With the Singlespeed World Championships in Napa, CA as a catalyst, I set out to plan a trip to the race from L.A. without driving. That involved some cross-referencing of various train schedules and planning stops along the way where I could visit and stay with friends, see some sights, and still arrive on time.
I gave myself a full week to travel the 400 or so miles north, with stops in Santa Barbara, San Jose / Mountain View, San Francisco and ultimately Napa.
I called friends in Santa Barbara, SJ and Napa and confirmed a place to crash. San Francisco was the only unsure segment so I booked a room at the Red Victorian – a funky B&B in the Haight district with themed rooms. I booked a less expensive room ($99) that shared bathrooms in the hall with other rooms just to make things more interesting. Never know who you might run into during a late night pee run. 🙂
Back to L.A., I departed on Amtrak at 10am on Sunday headed straight for Santa Barbara. A relatively easy 2 hour trip and I was then off the train and rolling, stop #1. Was a beautiful day in Santa Barbara and I cruised the town, the bike path, the piers and State St., taking in lots of people watching. I eventually made my way to my friend’s place in nearby Montecito, where we walked into the village for dinner at Cava. Very nice.
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The next morning was rise & shine, deflate my bed, grab some coffee and breakfast and pedal back into Santa Barbara to the train station. I arrived early to prep the bike for cargo; remove the pedals and rotate the bars so it all fit in the large box which is provided by Amtrak for $20.
The Coast Starlight is a great way to travel. It runs from L.A. to Seattle and back once daily. After we departed SB I walked through the various cars to check things out. There was a cafe for snacks and drinks including beer, a bright viewing car full of windows, a Parlour car later to be used for wine tasting, a dining car, a sleeper car and an arcade room with full-size video games. The scenery was fantastic along the coast and I found it helped pass the time just to sit and watch the coast go by. The train proved to be a very relaxing way to travel, slowing things down to the point where you accept the fact that you’ll be on the train for a while, might as well enjoy it.
I slept, I read, I listened to Tom Waits on the iPod which made for an excellent railroad soundtrack. I participated in the wine tasting and met people with many different itineraries. A college student heading home to Oakland, a widow getting away from a too-familiar home, families going to visit relatives and opting not to fly. I made dinner reservations for 5:15 in the dining car and was seated in the booth with other random passengers – another cool way to hear about other’s stories.
Coast Starlight shots:
Eight hours later we arrived in San Jose. My friend Wendy met me at the station where I (thankfully) recovered my bike from the cargo car, reassembled it, loaded it on her car and we were off to her home in Mountain View.
Tuesday morning we grabbed the bikes and checked out Los Altos, a quiet town with tree-lined streets and lots of sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, galleries, etc. We came home, changed and walked to the CalTrain station in Mountain View where we took the train up to San Francisco for dinner. With the help of Yelp we found a great sushi place called Eiji. Very small with excellent food. We walked in promptly at 5:30 without reservations, got a table, then watched as many people got turned away at the door the later it got. After dinner we walked over to Zeitgeist for a drink – a bar I had heard lots about and was recommended by cyclist friends. Loved it! Great beer on tap and an enormous yard in back full of picnic tables and a spot to hang bikes. There had to be 300 people hanging out.
Wednesday morning I packed the backpack once again, said farewell to Wendy and pedaled back towards the Mtn View station, stopping at Red Rock Coffee for a little pick-me-up. The Silicon Valley scene was noticeably different that the Hollywood scene, lots of overheard tech speak, VC money discussions, and comparisons to other websites. iPhones and MacBooks everywhere. So maybe not that much different than L.A.
I was surprised and pleased to find an entire bicycle car waiting for me on the CalTrain to San Francisco. No extra fees, just find a spot and bungee your bike. The regulars all use tags to identify which stop they get off at so you know whether to stack in front of them or not.
Changed trains in Millbrae and got on the BART train to the city.
