From Bodelga Beach we were set to head inland once more to bypass Estro Americano, leaving behind highway 1 and the cool of the coast, and thus faced the prospect of another day of immense heat. With our end goal so tantalizingly close and in sight, we were itching to be on our way- even if we mutually felt as though our knees couldn’t possibly bear another day of climbs!- and hence set off promptly in the morning with the hopes of escaping the worst of the heat.
We had one faux pas, however, working against us- we were now just a day away from San Francisco, but had yet to contact our host to announce our impending arrival. With wifi scarce, payphones thin on the ground and our mobiles suffering the effects of some days without electricity, we were in danger of being left stranded. As such, we were obliged to stop pretty much straight away at Bodelga Bay in a coffee shop to rescue our hosts’ number and check the emails before we could get going in earnest- with our fellow cyclists heading to San Fran passing us by pretty quickly.
We set off to chase their dust, armed with a number for our host but not a great deal more. The heat begun to pound down on us as we swept through dried grassy hills along the coastline, relishing the smallest hints of shade offered by the occasional tree as our legs screamed against yet more rolling hills. The scenery laid out before us lacked that same fresh beauty of the previous day: by contrast, dry, barren stretches of farmland laid before us, with the previously green grass now a spectrum of shades of yellow and brown. Cattle ranches passed before us as the narrow windy shoulder tested our skills in defensive riding- although thankfully for us, the traffic remained moderate and the majority of drivers considerate. The heat increased until we found ourselves huddled in the shade alongside a tiny general store in Tomales to seek some much-needed shelter and food, downing bottle after bottle of water in an attempt to re-hydrate ourselves: however, the dry, cracked lips persevered and the headaches begun. It was incredibly hard to continue replacing the water we were so quickly losing- and the feeling of dehydration made the ride that much harder to conquer.
We passed through Tomales and then followed the bay until we reached Point Reyes Station, at which point we had caught up to the couple we had been frantically chasing, chilling out under the shade of trees to escape the midday heat. We didn’t think twice about following suit, sinking with relief under the shade as I set about seeking out a payphone and yet more water. We were reluctant to begin the final push towards the campsite for the night, noting from the adventure cycling map that a long, steady climb lay ahead of us: as such, we lingered a few hours before begrudgingly mustering the strength to head off.
Actually, it was nowhere near as bad as anticipated: not long after we set off, we headed off Highway 1 on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (getting slightly, temporarily lost at one point…) before taking a hidden turn off onto the Marin Bicycle Trail, which took us off the busy, hot highway into the shade of the redwoods once more on a quiet, paved bike path: blissfully rare on this route, and a wonderful break. We pulled into Samuel P Taylor State park and quickly found the hiker/biker area: but discovered our slow day meant we were amongst the last to arrive and as such, struggled to find a space- there were perhaps 10, 15? different cyclists crowding into every inch of available space: in the end, we had to share a spot with the same couple we had been chasing all day, which proved a little tricky given how noisy Theo can be…!
When we woke the following morning, it was with a huge buzz. Today was the day- it had finally arrived. After longing for it, dreaming of it, striving towards it after weeks and weeks on the road…today would be the day we would finally cross the infamous Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, the destination of the second leg of our cycle tour.
The day’s ride was to be unlike anything we had undertaken to date as it weaved through the smaller towns on the outskirts of the main city, following designated bike paths and requiring far greater navigation skills than either Matt or I can claim to possess. With my phone still lying sadly dead, my beloved Biologic Reecharge having given up on me about 2 weeks previously, and no opportunity to charge it in order to follow the step-by-step directions that were to guide us into the city, we were a little bit stuck. In the end, I had no choice but to beg to borrow a paperback version of the book from the couple, and painstakingly write out the step-by-step directions onto a piece of paper before propping it into the phone holder on my handlebars. Far from ideal- but desperate times, desperate measures…
The opening 5 miles were not dissimilar from what we were used to- but after entering Fairfax, we begun to hit the city streets. Winding through numerous neighborhoods as I painstakingly tried to follow the scribbled directions and bike route signs was far from easy: we stopped frequently, giving the ride a fragmented feel, and the pressure and stress of it caused our tempers to become slightly frayed. When we came to a confusing junction which didn’t appear to correlate with the instructions I had written, we paused in confusion, wondering where to go next and feeling completely lost. It was at this moment that we had the sheer luck to see the same couple we had been following- also heading towards the city- and thankfully, they appeared to have a far better idea of where hey were headed than us, and as such, we fell into step behind them. Thankfully at this point, we left the busy streets of buzzing towns and joined the bike path that followed alongside the highway, dipping occasionally onto the road but continually following designated bike routes, making the busy route decidedly safer than it may otherwise have been.
