Thursday, January 16, 2014

23 Miles All The Way Around The Bay Every Day . . .

I have previously mentioned that I am a dedicated bike-commuter, including a detailed explication of how my bike commuting self rose out of the fiery ashes of an '85 Chevy Celebrity:

Since that explosive beginning, I have ceded our one car to my Long-Suffering Wife (an excellent forcing-function), and commuted solely by bike.  I have done it all over the U.S. and world, with a small break in 2011 when I was in Afghanistan where biking to work just wasn't an option.  My favorite commute (bike-wise) would probably be the 14 mile (each way) journey I took every day for two years from South Alexandria to the Pentagon on the Mount Vernon Trail.  That, windy, woody, trail, that hugged the Potomac and traversed Old Town Alexandria had it all -- great scenery, twists and turns, quick climbs and descents, cool places for pit-stops, and an epic destination (The Pentagon is quite the impressive edifice and an incredibly enervating workplace).

A very close second (bike-wise, but FIRST people-wise), though, would be my current commute to and from downtown San Diego.  The day starts easily enough, as I live near the bike path that hugs the golf course, crosses underneath the Bay Bridge and takes me to the 0655 ferry each morning after 1.6 miles.  The commuter ferry is one of the best little secrets in San Diego.  Subsidized by local government, commuters ride for free up until 9 am.  We are provided a special ticket (to prove we rode before 9) that entitles us to a free ride home at the end of the day.  What a great deal!  Check out the schedule here:

Once I board, I head upstairs where I sit with the same group of hard-core riders I have been riding with (off and on through deployments and transfers) since 2001.  We talk sports, politics, bikes, home-renovations, island gossip, etc., and share the triumphs and tribulations of our lives with each other 15 minutes at a time as we start our work days together.  I feel as linked to my "ferry friends" as I do to any group I have ever served, played, worked, or lived with.  Gary and Terry, the effervescent, heart of the group, even host an annual Christmas Party for all who commute on the ferry.  Best party of the year every year!

Lately, with the incredible winter Santa-Ana conditions we have had, the morning Ferry Captain has made the ride even more fun by narrating the (spectacular) sunrise over the mountains to the east and playing Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra," (theme from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey"), the first flourish of which is, appropriately, called "Sunrise."  John and Jeff join in as guest conductors and spot-on air-drummers (as Chris smirks at them).  Our buddy, Tim, would be joining in, if not for the elbow he shattered on the messed up railroad crossing on Taylor adjacent to the Old Town Transit Center (Get well, Tim!). 

After playing the flourish, he then plays a different sun-themed song every morning ("Sunshine on my Shoulder," "Walking on Sunshine," "Here Comes the Sun," etc.).  Literally, an epic way to start the day!  (And a welcome respite from the drone of the usual safety recording we have all memorized).

If it's a Thursday, then it's "Tour de Zeke" day on the ferry.  

Zeke is a uniquely Californian character on a par with Jeff Bridges' "The Dude" from "The Big Lebowski."  A tall, wiry, ageless, retiree (we think), Zeke is an avid bike rider, kayaker, amateur inventor, and outdoor adventurer who did some time in the Navy, managed a Marina, and built his own windmill (affixed to his place in IB). 

Yes, a Quixotic character who builds (vice chases) windmills!  We all look forward to Thursdays when Zeke rides up the Strand from IB to join us on the ferry before he leads his usual group of Zeke Groupies, --including his buddy Al (a retired DA), Larry (the Don of Coronado biking himself), Dan (the most conservative human outside captivity, a former USC volleyball player who occasionally bikes all the way from San Diego to the USC campus for matches, and the antithesis of Zeke), occasionally, Tim Sr. (an unbelievable endurance cyclist, estates attorney and hopeless Dodgers/USC fan) and various other guest riders -- around the bay (usually stopping for the cheapest most gut-wrenching breakfast Zeke can find).  Zeke takes a genuine, active, interest in everything we have to say, steering Thursday's 15 minutes of conversation into the oddest of places.  The best is when we can get Zeke going on his various adventures, including his atempt to bike from Santa Barbara to San Diego with nothing but raw cookie dough to fuel him.  Zeke still hasn't quite figured out why he got so violently ill along the way . . .

