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In mid-September 2022, I took my twenty-fourth bike ride on my quest to travel 350 miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail (those miles completed so far of the total of 500 miles planned). This time I rode south through Mill Valley along the west shore of Richardson Bay, following Map 25 .
It was a two-hour drive to get there from the South Bay area. I found the last parking spot in a small lot at the east end of Sycamore Avenue at the Mill Valley Sewage Treatment Plant not far from Bayfront Field in Bayfront Park.
The small body of water in this area is called Pickleweed Inlet. It is the northernmost section of Richardson Bay, which is the northernmost extension of the San Francisco Bay between Mill Valley and Tiburon. It was Coastal Clean-up Day, and I saw many volunteers carrying red buckets, gathering trash.
I rode south on the Bay Trail, known here as the Mill Valley-Sausalito Path. First, I passed Bayfront Park and then the Bayfront Park Mill Valley Dog Park. At the south edge of the dog park, across Pickleweed Inlet, I could see homes in the Eucalyptus Knolls housing complex. Towards the end of my ride, I went over and explored that side of the Inlet.
I came to a bridge crossing a waterway called the Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio Creek, which flows into Pickleweed Inlet. This creek was undoubtedly named for the 1834 Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio grant which covers all of the Tiburon Peninsula and Belvedere Island nearby (see Ride #23), as well as some of Mill Valley.
Marin County’s Share the Path program has a sign posted at this bridge encouraging those on the multi-use pathway to use safe speeds, yield and be courteous, and not block the path among, other things. Its website adds, “When passing, clearly call out, ‘Excuse me, passing left,’ and wait for a reaction before passing.” “Wait for a reaction before passing” is an important part of this instruction that I wish more followed.
Acknowledging it was a Saturday morning, beautiful and sunny, when lots of people like to get out, I found this to be the busiest section of the Bay Trail I’d been on. A speed limit of 10 mph was posted, which none of the cyclists observed. I know this because my bike speedometer showed I was riding 8 mph while other riders flew past me, leaving me in the dust. There were even speed indicator signs spaced along the trail – like the kind on highways that tell drivers how fast they are going – but no one seemed to pay attention. I had to be very careful to look both ways before crossing the path from one side to the other side to read information signs or photograph wild birds. I wondered how many people bothered to read the Share the Path sign.
The Mill Valley watershed is approximately 7 square miles and includes Mill Valley and neighboring Homestead Valley. Steelhead trout depend on the plants and animals living in the riparian creek habitat supported by the watershed in this area. In 1998, the trout were listed as a threatened population by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. Past where the Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio Creek flows into Pickleweed Inlet is a large expanse called the Bothin Marsh Preserve filled with water birds. One flock I saw there may have been willets.
The waterfowl seem to have become so habituated to the constant traffic of bicycles that they hunt for fish in Bothin Marsh within 10 or 20 feet of the trail without being disturbed. In a large pond between the trail and Miller Avenue to the west, several California brown pelicans floated perhaps 30 feet away. One kept diving into the water. I watched how they position themselves as they dive and got many great shots.
An information sign on the trail along Bothin Marsh says the expected sea level rise in this area could reach five feet. A pole has been set up to show what that means. In 2015 during a King Tide, Miller Avenue was flooded.
Later on the ride, the wind was so cool that I had to put on my mauve brushed-cotton overshirt. By the time I stopped for a late lunch, the wind had picked up even more and I had to button up completely. I could have put on my red windbreaker, but I stayed just warm enough with the overshirt.
At 1.17 miles south on the trail, I crossed Coyote Creek and came to a trail heading west. It is the Tennessee Valley Path which connects with Tennessee Valley Road. No longer part of the Bay Trail, this is a popular route for area cyclists.
A little further south, I came to the Richardson Bay Redwood Bridge. The Northwest Pacific Railroad used to go under this bridge. It was a narrow-gauge line that ran north from Sausalito to Cazadero via Larkspur, San Anselmo and Point Reyes Station. Part of the train’s right-of-way is the bike trail today. The original Richardson Bay Bridge was built in 1931 and was over 2,400 feet long, made of two million board feet of redwood lumber. It was known as the Redwood Bridge. A lift section was built at the northern end of the bridge providing a 40-foot channel to access Bay waters west of the bridge. Between 1931 and 1949, the span only opened six times. This is because the west side of the bridge was only navigable by small watercraft at high tide. These craft seldom entered the area. In 1956, the wood bridge was replaced by one of concrete, which received extensive seismic retrofitting in 1996.
During the first 2 miles of this ride, I passed through the townships of Mill Valley, Tamalpais Junction and Marin City before reaching Sausalito.
