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June 2, 2011

The Shortcut to Muir Beach

Critically White Zombies

At lunch, I wander around the building. Sometimes, I cross the street to get lunch at the "Foods Co." grocery store, but there are never any white people in there. As in "none". Not that this matters, mind you. But it is noticeable. Everyone there is short and dark. Black. Hispanic. Oriental. Whatever.

But today, I accidentally stumble across another grocery store I'd never seen before. Some "Rainbow" grocery store and here are all of the white people. I'd assumed there were none in this neighborhood, but I was just in the wrong store, apparently.

This stranger comes up to me as I'm standing outside of this Rainbow grocery store...this total stranger approaches me and strikes up a conversation with me....it goes like this:

"Do you...do you understand how Jesus walked on water?" he asks.

I just stare at him. Like "do I know you?"

But he can't be put off. He dives in deep. "I mean, I understand about hydraulics and atomic pressure and the...um...the weight ratios and relative densities of the molecules...but ...back then...I mean...before they had this understanding of atoms and molecules...before that...back then...when he was walking on water...I mean...I understand how boats float but this is like...different...because some people say the water was almost frozen and it's like he was...um...surfing on his feet...like...you know how a hovercraft floats across the waves...but they didn't have hovercraft then....so like..."

And this guy just goes on and on. I mean...I'm standing here wishing that I was recording this because he's the craziest person I've ever talked to. He's as crazy as they come.

I want to sit down, light a cigar, and just start recording this guy. It's hilarious.

He's clearly strung out on something. Probably meth or ice or crack. Who can tell. But I don't want to challenge him. I just want him to keep talking. You could make a youtube video that would have a trillion hits by dawn if you could just record this guy's insane babbling.

I listen to him for several minutes, but eventually I grow tired of his drug-crazed lunacy and walk into the white-people grocery store and it only gets weirder. They sell all of this organic crap in there. Just the biggest bunch of phonies you've ever seen. Critically white people....all of the craziest, most uber-liberal white people you can imagine are milling around in that place and I'm walking through this tangerine dream and it feels like a bad acid trip. I'm having flashbacks. A very surreal experience, and finally when I can stand it no more I leave without even considering buying anything.

The Shortcut to Muir Beach

First of all, it should be mentioned that, if you're driving to Muir Beach, there is no "shortcut". Or, more accurately, no shortcut exists that it's legal to drive a motorized vehicle down. So let's begin with that.

But I've seen paths on Google Earth that appear to connect Point Bonita Lighthouse with Muir Beach. And I'm sort of trying to ferret out the connection. Trying to punch through from the Nike Missile Site to Muir Beach, on-road, off-road, whatever it takes.

So today, I try to punch through by heading up a promising trailhead (the "Coastal Trail") above the "Townsley" WWII battery above Fort Cronkhite.

When I get to the trailhead, however, I notice a hiker studying me very closely. He's watching me like a hawk and I think about what my options are. I could turn around and leave the way I came in easily enough. But I'm here for a reason and I don't really care what he does. What can he do? Call the Rangers down on me? If I can punch through, I'll be in Muir Beach in a few minutes and then they'll never see me again. I decide to go for it and start rolling up the steep trail toward Wolf Ridge.

After a few switchbacks, it turns into an impassable staircase of stones and handrails, so I turn around. I'm not suicidal after all.

The man is watching me closely. Studying my progress. As I descend, I decide to ride by him, so I just roll up to him and kill the bike.

"Nice day, huh?" I offer.

Like, this guy has been watching me like a hawk for eleven minutes and I'm reasonably sure he's furious, but I'm not letting on that anything's amiss.

"If they catch you up here they're gonna skin you alive," he replies.

"For what?" I ask stupidly.

"You can't be riding this thing up here. We used to ride dirt bikes up here all the time when we were kids. But not any more. No sir. They'll skin you alive."

"You used to ride a dirt bike up here?" I clarify.

"Oh sure. We had a ball up there. But not any more. The tree-huggers got this stuff all locked down tighter than a frog's ass."

"No sir. Don't let they rangers catch you," he continues. "Lord God they would crucify you here. You have no idea."

I was glad to not have him cursing at me and hating me. I felt bad enough that I couldn't make it up the trail any further than I did.

He seemed to understand what I was doing. Exploring, tentatively, in a sort of quasi-legal way. In my mind anyway. I see it as harmless exploration. He seemed to be willing to let the whole thing slide. No harsh words this time. A welcome relief.

