Saturday, May 1, 2010

Golden Gate Fields to Point Richmond

Today we are biking the Bay Trail from Golden Gate Fields in Albany to Point Richmond and back. It's a very flat 20 miles round-trip on mostly bike paths. The ride is suitable for adventuresome kids. You can stay on bike paths for a 10-12 mile out and back option, but this full route requires awareness and safety skills to ride on the road for limited stretches. My elementary school age son did it on his 6 speed bike with 20 inch wheels in about 4 hours, with many stops for pictures and snacks. There's frequent bathrooms along the way and little interaction with cars. Kids must be able to handle their bike among lots of other trail users as the trail is popular.

Map of this route

We start our narration at the bike and foot bridge over the railway tracks, near the west end of Buchanan Avenue at Pierce Street. This is the safest freeway crossing for miles. On the decline do a 270 degree loop to the right, then a sharp 180 left onto the bike path that goes under the freeway. This looping avoids crossing the 580/80 on-ramp, which has a crosswalk but it's a sketchy crossing thanks to cars speeding through the right-on-red from Buchanan.

After the underpass cross the westbound 580 Albany off-ramp at the light. Get on the sidewalk and turn right, the pavement becomes the Bay Trail bike/foot path within a few yards.

Follow the bike path along the shoreline for a little over a mile. It's safe but noisy with the freeway on your right. On your left the shoreline and the view of the Golden Gate is quite nice. You can see a variety of local and migratory birds on the mud flats.

We fork left just before the crosswalk at Central Avenue, going up a little bump. As usual we have a headwind as we pedal with Costco on our right. A substantial black chain link fence separates the path from the road. I like this little detour around the point both for the upcoming views and because the crossing at Central is not kid-friendly.

We reach the westernmost part of the path and I stop for a picture of the Golden Gate bridge and the city even though they are hazy today. Lincoln asks for a shot where "he's all blurry, like he's going fast", so I give that a try.

The trail follows the waterfront then takes a right back towards the hills and crosses Central Ave right by the dog park at the end of the road. The Sit And Stay snack bar has a nice outdoor patio. This is a good place to start a ride with kids too young to ride across town to get to the trail. There's ample parking and bathrooms, and the snack bar with the view of dozens of doggies playing in the dog park is a fun coda to a ride.

We go right of the parking area and wind left along the chain link fence by the US Mail depot. Lincoln races a postal employee on a tricycle on the other side of the fence. I can't recall when I last saw a postal worker pedaling so I get a picture through the fence

The trike had number 63 stenciled on the back. They have that many tricycles?

On the next leg along the fence the wind is at our backs. We pass a small parking lot and some bathrooms on our left at another entrance to the dog park at the end of Rydin Road. We turn left at the tee with the paved bike path, heading over a small bridge.

A plateau on our left ends after about 1/4 or 1/2 mile, and for the next mile we are on a causeway with the bay on the left and marshland to the right. In the picture you can see a breakwater stretching out into the bay. I wonder who built that, and why? There's quite a few old structures along our shoreline.

A trail intersecting from the right comes from an access on S. 51st Street/Channel Ave, off Bayview in Richmond. As we pedal further along Brooks Island eventually blocks our view of the Golden Gate and Marin headlands. I've read you can do a walking tour of the island, it's home to lots of birds.

After crossing a couple more bridges we take the right fork at the condos. We wind around the back side of the condo developments, and take the left fork just past the blue tennis courts to cross Marina Bay Parkway westwards into the park. We jog right on the narrow sidewalk for 20 yards then turn left onto the path into Rosie the Riveter park. I get a shot of Linc making the left from the sidewalk into the park.

I get another picture as he cycles between the 2 main elements of the metal sculpture commemorating the wartime contributions made by women in the workforce. Richmond and the surrounding region experienced explosive growth during world war II as the US pushed massive industrial development to power the war effort. Treasure Island, out in the bay where the 2 spans of the Bay Bridge meet, was the primary embarcation point for troops heading to the Pacific theater.

We rejoin the main Bay Trail on the shoreline, turning right and following the meandering shoreline past Amini's deli and market. We've stopped here before for an ice cream on the sheltered outdoor patio, but today we continue over some timbered sections, across the boat launch, and around the point. Sailboats motor along in the channel right next to the shore.

