Birthday Ride in the Oakland-Berkeley Hills

Another year, another birthday…

And for the last few years, I’ve done a “birthday ride” where I bicycle through an area I’ve never had the chance to ride through.  One year I biked across the Golden Gate Bridge, another year I went to the Marin Headlands, and yet another year I did a ride over a series of hills called “The Three Bears.”

This year, I went for a ride from Orinda to Moraga and then ventured up a rarely used road that goes into the Oakland-Berkeley hills. At one point, it’s about 4 miles of climbing, with the grade getting steeper as you ride to the top. it’s about 1400 feet at one point, so…yeah, it’s fatiguing.  But once you get to the top on Skyline Drive, the views are pretty spectacular. You can see the Bay Bridge, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge (on days when it’s not foggy), and, of course, the Bay. It’s very pretty and I’ve made a trip by car to see the sights many times. But this was the first time on the bicycle.

Skyline Drive becomes (or intersects with) Grizzly Peak Road, and that takes you a bit higher into the hills. Alas, the views of San Francisco go away, and you’re climbing up a hill on the other side of Berkeley — which is the Orinda side.  You go past a park where there is hiking and mountain biking trails, and another one with a steam train attraction for the kids and their parents. Then comes a rather terrifying decent toward Orinda. I swear I was going almost 45mph before I started to feather my brakes to slow the hell down. I kept thinking “If one of my tires blows out at this speed, I’m really screwed — and hurt!” So, I kept the speed at a little over 30mph. Still pretty fast, but I figured I might be able to make a more controlled stop if I had a blow out. I still might wipe out, but not so bad that they’d be scraping me off the road.

After that, it was a very nice ride through some Eucalyptus groves to Tilden Park that has an “Inspiration Point” overlooking parts of San Pablo Dam road and Orinda. After that, it was another decent toward Orinda and back where I started from. I guess the competitive streak in me came out about that point, because there was another casual cyclist trying to keep up with me and pass me a couple of times — but I wouldn’t let him. He eventually backed off and I rode back to my car feeling a small sense of superiority, tempered with the notion that my aggressive male riding could have resulted in a crash. Thankfully, I’m experienced enough on hills to know how to brake into a turn and counterbalance as well.

I felt pretty great by the time I got back to my car.  On the way home, I was listening to one of my Mix Six compilations I made for this blog (and later Popdose). It was called “Brass Kiss,” and had songs by Chicago, Tower of Power and James Brown. Great sing-along music!

Later in the day, my family came over for a very nice party where Julie made shrimp enchiladas and a black bean, corn, avocado, and onion salad. My mom made fish tacos (and brought a very expensive bottle of wine), my aunt and uncle brought chip and dip and fruit salad and my sister made some really wonderful cupcakes with raspberry filling.  My brother brought soft drinks and wine, and everyone had a very nice time eating, laughing and generally chit-chatting.  I got some very nice gifts, too.  Yes, I got a new Nook, a shirt, some much-needed bourbon (Maker’s “46”), green bananas (because my sister thinks that I’m still young enough to buy green bananas) and a dinner and movie “certificate.”

All in all, a great day!

If you want to see a Google Maps flyover of my bike route, here ’tis:

And here are some pics I snapped along the route. Just click an image and you’ll see a slide show version…

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