So, my wife of 17 years and I are going through a separation.
I can go on and on about the drama and heartbreak surrounding this, but I won’t. Long story short, I need to take this time to truly find myself, figure out who I am without my wife, and do the things I always wanted to do as part of my own independence. I’m learning about Buddhism, being present, being at peace with myself, exorcising the hurt from my childhood that is coming up again and again in my adult life. As they say, history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it certainly does rhyme. I think Mark Twain said that. Strangely, I’m not a big Mark Twain fan.
Part of my newly found journey of self-discovery is to do the things I always wanted to do, but for whatever reasons couldn’t do. Those things include making music again, video production, photography, …and now bikepacking.
Bikepacking is basically strapping a bunch of camping stuff to a bike, pedal out to a campsite, pitch a camp and stay for an evening. Multi-day (or even multi-year) rides are completely do-able. I’ve known people who rode from Central California up the coast to Arcata near the Oregon border, and back. I’m not that hardcore… yet. But, I can see this as something I really could love to do. Part of the planning is to figure out what will be available along the route. For instance, if a bikepacker was to just ride somewhere to stay in a hotel room along a well populated route, that person would not have to bring a tent and sleeping bag, or even meals (and means to cook them, depending on the preferred food in question). If the plan was to cross the high plains desert, s/he would need to bring enough water and emergency supplies to make it across.
A few weekends ago, I met up with a meetup.com group, who were doing a bike tour to the Rodeo Beach Youth Hostel as an overnighter. We would ride out to Rodeo Beach on Saturday, spend the night there, and ride back Sunday. I was kindly invited to go with them, and had an absolute blast. I came back from that trip beaming. I met some new bike touring friends, talked to some French and German tourists at the youth hostel, lost some of my fear of riding in traffic. I’ve been nearly hit by cars on at least 5 separate occasions, so I largely gave up road biking.
My wife wanted to change our separation schedule so we would have complete weekends away from the house, trading off who watches the kids, and this was to be my first weekend free. She suggested that I should meet up with the bike touring folks, but there was no ride planned.
Heck, I’m working for more self-sufficiency in my life; why not do a solo trip? This is a perfect opportunity to do my own thing on my terms.
My plan was to ride from Oakland to a BART station, ride BART to the Embarcadero station, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and into Marin. I was going to reserve a campsite, but there was no campsite reservation system. Being Labor Day weekend also meant things were going to be busy. A friend suggested that I just crash one of the campgrounds, and somebody would likely give me space to pitch my tent. There tends to be a lot of cancellations for campsites as well, so I might get lucky. Worst case, I ride back to Mill Valley, call a friend for a couch to crash on, or get a motel room. Also, my wife was at Stinson Beach with the kids that day (just 12 miles down the hill from Bootjack Camp), so I put my bike rack in the trunk of her car so she could potentially pick me up as a bail-out option if I have a mechanical issue or get injured or whatever might happen.
I set my sights on Bootjack Campground on Mt. Tamalpias. There are 30 campsites and a big group campsite. I figured my odds were pretty good. I load up my bike during the week, working out my gear and supplies, and I bought some freeze dried camping food from REi. I would shoot for leaving OMG early on Saturday.
So, for packing the bike, I decided on this rig list…
Chainring bolt tool
Tire pump strapped to bottle bosses on frame.
Swiss Army cheap knockoff pocket multi-tool knife.
Tire patch kit
rear Nashbar pannier bags on rear rack
NiteRider Lumina 650 flashlight, bar mount
Planet Bike Superflash tail light on the Camelbak.
Black Diamond LED headlight
Kelty Teton 2 person tent
Thermarest foam pad (non-inflatable)
4pc pot and pan kit
Can of white camping gas
Screw-on ultralight stove top (from Amazon for $10!)
flexible aluminum wind shield
Ultralight sleeping bag in the handlebar bag.
Super concentrated liquid camping soap
Kid’s SPF50 sunblock
Garmin Edge 705 GPS computer
iPad in Pelican case
iPhone in top tube bag
Canon Elph camera in bag strapped to stem
Two solar batteries
one 18650 USB battery
Phone/iPad charger and cables
I wore some lycra bike shorts with a bike jersey, REi middle temperature socks, my Sidi bike shoes, bike glasses, full finger gloves.
