Yesterday marked my long ride ever, coming in at approximately 139 miles as a part of the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race. We headed out to the beach (Lincoln City) on Friday evening and stayed in a suite at the Inn at Spanish Head thanks to team president Jim who served as sugar daddy for the evening. [...]
Archive for November, 2009
I’ve been commuting by bike approximately 14 miles each way to and from work 2-3 times per week in the last month.
My morning commute is perfect. I head out the door into crisp, if not cold morning weather, catch the sunrise over a calm Columbia River with Mt. Hood as a backdrop, and avoid much of the heavier traffic that starts about the time I’m getting to work. Combine that with the hot showers with plenty of water pressure at work, and it’s a great way to show up at your desk in the morning refreshed and ready for the day.
That said, my commute home in the evening is terrible. The end of daylight savings time this last weekend means that I’m now riding home in the dark, and I’ve quickly determined that 2 lights in back and one in front (standard-power LEDs) plus some reflective gear still isn’t enough. Throw Vancouver drivers, who can’t hold a candle to their Portland counterparts as far as bike awareness goes, into the mix, and you’d basically have to ride like you were invisible even if you mounted a set of car headlights on your handlebars.
Then there’s the route itself. During the daylight hours it’s fairly unassuming, but at night it turns into a different beast altogether. The trip home goes something like this:
- Play Frogger from the get-go heading out of the parking lot while trying to avoid your coworkers pulling out.
- Next up, take a series of left and right corners that cars like to apex by cutting into the bike lane – more often than not while they’re passing you going 30 in a 20.
- Take a left onto Andresen Rd, a heavy traffic four lane road where the bike lane appears and disappears on a whim, and cars will stop at nothing to make sure they get ahead of you to cut across the bike lane into the right-turn only lanes. I’d take another route, except there are none that get me in the direction I need to be going.
- Continue along Andresen through a section I’ve dubbed “right hook Hell” – a stretch where by default all cars will cut you off while making right turns into parking lots.
- Then comes a brief respite up a half-mile long climb where cars generally don’t have any reason to be in the bike lane, but occasionally still manage to be there anyway.
- Next up comes a fun little stretch after taking a right onto Mill Plain Rd. where generally there is a nice tailwind in the evening and I feel safe simply because I’m cruising along at 30-35MPH along with the rest of the traffic.
- After cutting across a mall parking lot to avoid two different massive intersections without any sort of bike-friendliness, you head into the woods and the city disappears on Blandford Dr. The descent down Blandford consists of a narrow two lane road that winds its way down several hundred feet in almost complete darkness. Thankfully traffic is minimal, and it’s actually a fun descent as long as you avoid the large pothole on the right side that you saw going the other direction that morning.
- Next up you hit the flats on Columbia House Blvd. Here it’s back to alternating sections of shoulder and no shoulder, and usually where there is a shoulder there is glass. At least that’s what it sounds like under my tires – I can’t actually see it in the dark.
- You come to a set of two stop lights. No big deal. Except that these stop lights can’t be triggered by bikes. And they are uni-directional; only one direction at a time gets a green. And there is rarely any traffic coming the direction you are. The kicker: there aren’t even crosswalks or buttons to press to trigger the light. So you wait until you see an opportunity where you think there’s less than a 20% chance of being run over and run the red. And the other red.
- Next comes a tricky lane crossing where you have to split two lanes – the one to your right being an onramp where cars accelerate onto a freeway and the lane doesn’t split off until the last minute.
- Oh look, another traffic light you can’t trigger – at least this one usually has traffic. More glass. Gravel. A tire.
- Next up comes a section of road right along the Columbia resulting in more tailwinds. It’s dark without streetlights, so make sure to avoid the crack that runs down much of the ride side of the road.
- Hello, I-5 bridge interchange. The process of getting onto the bridge begins with an uphill blind corner onto the pedestrian part of the bridge – a perfect setup for someone to come flying down the other direction straight into you. You could almost see up the bridge a ways, were it not that a bunch of car headlights are directly in your line of sight blinding you.
- Here’s the really fun part. You get to ride across a narrow (sidewalk width or less) pedestrian area for about a half mile, including a nice little uphill and downhill. Meanwhile, you’re avoiding a railing and plunge into the Columbia on one side and girders and support beams for the bridge on the other. Throw in being blinded by headlights, some slight pollution from the cars on the bridge, oh – and at times a 20-25MPH sidewind threatening to blow you off course into a painful situation between a bridge support beam and a hard place.
- You’ve successfully made it across the bridge. Great! Now watch out for that sudden shifting to the right of the path that you can barely see coming due to the blinding of the car headlights. Miss the turn and it’s into a concrete wall for you!
- Drop down a dirt section rather than taking the path that loops needlessly far around. The path is pretty cracked and broken anyway.
- Hello Jantzen Beach. So where do I go now? The bike sign says cross the road and up onto the sidewalk the wrong way on the other side of the road? Uh, okay.
- Now I get to cross at a crosswalk and hope the car speeding down the offramp sees me coming around a blind corner.
- Next you get to do some weird sort of looping figure eight to cross under one onramp and over another. Finally, you’re dumped out at the North end of Delta Park East.
- Proceed through the park on a quiet backroad in complete darkness. Ambient light doesn’t even do much good with the heavy tree cover. The road turns slightly several times and you have to watch very closely to not wind up in a ditch. Note to self: eat more carrots. Did I mention the potholes? Don’t even bother to try to avoid the potholes in the dark. Just have a very steady grip on the bars and be ready for the front wheel to jerk around wildly.
- Once you make it out of the dark, you wind up making a right turn onto a road that inevitably backs up due to the traffic on I-5 North and the nearby onramp that’s overloaded with cars. Cut through some stopped traffic to find yourself in the left lane, or you’ll never move.
- Pass Portland International Raceway, think of warmer, sunnier days of summer bike racing, and keep on going.
From there, you arrive in what can reasonably considered Portland, and there’s really not much else to report. It’s still another 3-4 miles to home, but it’s boring (in the good sort of way). It’s like Portland is laid out for bike use or something. You even see other bike commuters. Cars happily give you the right of way. Weird.
We’ll see how it goes. Once my morning commute is plunged into darkness as well, riding to work may completely fall out of favor. The ride home is not quite as dangerous as I’ve made it out to seem, but it’s certainly somewhat hectic at times. I just hope the slight boost in fitness is greater than the negative effects of the amount of car exhaust I get to breathe on the way there and back.