Near the end of our long (and hilly) 104 mile ride today (Sunday 11 Sept, 2011), we came across a beach near San Simeon, home to a colony of Elephant Seals. The perfect end to the day.
Summary – day 16 – San Francisco to Seaside (Monterey) (Saturday 10 September)
Posted by Mike
Estimate: 125.84 miles, actual: 121.84 miles
Avg. speed: 12.8 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,243.45 miles
We woke early, as usual, but I’m managing to sleep a little longer these days – it was 5.30 am when I woke this morning. We could hear the fog horns sound in the distance along the San Francisco shoreline. Martin said that he really likes the sound, because they remind him that it’s still summer. Heidi told us that the horns in different places made slightly different sounds, so it was possible for local people to know where the fog was at any particular time.
We ate a big breakfast, then set off at about 8.15 am, after having our photographs taken. Heidi took them out in the street outside their house as we were leaving. (Martin was keen to have pictures of our bikes; we think that having a record of those was probably more important to him than having pictures of us!)
Heidi and Martin have been quite amazing hosts and we had a wonderful two days in San Francisco.
Headed to the coast through Golden Gate Park, with plenty of others out running or cycling – either in small groups or by themselves. It looked like a lovely place to have a regular run/ride. It’s a huge park – about 5 km (3 miles) long running east to west and about half a mile wide north to south. Heidi and Martin live close by, only a couple of blocks away.
When we arrived at the sea, we turned left into a ferocious headwind. My heart sank – 120 miles or so on undulating terrain and into a strong headwind would not be enjoyable. There was also quite a bit of sand in the cycle lane, making going a bit tough. Unfortunately, what had the potential to be a lovely rest of the day cycling was wrecked by the wind.
We went through Pacifica and were confronted with yet another problem that was set to dog us all day; the main coast road – Highway 1 – is a wide fast dual carriageway road for some of its length and in these sections bicycles aren’t allowed, so we were forever having to leave the main road and negotiate side roads, (signage was mostly ok – but we did lose our way a couple of times and it adds a bit of distance).
When Highway 1 is not designated a motorway, it returns to single-lane traffic and is often pretty much the only route available. Of course, it’s often the same volume of traffic that has been bombing along a fast multi-lane highway that is funnelled into a slower, single-lane section. In some cases there isn’t even a hard shoulder for bicycles to ride in, so it can be very challenging to ride with big, fast vehicles coming past – often passing a bit too close for comfort.
An early example of the single lane Highway 1 horror was a section called the Devil’s Slide, a twisting, ascent over Pedros Point, which we had been warned would be tricky. A tunnel and bridge are being constructed to take Highway 1 through this area, but they’re not due to be completed until next year. So we had to make our way up the climb, then manage the descent on a broken up road with lots of gravel and stones strewn across it – while also being buffeted by strong gusts.
Fortunately, the wind dropped a little as we rode along an off-road cycle track into Half Moon Bay – about 30 miles in, where we had our first break in a nice little café. We were optimistic that the rest of the day’s ride might be better, but as we left Half Moon Bay to rejoin the main coast road the headwind picked up again. It was terrible – it was all we could do to manage speeds of 8 mph at times. We saw some other riders – on our side of the road, complaining about the headwind; while on the opposite side of the road, seemingly flying!
We arrived at our planned lunch stop at Santa Cruz after 78 miles, two hours behind schedule, feeling pretty exhausted and with sore legs. It’s as well we’d had a couple of days off so at least we were feeling fairly fresh for the day when we set off.
After having something to eat at Safeway’s in Santa Cruz, the last 50 miles were calmer, although we weren’t permitted to ride on Highway 1 towards Seaside and Monterey.
We passed Salinas – where John Steinbeck was born and the town that he located some of his most famous novels, such as East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath. If it hadn’t been so late, I’d have liked to have gone to look at the Steinbeck house.
There was a nice cycle track along the road from Marina into Seaside – so the end of the ride was pleasant. We arrived rather tired and quite late just after 8.00. Nick was just heading out to do some mountain biking under the full moon. That sounded wonderful, but we didn’t have the energy to join him!