Camelbak, containing tools, clothes, extra water bottle, wallet, keys and my orange knit long sleeve bike jersey
My regular dark sunglasses (with wire frames, not safe to ride with, tho)
Fleece workout pants to stay warm
Winter weather thick boot socks
Knit beanie hat
Mountain Home freeze dried Chicken and Rice.
a bunch of cliff bars
Trader Joe’s dried fruit bars
Trader Joe’s Honey Pretzel sticks
A baggie of Powerbar Sports drink mix
two packs of maple brown sugar instant oatmeal
An insulated water bottle of soy milk
The bike is my trusty Performance Bike Access 29er bike that I assembled from parts mostly from the parts bin. It cost me almost nothing to build… at least, very few parts were purchased specifically to build it. I did have to buy a pannier rack for it. Let me tell you, the world has not caught up to 29er bikes yet. All of the racks out there I could find were either for 29er tires, or for bikes with disc brakes, but not for both. I had to do some crazy bending, fabricating and McGuyver-ing to make the legs clear the disc brake caliper on my disc brake equipped 29er bike. And I gotta say, virtually ALL 29er bikes these days have disc brakes. Even with this, the rack is not perfectly centered on the frame, but it works. The rack I got is a Planet Bike KOKO rack with 55 pound capacity. It was the beefiest rack I could find short of spending hundreds of dollars on one. That 55 pound weight capacity I’m sure doesn’t account for a mountain bike pounding over rocks while fully loaded. Well, not fully loaded. I probably had 20 pounds of stuff on it. Still, aluminum doesn’t do well with fatigue, and the bike does waggle a lot with a loaded rack. I have to keep an eye on it for cracking. Luckily, nothing yet.
On the rack, I use a pair of Nashbar pannier bags. I got them on crazy markdown sale for like $25 for the set. Good size, they seem to be well made. I’m not sure I trust the waterproofing. My sleeping bag lives in a Cordura Nylon bar bag I got from a swap meet for a dollar, strapped to the handlebars with my ultralight sleeping bag inside.
I use a couple of cheap eBay bags for my top tube iPhone bag (and it lets you use the touchscreen through it!) and a triangle shaped frame bag. In the top tube bag, I kept the extra USB batteries and phone clip.
So, I was pretty tired on Friday night, the night before roll out. I figured my bike was mostly packed anyway, so it should not be a big deal just to finish the last few things and roll out the door. Well, kids needed breakfast, house needed some cleaning, blah blah blah. Next thing I know, it’s 9:30 by the time I swing a leg over and start cranking.
I roll down Skyline to Sheppard’s Canyon, down Moraga towards Mac Arthur BART. I got on the platform, thought I was on the wrong platform, switched, missed the right train because I was on the wrong platform, changed platforms again, caught the next one. BART is pretty awesome in that there are so many trains, I never have to wait very long for the next one.
I got on the train, and got off at the Embarcadero station. By now, it was late morning… nearly lunchtime! Last bike tour I did with the bike touring club, I hit this little place down at Justin Herman Plaza called Crepe and Curry. They make these killer crepes and have some Thai food. I love their cocoanut milk chicken soup. So, I took an early lunch to load up on some calories. I got a Florentine crepe, a cup of Chicken cocoanut milk soup, and a can of coke.
From there, I pedaled down the Embarcadero, through the touristy area of Fisherman’s Wharf, Chrissy Field, base of Golden Gate Bridge, and across.
Oh man, Golden Gate Bridge was the biggest Fred festival ever. To be expected, tho. Holiday weekend, lots of folks from out of town renting bikes to ride across the GGB… actually, it was really cool to see all of those folks out there riding bikes. The problem was more that the Freds aren’t very aware of bike traffic or how to conduct themselves in crowds. Several times, I had to slam on the brakes while somebody pulled out in front of me suddenly, stopped suddenly on the bridge with no warning to take pictures, weaved all around the place as they rode.
