241km San Francisco to Davis
When I go biking, I repeat a mantra of the day’s sensations: bright sun, blue sky, warm breeze, blue jay’s call, ice melting and so on. This helps me transcend the traffic, ignore the clamorings of work, leave all the mind theaters behind and focus on nature instead. I still must abide by the rules of the road, of biking, of gravity. But I am mentally far away from civilization. The world is breaking someone else’s heart. -Diane Ackerman
Our departure from San Francisco was nothing short of glorious. If ever a day and a city were made for cycling, this was it. With the usual butterflies in our stomachs – yes, we still get them after 2-1/2 years on the road – we loaded up our bags in Andrea’s garage, said our goodbyes and rolled tentatively out onto the sidewalk.
The last-minute questions zipped through our heads. Passports? Wallet? Did you check under the bed? Water bottles filled?
Finally satisfied, we gave Andrea one last hearty thanks, promised to keep in touch and ventured onto the busy city streets. We could have noticed the cars in front of us, spewing out fumes, or the buses clogging the lanes but we didn’t. Instead, we absorbed the deep blue sky above us, felt the wind rushing past our cheeks as we zipped down San Francisco’s notoriously steep streets, watched our heartbeat rise as we pumped up the other side and breathed in the scent of the pine trees as we passed through a forest.
We tuned out the honks and revving motors of the city and listened instead to our fellow cyclists, who called out a constant parade of inspiring words. “Have a great ride!” “Enjoy your trip!” “Ride safely!”
In a perfect tempo, with wings on our feet, we cruised down a hill, past a lookout over the bay and then effortlessly up a ramp and onto the Golden Gate Bridge. This was it. The beginning of our trip, the entry to the summer ahead and the way home across North America.
On we pedaled, through well-polished bayside towns like Sausalito where smart streetside cafes were packed with equally smart-looking couples, chatting in the warm sunshine of a spring day. At the other end of the spectrum, a homeless man with piercing blue eyes told us how he’d found Jesus when we stopped to put air in our tires at a gas station. He used to be a lawyer. He’d gone bankrupt three times. He still felt blessed.
“Bless you and your trip,” he said as we pulled away from the lowlands and headed up into the hills, past Larkspur, Ross and Fairfax until the dry grassland gave way to a canopy of redwoods. There we pitched our tent and watched the sunset to the constant hum of a woodpecker, the first we’d heard since leaving Europe many moons ago.
Wednesday morning dawned as clear and blue as the day before and now we were heading out of the hills and towards the hot wine-growing regions of Sonoma and Napa and the sweltering Central Valley. We slathered on the sunscreen and still got burnt. We dashed under trees for cover and used shaded picnic tables as an excuse to stop at the adjacent cheese factory for a feed of hearty bread and French brie. A few miles later, the canopy of a strawberry stall provided the perfect reason to taste the first of the sweet summer crop.
And then, just outside the town of Petaluma, we stopped to mark a milestone. With 40,076 kilometers on the clock, we’d officially pedaled around the world. Or at least the distance equivalent to the earth’s circumference around the equator. It’s geeky. It doesn’t really matter. But it felt somehow satisfying to take a photo and note the occasion. How far we’ve come, how far we still have to go….
Our bubble of happiness burst briefly in Napa, where we were turned away from a half-empty campsite on the grounds that we were in a tent and homeless people sleep in tents and if they let us in they’d have to let everyone in.
“Is there another site that takes tents?” we asked the man speaking to us through the screen door of his RV. “Nope,” came the reply. “Is there anywhere in the area?” we prodded, hopefully. “Nope,” came the same one-word answer. “So we’re stuck?” “Yep,” he said, turning around and going back to his TV.
Happily a friendlier local was listening in and directed us to a park a few miles away where, we were told, they might make an exception. The reception there was much better. “Where are you going?” the chipper young woman asked us at the gate. “Up to Canada,” we said. “Well, we don’t normally take tents. But for cyclists we make an exception,” she said, directing us to a beautiful grassy and tree-lined expanse, where we drank a cold beer from the Mexican shop down the road and watched gophers, rabbits and deer graze around us as the sun went down.
Fuelled by a good night’s sleep, Thursday was marked by an early start, an initial wrong turn and then a climb high into the hills, where a local cyclist dubbed us crazy for being out in the heat and then waved goodbye as he flew down the other side of the peak. Cars gave us the thumbs up and friendly waves and for all the criticism directed America’s way in the global world, it must be said that it’s nearly impossible to fault the welcome we’ve received so far.
The afternoon heat set in with a vengeance and we tried to beat it with freezies from corner stores, with t-shirts dunked in a local irrigation canal and with multiple stops under walnut trees as we approached the city of Davis, America’s most bicycle friendly city. Bike lanes abound. Businesses deliver everything from popsicles to business cards on two wheels and at the city fair there was even valet parking for cyclists!
Here we were welcomed by Dave and September, two WarmShowers hosts who amazed us with their friendly chatter, their amazing home (there’s a tree in the middle of it!) and tales of Davis that made us want to live here. What a place with its whole foods stores, bicycle culture and real community spirit. It’s one we’ll be sad to leave but the north is calling and so, after a day of rest, we’ll push further towards Canada on Saturday.