Dominating the last stretch: days twenty five through twenty seven

Passing the Pack - Antonio serves tacos - Fort Ross - Rolling hills 4ever - Race to the bridge

The day began with us eight miles north of everyone else in the Pack, except the Professionals. We rode in good spirits on a nice and clear day, stopping for a pizza lunch in Mendocino, a nice little New Englang-style town. At the next stop, in Elk, we ran into the girls from Austin and Montreal enjoying a coffee. They were taking the day off to hitchhike, for reasons of painful knees. (In an aside, knee pain was probably the most common complaint I heard. Thankfully I didn't experience any of it, and hardly had any more neck pain after Fortuna, either). We had our own little snack and rode on, passing on what is supposed to be the steepest, but short, ascent on the entire pacific coast a couple more cyclists from the Pack.

We originally planned to stop in Manchester, after about 42 miles, but we felt so good that we just wanted to keep going to the next site--Gualala. Not coincidentally, that is where the Austin people were aiming for too, and we wanted to hang out with them. Just out of Manchester we passed Luke and Erika, their father-daughter couple friends, and another cyclist whom we haven't met before, sitting by a grocery store. We stopped for a bit but now felt the lure of a race, and kept going. We cruised in the bright sunshine along mildly rolling hills , passing another couple of cyclists that we hadn't met before. Everyone, by the way, was heading to Gwalala, and we were growing worried about space there.

The Professionals were only going as far as Manchester, so that left only the Austin guys to catch up with. We did so in Point Arena, where they were doing laundry along with the girls, who were already there via a crazy hitchike driver. We kept hauling ass to Gualala. The only thing that we wanted at this point is cheap, abundant, and delicious Mexican food, and--perfect day--our dreams were fulfilled when we spotted a sign for Antonio's Tacos in Gualala. We got food to go, along with two bottles of wine, and sprinted to camp to claim the choice campsite. The second bottle went toward hanging out with Austin people.

The next day just didn't feel nearly as right to me. Riding out of camp, I already felt loathe to pedal fast. Being tired or whatever this was on a bike is a strange feeling, because you still have to pedal--you just tend to do it in a lower gear than normally. So, I was dragging behind Sam on the unceasing rolling hills; the main thing I was looking forward to is sitting down with a coffee and Nutella sandwich at Fort Ross.

Unfortunately, Fort Ross turned out not to be a city at all, but just a historical park, home to a reconstructed historical Russian trading settlement. We ate our sandwiches in the warmth of their little museum, and had a ton of fun wandering around the wooden fort. After the park, we rode on some of the most intensely rolling hills of our trip, with switchbacked cliffs rising and falling along the coast. We stopped in some small town close to camp for an hour's rest; Luke and Erika rode up soon after and left before we did. For the first time I heard that we were supposed to have been eating a gram of protein per pound of body weight to rebuild muscles (from Luke), so we both got pints of chocolate milk.

It must have worked, because the next day I felt great again--lucky, considering that this was the home stretch: 75 miles to San Francisco. Leaving camp, we informed the Professionals that it was a race to the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was glorious, riding mostly flat and easy, and the little towns on the approach to the bridge looked really pleasant. We rode something like 50 miles before 1pm, a first for us.  Certainly a fitting end to a good trip.

Right by Sausalito, we rode past Francis Luu, a friend from high school who now lives in San Francisco. A pretty crazy and auspicious coincidence! He turned around and rode back with us, guiding us up the last few hills before the bridge. I don't know if we beat the Professionals, but I strongly suspect that we did, as about 10 miles out, we ran into a guy who was looking for his nephew, who was one of the rapscallions. 

The bridge was INSANELY WINDY. People had to get off their bikes when riding around pillars, because turning into the wind could knock you over. Some guy was apparently hanging off the bridge and there were police cars blocking traffic on the other side. I heard wrong (or maybe right) and thought that he hung himself off the bridge--a badass twist on a classic suicide.

Finally in San Francisco, there was only one place to go: In N Out Burger on Fisherman's Wharf. Having sated our hunger, we rode to the Embarcadero BART, got off Downtown Berkeley, and headed to my new house.

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