MP to SF by Way of Skyline


My two weeks of parental leave have finally arrived, so I’ve been dreaming up all sorts of crazy ways to use this windfall of free time.  I’m finished wasting days off by just sleeping in, watching movies and reading the Harry Potter series.  I have renewed my commitment to adventure!

One of the ideas that popped into my mind last week was to ride my fixed-gear road bike from Menlo Park up to San Francisco.  The genius of this little plan was that I could take the CalTrain back, thereby covering 50 miles of always-new terrain.  I’m not a huge fan of the out-and-back, so the idea stuck.  I realized yesterday morning that I didn’t have any plans for the day, so I started to map out the path I’d take to get to the city.

My plan was to take Skyline up past Crystal Springs Resevoir, San Andreas Lake and Lake Merced.  I would then hang a right and ride across the length of San Francisco to the end of the CalTrain line.  This path appealed to my need for bike lanes, a relatively simple route and CalTrain.  Only three details tripped me up.

Detail One – The Detour

Skyline has a one or two mile gap starting at the Southern end of San Andreas Lake.  This gap necessitates a detour through Millbrae.  Google Maps picked up on this detail, but I completely overlooked the change in altitude.  The moment I started the detour I realized just how high Skyline was and just how far I’d have to descend.  The descent wasn’t so bad, but the climb back up to Skyline destroyed my legs, especially because it was all done with a 3:1 gear ratio.  For the unfamiliar, 3:1 is a great gear ratio for going about 18-25 miles per hour.  Any faster or slower than the 18-25mph range makes the bike increasingly inefficient.  One hill was so steep that I had to get off and walk because my body weight was no longer enough to crank the pedals.

Detail Two – The Brake Lever

Bar End Brakes

My rear brake started to come apart on the Skyline descent.  My bar end brake had recently fallen out of the handle bar, so I’d spent half an hour in our garage trying to jam my break lever back into the bar end.  My failure to fix the problem became apparent when my rear brake lever fell out of the bar end about 30 seconds into the descent.  I could hardly fix the problem on the road, so I spent the rest of the ride with just my front brake and the fixed wheel to slow me down.

Detail Three – Wind and Fog

I spent probably half an hour dragging myself back up to Skyling Boulevard.  I crested the hill and hit the first gust of wind.  Then I hit a wall of fog.  Then I spent the next five miles riding through both wind and fog, trying to not get blown out of the bike lane or hit by a passing car.  To top it off, that part of Skyline has higher speed limits and, correspondingly, a ton of debris on the side of the road.  The climb had exhausted me and I didn’t want to die, so I crawled along as slowly as my little front brake would let me.

I would have turned back at the detour if I hadn’t visualized my triumphant entrance into the CalTrain station so vividly at the outset.  I haven’t done something quite this difficult in a long time, so I felt a special need to prove myself to myself.  It may be lame, but it gets me out of the house and has yet to kill me.

I managed to capture the entire ride on my Garmin GPS watch.  See my ride stats here and the ride map below.

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    1. I thought parental leave was so you could spend time with your spouse and baby?

    2. Linda says:

      That’s quite the adventure, and I’m very glad you survived. I don’t know how kept from going over the handlebars on that descent without any rear brakes. It might have been easier on your mountain bike, but the story would not have been as good. Love you. Mom

    3. katie a says:

      YeeHaw! I’m envious… That’s an amazing trip!

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