So, I get across the bridge (missing some tire I left on the bridge as skid marks) make my way up to Conzelman Road (with the view of the GGB), down Conzelman road (which is an awesome, paved, high speed rollercoaster, BTW) where I found an overgrown fireroad that lead to a horse stable. I mean, really overgrown. The shrubs tore up my shins. I rode through the stables, to the road out to Rodeo Beach.
I rode on to the beach, and took a half hour break, watching the surfers and kids playing.
I rode up Miwok Trail, which I gotta say, is steep, and kinda hurt to climb. Low and slow, that’s the tempo. The thing about long climbs is that I like to get a feel for the air flowing through me, oxygen hitting my muscles to do their thing. It feels like a river of energy flowing through my body, converting air and carbs into muscle motion. I ride it like a wave up the hill. Push too hard, the legs burn out and it starts to become a slog. I find a gear that works for the conditions and load, and sit back and crank. No rush… I’ll get there eventually.
Down Old Springs Trail, to the horse stables (different ones than before), down to Tennessee Valley, up Miller Ave to downtown Mill Valley. On the way, I stopped at a 7-11 for a Snickers Bar, Gatorade and two small bottles of orange juice for breakfast tomorrow. I need calories for this stuff.
I’ll add, stopping with a fully loaded tour bike is a major pain. I feel like I have to pick off the expensive electronics off the bike… the GPS, the light, my iPhone, take my gloves off, pack things in the Camelbak… It was a 10 minute operation just to spend 2 minutes in 7-11.
I rode through downtown Mill Valley and started my grind up Old Railroad Grade. It starts at around 200′ elevation and ended at West Point Inn at 1800′ elevation. It’s a long grind. I stop inside and talk to the caretaker on duty. I ask him if there are any cabins available, just in case the campsites don’t work out. No luck, but I’m not surprised. He did tell me that if I wanted a campsite, I would have to check in with the Pan Toll ranger station. He said chances were good I’d score a place to pitch a tent. It’s just a short two mile jog down Old Stage Road trail.
I roll into Pan Toll Ranger Station, and ask the ranger on duty about available campsites. She tells me they are all booked up…. but, oh, wait! There is one shared hike-in or bike-in campers. They allow three tents and 5 campers total. Turns out, there are two tents, and 4 people camping. Room for one person (me) and one tent! I’m in luck!! Good thing, too. I really couldn’t see pedaling back to Mill Valley to get a room. I was pretty toasted at that point. Pushing a 45 pound loaded bike 37 miles up 4000 feet of climbing over five and a half hours took it’s toll on me.
I introduce myself to Nora and some other young twenty-something lady who’s name escapes me. Nora said they hiked up from Four Corners, and it took them a few hours to do make it up. They seemed nice enough… friendly. I didn’t actually talk to them much. The other couple rode up the hill on rented electric assist beach cruiser bikes. They had their camping gear basically strapped to the backs of those bikes. I’m amazed they made it up the 1800′ climb from Mill Valley on those things.
Mmmeah, I’m not sure that heat shield is doing a dang thing.
I got out my camping stove, camping pan set, boiled some water and reconstituted my freeze dried chicken and rice in a bag. This stuff is surprisingly good. At this time, I discovered that I forgot to pack my camping spoon/fork/knives. That’s an all in once thing. I took my scissors from my cheap knock-off Swiss Army Knife and cut out a spoon from the mylar bag I cooked the chicken and rice in. Noms!
I pitch the tent, roll out the Thermarest mat. Loads of snacking, drinking water, tired as heck. I unload the bike of all of the important stuff, clean myself up in the bathroom, and crawl in to my tent for some well earned rest and shut-eye. While falling out, I bust out the iPad and watch some True Detective. Awesome show, by the way. I’m really too tired to pay close attention to it. I found a nearby electrical outlet to charge up my iPhone. It was nearly dead. An hour on the charger brought it up to 75%. Close enough. I gotta hit the hay.
I probably should have just sat there and meditated to myself, being this bikepacking trip was supposed to be a trip inwards, but I figured I was in my own thoughts the entire day, and I needed to shut my brain down for a while.
