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Bike Travel: The People’s Republic of Berkeley

It was just a weekend trip to a city only 50 miles away, but I was as excited as a 10 year old, bouncing up and down in my seat on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train. Dick and I were headed to Berkeley, where I lived one summer for an internship between my junior and senior years in college. That was my first time flying in an airplane, my first time living anywhere except my parents’ home, and my first time living without a car.

It was also my first time in California, a trendy place I vaguely knew from TV and movies. I was thrust into a new world and into an apartment shared with two girls I’d never met in the student ghetto on Berkeley’s Southside. Before there was “Keep Austin (or Portland) Weird” there was Berzerkeley, and Southside was its ground zero.

Amoeba Music

Our apartment was five blocks from UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, where the Free Speech Movement began, three blocks from People’s Park, where activists occupied university land and one was killed by police, and two blocks from Telegraph Avenue, where the spirit of the era was still very present in that summer of 1985.

Walking down Telegraph Avenue in my preppy clothes I felt completely out of place and and a little uneasy, but completely intrigued. By the end of the summer, I didn’t want to go home. My boyfriend derisively said I was “enchanted” by California. It made me angry at the time, but he was right. When I landed a job in Silicon Valley after I graduated, I bought my first car and on my long drive west I stopped in Dallas to tell him goodbye.

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I needed the car because suburban Silicon Valley was hardly the walking paradise that Berkeley was then and still is today. Which is why Berkeley is such a great place to visit, especially since it’s also home to the Gourmet Ghetto, the birthplace of California Cuisine. And who better to lead the innovation than Alice Waters, a former Free Speech Movement activist more commonly known for her famed restaurant Chez Panisse.

We didn’t score a table at Chez Panisse on our quick trip, but we did sample some of Berkeley’s finest, based on recommendations crowdsourced from friends via social media. With so many great restaurants around the Bay, I was skeptical that Berkeley would stand out, but it did: unusual ingredients and unexpected combinations with a healthy emphasis on organic, sustainable and fresh, local products. From Michelin-starred Lalime’s to crowd-favorite Cheese Board Coop to newer spots like Gather and Build, we ate our way across the city and did our best to burn it all off riding around the city. Despite the hills, I don’t think we did.

Nettle scramble for him, poached egg and pork belly over sprouted farro for me.

There’s another movement afoot in Berkeley (or should I say on a roll?). Look out, Long Beach, Portland, Minneapolis and Boulder, Mayor Tom Bates has thrown Berkeley’s hat in the ring as the “Most Bike-Friendly City in America.” At 5,000 bike commuters a day in a city of 115,000, Berkeley is currently ranked #4 in the nation.

After riding Berkeley’s elaborate network of bike boulevards and traffic-calmed streets, and seeing the abundance of bike racks and bike-friendly businesses, I’d say the city is poised to propel to the top. When a movement takes hold in Berkeley, there’s no telling where it will go, and how far it might take us.

Have you ever lived or visited somewhere that changed your perception of the world? What impact did it have?

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Getting there: Starting in Mountain View, we biked 8 miles to Santa Clara/Great America Station, took the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train to Berkeley. We toured approximately 25 miles around the city by bike, and a bit on foot. Trip total bike mileage: 41 miles. Other transportation options include: Amtrak Coast Starlight & San Joachim trains, BART from San Francisco and other Bay Area locations, plus ferries via Oakland six miles away.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Travel

 

My Little Runaway Bicycle

It’s another sunny clear day here in San Jose, and I’m stuck at work in a windowless office trying to work on something I don’t particularly feel like doing. I wish I could hop on my bike and ride away to a carefree, beautiful place with the breeze on my face and the sun on my back. Somewhere where I can be free like a kid again.

I want to run away to the beach town of Santa Cruz like my mixte did last weekend, sadly without me.

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My friend Richard borrowed my bike for the Bike Snob NYC video shoot, and kept her for the weekend at his home in Scott’s Valley, just up the hill from Santa Cruz. When we met for the handoff I said, “If you ride her anywhere interesting, please take a photo for my Where’s My Bike Today? series.”

Little did I know that he would take dozens of amazing photos of my Susie Q PUBLIC all over town, including a few favorites below. Quite an adventure for a sweet little bike, one that I know I could do with a short ride to the Diridon station and a bus ride over the hill. If only I didn’t have to do this adult thing called work.

If you could run away for the day–today–where would you go?

