seemed to make sense both for this trip and for the kind of riding I currently want to be doing with this bike.
Not only did I have mechanical reasons for wanting to take my (relatively) lightweight road bike on this trip, but Soma is a San Francisco company. I love their frames for their beauty, ride quality, and customizability, but knew nothing about SF and had only recently realized that this bike's headtube badge (which had been mysterious to me before) was in fact a stylized image of a tower in SF enveloped in fog. It seemed even more appropriate to bring it after that. And this plan would have worked out well, had I just asked my local bike shop to build the wheels as they have done for me many times in the past. In a fit of laziness, I stupidly decided to experiment with Prowheelbuilder.com instead, which did make nice wheels, but shipped them too late to be of use.
My backup plan was to bring my Bike Friday New World Tourist, which (theoretically) packs up into a suitcase. There were a few things I didn't like about this plan. With my mixte incapacitated, I had been riding this bike a lot and while not as fast, it is equipped with comfortable geometry, a drivetrain with a fairly large gear range, and a strong rear rack. However, the brakes (Shimano Sora STI shifters) had always been hard for me to operate. I had installed shims which helped me reach the levers but had still had issues making the brakes engage with enough force. However, the night before I departed I replaced the brake pads with what I hoped would be more effective ones, tuned up the V brakes and the rear derailleur shifting, and got the bike into a usable state with an amount of braking power I felt more comfortable with. The Bike Friday people had also left the steering tube a good 3+ inches longer than I'd wanted, but although I felt unsafe with so much steering tube poking up at me, I'd ridden this way for months and figured I could get a bike shop along my route to cut it for me.
It was around 2 AM when I realized that Plan B was not going to work, due to my habit of riding all my bikes in all conditions. I had with a great effort managed to get the rear triangle to fold, but the seatpost had rusted into the frame and despite dripping oil into it I was unable to get it to move, a necessary step for packing the bike into its suitcase. I was faced with either rebuilding the bike and putting it in my larger bike case which I'd intended to use for the mixte and which was not suited for securing bikes with unitube frame construction, or moving along to Plan C, my other Soma, my beloved, heavy, and slow winter/bad weather/hauling stuff bike.
I have a strong attachment to both of my Soma frames, which I have spent countless hours choosing components for and building up (or rebuilding). My heavy Soma Saga touring bike - which I built up to be as practical and good at hauling stuff as possible, sparing no weight - immediately felt like a comforting choice. It has extremely solid and predictable handling, is easy to ride with no hands, and the frame was designed to carry heavy loads. It has powerful disc brakes and a frankendrivetrain of a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed IGH paired with a double crankset for a gear range of roughly 29-93 gear inches, which seemed low enough to go up hills. It is also extremely heavy and somewhat complex to disassemble due to front and rear racks, front dynamo and rear IGH hubs, metal fenders, and a double legged kickstand. However, I was out of other options and low on time, so I started taking everything apart, crammed my camping equipment in with the bike into the bike bag, swapped the rubber platform pedals for the clipless/platform commuter pedals from the Bike Friday, hoped desperately I hadn't missed bagging up some critical screw or piece of camping equipment and that my bike would survive the trip intact, and scooted out the door at 4:55 AM to meet my taxi.
May 24, Boston -> SF -> Eureka
I had some difficulty lugging my enormous and heavy bike bag out to the taxi, and then checking it in, but things got easier after that. Alaska Airlines has a unique policy of charging only $25 to check bikes, which is the same as their usual checked baggage fee. Despite my bike bag being clearly over the 50 lb limit, they accepted it for this price and I moved on with only my mandolin and a backpack which I would later empty into my panniers and leave with my bike bag at SFO.
The mandolin was a terrible idea. I had a few days before in some sleep-deprived passion decided that camping would be the perfect time to work through a long-coveted book of Bach's cello suites arranged for mandolin (which I had only ever played a bit, my violin skills not magically transferring over as perfectly as I'd hoped to a fretted instrument with wider finger spacing). I ordered the music, crammed the empty spaces in the mandolin case full of Cliff bars, and took it along. This was deeply stupid as it added a fair amount of weight, and I only managed to learn the first three movements of Suite No. 1. Nevertheless, although it embarrasses me to admit it, I'm glad I brought the mandolin. Quietly playing Bach in my little tent was magical.
