This winter seemed to go on forever. We’ve had a lot of rain which I am thankful for, but this Californian definitely loves the sun. This year Easter came late, April 21 to be exact. With generally mild temperatures and no rain in the forecast, the annual trek to Mount Tamalpais (Mount Tam for short) was on!
This is one of my favorite rides of the year. There something about getting up in the middle of the night and crossing the Bay Area in the darkest part of the night that is truly an exhilarating experience. So much of our existence here is congested. At 3am in the morning on Easter Sunday all of the world is yours.
The sky was clear. The moon was bright. And the thermometer registered in at 48°. I’d likely be using my heated gear for the last time this season. I’ve been reaching out more to build motorcycling community out in the East Bay and was able to connect with someone who was a fellow adventure rider as well. We met up at a nearby gas station just after four. As I was pulling into the gas station I slammed on the brakes as there was a thin wire around the entire gas station. Thankfully the lights were on to highlight the thin wire otherwise there would have been a very different outcome. I knew I needed to get gas, but I didn’t pay particular attention to how badly I needed gas.
About 10 miles into the journey it was clear I was going to need gas before meeting everyone at the staging area. The problem was it was 4 AM on Easter Sunday. Gas stations weren’t exactly open. After crossing the Richmond-San Rafael bridge we stopped to look at Google Maps to see what might be open. Chevron stations tend to stay open longer than other brands in my experience. Clicking the first couple of stations yielded no results. We headed back towards the freeway and saw an unlisted Chevron station that was open!
We got to the staging area right at 5 AM. Bikes were filling in. I learned this year that this ride started in the mid-70s as a celebration of debaucherous events the night before. The event is decidedly nonreligious and rooted deeply in vintage motorcycling. Nobody owns the ride. Nobody publishes the ride’s existence. People just assemble and the park gate magically opens.
I was able to convince a couple of Homoto’s to come along with the promise of coffee. On these early morning rides, I carry a thermos of hot water with a couple of teabags and Starbucks instant coffee. It’s not the best coffee but when nothing else is open those tell me it will suffice.
We departed for the mountain at 5:30 sharp. Since Easter came late this year, the sun came up 35 minutes earlier than last year. That was going to make getting to the top of the mountain by sunrise harder. I forgot to clean my face shield so navigating the dark, windy road was just about impossible with the face shield down. Face shield up and cold mountain air down my jacket was the order of the morning.
We got to the summit with some creative riding to put it succinctly. My kickstand was down by 6:15am. After a few minutes walking around the parking lot it was clear to see the sun I was going to have to walk to the fire lookout. With a spring in my step, I got to the top but missed the sunrise. The view was outstanding in the fog hiding the bay and the bottom of Mount Diablo made this year unique.
I took a bit more focus looking around at all the different bikes in the parking lot this year. Vintage bikes, adventure bikes, cruisers, sport bikes, touring bikes, and even a sidecar could be seen throughout the parking lot. I’m guessing there were about 200 of us that showed up.
After leaving the park, it’s always a tradition to ride Conzulman road to the top of Hawk Hill to see the Golden Gate Bridge and down the Coast Road the other side. Crossing over the pass you can look out and see water all across the horizon. It’s one of my favorite local overlooks.
I reconnected with an old connection for coffee out in the East Bay. We talked through a number of shared experiences and got back on the same page again. A reconciliation of sorts. Given that it was Easter Sunday I’m thankful for that cup of coffee. Reconnection and reconciliation seem appropriate for today.
As I was heading back to the motorcycle I was approached by a homeless man. He asked for money. I didn’t have any. He asked for me to buy him food and was getting a touch aggressive. As my guard was going up, something kicked in and just said to be present in the moment. I smiled and said all I can get is Starbucks for lunch as I just had a Starbucks card. With a quizzical look, he replied, “I can go with that.” As he ordered a few sandwiches that same nudge to be present nudged me again. I really didn’t have anything super pressing for the afternoon. Dan, just be present. Give your time. So, we had lunch.
I learned all sorts of things about James. He was in the Navy for eight years. He was a motorcycle rider like me as well. He had traveled to many places around the world in his military service. He spent time in prison. He hitchhiked from Kansas to California on 18 wheelers. He knew all the ways to navigate BART off the grid. He seemed like a good guy finding his way in the world just like the rest of us. After lunch, I asked him how he got his boots with an amazing shine. Riding in the dry wind has taken its toll on my boots. He smiled and taught me the art of the perfect boot shine. It was a mixture of using the right polish, brush, towel, and touch to nurture the leather back to health.
James was on his way back to San Francisco and I was headed east. There was something raw and human about that encounter I didn’t expect to find today. My world was broadened for sure. Hopefully, he took something away from me as well. I don’t think I’ll run across James again but I know I’m a better man for having crossed his path.