Every year since 2013, I set my intentions on traveling outside of Florida during Spring Break or Summer. New Orleans during Spring Break of 2015, New York City in 2016 and finally the Bay Area in 2017. The first time I got on a plane alone and left the heat and humidity of the South, I went to visit friends in Astoria. Thanks to a generous friend who connected me with their buddy Arnold, I borrowed a beat-up mountain bike and rode all over the city. One night, after I had just eaten a huge slice of artichoke pizza, I was riding back to my friend’s apartment when I was knocked unconscious. I woke up in the hospital an hour later, thew up the artichoke pizza and thanked the universe that I could still move my legs. Apart from the road rash on my right cheek, gashes on my left knuckles and a searing headache, I left the hospital in one piece. I felt bad about crashing Arnold’s bike, but what could I do? I don’t even remember how I crashed or what caused it.
Walking away from the crash made me more appreciative of the people who supported me and took care of me. I slept for 13 hours the night I was released from the hospital and I could not thank Melanie and Hugo enough for being the best hosts and friends I could ask for. They brought me chocolate chip pancakes! I’ll always remember how much they did for me when I certainly needed their help.
Five months later, I was in another crash where I walked out of the hospital with another concussion. I started to worry that people would blame cycling on my bad luck. I was more worried about psyching myself out of being on a bike. There are risks and lots of uncertainty every time I get on a bike, but the same thing goes with driving a car or even walking. I feel like I have an interesting perspective on transportation because I’ve grown up in the South, sort of. Florida can be a mess, let’s be real. It’s the most dangerous place to walk or bike, according to statistics and word of mouth. It seems to me that every place has its own degree of danger, so I figure I might as well learn how to ride my bike defensively and courageously no matter where I find myself.
On to March 2017 when I spent a week riding my bike through the Bay Area. A good friend of mine lent me his duffel bag and taught me how to take apart my bike. I felt giddy about learning how to disassemble a bike because it seemed like a step forward in the ladder of my biking skill-set. The plan was to fit my bike into the duffel bag and check it on the plane. If I was lucky, I could get away with paying a $150 fee for checking a bike as long as I played it cool and said it was sporting equipment. I got a ride to the airport from two more friends and anticipated I would be paying a chunk of money to get my bike to San Francisco, which ended up being the case. Getting on the plane after checking my bags was a mixture of exhaustion and relief. I spent the five-hour flight writing in my journal and listening to Erykah Badu.
Arriving in San Francisco at 3 a.m. was manageable once I was reunited with my bike. I used Lyft to get to my friend’s house in West Oakland and went to sleep at 5 a.m. I woke up at 8 and spent the day in a cafe where I worked on a paper that was due the next day. I was exhausted and was sure that I would have no energy to assemble my bike until I was done with the paper I had to write. The next day, a Sunday, I used the BART to get to the Mission District in San Francisco. I walked towards a bookstore/coffee shop my friend recommended and it happened to be the same day the Open Streets event was going on. There were people all over the street walking or biking for several blocks. It was the most I’d seen people on bikes in one place other than a Joyride Bicycle Collective event or a training ride.
On my search for a relatively quiet place to finish my paper, I ran into my friends Melanie and Hugo from New York. It was amazing because none of us knew we were in the same place. It was one of those serendipitous moments that I think are so rad. We hugged and decided to meet up later. I was feeling a little rough and just wanted to get this paper out of the way. I got some food and coffee and typed out as much as I could until I felt burnt out. I met up with Melanie and Hugo around dinner time and we got food from the busiest grocery store I’ve ever been in. The crowd made me anxious, so Melanie and I went to their apartment while Hugo checked out. We talked for hours that night, catching up on what we’d all been doing since we saw each other a year ago. I slept on their couch that night because I was so tired and the paper took all my energy out of me.
The next day, we got coffee and baked goods at the shops on Mission. We planned to get dinner again before I left the city and I parted ways with them feeling ready to take on the rest of the week. I took a train back to West Oakland and put my bike back together in my friend’s living room. I rode to King Kog Oakland to have the headset checked because I was sure I’d installed a piece incorrectly. The mechanic was welcoming and helped me fix my bike. Part of my ritual when visiting a city I’ve never been to before is to pick up a cycling cap from a local bike shop. I had no trouble finding a community of cyclists after asking the King Kog mechanic if there were “any cool bike people who aren’t shitheads” around town.
