Trail: I’M SKY HIGH! — Marin Headlands


One of the most recognizable landmarks of San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge, especially the perspective from the Marin Headlands. The Marin Headlands themselves are beautiful sea cliffs with sweeping views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. The initial climb is a challenge and great training while the descent is extremely steep with sharp turns. It has the perfect mix of beauty and challenge. All of this excitement is accessible with a short ride just across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Three time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador riding the Marin Headlands                 PHOTO courtesy of Velodramatic.com and IamSpecialized.com

Try this ride out as a trainer for climbing or just as an introduction to cycling in the Bay Area like Alberto Contador did on October 4, 2011 with some friends from Mike’s Bikes.

This route is fully open again.  For more information regarding the recent improvements see Marin Headlands Closure Information for more details.

Distance: from San Francisco Ferry Building 15.18 miles

–Trail Starts at mile 7.7 of The Golden Gateway

–Trail Ends at mile 8.13 of The Golden Gateway — East Side Wee Fast Fun Route
Difficulty: The climbing is long and steep, but the initial descent is even steeper!

Climbing on Route: 925 feet (282 meters)

Descent on Route: 896 feet (273 meters)

Download your route sheet here: Directions – I’m Sky High

FOR A MORE DETAILED LOOK click here for the full Geoped Map provided by g-map-pedometer.com

Elevation Map for the Route provided by MapMyRide.com

This route starts in the parking lot on the northwest side of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is at the end of the bike side of the Bridge.

The beginning of this path just under 8 miles from the start of the Golden Gateway. The climbing starts immediately out of the parking lot.

At the top of the stop sign, make a left and head up the hill.

The first part of this climb is he steepest and the toughest. Just keep going and if you need a break, take it to admire the view at the first rest area.

Us taking in the view at the first rest stop

Though less steep, the climbing continues up to the round about.

If you take the first exit of the round about, you will go down McCullough Road toward Bunker Road and back to Alexander Avenue towards US 101 through the tunnel.

Keep going around the round about, and take the second exit to continue up the Marin Headlands.

Keep climbing to get to the top, you have just under one mile to the top.

Take in the scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco as you are now higher than the bridge’s towers.

The tunnels signal Hawk Hill, the top of the Headlands, where you can take a break and take in the views, wait for or catch up with the rest of your group before turning around, or prepare for the hair-raising descent down the back of the Headlands.

Miko and Jon take in the views from the top of the Marin Headlands

The narrow, one way road is just the beginning of the challenges that face you on the descent down the backside of the Headlands.

The backside of Marin Headlands is not for the faint of heart, cause it’s all downhill from here!

“Hill” is an understatement, but the 18% grade is dead on! You build up speed quickly and two of the first three turns are 90+ degrees! Keep your descending class rules in mind: stay in the drops; just touch your brakes to regulate your speed, don’t hold them; inside knee up to pull your body into the turn; and always keep your eyes up and looking where you want to go because that’s where the bike is going to take you!

After that second right hand turn, the grade reduces but the speed stays high, so make sure to stay on your game.

Though the remaining turns are not as sharp and the grade not as steep, the rest of the way down is still wicked fast!

The descending turns to a short climb as you pass by the lookout point near the Upper Fisherman’s Parking Lot.

The Point Bonita Lighthouse is just up the road past the bunkers.

It is just a short climb before you reach the bunkers and Lower Fisherman’s Parking Lot.

And a couple of more twisties before the main part of your descent is complete.

Turn right at the next intersection to head back to US-101 along Fort Barry Road.  If you want to visit the Point Bonita Lighthouse, keep going straight, the road is two-way traffic again past the intersection.

Then another right at the stop sign.

Follow Fort Barry Road down the hill and around the corner, notice the tidal pool and Sausalito Beach to your left.

You will then pass Simmond’s Road and the Marin Headlands Hostel on your right. Keep following Fort Barry Road as it becomes Field Road here.

