(No Poker content) Bike the Bay–a trip report

by Lou on September 6, 2009

“What kind of schmuck gets up at 2 o’clock in the morning to ride his bike?” That’s my parentally and sober, serious voice posing the question to me, and it’s the voice I’m doing my best to ignore.
I’m not actually going to ride my bike at 2 a.m. I’m getting up that early so I can drive down to San Diego, pick up my registration material and then ride my bike at 7 a.m., as part of the annual Bike the Bay event sponsored by the San Diego Bicycle Coalition.

The ride departs from Embarcadero Marina Park, just behind the convention center in downtown San Diego, crosses the 2.12 mile, 4.7 percent grade Coronado bridge, and traverses the bay. It’s something I always wanted to do ever since I first saw the Coronado bridge. The very first time I saw it, I thought, “Jeez, I’d love to ride my bike over that bridge,” and today would be my chance.

So I’m not listening to that sober, serious voice; I’m listening to the other one—the one shouting, “Dude, this is your opportunity. You can only ride across the Coronado bridge one day a year, and this is it. Show a sense of adventure. Go for it. So what if you have to get up when the rest of the world is sleeping. Don’t wimp out. Go for it.”

So I’m up early. My bike and gear are in my car, all packed and neatly tucked away the night before. I grab a banana and Cliff bar for the road and I’m off, choosing the long way, via I-10 and the 215, because I don’t feel like driving up Hiway 74 and through Anza when the night is still pitch black and I can’t see where the road ends and the sky begins.
When I reach San Diego, the sun is coming up, and the map I downloaded does a pretty good job of getting me downtown. From there I work my way to the convention center, following a car with a couple of bikes on a rack hitched to its back. They lead me right to the Convention Center, where I can stash my car in their garage all day for $10.

Although I registered online, I still have to pick up my bib number and wrist band—my tickets, so to speak, to ride across the bridge. My bib number was 2221. In their promotional literature the Coalition said they will limit the number of riders to 2,500. Since I signed two weeks earlier and I’m assuming they assigned bib numbers in numerical order, I figured they sold out this event, or came close to it.

From the Convention Center parking lot, I ride down the length of the building, turn right and follow a road that leads behind the Convention center and right to the event’s staging area. When I arrived, there were already a goodly number of riders milling around.

I quickly signed in, pinned my bib number to my jersey, and went to queue up in a line of riders on the road leading out of the park.

One of the volunteers told me they send riders out in groups of about 50 or 60, each group accompanied by a ride leader. It’s spaced out to avoid the mass confusion you’d get at the start and at the entrance to the bridge with 2,500 cyclists trying to pedal away from the park and cramming onto the bridge’s on-ramp all at once. The ride leader tells me that once we get to the bridge, the idea of small, separate groups would fall apart and it’s everyone for him or herself, with fast riders challenging the bridge while the slower riders challenge themselves to get over it without resorting to walking.

At 7 a.m. the first group of riders departs, with about a two minute gap until the second group is allowed to go. I’m in Group No. Seven, so we clip in and pedal off somewhere around 7:20. It’s really a short ride to the bridge entrance, and I follow our group leader because he knows the way, and I don’t.

“Once over the bridge,” he tells me, “becomes one long, steady stream of riders all along the course. There’s no way,” he assures me, “that you can get lost or miss a turn.”
You’re really not supposed to stop on the bridge, but the view from the top was so spectacular that I stopped anyway, pretending to be checking out a mechanical issue on my bike. In reality, I was gazing at the San Diego skyline from the top of the bridge. It was magnificent, and the view I always wanted to experience whenever I saw that bridge. The weather was perfect too—a clear day, about 70 degrees, with no wind or morning fog.

The riders were all over the lot in terms of experience and skill, although the majority had no experience when it came to riding in formation. Most appeared to be really casual, recreational riders rather than experienced cyclists. Probably about five to seven percent were walking their bikes at least part of the way over the bridge, which seemed to be about as steep as Hiway 74 but not nearly as long. There were some fast riders, most in cycling club jerseys, but they were only a small part of the 2,500 out for a spin that day.

