“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
As we sat in the small, locally owned Roadhouse Coffee in Bodega Bay, California, Christopher and I wondered if we were making the right choice. The day prior, our news apps and social media pages were flooded with articles on the most recent mass shooting in the United States.
In the coffee house, the headline on a nearby newspaper read, “El Paso shooting: Latinos in America voice a new kind of fear.”
We have all borne witness to the growing attacks against the Latinx community — from our president’s racist verbal affronts to the separations which led to widespread sexual abuse of children. Only weeks earlier, after reading the most recent headlines, Christopher was recalling how he was frequently told to go back to his own country when he was growing up. Now there was this.
We had been checking the news regularly since the start of our trip, not as consistently as before we left, but enough to stay aware and conscious of what was happening around us.
We have certainly felt the growing tension as we rode through areas in the States. As discussed in previous posts, Christopher had experienced multiple instances of racism, and, as cyclists, both of us had experienced micro-aggressions, intentional run-offs, and multiple (most likely intentional) close calls.
This all worked to implant the idea in our minds that it would be all too easy for someone to hit us with their truck and simply drive off, or simply say that they didn’t see us. It is well-known in the cycling community that bicyclists are often blamed for accidents, regardless of the circumstances. And, as I stated in my first blog post, bike touring makes you incredibly vulnerable, which can be both beautiful and scary.
Consequently, this was far from the first time we had questioned if we should continue riding in the U.S., and we knew if we kept going, it wouldn’t be the last.
The decision didn’t come easy. We wanted to finish California, to explore Mexico City, to see the salt flats of Bolivia and the beauty of Patagonia, but we could no longer ignore that things were growing worse. And with the upcoming, what is sure to be messy election, we weren’t sure if we wanted to stick around much longer.
So, after much deliberation and weighing of options, we decided to head to our second touring goal earlier — New Zealand.
While we considered flying into South America instead, we didn’t want to hit their winter — and to be brutally honest we wanted to get a lot further from the U.S.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo tells Gandalf that he wished the dark times, and the burdens that that often accompany them, didn’t have to happen during his time. Every generation has a similar moment and experience, but it often feels that ours is more dire.
The U.S. has been at war for most of my lifetime, the climate is drastically and permanently changing, hate crimes and racism are on the rise (not just in the U.S.), and a dark cloud of hopelessness and futility seems to have taken up permanent residence in many of us.
But, as Gandalf tells Frodo, all we can do is decide what to do with the time given to us.
Mine and Christopher’s decision is to see New Zealand, and other parts of the world sooner rather than later.
So having booked our flights, we sat in Roadhouse Coffee discussing our plans with the owner and a staff member. We talked about our route to San Francisco, where we planned to stay, and why we had decided to change our course.
While there was certainly a sense of shame for not finishing our intended route, there was also a feeling of excitement. We were now ending in San Francisco which was just a few days ride from Bodega Bay and we would be outside of the States in just a week, and that was something we could look forward to.
Once again, we were joined at our campsite by our Canadian Pippin, in addition to some guys we had been hearing about since the start of our journey in Washington State, who were riding with surfboards attached to the back of their bicycles (yeah, you read that right, surfboards).
Having made the decision, we thanked our new coffee shop friends for their supportive words of encouragement and rode back to our campsite. There, we enjoyed some kite-flying time on what would be the last beach day of our Californian summer.
Their names were Cooper and Pius and, along with them was a young guy from Germany who they had sort of picked up along their travels named Johannes. While Cooper and Pius were heading towards Baja, Johannes was planning on going all the way to Panama. As we sat around the picnic table talking about cycling, our new destination of New Zealand, and what it’s like to tour with surfboards attached to your bike, a new cyclist joined our little campsite named Eric.
Eric was a local Californian, and former hacker, who was not only a community bicycle advocate, but also had similar thoughts to Christopher and I about whether staying in the U.S. long-term was a good idea. Meeting Eric and hearing about his advocacy work, as well as his similar mindset and worries, I felt, was a sign that we had made the right decision. For once we felt like we weren’t alone in our fears.
After a night of drinking and being merry, we left in good spirits the next morning to our next spot, Stanley P. Taylor. We stopped along that way to try the famous oysters that Eric insisted we try (he was right, they were delicious) and then in the town of Point Reyes Station which was famous for its local bakery and boutique shops.
After I downed a milkshake, and Christopher a beer, we finished our 42-mile day and settled at the campsite with Pippin and our Johannes. It was here that we met a local man named Ofer (originally from Israel) and his son who had ridden from San Francisco on their tandem bicycle.
It was also here that Ofer explained to Christopher and I that our hotel was on the worst street in the city — infamous for its high rate of bicycle thievery (awesome choice, Erika — a reminder that being cheap sometimes isn’t the best decision).
Since our horribly located hotel wasn’t available for another day, we took a rest day with Johannes and Pippin. We spent the day reading, and (as always) eating. We gave Johannes our Latin-American Spanish book since we would no longer be needing it on this leg of our journey and splurged $10.00 for a firewood so we could have one last campfire in the U.S.
