When we left off, I was sleeping underneath a bar in Phillipsburg, awaiting the biggest climbing day of the trip. After two days of riding through the Redwoods, it was time to make my way back to the coast, abandoning the 101 for the more remote Route 1 which would hug the coastal cliffs all the way to Marin County. But, standing between me and the rolling, twisting (freshly paved) Shoreline Highway, were 66 miles and Leggett Hill (the highest point on the Pacific Coast Route) followed immediately by the steeper (but shorter) Rockport Hill.
The ride to Leggett itself involved no small amount of climbing, and one long descent along the four lane 101. On that, particular, descent - just as I got to about 40 mph, I saw a large bee ahead of me and then felt it thwack off of my face, leaving it's pulsating stinger in my cheek. I managed to extract the stinger while still whizzing down the hill, but there was no escaping the pain that lingered into the next day. That bugger really stung!
I soon after arrived in the tiny town of Leggett (at the base of the hill) where I drained my water bottles, re-filled them, and bought a couple of extra bottles of water, since there were no towns or services in the 30+ miles from Leggett to my destination (a farmhouse in Westport - right on the coast). Contrary to legend, abandoned bike-frames and spandex-clad skeletons did not line the side of the road. In fact, after biking so many miles along the four lane 101, it was actually really nice to be on a remote road with almost zero cars. I think I may have been passed by only two the entire way up. Also nice was getting the benefit of my training. My 23 miles around San Diego Bay every night is good for creating a base, but it was the weekend climbs (Palomar and Mt. Soledad in particular) that prepared me for this one. The climb never approached the grade of Via Capri (North ascent of Soledad), and was not quite as long as climbing Palomar. Plus, the twisting, forested descent down the other side was worth any amount of climbing -- may have been the most fun I've had on a bike -- glorious! Less fun, though was having to start climbing again right at the bottom. Everybody talks about Leggett Hill along the coast, so I was a bit surprised at how hard I had to work immediately after slaying that dragon. The steep 640 foot climb was less than a third of Leggett, but oh so much more painful. After I knocked it out, though, the coast magically appeared and it was mostly rollers with a strong tail-wind the rest of the way to Westport:
My destination, Howard Creek Ranch, was a sort of eccentric place outside of the one store town, but right on the ocean:
Independence Day! I can think of no better way to celebrate independence than through the liberating experience of trekking through America on a bike. As it so happened, my destination, 79 miles away in Gualala, is noteworthy mostly for the fact that it is one of the only municipalities in California that has banned fireworks! No worries - the thrill of whizzing along cliffsides and taking in miles and miles of glorious California coastline more than made up for the lack of fireworks -- as did this secluded beach which I hiked to from the St. Orres Inn:
This is the kind of place you dream about finding on a bike trek -- the kind of hard to reach spot that most miss as they motor on by in cars and campers. Fireworks - shmireworks. Plus, the Inn had one of the best restaurants in California (a nice reward for the longest day in the saddle and eating off the shelf of the General Store the night before).
The gorgeous beach and outstanding food also helped me to unwind from my one negative human interaction along the entire 432 miles. About 6 miles from my destination, I was cruising at about 20 mph on a relatively flat stretch where many cars were parked along the road near a trailhead to the beach. I try to stay out of the "door zone" but I had fairly steady traffic with me and the parked cars edged out onto the road. As I approached a beat-up white pick-up, a dude with scraggly bleach-blond hair and a scary, leathery face suddenly flung open the driver side door and screamed at me crazily. I swerved and narrowly missed running right into the door, coming to a stop about twenty yards in front of the truck where I could hear the psycho laughing maniacally. I asked if the handicapped placard hanging from the rear view signified a mental vs. physical disability after which he jumped out of the truck and came toward me with his fists balled up. Dude definitely looked like he had recently spent some time in prison. So, I started pedaling furiously and shouted back "clearly mentally" as I rode off. I think he may have been waiting for someone down on the beach because he did not follow. Those next six miles may have been the fastest I've ever pedaled, though -- just in case he changed his mind. When I got to the Inn I called the Sheriff to let him know some crazy dude was deliberately trying to door bicyclists. He said he'd go have a talk with him . . .
61 miles to Valley Ford looked easy on the map after the previous day's 79, but this portion of the ride reminded me the most of Big Sur: never ending climbs that seemingly reached into the sky, followed by death-defying descents into narrow canyons followed by repeats of the climbs. Incredibly curvy and fun! The only drawback was that I was now approaching Sonoma and civilization, so I had a lot more company on the roads. Interestingly, after miles and miles of gorgeous asphalt, the Sonoma roads were amongst the worst I had traversed along the way. The traffic eased, though as I left the coast to follow the river to the tiny, quaint, farming town of:
The one hotel in town The Valley Ford Hotel, actually housed a fantastic cajun restaurant with a wonderful courtyard. Probably the least pretentious corner of Sonoma:
It was hard to believe when I woke up that I'd be crossing the Golden Gate to San Francisco by the end of the day. I was excited to be back in one of my favorite places, but a little sad to be ending one of the great rides of a lifetime. When I left at dawn I had the Sonoma country roads to myself --
Even better was when I got to Marin County, which has some of the best bike infrastructure anywhere. I had crossed the Golden Gate on previous trips to explore this Bikeist's paradise, so it was great to get a chance to cross the entire county on a triumphant Saturday morning -- meeting and chatting with dozens of club riders along the way. I felt like the Yellow Jersey wearer hitting the Champs-Élysées on the last day of Le Tour with my own supporting peloton.
Before I knew it, I had crossed Sausalito and was pounding out one final climb to the Golden Gate:
Crossing that bridge on a bike should be on every bikeist's bucket list -- I never get sick of doing it --
I stayed in my favorite place in San Fran - The Marines Memorial Club -- which is one of the best deals for military members anywhere -- nice rooms in a well-kept hotel for under $100 in the heart of San Francisco! Can't beat it!
Before getting to the club, though, I dropped my bike at the Performance Bike Shop near the ballpark where they were glad to box and mail it back to Holland's in Coronado.
The next day I saw my first game at AT&T Park (great stadium, although I still prefer PETCO) with my JAG buddy Matt, and then it was off to the airport on the BART for a quick flight home to my little bikeists and my long-suffering wife . . .
So, there you have it folks my entire bikeography. Congratulations to all three of you who have read the entire thing. When I hit it big you will be so proud of yourselves! Right mom?
Next up: Biking in San Diego in 2013.