Extreme Transit

This weekend, I went on a transportation adventure. I had some reporting to do up in Point Reyes. Getting there was like a story problem. Point Reyes is 42 miles from Berkeley. You have to be in Point Reyes at 11 a.m. on Saturday. You’re not allowed to ride your bike over the Bay Bridge or the San Rafael Bridge, but you can take BART under the Bay Bridge, or north to Richmond, where you can board a bus that will take you across the San Rafael Bridge.

Honestly, I had thought I was going to rent a car. Before that, I thought I might do Zipcar. That was before I realized that Zipcar doesn’t think I’m a member anymore, that joining would cost about $60, and the car would be $11 an hour, for at least five hours. Screw that, I thought, I’ll rent from Enterprise or something. The cheapest traditional rented car would be $24 for the day (more like $40 when you add the extra insurance I need because I’m not an insured driver), plus gas, plus bridge tolls, so at least $50. I would also need to take BART (several more dollars) to downtown Oakland to pick up the car around 9am (hassle), and then drop it off afterward and take BART back.

They were two unappealing enough scenarios that I talked myself/let Jesse talk me into a third option: gonzo transportation.

Maybe it was a nostalgia trip of sorts for Jesse, even though he didn’t go, because I was following the convoluted path he used to take on his bike when he was courting a woman who lived way up in Sebastopol. According to Google Maps’ public transit feature, I could leave the house at 7:45 a.m. and take BART to Richmond. From there, I could board Golden Gate Transit’s 42 bus for the trip across the bridge, past San Quentin, and into San Rafael by 8:52 a.m. From there, said Google Maps’ bike trip feature, it would be 19.4 not too hilly miles to Point Reyes Station, the big red barn, and my work-date, over some of the same roads I covered on my first brevet, the Point Reyes Populaire last fall. I sort of imagined someone might offer me a ride back to civilization (San Francisco, say), but if they didn’t, I would be prepared to return the way I came.

I let my contact know I would be arriving by bike. He seemed appropriately impressed-with-a-tinge-of-weirded-out.

Things went off pretty well. The connection from BART to the bus was swift. The bus guy’s fare meter was broken, so the $4.50 fare was free. Up front in the bus was a young woman who helped me figure out how to use the bike rack. She said she was on her way to a 36-mile group ride with a local triathlon club. She was training for the San Francisco marathon in June. I told her how I would be returning to Marin again the following day to ride a 200k with the SF Randonneurs. “I’ve heard of them!” she said, and I told her she should come out sometime, and then I silenced myself, wondering whether I’d sounded too rabid. Join my cult, it’s greaaaaat.

When the bus let us down at the San Rafael transit plaza, I was feeling so confident of timing that I bought a coffee at a kiosk and sat in the sun and drank half of it, beside a small family eating junk food and a tough but hard-luck-looking white guy with bristly soul goatee that was, truly, goatlike.

Then I got up, hoisted my backpack on, and left. I was toting street shoes, for the hike, some food, a reporter’s notebook, and a bike lock, since my contact hadn’t written back to confirm whether or not there would be a safe place to store my bike in the park. Things non-cyclists don’t understand: that carrying along a three-pound lock is a significant negative. I asked the coffee kiosk guy for directions, got rolling, and was soon several miles in the wrong direction, through my own mistakes. Enormous collections of road cyclists, nattily dressed in Rapha duds and various team kit, rolled by me now and then. On a back-road between San Anselmo and Ross, I nearly blew right by a cop who was stationed at a residential intersection for the express purpose, I believe, of ticketing cyclists who were committing just that act. I skidded to a halt at the last second; the cop leaned halfway out his open cop-car window and drawled, “Not bad.”

I got myself turned right-way round and was soon zooming off down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, now running late. I pushed myself: through Fairfax, up White’s Hill—past a woman who got off and started walking her bike, and near the top, past a handsome graybeard headed the other direction, who smiled warmly and cheered, “You’re almost there!” Then the flat section, then the redwoods of Henry Taylor State Park, anxious all the way about time. I felt like the March Hare.

At the junction of Nicasio Valley Road, sure I was late by now, I stopped to text my people the sad news. But pulling out the phone, I saw it was only 10:50! And just a few miles to go. I pushed on and reached the red barn just a couple of minutes past 11. The National Park Service provided me with a place to store my bike. I ate a banana.

We had a lovely time, I got some good leads, and no one offered me a lift back. So I rode it again. On SF Drake, another MAMIL made conversation with me about my pack, saying he wears one like it when he goes touring, hates panniers—he suggested I ride in to Larkspur and take the ferry to San Francisco, for fun. I overshot San Rafael and did reach the outskirts of Larkspur, by accident. But my phone told me the ferry was not for another hour and a half. I turned around and then right, up a road named Wolfe Grade, which was as steep as its name portended, and cruised into San Rafael, where I had two more perfect pieces of transit luck: the eastbound 42 bus was along in five minutes, and the BART waiting for me in Richmond when I got to the top of the stairs.

At home I ate a big snack, took a hot shower, relaxed, logged my 50-ish-mile day into Strava, felt empowered and emboldened, etc., and took a delicious half-nap.

Total outlay on transit for the day: about $10. Total outlay of time: probably not that much more than if I’d had to go rent a car in Oakland.

When I first met Jesse, I didn’t understand his wish to do things like ride his bike all the way to his grandma’s house in the South Bay. I do sort of get it now, the punk pleasure of self-reliance. At any rate, I’ve become pretty attached to the idea of not owning a car. I haven’t owned one since the last time I lived here, in 2005, and put my beloved silver Honda Civic out to pasture. I sold it to a likable, pot-smoking single mom in the Mission, and watched sadly as she drove it down the street and out of my life forever. Then I moved to New York City, where nobody needs a car. I had many reasons for eventually wanting to leave New York, but the lure of the wind in my hair on the open road was not one of them. It’s probably a preference conditioned by habit, because I remember a time when I liked driving, but I don’t like it anymore. Oh, sure, once in a while: give me a ride somewhere, it will feel like a strange treat. But I don’t miss the places that cars took me to, or through, so regularly: all the exhaust-stained concrete abutments, the freeway interchanges, the parking lots. They were places where it was easy to feel less than human, places where it was impossible to be, except encased in a layer of plastic and metal. They were the trappings of a world I didn’t want to live in, and now I don’t live in it anymore, even if everybody else does. I’ve taken on what seems to me a 19th-century habitus instead (with the occasional addition of airplanes, which I’m sure take away any right I may have had to feel righteous about my choices, carbonwise): I travel close to the ground, antlike, provincial. I cover the same ground again and again; I see it better than you do, but the existence of neighborhoods, restaurants, nightlives across town comes as a surprise to me, as do other once familiar things: the wearing of high heels, the carrying of bags that aren’t backpacks, a quality that on a confident day I can claim was vanity and on a less confident one I think may have been adult American self-respect. Jesse said that when he rode his bike to get around in Santa Fé, the people all assumed he was doing it because he’d lost his license to DUI. I don’t feel criminal, riding my bike, but I do feel incognito. Can I stay here, living in this different time-signature? It satisfies me now.

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