At 2.21 miles on my ride, I came to Gate 6 Road which leads to Kappas Harbor in Sausalito. The Bay Trail ends here unless you want to continue on city streets for another two or three miles. When I came to this intersection, many cyclists whizzed past me onto Bridgeway Street, continuing south. There was a Mike’s Bikes store at this intersection, wisely situated.
Going this way, one can reach the north entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge if one doesn’t mind riding on some narrow city streets that don’t always provide bike lanes. Not safe enough for my taste.
There is a small public pier at Kappas Harbor. I rode along the water and in and out of some of the sailboat slips. The steady wind created a constant clanging of sailboat rigging.
As I followed one path extending out into the harbor and past many houseboats (probably part of the Floating Homes Association), I heard the sound of something blowing water and saw the head of a harbor seal emerging near a boat docked next to the path. The seal was so close that I wondered if he might be injured. But he was fine. After letting me get many great shots, he turned and swam a little further out towards the Bay, re-emerging from time to time.
At the end of the path, I watched a yellow seaplane land on the water.
By 1:30 p.m., the wind was picking up. The waves became quite choppy with white caps. I rode north to the end of the Richardson Bay Marina and enjoyed a great view of Mount Tamalpais.
When I returned to where my ride began, I followed a branch of the path east through Bayfront Park, across a bridge, through Hauke Park, and south towards Hamilton Drive and Shelter Bay Avenue. I was now on the east side of Pickleweed Inlet. There was a dirt path that hugged the shoreline. After a while it went up a hill. At the top I discovered about 30 steps descending down the other side to where the trail flattened at sea level and wound around the shore.
I decided to walk my bike down the steps and ride as far as the trail would go. From here I could see across the inlet where I had ridden earlier under the Richardson Bridge on the way to Kappas Harbor.
I passed homes positioned along the shore, part of the Eucalyptus Knolls housing complex. Close to the north entrance of the Richardson Bridge, the trail stopped before a large parking area and residential streets.
On my way back, when I came to the steps, I found a dirt path next to them on the hill side. This made it easy to push my bike back up the hill rather than having to lift it over the wooden edge of each step. At the top of the hill were eucalyptus trees at least 6 stories high. The wind roared through the tops of the trees. Below, close to the water, I saw a black-crowned night heron perched on a tree branch, the first of these herons I’ve seen along the Bay Trail.
I continued back through Bayfront Park. This area is packed with recreation opportunities for all: families, dog walkers, cyclists, soccer and high school sports. When I began this ride, I had passed the Tamalpais High School. The voice of the announcer was projected by a P.A. system for several blocks. Near Bayfront Park, groups playing soccer and children having fun cheered and screamed with delight.
I was hoping for a little more quiet when I sat down for lunch, so I rode back down the first trail, hoping the pelicans were still there. They had gone, but there was a bench nearby where I couldn’t hear any of the park activities. A great egret stalked fish quite close to the path, and I watched it while I ate.
For cyclists to reach the Golden Gate Bridge, they must follow Bridgeway, then South Street, then Alexander Avenue. The bike lanes disappear for a stretch before one turns right onto East Road towards Fort Baker. East Road becomes Center Road. To reach the Golden Gate Bridge, cyclists need to follow Center Road and Moore Road to Conzelman Road, and then follow Conzelman Road under, around, and up to the west parking lot.
After I was done riding, I loaded up my bike and did some scouting by car to see if I could find any of the parking areas close to the trailheads leading to the Golden Gate Bridge. I found a small one on the west side of 101 called the Headlands Parking Area. All the parking spaces were full and a long line of cars was waiting for spots to open up. Cyclists were everywhere, with a steady stream following the bike path towards the bridge. For my future Bay Trail ride through San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge, I decided to look into options to catch a ferry to the City instead.
I drove home over the Golden Gate Bridge and followed 19th Avenue south through the Sunset District. Traffic was heavy and going was slow, which gave me ample time to enjoy all the brightly-colored houses characteristic of this area.
On my ride this day I covered 8.6 miles, half of which were “return” miles, and my odometer reached 318. My riding time, including stopping to take photos, was about 3.75 hours. After a careful review of the San Francisco Bay Trail maps, I figured I only had two more rides to go to have ridden all the sections of the trail completed so far.
Today was another great ride, exploring another portion of the Bay Area I had never seen before.
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Funding and sponsor organizations and contributing partners:
Coastal Conservancy; County of Marin; San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC); San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; NOAA; Share the Path.
Information sources: S.F. Bay Trail website, Map 25; interpretive exhibits (information boards) along the Bay Trail; Coastal Conservancy; County of Marin; San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC); San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; NOAA; Sea Level Rise project researchers: Susanne Moser Research & Consulting and Antioch University of New England.