Matt, my traveling companion (and the only other remaining member of what had originally been a larger group intending to do this trip) met me at our gate and politely did not immediately inquire regarding what on earth I was doing with a mandolin. I tried to say something vaguely friendly and coherent, wrote a couple of work emails, and fell asleep on the plane.
At SFO we collected our luggage. Matt, wisely, was just going to rent a bike. He needed to pick up our rental car, and I needed to drop off my bike bag. When I got rid of my bike bag, I would instead have an untransportable mountain of bike parts and camping equipment. After a great deal of half-awake cogitation, we ended up dragging my bike bag to the rental car place, emptying it into the car, and I then checked the bike bag with my now-empty backpack inside at the Airport Travel Agency. This was not remotely cost-effective; another time I'd just rent a storage unit near the airport or something, which would probably have been far cheaper. Matt then picked me up with the rental car and we headed for the Bike Hut to pick up his rental bike and get my tires re-inflated, and then out of town.
The car trip was fun. We stopped for lunch, stopped at a mildly disturbing (although colorful!) gas station covered in graffiti, got to see the landscape of central California (we took the 101 the whole way). Late in the trip we started to reach part of our bike route. The hills looked mountainous. We tried not to worry about it too much. Finally, about 6 hours from when we started heading north, we arrived in the Eureka hotel. I made a bit of progress toward reassembling my bike before "just resting my eyes" and waking up the next morning.
May 25, Eureka -> Albee Creek Campground, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, 57.2 miles
The first day of our tour was extremely eventful. We went grocery shopping for camp food and then Matt dropped off the rental car while I finished assembling and tuning my bike. All worked well except the shifting, which I couldn't seem to get right despite following the procedure I'd used every time I swapped my winter studded tires for my summer tires. Mysteriously, no matter what I did with the cable tension, the gears slipped under load, only remaining usable with the gentlest possible pedaling. I hadn't done any significant riding with the bike since I had swapped the summer tires in for the winter tires (and replaced the chain, a fact which would later become significant), but the shifting had worked before then, and barring some kind of internal airplane-shipping damage to the hub I couldn't figure out what could be wrong. Eventually we set out, with me hoping I could tune the shifting while we rode and feeling guilty for holding up progress. But it quickly became apparent that there was something seriously wrong, and although I am fairly confident working on my own bikes in general and hated to admit something was beyond me, I swallowed my pride, stopped, called a random nearby bike shop, asked if they could work on my weird hub (I had feared taking an IGH because they are more complicated and less common than cassette/derailleur shifting), and upon confirmation gently pedaled the bike with (the incredibly patient and forbearing) Matt over.
I had read that people are kind to you on bike tour and our bike shop stop was my first experience of that. Dave, a bike mechanic at Revolution Bicycles in Eureka, was amazing. He immediately got to work looking at my bike and couldn't figure out what was wrong with the shifting either. He then figured out the real problem: my rear cog, which had a few thousand miles on it, was very worn. It didn't immediately look it as it hadn't developed the shark tooth wear pattern, but the grooves between the teeth were quite deep. My old chain had also been worn, so the problem didn't show up until I switched to a nice new chain (how many times had I myself warned cyclists at mechanics events about this very problem, but not recognized it when it struck me!).
To test his hypothesis, Dave opened up his old SRAM cassette, pulled out a 20T cog, filed it so it would fit on my hub, and snapped everything back together. It worked in the stand. I took it for a ride and put a lot of force on the pedals. Nothing slipped. Dave had saved the day. I should have hugged him. I cannot describe my relief - I had a backup plan (swapping in a normal mountain bike rear wheel) but it would have taken quite a bit of time and money to execute. Instead I gave him pastries from the coffee shop, paid his (too low!) labor fee, bought a water bottle, stuck the bike shop's sticker on my top tube (I figured free advertisement was the least I could do), and Matt and I set out. I was kicking myself for not recognizing the problem and feeling an immense amount of gratitude toward Dave for not only finding the issue but also letting me see his thought process through the repair and not treating me like an idiot because I am young, female, and had missed the real problem myself. I was also feeling extremely guilty for holding things up for Matt, but he too was very kind during this detour.
