Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Wine Tour, Day 0
I'd had the thought to do a short bike tour through wine country for a while now. I had first planned to do it over 4th of July weekend, but at that time, an even better opportunity presented itself, and I did that. So the wine country bike tour was still on the table, just waiting for the next long weekend. Labor Day arrived, and I took it.
This was a short enough tour that I wouldn't need to pack much, and since I found WarmShowers hosts for both nights I'd be gone, I needed to pack even less. No tent, no sleeping bag, no cooking supplies. And since it was only a couple days, I figured I'd make it with only one shirt, to be worn both on and off the bike, one pair of shorts, one pair of bike shorts, and two pair each of socks and underwear (and I probably could've gotten by on one). I only needed my smaller front panniers (which I carried on the rear), and they were still only about two-thirds full. Quite heavy though, since the majority of the luggage was tools, a U-lock, and enough dry food (and that means dense food) to last three days.
Originally, my plan was to take the Google bus up to San Francisco Friday night, then leave from there on Saturday morning. Otherwise, I'd have to spend almost a whole day just getting out of the San Francisco Bay area. And navigating a city on a bike SUCKS. A bike tour is meant to get you away from the city, out into the open, and give a sense of unrestrained freedom, something that hardly happens in the confines of concrete, glass, and steel, along with a few hundred thousand loud, over-sized vehicles rumbling inches away from you.
I couldn't find anyone to host me on Friday night, so I wound up taking Caltrain Saturday morning. Only cost $7 and an hour and a half, giving me a start time of around 9:00 AM. I prefer to start earlier, more like 7:00 AM, but at least I got to sleep in my own bed the night before.
The first ten miles or so were entirely in San Francisco. It's been said many times, but I don't like San Francisco. Does every intersection need a stoplight? Would that be "unfair" to all the other ones, and so we have to stop every 1/12 of a mile? Not to mention it was actually cold at 9:00 in the morning in August. The sun has been up for two and a half hours, in summer, and it's still cold. I don't know how people live here. I really don't know how people justify paying so much to live here. When I'm in San Francisco, it's like I can feel the place being over-priced around me. When I saw people advertising one day of parking for $50, like that was a good deal, I almost threw up.
I made my way to the Golden Gate Bridge, and thankfully, away from the city. Quickly pedaled through Sausalito and found myself down at water's level again. On a hike-and-bike path, I spied a water fountain and stopped for a drink. Merely carrying two water bottles was pushing it, so getting water where I could was a good idea. Nearby, there was a runner stretching. I noticed his shirt had the name of a race on it.
"When is the Marin County Marathon?" I asked.
"Oh, it's in April. Held around here."
"Cool! I've done some trail running in Marin County. It's hilly here; I bet that race is a challenge!"
"It sure is! There are some trail runs around here, like there's one called Golden Gate. You should try that one!"
We wished each other a good run or ride, as it was appropriate, and I pedaled off.
Heading up towards and past Mt. Tamalpais would be technically the most challenging part of today's course, enough so that I had noticed it well ahead of time. Starting up the long, long hill, I shifted low and tried to stay patient. Here and there, I noticed that today's ride shared some miles in common with the Waves-to-Wine MS 150. That was a fantastic ride, one that I'd do again, and the MS 150 is well-organized and a great time. But I'm becoming less and less interested in events where I have to fundraise to participate.
The hill never got quite as bad as I thought it might, and even though it took a very long time, it still seemed to head downhill before I expected. Mental preparation can go a long way. The hills that come out of nowhere, the ones that you didn't expect, those are the ones that get to you.
After coasting down from Mt. Tamalpais, I wound up riding alongside Bolinas Lagoon for a few quick, flat miles. The wind was kicking up, but appeared to be heading straight inland from the water. As the road twisted back and forth, the wind favored me about as often as it slowed me down. I took what I could get until the road headed away from the water, back up a hill and into the woods.
The hill leading away from the lagoon was much less difficult than the one by Mt. Tamalpais, but went on a lot longer than I had thought. Maybe only a mile, but somehow I hadn't expected to have to put out a sustained effort at all for the rest of the day. I went ahead and took a quick break in the middle of the hill and had a bite to eat.
