Bike Touring

Ever since taking up cycling as a hobby, I've always been enamored with the idea of bicycle touring. It always seemed like a lovely way to travel: at a slower pace, being self-sufficient, and meeting other excellent folks. Seriously, people seem to treat bike tourers better than other cyclists, and I've never met a tourer that didn't have a smile on their face at the end of the day. Plus I'm pretty introverted, and being the idea of being alone on a bike for the most of the day sounds pretty great.

It took me a few years, but in 2016 I finally got off my ass, bought some equipment, and went on my first weekend bike-camping trip.

Here's a log of the trips I've taken so far. I've included the first couple of overnight camping trips since they were practice runs for longer trips, but any other overnighters I've excluded.

Trips

September 24-25, 2016 - China Camp State Park - First Overnight

  • Distance: 37 miles
  • Climbing: 732 feet
  • Bike: 1983 Miyata 610

This was my first-ever bike-camping trip, which was for me to dip my toes in the water to see how I liked it. China Camp State Park is up in San Rafael and wasn't a terribly far ride, though 32 miles was longer than any single ride I had ever done up to this point.

I made a rule that while traveling by bike, if I have to take public transit to make an otherwise-unreasonable crossing (like the San Francisco Bay), I must use the shorted path possible. So for this trip I rode from Berkeley to Oakland, took the ferry to SF, then biked through SF, across the Golden Gate Bridge, then through Marin County to China Camp State Park.

Marin County has a wonderful set of off-street bike paths and bike lanes. Besides the odd angry redneck, it's pretty much a cycling paradise. For anyone who rides there on the regular, I highly recommending picking up the Marin County Bicycle Coalition's map.

The trip home was pretty uneventful. I left early and got home in the early afternoon. Biked the way I came to SF, then took BART from Embarcadero to West Oakland and biked from there.

During this trip I learned some really important lessons:

Give yourself plenty of time! I left around noon and arrived at the camp site at around 5:45 PM. I was then in a rush to get my tent set up and get dinner cooked.

Drink before you're thirsty, and eat before you're hungry! I didn't do enough of either and I was downright cranky during the last 10 miles and after I got into camp. I then ate dinner and drank 2-3 bottles of water and suddenly felt way better.

Food can suddenly add a lot of weight! I got fixin's for tacos from a grocery store in San Rafael and it was surprising how heavy my bike felt after that. It didn't help that I got a glass jar of salsa amoungst other stuff.

October 8-9, 2016 - Sam P Taylor State Park

  • Distance: 42 miles
  • Climbing: 1,188 feet
  • Bike: 1983 Miyata 610

Another overnight camping trip hot on the heels of my first. This one was a blast!

I took a similar route from home, across the bay, up through Marin County, and took a left at Larkspur to go towards Fairfax and eventually Sam P Taylor State Park. I learned my lesson and ate plenty of snacks and stay well hydrated. Stopped off at Gestalt Haus in Fairfax which is a big-time biker bar. Like, cyclist bar, not motorcyclist bar. All kinds of roadies and mountain bikers stopping off after a ride for a sausage and a beer or three.

The beer and sausage was a wonderful idea at the time, but holy crap it didn't feel great when making the climb out of Fairfax on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. It was a nice cruise after I got over the hump though. Stopped off in Lagunitas to grab dinner, then went to the park.

I got there at about 2 PM and had plenty of time to kill before eating dinner, so I set up camp at the hiker-biker site and went hiking for a few hours. When I got back, a lot of other cyclists started showing up. Like, a lot. Counting me there were 6 SF Bay Area locals on overnight trips, and 5 or 6 tourers who were making their way down the coast, either with SF being their destination or going on further.

One guy I met, Peter, had quit his job months prior, sold all his stuff, biked from Boston to Washington state, then was making his way down to San Diego. I don't know what he was going to do after San Diego, and I don't think he did either. He was probably the most 'profesional' bike tourer I've ever met, probably because that was just his life at that time.

