Ride Recap: Forty & Fab Stinson Beach

At Stinson Beach

Last Sunday we had quite a romp from San Francisco to Stinson Beach and back. About 15 years ago this was a very popular ride for a subset of the club. It dwindled in popularity about as quickly as it flourished and now it’s rarely led. The last time I had ridden to Stinson was probably in the late ‘90s before I moved to the East Bay. I used to ride there, Muir Woods, or to the summit of Mt. Tam almost every week and that all ended when I moved across the Bay. So I was very much looking forward to revisiting an old stomping ground.

This time we rode the so-called ‘standard’ route to Stinson, which is to take Highway One to Stinson and return via Pantoll. The reverse loop is also an enjoyable ride with a long, constant descent from Pantoll down to Stinson for a lunch break. Both of course require cycling on an at-times busy section of Highway One between the turnoff from 101 in Mill Valley up to Panoramic. At that point a big chunk of cars leave in order to go up Mt. Tam or to go to Stinson via Pantoll. Although Stinson is a big draw, particularly when it’s hot and the beach beckons, the bigger draw is Muir Woods, which is on the way to Stinson. This time the traffic wasn’t too bad perhaps because several years ago Muir Woods restricted parking at the park entrance and instituted a shuttle from Sausalito. In fact we were passed by quite a few shuttles. Nonetheless we definitely had a lot of company until we got past Panoramic; we had to abide merely one disgruntled driver—in a Benz, ‘natch—who passed us with a loud roar. Otherwise I found the cars to be well behaved despite the lack of shoulder and the narrowness of the roadway.

I confess the better route would have been to continue into Mill Valley and head up to Panoramic the back way. But that wasn’t how we usually did it back then likely because the traffic wasn’t as dense as it is now.

Seven us made the jaunt—my husband Roger, me, Stephen S., Eric, Roger S., Nancy, and Darrell. Our president David was going to come but he woke up with an aching back; Stephen’s husband at the last minute got cold feet—or is that cold wheels?—and decided to do an easier city ride, and a non-member also cancelled due to an injury. It was another cat herding exercise. Instead of everyone meeting at McLaren Lodge it was ‘make your own start’ day. Darrell meet us at Arguello gate, Stephen at Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito. Despite living in Marin Eric parked at the north end of the bridge and rode over to McLaren in order to do the full ride.

The ride through SF and across the bridge was inconsequential although we had plenty of company with an invasion of cyclists heading to Marin for their constitutional Sunday rides. There’s no such thing as riding alone when you go through Sausalito—it’s practically a parade. A sad part of that parade was passing the now-closed A Bicycle Odyssey shop due to Tony Tom’s death last year. Nothing lasts forever but Tony died too young; it brought back memories of when Clay Mankin suddenly died in 2005 leading to the end of his shop City Cycle on Union Street. Both are real losses to the cycling community here.

Whatever charm the climb out of Sausalito has is lost in the chaos of cars. It’s less than two miles to the Panoramic turnoff and averages about 6% so it’s really quite short. But it’s hard to notice the beautiful eucalyptus trees along the road when you’re thinking about that SUV behind you. It’s become a road that you just want to get over—you do it for the destination, not for the trip. The descent to Muir Beach is classic: a winding, curvy road where you can outmaneuver the cars. At this point we were all spread out by the climb and I couldn’t see anyone else from our group. At Muir Beach you start an ugly but short ascent up the coastal cliffs; it’s not long but long enough to have you wondering if you can stay on the gas much longer. For the record it’s about a mile long averaging 10%. Back in the day when the club had an annual Guerneville Weekend, the route up went this way and many dreaded it. That may be why in the ’90s the route got changed to go inland through Nicasio—it may be hotter but it was a lot less climbing. Not having done this climb in well over twenty years, like so many roads I’ve revisited recently after a long absence, it sure seemed steeper than I recall. Eric, Darrell, and Roger H. were somewhere ahead of me and at Lone Tree Creek I finally saw them above me on the road, too far to catch up with.

Finally there’s a fast descent into Stinson to make up for all that hellish climbing. Being a sunny day the crowds were out! We reconvened at the little park across from the market to enjoy the sunshine. Some wandered over to the Parkside Cafe, which was inundated with daytrippers, to get some grub while some of us just noshed on energy bars. Needing a little pep Eric and I wandered over to the espresso stand to get some good Italian coffee. We watched the endless stream of cars heading up Highway One including a Porsche rally complete with burning rubber at the only stop sign in town.

Although the long respite threatened to turn into a day at the beach, I rousted everyone from their torpor to do the final, big climb up to Pantoll. This climb is very different than the steep hills coming over to the beach. First, it’s a continuous four-mile ascent averaging about 7% and with no relief. It requires a different mindset and effort: get into a gear you can use for the entire climb and grind away steadily. The climb out starts in the open but about half-way up you enter the redwoods and it’s not unlike climbing on Tunitas Creek. Darrell took off but eventually Roger and I caught him. Eric, who had stopped to take off his jacket eventually caught up with us and in a mad rush we arrived at Pantoll for another extended recuperation. The parking lot was full and Pantoll was clearly having a lot of visitors. After we regrouped and caught our collective breath, we launched into a prolonged descent back to Sausalito. Darrell fully embraced his death wish and hit the afterburners with Eric not far behind. Roger S. who usually descends like a demon surprisingly took it easy—I was able to keep him in sight! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before. We bade Stephen farewell in Sausalito and then dove into the moshpit. It was yet another rush of lemmings to get through town and to the bridge. At the turnoff for Baker tunnel there was a long line of cars trying to get to Rodeo Beach so late in the day. It must be tourist season already!

At the north end of the bridge we said goodbye to Eric and the five of us confronted the last obstacle of the day: getting across the west sidewalk of the bridge alive and in one piece. Initially it was an atypically quiet afternoon with little cycle traffic heading north. The additional chainlink fencing, road furniture, and equipment dumped on the sidewalk doesn’t become a problem until you have to pass someone. On weekends that usually means the afternoon return to SF is a semi-nightmare and today was no different. The plethora of BS handlebar bags (Blazing Saddles) clued us in that tourism is alive and well in SF. The crosswind was challenging and going around the towers was like suddenly being dropped into a wind tunnel requiring everyone to exercise care not only to stay upright and steer straight but also to avoid the scary tourists who had no idea they were going to get a real life experience of the Venturi effect.

As we neared the south footing we were almost home when we were swamped by a literal horde of adolescent cyclists taking over the west sidewalk. There were hundreds of them in a long line four-wide coming down the dirt trail onto the bridge. We were pushed against the chainlink fencing hoping none of them would run into us head-on. Sharing the path wasn’t on their mind as they squirreled pell-mell every whichway. I was certain we were going to have a crash and was screaming out warnings. Darrell couldn’t move forward and got off his bike and lifted it through the crowd. Eventually the three of us made it to the bridge plaza a bit shaken and wondering if Roger S. and Nancy who were further behind were going to escape unscathed. Shortly they arrived intact. None of us had ever experienced anything like this, a tidal wave of oncoming cyclists completely taking over the walkway. Darrell went to talk to a bridge police officer who did absolutely nothing except shrug her shoulders.

The rest of the ride was peaceful but I must confess I was pretty shaken up by the incident. My husband Roger and I, who already don’t like crossing the bridge on weekend afternoons, looked at each other and knew that was probably the last time we’d ever do that again.