It should be no secret by now to anyone reading this blog that I think bikes are pretty cool. A person can go far with a good bike just under one’s own propulsion. But another great thing about bikes is you can effectively go short distances on them too. Bikes are vehicles, but on a human scale. It is fun and exciting to drive fast in a car for sport (speaking as the daughter of a racecar driver, I know what I’m talking about!), but to me it is even more fun and exciting to go s l o w. I like to look at the scenery down to the last patch of lichen, and when you bike, you can stop quickly to chat with a person or look at a bug or a bird. In California, seasonal changes are more subtle than other parts of the country, so if you want to know what time it is, you have to pay attention.
This is why I was so glad when my friend John announced his plan for a Slow Tour. There were other reasons (as if a reason is necessary to go bike camping). I wanted to improve on my bike camping gear, which can only be described as novitiate, and the only way to find out what works and what doesn’t is to try it. I was also glad because John proposed a route through the trails we opted out of on the San Franciscadero. Riding trails is another way to ride at a human scale– instead of having to make your way on a road that is a size, shape, and surface designed for car traffic, you are in a place designed for people walking or riding bikes. This has so many positive implications, and I often find trail riding to be so much more peaceful and enjoyable as a result. I am perfectly comfortable sharing the roadway with cars, but why would you if you didn’t have to?
Another reason I was happy about the Slow Tour was cuz I think Mr. Potis is a cool dude, and I like riding with him. He knows a lot about bikes and bike routes, he knows (or at least is able to convincingly make up) the names of local flora and fauna, he has ridden lots and lots and lots of brevets, and I thought he was a veteran bike camper, though he told me during the Slow Tour it was only his third time bike camping. Anyhoo, I’ve ridden with him a couple times this year and I think he has the right attitude. Also, he seemed to be willing to tolerate my utter lack of preparation, though I think he might have assumed I would be a little more put-together than I was when I showed up totally late at Trouble Coffee with my Pelican loaded up with panniers overstuffed with camping equipment, pre-tour anxiety, and whatnot.
The more you know, the less you pack; the inverse is true as well. Really, I just didn’t want anything to fall off my bike, but I wasn’t totally sure that wouldn’t happen. I had never taken my bike this far with a load before, or used this front rack more than once before, or used my DIY stove on an actual trip instead of in my backyard. Trouble Coffee’s iconic cinnamon toast, a cup of peppermint tea, and my friend Annemarie who came to see us off calmed my nerves, and we began moseying.
There was some kind of charity walk going down the Great Highway that I tried really hard to ignore while we made our way out of town, and we began our Tour of Detours by taking John Muir Drive around Daly City, avoiding a part of that first climb along toward Pacifica. We avoided Devil’s Slide by taking Planet of the Apes, what used to be highway 1 but is now a trail for cyclists mostly. There is a new patch of Highway One being built for car people to avoid Devil’s Slide, thus making the current section of highway one… a sequel to Planet of the Apes?
I saw a couple hikers too, but most notable was the run-in with Velocio’s ghost! Gives me a chill down to my flat pedals to think of it. The pushbroom-mustachioed and rubber-band-around-the-acid-washed-jeans-legged gent on a purple mountain bike told us about a way to avoid more sections of highway one. We appreciated that and thanked him, though I think it made us more lost for a while, fumbling around areas to which I had never given much thought. After having some tacos at El Gran Amigo (they were just okay), we found our way to a previously untried trail that turned out to be really nice. This led us along the ocean cliffs to Pillar Point, inching closer to our goal of the Half Moon Bay campground.
But why hurry? The mileage on the agenda for day one was essentially the same distance I am accustomed to covering by 10 am in a formal permanent ride. So meandering, avoiding, detouring, losing our way and finding it again could occur over and over without worry about finally making it to camp before dark and settling in for the night. And we did all those things rather well. And nothing fell off my bike. And my stove worked, too.
For dinner we ate some quiche I brought as an afterthought, just some food I had made earlier in the week that would have gone bad if I left it at home. Potis and I had a boil-off to see whose stove worked better, the results of which were relatively inconclusive (though personally, I think mine boiled water faster AND it was homemade out of a pop can and some thin stainless steel).
I had some miso soup, since it was cold after dark next to the beach, and we drank tea.
The quarter- operated showers at the Half Moon Bay campsite were hot, my tent and sleeping bag were cozy, and the surf crashing onshore 100 feet away– all contributing factors to my excellent night’s sleep and the affirmation that Slow Tour is a good idea.
The next morning, John chatted with an interesting character camping in the hiker/biker area while I assembled myself. Then I chatted with him too, a bit about bookbinding (when people ask what I do, I tell them…) and other stuff. John talked to him about landscape architecting while a hawk dove around camp looking for its pound of flesh and eventually found it.
The fog seemed like it was lifting, but then changed its mind. We packed up and as I lifted up my handlebar bag from the ground, a large, light brown bug crawled around looking for cover. It didn’t crawl too fast, and John was able to identify it as a Jerusalem cricket. It was pretty big, almost as big as a small frog.
As Chief Route Advisor for Slow Tour October 2012, John had put a lot of time and energy into finding our designated day two breakfast joint by typing “breakfast Half Moon Bay” into that one internet search engine. It totally paid off. We ate Portuguese sausage omelettes among the community seniors and lots of vinyl upholstery and great works of art. Inspired and stuffed, we headed off toward the business district to find a bookstore we had ridden past the day before. While I poked my head in, Mr. Potis sat on a bench outside, chatting with another tourist, though not of the bicycle kind. The bookstore had some interesting Californiana, but nothing worthy of carrying as far as I was about to go.