Follow Field Road through the next intersection as it merges with Bunker Road toward San Francisco.

You are now on the Marin Headlands return route.  It’s a slight climb back out to Alexander Avenue towards US-101 from here.

At McCullough Road you can climb back up the Headlands and descend the front side towards the Golden Gate Bridge, or you can keep along Field Road towards Alexander Avenue.

A bit farther down the road is the Bunker Road Tunnel.  The tunnel is signal controlled by a stop light.

When the light turns green, head on through.

At the beginning of the tunnel there is a button to signal to the on-coming cars a biker is in the tunnel.

The tunnel is pretty dark, but the main obstacles are the water, mud and slime covering the bike lane.  It’s all downhill, but your tires are never totally planted on the road, so be careful going through here.

Once you exit the tunnel, you are just about to the intersection with Alexander Avenue.

If you haven’t gotten your fill of the climbing or descending yet, you can always head back up Alexander Avenue to the Golden Gate Bridge and the beginning of the Marin Headlands to do it all over again by taking the fork to the right.

Or if you are ready to head on to other adventures, take the fork to the left and rejoin the Golden Gateway Trail for the descent to Sausalito.

The Marin Headlands is a challenging ascent and with an absolutely spectacular and breathtaking descent. This is a great route to work on both your ascending and descending skills when you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, or don’t want to travel too far from the city. Keep hydrated on the way up and your head up on the way down!

Enjoy!

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Our Stories: My Rise and Fall as a Biker


I remember seeing the head of the black Beetle nip into the middle of the street, not at the corner, not while signaling, but while I was passing in the bike lane.  I heard my own shriek, the squeal of the tires, the crunching of the bike against the car and the thud of my own weight hitting the ground. Then for a brief moment: silence.

As I began to hear the worried sounds of inquiry around me, familiar and not, for a brief moment I contemplated whether I should just get right up and stop being a baby. Then the fact that a car had just hit me registered and I felt like I never wanted to get up, like I wanted to pass out into a sound sleep and wake up somewhere better, anywhere but lying face down in the middle of the street hit by a car.

But reality is as impatient as traffic blocked by a human barricade. “Am I OK?” I couldn’t breath. I felt terrified. I truthfully had no idea whether my head, torso or limbs were in tact – everything hurt. I had no idea how I’d fallen or landed just that I had: my eyes were open for part and closed right around the time I knew I wasn’t going to make it staying on my bike – the blood and guts part of the movie. Pass. If I had lost consciousness it would have been an indication of a more serious injury, but without this consequence I wish I had no memory of the crash.

Without the memory I wouldn’t constantly relive the experience asking myself if I could have somehow avoided the car, which I’ve been reassured tenfold by my riding partner, who gave a statement to the police, that there was absolutely nothing I could do. If the crash was inevitable what does this mean about cycling and how will I ever get on a bicycle again?

I admit it’s the first thing I thought of when the EMT’s put the neck brace on me, then strapped me to the board and put me in the ambulance. I felt unsettled as I rattled off an embarrassingly lengthy medical history to the doctors who prodded and pulled at me, while nurses stripped me naked in a room full of people. To preserve the integrity of the neck brace I had to urinate horizontal into a bedpan, like I was wetting the bed. Try unlearning that tradition. The whole time I was unsettled by thoughts not so much of “Why did this happen to me?” but “This happened to me, so is this going to happen to me again?” with fear and a loss of hope.

Biking has brought so much joy to my life. It’s not just good exercise but it has helped me considerably in shedding some difficult to lose pounds that wouldn’t budge with other regular exercise and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the results. After losing my business and finding out my mother had a brain tumor my long rides through Marin and soothing ferry rides home were immensely therapeutic and swelled me with pride compared to my first fumbling attempt in heels only 5 months before. Being outdoors, feeling so connected to nature was so new and enlightening for a city girl. There’s never been a time in my life where I spent so much of my days around tall trees, green grass, unobstructed sky and calm water. To be writing and photographing this blog reignited a talent I thought would die as I left my career as a fashion editor. My fiance and I bonded over the shared time we spent together in this new healthy weekend lifestyle. But was it worth this?

