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  • A Heavenly Trip to Angel Park

  • The views were mesmerizing: A shroud of fog enveloped the Golden Gate Bridge. Waves washed onto the Berkeley shores. A sailboat tacked its way under the Bay Bridge.
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  • The views were mesmerizing: A shroud of fog enveloped the Golden Gate Bridge. Waves washed onto the Berkeley shores. A sailboat tacked its way under the Bay Bridge.
    But I had little time to sit and absorb the scenery from Angel Island State Park. If I didn't pick up the pace, I would be stranded on this largely undeveloped island in the middle of San Francisco Bay without food or shelter until the next morning.
    It was not going to be easy, considering I was lugging a disabled 40-pound mountain bike along dirt trails and winding paved roads.
    I hadn't planned to turn my recent visit to this 470-acre island into a hyper-speed sightseeing tour. That was the result of bad planning and bad luck.
    On a warm afternoon, I jumped on a ferry from Pier 41 in San Francisco to see why nearly 200,000 people a year take the 40-minute boat ride to visit Angel Island, the largest of the San Francisco Bay Area's 11 islands.
    From a distance, Angel Island looks much the way I imagine it did when the Miwok Indians came to hunt and fish there until Spanish explorers dropped anchor in a northwestern cove in 1775 and dubbed it Isla de Los Angeles. Oak, eucalyptus, bay and madrono trees form a spotty, green patchwork that covers much of the otherwise brown island.
    What sets Angel Island apart from most state parks is that nearly all activities there revolve around the schedule of the ferries to and from Ayala Cove. Because I missed an earlier ferry by minutes, I arrived on the island only two hours before the last ferry departed for the mainland. With such a time crunch, the only way to see the park's four or five historic landmarks along 13 miles of dirt paths and paved roadway was to rent a bike and start pedaling. Fast.
    The paved perimeter road rose gradually, and I pumped hard to reach my first stop, Point Campbell, on the northern most end of the island, offering a panoramic view of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
    The perimeter road followed the island's shore line. For a better view of the Bay Area, I had to take the interior fire roads that climb toward the 788-foot summit. As I pedaled up the gravel and dirt road, I checked my watch. "I have plenty of time before the last ferry departs," I thought. What could go wrong?
    Below me was Quarry Point, where the Army built the East Garrison, a collection of brick and concrete buildings used to process returning soldiers, from the Spanish-American War to World War II.
    As I descended to the paved road near the Nike Missile Site — another Army installation added during the Cold War — my bike felt sluggish. It was a serious back-tire leak, and I still had about a mile to go to reach the dock and only 30 minutes before the last ferry.
    I pedaled hard toward a two-story brick building along the perimeter road. A sign indicated it was once a hospital, but I didn't have time to linger.
    Now I had only 15 minutes to reach the dock. The rubber from my back tire was flopping over the edges of the rim, jamming against the brake pads.
    Once the last ferry leaves Angel Island, the only way to get back to the mainland is to call for a water taxi from Tiburon, which can cost a minimum of $600.
    I was determined to make that ferry, so I got off the bike and pushed and, at times, carried it for the final half mile to the visitors' center. At the bike rental shop, I angrily dumped the bike on the ground and heaved a sigh of relief when I was told that I wouldn't be charged the $35 daily rental fee.
    Angel Island offers some glorious views, but the sight that brought the biggest smile to me that day came when I saw a line of people waiting at the dock for the ferry to arrive.
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