We then made our way eventually toward Stage Road for a good deed and corresponding photo op.
…then to Arcangeli’s for a sandwich. I think I had thought the grocery stores in Pescadero were more developed or something, why did I think there would be couscous there? I did not prepare too well foodwise on the second day. But it was fine, the sandwich from Arcangeli’s held me over for a while. We found some fantastic riding on Old Haul Road, but not before a little mishap.
There is of course some argument about what exactly happened. Passing through Loma Mar, a baby hawk swooped down on my handlebar bag to take my last piece of yogurt seed bread, John waved his finger at it, and in doing so lost his balance and went down… some may say. Or was it that he reached out to push me up the slope, going for the typical goofy Potis Manoeuver, and his panniers bumped into mine and caused the fall? Ladies and gentlemen, you are welcome to form your own opinions. Anyway, at the moment it happened, I thought I heard a big car behind us, and my heart leapt up into my throat! But when I stopped and looked back, I saw that luckily only John’s pride was injured aside from a few scrapes.
Thusly we proceeded to Old Haul Road and toward our goal for overnight two: Portola State Redwoods Park. Pretty desolate on a Monday: the large ranger station building looked like it would be cool inside, but was unstaffed and locked. While John went to the loo I found a half bag broken open of firewood, which he tied to his rear rack with one of his neverending striped straps, mumbling something about the papers he brought for kindling. He had mentioned a couple times before something about bringing something to burn in the campfire on the second day, but did not specify exactly what. It sounded serious… what on earth would a person drag all this way on a bike?
We found a nice little spot to camp and pitched our tents. I went to the bathroom and John collected all the unused firewood he could find from the unoccupied campsites’ fire pits, and started a fire in ours. I came back and he handed me a small paper bag. “Burn it,” he said. “Um, should I throw the whole bag on?” “No, it’s more fun to burn them one at a time.” I slid the papers out of the bag to reveal old brevet cards. Totally stunned, I said, “John, I don’t want to burn these!” I’m not even through with my first year of riding brevets. “I’m done with those rides, I have the medals at home, I don’t need the cards.” We looked at some and I asked him about the rides they recorded, and one by one each went into the campfire. Night fell, and John lit his little camp candle. We had some tea, talked a little more, then he went to bed. I stayed up to read my book for a bit. There wouldn’t be any brevet cards to burn for this ride– no checking in anywhere, no receipts to collect or times to log. But this kind of riding, so adventurous in a different way, is just as essential to the sport. Finding new trails and routes takes time and intention. An open attitude and being able to talk to locals is helpful, too. End of day two and Slow Tour is still a good idea.
Half an hour after John went to sleep I heard a soft thump on the bench I was sitting on. I looked sideways, trying not to turn my head, and saw a little fur ball jump off the bench. It ran up the slope to the road and paused… I grabbed my headlamp and shone it at the animal. A little fox with a big frizzy tail! It was staring at me! Then it turned tail, as they say, and scurried off.
In the morning, I woke up before John and walked around the campsites. I spied a hiking trail sign and felt personally invited, so I hiked for awhile. I saw lots of moss, upturned redwoods, a creek, and several signs dedicating this particular area or that to some family or other. Kind of annoying as one would hope that people visit hiking trails to find something other than man-made signs reminding you how broke our nation’s green spaces are. At some point I realized I was still wearing my camp slip-ons and pyjamas, so I turned back.
John was awake by now, so I told him about the little fox in our camp. He asked me if it was my spirit guide– I think he was joking, but it reminded me of my beloved dog Shera and how people used to tell me she looked like a fox.
While we waited for our breakfast bread to toast and water to heat up for John to make us coffee, I looked at John’s bike and he said the lugs are “like delicate baby birds’ mouths”. Ah, bike lovers. Of course, John has a terrific bike and great set-up for camping. While we waited for breakfast, John added to his list of Things That Worked and Things That Did Not. I was pretty impressed that he brought a bottle full of tasty kvas from Cinderella. Definitely in the ‘worked’ column. The wind-proof camp candle was a ‘worked’. For my own list, although my sleeping bag is comically huge and uncompressible, it was incredibly warm and cozy. My tent is the bomb. I think I need a light duty rear rack that I can tie things to like my hugeass sleeping bag, so I don’t have to awkwardly tie it to my saddle hooks after sitting on it for half an hour trying to jam it into a stuff sack. Again, thanks John for putting up with my less-than-ideal setup. At some point a new and more compressible sleeping bag will come into my life (when the budget allows). I actually like the way my bike handles when the weight is in the front, even on technical descents, so the bartered-for-homemade-jam Tubus front rack is in the ‘worked’ column. Definitely lower tire pressure next time would make the trail sections like Old Haul and Planet of the Apes more comfy.
When breakfast was over, it had gotten late in the morning, so we quickly packed up and said our goodbyes, though not before me having to fix a flat tire that must have happened on Old Haul or something. I would head back to San Francisco via Alpine Road (one of my favorite climbs in this region) and Skyline Boulevard through Woodside, then Canada Road
A gorgeous ride and tougher climb with a camping load it is, making it a good challenge. John would go on further south to Santa Cruz and stay with friends, family, and friends’ parents. It was a great trip for me; I think it was also for John. I learned a lot, I saw a lot, I rode a lot, I slept a lot… perfect little getaway! My appetite for bikecamping is whetted, and I can’t wait to do more. Maybe northward next time. There are so many great parks and campsites easily within bikeable distance, so there are plenty of opportunities to go slow– if you can handle the pace, that is!