Author's Note: Some may well and justifiably question my driving through the Golden Gate National Recreational Areas and Muir Beach. After all, Muir Beach and Muir Woods were named after the legendary John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, revered as the father of the environmentalist movement. (I'm not clear that John Muir ever visited the beach and woods named, but we'll leave that for now.) Muir's biographer, Steven J. Holmes, states that Muir has become "one of the patron saints of twentieth-century American environmental activity..." That may be true, but keep in mind, there were no motorcycles when John Muir was living in the Yosemite valley. My thought is that, if someone had ever put him on the seat of an XR650L and started him down a trail, that he'd have been the "patron saint of the National Dirt-bike Trail System." It's just that motorcycles weren't around at the time.

My problem lies not with the goal of protecting the GGNRA, in particular, and the planet, in general. My problem lies with where they draw the line. My motorcycle doesn't do any more damage to the trails than a horse or a mountain bike. Everyone wants to keep out the motorcycles. The hikers want the bicyclists out. Well I say then, keep the hikers out. You should see the damage the hikers do.

I am careful not to damage the trails I ride on. I don't litter. I take only photos and leave only tiretracks.

I bid him farewell and head back out the way I came in. Watching all the time for a missed trailhead. I seem to recall seeing more than one on Google Maps.

Sure enough, I see a well marked road/trail on my left on the way out and turn down it. It dead-ends into a well-maintained horse/bike/hiking trail named Rodeo trail. No motorized vehicles allowed, of course. So I start down this new trail and it's much more promising. Wide and groomed dirt path with signs a truck has been down it recently. I'm rolling slowly up into the headlands on this wide groomed road. I pass a bicyclist and a hiker. I'm always afraid that one of them will snap and just tackle me as I pass. But they never do. I just wave as I pass and they seldom wave back, but this is what I do.

The trail climbs and forks and the trails are marked fairly well, but I'm not clear where they lead. I end up on this mountain pass with clear views of Marin City, Sausalito, Tiburon, and points beyond. The trails are well marked, but I can only guess at where they might end up. I switch onto another trail (Alta Trail) that appears to lead north and slightly downhill.

I pass a few hikers, a woman with her dog off leash, and another cyclist. No one tackles me though and eventually I emerge from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in a little zillionaire subdivision in the hills above Sausalito.

So, this isn't great, but it is something. There are navigable trails in the GGNRA. Now, it's just a matter of mapping them out better. I roll North on US 101 for one exit and then get off, following signs for Muir Woods, Muir Beach, Mount Tamalpais, Stinson Beach, and CA 1.

Always I like retracing my steps. The left turn at the red light brings back memories from the first time I ever came up here, so long ago. Winding down CA 1 towards the coast. This is what I like about California. What it does to you. The feeling I get from this is just indescribable. The view and the turns and winding down this road to the coast. This is my drug. I am an addict and this is my drug. This motorcycle scrolling down this winding road. This is what I live for. Without this, I don't exist. Or I'm something less than optimal, in any event.

I'm an addict and the motorcycle is my crack pipe. I dunno why this is, but I need the bike and I need these roads and scrolling through these twisting hills is the best feeling in the world to me.

Eventually, I find myself at Muir Beach, and now I start trying to work back the other way. Trying to connect back to the GGNRA from Muir Beach, by heading south, essentially. But I can't get started. Can't find the trail head. I backtrack a few times until finally I stumble across a well defined trailhead again, for horses, bicyclists, and hikers. No motorized vehicles allowed. I'm starting to see a pattern here.

So I start up this trailhead and it indicates that I should be able, in theory, to punch through to the Tennessee Valley, which would be nice. It'd be a big piece of the puzzle, anyway. Gets me one valley closer to my destination, as it were.

So I start out heading south, climbing up this trail, and it's fairly well marked. Signs indicate that I'll be in the Tennessee Valley in something like 2 miles or so. But this trail is a fairly dangerous one, as it turns out. Sure...if you were hiking, it wouldn't be a big deal. But on a dirt bike, it's a pretty difficult trail. It's a "single track", of course. And I don't do a lot of "single track" riding, in California or Colorado or anywhere, for that matter. And it's sort of dicey, shall we say.

Like, lets say that I lost my balance and fell. Well, in places you'd fall and the coast is so steep, that you'd probably end up tumbling down a 60 degree slope into the ocean, or being dashed upon the rocks below. No joke.

So, I'm sort of gingerly picking my way down this "Coastal Trail" and each valley has a footbridge I have to cross and each ridge has switchbacks up and down and the trail gets worse and worse and about a mile down the trail, I find myself in over my head. I make a series of difficult switchbacks, drop down several steep drops where I nearly dump the bike a couple of times, and finally I get to a point where I decide it's too risky to continue going any further. I know now, from checking the map, that I was above "Pirate's Cove" on the "Coastal Trail".

