Taylor and I finally made it to San Francisco! It took us 39 days (with 4 rest days thrown in here and there) and 2,548km to get here. We pedalled non-stop for roughly 140 hours; that’s almost six days of straight biking. We are so incredibly proud to have made it here in our own time and by our own means – our strong, strong legs – and are looking forward to a few well-deserved days off the bike in this beautiful city.
It feels a bit strange to be in such a populated place – I have become such a wild, nature- and mountain-loving child!
Day 37: Salt Point State Park to Bodega Dunes Campground, 45km
I slept like a rock. I know this because I woke up in the exact same position I fell asleep in. I usually turn and move around as much as my sleeping bag lets me.
I feel so much better today! Plus, there is no condensation in the tent from our breathing, nor dew outside sticking to the fly. That might seem trivial. But, to me, a totally dry tent is one of the biggest luxuries.
The day starts off with a cloud cover, so I layer up – long-sleeved shirt, Buff, leg warmers, wind-breaker. This, however, is only good for about 20min. After that, the sun burns through whatever mist or fog there was up high; the skies suddenly turn to bright blue and it gets warm.
I have a little strip-down session on the side of the road to celebrate.
We pass Fort Ross. A U.S. National Historic Landmark, it is a former Russian settlement. In fact, it is the southernmost Russians have ever established themselves in North America. That was during the first half of the 19th Century.
After that, we attack the day’s hills. The road climbs up hundreds of feet above the ocean. Sitting on sheer cliffs and chiselled into the side of what can actually be dubbed a mountain, it is a marvel of engineering. The views are spectacular. I find myself at a bit of a loss of words to adequately describe them. Needless to say, this is a highlight of the trip.
To get back to sea level, the road snakes its way down a series of gnarly switchbacks that are super fun to ride down. Like on most descents on Route 1, I ‘take the road,’ meaning that I ride in the middle of the lane to keep cars from trying sketchy I-absolutely-need-to-pass-this-bike-right-this-second manoevers. It’s safer for everyone.
Jenner is a very small town that sits on the mouth of the Russian River. We have lunch outside the cute visitor centre. From here on until the Bodega Dunes, we pass through the Sonoma Coast State Park. It alternates sandy beaches and rocky shorelines amidst northern coastal grasslands (which is the biome sub-type we’ve been travelling through on Route 1). Saying that it is scenic is almost an understatement.
We get to the campground fairly early. It was a short day, after all. We set up our stuff. I give the hostel in Fort Mason – right by Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco – a call and book two nights there for us. I’ve contacted a bunch of potential Warmshowers hosts in the city, but it’s still up in the air if anyone will be available to host us. So, hostel it is for the first two nights, at least.
We go for a walk in the dunes and come back to a bustling hiker/biker site. Familiar and new faces have arrived in our absence. Obviously, there are Nathan and Rebekah. But Martin is here, too! He made the push all the way from Manchester Beach; he has had a long day. There’s also Jack and Stefano and a few others whose names remain unknown.
Day 38: Bodega Dunes Campground to Samuel P. Taylor State Park, 66km
We take it easy this morning and have coffee at the Tides Restaurant in Bodega Bay while I finish up and publish a blog post. We get going around noon and follow Route 1 as it takes us inland. We won’t see the open ocean again until San Francisco!
We stop for lunch in Valley Ford – sounds like a car dealership, but mostly just smells of cows. From there, we continue towards Tomales, which, for some reason, I always think is called ‘Tamales’ (what can I say – food is one of the defining factors of this adventure), in increasingly strong headwinds. It is another 7 miles to Marshall which sits on Tomales Bay, and another 9 miles to Point Reyes Station, where we get groceries. It is a cute little town and their supermarket is on point.
We meet Jackie and Tyler at the grocery store. They were just short of making it to Bodega Dunes the previous night and camped on a beach instead, where they saw dolphins and whales!
While it is my turn to shop, a stranger comes over and gives Jackie and Taylor each an ice-cream sandwich ‘for the road, girls!’ What about me?! I’m a girl on a bicycle, too! Oh, well – that’s called bad timing.
A few more miles until Samuel P. Taylor State Park. We actually leave Route 1 and head further inland. The landscape somehow reminds me of Arizona, with big, round, prairie-type-grass-covered hills.
The park itself brings us back into redwood forests for the last time. This being the last stop for most people riding to San Francisco, the hiker/biker site is absolutely packed. Rebekah, Nathan, and Martin are here. We also meet again with Laurence, Florence, and Will! There are also a few other cyclists whose names I forgot. One thing is for sure, though: tomorrow, we will all get to the City by the Bay.
Biking was strangely difficult today. I realize that I am really looking forward to some time off in San Francisco. While my body doesn’t feel tired per se, I am still drained – both mentally and physically. I wonder if it is because the trip is ending soon. Are my body and brain subconsciously coming to terms with biking every day because our adventure is almost over? Or is almost a month and a half long enough of an adventure for me overall? Well, that’s a question I can’t answer (for now).