On the way back, I ended up playing guide for most of the people through Marin County. The faster folks split off at Corte Madera to follow the Adventure Cycling Association maps while myself and a couple of others followed the Marin County Bicycle Coaltiion map toward SF, making a detour to drop one of the two off at the Larkspur ferry that he was going to take to SF then Oakland.

Peter, the serious tourer, and I went the rest of the way, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge during the SF Fleet Week airshow, which was pretty specatular. We parted ways at Chrissy Field and I went on my way back home to Berkeley by way of SF-Oakland ferry.

April 25-26, 2017 - Katy Trail Attempt

  • Distance (planned): 269.4 miles
  • Distance (actual): 57.4 miles
  • Climbing: negligible
  • Bike: 2017 Soma Wolverine

I grew up in the St. Louis area and had family and the Katy Trail was pretty well-known. I knew family and friends had biked parts of it, but just tiny bits. What I didn't realize until I was older is that the trail stretched almost across Missouri, from Clinton in the west, past Jefferson City and Columbia, and to St. Charles. Then, in late 2016 they opened the Rock Island Spur which went from Pleasant Hill (nearly Lee's Summit) to the Katy Trail in Windsor. Biking across my home state seemed like a fun first tour, and since these trails are old railroad rights-of-way, the climbing would be pretty minimal.

The plan was to ship my bike and fly into St. Louis, take Amtrak to Lee's Summit, bike to St. Charles, then hang out with family for a few days.

This was a good plan, except for one fatal mistake: I was doing this in April, and Missouri springs have insanely unpredictable weather.

I thought to look at the weather a week ahead, and it was predicted to be clear the entire trip. Boy was that wrong.

The Amtrak ride was nice. Getting my bike on wasn't too bad, they allow bikes on the Missouri River Runner and the conductors just have you put it in a handicapped spot. With low ridership, you're thankfully not inconveniencing anyone who needs the spot more than you. Hopped off at Lee's Summit, ate lunch, bought some groceries, then headed toward the Pleasant Hill Lake Park. For a small fee they let you camp there, and there are some pretty nice singletrack mountain biking trails there! Relatively flat compared to the mountains of California, but enough for it to be a total blast on my rigid cyclocross-ish bike.

After getting back to camp and eating dinner, that's when things turned bad. A thunderstorm eventually blew in and I realized the mistake I've just made. I grew up with thunderstorms and they always seemed okay, but let me tell you, when you're in a tent and the rain is pouring and the wind is blowing the tent every which way, and there's thunder and lighting, it's a little bit terrifying.

The rain stopped by morning, and I quickly packed up and took off before it started again. Had a wonderful breakfast in Pleasant Hill, probably the best midwest diner breakfast I've ever had, but maybe that's just because it was a hot meal and hot cup of coffee after the rain the previous night.

The Rock Island Spur from there was nice. The only problem is that since it's an old railroad right-of-way, it's like driving through Kansas: Flat, straight, and in the middle of nowhere. Not much interesting to look at while you're riding, just farms and the occasional tree.

After a while, the rain started slowly picking up. By the time I got to Chilhowee it was a heavy drizzle and here was mistake number two: not bringing proper rain gear. I had a water-resistant jacket, but it turned out to not be water-proof. It wasn't long before I was soaked head-to-toe and was entirely miserable. By the time I got to Leeton, I was ready to throw in the towel. I got a ride back to St. Louis, dried off, hung out with family for a few days, and flew back to St. Louis defeated.

Lessons learned: if it might possibly rain, bring a good rain jacket and rain pants. And do that trip in October or something.

June 21-24, 2017 - North SF Bay and Napa Valley

  • Distance: 203 mi
  • Climbing: 7,002 feet
  • Bike: 2017 Soma Wolverine

This was my redemption trip after getting rained out in Missouri. Being so close to home and so close to civilization the entire time, it was still a pretty 'safe' trip, but the distances and climbing were a far cry from the ease of the Katy Trail in Missouri.

This trip took me north out of San Francisco, up the coast to Bodega Bay, east through Santa Rosa and Calistoga, then south down Napa Valley, across the Carquinez Strait, and back to Berkeley.

I wrote a blog post about this trip, including the transcribed journal I kept during it.