Once we part our ways as we depart the ferry at Broadway (site of San Diego's "Big Dig" -- a two year -so far- seemingly endless effort to install a fancy sidewalk "promenade" along a couple of blocks of Harbor Drive -- they built the entire Pentagon (world's largest low-rise office building) in a mere 17 months, yet this sidewalk has taken over two years!  Keeping it Classy San Diego!) I go off to defend truth, justice, and the American way for 9 or 12 hours or so before hopping back on the bike to traverse the entire Bayshore Bikeway ( around San Diego Bay back to Coronado.  Words can't capture the bliss I experience as the day's travails melt off with each pedal stroke Southward as I leave them behind at the office and fall into my steady cadence.  Best therapy ever!

I do this every day (unless I have some some sort of, rare, evening commitment).  My first time through San Diego, I tried doing this commute the reverse way (around the bay from Coronado to San Diego in the early morning).  I found it hard to get that commute done every day.  It required an extremely early departure, showering after the ride before work, and provided too many easy excuses for skipping it (morning meeting, hit snooze once too many times, out late the night before, etc.).  I tried doing the same upon my return (with similar results), until I had the revelation that I had no excuse to not do it each and every night.  With my little bikeists embroiled in after-school activities, there is less impetus to race home, and our Pentagon experience pretty much conditioned the family to me having a long evening bike-commute anyway.  

The only impediment to my evening commute might be the fact that I, invariably, leave work in the dark for much of the year.  However, the crucial piece of gear I picked up for navigating even darker conditions in Virginia has made this a non-issue.  After years of squinting at night at the useless beam thrown out by my AA battery fueled Cateye lights, I sprung for a NiteRider helmet light.

  • This thing, literally, turns night into day.  The lithium-ion battery is super-light (truly don't notice it) and, best of all, recharges via the USB port on my office computer.  You could, of course, mount it to your handlebar as well, but I'm just not a fan of handlebar lighting.  You'd feel the same way if you did 23 miles in the dark every night being blinded by the indiscriminate strobes mounted to the handlebars of your opposing bike-commuters.  Not only does the helmet mount give me the ability to point my beam around curves (and at any perceived obstacle) -- it also allows me to point it at the ground as I approach on-coming cyclists -- saving them from the blinding power of the NiteRider.  Put your light on your helmet people!! It's safer for you and everybody around you!

    No time to give you a turn by turn account of my nightly sojourn around the bay (that will be covered in a future post).  So, I'll leave you with an image from tonight's commute.  I actually mixed things up tonight, and broke off from the Bikeway to meet my family for fish tacos at the end of the IB pier at Tin Fish (their grilled halibut taco is second to none).   This was my view as I waited for my Long-Suffering-Wife to arrive with our little bikeists. 

    Yes!!  It's January in So-Cal, and this is where my daily commute ended -- with fish tacos to boot!!  Life is good . . .


    1. Awesome summary of the ferry ride - one of the best rides in the county, even with decrepit Harbor Drive thrown in (limited repairs notwithstanding). Nothing matches a boat ride followed by a 23 mile waterfront ride.

      Zeke is an amazing and fascinating guy, and you have captured a nice slice of his aura. Good pic, too!

      Hope this Santa Ana stays a while.... Keep up the great writing!

    2. Thanks, Hstan! I couldn't agree with you more about the embarrassment that is Harbor Drive -- there is simply no excuse! As for Zeke, a small sliver of his aura is all that could ever be captured of the most interesting (and enigmatic) people in San Diego . . .

    3. Love it all. What a great group, camaraderie, fun and life to live. Great post. Keep it up!