Day 39: ‘San Francisco Day’ – Samuel P. Taylor State Park to HI Fisherman’s Wharf, 49.5km
Today is the big day! We’re only a short ride away from San Francisco! There is anticipation in the air as all the temporary inhabitants of the hiker/biker campsite go about their morning routine.
Altough a little chilly, it is a decent morning. Nothing arm and leg warmers can’t handle. They both come off in Forest Knolls anyway.
We have one hill to pass before entering the suburban area of Marin County, on the north-western side of the San Francisco Bay. As soon as we pass it, we return to civilization – more people, more houses, more stores, and more cars than anywhere else on the coast. Luckily, the bike route finds its way through all the towns on side roads.
The first town we pass is Fairfax, an outdoor mecca with robust history to prove it. Indeed, it is here that mountain biking was first born, back in the 70s. It’s pretty cool! It’s no wonder there is an abundance of bike shops around.
In Sausalito, we sit in a patch of grass by the water and enjoy yet another cheese-avocado-tortilla combo for lunch. Best of all: we have an awesome view of downtown San Francisco! We are practically there! It is also a nice spot to people-watch. There are countless spandex-clad cyclists on road bikes so light that I can probably lift them with a single finger. But there are also just as many tourists on shitty rental bikes with squeaky brakes, who have just crossed the iconic landmark I’ve been most eager to get to: the Golden Gate Bridge.
Before we can finally cross it, we have to climb up to it. Once we make it to the top, the bridge finally comes to view. I can’t help but have my emotions run crazy for a moment. A feeling of intense joy and pride fills me up like a balloon. We’ve worked so hard for this. We pedalled for so long to get here, to cross this bridge. My eyes get teary.
Before actually crossing it, we stop at the vista point for some celebratory photos (I also have to pee really badly). Then, it’s time for the real thing.
Oh, boy, is this a busy bridge. It’s not like I did not expect it. After all, the Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most famous in the world. But I may have expected a little less people – after all, it is mid-October and not really the main tourist season. But then again, this is San Francisco we are taking about. It’s a big city. After having mainly lived in the bush and on the seat of a bicycle for the past month and a bit, I am definitely not used to having crowds of people all around me anymore – especially not in a space as tight as a bridge’s sidewalk.
Nonetheless, it is an incredible experience; not only because of the symbolic value embedded in the bridge crossing (I do have a thing for those kind of moments – remember when I crossed the Columbia River by Astoria?), but also in and of itself. We are a few hundred feet above the water with the absolute best view of Frisco. All the other tourists – whether on bikes or on foot – must be just as amazed as we are.
However, it is also a scary moment. I’m not gonna lie: I’ve never been more scared to ride with cleats. Heck, mountain biking with SPD pedals feels safer than this – at least trail features tend to not be extremely unpredictable in their movements. Human beings not watching where they are going, on the other hand, are potentially dangerous obstacles. Even though I was biking very slowly, a lady who was not paying attention to her surroundings at all still managed to almost bring me to a hard crash. She stepped onto the the right half of the sidewalk – reserved for cyclists – about a metre in front of me. This resulted in me having to push her aside to not fall into the railing, while yelling back at her that she better watch where she goes because she’s not the only one around. I have no sympathy for her.
Luckily, all crisis ends up being avoided, and we follow bike paths down into the Presidio – the area of the Golden Gate Bridge Natural Recreation Area that used to be a military base (altough no shots were ever fired from it).
We pass Crissy Fields and finally make it to Fort Mason, which also used to be part of the military complex around the Golden Gate area. For being so close to the core of the city, it is amazingly quiet. The hostel itself is in Civil-War-era military barracks and really, really cool. It is a long, white building with a multitude of room configurations. For $45 per person per night, we get to stay in the big, co-ed dorm room that fits 22 people. There’s a coffee shop and a nice lounge, as well as a locked bike room where we can safely store our trusted iron horses. The dorm is made of 11 bunk beds, each of which has two large lockers under the bottom bunk. We have no problems fitting all our panniers in them.
It is 3pm when we get there. We start by taking a shower to get rid of all the body odour we accumulated since the KOA in Manchester. I have to wear the only reasonably clothing that I have left: a pair of shorts and a tank top – and nothing else. But, hey, then we get to do our laundry, which is something we haven’t done since Crescent City.
While we wait for the dryer to be done, I get a reply from Heidi – one of the potential Warmshowers hosts I contacted a few days back. She is available to host us from Saturday onwards until we leave the city. Score! We are relieved and extremely excited to have figured out our living situation for the duration of our stay here in San Francisco.
Once our stuff is clean and dry, we walk through Fisherman’s Wharf and down to the very tourist-y Pier 39 to grab some dinner. We end up at Mango’s to satisfy our cravings for Mexican food.
Real city exploration starts tomorrow.