Will Bike For Cheese

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have heard that my neighborhood has been under construction for close to a year. The city’s been replacing the Muni tracks that run right outside my building, plus fixing a water main and doing some (much needed) “streetscaping” work and several other things that will all be lovely someday but have generally been a giant pain in my ass during the actual demolish-and-rebuild phase. Starting in February, the train and street were shut down from Friday at 7 p.m. to Monday at 5 a.m. for round-the-clock construction, which meant I’d often wake up to scenes like this:

Giant machines where my street used to be

The culmination was 10 days of continuous, as in 24-hour continuous, work, which started before Memorial Day and ended this morning. We now have a newly paved street, stoplights at a particularly obnoxious intersection, and some streetlights that I hope will actually be turned on soon. We also woke up at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to the sound of jackhammering directly outside our window as the top 2 inches of road got gobbled up in preparation for repaving.

Luckily, we were already planning to get out of town for a long bike ride. The noise just made it seem all the more worthwhile.

All through triathlon training, the North Bay members of my group had been raving about a ride to “the cheese factory.” A little googling led me to the Velo Girls route sheet for a ride from Fairfax (about 20 miles north of the city) to Marin French Cheese. With 3,300 feet of climbing, it was the hilliest route in their “moderate” section, but if I can ride Lynch Hill, I can ride anything, right?

A wee hilly

We parked in downtown Fairfax (free four-hour parking; they do chalk tires, but that just means that if you haven’t been chalked by the time you leave, you can count on having a little more than four hours) and rode out on Sir Francis Drake. We were climbing almost immediately; I knew that from the elevation chart, but there’s still a difference between seeing it and feeling it. We made a few brief stops to verify the directions and make sure that, in the absence of a warm-up, our hearts weren’t going to explode.

Aside from a brief bit of confusion around mile nine — turns out, there’s another cheese factory — the directions were straightforward, with only a handful of turns. It was a gorgeous day for riding, I’d guess in the 70s, but there was a nasty headwind that made everything feel a little tougher; on flats and downhills it felt a little like riding through water, while on the uphills it was more like pushing through sand. There was a looming hill right before the turnaround point, the one that the elevation chart made seem like we’d be riding vertical, but it felt easier than the one coming out of Fairfax, probably because we weren’t starting from a dead stop. And then, we were tasting cheese.

Many cheeses

And thus I came to bring a small wheel of Rouge et Noir Breakfast Cheese back to Fairfax in my shirt pocket, wrapped in an arm warmer. We spent maybe 20 minutes tasting bries and blues and re-caffeinating by this little lagoon.

Lagoon at Rouge et Noir

I was looking forward to the second leg of the ride, which went around the Nicasio Reservoir and through a redwood-filled state park. But the descent back toward the reservoir turned out to be some of the most terrifying riding I’ve done yet; I’m still not comfortable descending in the wind, and I spent six tense miles thinking of all the ways I’d rather die than getting blown off the road while attached to a bicycle. I wish we’d gotten a few pictures at the reservoir once the road flattened out, because it was gorgeous, all rippling water and brown hills and blue sky, and I finally felt like I could enjoy myself.

The last turn was back to Sir Francis Drake, to ride through the park and back to Fairfax. Our directions told us to look for a bike path before Sir Francis Drake, and so when we saw the sign at the intersection, we assumed that meant we’d missed the bike path turn earlier and should just continue on the road. And that was easily the biggest mistake we made, because had we realized that was the entrance to the bike path we were meant to take, we could have avoided three miles of beat-up, potholed, poorly patched road. There were these giant redwoods all around me that I couldn’t appreciate at all because I was so busy trying not to flat/pop over my handlebars/have my eyeballs vibrated out of my head. There was much, much groaning when we saw the sign marking the end of the bike path and realized our mistake.

After the park, we rode through a cute, weird little town (Lagunitas, I think) and then retraced our steps into Fairfax, including a 2+-mile screaming descent that made me realize just how uphill the start had been. We were back at the car with 30 minutes to spare and celebrated our first big ride together with an Iron Springs beer sampler.

I liked the Epiphany red and the coffee stout

There were moments on this ride — the windy hills and the crappy park road, mostly — where I wondered how anyone could ever choose cycling as a primary sport. But almost immediately after getting to the car, I wanted to do it again. The longest I’d been on a bike before this was the 25 miles of the Wildflower course, and I was pleased to hold up well over 12+ miles more, at least with an enforced off-bike cheese tasting break midway through. I was hungry and pleasantly tired but not sore or exhausted at the end; on Sunday, only my neck and hands were achey, clearly from holding all my tension there during the windy stretches.

Bottom line: As with every sport, the longer I go, the more I like it. I’m already eyeing the 77-mile version of this ride. I want to do a 50-miler soon. And I need to spend more time in the little hippie towns of West Marin.


Two more things:

1) Go read Angela’s post about sunscreen. I’m diligent about using sunscreen, but I’m also pale and burn very fast, and I’m always looking for a better solution for outdoor sports. I keep coming back to the same Coppertone Oil Free sunscreen, which I like except for all the creepy chemicals. Angela’s post inspired me to give physical sunscreens another shot, as well as to find a good on-the-go solution (either a stick or wipes or a very very small bottle) for longer rides and runs. Also, my two favorite sunscreen tips: look for a kids’ sunscreen (better/fewer ingredients and “tear free,” which can be even more sweat-resistant than sport sunscreens I’ve tried), and apply the first layer naked. TMI? Don’t care. In my experience, I’m more likely to really hit all the nooks and crannies I need to cover when I’m not worried about staining my clothes or trying to figure out what areas will be exposed. Assume they’ll all be exposed and slather accordingly.

2) I ran(/walked) this morning! I went 20 minutes out, 20 minutes back, running 1 minute and walking 2 (except for a few intervals where running longer would mean making a stoplight; yes, I prioritize efficiency over health, so there), wearing my new orthotics and Saucony Hurricanes, one of three pairs of shoes in the current test rotation. Since I rarely have pain during activity, only after, it’s been hard to judge how it went; that said, while things felt a little tight in the hours following, I can still single-leg squat without pain, which I haven’t been able to do after a run since January. Three miles at walk-run pace is not a marathon, I’m well aware of that, but I’ve got almost two months to get to double digits and two more to get to 26, and this is a start. A good start. I think.

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5 thoughts on “Will Bike For Cheese

  1. Good call on the children’s sunscreen — when I’ve been somewhere without my fancy-pants sunscreen & found myself needing to pick up something quick at a Walgreen’s or something, that’s what I’ve done.

  2. Katie says:

    I love beer and cheese. And the last time I rode a bike was in SF (over the bridge and into Sausalito.) It was so fun! I kind of want to do exactly what you did in this post. 🙂

  3. Kristina says:

    What a fantastic ride! I have such ride-envy of the SF Bay area.

  4. katie says:

    RUNNING! YES! and cheese. this post is a winner.

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