The first real hill we encountered was a harrowing experience. I typically climb Massachusetts hills by powering up them in a relatively high gear and then downshifting when I wear out. This first California hill had a steep grade, and it went on, and on. I could feel the weight of my gear dragging more than I'd expected and wore out fast. I started feeling nervous. We eventually got to a major hill I mostly opted to walk. I was frightened of the descent but my brakes and handling skills were up to it and I had fun despite myself. It was not remotely the most challenging descent we would encounter on the trip.
Although our route tried to stick to side roads, in places we rode on the 101. It was sort of thrilling to be on the wide shoulder of what in Massachusetts would have been signed as a limited access highway. The traffic was extremely fast, but the shoulders were (other than in a few scary spots) very wide, and it was actually a fairly comfortable riding experience. The sides of the road were covered in flowers - little irises, California poppies, what looked like foxgloves and some kind of pea plant. When we crossed rivers, they were shallow, beautiful, and a blueish green. We just had to make sure the coast was clear before inching, snail-like, across the off ramps.
Speaking of snails and slugs, we saw a lot of these creatures to my delight. It rained the whole day, but generally not heavily. I had chosen three sets of thin wool sweaters, cotton shorts, and thin wool socks as my clothing for the trip, and when I overheated and had to remove my raincoat, I learned that reports of wool's insulating properties even when wet are not exaggerated. Unfortunately by the time we hit camp Matt's gear was largely damp (my panniers are waterproof and despite being open had been largely protected by trash bags over the top, but his panniers were sub-par rentals). We had a warm dinner of rehydrated food after a valiant effort on Matt's part to dry off our lighter enough to light my little alcohol stove to boil water. I gave him my down vest (luckily he is small enough to wear my clothes) and he did his best to stay warm during the night. With some guilt, I slept comfortably listening to the rain patter on my rain fly. On the way into camp, we had ridden through redwoods in the drizzle. Moss hung off them, and fog drifted through the hills and the tall trees. We had seen a black bear on the road near the campsite which had run away at the sight of us. The day had been thoroughly exhausting and the scenery so beautiful I had almost been brought to tears.
May 26, Humbolt Redwoods State Park -> Rock Creek Campground, Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area, 58.7 miles
Matt survived the night and after a warm breakfast of oatmeal we headed out onto a strong contender for the hardest day of the tour. We climbed all day. If you look at an elevation map of the entire route, a massive hill sticks out and we scaled most of it this day. I had to walk parts. My knees, trapped in position by imperfectly adjusted clipless shoes (which I continued to wear instead of my sneakers for the efficiency), began to twinge. Matt had to wait on me a lot. We stopped for a late lunch and kept on.
I quickly learned that I had to take hills one step at a time and avoid panicking at the sight of an apparently endless ascent. I am not used to sitting and spinning in a low gear but it was apparent that this was the only way I was going to successfully drag myself up the hills. I learned that there is such a thing as a hill long enough that you have to stop and rest a few times before you can make it all the way up. An old local cyclist pouring sweat and riding a lightweight road bike (my envy!) stopped and talked to us halfway up such a hill, describing the local marijuana industry and a festival in town we opted to not attend. We had several such encounters. People liked talking with cycle tourists, and there were many others riding the highway in both directions.
This description makes the day sound like a long slog but it wasn't. We were on the Avenue of the Giants a lot of the day, surrounded constantly by the most astounding scenery, an insignificant bug creeping over the roadways under the enormous sky. When I dared look up from an eternal climb or away from my line on a long descent I would see more mountainous redwood scenes, more blue-green rivers, more flowers. Despite the physical exhaustion I regretted only my slowness for Matt's sake but nothing else about coming.
At camp Matt took the first shower so I could have daylight to play my mandolin. We joked about coming up with different metrics that would capture how very much harder these "California miles" were - neither of us had anticipated having nearly this much difficulty with a ride of this distance. The camp had signs talking about banana slugs but to my disappointment I only got to see regular slugs (these, however, were in abundance). I began to realize that there were far more ravens than crows in this area, big, croaking, and with pointed tails. Like Blue Jays, I sometimes caught them making unexpected sounds to one another. I suspect they were talking about food prospects. They were not the most pugnacious of the local corvids, however; later, I saw a little Steller's Jay chasing a raven away.
May 27, Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area -> Pinewood Campground, MacKerricher State Marine Conservation Area, 41.7 miles
Only 41.7 miles! How hard could it be? But this day started with the enormous hill we had been dreading, and then a second hill we underestimated.