Matthew picked up some vegetarian tacos, we ate and chatted with Katie. She teaches Spanish and English and has been on some wonderful cycling trips. We were in bed by 10 – it’s going to be another long day tomorrow, let’s hope it’s not too windy.
Being on a long road trip often brings to mind ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, the movie about three drag queens travelling across the Australian outback in a converted bus. Clearly we don’t have a bus and we are not drag queens, (at least we weren’t last time I checked). But we are covering awesome distances. Today was one of those long stretches, 120+ miles and at points, as the Pacific coastline stretched out ahead of us into the distance, my mind flashed back to the scene in Priscilla when they are looking out over miles and miles of desert as far as the eye can see. I have to admit I have wondered about attaching a long flowing piece of pink chiffon to the bike and blasting out opera through a sound system. However, Mike’s luggage weight restrictions have prevented either of these items being available.
Having any additional drag (geddit?!) while struggling against the awful headwinds we faced today would not have been pleasant, so I suppose the chiffon-bicycle-opera combo will just have to wait for another day.
From San Francisco to Santa Cruz (75 miles) was constant headwind, a shame as it distracted our attention from the really pleasant coastline.
We’ve had another Priscilla moment as we passed (twice) a young guy on a bike laden with four bags, a tent and even a guitar on his back. We’d passed him before in the Redwoods and Eurika, but a bit like the Hare and the Tortoise, he keeps overtaking us! Those familiar with Priscilla will recall the women running across the outback pushing some strange ball who keeps overtaking the coach – this young guy is our equivalent.
Thankfully the wind turned after Santa Cruz, but it still meant that we arrived in Seaside after dark – over an hour later than scheduled. Nick our host was just going out as we arrived – to spend the evening mountain biking in the light of the full moon. We were welcomed by his fiancé Katie who chatted with us all evening and gave some good advice on a Mexican take-away. Today’s exertions have left us pretty weary, so we’re off to sleep now. Only 100 miles to cover tomorrow.
We worked out our final cycle route for today last night using the Garmin/Google map combo. It looks like it will be a wonderful ride on route 35, then Highway 1 all along the coast from San Francisco to near Monterey.
The slightly down side is that it’s a bit longer that we’d thought at nearly 120 miles, but we’ve done it before and we can do it again. Mike was a little displeased at the length of today’s journey, but I know he’ll be fine riding it, especially now our bikes have been fine tuned, tyres pumped etc (fingers crossed for no technical problems) and it was worth it to spend two whole lovely days in SF.
Sadly the old girl didn’t show us her Golden Gate properly, we only got a peak of the top of the towers through the fog, so we’ll just have to return one day. I’m sure we shall.
Summary – day 15 – Further Tales from the City … (Friday 9 September, San Francisco)
Posted by Matthew
We’ve been enjoying San Francisco’s gay and lesbian heritage today in the Castro. We dropped our bicycles in to a cycle store for a quick tune at the American Cyclery on Stanyon and Frederick, (americancyclery.com). It’s a really lovely old bike shop, (established in 1941), with a very nice range of machines and some beautify classic cycling jerseys hung on the wall. We were attended to by a helpful guy called Brad – who’d been to the Condor bicycle store in London and recognised Mike’s bicycle brand! He quickly checked our bikes and arranged for everything to be serviced before the end of the day. If only we had such efficient service in the UK – we normally have to book our bikes in for a service at least a week ahead.
We wandered from the bike shop through the Cole Valley, past Mount Olympus and into the Haight Ashbury district and then over to the Castro district – the most obviously LGBT quarter. It’s pretty special when you’re welcomed to a neighbourhood by a gay welcome committee! Just beside the metro station in Harvey Milk Plaza two guys were sitting behind a table with leaflets, maps and guides to the area. They gave us a warm welcome, a map with the local attractions and directions to a nice place to eat. We checked out the LGBT museum and then had some lunch.
While we were eating I noticed Razor’s barber shop opposite and decided to see if they could give me a trim. The answer was yes – at 4pm (a 20 minute wait), so we walked around the corner to see the Harvey Milk memorial outside his former camera shop. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the UK. He was assassinated in 1978.
