Shane and I set out from my Dad’s house Saturday morning at 8am, agreeing to obey all traffic laws while in the city.
Heading down 19th Ave and then weaving our way towards and around Lake Merced was a good ego boost to get us started – it was all downhill. Then in Daly City we hit our first climbs and for a moment I wondered just what I’d got myself in to, not knowing how much climbing I was in store for or how I’d fare. But I climbed, climbed, climbed and when I reached the apex of that first long hill and Shane remarked “Wow, you’ve gotten so much stronger, Maria!” I beamed with renewed confidence and made a mental note to thank Whitney Wolff (the owner and trainer of Adrenaline CrossFit Chico) for getting me into the best shape of my life.
Before we knew it we enjoying that sweet smell of salty decay as we rode oceanside.
We picked up a lovely trail that allowed us to continue away from the main road near the ocean. Then we picked up a path that was like the bicycle version of San Francisco’s Lombard street. Far from being miserable, it was delightful to climb!
At the southern end of Pacifica our alternative to the highway ended; we were now on Hwy 1 (Cabrillo Hwy) for the rest of our journey.
Almost immediately we hit 3 miles of narrow, twisty roads.
First we climbed.
Just keep moving. Just keep moving. Just keep moving.
Climb, climb, climb.
There was no shoulder, but fortunately all the drivers seemed to accept our need to ‘Share the Road’ and no one honked at us as we pretty much rode on the white line.
About half-way through those three miles, we reached the top and then began to descend.
That’s when I quickly developed a new appreciation for the climb: it’s slow and much easier to control.
Downhill speeds freak me out a bit, especially going down windy, narrow roads that I’d never been on before. Thus, I rode my brakes down almost all the hills, alternating methodically between front and rear brakes, and trying to sit upright to increase my drag.
The only noticeable setback I felt from my crash two days prior was a weakness in my left grip, and a limitation in comfortable hand-position options. With my hands on top of my handlebars, fingers wrapping around the top of the brake levers, my wrists felt most comfortable, yet my leverage on my brakes was limited, especially with my weakened left grip.
And going downhill at fast speeds with my weak grip on top meant that going over some sort of bump could have easily popped my hands right off the bars. At least that was my fear.
For a more solid grip on the handlebars and the brakes, I needed to drop my hands and torso down. This meant greater security in that it was unlikely that I would lose my grip, but unfortunately it put me in a more aerodynamic position and put much more strain on my wrists, fatiguing them quickly.
I was playing a balance for control. I tried to keep my downhill speeds in the 20’s (though I did get as high as 35mph), while crazy Shane topped out at 41mph.
I found that after going down a long hill I was more exhausted from focus and tension than I’d been from the physical labor of going up it.
At 25miles we arrived at our first destination: Half Moon Bay!
We found a fantastic little cafe called the Garden Deli Cafe which was as perfect as could be. We ate delicious vegetarian sandwiches on freshly made bread (Olive Walnut, yum) while sitting outside on colorful benches while a wrinkly man played guitar and sang in the perfectly breezy sunshine.
Back on the road, things seemed to smooth out; the hills were much more gradual, and our bodies were both warmed up and refreshed.
We had a nice wind that kindly pushed us along at times, and we’d stop here and there to enjoy the scenery…
… and to stretch!
I definitely had a couple conversations going with some body parts while riding: namely, my right rhomboid. She’d act up, throwing a little tantrum because she was having to bear more weight to compensate for my left, and I’d have to calm her down by helping her breathe, expand, relax, and go with the flow.
***On a side note, I was in a spin class at the gym a couple months ago when the no-nonsense instructor attempted to inspire us by saying “This isn’t Zumba! This isn’t Pilates! This isn’t Yoga!” to which I internally protested “But… yoga is in everything.”***
After my spill two days ago, I was riding is Super Vigilant mode: going at what I felt was a safe, moderate speed, only allowing myself to go fast when I could see the entire stretch of a downhill clearly, scanning the road and shadows for debris, watching cars with a healthy dose of suspicion. My intuition helped me avoid what could have easily been a few scary moments with cars had I not anticipated that people weren’t paying attention.
There was one line of cars parked along the side of the highway that I marked with particular suspicion. My inner voice said “Sooooooomething smells fishy over there.” I slowed down even more than normal and gave a particularly wide berth as I approached them.
I was not at all surprised when a truck suddenly pulled out into the highway without giving any indication. Nor was I surprised when the driver-side door swung wide open two more cars down.
Eventually we reached a particularly satisfying personal milestone:
At 60 miles we took a break, ate some trailmix and glowed in our triumph. We were ahead of schedule, feeling fantastic, and almost there! We’d arrive at Shane’s sister’s house in an hour.
After a satisfying stretch, we were eager to continue, so we saddled up and set off.
Two miles down the road, we came cruising around a bend and were suddenly presented with a situation I was not prepared for and had little time to react to:
Now, when going over railroad tracks on a bike, you want to hit them perpendicularly. The threat is that your tire can either get locked into the track groove, or that your tire loses traction and slides out from under you.
From this picture it would appear that there would be room to go wide to the right and cut over them safely at a relatively perpendicular angle. But take a look at this aerial view from Google:
The path leading right up to the tracks was very narrow (about as wide as the lettering on the picture). So to cut across the tracks at a safe angle would mean cutting a sharp turn left into traffic, which I rejected in my moment of decision making.
We were going 20 mph, Shane about 10 ft behind me. I realise that seems pretty slow in car-terms, but in bicycle (aka TOTAL LACK OF ARMOR) terms it’s not so slow.