At the transition from the 101 to Highway 1 in Leggett, we made a quick stop at an extremely well-stocked gas station (we were both burning roughly 2000 "active calories" a day and wantonly consuming embarrassing amounts of high-calorie gas station food. The salty packs of little peanut butter crackers were the uncontested favorite.). Craving vegetables, I bought my first of two cucumbers. The checkout lady asked about our route. She made polite noises but was clearly unimpressed (a fellow riding from South America to Canada had passed through only a while back!). It was a strange feeling to travel through so many little non-struggling towns supported by people doing, via one transportation mode or another, exactly what we were doing.
We then started going up the switchbacks of the first hill. I didn't know a hill could go on so long. I plugged away in my lowest gear on, and on, trying different hand positions, stopping to rest now and then, eating and drinking. Up and up. This hill wasn't nearly as bad as we expected, just eternal. We stopped at the top, took pictures, and high-fived. We felt triumphant - the scariest hill of the ride conquered (or so we thought).
The descent seemed much shorter and was extremely fun. As I was easily able to reach the speed limit, I rode well out into the lane to increase my visibility and to allow enough room to maneuver at speed, and occasionally stopped to facilitate passing when I heard cars behind me. When we finally reached the bottom both our legs had seized up a bit and we limped onward toward the next hill, stopping to talk to an Australian cyclist who was headed toward the next ascent. That stop was also notable for a porta-potty with a sign giving the helpful advice to not drink the "water" within.
The next hill, which we had not feared nearly as much as the first, was harder. Up we went again, but the switchbacks were steeper this time, and we were already tired. I had to walk parts of it. I had to rest from walking, even. But as I finally rolled down it, exhausted, I saw the Pacific Ocean through the dark winding gap in the trees.
One of the coolest things about this ride was how we could see the plants and general ecosystem change. You see this in a car, too, but not so distinctly. Creeping up some hill or another I noticed my first of a new type of pine cone, my first weird acorn hat, the firsts of many new flower types. The slugs disappeared. We saw brightly spotted centipedes. Song sparrows materialized. I heard and saw my first "bicolored" blackbirds (the California variant of Red-winged Blackbirds).
The change to the coast was dramatic. I felt the sun start to burn and couldn't stop staring at the ocean.
The riding did not get easier along the coast. The route was... painfully beautiful as it followed the water over hill after hill. We encountered the first examples of a frequent coastal pattern - a sharp descent to a low point, then an almost 180 turn marked with a 15 mph speed limit, and a sharp ascent. These were tough as a cyclist - you had to shift from one range of your gear range to the other in short order, and lost almost all your momentum around the turn. The shoulders of the ascents were often quite steep.
I begged a rest after a while and sat on the guardrail looking at the water. What I believe was a Western Gull chased a raven which was booking it away with something in its beak. Flowers were everywhere, again. We eventually made it to the campsite, set up tents and dropped most of our baggage, and headed into town along a multi-use path for an indescribably delicious "Pan-Asian" buffet (the poor buffet owners seeing two scruffy ravenous cyclists lurching in!) and more groceries. I felt like my bike had acquired rocket power, and we zoomed past cool succulent flowers. I couldn't believe, as an experienced bike commuter who not infrequently carries heavy loads, how much my gear (which including the bike was probably around 70% of my body weight) was weighing me down. They don't make terrain like this in the Boston metro area.
May 28, MacKerricher State Marine Conservation Area -> Point Arena, 49.6 miles
Due to constraints on campsite availability, my original plan for this day had us camping in Hendy Woods State Park, requiring a total detour of 44.2 miles and resulting in a 70 mile day afterward. In the afternoon of the previous day, Matt came up with the brilliant idea of... not doing an enormous detour with gratuitous mileage! We ended up staying in the Wharf Master's Inn in Point Arena right on Highway 1 instead for some much appreciated rest (although I bizarrely slept poorly in my real bed). This hotel was relatively cheap and featured beautiful scenery and gardens, a definite improvement over the original plan.
However, we first had to get there. The route was entirely along Highway 1, but the hills weren't as challenging as on the previous day. We could see the ocean, in one way or another, almost the entire time. Sometimes it was only a distant choppy haze over grasslands, and other times much closer. The promised tailwinds started to really kick in, in combination with rolling hills pushing us to speeds I have never reached before on a bike. I was happy to have my sturdy stable bike with its strong brakes - even heavily loaded I felt good confidence in its handling.
