WanderlustBy Sam Lepore
Subject: Meandering Mellow Marin
Date: Sun, 05 Dec 1999 02:47:22 -0800

    Brilliant sun, but muted in intensity. It was a not-quite-warm, not-quite-cool day in the middle 50's. We left San Francisco around 10 am, passing through the Union Street district where the tony shops have consumed half the national production of tiny white string lights to drape the buildings that never see snow in drifts of sparkling glitter. Out Lombard toward the bridge (the Golden Gate Bridge, that is ... if you really think it needs a name), I notice how the international orange of the permanent primer paint seems to be smiling in the sun today. Often heard among the tourists at the overlook is something like "I expected it to be Golden". The bridge isn't. The Gate is.
    Riding across the bridge always gives a feeling of floating in and out of an impossible scene. Look to the left and there is the vibrant Pacific, pounding on even this calm day with a fury the Atlantic sees only under the rage of a hurricane. Look to the right and there is the placid perfect picture of the City By The Bay, visually strained by the strands of the bridge cable, glimmering in quiet light colors that define it clearly against the blue waters of its corral. I am always impressed with how bright the overall impression is, compared to the dark heaviness of eastern cities made of brick.
    The span of the bridge is only three quarters of a mile between the towers, but it separates the alpha quadrant from the rest of the universe. As soon as you cross the last expansion joint (on the bridge ... not that aroma wafting from the overlook parking lot :) you are in a different state ... a different mental state ... mellow Marin. There is even a car business there called Mellow Motors. Marinites take their mellowness seriously. Speaking of "alpha quadrant", if you are a Trek fan and you do visit the overlook ... look over the east side toward Fort Baker. You will be standing on Highpoint - the future home of Starfleet Academy.

    Traffic is light on US101 and we quickly find our way to Kentfield for breakfast - no, make that brunchfest - at the Half Day Cafe near Corte Madera Creek. A typical Marin mellow muncherie, they do not have bacon and eggs ... but they do have a delicious Italian scramble: brown (not white) eggs scrambled with pancetta, mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, and garden vegetables. What kind of toast? No, we don't have 'white'. Good place, though. The California Benedict comes with fresh spinach; if you are ovo-lacto (Marin-speak for non-ovum and non-lactose consuming vegetarian) there is a tofu scramble on the menu. And that sorry slice of fruit that usually decorates the corner of a plate ... ? Fresh kiwi.

    With both bikes and bellies fueled, we begin meandering Marin. The destination is Sebastopol, but it will take 75 miles to cover the 40 mile distance. Lucas Valley Road runs from ... no, this is Marin. It does not 'run', it saunters west from 101, passing cows which appear to be walking in the sky when silhouetted by steep ravine hills. These cows are oblivious that they are skywalking on the property known as Skywalker Ranch. Yes, it is *that* Lucas valley. Nonetheless, the scenery rapidly changes as we cross the ridgeline of the coastal crest. Pastureland with live oak and bay laurel suddenly gives way to narrow curly canyons through soon-to-be giant redwood groves ('soon' meaning when the Y3K computers are being debugged). The short, fast canyon consumes all your attention, then like seeds in a watermelon eating contest we are spit out at the foot of the hills.
    There is a central valley which runs ... excuse me, saunters the length of Marin. Bucolic and pastoral as it is, people rarely go to it but rather through it on the way to somewhere. Look at a map and most of the cross roads have double names: Petaluma-Point Reyes Road, Petaluma-Marshall Road, Petaluma-Tomales Road. Hmmm. Is there a pattern? But the north/south roads (which occasionally touch all the other compass points too) are the two lane valley visitors that take time and make that time enjoyable. This is a place for mellow motorcycling.
    Lucas Valley brought us to Nicasio Valley. The tiny tiny town of Nicasio was once a stage stop. The land was deemed nearly worthless. Now, if it ever comes to sale it is nearly priceless. Thoughts run ... uh, saunter through my head wondering if 'worthless' and 'priceless' are opposite ends of a spectrum or do they relate like Einsteinian space continuum? Another thought comes from a remembered phrase: 'Tis dearness only that gives a thing its value. What value, then, is this time of an exquisite day, a fine motorcycle, an open road, and a loving companion riding along? Like the commercials say - some things are priceless, for everything else there is ... BMW.
    Zagging on the zig, we turn right and more northerly than easterly on one of the many somewhere-to-Petaluma Roads. The rising and falling of the grades hugging the hills is deceiving. With the ocean hardly five minutes away, we are already at an elevation of over 1,000 feet. The air temperature plays its own games with the sea breezes that skim the lower hills yet stay at hilltop level as inversion layers, and with low valleys that hold their moisture from morning dew still wet in the shadows. We rise a hill feeling the air get warmer instead of cooler, then turn a corner into a warm pocket and descend into cooler instead of warmer lowlands. Just one of the pleasures of riding - being able to feel the air in addition to breathing it.

