Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 8 - Manteca to Pinole

Today is the day we reach the Pacific Coast, the goal of our cross country trip.  After leaving New Jersey and covering over 3000 miles (4800Km) we will ride into San Francisco through the Oakland Bay Bridge and have lunch at the Fisherman's Wharf by the water.  The ride to San Francisco was only going to be 80 miles, we got up a little later than usual and after having breakfast in the motel we hit the road, the sky cloudy and colder than usual.  We followed Highway 205 through Tracy and later Highway 580 West, where we passed literally hundreds of wind turbines up on the hills, through Livermore and Castro Valley before we started going north towards Oakland and the Bay Bridge.  The traffic was light until we approached the Oakland Bay Bridge, the early Saturday commuters trying to funnel into the Bay Bridge to get into downtown San Francisco.  Forming part of Interstate 80, the bridge consists of two major crossings connecting each shore with Yerba Buena Island, a natural outcropping located mid-bay.  We stayed close together, my brother acting as my wingman, trying to navigate around the cage traffic.  We entered the bridge and moved onto the upper deck which carries 5 lanes of traffic into San Francisco, the bottom deck used for outbound traffic.  We cross the Yerba Buena Island tunnel and enter the second span of the bridge with the city skyline now in front of us.

San Francisco

Transamerica Pyramid building
I had pointed my GPS to Coit Tower and after navigating through the difficult downtown hills, always wary of the slippery metal rail tracks from the cable cars, we reach the top of the hill where the tower is located.   Coit Tower is a 210-foot (64 m) tower located in the city's Pioneer Park built in 1933 and is a monument to the firefighters of San Francisco. Paid for by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy socialite who loved to chase fires in the early days of the city's history, the tower took five years to construct and it's built with unpainted reinforced concrete.  We pay the $4.50 and go up in a very old and slow elevator, guided by an old Chinese lady, as she tells us the history of the tower in a heavily accented and broken English.  The tower offers a beautiful three hundred and sixty degree view of the city and you can see the nearby Alcatraz Island, Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland Bay Bridge, the famous and easily recognizable Transamerica Pyramid building and the curves of Lombard Street.  The observation deck was packed with tourists and we struggle to get a good place to take a few photos.

Oakland Bay Bridge
Yerba Buena Island

We descend the tower and move on to the parking lot where we chat with a few Koreans girls on a visit to the USA.  They marvel at the self cleaning public restroom nearby and we all tease my brother as he enters the restroom and presses the button to close the door, we could just imagine the system malfunctioning and the door opening while he is sitting on the lavatory.

Coit Tower
We leave the hill and head to Fisherman's Warf finding a place to park the bikes in front of a park on Columbus Avenue. We had just dismounted our bikes when a disheveled young lady approaches my brother and asks him if she could touch his bike as she marvels at his BMW.  My brother agrees to it and she starts running her hands up and down the bike stroking ever so gently but my brother quickly retracts the offer when she starts cleaning his headlight. She then suggest, after noticing all the dead bugs on the windshield, she could wash the bike for a nominal fee to which my brother vehemently refuses as she would most likely scratch his prized bike.  She continues to protest as she doesn't understand why we wouldn't want our bikes washed and then ask us if we can help her with money.   We explain we on a cross country trip and on a tight budget and don't have any money to spare, she doesn't seem too happy and we quickly retreat out of there, getting back on our bikes and moving on to another location after noticing the group of guys she was hanging with.  We didn't feel the bikes would be safe after refusing her offer and not helping her with money.  The park seems to be a hangout for the local hobos.  We go around the block and find a public garage where we feel the bikes are secure.  We leave the bikes and continue walking down a block to Fisherman's Wharf.

Fisherman's Wharf is lined with seafood restaurants ranging from casual, open-air clam bars, to formal indoor dining with views of the bay.  Whale watching tours and fishing trips leave from the wharf, and sea lions often sleep on the pilings, buoys, and moored boats in the bay.  All kinds of music permeate the area as we stroll through Jefferson's Street and walk up the piers.  We admire the old ships on Hyde Street Pier and man and woman dressed in period costumes.  We continue down the street through the cacophony of sounds from all the tourist mixed with the loud music emanating from the restaurants and local street musicians.  We stroll into an alley after hearing beautiful sounds and music emanating from it to find a solo musician playing beautiful music under a flower covered awning. The place is full of tourists, some just walking around while others are savoring the local restaurants.

Hyde Street Pier

Rental three wheelers
Ride the Duck

We continue along Jefferson's Street on the way to Pier 41 where we would surely see the famous and noisy seals.  We weren't disappointed as hundreds of seals were sun basking in between the piers.  We were walking along the pier when out of nowhere I hear someone calling my name,  I turn around and it's my friend Chris from the Central Jersey Motorcycle Riders Club.   Chris and I did a nice bike trip to Gaspe in Quebec Canada last year.  What a surprise, he's visiting San Francisco and we happen to be present at the same time on the same pier.  We chat for a while and then split up, it was lunch time and we were starving.