Occasionally the wind was not behind us. It was tricky when it hit us from the side and extremely difficult when it hit us from the front. As we rounded a bend on a later day I remember it gusting in exactly the wrong direction. I was in too high a gear at the time, pathetically struggled for a few moments muttering a largely unprintable invective, and unclipped and stood until it let off. Matt at least managed to stay on the bike. But mostly it helped us. I found myself silently talking to it, imploring it to stop pushing me down hills and encouraging it to help me up.
We saw two traffic accidents on Highway 1 that day, one of which significantly delayed us. Fortunately, no one was significantly hurt in either. It was a challenging day, full of tight turns around corners with poor visibility. I struggled to determine an optimal lane position. On winding descents where I could reach a high speed I felt it made most sense to stay well out in the lane as there was no sane way to pass me anyway, and this gave me more maneuvering room for the turns. But I dithered about where to position myself on the straighter inland narrow roads. I try never to get any closer than a foot and a half or so from something I can't ride on, like the edge of the road, and the few times I deviated from this I was made to regret it with narrow passes I couldn't escape from. I sometimes rode further out to ensure good visibility and as the day wore on found a workable combination of checking for approaching cars in tricky sections, using turnouts, and lane control when needed.
California drivers, by and large, were the best I've encountered in the US. They were generally extremely patient and polite, giving plenty of passing space. I think it helped that we were on such a well-traveled bike route - we continued to see cycle tourists passing in both directions all day - but this good behavior was fairly consistent along our entire route, with some lapses in very rural areas.
After dinner at the hotel, we went to look at the ocean. There was a plant I saw in different forms all along this route, with flowers that reminded me of a gesneriad, like an episcia, and square stems like a mint. It clung to the cliff faces here. The cliffs themselves had strange diagonal striations, and we came up with various explanations for the strange geography. I saw an unfamiliar hummingbird but it was too far away to positively ID - perhaps Black-Chinned - and a Western Gull preened itself as I voiced my admiration and encouraged it to turn for a photo.
This was the first day I had to take anti-inflammatory painkillers. I tried to avoid this as long as possible, not really approving of "recreational" use of painkillers, but in the end my knees had started hurting far too badly to get through the day comfortably any other way. At the same time, fed a steady diet of hills and protein bars, I could feel myself getting stronger. As the pain faded, I noticed the flowers again. Along the inland roadside edges California poppies started to vary with some having darker orange centers and yellow petal edges, and others being bigger and fully yellow. They crept out and softened the edges of the road.
May 29, Point Arena -> Gerstle Campground, Salt Point State Park, 34.5 miles
This was my least favorite day of riding, despite being relatively short, but it ended in one of my favorite campgrounds.
However, it took a bit before we were able to get riding. The night before I had spent some time lying on my back on the hotel balcony, staring at the darkening sky and listening to bird sounds. As I got up to go back inside, I noticed two enormous raccoons scurrying away, but didn't think anything more about it at the time. In the morning, another hotel resident showed us a picture he'd taken of a raccoon staring at the camera and positioned behind my bike. How cute!
It turned out that the one day we weren't careful about securing our food at night, being in a relatively well inhabited area... raccoons ate my dehydrated food. We cleaned up my pannier and its surroundings, laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of it (although in all seriousness this was definitely a mistake and it's not good to feed wildlife this way!). We imagined the poor raccoons (who hopefully lived to forage another day) running for water after the salty dehydrated food. Eventually we got back on the road, whereupon I discovered that my right leg, forgoing simple knee pain, had also started to hurt quite a lot all along its length. I considered switching to sneakers for more leg position flexibility but instead took another painkiller and pressed onward.
The scenery was largely inland and arid. I was reminded strongly of Western Oklahoma and spent time thinking about the mirror world of prosperous California with similar geography here but healthier small towns along this tourist route and (perhaps - I didn't talk in depth with people in the rural towns) different politics. Turkey Vultures, a constant presence for the trip, soared in abundance. I had a frightening moment with a trailer and finalized my transition to a more defensive lane position.
