Northern California Mini-Tour

November 27, 2012 at 7:42 pm

A short list of common thoughts cycled through my mind as I toured France. One of them was just how pleasant it would be to do small bike tours in northern California with good friends. The language spoken, the terrain and the people known. I’d often daydream about it.

So although some people thought I was crazy, a small bike tour is exactly what I craved when I got back from my big tour. Call it a comedown tour. My brother’s visit from Portland provided the perfect opportunity.

I had a couple of other friends who were interested in camping, but without bikes. Thus our approach was unconventional. We drove from San Francisco to Samuel P. Taylor with the bikes on the back of the car. My brother’s progress was waylaid by what is thus far the worst Apple Maps screwup that I’ve heard of. With the iPhone’s new mapping software, you can be delivered terrifically wrong directions to a place that requires literally two turns. That’s right, arriving at Samuel P. Taylor requires exiting the 101 and then eventually pulling into the parking lot.

Instead, Apple Maps directed my brother onto a dirt road that was soon not a road at all. Navigating up a steel hill with branches brushing past the car on both sides, it became clear that there wasn’t a national park campground that would be found any further up the treacherous path. After switching to Waze, my brother found the actual campground.

That night we made a fire (something not possible in French campgrounds) and rested well. In the morning we intended to ride to Bicentennial Camp in the Marin Headlands. I’m personally a fan of the views and feelings of the headlands, but it’s a place where fires aren’t allowed. Because the air was cold, we changed course and headed for China Camp–where I’d never been. The ride was easy, but because we’d winged it a bit, we probably didn’t take the most bike friendly roads. I won’t share my route here, because I’m quite certain it would be poor advice.

Near the campground, we passed a couple of teenagers walking a dog. They wore an expression of such painful ennui that it reminded us both of our teenage days. Because it was my brother, they were the same teenage days. Seeing that expression of strong existential boredom and discomfort makes you want to grab teenagers and shake them. “It gets better!” you might shout. You can just see how tough it is to enjoy much of anything.

China Camp is encircled by a network of mountain biking trails. Although our bikes were directly wrong for the application, my brother and I were excited about the idea of doing a little trail riding. Neither of us had done any mountain biking in many years. We set up our tent and took the trails for an hour while the sun set. It was the most fun I’d had on a bike in a very long time. It was also the first time I rode forest trails with clipless pedals, something I am excited to do again. The mix of power and control is astonishing.

It was my brother’s 30th birthday, so we decided to make Birthday Cake. I melted a big block of chocolate into a pot of water and added a healthy amount of whiskey. It tasted better than what you’re thinking. Or if you think it probably tasted good, it tasted like that. We shared the Birthday Cake with the three friendly chaps who were also staying at the Hiker Biker spot. We all got along wonderfully and effectively ignored the 12 dozen screaming kids and gas generator that rang throughout the valley from another campsite.

In the morning, we made the enjoyable ride back to San Francisco following Google Map’s suggested bike route. It was perfect.


San Francisco Bike Camping is Easy

August 29, 2012 at 6:28 pm

If there were 6,000 reasons I felt lucky to be a San Francsican, here’s reason #6,001: Bike camping in San Francisco is wildly easy.

I want to take a few small tours to test out my load and my gear before I ship off to France. In fact, this probably could have happened sooner. A mini-adventure is always a great reality check. The best advice I can offer to hikers, cyclists, climbers, and adventure-seekers of any sort who are shopping and researching is to just go. Plan a short trip with what you have on hand and just get out there. Everyone is adamant about their advice and everyone’s advice is different. You won’t know what is important to you until you’re setting up camp.

With that in mind, I set off for the Marin Headlands from San Francisco on what my buddy E. referred to as a “simulation.” I packed more like I will for the actual bike tour than how I would have packed for a night in the Headlands, because I wanted to feel the actual weight of my bike. I reserved a bike camping spot at Bicentennial Camp. This required that I stop by the visitor center for a permit. The visitor’s center closes at 4:30. But my buddy and I had to finish discussing Breaking Bad and eat some falafel. We got out of the city late and in no time to actually visit the visitor’s center. Not having a permit was absolutely no issue.


Jamis Aurora at the Marin Headlands Battery

Fully loaded success.


I felt a little extra prepared with my new handlebar bag. Before I left, I stopped into Sports Basement in San Francisco. They claimed to be out of handlebar bags. Then, walking out disappointed, I noticed a really nice bag on a display bike in the middle of the sales floor. A helpful staff member was nice enough to remove it from the bike and sell it to me. Score. It’s a great little bag for your camera, map, and a little food.

Getting to Bicentennial Camp from San Francisco is easy. Take the Golden Gate Bridge, find the one-way tunnel and basically proceed straight. When there’s a sign for the Visitor’s Center, it will be helpfully pointed away from you. Luckily, you can learn a lot by looking at the backs of signs.

We found our camp site after a few photo-touring adventures of batteries, cliffsides, and a light house. I set up my tent in a spot that would have been a lot nicer to set up a hammock. This was my final indication that it would be smarter to tour with a hammock. This is one of those debates where everyone’s opinion is different and equally strong. I really like camping with hammocks. I spent some time on the Appalachian Trail and carried only a hammock. I think they’re light, easy to set up, and I sleep well in them. If you like spending time in your tent or can’t sleep well in a hammock, they’re a bad idea. For me, they’re just a great way to save weight.

E. and I found a small beach that was dark and rocky. We spent some time staring into the thick gray fog of the bay and then built a really impressive cairn. If you don’t believe me that it was impressive, you’re welcome to go find it.

Find out more about bike camping in San Francisco here!