I packed one of those little self-expanding pillows, but it was really too small for me. I stuffed some of my old clothes in the empty tent bag to use as a pillow, but that wasn’t much better. The Thermarest foam pad was just too thin as well. I was warm enough in the tent, in the ultralight sleeping bag (which was a first) but there was just not enough padding and support for my body to be comfortable. I didn’t sleep well. I fell out around 9:00 and woke up around 6:30, but didn’t feel like I got enough sleep. I remember changing positions all throughout the night when my hip, elbow or back started to feel sore. I probably snored as well. I woke up with a mildly sore throat.
The next day, I came to… sore all over, but not too bad. I wish I brought some Ibuprofen with me. I boiled some water to cook up my oatmeal, put some soy milk in it, and again… no spoon to eat it with. So, I cut up one of my small orange juice bottles to make a spoon. We had two guests show up. Friends of the electric assist couple showed up sometime in the night. A gay couple from San Francisco rode up on skinny tire touring bikes. I’m not sure exactly where they slept. Maybe in bivy sacks under the starry sky. It was a beautiful night, but really windy. I remember my tent being showered by falling leaves and twigs from the trees above. In the morning, one of those guys complained a lot about a crying baby somewhere in camp. They also said my bike had so much stuff on it, it looked like something Inspector Gadget would ride. Heh… I did feel a bit over-accessorized.
So I packed up, and started my ride back to the real world. I repacked the bike, and started up Old Stage Road, to West Point Inn, back down Railroad Grade. I rolled through downtown Mill Valley, to the bike path, and through Sausalito. The Art Festival was this weekend. There was a lady directing cars to the paid parking, cheering the cyclists on. I put my hand out and high fived her as I passed. That was awesome. I got a lift from that.
I realized I was going to pass by Fred’s cafe. Fred’s has the best French Toast on the planet. They cook it on the grille and deep fry it. Oh, my, goodness! They also had a new option… Millionaire Bacon. I capitalized it, because such a thing should be referred to as a proper noun… like the French Toast. They did something like candied some really great quality, thick cut bacon. With scrambled eggs, and some fresh squeezed OJ, I was in heaven. Best breakfast ever, even if it was a second breakfast.
I continued to pedal through Sausalito, through Fort Baker, up to the Bridge, and back over. Chrissy Field to Fisherman’s Wharf, Embarcadero to Justin Herman Plaza. More cocoanut chicken soup! The, BART back to Lake Merrit.
Once I hit Lake Merrit, I pedaled up Park Blvd, across Monterrey to Skyline Blvd near Joaquin Miller. Last bike tour, I pedaled up Snake Road, and let me tell you, that is not the way to go. The steep climb up Skyline was actually not too bad in a low gear, and I wasn’t as worried about cars buzzing by me around blind corners.
So, a couple more miles of pedaling, and I was home. I had a blast, and I think I can do this again.
Totals for the weekend:
70 miles ridden
6600′ of climbing
9 hours riding time
Start earlier… meaning, don’t slack off on packing the night before.
I need to find a better sleeping pad. I tried an inflatable mattress once, but it put a nasty kink in my back. The Thermarest pad was just too thin. I have a thicker foam pad, but it takes up a ton of room.
Find a thicker and/or bigger pillow. Or, find more clothing to fill a stuff sack with.
Pack utensils. Or, bigger picture, make a checklist and make sure everything is on it.
Rethink the iPad. It seems like a lot of weight and size to carry just for a movie watching device and note pad. I never ended up writing notes, just watching a movie. The iPhone would work for this, but would kinda suck to write anything lengthy on… and I do write lengthy stuff, as you can see.
The solar batteries were pretty close to useless. The smaller USB batteries did a much better job at topping off my phone’s charge… not to mention they are like $5 each on eBay. I can keep 3 or 4 of them for the weight and size of one of the solar powered batteries.
Bring some sweet snacks next time… cookies, candy, chocolate. That would have really hit the spot at the end of the first day.
Reassess the hot food option. Seems I could save a lot of weight if I could do without the cookware and stove. Then again, hot food at the end of he day is a real spirit lifter.