Salt Point State Park was extremely beautiful, and extremely windy. We managed to get our tents set up and then took a (slowly limping, in my case) walk to see the ocean, through a grove of dead pine trees. It was in this area that we started to see significant drought effects. Lots of plants were dead. The ocean was still beautiful. There were big rocks one could sit on and stare over cliffs at the ocean. We started seeing wild succulents, more of the gesneriad-mimic, lupine, and other cool flowers.
We slowly returned to camp. Matt, hungry for trail mix, saw a bird fly away as we approached. Amazingly, we had forgotten to secure our food again and had left it out all over the table. The banana chips and trail mix had smaller holes in the bags. Trying to restrain my peals of laughter at our managing to be outwitted by the local fauna yet again out of consideration for the loss of Matt's trail mix, I looked around for the culprit. Four Steller's Jays were arrayed in trees around us, calling to each other, sometimes flying to nearby posts, and gazing intently in our direction with beady eyes that clearly encouraged us to go take another walk, and leave the trail mix behind.
The wind made the campsite quite cold but this was one of the best nights of sleep I had on the trip (after consuming one of Matt's generously offered dehydrated meals) - we both experienced allergy-like symptoms in all the previous campsites until we started moving, but here we both spent the night with clear heads. The 70-mile day was next so we went to bed early and set our alarms for 5, hoping to get an early start out of concern we'd have to ride in the dark. We later exchanged notes and learned that we both woke around midnight, thinking it was dawn and time to get up. It was the moon.
May 30, Salt Point State Park -> Samuel P Taylor State Park, 70 miles
This was my favorite day of riding. We woke at 5, hustled out of the campground, and hit the road before the poppies unfurled. As Highway 1 reached the ocean side again, strong sunlight hit the tightly wound poppies and the tall golden-white grasses snapping in the wind. It was beautiful, worth getting up for in itself. I made no attempt to pretend I wouldn't need painkillers and had taken the first round of them before we left, so was comfortable as the ride began. I was glad that it was the last major day of riding, however, as later in the day my leg started to prickle as though "waking up" even through the painkillers.
The geography offered a little bit of everything on this day, including a tricky, thrilling, and frightening winding descent along a high cliff edge with spectacular (when one could spare the attention to look) views of the ocean and Highway 1 itself twisting away in the distance. I carefully slowed to obey the 15 and 20 mile an hour speed limits around the bends.
After some time we pulled into a gas station. I had started feeling a bizarrely powerful attraction to the idea of gatorade which I ordinarily have no desire to consume (probably electrolyte deficiency) and found myself huddled in the corner of a parking lot inhaling with uncharacteristic fervor a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips and an entire bottle of gatorade. After joining Matt in applying substantial sunscreen (we had been burning without slathering ourselves in SPF 100 or so), we set off again. He informed me before we left the gas station that we'd already done around 40 miles, with strong tailwinds helping us make progress.
The ocean-side riding transitioned inland and we saw more of the same rolling hills as on the previous day. The wind acted up in places but on average continued to be helpful. I walked one hill and saw to my extreme delight two California Quail hustling across the road. At the top I downed more gas station food and felt stronger again. At this point in the trip neither of us felt we could quite eat enough.
The ride ended in redwoods which we reached via a multiuse path that was almost ludicrously flat and smooth. We joked about having been teleported back to the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway we all take into work. But the path we were on ran through huge trees, and at the campsite I was able to partially park inside one. I saw my first California Little Free Library here, and had the clear sense we were nearing the city again.
May 31, Samuel P Taylor State Park -> Geary Parkway Hotel (San Francisco), 29.5 miles
The sense that a big city was approaching increased the longer we rode on the final day of the tour. The last of rural roads transitioned into suburbs with signed "bicycle routes", protected bike lanes, and other amenities just barely achieved in Cambridge/Somerville. At a stop on a narrow "bicycle route" I waved a motorist around me and she (turn signal blinking, to the amazement of my Massachusetts-adapted brain) informed me that she had been waiting so she wouldn't cut me off. I thanked her as my mind reeled from the politeness and general lack of homicidal inclinations I continued to encounter in California.
After two more significant hills, we reached the Golden Gate Bridge again. The bridge itself was crowded with distracted pedestrians, people in bike tours struggling to hold a line, a few guys in spandex with some forlorn dream of going over 10 mph, and the rest of us miscellaneous folks. I had to stop numerous times and gave up and walked through a few crowds. Ah well. The bridge was beautiful.