This is not easy for me. To turn back. And now, it's getting dark. I'm not sure than I can make it back up the steep trail I've come down. This is going to suck. I may need a helicopter to get this bike out of here. Sun setting. Temperature dropping. Who knew this trail would be so difficult. They should put up a sign that says "not safe for motorcycles" instead of "no motorbikes allowed". It's a completely different message.

To give you an idea of how technical the trail is, I've passed no one. Not one person. No hikers. No bicyclists. No horseback rider people.

And now, I've got to somehow get back out of here, or I'm royally screwed. Royally screwed.

I stow all of my cameras in my backpack, as there's a good chance I'll go down trying to get out of this nightmare. I get the bike turned around, with some difficulty. And now I start rolling back uphill.

The shocks on the bike a slamming into the top of the forks, cuz there's too much air in them. On the highway, I'd never noticed this, but now they're slamming into the tops of the triple clamps but I'm not going to adjust them now. Not here.

I have to stop a few times, and each switchback uphill is a nightmare of adrenaline. Climbing uphill is an art...a delicate balance of momentum and acceleration. Every time I open the throttle too much, the front end comes off the ground but not enough throttle and you fall over or roll backwards or fall off the face of the cliff.

So I'm hanging on for dear life, leaning and praying, and spinning up the slopes on one wheel and somehow...by the grace of God, I get past the worst of it and I realize that, in all probability, I'm going to live.

And I think about that crack-addict explaining how Jesus walked on water and probably that's how I sound trying to say how I scaled the cliffs above Pirate's Cove on a dirt bike. The truth is I'm not sure how Jesus walked on water and I'm not sure how I made it back from those cliffs above Pirate's Cove. Probably 'divine intervention' is the best explanation we'll ever know.

But I did make escape that trap somehow and I did it without laying down my bike and I'm through off-roading for the day and so happy to be alive.

Ae the sun drops down into the Bolinas Lagoon, I think about a path I passed on the way out and wonder if it wouldn't have dropped me down into the verdant Tennessee valley.

I don't know why, but this is my drug. This is what works for me. I'm not better than the junkie in the Mission babbling about how Jesus walked on water. I may function on a higher level than he does, but we're not that different he and I.

I am an outlaw. A rebel without a clue. No one with any sense would be riding an "Enduro" through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. But this is my cross to bear. I didn't choose this life. It was forced upon me. I'm just playing the hand I was dealt.

The Road Ahead

The sun is setting in the North and I still have a little light left so I make a run at the Bolinas Lagoon. I point myself north on CA 1 and drive into the sunset, past Stinson Beach and up toward the Bolinas Lagoon.

This section of California State Highway 1 is designated the "Shoreline Highway". Different sections of CA-1 are designated different names, including the "Pacific Coast Highway", "Cabrillo Highway", "Shoreline Highway", or the "Coast Highway".

There is a trick to driving the Shoreline Highway, however. This road will eat you alive if you're not careful. This two-lane black-top twisting river of madness is as beautiful and breathtaking as it is dangerous. You have to settle down and take each turn one turn at a time. I'm sure there are countless wrecks out here. I've seen bikes go down myself on this road.

The trick is to take each turn as it comes to you. This is not easy when you're looking down the road at 14 hairpins in a road. You can lose your mind if you don't get a grip on yourself. One turn at a time Brake into the turn. Throttle out. This road is a beauty, but parts of it are very difficult. Lots of sections are washed out and the road crews just put up stop signs to control the flow.

Somewhere north of Stinson beach, it's too dark to continue and I turn and retrace my steps down CA-1.

Each outing is an improvement over my last outing as I tinker with the bike and my gear. I'm not cold when I ride any more, thanks to my new riding gear. The bike doesn't run out of gas, due to the new 4.7 gallon "desert" tank. The headlight points closer to the right location than it ever has, though still a little too high.

I'll need to replace the chain, sprockets, and tires before I leave for Alaska. May also need to install some saddlebags. I've been watching the other bikes to see what they have. But each ride is a little better than the last and I think I'll be in good shape by the time I have to leave.

Above: The Gerbode Valley.

Above: Marin City, Sausalito, Richardson Bay, the Tiburon Peninsula, and in the far background, the Napa Valley.

Above: Entrance to Muir Woods.

Above: The "Coastal Trail" above Muir Beach, looking south toward the Golden Gate.

Above: Muir Beach at sunset.

Above: The Coastal Trail above Muir Beach with Mount Tamalpais in the background.

Above: Pirate's cove.

Above: Looking north, into the setting sun between Muir Beach and Stinson Beach from the stretch of CA-1 designated "Shoreline Highway".

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 2, 2011 at 11:50 PM


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