We return to Jefferson's Street and start looking for a place to have some of the local seafood that Fisherman's Wharf is so famous for.  We find the right place at the Lou's Blues Club.  The Blues music coming from upstairs providing the right atmosphere to my Gumbo and Anchor Steam Beer, a local beer from San Francisco.  I have never been fond of clams or mussels but I just had to try a local Gumbo and it was really good, so good that I cleaned up the plate with slices of warm bread, I ate it all.

We leave the Wharf area and walk towards Lombard Street climbing up the steep hills passing beautiful homes along the way.   Lombard Street is best known for the one-way section on Russian Hill in which the roadway has eight steep and sharp turns (or switchbacks) that have earned the street the distinction of being the crookedest street in the world.  We walk down Lombard Street admiring the beautiful homes and all the flowers adorning the sidewalk.

We return to our bikes and head out of San Francisco towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  The weather was not cooperating with us though, the Pacific fog having engulfed the top of the bridge preventing us from truly enjoying the views from the bridge.  The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge span  in the world when it was completed during the year 1937, and has become one of the most internationally recognized symbols of San Francisco.  We cross the bridge and pull into the observation area on the north end, the strong wind almost blowing us off the road.  We take a few pictures and then decide to continue north taking the route 1 exit towards the Pacific coast.

Route 1 winds along towards the coast through Mt. Tamalpais State Park offering beautiful views.   We pass a few riders along the way only making a stop at the top of a cliff to take pictures.  It was getting late in the day but we decided to stop in Bolinas for a cup of coffee and cake, the temperature having dropped to the mid 50's.    I have never had such a huge cup of coffee as I had that day, the cup dwarfing my camera. We sat under a heat lamp eating our slice of cake and enjoying the warm cup of coffee.  We later walk along the main street past a few art galleries and make a quick stop to admire the Smiley's Schooner Saloon and Hotel established in 1851.

After inquiring about motels in the area we are told to head inland towards Fairfax as nothing was available in Bolinas.  We leave town and stop on the edge of route 1, it was already dark.   The GPS pointed us forward towards the Bolinas Fairfax road in front of us, the road didn't look like much, we look at each other and decided to continue straight. I look down at my GPS and all I see is a very long squiggly line.  How bad could it be?  I have done the Dragon, route 129 from NC to TN but this road was a much bigger challenge.  It climbs up steep hills with tight switchbacks and steep descents, we did it at night and with fog throughout the route. Bing maps says it's only 16.5 miles and will take 45 minutes to traverse, they are being very optimistic.  It took us over an hour and a half to get to Fairfax.  We stopped for a few pictures on Alpine Lake and then continued to Fairfax.  We call a few motels in town but they were either expensive or full, we look on the GPS and find a hotel in Pinole, about 21 miles away. We leave Fairfax after 9 and after crossing the Richmond San Rafael Bridge arrive at the motel around 9:30PM.

Bolinas Fairfax Road

Long exposure photo at night
Super long exposure photo at the same time

Unbelievably twisty Bolinas Fairfax Road
Another great day, we had achieved our main goal, crossing the country on a bike and seen the Pacific Ocean.  It would still be a couple of days before I could get my feet in the Pacific Ocean but I had enjoyed the first part of the trip, seen lots of beautiful roads, mountains and cities, had crossed a few parks, met interesting people and had good food. Tomorrow we head up along the coast towards Oregon.



  1. Great photos from San Francisco. Too bad about the fog. I hate it when that happens! I would be terrified to ride that road at night. I try not to ride at night (except in town), because my eyes just aren't that good anymore, but there's always that fear of getting stuck out after dark. Nice pics going around that sharp turn.

  2. Thanks Bluekat. Yea, the fog was a let down but we had nice weather throughout the trip except for 2 showers, one in Kansas and another near Chicago on the way back. If you have a chance to take a trip to Bolinas make sure you take your ninja through the Bolinas Fairfax road, you will find some nice banked and tight turns and no traffic :-) We didn't see a single car or bike :-)

  3. Yes, on video your brake light looks like it's flashing :-) You ready to go back to the Bolinas Fairfax road? this time during the day so we can see the road ;-)

  4. Some very nice photos. The video really puts perspective into the riding. How can you still remember everything did you take notes on the way?

  5. I did a few notes but mostly it's in my head. It's all in my archive for my retirement, one day, when I can hardly walk I will be sitting on my porch and relive all these moments ;-)