I arrived in San Francisco excited to get riding and see the city. I was now starving so I headed straight back to Zeitgeist for lunch. At 1:00pm I was one of two customers in the place, a complete opposite of the night before. I ordered a burger and a Chimay and sat outside in the sun, joined by a bartender who was also headed to SSWC over the weekend.
I was then off to find the Red Victorian. I quickly learned that going by a printed one-dimensional map in SF can be hazardous to your health – what looks like a direct route can turn out to be full of very steep hills. I envied the locals who knew how to flow from street to street avoiding the steep routes.
Wednesday night found me walking down Haight St. to dinner at Cha Cha Cha, a Spanish tapas restaurant and bar. Being solo I chose to sit at the bar and order dinner. I also ordered a pitcher of excellent sangria, a good way I figured, to meet new people by sharing. It worked 🙂 Made friends with a couple from Seattle who were in town for a tech conference.
Thursday morning I was back on the bike and headed directly to Ritual Coffee in the Mission district. A great spot for people watching, good coffee and once again…. meeting people. A big community table in front helped with that. Fully caffeinated I took off to see the city on bike, cruising through the Mission, Noe Valley, Castro, Haight, and stopping for lunch at Papalote.
Later Thursday night I found myself once again back at Zeitgeist, this time meeting a local friend there for a pitcher of Stone Pale Ale. The back patio was packed, making for a fun night of drinking & chat.
Friday was to be my last day in the city. I checked out of the Red Vic and headed out for breakfast at a cafe around the corner. Then I was off to explore Golden Gate Park, which also happened to be home for the Outside Lands Festival that same weekend. I was suddenly torn between sticking to my schedule or ditching everything to see Radiohead in the park. I stuck to my original game plan and kept pedaling, at one point hopping on the BART out to the Embarcadero and riding the bike path north around the Bay back towards the Golden Gate bridge, then up and over a hill through the Presidio and back into the city. I found Mojo Bicycle Cafe and used the unique cafe / bike shop layout to have a bowl of soup while the mechanics gave the Niner a quick once-over, tightening a couple of bolts that had worked loose on the ride.
At 4:00pm Friday American Cyclery hosted a get-together at their shop, followed by riding across the GG bridge and out to the Marin headlands for a beach party. Over 100 singlespeeders left the shop and promptly dropped in to the singletrack in Golden Gate park as we made our way to the bridge. We regrouped at the bridge and then headed across, an experience common to some bike commuters but one I won’t soon forget. The cross-winds were gusting and made for an *interesting* ride, with the peaks of the bridge towers disappearing into fog above us.
We then bombed down a fireroad to the beach, dropped the bikes and partook in the BYOB festivities.
This is where things got interesting. I was now on the other side of the bridge from the city, had all of my belongings with me and needed to somehow get to Napa that night, about an hour’s drive north. I did NOT want to ride back into the city and then figure out a way to Napa. The Red Vic was sold out so I couldn’t return there. A little bit of asking “you guys headed to Napa tonight? Got room for one more?” and I managed to find a lift with a cool couple from Boulder. They rearranged bikes & gear in their car for me and the three of us headed towards wine country. After about 20 minutes in the car I realized I was with Kristin & Ryan, former IMBA Trail Care crew who spent 2 years roaming the country for IMBA, helping build trails and educate future trail builders. Kristin had also just competed in the Santa Cruz Hell Ride. Respect! (and thanks again for the ride!).
Friday night and I was now homeless in downtown Napa. I pedaled around town at 10:30pm, stumbling upon the opulent Chardonnay Motor Lodge. A bed, a shower and a TV and I was in heaven. It was also the first TV I had seen in at least 4 days, allowing for a quick catch-up on the Beijing Olympics.
I had arrived. It worked! 7 days on the road with no car and I made it to the races. I felt like I had been on the road for a month at this point. So many different sites and people and experiences. I can’t recommend this type of travel enough; 80-90% confirmed with the rest left for uncertainty. It makes you feel alive and you will make choices that lead you down paths you never would have discovered, both literally and figuratively. Go!
This story will pick up in the SSWC08 blog entry.
thanks for reading.