My neck and head hurt like the hangover from a night of a dozen mojitos AND a bottle of champagne. And in what felt like the chokehold from one of Lady Gaga’s concert headpieces I sensed soreness in my neck like the night I was rear-ended by a drunk driver and later found I had whiplash. When Morphine doesn’t make you feel better, you worry. My fiancé stood looking down at me and all I could do was stare back up at him. I wasn’t sure if I had succeeded in getting away unscathed because of the obviously unbroken bones. The lingering question in my heart was whether I was if I was ever going to be safe if I ever climbed on top of another bicycle.  I saw the urgency with which the medical professionals treated me. What were they expecting, I wondered?

Demo riding my dream bike in the same protective gear that saved me from bloody scrapes and scratches.


I wanted to tell him to find a way to cancel my $3000 dream road bike I’d gone to incredible lengths to get my hands on. I was afraid to tell him I never wanted to get on a bicycle in my life ever again. So I didn’t speak. I just looked up at him and let the tears roll down the sides of my face while the thoughts circled the drain inside my mind.

My self and skin (aside from my face) were unscathed as a result of this protective clothing that remained in tact - a North Face jacket, Specialized pants, Fox gloves and a Giro helmet.

Anything that involves spending six hours in an emergency room sucks (unless it’s where you work. Bless your hearts, I saw the other patients screaming there – whoah!) I have insulation from riding gloves, full-length riding pants, a long sleeve coat and a GIRO helmet, I would bet my life on, to thank for suffering no serious injuries other than strain to my neck, head pain and some bruising and scratches to my face (that aren’t too ugly). Whether you are religious or not, believe me that God blesses bikers with helmets on. Those riding without helmets (or as I call them “organ donors”) might as well tape their organ donor cards to their foreheads – dingbats!

 

(The helmet AFTER the head-first landing onto the street – minor scratches! Talk about a lifesaver. However, according to Bicycling Magazine June 2010’s article ‘Post-Crash Checklist’ you should replace your helmet after one hit unless you own a multi-impact helmet. “Even if there’s no visible damage to the shell the foam layer’s ability to protect your noggin from future hits has been compromised.” Although you can check whether your helmet has a replacement policy.

As for my relationship with cars and bikes I would be lying if I told you we’re all good now that I know I’m in the clear . . . this time. This time was my first fall.  Recognizing that the incident was not my fault and I had no way of preventing it means coming to the conclusion that the fall was inevitable and unlikely to be my last. The bike accident in your future is inevitable too. It would seem that throwing the unpredictability of bad drivers, unforeseen obstacles, lousy road work, even other overly aggressive cyclists into the mix, and like riding horses, ride for long enough and as probability will have it you will fall off your bike. The difference between a few minor scratches you might just peddle away from and a Christopher Reeves like fate (Duh (a.) helmet), riding less aggressively with greater care and caution could save you from a grizzlier fate. After all, just how much of a hurry are you really in? In which case six hours at the hospital will certainly slow you down.

Another cyclist approaching the scene of my accident.

I sincerely hope my relationship with my bike, love of biking and ability to ride will not change from this experience. As soon as my bike and I are medically able, I plan to get back on the horse. (I also call my bike Horsey. And Horsey ripped the side-view mirror off the Beetle that hit me because Horsey fights back. Not to worry the owner will paying for her damages, mine and my medical expenses. Let that be a lesson to you drivers.) Only when I ride I will do so with a newfound appreciation that in a face-off between car and bike, car always wins. Cars, like teenage girls, behave erratically, irrationally and more often than not are unremorseful for their actions. Car still wins. So in my newly formed rapport with this beast I will not just look out for oncoming traffic but keep an eye out for those “girls behaving badly” too. I’ll let you know how it feels getting back on the road.