The descent into Coronado was fast and fun. I got into the fast lane and really flew down the west side of the bridge. Once in Coronado, we were on dead, solid, flat ground heading south to the bottom of the bay. We were routed onto a bike path adjacent to the bay. First we passed single family homes, and then an area filled with high rise buildings which appeared to have spectacular views of the city, the ocean, or both.

There were volunteer course marshals at every intersection coordinating the flow of riders with any cross traffic we might encounter. And they were terrific. They were all well-trained, courteous, and plentiful. It would have been tough to get lost if you tried.

There were also three rest stops, which is a lot when you consider that the entire journey totaled only twenty-seven by the trip’s end. But I’m never one to pass up free cold drinks, bananas, Cliff bars, nuts, and any of the other goodies on hand. I blew by the first rest stop, but did stop at the second and third. One stop even had a mechanic on hand, and one of the local bike shops that happened to be located on the return portion of the course also had a mechanic in the shop’s parking lot ready to offer free help to any rider with a mechanical problem.

Once we got toward the bottom of the bay, the bike path cut through a wetland area, which offered a view that couldn’t be obtained by driving.

The only issue with the bike path was that it was never designed for the 2,500 cyclists using it on that day. I was riding at about 17 or 18 miles per hour and passing at least 25 riders for every one rider that passed me. It was tough to maintain that average speed because of the congestion on the bike path. “On your left” became was the phrase of the day, and I seemed to shout it out constantly. After a while I fell in with a group of five other riders and we rode as a peloton, on the extreme left-hand side of the bike path, and when slower riders made way for one of us, they made way for us all.

The bike path is also used by runners, some of whom were going in our direction while others were heading toward us. The cry of “runner up” to alert riders about the presence of a runner heading his way was the second most popular call heard on the bike path.

Once we reached the bottom of the bay—which was also the bottom of the course—we were back on the San Diego side and headed back up to our starting point. That side of the bay is a light industrial area for the most part, without really anything worth seeing, but the lack of scenic views allowed me to focus on the road surface, which was a lot worse than the road in Coronado. The roads on the return trip are a lot lik
e the old roads in Indio and La Quinta, the roads beyond the newer ones that were built when new gated communities were constructed.

The one kicker is that these roads were traversed by railroad tracks in a number of places. We were always perpendicular to the tracks, so they were really not a problem other than being bumpy, but on the return leg of the trip I passed three different riders who had gone down—one serious enough for the paramedics to be attending him when I rode past.

Back at Embarcadero Marina Park we picked up our event T-shirts and goodie bags, and there was a waiting line for hot food. It didn’t look all that good to me, so I checked out the vendor exhibits, grabbed another banana for the trip home, rode back around to the Convention Center parking lot, dismantled my bike, stowed my gear, and headed home.

The return trip was faster. It was daylight, so I took 163 up through Balboa Park to I-15 and then to Temecula, where I cut off to go the back way via Anza to Hiway 74 and home.

It was really an enjoyable morning, especially since I got to ride my bike over the Coronado bridge, which was something I always wanted to do. The event was incredibly well organized and well staffed by knowledgeable, courteous, and helpful volunteers. In fact, in my humble opinion, it’s probably the best run charity ride I’ve been on, and it’s something other events could learn from.

The only drawback is that it’s only a 25 – 27 mile ride, and that’s not much of a ride when you have to drive 130 miles each way. It would have been nice if they had optional loops, so it could be made a 27, 50, 62 (metric century), and even a full 100 mile ride. At least among riders I talked to, I was the only one who came from a distance to ride there. All the others were either from San Diego itself or its suburbs; in any event, as short a drive for them as it was for me to get to the Tour de Palm Springs.

Would I do it again? Probably … if crossing the Coronado Bridge by bike was that much fun one time, it’s got to be worth giving it at least one more go—even if I have to be idiotic enough to get up at 2 a.m. to do it.

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