On Saturday morning I made a bet with myself.
I bet that I wouldn’t get off my bicycle for 50 miles.
Now, you might think that since I was doing 100 mile days this would be something that I did every day. But the reality was that it was an event when managed to keep pedaling for more than 20 miles. There was always something distracting. I had to get off my bike take a picture, or fill my water bottle, or fix my bike shorts wedgie. But today, I decided, would be different. Today I would actually stay on the bike.
My first couple miles I decided didn’t count. It’s nice when you make bets against yourself because you can change the rules whenever you want. I had to pee, and I was dressed too warmly so I had to shed some layers. Once this was done, and I’d eaten some breakfast, my bet started.
It was a beautiful day. Twenty miles whizzed by as I peddled along the coast. It was late morning by now, and there was a parade of cars coming toward me. Motorcyclists and convertibles were driving up from San Francisco’s suburbs for a joyride on a sunny day.
I was glad I was going the opposite direction.
About 30 miles in I reached the climb. I congratulated myself. 30 miles without even putting one foot on the ground once. This had to be a record for me. The climb was up, up up white cliffs.
There were cows on the road here. It was rather random – the cows seemed to have free range of the place. I came dangerously close to having to get off my bike a couple times, but thankfully the cows moved.
The climb was unbelievable. 10 more miles of climb, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I couldn’t believe that I still hadn’t gotten off my bike. And then I stopped counting miles. I was having such a fun time that I didn’t want to get off my bike.
The downhill was fast. I don’t think I have ever been more in the moment than I was on that downhill ride. There were grates in the road that I assume served as fences for the cows, because they were wide enough that a cow would get stuck in them. For me, they served as nerve racking, teeth-chattering obstacle courses, that took every inch of my balance and control to cross without being thrown head over heels. There were cars behind me when I started my descent. I worried that I might be getting in their way, since there was no shoulder . The roads wound back and forth in switchbacks making it impossible to pass safely. When I had a chance, I looked over my shoulder and realized that I had lost them.
The wind blew my jacket out. It tickled my ears and fanned my sweaty hair under my helmet. I flew down towards the blue of the ocean. This is what it feels like to fly. This is what the Wright brothers dreamed of. Not some airless, soulless metal jumbo jet. They wanted to fly like birds. Like you fly on a bicycle going 50 miles per hour down an 8% grade.
I wish I could say that my whole ride was like that, but Highway 1 took an abrupt left turn and headed inland after Bodega Bay. There were more climbs, and the sun was higher and hotter in the sky, and the wind was against me again. There was nothing but cow pasture. Cows, cows everywhere. I was sick of cows. Also, my water was gone, and it was beginning to look like there wouldn’t be a town anytime soon. I had reached my 50 mile goal, and I was in the middle of nowhere. Since I didn’t have anywhere to stop, I decided to extend my bet to 60 miles. I was beginning to get dizzy and think about stopping and laying down, when suddenly a tiny town appeared right at the 60 mile mark. I ate a sandwich at the town’s deli. Then I went back to the counter and ordered a pastry. I sat inside next to a fan and leafed through a stray copy of “Vanity Fair.” I didn’t want to move. I didn’t move for an hour. When I finally stood up around 3pm, I realized that I actually wasn’t feeling so great anymore. But I decided to get back on the bike and see if I could do the remaining 55 miles to San Francisco in one more long, unstopping ride. I was counting mile posts once again, just trying to reach my destination.
From the map, I had expected to arrive at Point Reyes soon and look out over the sea again. Instead, I kept riding past an ugly brown body of water called “Tomales Bay.” I was trying to stay true to my bet though, so I didn’t get off my bike and check my maps.
After passing Tomales Bay, I got into another forest of scrubby trees that didn’t seem like it would end. I knew I had to be near the water though. The cars passing me were all carrying surfboards.
It was getting dark by the time I saw the sea again. I sped up as I approached Stinson Beach. Just after the beach was another insane climb. Frustrated, I broke my bet and got off my bike. I took a few photos, then got back on my bike. About a mile further, I felt like giving up. This climb was ridiculous and I was exhausted. I got off my bike again – this time to walk it up the hill. A young couple in a convertible passed me and asked if I was ok.
“Yeah I’m fine,” I told them. “I’m just done for the day.” (I must have sounded crazy because I was still 10 miles from any civilization and I was pushing my bike up the middle of Highway 1 in the dark).
Look at the map above to get a feel for the elevation in Mt. Tomalpes State Park. This was after riding a bit over a century. Besides being tired, the other problem was that it was now completely dark and my front headlight was wearing out. It was too dim to help me see in front of me. The last descent into Marin City was even more “in the moment” than my descent earlier that afternoon had been.
My hands hurt from gripping my handlebars. I found a gas station and sat on the cement curb. I was done. I called Tony to let him know that I had arrived. He had arrived in San Francisco earlier in the day, and apparently had been at a beer garden with friends since 2pm. They obviously weren’t going to come pick me up.
Maps told me that the only way way to San Francisco was to continue down Highway 1, which had turned into an 8 lane highway with no bike lane, or to head back into the State Park, travel another 10 miles and crest a couple more 3,000 ft peaks. I decided that Uber was the way to go.
And so I ended up in San Francisco. My Uber driver, a young Russian, loaded my bike into her car. I told her my story and she made it clear that she wasn’t impressed with Tony and his friends. “I can’t believe they didn’t come to meet you – and you after ride for 112 miles!”
But they were waiting for me when I arrived.
Just writing this, 3 weeks later, makes me wish that I could go back to that last day on the coast, with the wind blowing in my hair. I felt alive for days after that, as Tony and I explored San Francisco on foot (we walked 14 miles on Sunday after partying all night) and as we returned by train to Seattle.
I also kept thinking about what the girl in the red raincoat, Tara, had said about living in the moment. But it wasn’t just about living in the moment. That last day when I didn’t let my feet touch the ground for 60 miles, and the day that I biked 176 miles, I realized that determination leads to happiness. The act of forcing yourself to do something difficult makes you to live your life with passion.