Still on Highway 1, I rode through a mostly-quiet eucalyptus forest for about another half-hour before I turned off and found myself in a much more sun-dried area. Dry, golden hills, dotted with the occasional scrubby green tree in the drainage creases on the side. The quintessential California landscape. It was just past noon and getting warm. After some time, mostly pedaling uphill, I found myself at a reservoir.
Normally, water is at a low point. When you see a body of water, it means you've been heading downhill for a while, and now you're going to go back up. If you see water after going uphill, it means you're in for a rough time. This generally only happens when there are dams involved; you were below the dam, and now you've pedaled up to lake level. Such was the case. Riding across the reservoir (there was a bridge) was no problem, and surprisingly, the next couple miles weren't too bad either. But after that...
My directions took a turn and I headed somewhat west. By now, the wind was fairly strong, probably 15 mph, gusting to 20, out of the west. It was hot out. There were no trees around, meaning no shade, and no respite from the wind. Oh boy. After a few miles, I took another quick break. I looked at the map. This wasn't going to get any easier.
There didn't seem to be any direct path north, which was mostly the direction I wanted to go at this point. Instead, I had to zigzag my way north, using several different roads. I was heading west about half the time, north half the time, until I turn and do a significant amount going west, then practically make a U-turn and come back, and finally head north to Santa Rosa. When the roads make no sense like that, there are usually hills involved.
Already tired, the next several miles were not easy. I don't remember much but moving slowly, sore legs, and heat. Thankfully, the roads were nice and quiet. They'd been that way since I'd put Mt. Tamalpais behind me. I guess most of the weekend crowd wasn't going much farther north.
Finally, with most of the hills behind me, I turned onto a flat road that would take me due west for about seven miles. Shouldn't be too bad, right?
It was worse.
The road was down in between two ridges, making it a veritable wind tunnel. Despite being nice and flat, I was probably just barely staying above 10 mph. And the noise. My god, the noise. When you've got tailwind, you're moving about as fast as the air around you, which makes everything quiet and still. But in headwind? The air whooshing past your ears, added on to the speed you're moving yourself, isn't a pretty sound. I want you to say this aloud:
OK, now picture that for an hour at a time. If you're somewhere you can't say that aloud, just imagine the horrifying sound a cappucino machine makes. Add on the fact that I'm unusually bothered by loud noises, more than most people, and you might start to get an idea the mood I was in.
I saw a guy riding in the opposite direction and managed a wave. He waved back, smiling.
"Look at that jerk, riding in the tailwind and smiling at me. HE knows I'm miserable. HE knows I've got five more miles of this crap. What a..."
I managed to calm down and tell myself that he might not know what I'm dealing with, and if he did, he was just trying to be nice by waving and smiling. Sometimes we forget that others are humans and we take our frustration out on them, even when they're trying to be nice.
I mercifully made it to where the road turned north again and pedaled easy for a few miles, trying to get my legs back. The road turned once more and put me in the tailwind. Now this I could get used to! After what seemed like an unfairly short amount of time, my time in the tailwind was up and I headed north to Santa Rosa.
There was one last hill standing in the way. I could've slowed to a crawl once again, but I managed to convince myself that this was the last challenge of the day, so I should push myself through it. Once on the other side, a flat straight shot into town. I felt like I was flying, even on tired legs. Maybe I had just forgotten what it was like to ride without hills or headwind working against me.
Found Jon's house, my host for the evening. He wasn't there yet. I gave him a call, and he told me that he was volunteering at the community bike shop, and would still be there for a few hours. No problem, that would give me some time to ride over to a sports bar and try to catch the first half of the Texas game. They claimed to have every game, and had a TV at every table, but still didn't have this game. Oh well. I pedaled over to Jon's shop, hung out there, then rode home with him.
After that, an evening of pizza, a couple beers, and a Star Trek movie. That's pretty awesome. A good ending to a tough day, and overall, a good start to the tour.