Point Reyes, 7/18-7/19

Point of clarification: I don’t like bike camping, exactly. I just like it better than riding very far or very fast or anywhere I’ve already been a hundred times.

Peanut gallery at 12th St. Oakland:
Peanut gallery at 12th St. Oakland: “That bike got a badonkadonk.”

Biggest mystery: Is Blazing Saddles just hiding the bodies? I’d think it impossible that there shouldn’t be fatalities, daily. These are visitors from flat cities full of Fiats and baguettes; it seems almost unconscionable to send them wobbling out into our world.

Disaster averted: Samuel P. Taylor is the Bay Area bike-in standard and consequently overrun with people hipper than me. In Fairfax I encountered an artisanally disheveled couple going my way. The sight of their frayed denim crystallized my unease at the prospect of sharing a site with people who might judge me for my lack of tattoos, vintage ride, or any method of preparing my own coffee. Imagine my relief, then, when the ranger instead placed me with two French retirees: we shared only a brief and amicable exchange about the weather and the best rock for setting tent stakes. Quel soulagement!

Left: Om. Right: Nom.
Left: Om. Right: Nom.

Shit roadies say … in front of me, while I’m eating a scone the size of my head in Point Reyes Station: “I mean, if you’re just puttering along in Zone 1 or 2, you really might as well not be riding your bike.”

Animals I didn’t see (even though I probably should have before they’re all dead): Tule elk. I planned on setting up at Sky Camp Sunday morning and then riding to Pierce Point on safari. I did not plan on it being 95 degrees and humid. Once up Limantour Road was enough—I went on a walk to Kelham Beach instead.


Things I had to disregard in order to do this: The time, my metatarsals, my shirt.

Animals I did see: A raptor dark against the sun, grasping a wriggling fish. A live snake I thought was dead; a dead seal I thought I was alive. Quails: they preened in the trees, burst out of the bushes, throbbed in the air. A whale! (Well, the splash and spouting water, but still.) A beetle, the flat and total black of a pitch-dark room. Pelicans in pairs. A crow alone. A buck bounding away, stiff-legged, hilarious.

The straight and narrow.

Black Diamond Mines, 7/11–7/12

Black Diamond Mines is a fringe territory of the EBRPD that I’ve been meaning to try for years. Part of the drag is that it’s out in Antioch: there’s a greenway route, but it’s barren and hot and, when I rode there, had more abandoned shopping carts than people. This meant anyone I did see I imagined murdering me; furthermore I suspected the owners of the morose little houses abutting the path would, in that event, turn up their television sets to drown out my screams.

Lately I’ve been questioning whether it would be worth this sort of sprawling suburban wasteland to achieve home ownership and my official Badge of Adulthood. I’ll credit this little trip for reminding me of the answer, which is: no, God, a thousand times no.

De Anza Regional Trail
But don’t get me wrong, I appreciated De Anza Regional for keeping me entirely out of traffic. When a utility and a parks district love each other very much, sometimes they make a trail together!

Once into the park, I trundled up the usual fire-road climb to the ridgeline. The view is very good: a long valley gold and billowing like water, a rarely seen face of Diablo, and, in the bright haze on the horizon, the towers of either Sacramento or Oz. I ditched my bike in a stand of what I later learned is the northernmost occurrence of Coulter pine (neat!) and hiked back down through tunnels of manzanita with dusky pink sandstone underfoot. There’s an old mining-town cemetery here; the effect of the incongruous skinny cypress on the steep and stripped-bare hillsides—and the tiny turbines advancing on the river in the distance—is that of having walked into a model railway. I read crumbling headstones and reflected on my good fortune to have avoided dying of typhoid at age 12.

My company at Stewartville camp that night was a driving wind and a chorus of coyotes, an atmosphere so end-of-the-world I was taken completely off-guard by the first joggers in the morning. (Read: was not wearing pants.) On my way out the other side of the park I stopped to investigate Star Mine. It’s just a short tunnel, but still the farthest I’ve ever been underground—and more than far enough to eliminate my previous interest in going caving.

Nope, nope, nope.
“Many sink down to the Underworld— and few return to the sunlit lands.”

In sum, while I can’t exactly recommend it to the able-bodied for riding in July—especially since so much trail is closed to bikes—this is a real interesting place for history, geology, and colors. (Also a commendable piece of park planning, given the lack of other open space in this part of the bay.) I’ll be back for the official, well-lit mine tour and wildflowers in the spring.

<3 California <3

End times: bike camping

My theory of evolution for the mediocre cyclist is that once you get too busy, lazy, or broken to race, there are only two paths forward. One leads to downhilling, the other to touring.

Implausible as it may seem to anyone who’s ever watched me mountain bike (or more accurately, walk my mountain bike around any actual mountain biking), I really did have my sights set on option one. This is about aspiration, after all, and I want to be fast and brave far more than I want to … carry stuff. But with still-coagulating metatarsals, it finally came to this:

Alpine. Here I realized that my bike was drunk, or at least not packed very well.
Alpine. Here I discovered that my bike was drunk, or at least not packed very well.

Day 1: Mountain View to Portola Redwoods. When I called the ranger from Skyline I learned there was only one campsite left. (“They’re going fast,” he added, “so I hope you are, too!”) Descending 7 miles and 2,000 feet with the prospect of having to turn around and go back up was grim; snagging the last walk-in, joyous. I met some actual bikepackers, who told me about getting chased by a pack of wild dogs on an abandoned Indian reservation. This made my Georgia freakout seem extra bush league.

Day 2: Portola Redwoods to Butano. Mostly just coasting down Old Haul Road, listening to birdsong and watching the light come through the trees like freakin’ fairy dust. There wasn’t a wicker basket full of wildflowers and baguettes on the front of my bike but there might as well have been.

THIS WILL BE RECTIFIED IN THE NEAR FUTURE. (Related: this has been on my to-do list for four years. -_-)

At Butano I hiked a loop around the park to see the abandoned air-strip. It was a real bad idea on the injury front, but worth it to get up onto the ridge, to the heat and the sun and the light. There is Spanish moss on everything. Plus I saw banana slugs, an alligator lizard, a six-point buck, and all the way the ocean, gee whiz!

Day 3: Butano to Palo Alto. I had planned to climb Tunitas Creek but wimped out in favor of a tailwind-assisted spin up 84. Not sorry. On the way home, I assembled my preliminary assessment of bike camping, below:

+ You experience 50% less self-loathing for incidental pastry consumption en route.
+ You experience 75% less self-loathing for riding really, really slowly.
– Combination of the above is dangerous.
– About 50% as fun as either normal riding or normal camping: bike handles badly because it’s heavy, plus/even though you left all the glamping items at home trying to cut weight.
– In my case this included toothpaste.
– If you’re even a bit grubby, people in Palo Alto think you’re a hobo.
– Wait … am I a hobo?
+ You experience 60% more smugness when passing triathletes.
– I’m going to have to buy more gear.
– Seriously, how is possible than I have to buy more gear?
+ I love stopping to look at everything!