This weekend I did something that I wanted to try for a long time. Bike camping.
It all started with an email conversation with my friend Jacob. I think we were talking about painting an old bicycle frame or something and the conversation quickly turned to packing up some gear and spending a weekend outside city limits. At the time, I was two weeks past my first 300k ride with the SF Randonneurs and was on the fence about riding the 400k that was coming up. I hadn’t ridden much at all since the 300k and was still a bit intimidated by the length, so it was an easy sell.
There were six of us on board and between all of us there were a couple of trailers, some commuter bags, and backpacks. I decided to take the plunge and pickup a BOB Yak after doing a little online research and getting the thumbs up from a couple of friends that already own one.
Owning a BOB equals instant popularity. Usually, I get the waves and “good mornings,” etc. from fellow riders, but hundreds if not more miles usually pass between actual conversations with strangers on bikes. A man in Sausalito had been watching me ride and commented on how well it appeared to track. Spokey, from The Bicycle Works (a non-profit DIY bike workshop), gave me tips and pointers on how to maximize my enjoyment…like parking it at a 90 degree angle to use as an improv shelter using a small tarp or strapping a backpacking backpack to the trailer when using public transportation on adventure rides. Someone on his bike asked me where the good spots to go bike camping are like I was the seasoned veteran. And I even passed by a group of 20 or so hipster cyclists in Chrissy Fields and a guy yelled out, “hey that guy has a BOB. Yeeeeaaahhhh!!!!” Or something like that.
And that was all in maybe 70 miles or so.
By the way, I was able to max out at around three sleeping bags, two tents, and clothes for two in the BOB. At that point it looked like stuff was going to overflow. The ride quality was still manageable, but I would say the comfortable limit to the trailer is probably gear for two (one tent, two sleeping bags, clothes, and food).
I rode the trailer into work on Friday and after work the six of us came from our respective locations and met at the Bicentennial Campground in the Marin Headlands. This turned out to be a really great spot to meet since it is really quick to get to from San Francisco and is easily accessible by bike. There are three two-person campsites and they are free to reserve. The catch is that it can only be reserved three times a year per person, so I guess this is where a good buddy rotation comes in handy.
Aside from the six of us, there were no other campers anywhere nearby so it felt like nature, but ironically we had the Golden Gate Bridge and city nightscape just across the bay. I’m not sure of the policy, but I would love to go back for a night time BBQ because having the city lights as the backdrop was really, really cool.
There is water a mile down the hill from the campsite at the visitors center and the nearest market is near the bottom of the descent from the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito which is probably three to four miles away with some decent climbing on the return trip. The market doesn’t seem like the type to stay open late in which case you would probably have to make a trip further into Sausalito.
I should mention that on the weekends I like to sleep in and a bike camping weekend is no exception. Since the night was pretty cold for the clothing I brought along, I was in the tent by around 9 and back out around 9. That made me pretty happy.
The ride from the Marin Headlands out to Samuel P. Taylor State Park near San Geronimo is one that I have done quite a bit. So I am pretty familiar with the route and places to stop to eat and refuel. However, lately I have been noticing a cafe on Bridgeway Avenue that has bicycles hanging up in the window. I figured we had to check it out.
I didn’t catch the name, but It’s called Cibo and it’s just past the main downtown area as your headed north on the left hand side. Their french toast was pretty fucking amazing! And they serve Blue Bottle Coffee. I’m not really a coffee drinker since I’m really sensitive to caffeine, but I’ll usually stop to get a cup of Blue Bottle when I see one around.
Samuel P. Taylor has a bicycle campsite that requires no reservation and is $3 per person. It is a communal 10 person campsite. I spoke with the park ranger and she said that they never turn away bicyclists though even when they reach capacity. They will put them in other areas if necessary. We didn’t know about the bicycle campsite when we were making plans and ended up reserving a family campsite. We were the only ones with an empty parking spot among the luxuries only modern man can think of.
I believe you can drink the water at the campsite and the closest market is the one you pass two miles prior to reaching the campsite. This market closes at 7. They have a good $5.99 breakfast, tasty sandwiches, and milkshakes.
The ride back home was pretty much clear sailing. Since we’ve started to see the early hints of spring here in the Bay Area, the roads are beginning to get crowded with cars, cyclists, and tourists. We stopped for the $5.99 breakfast at the market in Lagunitas and about 15 minutes after we arrived all the bike parking and tables had been filled by people on their Sunday rides.
We trucked through the rest of the ride home with a shower and clean clothes as our inspiration.