I'm excited we can now ride the Bay Trail right past the Boiler House restaurant on the waterfront side of the gigantic Ford building. It's nice to see the gaps in the trail being filled, this had been fenced off for years. I think some cafe tables and umbrellas out front the restaurant would really increase the appeal to cyclists and hikers.

Built in 1930 the Ford Assembly Facility was one of the largest factories in the West, with about half a million square feet under one roof. It's one of the biggest continual roofs I've ever seen, the scale is staggering. This factory was kept busy in WWII fitting the latest updates to jeeps, tanks, and other military vehicles heading aboard a ship and ultimately out to the front lines. The old rail lines terminate right on the wharf on the south end of the building.

The building was renovated by the city, and the extensive glass frontage and sky-lighting with sweeping bay views make it look like it could be a nice place to work today. I read recently that the Rosie the Riveter museum is moving into the building soon.

We head up the nice smooth pavement on Harbor Way with a tailwind. As you approach the freeway again you may be tempted to take a left on Wright. It looks inviting and does connect to Cutting Boulevard.

But a warning sign, which I saw maybe the 3rd time I went down the road, is appropriate.

There's a ton of railroad tracks merging and curving along and across the road here, best to avoid this section in the dark. We ride it on Sunday mornings as a nice alternative to Hoffman, but not at other times. Today we stay on Harbor Way and cross over to the sidewalk on the west side at Wright, I don't want Linc out in the road at the turn lane onto Hoffman. After crossing with the light at Hoffman we go left on the sidewalk, following the bike route.

I've never seen anyone walking this stretch, and we're the first cyclists I've seen on the sidewalk. A sign on the tracks across the road gives this area the evocative name of Siberia Junction. It does feel like the sticks of Siberia, if Siberia has smoke-belching cranes rolling on squeaky treads while working towering piles of rusty shredded metal. No forests of pine here.

At the end of Hoffman the route goes left onto Cutting. This stretch feels very exposed. The road is wide but the shoulder is filled with junk and gravel and rough pavement. We usually stick to the right and get onto the sidewalk just after crossing the tracks, next to the logging company. Sometimes on mountain bikes we'll cut through the parking lot behind Burger King from Hoffman, then ride the grass and the stones next to the tracks to avoid crossing Cutting at all.

After a block or two along Cutting we cross to the sidewalk on the south side, there's less intersections to deal with and it gives us space from the funky smells at the gas distribution facility up Cutting. But you get some funk at the aggregate yard and the wax distribution facility, along with the aroma of varnish from the boatyards, so it's a bit of a tradeoff.

After we cross Canal on the light here's a view of the sidewalk zigzagging for us as we cross railroad tracks again.

We continue to salmon west on the sidewalk until we reach Wine Street, where we turn left and start around the elementary school. The bike path continues straight along Cutting before turning left on the sidewalk along Dornan Drive, but I prefer these residential streets.

After a left onto Dornan Drive Linc rides the sidewalk on the west side next to The Plunge, an old public swimming pool in a neoclassical or Beaux Arts style building. It looks like it will be really nice after the ongoing renovation. We head into the tunnel to Ferry Point. Taking the road through the tunnel is not advised, it's pretty darn bumpy and the lanes are narrow. The smooth sidewalk on the right side is a far better option.

After exiting the tunnel the entrance to Keller Beach park is on our right. We ride down for a visit, then grind back up the short steep hill. We pause a moment to catch our breath and read how Ferry Point used to be a very busy commercial landing, before the bridges.

After a bench at a viewpoint on the right our path drops down into the park through some big purple flowers buzzing with bees.

You can ride through the park on either side of the lake. After looping around the inland side we head to the shoreline at the end of the treeline, and bear right onto a gravel/dirt path along the water's edge.

We approach a large iron superstructure with giant pulley wheels spanning a heavy timbered pier carrying railroad tracks. This is Ferry Point.

We watch a game warden flip the lids on a couple of coolers belonging to fishermen passing the day on the fishing pier. One of them angles amongst the timbers, trying to lure little shiner bait-fish.

Our outbound trip wraps round to the end of Sandpiper Spit where we run into a couple of other cyclists who are amused by our matching Albany High School racing team jerseys. Linc's older brother Connor started a high school club team with some friends a few years ago. Today the team races in the Norcal High School mountain bike league, and it is a joy to see them out on training rides.