Shortly after navigating the most confusing part of the route, we bid a final farewell to the amazing couple upon whom we had depended so heavily for the past 2 days. It seemed strange to realize that after becoming so close to someone, sharing stories and experiences, working together as a team to navigate our way around, sharing a sleeping area and each others food and more… we were just parting, just like that. It was oddly unnerving, unsettling: and just realliterated the whole unsettled nature of this trip for us: the places we pass through, the people we meet yet never come across again. It’s as though we’re rushing through life, everything passing by in a blur, with only the rare opportunity to stand still and take it all in.
We were to head on towards the Golden Gate Bridge while our companions stopped for lunch. Thankfully the instructions from this point were reasonably clear and as such, we weaved our way through the bus streets towards the city. It begun to get cold, slightly damp. We saw the infamous mist weaving it’s way down the hills alongside us as we pushed up hills and marveled at the sheer number of cyclists passing us by. The anticipation of edging closer was building and we kept our eyes peeled for the famous landmark that would signify our arrival at the city we had so long-waited for.
Actually, it snuck up on us completely unexpectedly. Glancing into the distance, I gave a sudden yelp of surprise:
“Matt! There it is, look!”
And there it was. Barely visible, enveloped in the heavy mist that swirled around it in an almost eerie fashion, the tall, imposing iconic red metalwork of the famous Golden gate Bridge.
We cycled eagerly towards it, swept up in the huge rushes of cycling crowds as we navigated our way onto the sidewalk of the bridge. There was just a huge buzz and feeling of excitement at finally reaching this point- at finally being here!!- as we took in the views across the bay towards the city, barely visible as it was through the thick mist. The sidewalk of the bridge was positively heaving, pedestrians, cyclists and tourists all congregating to catch a glimpse, a taste of this unique experience upon entering the city. For us, it was as though a huge weight was being lifted; a sort of climax, conclusion, resolution. It was euphoric, almost: a release of all that anticipation!
We lingered over the crossing, savoring every moment, before swinging into the Presidio Park at the opposite end. At this point, our feelings of elation began to evaporate. It was astounding for us to realize that actually, on exiting the bridge, we weren’t in the city of San Francisco, as such- but a green park and residential area, and little more. With confusing road signs misleading us and several roads being closed for improvements, we were lost and unsure where to turn. Starving hungry and still with no idea how best to reach our hosts, we ended up cycling in circles looking for a restaurant. We were cold, hungry and tired as our tempers began to fray. When we finally found somewhere to eat- under the shadow of the Bridge above us- I had to plea with the restaurant to allow us to use their telephone- but struggled with the crackling line to understand the directions I was given. Thankfully, one of the staff took pity on me and dug out a cycle map, helping me work out the best bike-friendly route to get us to our destination- and in spite of several navigational ‘hiccups’ and irritable snaps and one another, finally, we weaved our way towards the Golden Gate Park, along the panhandle and, at last…to our hosts.
Nothing can quite compare to having a proper bed, a washing machine, a hot shower and flushing toilets after so many weeks of questionable facilities- and not just for a night, but for a few weeks! Soft pillows, a proper mattress… a toaster, a fridge! We were truly and utterly spoilt and privileged to have such generous hosts who looked after us so wonderfully; cooked us a delicious meal upon our arrival, laid up a pile of soft, clean towels and offered us free run of their washing machine.
Like I said…bliss.
The upcoming 2 weeks will be a far cry from the life on the road we have come to regard as ‘normal’. It will be a strange experience to return to an existence off the bikes; to wake each morning without needing to pack up all our belongings; to spend our days on foot, or on public transport. Will it be the much-needed, long-anticipated break we’ve longed for? Or will it fall short of our expectations? Will we enjoy our brief spell of freedom, or will we long for the sanctuary and freedom of our bikes?
Only time will tell…