No tinsel or collapsible trees for us! This Christmas Eve, friends and I dispensed with the holiday trappings and went camping instead.
We were a motley crew — mountain bikes, minibikes, trailers, an Xtracycle carrying baguettes and myself on the racy Cannondale tandem with my stoker Marc. We rode across the Golden Gate and stopped for a quick lunch in Mill Valley. There we picked up a twelfth rider — vegan Violet and her 4 month old puppy, Chicharro — who was taking her first bike tour with the pup in a backpack. After a leisurely coffee and bagel stop at the Depot Cafe, we pedaled up through the narrow, redwooded neighborhoods of Mill Valley to Muir Woods. Following the winding coast bluffs of Highway 1, in short order — just 20 miles out from the Golden Gate — we found our camp at Steep Ravine.
After a quick tent-pitch, we made our way to the hot springs at Steep Ravine by following a narrow, rocky trail along the beach. The hot springs at Steep Ravine are only exposed during low tides of -1 ft or more, giving only 50 or 60 days a year available for soaking. The winter solstice coincided with a new moon this year, bringing us an extraordinary -1.5 ft low tide at sunset.
The low tide stranded an armada of starfish on the rocks. While we were marveling at them, the waves came in and stranded Bridget, Marc and I in turn atop a barnacle and mussel covered outcropping. Marc is blind — and a rock climber, yogi and massage therapist. Caught off guard but undaunted, we clambered back to higher ground.
Watching Marc make his way over boulders and ledges made me tingle vicariously with Spidey sense. This was the first time I had seen Marc in action off the bike. I’ve heard all sorts of badass tales while riding tandem with him — me in the front as pilot, him putting out power in the back as stoker. What I didn’t know was that he could kneel, balance and step with the measured patience of a gymnast. Within minutes, we developed a verbal routine for getting across the boulder field.
“You’ve got a ledge at head level, on the left.” Marc put a hand out to feel out the rock. “Ok, now a butt scoot over a drop, about 3 feet.”
The hot springs “grotto” at Steep Ravine is a combination natural and manmade element. During the low tide, locals downscale the bluffs to the spring. Using a section of fire hose, they siphon off the cold water that sinks to the bottom of the pool, and pull out any large rocks tossed in by the waves.
Reaching the grotto at sunset, we found it filled with at least 30 naked bodies. Many had the sinewy, sunbaked look of dedicated vagrants. I waded in and was directed into the womb of the grotto, where I found fellow campers Brooke, Becker, and Aviv. The water is shoulder deep within this narrow tunnel. We dug our feet into the sand underfoot, warmed by gentle geothermal heat. A local named Sam distributed tangerine sections and directed us to utter “Three OMs and a silent OM.” We obliged with several loud karmic emissions, but alas, in substandard harmony and unison.
Well steeped in hippie stew, the crew headed back to camp for supper. Thanks to Katie, who donkey-loaded a double burner propane stove on a BOB trailer, we ended the night with a neverending Christmas feast. There were baguettes with marshmallows, pesto with pasta, butternut squash soup, Christmas gumbo made with gluten-free roux, and two different types of brownies. After dreaming of sugar plum fairies and hairy hot spring hippies, we awoke to a bright and beautiful Christmas morning…and a lot of leftovers.
Full route details of how to have your own Steep Ravine hot springs adventure may be found here. Good luck and bring a towel!