After the 20 minutes I was in the seat being trimmed by a very friendly gay hairdresser called Everett. My hair, beard, nose and ears all received a trim, (ready for the anticipated heat as we ride south) and we were given lots of advice about beaches to stop at on the trip tomorrow, (including some nude ones!).
We strolled back from the Castro to pick our bikes up. Mike had been a little worried about the hub on his front wheel, which had squeaked a little and leaked grease on some of our faster descents. The cones and bearings were replaced on the front for $65 – a good price. Matthew’s bike had the cables tightening up, as it’s new – they tend to stretch a bit at first, and stores will normally do this for free a few weeks after a new bike has been bought … a little difficult with Cheltenham being 8490 kilometres (5270 miles) away! The American Cyclery shop also had a lovely friendly resident dog, so as well a beautifully smooth riding bike we also got to pet the dog.
We cycled back through the Golden Gate Park past the beautiful Dahlia Garden, flower glass house and the Stow Lake. We finished our ride at the Green Apple second-hand book shop before heading back to Heidi and Martin’s house for our last night in San Francisco.
We have a long ride tomorrow, around 120 miles including a rather alarmingly named hill called the Devil’s Slide. If we get past the Slide ok we should be in for a good ride with coastal views all the way, but hopefully with no more fog!
Enjoying a leisurely lunch in the Castro. We’ve also done some window-shopping, (although no purchases are allowed until San Diego).
We found a lovely underwear shop where the answer to my ‘muffin-top’ dilemma appears to have been resolved. These rather skimpy pants from Andrew Christian feature a muffin-top-proof elastic waistband. Ingenious! Gok Wan eat your heart out – no full body-corset style underwear for me!
Hope they are available in San Diego!
Day 14 – San Francisco
Posted by Mike
We’re staying in the Richmond area of San Francisco, very close to the Golden Gate Park. We’re going to explore the park later today after we’ve visited a local bike shop to ask them to give our bikes a bit of tender love and care.
Richmond is fairly close to the sea, so when the fog rolls into the SF bay, (as it quite often does), then Richmond becomes a bit grey and overcast too. There has been fog since we rode over the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday, but as SF is quite large you can go to other parts of the city and be in beautiful sunshine. Yesterday we walked into downtown and had lovely weather almost all day.
We started our tourist trail at the Yerba Buena Gardens, impressive fountains in memory of Martin Luther, beautiful planting and live music all on offer. We stopped and had some tea and a bite to eat.
We continued over to the SF MoMA, past the museum of contemporary Jewish History and on down Mission Street to the Ferry Terminal Building, which has been converted into a bit of a foody heaven with nice outlets, stalls and restaurants. We picked up some ‘artisan’ bread to take back for dinner and had an ice cream, (quite indulgent on a non-cycling day). The ice cream stall had an amazing range of flavours – I eventually decided on caramel and buttered pecan ice cream, while Mike had pear and blood orange sorbet. Delicious!
Still on with the SF tourist trail. We visited the Trans-America pyramid building, it’s no longer possible able to go to the top of this iconic SF skyscraper (the tallest building in SF), as it’s been closed since 9/11. It’s nonetheless very impressive from the ground.
Next stop, Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. We climbed up to the tower via a very long set of twisting steps, some were constructed of wood and wove their way through the most lovely private gardens. It was all very reminiscent of Barbary Lane from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books.
The top of Telegraph Hill affords a wonderful view across the city – Golden Gate Bridge is still shrouded in fog. We didn’t go up Coit Tower itself as the queue was quite long and in any case the real beauty of the tower are the wonderful murals inside the room at the base that were painted in the 1930s and depict working life in California at that time. The work was undertaken by left-leaning artists, influenced and sometimes taught by Diego Rivera. Beautiful. They were branded ‘communist propaganda’ by some newspapers and critics and one mural had to be removed.
