PC16: Samuel P Taylor State Park, CA — San Francisco, CA

Monday, August 21st

The final day and final 30 miles or so to San Francisco, the bridge, the city, the beach, the sea, the end.

The campsite was busy in the morning. Nine of us had spent the night there and we gradually separated in the morning. I rode out of the park with Grace, Annie, and Luc. A gravel track led us out of the redwoods and back on to the 1, a now smoothly surfaced, wide shouldered highway which transported us swiftly from the country to the suburbs, then the city.

We took a coffee break at a roadside espresso bar 5 miles in, met a dog which was recovering from a recent attack from a deer, and continued onward, reaching the suburbs of Fairfax – the first in a chain of small cities which merged into one another as we swapped avenues of trees for neat rows of houses, and untamed highway for well marked cycle lanes.

The eclipse happened at around 10.15 but it was hard to make out anything significant happening in the sky through the clouds and telegraph wires above us and there was too much the focus on at ground level anyway – San Francisco was just 20 miles away. And after some tough climbing out of Larkspur we caught our first view of it, a small group of high rise buildings, framed by trees, sitting on the distant horizon.

Taking the view in for a little while, probably the last big downhill of the trip took us to the start of a cycle path which ran a few miles into Sausalito. The hard work was over now. We said goodbye to the girls as they went off seeking waffles, and me and Luc stopped into a lighthouse themed diner on the edge of the town where I indulged in a breakfast of raspberry pancakes, eggs, and bacon, along with several hot cups of coffee. It was one of a small number of times i’d sat inside to eat on the trip and provided a good opportunity to stop and take stock of things.

We left the cafe, following the road along the coast past streams of tourists on squeaky rental bikes heading towards the ferry terminal and back to San Francisco. We climbed a short steep road out of Sausilto and rounded a corner got the first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge which came into full focus as we dropped back down, crossed underneath highway 101, and commenced one last final push upwards to a viewpoint overlooking the bay and the bridge.

This, I suppose, was the end. And, as was to be expected, it felt both totally rewarding and a touch anticlimactic on this overcast Monday morning.

We took photos at the top. Heading a little further up for a better view on higher ground, making space around tourists arriving and departing in cars to get a clean shot of our bikes and the bridge, before deciding to head down and cross it.

We cycled back down, crossed the highway again, and crossed the bridge, swapping details and going separate ways at the otherside and I began to aimlessly follow the bay around towards Sutro Baths and Ocean Beach. It had been nice to share the last miles of the trip with someone, but I doubted that we’d see each other again, as was the transient nature of friends made on the road.

I’d toyed with the idea of continuing south for one night, finishing in Half Moon Bay and heading back into the city in the morning. But now I was in San Francisco it felt like it was time to stop. I could have carried on, it was routine now, another 30 miles wouldn’t have been a problem. But it felt like I’d have been doing it for the sake of it, almost in denial, rather than accepting and enjoying the end of the ride and terminating it here.

So at the Camera Obscura after looking longingly south over the sea wall, across Ocean Beach, and beyond, I reluctantly decided to call it a day. In the distance, somewhere, was another adventure waiting to be had, but not right now.

After a brief look inside the camera I rolled downhill to the entrance of Golden Gate Park.

I crossed the entire park, past the bison paddock, lakes, and hot dog stands, until I emerged close to the financial district and the Bay Bridge where I eventually came to a stop outside a large residential building – the polished metal and glass clashing with the dust and oil on my bike. But at reception I obtained the key to Paul’s apartment where I’d be spending the week and wheeled my bike inside, up into the lift, then along quiet corridors to it’s resting place up against the wall diving the kitchen and the living space.

I took a long hot shower, did laundry, relaxed. In clean clothes I took a walk into the city. Past expensive apartment buildings and people camped in tents. San Francisco was an uncomfortable mix of extreme wealth and desperate poverty, and the two things could exist literally side by side.

As it was getting dark to a ramen place I’d been to several times before in the Tenderloin. I remember finishing my trip last year in Vancouver in a similar fashion. I’d travelled a shorter distance to meet this particular bowl of hot soup and noodles, and enjoy the cold Japanese beer, but it had been hard earned nonetheless. I thought back to the start of the trip, the train from Oakland to Portland, the strangeness of the first few misty mornings and evenings in Oregon. Now I was back in a big city when things moved fast and a predictable order about them.

The end had come somewhat abruptly, the distance felt deceptively short – just 11 more days would get me to the Mexican border, but, for now at least, San Francisco would do.

I think it’s natural to try and draw some big meaningful conclusion at the end of a trip. But I felt this ride was more about staying in touch with a thing I liked to do, but didn’t get to do very often. The nature of these long bike rides is that they can be hard to fit around regular life and work, they take time and planning, large cardboard boxes, maps, sweat and oil and lots of coffee.

It was a little like checking in with that old friend that you only see once or twice a year, and when you do you’re quickly reminded why you’re still friends and you say ‘we should do this more often’, but the truth is is hard, and you don’t know exactly when you’ll see them again. But you’ll think of them fondly, you’ll linger over photos, and know that when you do meet again, you’ll know why.