I rode out to Lake Merritt and found the cool bike people hanging out in the grass, eating peanuts and drinking beer. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d found the same people the mechanic told me about. They were sitting in a semi-circle with bikes strewn around them and a few of the cutest dogs sitting in the middle. The worst that could happen is they turn me away and I didn’t have much to lose, so I stepped off my bike and strolled over. The moment I walked up to them, I told them I was looking for the “cool bike people who aren’t shitheads” and one person responded, “you found ’em”! I thought to myself, Well that was easy, shit! All I wanted to do was meet people who love to bike as much as I do, and for the same reasons, and in less than 3 days, I’d already found them.
The first person I felt like I truly met was Katie, who quickly invited me to sit and join the group. Katie runs the podcast Oakland Bikes! and is truly one of the most generous and caring people I’ve met so far. We talked about cycling advocacy and I mentioned my interested in meeting Christina Peck, one of the best bike couriers in the U.S. To my surprise, Katie told me they were friends and could help us link up. I’m not sure if she could tell how stoked I was, but inside I was jumping up and down. When I started taking cycling seriously and got into racing, Christina inspired me a lot to crush pavement and go off-road. I just knew that I wanted to get to know this person who exemplifies so much of what I love about being on a bike.
It would be another week before I met up with Christina at a coffee shop near Oakland. They day after I met Katie, I explored the Bike Stations around the city and planned to ride across the Golden Gate bridge when I got the chance. Riding a bike in the Bay Area was easier than I thought thanks to the amount of bike shops, stations and resources all around. After visiting the Bike Station near King Kog, I set off for San Francisco using BART. It was incredible to me that I could take my bike on the train. I tried not to get lost too many times, but half the fun of traveling is losing your sense of direction, right?
I took the BART in the opposite direction the first time and asked for help from a woman I met in the station. I remember looking around for someone to ask for directions and seeing bright pink hair. Without hesitation, I asked if I was on the right platform to get to San Fran and the woman with pink hair turned and smiled at me with so much enthusiasm that I knew I was going to be okay. Linda shook my hand and we instantly started talking about my travel plans and connected over our shared interest in cycling and literature. During the ride to the Embarcadero station, we shared our life stories and traded numbers, promising to keep in touch with one another. It was only my third day on the West Coast and I already felt like I’d been there for years.
I started the ride to the Golden Gate bridge from the Embarcadero station and followed the Wharf a few miles until I reached the bike path. I’d only ever seen the bridge in pictures and videos. Crossing the bridge was relaxed, but windy and full of slow-rolling tourists (not that I’m excluded from the tourist label). Once I crossed the bridge and was still energized, I decided to see just how far I could go into Sausalito and Mill Valley.
I had no idea what kind of elevation to expect, but I was ready for anything. Biking along the trail reassured me that I would be able to find my way back to the bridge no matter how far I rode away from it. The piers, strip malls and boat houses got boring and I set my eyes on the hills rising over the west. Along the way, I noticed the fast food restaurants and buffets, parking lots crammed with oceans of cars. Exhaust smog was oppressive and suffocating compared to the aroma of spruce trees leading to Mill Valley. I’m familiar with canopy roads in Tallahassee, but they’ve got nothing on the redwood forests and eucalyptus trees I rode through in Sausalito.
I have this bad habit of carrying everything I need in a backpack when I ride somewhere. I slapped a rear rack on my Mr. Pink last year just so I could take my recyclables to a place that’d take them since my neighborhood didn’t collect. I wore a t-shirt and a pair of padded shorts, but my socks were gross and I was wishing I’d left my bag and changed into a jersey. Long story short; I wasn’t prepared for this ride and went to a bike shop. I bought a pair of socks (which are now my favorite) and a couple of bars. The guy who helped me map out a route using the mountain bike trails gave me handwritten directions into Mill Valley from Marin. I was worried I’d get lost and not make it to dinner before it got dark and my lights died, but I knew I could always turn around and make it back to the trail and eventually to the bridge.
My most challenging climb to-date was going up to the top cliff overlooking the Golden Gate bridge. I had to stop halfway through and listened to the guys who were walking their bikes on the other side of the road who shouted, “Don’t stop, don’t be like us”!
Turns out that I didn’t need to ride up that hill because it was in the wrong direction to get back to the city, but I felt accomplished and had a spectacular view of San Francisco at the top of the climb that made it worth the struggle. Eventually, I made it to Melanie and Hugo’s apartment just as sky was darkening.
Riding my bike around San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Cruz was pleasant and I was amazed at how accessible bicycles are on trains and busses. I’d love to go back someday and do a proper tour across California. Until then, I’ll remember the perfect weather and how fun it was to explore the Bay Area.