We then walked down Telegraph Hill to Lombard Street, reputed to be the most crooked street in the world. It’s a very steep section of road that has eight sharp turns to help drivers navigate the 40 degree slope. It’s a huge tourist attraction, so lots of people were around taking photos. It’s not a street I’d like to live on as there seemed to be an almost constant stream of motor cars going down the street (it’s one-way) to test their driving skills. We saw a few cyclists too and even a skateboarder testing it out – neither of which I’d be too keen on trying.
Finally we caught a cable car for a very short ride down towards Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason Park and Ghirardelli Square. The square was once home to the Ghirardelli chocolate factory, (since relocated) and has been converted into shops and restaurants.
We stopped for a hot chocolate and a chocolate brownie each in the Ghirardelli Café, before taking a bus back to Richmond (via Safeway, of course), for more wonderful hospitality from Heidi and Martin.
Today we’re off to the Golden Gate Park and the Castro (SF’s gay village) – but first a visit to the American Cyclery bicycle shop that we didn’t quite make it to yesterday.
We’ve arrived in San Francisco and have two days off to explore. Our warm showers hosts Heidi and Martin gave us a very warm welcome indeed. A fantastic meal was waiting for us and for the four young Mexican guys that they’re also hosting. We’re now well fed and watered and wandering around SF.
It’s good to see that the culture here extends to graffiti knitting. In the UK this is known as yarn bombing and it is quite popular (with some) in Southville and Bedminster, the area of Bristol we live in. I’ve seen a few cycle racks in SF adorned with some colourful knits but my favourite so far was the one we spotted yesterday in Point Reyes. This little number was impressive in both its size and ruffles.
We’re off for a wander around the Castro this afternoon so I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any other creatively adorned street furniture.
Summary – day 13 – Sea Ranch to San Francisco (Wednesday 7 September)
Posted by Mike
Estimate: 113 miles, actual: 111.0 miles
Avg. speed: 13.8 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,117.41 miles
A long hot day today, but also the best day’s riding for scenery and just sheer beauty of the ride.
We had a lovely, leisurely breakfast with Bob and Sophia and after photographs on their veranda we set off from Sea Ranch a little later than planned at about 9.00. It was a little cold and foggy at first, but there were patches of blue in the sky and so we were hopefull that it would turn out fine.
About 15 miles from Sea Ranch puncture #5, (Matthew, rear – a small hole in the tube near the valve). We’d had enough of these punctures on Matthew’s rear wheel by now – well I had – and as we were expecting quite a long day of cycling, we decided to change the tyre AND the tube. Matthew’s bike is new and I fear that perhaps the tyres are are a component where money was saved! So fingers crossed – no more punctures.
While we were replacing the tyre, a young woman cycled by towing a Bob trailer. She stopped to help and we found out that she’s called Sarah and that she has a degree in public health. Sarah is touring 6,000 miles in a giant u-shape from NW USA south, then east along the border and north up the east coast – amazing. She’s visiting schools to talk to the children about growing food, eating healthily and taking exercise. This is a brilliant project, (and her cycling trip puts our 1800 mile journey into the shade!) We talked a little about Jamie Oliver’s school dinner campaign and she said that she had written something for his website. Sarah really seemed to be an epitome of the USA American spirit – a ‘get up and go’ attitude, coupled with a desire to help others – really admirable. She hopes to come to Europe to examine school food in different countries … I really hope that she gets to do that. It’s important work. Sarah’s website/blog is at: www.schoolfoodtour.org
Tyre replaced, we redoubled our pace and decided to skip the normal break after 30 miles or so and head straight to lunch in Bodega Bay. The sun came out and the coastal views were breathtaking, high cliffs, sweeping coastlines, inland forests and fields – and all very quiet. We passed by Fort Ross, the southernmost Russian outpost in North America from 1812 to 1841. The wooden stockade and some of the buildings have been reconstructed. The Russian graveyard with its characteristic Russian orthodox grave marker crosses in a field next to the fort.
In the pretty small town of Bodega Bay, we stopped at a deli in Pelican Plaza to stock up on supplies for lunch and ate on a bench next to a surf shop, with lovely views over the bay. Pelican Plaza is a slightly amusing name as my pet name for Matthew sometimes is “Mr P.”, which stands for “Mr Pelican” – from the rhyme: “Pelican, pelican. Eats more than its belly can!” Which sometimes can apply to him!!
