The Best Commute in the World
It starts early in the week when I type an appointment in my work calendar for 4:30 p.m. Friday: “Bike ride home.” Just the act of typing those words puts a smile on my face because I’ve just blocked that time from any meetings and I’ve got all week to look forward to a glorious bike commute home over San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge.
Friday morning I get my gear ready: the bike pants, the windbreaker, the gloves, the iPod, the helmet, the Camelbak, and the sunglasses. Since I live 25 miles away in Marin County and there’s no shower at work, this is only a one-way commute. I jump on the bike-rack enabled commuter bus in the morning and head southward towards The City by the Bay with all the other gas-guzzling suburban commuters.
The day flies by as I go to meetings, move projects forward and maximize my client’s profitability. Every time I go to or return from a meeting, my bike sits behind my desk and serves as a reminder that 4:30 p.m. is quickly approaching. At 4:15, I head to the bathroom and transform myself from a retail business consultant to a man ready to jump on his bike and traverse the Golden Gate.
From the financial district, I get on my bike and roll down Sansome Street feeling the headwinds. In five minutes I’m at the Embarcadero, the waterfront promenade that circles much of San Francisco. Once on the bay, famous landmarks are everywhere: Coit Tower, the island of Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and off in the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge. I zip by thousands of tourists milling around in front of Pier 39, I pass the Aquatic Park and Fort Mason and then I roll through Crissy Field, where I face the toughest headwinds and watch dogs chasing tennis balls in front of the St. Francis Yacht Club.
From Crissy Field, I start to pedal through the Presidio, a former military garrison situated with one of the best views in the world. I glance at the span, a huge yet graceful structure that joins two rocky points and connects a 1.7 mile strait. One hundred and sixty two years ago, many ships sailed through that passage filled with people looking to make a fortune in the 1849 California Gold Rush. I climb up a hill to the plateau where the northbound approach to the bridge begins. I’m sweating now, pumping the pedals to the beat of the music in my iPod and a bead of sweat is starting to form on my sunglasses so I shake it off into the wind. Tourists are snapping pictures everywhere, in complete awe of the setting. I make a short climb on the western side and look out over the Pacific Ocean and now I’m on the bridge, climbing – yes, climbing — to the center of the suspension span.
A few things always surprise me. The look of wonder and awe in the tourists around me always makes me appreciate the beautiful setting and I’m always a bit unprepared for the fact that heading northbound from the south side requires a bit of uphill effort. Once I’ve made it to the center of the bridge, I shift gears and it starts to get easy. As I pass both towers, I get a full head-on rush of sea air that slows me down to the point of almost stopping. As I pump the pedals, I look down and see tiny drops of “orange vermillion” paint, spilled from the bridge touch-up job that goes on continuously.
At the north end of the bridge I start to climb again. To my left, up the rocky cliff, are “pill boxes,” enclosed fortifications from World War II, when the West Coast of the U.S. was on high alert for a potential attack from the Japanese. To my right, across the water, I see Angel Island, an immigration station from 1910-1940, where thousands of Asian, Hispanic, Russian and Australian immigrants passed through in numbers surpassed only by Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Once off the bridge I climb a bit more and pass under the 101 freeway and start to coast downhill. I pick up speed and look to my right to a stunning panorama of the San Francisco Bay. Sailboats and windsurfers tack along the water and the familiar San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge dominates the setting. I can smell the eucalyptus trees as I roll by, themselves immigrants from Australia. I pick up more speed as I roll along the water and in to Sausalito, a small town with a distinctly Mediterranean feel.
I pass Sausalito and move onto the Mill Valley bike path and the road is fairly flat from this point onward. It’s now been an hour on my bike and I’m starting to look forward to getting home. The weekend has officially started and I’ve kicked it off with some great exercise, beautiful scenery and there is one less car on the road. That’s why my commute is the best in the world. What about yours?