November 13 , 2004: Road rave

From Romulus' roost south of Army, we zig-zagged our way out to the Presidio -- my first real experience with urban jockeying on a road bike. I'm pretty qualified in rural and sub-urban navigation, but I've gotten a bit rusty at street-to-street combat; throw in skinny tires and a road bike stance, and I'm pretty skittish. Romulus rides through the City to work several days a week, so he's got the smooth, fluid, in-traffic style that indicates a significant comfort level.

The weather has been poor the last couple of days, and the forecast was for morning showers. I awoke with skepticism and more than a bit of apprehension. I have never ridden a road bike in wet conditions before, and even if it wasn't actually raining, the roads were sure to be wet. But glory be, the Gods of weather and cycling were looking down upon us, and the morning dawned crystal clear and gorgeous. Motoring up Highway 1 through Devil's Slide and Pacifica, I was awed awake by the brilliant clarity of the views looking northwest toward the Farallones and the Headlands. Visibility: endless.

The ride over to the Presidio turned out to be pretty mellow. We zipped through the Mission, dodged latte-carrying hipsters at Market and Church, pinballed through the lower Haight, and safety'ed up in the Park before running gauntlets of church-goers in the west Richmond to get to the Presidio gates.

On such a beautiful day, it was a tourist's wet dream out at the Golden Gate. The bridge was postcard-perfect: the water so blue, the headlands so green, the bridge so orange, everything so vibrant. All morning, I had been seriously questioning my resolve to endure the kind of pain that Romulus rides incur, but the sublimity of the bridge scene inspired me to fully engage.

A tourist's wet dream out there today

We lolled through Sausalito and Mill Valley, then started the climb up Molina towards the top of Mt. Tam. I generally felt pretty good as we worked our way skyward. I love climbing; I love the surge of blood to the muscles and the conversion of blood to the energy that powers my legs to spin like Tom DeLay explaining how the Repulicans are the party of moral values.

After stopping for a bathroom break at the Pan Toll station, we dropped down the Panoramic Highway to Stinson Beach. I definitely faced some demons on that descent: steep, winding, narrow downhill, with sharp turns and plenty of traffic. Throw in glistening wet pavement in the shaded sections, a gusty wind blowing off the Pacific, and a panoramic view more distracting than the debate over John Kerry's war record and you've got a recipe for the wobbles. I'll admit it, I got rattled a couple of times on the way down, but I had Romulus up ahead of me providing an impetus for courage.

The Presidio gates
Cycling over an icon
Stinson Beach repose

At the bottom, we enjoyed a satisfying repose at Stinson Beach Park. While reviewing our safety procedures and taking on calories, we watched runners finish the Stinson Beach trail race that JB and I used to do every year. It's only been a couple of years since I finished second overall in the seven-mile distance here, but for my running legs, it feels like a lifetime. The runner's high was good while it lasted.

From Stinson, we climbed south along 1, itself perched brazenly along the tectonic clifftops overlooking Rocky Point, Steep Ravine, and Gull Rock. When I dared, I looked down into craggy coves and rocky inlets, every detail so vividly clear and colorful. This stretch of 1 between Stinson Beach and Muir Beach offers some beautifully intricate curves, but it is not for the faint of heart. With certain death to your right in the form of a 200-foot plunge to the ocean and a the constant buzzing of combustion engines zipping by within arm's reach to your left, you need to be dialed in through here or you're going to get hurt. Where there is a shoulder, it is about six inches wide, cracked, crumbling, and uneven, ending in a steep slope to precipicia.

We came up the Shoreline Highway past Green Gulch Farm and I really burned it on the way up the summit. About half way up, I decided to increase my cadence and I ended up in a really good, high-RPM rhythm. Felt good. Just below the summit, Romulus had a very scary moment when a red Mazda Miata coming towards him decided to pass a motorhome by cutting through a turn just as Romulus was coming through it. When he joined me at the top, he was still a little rattled. That's the thing with road riding, especially on roads as majestic as those in the Headlands: you have to put your faith in drivers on the road, because there is just not enough pavement for you to be able to protect yourself. I ride with a mirror and a tailight flasher, but that's just window dressing. If somebody is going to hit you, there's really not much you can do in the close quarters of scenic biways.

Coming back through Mill Valley, Sausalito, and the bridge, it was like a jail break of weekend duffers, families, rollerbladers, dogs on leashes, slow-moving cars, and all size and shape of bikes and cyclists. Just one more technical challenge for the ride. It didn't matter too much at this point, I had entered survival mode just after the Col de Green Gulch. In a blur, we crossed back over the bridge, cut through the Marina district across Van Ness to Polk, rode down through the Tenderloin down to Market. Hopped off on Valencia and took that up towards Army. From Van Ness to Army, my street mettle was again tested with some serious combat riding. Brought back found memories of my days as a messenger for Aero Delivery. I was pumping as much adrenaline busting down Polk through the Tenderloin as I had coming down the Panoramic into Stinson earlier in the day.

Another thriller! We probably could have done another 10 to 15 miles, but time was running short and my neck and shoulder muscles were pretty sore. Whither Bonzai on such a glorious ride, alas.

Saw about 15 or 20 giant egrets in the reeds of Sausalito and some turkey vultures riding the thermals out along the coast, but not much else from the animal world.


Mileage: 56.39 Time: 4:25:20 Avg: 12.7 Max: 34.5 Weight: 

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