While we were sat eating a few people came to talk to us; asking where we were riding to, saying that it was a lovely day for cycling … that kind of thing. One woman came to speak to us and she had two dogs – a huge oversized, white poodle – maybe 3 ft tall – all trimmed and looking rather regal on a leash, (I’m referring to the poodle now, you understand, not the woman) but she was also carrying a much smaller lap dog under her arm, (the woman, not the poodle). When she returned to her 4×4, she handed the big poodle’s leash to her husband, opened the back of the car, reached in and to our amazement retrieved a small set of 3 wooden steps, which she put on the ground by the open rear car door. The poodle used the steps to climb into the car. The wooden stairs were then put away, doors closed and she drove away. We were laughing uproariously by now.
Time to leave Bodega Bay. The bay itself is calm an very round with little crow’s nests on poles jutting out of the water like oversize reeds – we weren’t sure if these were refuges from the tide or fishing platforms … or had some other kind of purpose. Crossing the town took us out of Sonoma County and into Marin County.
Marin County is just north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate bridge. It has a well-known mountain bicycle brand named after it. Mountain biking was invented on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais (by Gary Fisher, among others – who went on to develop his on brand of mountain bicycles). ‘Mount Tam’ is 784 metres (2,574 ft) high and our route into San Francisco took us (on the road) over it – it was quite a slog with our bags, and there lots of racing cyclists whizzing up and down – saying “hi”, “nice day” and so on. A man leaned out of his car with his thumb up and shouted “riding strong”! There were fantastic views from the top – including our first glimpse of San Francisco in the distance, through the trees and across the bay.
We descended into Sausalito – a pretty little town across the bay from San Francisco – with a Mike’s Bikes bicycle store!
A bicycle track went along the waterfront to the Golden Gate bridge – the bridge was unfortunately shrouded in mist, so we could only catch glimpses of it. We rode over in the mist – it’s one and a half miles long. There were plenty of other cyclists and runners and tourists on the walkway. It was starting to get dark now as we made our way through the Presidio along Lincoln Drive to Heidi and Martin’s – our Warm Showers hosts for the next three nights/two days.
We arrived just as dinner was being served in their beautiful house. They had agreed to take in four other cyclists who were passing through that day, too: Pablo, Alex, Luciano and Mario.
So there were eight for dinner – including six hungry cyclists, I hope Heidi knows what she’s let herself in for!
As we’ve already established on this blog, Mike is a bit of a train spotter. The sound of an American train horn blaring or level crossing bell clanking cause his ears prick up!
It’s now time to out myself as a plant spotter, although this won’t be much of a surprise to those of you that know me. As we’ve travelled southwards I’ve loved watching the fauna change. In British Columbia fir trees and ferns predominated, through Washington State more huge pine and poplar forests. In Portland we saw the most beautiful roses, the city is called the ‘Rose City’ as the climate is near perfect for these blooms. In Oregon we saw the rain forests; so-called because of the damp climate that provides perfect conditions for the moss and lichen that grows all over the bark of the trees. Sometimes the moss hangs low, apparently it’s called ‘old man’s beard’ by the locals.
Following the coast through Oregon the plants were similar to those you’d find on the British coast: broom and gorse growing wild and Agapanthus and Hydrangeas popular in gardens. The giant redwoods were amazing, but they have already had a mention on the blog.
Not until we reached California did we start to see more arid plants. Succulents, palms, Red Hot Pokers, Douglas Fir, lots of wild fennel and of course Californian poppies. The bright orange flowers are so synonymous with the state they are in fact the state flower. The other plant that grows wild in all of the verges is Pampas grass – they’ve been everywhere since we arrived in California. It’s strange how a plant considered synonymous with the 1970s naff in the UK are so dramatic and impressive here. The other plant that has stuck out on our journey through California is what locals call Naked Ladies. These bright pink lillys have been growing everywhere. The stems are bare of leaves (hence the naked phrase), but the flowers are incredibly pink. Thankfully, they are the only naked ladies we’ve seen so far on our travels!