"Sal, we gotta go and never stop going 'till we get there". "Where we going man?" "I don't know but we gotta go" - Jack Kerouac, On the Road -

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Day 34: San Francisco

Point Reyes, Ca - Santa Cruz, Ca : 129 miles. Total : 4193 miles

Wow!  Being so close to my destination must have assuaged the stress: I sleep better than ever before on this ride and if my mind is at peace my drive has not been blunted. I look all business as I get dressed. A Bridge awaits. I also look all business at the breakfast buffet which generously offers chocolate croissants among other assorted goodies. Nine seems to be a nice number to me this morning and I could go on but the presence of other guests induce a certain amount of shame in showing my unabashed gluttony to the world. With thousands of calories burnt on the bike I wouldn't call it gluttony but how do you explain that to the other guests? My hands full of croissants and I go "Oh no it's okay, I am riding cross-country".

The morning is foggy but as the lady at the reception, who seems very impressed by my ride by the way, confirms the weather in this little town nestled in a nook of the Tomales Bay is not an accepted yardstick for the weather in the Bay Area. So there is hope for sun and clear skies on the other side of the bay. What separates me from San Francisco is a steep mountain. The road will twist and snake around its hills for a few miles before I summit the ridge and begina short but equally steep descent into Sausalito. That's the plan.

With a belly full of chocolate and buttery bread and a yearn to discover the world which rivals Marco Polo, I shoot down highway 1 which, in this part of the Bay, is reduced to a narrow two-lane county road in rough conditions but with very little traffic. At times the road looks like a back road out of Scotland or Dorset. The scenery is 100 % rural, nothing suggests that a huge metropolis is lodged on the other side of the mountain; the cattle and the low fog that's all around make me question whether I am really in California. I am and I am a few miles from one of the greatest cities in the country. The prospect of riding on the big red bridge injects a special spring in my step, I am psyched, I look awake and feisty on the bike, I stand on the pedals to climb the hills, it is not a slog, it is all quick and fast. It feels like day one and not day 34. Obviously if you took a good look at my clothes it would immediately seem day 34, or 100 even. But my worn-out and soiled attired does not reflect the unexpected energy that bursts out of my body. Where do I get it from? From what reserves? I keep asking the question and I don't know. I just hope it lasts all the way to LA. I jsut hope it lasts for as long as I live.

The road veer up steep and mean but I feel up for this, however once I am in the bay who's to say how I will feel? One thing I have learnt is that riding for many hours makes for a very unreliable mood. Determination and mood swings are the results of a long day with a mind so taxed by the challenge and the discipline to face it all that one minute I feel like a conqueror and the next like I can't ride for another mile. If I start the day with a bag full of enthusiasm that very same bag might be empty by the end of the day and actually full of crankiness and tiredness. How many times do I question this enterprise? Have many times have I said to myself, one more mile and then I quit? Too many. But I am still here fighting this battle. So I have learnt not to trust how I feel in the morning because the wind, the traffic, the one asshole that almost kills me (there is at least one every day), the hilly road, the climb, etc will certainly disjoint my good will in so many ways and so many times. Actually, not out of hate for a bad driver or disdain for the wind or doubts over my sanity after so many days on a bicycle, rather out of fascination and love for San Francisco that as I get closer to the city, yes..ideas of hanging the boots swirl frantically in my head but noy just yet. I know I am very fond of San Francisco, the fundraising target has been reached, I have cycled across, and with over 4000 clicks I have all the reasons in the world to stop or just coast and enjoy some proper, civilized, can-I-have-the-dessert- menu, where-is-the-floss, what-movie-shall-I-watch-tonight, what- book-shall-I-read, let's-have-brunch-together, wheelless, type of existence.

The road goes up steep and loses itself into a world of clouds. I see nothing but the faint outlines of recognizible road signs just a few feet in front of me and that's about it. I hear the crushing sound of the waves below and at one point I barely see the beach appearing like a ghost. Come on, let's go, hurry up. I realize that this is the last climb. It is in fact, it is the big hill which hugs Sausalito on the west and protects its populated areas from the Ocean. I crest it and I see the Sausalito Bay right below. It look incredible. Where is the city? The other side of the bay is enveloped in a thick layer of clouds. I can only see this side of the bay. The hillsides are dotted with attractive-looking houses. Money equals modern architecture which equals lots of windows and glass and cool designs and styles.

I fly down the hill and the road spits me into the crazy traffic of highway 101. A moment ago I was in the Tomales Bay in total solitude fighting hills and the fog with seagulls flying over my head and now all I hear is the roaring of vehicles and the clutter of urban life. Luckily for me I avoid the traffic as the town has plenty of bike paths. I ride into the charming but overly pretentious Sausalito seafront. I feel like a savage who's come down a mountain after months of isolation. To my left the bay with a constant thick roll of white puffy clouds which inhibit any view into SF. But I know it is there and I know the bridge must be there behind the clouds. Damn it! I wanna see it! Relax, you'll see it soon. After a couple of miles I see the tops of the two 746 ft towers sticking out of the clouds like two buildings that peep out of a mist in a picture of the New York skyline. What a sight! I know what that is. The wind makes the clouds travel fast and temporary gaps in them reveal what it is an imposing structure of red steel: Golden Gate Bridge is right above me. I am a tiny man with a bicycle standing under it. I am so tiny next to this intimidating piece of architecture but I don't feel small when I look back over the past 34 days and the fact that I have ridden from DC to here and a long and twisty route in between. It is an emotional moment and I just stop the bike and take a second to let it sink in. I ride past tourists and joggers and I continue my ride on the bridge which is shrouded in the fog and it is even more imposing than from the street. I ride on the path on the east side of the bridge and I crane my neck to see the incredible, mind blowing thick cables that connect the road to the towers. I look over and the 220 ft jump to the rough freezing waters of the Bay must be a certain death for whoever wishes it. And many go this way, so many that there are 'don't do it' signs on the bridge itself. I cannot see San Francisco to my left. 

