Take Two Peaks and Call Me in the Morning!

feb_08_poppies_and_downtown_7470.jpgView from top of south peak in February 2008.

With the rain falling in late November, and soggy unemployment statistics haunting our lives too, the idea of Depression lurks just below the surface. Depression has multiple meanings like so many concepts in the English language; in this case, I’m taking two of them: 1) mental depression that results from bad weather, personal trauma, emotional turbulence, etc., and 2) economic depression. I have a good coping mechanism for both kinds! It’s to take our local K2, i.e. Twin Peaks, by bike!

I was recently speaking with a close friend who is going through a break-up and gave her the advice that saved me the last time I faced a similar circumstance: develop a regular regime of walking or cycling every day. Get out of the house and out of your normal mental space and breathe the air, see the views, enjoy the beautiful city that is at your fingertips.

jan_07_bike_on_side_of_road5925.jpgMy trusty steed taking a break to graze on the way up Twin Peaks, January 2007.

Plenty of local cyclists are commuting and shopping these days, and there are those who tour the wide open spaces of the Bay Area in their free time. But I’m always astonished when I pass by the ubiquitous health clubs and gyms to see dozens of people huffing and puffing on treadmills and stationery cycles. We live in an incredible physical landscape, and instead of paying monthly club dues, you can just get out and walk and ride your bike and get as much of a workout as you want! If you’re facing a sudden drop in income, or perhaps you never had the dough to buy a health club membership in the first place, I want to recommend the Twin Peaks ride for your wallet AND your mental health.

jan_07_south_from_north_peak5955.jpgView of South Peak from top of North Peak, Jan. 07.

I’ve been riding up to the top of Twin Peaks for about five years, trying to do it weekly but mostly making it twice a month. If I could I’d go every day, but like most people, I’m just too damned busy. Still, it only takes me about 30 minutes to get up there from my flat on Folsom in the Mission. I’ve tried every route from south and north. Straight up 24th Street leads to one of two routes from Hoffman and 24th: south to 25th and slalom up the very steep block to Grand View Avenue, cut further south to Clippper and take the bike lane to where it ends at upper Market. Alternately, an easier route is north on Hoffman until it intersects Grand View, then cut back south on Grand View to the circular ramp at Elizabeth, take it up to the first exit on the east side of upper Market, follow the sidewalk up and eventually cut across the street so you can zoom westward until you hit Twin Peaks Boulevard, close to where O’Shaughnessy Drive enters from the south.

both_approaches_from_further_out.jpgThis map shows several approaches from north and south.

One of the surprising treats in store on this route is when you’ve turned north on Twin Peaks Blvd., it takes a minute to pass the last residential intersection (Panorama) and then you enter a different zone. It’s as though you’ve taken off and are beginning to float above the city. Birds and bugs are the new soundscape, the wind and sun or fog greets you as you pass a cluster of invasive ivy and French broom, and continue the circuitous route around the hills to ascend to the South Peak. When I get to the southern end of the crazy eight/infinity ring road, I lock my bike to a sign post and hike up the100 feet to the top of the south peak where I’ve taken over a thousand photos of the city since I started doing this some years ago.

south_approach_map.jpgOnce you've reached the top of Market Street this is how you leave the city below on Twin Peaks Blvd.

The other approaches from the east take a more northerly approach. Go to 17th and Castro and Market, have a coffee, and start riding up 17th. In a block or so, you’ll see Corbett Avenue leaving diagonally to the southwest, far more gradual than the vertical incline of 17th Street. Follow Corbett’s winding ascent until you hit Clayton, where you have two choices. You can take Clayton to the right (north) to where it hits the other end of Twin Peaks Boulevard a short ways up hill, but then you face a dauntingly steep climb to where Twin Peaks Blvd. leaves to the left, while the road you’ve been on continues straight ahead as Clarendon Blvd. (This is also a spot where you can take the wooden stairs to your right and pop out on to the top of Tank Hill, one of the city’s most treasured viewing spots.) From this intersection, the climb is steady but not horribly steep.

The other choice from Corbett and Clayton is to continue on Corbett, ascending slowly in a southerly direction, well above Market Street now, until you reach a steep short block called Hopkins Street to your right. Take that up to Burnett, turn right, and follow Burnett to the end where it intersects Twin Peaks Blvd. (it’s a bit steep towards the end of this ride too)… Now you follow Twin Peaks Blvd. as it winds up the northeast face of Twin Peaks and brings you to the north peak and/or a turn into the tourist-bus-filled parking lot with the typical views.

north_approach_map.jpgRed route is steeper, blue route meanders more, taking Corbett to Hopkins to Burnett before intersecting Twin Peaks Blvd.
feb_07_twin_peaks_view1021.jpgCrystal clear view in Feburary 2007 from the South Peak.
feb_08_gg_bridge_7475.jpgIt's always a bit odd to have a view like this a "routine" experience! But you can if you get to the top of Twin Peaks regularly.

I recommend locking up and hiking to the top of either peak, and sit and contemplate the city in all its grandeur. I find nothing clears my mind and calms my qualms like a bracing 20 minutes at the top of Twin Peaks. On clear days the views are spectacular in all directions, taking in the Pacific, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown the bay as far south as you can see, San Bruno Mountain and Montara Mountain across the peninsula to the south, Mt. Davidson and even Lake Merced. Twin Peaks itself is part of what some are claiming as the San Miguel Hills Bio-reserve, which ultimately seeks to create open wild corridors connecting these hills with the Presidio to the north and San Bruno Mountain to the south. As a relatively isolated bit of San Francisco's natural ecology, Twin Peaks still provides habitat for a number of birds, butterflies and flowers.

march_07_lupine_in_bloom6643.jpgBlooming lupine on Twin Peaks in March 2007, an important butterfly habitat.
oct_09_anise_swallowtail_and_skyline_2456.jpgAnise Swallowtail butterflies like the rocky summit of the south peak, seen here in October 2009.
oct_05_both_peaks_from_ring_rd_southwest1450.jpgSmall mammals make this landscape their home, which in turn provides food for raptors and coyotes who also make regular appearances on Twin Peaks.
hawk_w_road_9945.jpgSwooping in for dinner, June 2009.
hawk_w_houses_9946.jpgOn the hunt in June 09.

Once you’ve burned all those calories and calmed all those nerves, you have the great pleasure of hurtling back down the hill on a route of your choice. All paths down are a blast, so get out there and enjoy one of San Francisco’s greatest assets, entirely free to use as often as you like!

june_06_fog_on_ring_rd3100.jpgFog is often blocked at the summit of Twin Peaks, or so it seems from the eastern neighborhoods. Once up there, its embrace can be exciting and inspiring!
march_07_cc_as_corcovado_in_fog6655.jpgSometimes there's nothing to do but give up to the elements... good for the brain and soul!