Now after 5 years I'm still charged up when I go to Norcal races, it's such a supportive environment for kids to learn about challenging themselves on a bike. The league is going national through NICA, with chapters in Southern California, Colorado, and elsewhere, and I want to help bring bike racing to every high school in the US. I write the scoring software for the league, something that grew out of frustration at our first race when their scoring program melted down and nobody knew results. I wanted to see where my mid-pack son had placed, darn it. Now at the races we broadcast interim results on a local wifi network in real-time, and fans and coaches can follow the race on cell phones or laptops even if we're in the forest miles from any connection. But let's get back to today's ride for now, we'll blog some pictures from the State Championships in Nevada City on May 16th in a couple of weeks.

On the way back out of Point Richmond harbor I stop to grab a shot of some cobblestones. After watching some of Paris-Roubaix this spring I was out on my morning ride and jammed over these little rumble strip of pave to try and get a feel for what the pros were going through (while sending positive thoughts for big George). Even though it's only like 12 feet of cobbles, after two passes I was through with being shaken to pieces.

Just after the tunnel we cycle through the smells from a burger joint situated on a little triangle at the corner of Dornan and East Richmond Avenue. Boy that smells good, and the outdoor seating is inviting, but I forgot my money today so we plan to come back another time.

After retracing our route along Cutting and Hoffman we turn right on Harbor Way South. Since we are on our way home we take a shortcut through an office park on the left, just after Wright. The entrance is pictured below, marked by big red gas pipes.

It's pretty much a ghost town as we cycle through. Wonder who thought it made sense to invest in all this new commercial space out here in the boonies? We cross South Marina Way and take Regatta to a right turn at Northshore, then a left on Schooner and we rejoin the Bay Trail using a curb cut just past Amini's store.

The rest of the return trip we stick to the bay trail. Just after the sailing school we pass a cluster of fisherman on some stone steps casting big foam floats into the channel on the incoming tide. I sometimes see people fishing the incoming tide here, always in a group and using tall floats, so my guess is there's smelt in the water. I had an off the hook experience on the Berkeley Pier a few years back that turned me into a fan of smelt too. They fight like trout on steroids, and I hear they taste good but I have not eaten any fish taken from Berkeley pier so I can't say first hand.

At Vincent Park we use the fairly clean restrooms, then pause to watch a guy land a leopard shark about 30 inches long. He doesn't look very thrilled about pulling the hook out as it flops on the beach. A bit further along we see a pair of fins slipping into the water and watch a seal surface a few times.

After the causeway we take the straight route along Rydin Road rather than detouring out to the point again. The crossing at Central Avenue feels safer in this direction as you are more visible to the traffic coming off the freeway and down Central.

Linc is tired but beaming as we approach home. He is very proud and can't wait to tell his mom and sisters all about it. He wants to go further next time but I plan to keep our distances manageable. Hopefully we have many years of exploring on a bike to look forward to and we'll cover everything sooner or later, there's no rush.

Getting There:

FROM EL CERRITO PLAZA BART: catch the bike path on the east (hill) side of the station and head south. Continue for about 3/4 mile, then go right on Washington. After about 6 blocks go left on Kains, then right on Solano. Cross San Pablo to the stop sign, left on Jackson, right on Buchanan. Lots of people use the sidewalk here, but the shoulder is wide enough and pavement just a little bumpy. Head towards the water about 6 half-blocks and catch the bike bridge entrance on your left after bearing right and downhill just past the intersection with Pierce.

FROM NORTH BERKELEY BART: catch Virginia bike boulevard westbound (away from the hills) on the north side of the station. Cross San Pablo and go through the parking lot, then left on 4th street at Peets coffee. Straight 2 blocks then right on Addison. At the end of Addison veer right to the bike bridge over the freeway, bear left at the end of the bridge and head north past Seabreeze market and deli.
Cross University, continue straight north on bike path. Left on Gilman, watching out for aggressive drivers, then bear right at waterfront and ride up over the little hill and through the Golden Gate Fields parking lot. The bike path on the right is segregated from traffic but not so smooth on the flats. Do get into the bike lane for the climb up into the parking lot. Cross the parking lot staying close to the water on your left and drop down to Albany Beach. Either go straight and catch the bike path by the turnaround at the foot of Buchanan (turning towards the hills), or cut right through the line of bollards and take a diagonal across the parking lot to Buchanan Street. Catch the bike path on the northwest corner of the intersection of Buchanan and the freeway off- and on-ramps, at the light just before the underpass.

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