I ride all the way to the end and by then the clouds have disappeared and I find myself in another world: a sunny, breezy and cloudless sky allows me to see a familiar skyline: I am in San Francisco. I ride on the coast all the way to the Embarcadero with a frozen smile on my face. I turn west and ride on through Chinatown and Nob Hill. The big familiar city makes me lazy, I stop so many times to enjoy the sights, take pictures and I am thinking you know what? I am done, I like this, I like it here. Crazy ideas hit me again, I could rent a car and drive to LA, I could rest a few days here, enjoy the city and fly back from here and I even thought of driving back to DC from SF. After all I still have 6 days before I need to clock in. But something is eating at me, I am not happy, I would not be happy settling for any of the above. I am not done. Not you're not, so do what you set out to do a few months ago, eyes on prize, remember? Stop wasting time here, you've been dallying around for almost two hours, let's go.

I listen to that voice and I decide that I have got to find out if I can make it to LA, I've got to finish what I have started. I ride through Golden Gate Park and I find a bike shop on Irving st. In goes chain number three. This should get me going nicely. What time is it? Almost 2.30 pm. I can't believe I strolled around SF for three hours. What should I do? Half Moon Bay is 25 miles south and Santa Cruz 75 miles. I have a slight tailwind, well it is a cross wind but it does hit me at a 45 degree angle. The road is not mine because here cars dominate but I can change all that. I need a 'I rule' t-shirt because that's how I feel. The feeling of complacency that has been instilled by reaching this milestone fades and the hunger for more is back. From a moment of uncertainty to dead certainty: I step away from the threshold of becoming a tourist, a normal citizen with clean hands and perfume-scented skin and back to my dirty bike and a mud and sweat-infested existence, at least for another 3 days. The rest can wait. I forget about San Francisco and I throw myself another challenge. Let's be in Santa Cruz tonight. After negotiating some heavy traffic out of Dale City I am back on Highway 1 and back on the coast. Out of the city the fog regroups and I am back to where I was in the morning. The constant fog is still there and won't let me see anything apart from the immediate surroundings and the road signs and the familiar lines on the pavement. I ride fast, really fast for almost 4 hours. The foggy weather allows me to concentrate on the ride, the scenery will get my attention some other time. At Half Moon Bay I don't even consider stopping. I take a break along the highway by a fresh fruit and produce stand but my beloved cherries are a big disappointment thought. I soldier on and I feel really good. To my surprise the chain falls off once but what a nice opportunity to get my hands even dirtier, they now fully fit with my clothes, black is the color. I am the dirt man. Not even this slight mechanical glitch will deter me. I get it done, I get the job done. I push on the highway cycling religiously into the generous shoulder. I win this challenge too. Just before 7pm I see the Santa Cruz city limits sign. As I enter the city I realize that I have ridden the whole 75 miles with only one water bottle half full and i have hardly touched it. No, don't worry I am not being careless, I am confident, I am in the zone now. I even ride through downtown which does not appeal to me at all. Lots of new buildings, tourism signs and places that you wouldn't want to see on a coast. But this is the law of the land. Everybody's got to eat. Tourism must be attracted here. A cheap motel is my choice for the night. A long day. I was in San Francisco only a few hours ago but now the big city is way behind me. I have 4 days left.

And I have LA in my sight.


  1. Luigi,
    Yesterday I did a 100 mile ride. As your own ride and journal writings and descriptions may have been its inspiration, along the way I quite often thought of your journey, especially towards the end when I was getting weary. I knew at that stage that there could be no manner by which I could do this again the next day.

    Today (Tuesday) you pass Monterey and head down what may be the most beautiful portion of your long ride. Somewhere near Big Sur is the Lucia Lodge and restaurant. The restaurant has a nice patio with a wonderful view, and the food is very good.

    Luigi, your journey and especially how you have done it is actually beyond extraordinary. In reading your journal I actually feel my younger self again. It’s exhilarating, and though it seems unlikely, with it I have dreams of making a cross country. All of us who have visited your pages have enjoyed so much your writing and photographs, as if actually riding next to you!!

    Take good care, go in safety, enjoy this great ride along the coast.

    Bill and Young Jo

  2. Luigi - I love the comment above. Reading your blog brings out that younger, bolder, and ambitious part of all of us cheering you on!!

  3. Luigi,

    Looks like you had a great time in San Fran. Glad that you are on the move to LA but don't get lazy on drinking the water. Need to keep hydrated. Love the photos of the Golden gate and the streets of San Fran.

    Actually took a little ride in DC today and thought about "This is were Luigi started 34 days ago". Motivated me to relax and enjoy the ride. Keep it up and you will be in LA before you know it/