The next morning, we met two cyclists who had arrived late the night before. One was a local who was showing his friend from London the area via bicycle. They rode two gorgeous Rivendell bikes — an Atlantis and a Sam Hillborne.
We were told about a must-try Puerto Rican food joint in the town of San Rafael called Sol Food and we decided to make that our next stop before arriving in San Fran — or the name we were told the locals hate, Frisco.
As we left the campsite and rode towards San Rafael, my heart soared at the sight of cyclists everywhere. There were literally hundreds of them zipping by this way and that. It was almost magical.
As Christopher and I stopped to figure out how to get to Sol Food, we were approached by a cyclist named Mick, originally from London.
If you have ever read an Arthurian story or played a video game where guides just magically appear when you’re lost and help lead you on your journey (sort of like the fairy who guides Link in the Zelda video games) — it turns out those magical guides exist in real life.
We asked Mick for direction and he simply said, “follow me, I’ll take you there.” And so, we did. We rode a few miles with our new cycling guide as he told us all about his previous rides and his upcoming plans to bike tour across the U.S. All the while I beamed at the sight of the cyclists passing us in sweeping waves.
As we rode, Mick pointed to a nearby mountain, Mount Tamalpais, and informed us that that was the birthplace of the mountain bike. Basically, we were smack dab in the middle of bicycling heaven.
After leading us straight to Sol Food (which was lively and obviously well known), we offered to buy Mick food, but he insisted he had get home to the wife. He told us how to get to the nearby ferry terminal (to avoid the bridge craziness on a Saturday), wished us luck, and, in traditional story guide fashion, disappeared down the road, never to be seen by us again.
We felt lucky to have met such a kind cyclist and were loving the vibe of San Rafael and its bicycling community.
After eating the most incredible food (cycle touring tip: always listen to the locals about where to stop to eat), we journeyed onward into Frisco (again sorry, not sorry).
We loaded our bikes onto the ferry — along with a bunch of other cyclists — and enjoyed the fast and incredibly windy ferry ride into the Port of San Francisco.
Once docked, we were nervous about navigating and riding through the bustling city since we had grown quite accustomed to just following highway 101, but — like magic — another guide appeared named Hardy. Hardy was a San Francisco native and like Mick, he said, “follow me, I’ll take you there,” and led us straight to our hotel, located on the “worst street in the city.”
Hardy made us feel a little better about our hotel choice and he told us about Tu Lan, a famous Vietnamese restaurant right next door. It was known for having had Julia Child once visit and express her love of the food — a historic moment for Tu Lan as they had even put her face on the menu!
He was also gracious enough to point us towards the nearest dispensary and then, like Mick, took off and disappeared down the busy city street (but this time, we were able to exchange contact info).
After checking in to our hotel — which was one of those hotels that you shrug and think, “eh, could be worse” — we stocked up on our goodies and had dinner at Tu Lan. The food was in fact incredibly delicious.
It turns out our hotel was indeed quite sketchy and also across the street from a night club. So after a horrible night’s sleep, we decided to book a new room at the Hotel Whitcomb. It turned out to be fancier than we expected (though surprisingly affordable) and we felt a little ridiculous rolling our bicycles in through the sparkling clean and chandeliered lobby.
After checking in, we felt it was only fitting to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite the insane number of cyclists where we experienced our first bicycle traffic jam, tourists, and fog (we couldn’t even see the bridge as we rode to it), it wound up being a blast.
This being my first time in San Francisco, we also decided to explore the best food joints we could find — this was after we completed the less than enjoyable chore of boxing up our bicycles. In addition to, of course, exploring the San Francisco Public Library and meeting a very intense and very feminist barista at a local coffee shop (she had gumption, and I was diggin’ it).
While out exploring, we also met a fellow Washingtonian who was apparently all about climbing stairs. They worked at a small “French Soul Food” restaurant called Brenda’s which had incredible food — I would highly recommend it if you’re ever in Frisco.
It was at at Brenda’s that a mother and daughter seated next to us gave us their left-over dessert — a French pastry filled with chocolate called a Beignet. Which we ate in addition to our own order of Beignets, because we eat too much.
The pastries were so delicious that when Christopher ate the last bite (which was definitely large enough to split in two), I just stared at him in disbelief and the mother next to us stated, “I saw that.”
And then Christopher and I broke up.
Just kidding, but I did briefly consider it.
Overall, our time in San Francisco was very enjoyable (as well as expensive) and I was grateful to close to our time in California (which was mostly meh) and our time in the U.S. in such a way.
And bicycling over 1,400 miles from Tacoma to San Francisco is not, I think, an easy feat and is quite an accomplishment. However, it must be said that some people in the cycle touring community (which is very white and very male) have expressed to us that our decision to change course is an alarmist over exaggeration of the political and social climate in the U.S.
It is, however, our adventure, our safety, and it is up to us to decide what to do with the time that is given us.