The best and worst of times

141. Lake TahoeThere’s been a bit of a gap since our last post, mainly because there’s not been much cycling to report.  Instead we’ve been having some time off the bikes, which has been much needed because since arriving in North America at the start of June we’ve not had two consecutive rest days.  We’ve been hosted in San Francisco by Manik & Rowan, spent two nights in Napa Valley wine tasting with Neil & Ali, had a weekend in Redwood City with Jon & Sally, met up with cycling friends from the UK who now live in the Bay Area and we’re currently in Truckee, which is in the Sierra Nevadas.

From Samuel P. Taylor State Park we had a short ride to Mill Valley where we were hosted for two nights by Mark from WarmShowers.  The first part of this ride was along quiet roads beside a bubbling stream before we hit Fairfax, which is on the edge of the Bay Area urban sprawl.  Since leaving Vancouver we’ve only ridden in small towns and it was a bit of shock to be riding through a built up area again, although it was quite pleasant because of all the cycle routes we found.  From Mill Valley we rode into central San Francisco and had lunch with Phil, a cycling friend from London, who moved here from Europe six weeks ago.  It was strange to see someone here who once lived about 3km away from us in London!

On the approach to San Francisco we had to cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  We’ve both seen the bridge before, but that didn’t stop us being staggered at its size and beauty.  It felt quite momentous to have cycled here from Jasper, a trip of over 3,200km and 8 weeks.  Most of the other cyclists we’d ridden with down Highway 1 were ending their trips in San Francisco, which coupled with us having a break from cycling, meant we both felt like our nine month trip was now over, and it seemed an appropriate place to end.  Both of us would’ve been happy if our flight home was from San Francisco.  However, we’ve heard great things about cycling to Los Angles, which will hopefully motivate us when we get back on the bikes.

Manik and Rowan, who I know from London, hosted us in their central San Francisco apartment for two nights and so we got to see some more of the city.  I have great memories of visiting San Francisco for a geology conference in December 2006 and was looking forward to seeing more of the city.  However, I was staggered and appalled at the number of people living on the streets, many of whom seemed to have severe mental illnesses.  As I said in a message to my mum and sister:

San Francisco seems to be full of homeless people. We’ve spent today walking around and have seen lots of people just milling around, passed out & had to dodge used needles. There are no public toilets so lots of places smell of urine.

We’ve just walked back from dinner through central San Francisco and we both felt pretty uncomfortable. We removed our Oakley glasses from our head and Philippa gripped onto her handbag.

Rowan moved here about 18 months ago and she recounted her experiences of living in the centre of the city, which included having people shout abuse at her on an almost daily basis and not feeling safe walking around the city.  We were amazed that such a rich city, that’s the home of some major IT companies, could have such a visible wealth disparity.  Apparently some of the issues stem from people getting long term illnesses that their health insurance companies stop paying out to cover.  London, which has a system of providing beds for homeless people and the NHS to support everyone suddenly seemed very rosy.  We were glad to set off to Redwood City, although this just made us feel even more depressed as the ride was awful, so bad we gave up when we rode past a train station after only 10km.  Another message I sent home explained my feelings:

We were going to ride the 55km from central San Francisco to Redwood City (where Philippa’s friends live). We gave up after less than 10km because, despite following cycle routes, it was some of the worst cycling ever. We rode under an elevated highway which was just a homeless camp (this was less than 5km from the HQ of Twitter, Airbnb, Uber & some other tech firms), then through a grim industrial area and along massive roads with a bike lane.

We rode past a train station and it was an easy call to bail. Tho it was a surprise to discover we had over an hour to wait for the next train. So much for a frequent train service.  San Francisco probably is more bike friendly than other US cities but it still felt scary riding through some of these areas.

Fortunately, since arriving in Redwood City things have improved.  It’s a fairly modern city, but it’s much cleaner than central San Francisco and feels a lot safer.  After a weekend with Jon & Sal (who Philippa knows from UCL), which included a BBQ with friends from the London cycling community who’ve all moved to the Bay Area, we hired a car and drove to Napa Valley for two nights.  Rather than camping we stayed in a yurt in the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and shared it with Neil & Ali who we’d last seen in Fort Steele, Canada.  We visited some wineries, but decided that three wineries spread over two days was enough because everything started tasting similar.

We’re now enjoying the hospitality of Jon & Sal in their beautiful holiday home in Truckee, which is in the Sierra Nevadas.  We’ve been for walks in the mountains including following part of the PCT that we read about in Wild, drives around Lake Tahoe, enjoyed learning about the history of the American pioneers who migrated into California in the 1840s, including the Donner Party, eaten great food, been to a beer festival and drank some amazing wines.

After our time in San Francisco we were both ready to go home, but after spending time in Redwood City, Napa Valley and Tahoe we’ve found a renewed appreciation for the USA.  Partly that’s because we’ve been spending time with Brits and it feels a bit like being back home, but also the areas have been beautiful, clean and peaceful.  Walking through the Sierra Nevadas has been brilliant, staying in Truckee is really great, the mountains are beautiful and San Francisco feels a long way away.

To Mill ValleyTo SFTo Bayshore


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