Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Riding in Fog: Every Sound Grabs My Ears


On the eve of my bicycle trip across Easter Europe, I was thinking about riding in fog. Of all the places I have ridden in the world, the thickest fog I ever rode through was on Mount Tamalpais, just across the bay from San Francisco in Marin County.

I was at a conference in San Francisco. Every morning for four days, I got up at 0530 and rode to the top of Mt. Tam and back. The 50-mile, 3-hour round trip from downtown to the peak began on city streets, then bayshore, then across the Golden Gate, through Sausalito and Marin, then the 11-mile climb up the mountain.

The third morning the legendary San Francisco fog was everywhere. It was thickest on the slopes of Mt. Tam. By five miles up I was starting to think I could grab the fog. Wisps of clouds clung to me. I was soaked. The air felt weirdly thick. I saw ghosts rush past as the white wisps took shape in the air. But the strangest sensation was sound. Since I could barely see two bike lengths in front of me, I heard everything. A chipmunk ran across the road. I would swear I heard his claws grip the pavement. Was that a pine cone dropping on the road? The climb is not steep so I was not breathing hard enough to wipe out other sounds. I felt water drip down my neck as the fog condensed on me. Did I hear it drip off me?

Then the sun blazed everywhere. One moment I could barely see. The next I was on an arid mountain in hot sun drying as I climbed the long grade.  After the next switchback I was facing south, looking where the city should be. San Francisco disappeared under a thick, white quilt of clouds. The piers of the Golden Gate raised their red arms through the fog, as did the radio tower on Mount Bruno. Nothing else was visible.

By the time I got to the top of Mt. Tam, turned around and rode down, the fog was thinner and lower. By the time I was back in the ground-level cloud I could see 100 meters ahead, important at downhill speeds.


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