On the other end Matt and I split up, him off to the airport via some adventuring, and me off to my motel. He had been a wonderful traveling companion and it felt strange for a bit to be biking on my own, but I successfully navigated my way to the motel which kindly let me check in early. I lurched up to the second floor with my heavy bike and took a nap and a (much-needed) shower.
Only hunger and the sense that (however tempting it might be) it would be kind of a waste to spend the rest of my afternoon sprawled out in my hotel room drove me out again. Done with biking for the day, I switched to sneakers and walked out to the Golden Gate Park to see all the pretty flowers. I could see evidence of drought here too, but the park was extremely nice. I passed by the Conservatory of Flowers but something mysterious was going on with access so I passed it by in pursuit of a restaurant and an ice cream shop.
The walk back (vaguely directed wandering, my favorite activity in a new city) was very nice. I loved what I saw of San Francisco, although I wondered as I listened to some sort of tech worker chatting up a woman in the ice cream shop where on earth all the service workers in the shop found to live on ice cream shop wages. I passed by American Cyclery in a salute to my bikes' frames (it's the closest thing Soma has to a storefront). I loved looking at all the little houses crammed together, in exciting colors, all different, with decorated bits. I watched people pass by and attempted to figure out typical pedestrian behavior in the city (every kind of road user seemed more law-abiding than in Boston). I loved that street names were printed into the sidewalks - without looking up and having to appear lost, I always knew where I was. Cool plants were everywhere, including a dark succulent I saw in many places with different color forms. I had wondered if Proteas and Leucospermum could grow in SF and I am fairly sure I saw at least one. Near dusk I reached my room again, full of virtue and intent to get ready for the next day, and instead promptly passed out on the bed until the morning.
June 1, Geary Parkway Hotel (San Francisco) -> Glen Park BART Station, 5.2 miles
I awoke on my last day in California with a determination to somehow render myself vaguely presentable for my two main activities of the day, a much-anticipated lunch with a friendly colleague and the airport. The main issue was clothing. I had done another round of "laundry" with water and soap the night before, but without a day of flapping in the breeze off the side of my bike or cooking on top of my panniers in the sun of Highway 1, my laundry had not fully dried. Not to be deterred, I used some combination of the hotel room iron and hair dryer to complete my generation of clean and (approximately) dry clothes, crammed my stuff back in my panniers, checked out of the hotel with minutes to spare, ran across the street for some coffee, and set about to attempt to drum up some composure and wait for (what turned out to be a very nice) lunch.
Afterward, I set out to ride to the airport. A few miles into it, I decided to succumb to my curiosity (and laziness) and take BART the rest of the way from Glen Park, after a quick detour into the kind of bookshop I could have happily inhabited for the rest of the evening. An Australian who plans to do a motorcycle ride from Sidney to London (!) for charity talked to me outside the book shop, wanting advice on packing. I advised him to travel light and leave his mandolin at home. BART got off to an inauspicious beginning as my lackadaisical progress through the fare gates resulted in my bike getting trapped between them. After attempting to rescan my card (no go) and a helpful man doing the same (also didn't work), we forced the fare gates back open and I sheepishly popped my bike through to the other side, with thanks.
The BART cars all had spaces for people to stand with bikes, which I did. They were nicer than T cars although the station announcements inside the subway rivaled the T for unintelligibility; however, I eventually managed to figure out where I could see station signage through the windows. We SF foreigners all had a bit of confusion at the end of the line at Millbrae over what to do to get to the airport, but just getting back on the train as it turned around solved our problem.
I retrieved my bike bag, disassembled my bike into it in front of the baggage storage area, and began lugging it back toward my terminal. A helpful person clued me into the fact that sticking the bag on a cart (which as a traveller who normally avoids checked bags like the plague I had heretofore ignored) would make my task far easier. It was an immense improvement.
I felt wistful as I looked out the little window of the plane at the hills in the dusk surrounding the airport. I had loved every (however painfully climbed) mile of California. The amazing thing about vacations is how time can slow down to a crawl, with all the constant new inputs to one's brain requiring analysis. It had only been just over a week, but it had felt like a long time. And when I closed my eyes, instead of thinking over some work issue or churning over one of the banal anxieties of my daily life, my brain reverted to its most recent occupation and showed me a scene of roadside poppies and an approaching hill.