The Great Island Adventure

East Bay Bike Party montage. image via East Bay Bike Coalition

Its been pretty bikey around here this weekend, and that has been fantastic. Last week was pretty difficult for some personal reasons, but it also rained for most of the time. The combination made me lazy and unwilling to get out and ride, just when I needed it most. But there was a ray of hope on the drizzly horizon – last Friday night was the annual East Bay Bike Party. Thursday night the bay area had unprecedented amounts of rain, thunder, and lightning and a good number of us were concerned that heavy rain would cancel the ride. But our patience and good faith were rewarded, and Friday was a cold but clear night, which meant it was time to get our party on. The bike party, for those unfamiliar, is sort of like a friendlier version of Critical Mass, which does not have official organizers, is more politically motivated, and does not really concern itself with disruption of traffic or infrastructure. In fact, disruption of both is part of the fun. While I have no objections to a little civil disobedience now and then, I also like a calm ride with good music and maybe some well concealed whiskey. Bike Party’s rules are simple: roll past conflict, ride straight, don’t hate. Taking over most of the right lane and having traffic blocked for you and 300-500 of your closest friends while yelling, cheering, singing and meeting new people is not a bad way to spend a Friday night. I never tire of bike party – even when they throw a bunch of hills at us. Its a magical feeling, to be surrounded by so many cyclists, always dressed for a ridiculous theme, seeing the sea of blinking lights behind and in front of you, knowing that this is how it could be one day. No matter how many I attend, I cannot help spending a good deal of the ride with a big, foolish grin on my face, which was exactly what I needed on Friday night.

Though its route changes each month, the bike party generally goes between 12 and 15 miles. The first one I ever attended was about this time last year, and I had owned a bike for exactly two weeks. I was riding 1.7 miles each way to get to work, and that was pretty much it. I couldn’t even finish the ride, though it is on the slow side. This last time around, there were enough hills to keep things interesting, and the ride felt like a breeze – 15 miles is only about half of a normal leisure ride for me now. Progress notwithstanding, I did mange to sustain a minor injury to my Achilles tendon by using bad footing while climbing up a hill on which I could not get any momentum because of other riders. In the end, I went home feeling good (to ice my ankle), ready for more riding, which is exactly what I got.

Lost in wonder on Bay Farm Island

We woke up to an amazing, warm day on Saturday, so my roommate and I grabbed our bikes and headed out to do a slightly modified version of a route I plotted for myself and rode solo about a week ago. The day could not have been more accommodating. The sky was clear and the views of San Francisco were breathtaking. There is something very soothing about being near the water, and having a bike makes it even easier to access those spaces. Aside from the photo here, which is of my favorite spot along this route, I also really enjoy the speed variations that organically occur as part of the route itself. There are long sections of smooth, well paved bike lane with only one or two stop signs over several miles, and no lights. On those slight inclines or descents, its possible to mentally check out and let my legs do the thinking instead. But as there are miles of roadway on which I can build up a good momentum, dealing only occasionally with traffic and the laws surrounding it, there are also paved trails running right along the water. I could choose to spend more time in the street, but I never, ever do. It isn’t that I’m tired, I just enjoy the view so much better from the trails. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I am not decided yet), there are pedestrians, dogs, strollers, children, and other cyclists to contend with, which forces me to slow down and sometimes stop completely. I certainly cannot go as fast as I would if cars were my only company.

Since the day was so lovely, we were not the only cyclists on the road. There were also quite a few runners and many, many families out that day. As I was with another person, I took more stops than I normally would have on my own, but sometimes it’s refreshing not to being left to my own devices. We took breaks for everything: water, layer removal, more water, almonds, a cat, and just looking at the view for a while. One thing I find consistently disappointing about my photo documentation is that I cannot capture the enormity of a scene. Something I love most about being near the water is how small it makes me feel. But I make due.

San Francisco, from Bay Farm Island

Eventually we returned to a part of the route that I knew from my last ride out here, and I was able to show my roommate the magical dock I found on my first ride out. It was here that we made friends with this amazing creature, who hung around with us only briefly, before moving on to find more strangers sitting on public docks. This strange little part of the island is actually the halfway point of the ride (though by now we have rounded the bottom of the island and are already, technically, heading back), so we stopped to enjoy some sun, eat some almonds and generally enjoy someone else’s cat for a while.

this little guy was so happy to see us!
he really seemed to know his way around a bike, too.
but most importantly, he just loved us.

After stopping for almonds and to take in the ducks and water, we started the slog through Alameda Island and back in to Oakland. I have always been good with directions, but have never planned a route for myself to follow consistently. In the last few weeks, that has been changing. I have a route to which I am pretty faithful which can get me from downtown Oakland to North Berkeley in just under 30 mins and has minimal interaction with main streets. This island route is quickly becoming a go-to for when I need a longer ride that doesn’t require me to think much about how far I need to go. Its pretty much a giant loop of 21 miles with slightly varying terrain. Perfect. It is also beautiful, which will keep me coming back for more rather than stagnating out of laziness. Also, because the route is not challenging unto itself, if I don’t feel satisfied, I would always just do it again. But of all the things I love about it, my favorite is the return trip back into Oakland. The road I take to get back is flat, but there is a strong headwind no matter when you ride it. The problem is the breeze off the water coupled with proximity to a freeway. But it has a respectable bike lane and no cars parked on the street. Though there are several freeway entrances and exits along the route, they are not heavily used because there is nothing nearby, so stopping is minimal. Despite having to work into the headwind, I still feel more relaxed when I get home, since the route is mostly distanced from the city until about a mile from my apartment, rather than having to spend close to 1/3 of my time in real city traffic, racing buses and cars and dodging strange people who like to just stand in the right lane.

All told, the ride took us about 2.5 hours – less if we hadn’t been so captivated by felines and skylines. But that is the nature of things. With this ride in particular, I have yet to set out with the intention of riding hard.  I save it for the days when I need something a bit more gratifying from my surroundings and where there is the possibility that, if I slow down enough, that cat will find me again.

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