Marin County Sampler
I wanted something short yet challenging to tour with my recumbent trike for the first time. I picked Marin County, north of San Francisco. I used to ride there a lot, but it had been a few years. I chose to start in San Rafael because I could park my car at my aunt and uncle’s place and get to visit with them. I decided to ride to Point Reyes Station because it has the Bovine Bakery, the Station House Cafe, and lodging. When my friend Pia heard about my plans, she immediately signed on to join me.
Day 1. After saying good morning to my uncle and aunt, and giving her a good laugh at my cycling outfit (what’s wrong with a safety vest, huh?), we easily followed the county bike route signs through San Rafael to San Anselmo and Fairfax. The stream of cyclists on this sunny Sunday morning was pretty steady in both directions. At the far end of Fairfax we got onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (SFD), the busy main thoroughfare heading out to Point Reyes. Once on SFD we began up our first major hill -- White’s Hill, a 6 to 8 percent grade rising 400 feet in about a mile. As I was heading up in my pokey way, a cyclist fixing a flat said to me, “Man, you are doing it the hard way!” I just smiled. Pia told me later that lots of people were cheering her on as she went up the hill. Lots of “Go! Go!” I thought that was great, but wondered why no one said anything like that to me as I struggled up the hill. Maybe they all thought I was doing it the hard way, too. Pia thinks it was because she has grey hair.
Bless Pia, but she knew that once I made it to the top I’d want to run out the downhill as long as possible. I found her under a shade tree a mile or so down the road, right where I had to start pedaling again. We then turned off SFD and backtracked just a bit to go to the Woodacre Store for lunch. There’s another decent store in Lagunitas, but we passed it by, looking for the turnoff onto the Cross Marin Trail, also known as the Sir Francis Drake Bikeway. A rail trail that goes through Samuel P. Taylor State Park, it gets riders off the worst part of SFD, which at that point is narrow, winding, and shoulderless, and has a bad cracked concrete surface -- a cyclist’s dream (ha!).
The Cross Marin Trail turned out to be the highlight of our day. We especially loved the unpaved section. There were lots of redwoods and Douglas fir trees, and it smelled wonderful. And most of all, I love it when there’s a layer of duff on the road, dampening the sound, softening the ride. Once we got into the main part of the park, the trail was paved to its western end. It took us through redwood forest most of the rest of the way; the tall trees muted the noise of happy campers and picnickers.
The trail led us back onto SFD, where it was immediately up up up. As a bonus, there was a stop sign in the middle of the hill. Road work was underway, so traffic in both directions had to take turns going around the hole. I crawled up to the stop sign with the traffic, then had to sprint (for me) up the hill so people could get past me. No shoulder, of course, and lots of Sunday traffic both ways. Again, Pia waited at a good spot for me to run out the downhill. SFD takes a dogleg right at Olema; from there it was just a couple of miles until we bid adieu to SFD and continued on Highway 1 into Point Reyes Station. I made straight for the Bovine Bakery, which is a bit of heaven on Earth.
Right next door is an open area -- not sure if it’s officially a park -- where there are lots of redwood rounds and planks, and some shade. And lots of cyclists eating and resting. We saw a few loaded cyclists, too, since Point Reyes Station is on Adventure Cycling's Pacific Coast Route.
Our B&B was a half mile up a hill from downtown Point Reyes Station. We walked back down for dinner at the Station House Cafe, one of my favorites. Their popovers are divine. Both Pia and I had endured hard weeks -- I’d been back and forth to the East Coast, and she was finishing a house remodel. So, after a challenging week and a good ride it felt wonderful to be in bed before 8:30. We conked out right away.
Day 2. I opened my eyes around 6:00 a.m., feeling well rested. Pia was awake, too. We said our good mornings to each other. A 'minute' later it was after 7:00! Pia stirred and said good morning again. Eleven hours of lovely sleep. Our B&B had a serve-yourself type of breakfast, which didn’t appeal to us; so, we headed back into town to the Pine Cone Diner. There were lots of pickup trucks parked outside, so we knew the locals liked the place. A bunch of them were sitting around a table inside, coffee cups in front of them. The waitress told us they weren’t open yet; we could come inside but they wouldn’t start serving for a few minutes yet.
The locals discussed the burning issues of the day as Pia and I finally dug into our breakfasts. After that, it was back up that dang short, steep hill. Sorry to say, but there was a gal walking up the sidewalk who passed me. In my defense, she was very tall with long legs and walking very fast. We chatted a bit.
Our ride on this day was much quieter because it was a Monday morning, and the route we followed doesn’t get nearly the vehicle traffic of SFD. Of course, some tractor-trailer trucks were our first traffic, on an uphill curve with a guardrail and no shoulder. Somehow we all survived. After enjoying the wide-open scenery around Nicasio Reservoir, I saw Pia on the other side of the road waving me down. She had stopped at the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, which had organic cheeses available for tasting -- right up her alley. She bought some of their cheese that won a gold ribbon at this year’s state fair.
In Nicasio we stopped for a snack that was bit more substantial than cheese cubes. Pia found out that you shouldn’t expect free water from the Rancho Nicasio store. She got a lecture about how they only have well water, and when that runs out they have to truck it in, and all these cyclists come in demanding water all the time. I guess they’re overrun with the weekend cyclists.
After Nicasio, we turned onto Lucas Valley Road, the highlight of the day. It was tough, but not nearly as tough as the previous day. The ride starts off with a mile of dense redwood grove, and has gentle rollers all the way to the approach to Big Rock. Amid ranches, woods, meadows, and wildflowers it winds and dips and rises through some of the best of Marin County. I took my sweet time and took it all in. The eastbound grade up to Big Rock, a local landmark, is steady but not onerous. The westbound direction is much steeper, winding, and shoulderless. Makes for a great downhill, though. I had to do my trike lean-into-the-curve even when I was on the brakes. Exhilarating.
Again, Pia found a nice lunch stop after a decent interval for me to enjoy the downhill run-out. From that point Lucas Valley Road broadened out as we re-entered suburbia. A couple more ups and downs and we were back at my aunt and uncle’s house. They weren’t home when we got there; we finished a couple of hours before I guessed we would. But the early finish meant we missed rush-hour traffic as we headed south over the Golden Gate Bridge to home in Silicon Valley.
Tip for this adventure: Cross Marin Trail through Samuel P. Taylor State Park gets you off busy, narrow Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and into the redwoods. In Point Reyes Station, the Station House Cafe and the Pine Cone Diner are both Zagat rated. The Bovine Bakery is a ride destination.
Favorite local bike shop: Walt's Cycle, Sunnyvale, California.