Sunday, May 19th, 2019...18:57

Bike to Work Day

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When I was 11 years old, I biked for work; delivering ~20 papers along a ~1 mile route with a fairly steep hill. Alas, none of my jobs post-college have really been bike-able, given nearly all of them have been in San Francisco; and there isn’t a bike lane all the way across the Bay Bridge (yet).

The one exception was a period of time in 2004-2005 when the main office of CafePress was in San Leandro (they moved to San Mateo ~10 months after I started). Some days I would bike 1.7 miles to the West Oakland BART station and then 2.3 miles to the office from the San Leandro BART station, but that doesn’t really count as “biking to work”. It turns out I could have biked the whole way if I’d been willing to ride on some not-so-safe streets and/or known about the dirt/gravel trails. I partially blame the lack of Google Maps cycling directions at the time (in fact Google Maps had only recently launched and it was an accessory to getting me in trouble with HR, but that’s a story for another time). Plotting a route from where I used to live to the former CafePress office indicates it’s a little over 12 miles and an hour each way; so not necessarily something I would have done often, but certainly doable.

The last significant distance I’d traveled on a bike in one shot was almost 3.5 years ago when I biked 7 miles to the (then) terminus of the bike path on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

The old eastern span was still in the process of being disassembled.
Two “bridges to nowhere” side by side…
The view of Treasure Island from the previous terminus of the bike path.
An artsy shot of the new eastern tower.

An officemate who goes on 20+ mile bike rides for fun on the weekends mentioned Bike to Work Day was coming up, on a day she was schedule to work in Mountain View. She had signed up for a group ride and I should do it too. I looked at the map, it would be a little over 53 miles door-to-door, one way and I’d have to leave my house around 4:30a to meet the group at Lake Merritt in Oakland at 5a. Along the entire route, there was very little elevation gain other than the climb over the Dumbarton Bridge. I had been exercising regularly, my bike was probably in reasonable shape. I was also planning on working from Mountain View that day and it turned out another co-worker would be doing a ride from San Francisco. I’d thought about doing this in the past, a former co-worker and his girlfriend were currently on a 18,000 mile bike ride from Alaska to Argentina, what excuse did I have not to go?

Well, maybe the fact that the last time I biked more than 7 miles in one go was nearly 18 years ago in 2001? I had planned on doing the California AIDS Ride, 575 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but the startup I was working at was falling apart, and with it went my matching sponsor. I documented a few of my training rides, but did not end up participating.

29 mile Briones Reservoir Loop (1300+ foot elevation gain)
35 miles on Hwy 1, north of Bodega Bay (~2000 foot elevation gain)
59 miles on and around Mt. Diablo (2700+ foot elevation gain)

So yeah, one time in my life I had biked 53+ miles in one go, I had no time to “train” for this ride, I’m significantly older and likely in worse shape; hmm, that’s more than one reason not to do this. Nevertheless, I bought a couple of spare bike inner-tubes and a portable pump, tuned up my bike as well as I knew how, rode it around a couple of blocks the night before and set my alarm for 3:45a.

The morning of the ride I had a big bowl of cereal for breakfast, packed my bike supplies, 2 liters of water, some granola bars, a change of clothes and my laptop into a backpack, threw on my reflective vest, helmet and bike lights and at 4:25a I was off. At 4:40a I realized I had forgotten my cell phone, but if I turned around to go back and get it I would not be able to meet up with the group (in hindsight this was likely wrong as people were late and if I sent a message as soon as I got my phone, that I too was going to be late, they’d have waited). Instead, I was the second one to arrive at the meeting point at 4:50a and already had my first facepalm moment to share with others (so yes this means no more pictures in this post, no Strava route times etc. you’ll just have to trust me).

My office mate had decided not to go after getting sick over the previous weekend and a couple of other people also cancelled, but we still had a good sized group of 9. Some people seemed fairly serious about cycling i.e. padded cycling shorts, clip in shoes, hydraulic or disk brakes, hydraulic shifters, aluminum frames etc. Others, like me, had flat pedals and sneakers, steel frames, non-cycling clothes etc. I even had part of a child seat support attached to my frame because it’s way too much trouble to take that part off (I of course didn’t have the seat itself attached). The group leader mentioned he planned on staying on dirt/gravel trails as much as possible to keep us closer to the bay and away from the cars, that sounded good to me. He followed that up with, “I usually do this route in about 2h 45min, but happy to go faster or slower”. Yikes, I had presumed this would be a 4hr+ ride given the amount of gravel/dirt trail that was planned. I think this is roughly the route we took: It’s not the shortest, but it stays as close to the bay and out of traffic as possible.

We left at 5:10a and had our first flat tire within 20 minutes, hadn’t even made it to Alameda yet. I hadn’t invested in a water bottle cage so the timing worked out well to have a drink and a snack. We probably made it another 60 minutes before we had a second flat and at almost the same time a rider fell (minor cuts on the hands). At that point we had made it past the Oakland Airport and the person leading the ride said he had to go on without us since he needed to be showered and changed for a client meeting at 9a.

We proceed without incident to the toll plaza of the San Mateo Bridge. The ride along the bay had been quite nice, the skies were overcast which meant no view of the sunrise, but also comfortably cool weather. We met a woman on a mountain bike (enjoys spending weekends in the Santa Cruz mountains, Joaquin Miller Park etc.) She had started the day in Castro Valley and joined our group as she was on her way towards an office on Hwy 84 just before the Dumbarton Bridge; and that was how we were going to cross the bay. We suffered our final flat tire along the way, and after she left our group, made our way to the bridge.

By this point I’d biked over 35 miles, and even though it had been mostly flat, much of it was pretty bumpy and my body was starting to feel a little sore. Perfect timing for the first significant headwinds and incline. It was a great feeling to be moving faster than all the traffic on the northern side of the bridge (heading east/west) but it totally sucked to have the bike path on the southern side with oncoming traffic speeding along at 50mph+ (west/east). Every time a truck or bus rocketed by it was a face full of exhaust and a force trying to push me back down the bridge.

Once down, the rest of the ride went smoothly, no flat tires, no falls, and we rolled into work just after 9:30a. While the soreness in my arms and legs was gone by the next day, it wasn’t until a few days later that I could sit comfortably on my bike again.

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