Allons-y à Samuel P. Taylor

September 6, 2012 at 6:45 pm

You really don’t notice 1989 silver Honda Civics on the road until you drive one. Likewise, I had no concept of bike touring or bike camping until I starting doing it. And now I can’t cast a sideways glance towards a highway or campsite without catching sight of someone proceeding merrily along, leaden with panniers.

I say this because I (and the very bike-and-camp capable girlfriend) rode the 30-some miles to Samuel P. Taylor state park this weekend. For me, it was the final simulation run before my real tour. For her, the first bike camping adventure. Not only did we run into other bike campers on the way, we actually knew nearly everyone at the campsite by coincidence. Yes, San Francisco is a small city. But even more so, bike touring is a community.

The bike ride from San Francisco to Samuel P. Taylor is mostly a pleasant one. It goes something like this: You leave your apartment with a very heavy bike and collect strange looks as you wind towards the Presidio. Once you make it there, you enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of open roads and actual trees. But more and more you notice the fog creeping in. Nearing the bridge, you would be appreciating startling views of the bay were it not for the blanket of fog fully obscuring said views (this, obviously, is not always the case).

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on a bike will either be a battle against the elements, a battle against the tourists, or both. If you’re lucky, you’ll face intense fog and gale-force crosswinds. If you’re not, you’ll be shouting at tourists to please move and trying desperately not to send them into the cold abyss when they casually walk into the path of your bike.


View of the Marin Headlands from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Notice: The Elements.


After the bridge, you descend steeply into Sausalito. By most accounts, this was once a cool bohemian town. In the Kingston Trio era, it was probably a really great place to get a reasonably priced drink, and a meal, and absorb the near-impossible beauty of the bay. These days it’s about as crowded with tourists and over-priced restaurants as a town can get.

Sausalito ends by placing you on a long flat bike path along the marshes outside of Mill Valley. In my experience, heading north is casual and pretty and almost begs you to take your ride at a slow pace. The folks headed north wonder why all the folks heading south look so tired. That is, until they turn around and face the constant headwind blowing in from the bay. Then they look tired to all the folks heading the other way, etc. etc.

The bike path ends and you take a small detour to The Ugliest Bike Path in America (nobody calls it that), which skirts the 101 for a short stretch before putting you mercifully onto some neighborhood streets. For several miles, you take a combination of main streets and back roads through Larkspur, San Anselmo and Fairfax. If you’re shortsighted like me, you’ll grab beer in Fairfax. Then you’ll hop onto Sir Francis Drake and climb the only major hill on the entire ride with a needlessly heavy bag. If you play things a bit smarter, you’ll wait until you descend the hill into Lagunitas to buy beer.

Then, you’ll hop onto the Cross-Marin Trail. It’s an old railway line that was converted into a dirt and gravel bike path. It is smooth enough for road tires and tucked under the trees along a river. There are side paths you can walk down to swimming holes along the way.

The Trail drops you off right in Samuel P. Taylor campground where you can grab a hiker-biker spot for $5 and sleep comfortably in a redwood grove.

We did, it was nice.