    Left on Wilson Hill, right on another to-Petaluma road, left on Spring Hill. Say, there *is* a pattern here. And to look at it mathematically, it appears to be a regression pattern. We've been on the road more than an hour since breakfast and we are still only about 20 miles in a straight line from where we started. But I love it when you can ride at the same speed number as the temperature and both are comfortable. There are no towns here in the center of the county, and all the enforcement is on the squidly attractions of the Route 1 coastal highway, so we are alone to choose our own speed. This being Marin, we choose mellow.
    Why is there a Coast Guard Station 10 miles inland? Why does the gate warning sign on the Two Rock "Military Reservation" warn of authorized force?
    Past Two Rocks, imaginatively named Dos Piedras for the two barren spires sticking out of a hill (were the conquistadors astute or what?), we take Valley Ford Road. My contrary sense contrives the scene of opening a Chevrolet dealership in Valley Ford. Imagine the difficulties in advertising the business. Now it seems the narrower the roads get, the longer are their names. The thin blue line toward Occidental is the Freestone-Valley Ford-Bohemian Highway. Turned sideways, the road sign would be wider than the road. But this shortcut takes us through a nature preserve (as if the last 50 miles weren't natural?) along Ebabias Creek to our last right turn on the Bodega Highway (shorter name ... wider road). "Bodega" is a name I can live with ... it means 'wine cellar', and indeed there are many good wineries here, for now we are in Sonoma County.

    Entering Sebastopol. A Nuclear Free Zone. Such a proclamation is reassuring but I wonder how the nukes know to stay out when smoke doesn't know to stay out of the side of a room marked 'no smoking section'. No nukes, and not one but two sister city designations ... Sepastapol must be where Berkeley radicals (is that redundant?) retire to get away from it all and then take it with them. But a friend lives here - the Pie Lady who plays Pie-ed Piper to the crowds that follow her to the edge of town to buy her pies from the Village Bakery. Happy BD, M.J.
    Sepastapol is famous in its own realm. Like Vidalia means onion, and Claxton means fruitcake, and Gilroy means garlic - Sebastapol means Gravenstein. In fact, although the State thinks the road south out of town is CA116, it is actually known and named as the Gravenstein Highway. And even today, in December, some trees are still heavy with ripe bright red orbs as though they were decorated for holidays. Riding through here in the fall, the aroma is like breathing applesauce.
    Today, though, the sun is diving toward the hills for an early rest and we take the direct route home. US101 goes quickly back to the bayside coast following the northern extension of the Spanish Royal Road built by the friars to connect the missions, El Camino Real. 101 may go through Marin, but this traffic is anything but mellow. There is a nice view of San Quentin; hardly anyone notices. SUVs jockey for every available inch on the road ... and some inches that aren't available. We decide to stay between 65 and 70 in this area posted for 55 - and let all the traffic pass us. It does.

    Soon we are back at the bridge (the Golden Gate, if you must), and are lucky enough to catch the sunlight at just the right fleeting moment when the bridge is actually golden in the sunset. Crossing the span into the city we are treated to uncountable colors on both sides. Now to the right is a trademark California sunset, an impossibly huge orange ball sizzling into the ocean as the clouds race through chromatic catalogs of apricots / pinks / cherrys / crimsons / magentas / purples / violets faster than you can categorize them. Look at the sunset - look at the road - look back at the sunset that quickly and the spectrum has shifted an entire range. Look left to the city now shimmering to collect and reflect the colors screaming across the horizon. ... Almost too much to comprehend, but like the changing air temperatures earlier in the day, riding a motorcycle lets you feel the colors in addition to seeing them.

    Pay your $3 toll ... none of the bridges charge to leave San Francisco, the toll is collected coming in. It's always worth it. And so we are back in The City. Ten minutes from the Golden Gate to driveway. Less than 200 miles for the day, but done in 4 very rewarding hours on the road. Dusk is upon us. The bikes snuggle into the garage, content in their duty having delivered just another average ride in California for a day in December.

    I like living here.
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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