This past weekend, I had the pleasure of returning to NorCal after a long hiatus, courtesy of the TNFLocals. At the beginning of the race season, we were provided a race discount code to publicize and drive sign-ups for The North Face Endurance Challenge series of races. My discount code was the one most used, so I won a trip to a race of my choice – since it had been so many years, I opted for the California race near San Francisco. I also decided to bring along my oldest son, both to expand his horizons and to have some bonding time.
We took off early Friday morning, landing at SFO, grabbing a rental car, and then heading to the Ferry Building for lunch. Traffic wasn’t too bad, which was a surprise, as I had heard it was at least as atrocious or worse as in previous years. We used out SpotHero app to reserve a spot (a great way to save money), parked, and then went for a walk along the Embarcadero. Such a beautiful place to walk and the weather was amazing. We bought small bites at several stalls in the Ferry Market, then strolled down to the Alcatraz Cruises pier for our ferry ride to the former island prison.
Alcatraz Island is really beautiful, with amazing elevation changes (endless hills and stairs). The prison facility is under renovation in various ways, so it’s somewhat difficult o see it in a straightforward fashion – lots of one way dead ends so retracing of steps is necessary. It truly is a cool historical place, though it’s hard to envision people living and working here, let alone sitting in the tiny cells. Definitely worth a visit.
Post cruise, it was time to head to the hotel for some rest and to plan for dinner. If you have the option to head across the Golden Gate Bridge, do so, it is amazingly beautiful, though Friday night traffic across the bridge was pretty horrendous. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Marin City, which gave us access to the entire Marin peninsula – it’s also a really nice facility, down to the loaner bikes which can be used on the very handy bay side bike path outside the back door.
Saturday morning, I finally met up with Annie of Outdoorsy Mama after several years of social media friendship. After grabbing coffees, we headed out for a walking tour of Mill Valley’s redwoods and a few neighborhoods near the charming downtown. Beautiful, beautiful place, I’d happily move to a place like that if I could ever afford it. She also gave us our plan for the day, which turned out to be a truly amazing day.
The plan was to drive along Route 1 (the Shoreline Highway) across the peninsula, through Stinson Beach, and on to Bolinas. Our main objective was the tide pools there, but we mis-timed the tides, so we didn’t get to see too much at high tide, but definitely worth the drive to get there. Balinese is another town I’d move to in a second, though my surfing bud said the water is “sharky” there, which does give one pause, as do the astronomical real estate prices ($1.5 million for a houseboat?!). Definitely drive out to Agate Beach regardless of the tides – even at high tide it’s a great place to explore. Our drive back was along an alternate route, the Panoramic Highway, with gorgeous views through the redwoods. Just a great day exploring the peninsula.
Sunday morning was race day, so after getting my teen up “early,” we got breakfast, and then got ready to shuttle over to the event. Beautiful cool and sunny morning for running, and the location at the former Fort Barry was pretty awe-inspiring, as it started in a valley with mountains rising all around. The 5K we ran was simple enough, all of it on roads or wide gravel paths. Happily we didn’t need to run up any of the hills, but even without, there was plenty of elevation change. In my current poor fitness, I ran-walked most of it, but was overall happy with my effort – it’s hard being fat and old. My son complained mid-race (I saw him on his return) about feeling poorly, but he still finished 13th overall and second in his age group, so that was an impressive result for sure. A hotel shuttle that was supposed to appear never did, so a group of us commandeered one of the aid station buses to get us back, which added some anxiety to the day, but overall didn’t make much of a difference.
Quick showers, leftover pizza for lunch, and we were out the door to the airport. We returned the rental car, took the endless airport train to the terminal, but still got through security in time to buy some sandwiches for the plane, which was delayed after all the worries due to snow activity in Chicago. It turned out to be only an hour delay and it was nice to ultimately get home and get into our own beds. Fantastic trip and we’re already thinking of coming back next year.
[*Hard to believe I got connected to the TNF Endurance Challenge Series way back in 2008.]