Rolling recreation

Pub date May 17, 2011

SUMMER GUIDE “We definitely try to de-emphasize Iron Man trips,” says Justin Eichenlaub, author of Post-Car Adventuring, the eminently usable guide to low carbon camping, hiking, and cruising trips around the Bay Area, Although Eichenlaub and coauthor Kelly Gregory want to include all fitness levels in the fun, make no mistake — they’re hardcore.

The two met through a Craigslist posting for a multi-day group bike trip to Monterey and now publish guidebooks and a blog under the name Post-Car Press. They’re virtual encyclopedias of info: locations of wide highway berms, how to avoid Devil’s Slide on Highway 101 (incidentally, by a route bikers have dubbed Planet of the Apes Road), and the absolute best for-bikers-by-bikers maps money can buy (Krebs cycle maps, available at

But they’re adamant that it doesn’t take quads of steel to master the roads — even ones to far-flung campsites — sans car with the help of trains, county buses, and the occasional ferry. Indeed, even if you’re not the biking type, auto-less camping is still within your grasp. Shoulder your backpack and head out to Marin’s Samuel P. Taylor State Park via the Golden Gate Transit express bus to San Rafael, then the Marin Stagecoach No. 68. The stagecoach drops you a quarter-mile from campsites tucked into a redwood grove — where walk and bike-in camping doesn’t require reservation and costs only $3 per person per night.

A few tips for the road, courtesy of Eichenlaub. “Have a bike that you’re comfy on — it doesn’t have to be a road bike, or even have a rack, because you can stow your gear in a backpack. Realize you’re allowed to go really slow and the bike will always feel lighter than you expect.” Always familiarize yourself with your route before you leave, and — duh — bring a flat tire kit, pump, and bike lights. “Even if you’re planning a day ride, it can sometimes turn into a dusk ride.”

Here’s a partial guide to three of the pair’s fave summer adventures. Make sure to look up detailed directions before you roll out to recreate. Transit time and bike mileage numbers are for round trips.



Public transit time: eight hours

Total bike mileage: 68 miles

“This is really a slice of California that Bay Area people don’t go to,” says Eichenlaub of Fresno County’s desert lands, which house a natural spa center that’s been around since 1912. Take BART to the MacArthur Station and bike about 1.2 miles to the Emeryville Amtrak Station. Load your steed onto a train bound for Merced — trains in California never charge fees for stowing bikes — then hop the Route 10 Merced County Transit bus (schedules at to Dos Palos. Get off near the Reynolds and Christian streets intersection and begin the 33-mile ride through dry, wildflower-studded lands.

“There are few, if any, trees — only sweeping sandy plains dotted with desert brush,” according to Gregory. After an especially beautiful 12 miles on Little Panoche Road, two lanes of thoroughfare where cars rarely pass — you’ll reach Mercey Hot Springs, where you’ll find cabins (starting at $120/night) and campsites ($30 per person/night) for your well-deserved slumber.

“It feels as though you are far, far away from the city,” Gregory says. The center hosts regular yoga seminars and has a disc golf course that guests can use for free. But if you’re trying to make this a quick jaunt, day use of the pool, sauna, and baths costs only $20.

Side trip: Eichenlaub swears on the Panoche Inn, a “cowboy saloon” 10 miles down the road from Mercey. Hey, what’s better on a detox trip than getting wasted with the cowpokes? Of course, the place does have a website (, so it can’t be too back roads.



Public transit time: 77 minutes

Total bike mileage: 27 miles

Take BART to the West Dublin-Pleasanton Station and then break out your bike for the ride down beautiful, shaded back roads to Sunol, a tiny town whose most famous inhabitant is probably Bosco, a golden retriever who was elected honorary mayor from 1981 until his death in 1994 (and was featured in a Chinese newspaper as an example of Western democracy’s failings).

From there, it’s a gentle hill climb up to a pair of vineyards: Westover and Chouinard. Just, ahem, don’t be expecting a Napa scene. “The first time we went out there, one of the vintners was blowing his own leaves, wearing a muscle shirt,” says Eichenlaub. Vino, sans pretension? Well worth the trip.

Drink your fill from the pleasant tasting rooms and — here’s the beauty of this ride — roll tipsily down the sloping route to the Castro Valley Station, and home.

Side trip: If you’re in the mood to make this an overnight adventure, Eichenlaub recommends taking on the extra 30 miles to the enormous Lake Del Valle, where there’s kickass family campsites tucked into a bend in the shoreline, kayak rentals, and lots of sun.



Transit time: two hours Total bike journey: 50 miles

Snuggled into the Santa Cruz Mountains is an A-frame cabin with a kitchen, wood stove, and a tranquil view of the ocean you just can’t find within city limits. It’s operated by the Sierra Club, but non-club members (up to 14 at a time) can crash within its logs at prices starting at $20 per night. Be sure you make a reservation before you go at

To become a woodland creature, take Caltrain to the Menlo Park Station and begin riding out Sand Hill Road, toward the mountains. After about seven miles, turn onto beautiful Old La Honda Road (“car-lite and redwood-lined,” says Eichenlaub) a three-mile climb to the ridge line. After summiting the hill, he recommends a pit stop at Apple Jack’s in La Honda, where Ken Kesey used to kick it — “a very quirky, very local, and surprisingly friendly bar.”

From there, continue west on Highway 84 until you get to Pescadero Road and then the entrance of Sam MacDonald County Park. After a few loops and a little climbing, make a left onto the Old Towne fire road (across from a park station parking lot) and navigate 1.2 miles of beautiful trail out to the hiker’s hut and outdoor playtime galore. Return the same way after your stay or use your Krebs map to explore West Alpine Road for fresh scenery on the loop back. 

For more info on Post-Car Adventuring and carfree trips to Big Sur, Tassajara Hot Springs, flat routes in Marin County, and even Yosemite, go to