I thought that hitting my brakes was a futile and possibly more risky move, so in my moment of choice-making I decided my best option was to hit it at as much of an angle as I could safely do without going in to traffic, and to hold on to my handlebars in my top position (there was no time to move my hands down) as firmly as I could to try to prevent them from going any direction I didn’t want them to go.
I braced myself.
I hit the first track and experienced a moment of immense relief as I safely maneuvered over it.
I hit the second track and flew.
The track stole my tire with the rest of my bike faithfully following as I followed my own path of momentum, hitting the ground hard on my left side (AGAIN!) and rolling into the street. As soon as I hit the ground Shane crashed into my back, throwing him and his bike over me, also into the highway.
We are insanely lucky that no one hit us. Several cars had to swerve out of the way to avoid us and three cars pulled over and stopped just ahead of us after they passed. Oddly, no one in any of those cars got out to see if we were okay. They all drove away before I even began to try to get up.
Shane popped up immediately, simultaneously pulling our bikes out of the road and making sure I was okay. He luckily survived with just a scrape on his thumb and a bruise on his back from where he landed on his cell phone.
I knew immediately that nothing was broken, and again was humbled with gratitude.
I was banged up pretty bad and needed help getting up. By the time Shane helped me up, a car that had seen what had happened (and were shocked to see all the cars that had stopped drive away) made a U-turn to come back and make sure we were okay. We realized pretty quickly that both our bicycles and myself were not capable of riding the last 11 miles to Santa Cruz. Since our nice helpers were not equipped with a bike rack, they were not able to give us a ride into SC as I’m sure they would have been happy to do.
Shane called his sister to come rescue us. As soon as he told her we crashed, she guessed that it’d been on the tracks.
The following day we spoke with her neighbor and mentioned that we’d been riding from SF to SC but that we’d crashed.
“WA-WA-WAIT! Let me guess! The railroad tracks in Davenport! Dude, I see people go down there ALL THE TIME!”
You’d think they’d put a sign up.
Sitting there waiting, I was afraid to look at my wounds.
Each finger had some blood on it, and the tips felt numb.
My left elbow was bloody and my expensive, super-lightweight Patagonia jacket that I’ve had less than a year was shredded up. I realised, again with gratitude, that had I not pulled the sleeves up minutes earlier, bunching the material around my forearms, my elbow wounds would probably have been much more extensive.
My hip burned. BURNED. After much avoidance, I lifted my shirt and saw a big bloody patch above my hip. I also felt burning lower on my hip in the same place I’d just abraded myself.
I didn’t hit my head this time, but I did hit my hip hard. I could feel my back beginning to seize up, which is what concerned me most.
By the time we arrived at Amber and Alex’s house and I could finally peel my clothes off to assess and clean my wounds, my clothes had glued themselves down on my open wounds. Peeling them off brought me to tears.
Amber was so kind, cleaning and dressing my wounds for me.
Right after the crash, Shane kept asking me over and over if my mid-back was okay. I kept telling him it was fine, that he just hit my backpack, not me. He just couldn’t believe me and kept asking me over and over. I kept insisting that it was just my lower left back that was received the trauma from the fall.
Well… it turned out Shane was right.
Once my wounds were all cleaned and bandaged and my heavy dose of Ibuprofen was kicking in and my shock was abating, Shane and I looked at each other and all we could do was shake our heads and laugh. A bittersweet laugh. A complex laugh. A laugh appreciating what a glorious day it had been, how close we had come, how proud we still were of our achievement and our knowledge that we are capable of realizing this dream; a laugh acknowledging how insanely lucky we were to be able to walk away from something that could easily have been so much more serious. A humble, uncomfortable laugh of gratitude that this ended up lighthearted rather than tragic.
Much as my last post touched on, the most vivid way to appreciate life and health is to be faced with its sudden departure.
So even though I didn’t complete my objective as I’d laid it out, it seems I did achieve my ultimate goal of remembering to appreciate my life and health afterall.
The next day, we enjoyed the morning as best as we could hobbling around. We went out for some tasty, unique ice cream at The Penny Ice Creamery where I got a scoop of Rose Petal and a scoop of Cherry Balsamic.
Bellies full with treats, we loaded in to the car and Alex drove us back along Hwy1 towards San Francisco. Shane and I both scanned the scenery, waiting to come upon our fateful location. As we approached, we saw a cyclist heading that way. Shane felt compelled to yell through the (closed) window “Be careful! Railroad tracks!” The cyclist missed his warning and urgent finger pointing, but as we drew closer, Alex pointed out a limey green railroad track sign underneath which was posted another limey green sign saying “WALK BICYCLES ACROSS TRACKS”.
“Where the hell was that sign on THAT side?!”
There it is.
It turns out there WAS a sign. We just missed it entirely.
I am actually comforted greatly knowing that there were posted warning signs. Before I knew this I felt at a loss for how to continue this desire of mine to travel long-distances on my bike, not knowing how I could have done anything differently had I been in the same situation again. But now that I’m aware of these blessed signs, I’m spotting them like a hawk! Turns out there are a few of them near my mom’s house that I’d never noticed before.
I have renewed confidence that given a similar situation I would SEE the sign. Additionally, next time I’ll use Google maps to scan my route for railroad crossings.
All in all, my adventure was quite a success. I had a fantastic 62 mile ride, I felt great, spent time with a dear friend, enjoyed my beautiful state, benefited from the kindness of others, and remembered just how precious and impermanent life is.
There is so much to be grateful for.