All photos in this post were taken by Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious and are used with his permission.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Around Town, Travel

 

Bicycle Getaways: The San Francisco Riviera

When most people think of traveling by bike they think of bicycle touring, where you carry everything you need to be self-sufficient for long distances: clothing, sleeping bag, tent, cookware. Like backpacking on wheels. Or perhaps “credit card” touring, where you skip the camping and stay in motels or hostels. Or supported tours, where guides plan your route and vehicles carry your gear (and you too, if you don’t want to ride that day).

Strawberry

When Dick and I bought our touring bikes last year, we didn’t really have a plan. I suspected we’d set out for credit card type tours, and we still may. But so far, our overnight bike trips don’t fit any of these models. I would call them “bicycle getaways”: 2-4 day trips, more urban than most touring trips, using transit to increase our travel ranges, and with luxury accommodations. Ideally a hotel with a fuzzy robes and great restaurants nearby.

Breakfast in Bed

So far, we’ve done four bicycle getaways: two to Sacramento, one to San Francisco, and one I planned recently for Dick’s birthday. Instead of giving birthday gifts, we have a tradition of going away for a short trips. Dick’s birthday being close to Thanksgiving makes things challenging. Airports and highways are full of holiday travelers and after nine years together we’d already visited all the closer spots. I was running out of ideas.

Then I thought of Tiburon, a small town on the north end of San Francisco Bay that along with neighboring Sausalito and Belvedere Island make up what’s affectionately called the San Francisco Riviera. I was sold.

Like our other bike getaways, the train made it easy to ride from home. Caltrain got us to San Francisco, then it was less than 30 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge and around the bay to Tiburon. We had our bikes available for a Marin day trip the next day, then home was just a ferry ride and train ride away. No holiday traffic like a driving trip would be, and more luxury than a full-on touring trip. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Where have you ever done loaded toured with your bike? Did you go hardcore with fully-loaded touring or did you “credit card” it for a lighter load?

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Trip Details: Starting from home in Mountain View, we traveled this route for a total 165 miles: 80 miles by train, 75 by bike, 10 by ferry. Transportation costs: $29 ($11 for Dick’s train pass, $18 for ferry, free bike parking at hotel). Hotel: Water’s Edge. Restaurants: Capurro’s (SF), Caprice, Sam’s Cafe and Boathouse (Tiburon).

Tiburon Trip Map

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Backroads, Travel

 

Southern Comfort, South Louisiana Style

As someone who left her native state right after college graduation and never considered moving back, going home for Christmas is as much about returning to Louisiana culture as it is visiting family.

Louisiana culture is the way the grocery cashiers smile and chat effortlessly with you, and not because it’s company policy. It’s the respect children give adults that only starts with “yes, m’am” and “no, sir.” It’s the diverse range of southern accents you hear in the capital city, the ones you never hear in the movies.

It’s as comforting as the favorite dishes your momma cooks because you’re coming all the way from California.

Chickens

I was born and bred in the big city of Baton Rouge, but my cousins live upriver in rural Pointe Coupee parish where our family has lived for almost 300 years. A land of sugar cane and pecan trees, oxbow lakes and heavy-limbed oak trees, sudden oil wealth and chronic poverty. We came for pecans and to visit family. We left with pecans, fresh eggs and a closer connection to cousins and to my heritage. And lots of pictures of course.

What does going home mean to you? What re-connections or new connections did you make this holiday season?

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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Travel

 

Planes, Trains, Buses, Bikes and Feet

When it comes down to it, we have more choices on how to get from Point A to Point B than most people consider. There are the obvious parameters–cost, time, comfort–but most of the time people choose the routes they’ve done before, not what necessarily the ones that are most efficient or convenient.

When I registered for the National Women’s Bicycling Summit, I wanted to take the Amtrak Coast Starlight down to LA and then ride the Los Angeles River Trail down to Long Beach the next morning. But I couldn’t afford the time off work for the all-day train ride and didn’t want to ride downtown LA alone at night, so I opted to fly.

Flying brings more choices: there are multiple airports on either end of the trip. Because I prefer smaller airports I usually fly Southwest from San Jose to Burbank or Irvine, but JetBlue flies from San Francisco directly into Long Beach at a low price and with no LAX hassles so I was sold. Sorry, SJC, SFO won this time.

I had heard the folks at SFO bragging about their bike facilities and knew that the Millbrae Caltrain station was about 2 miles from the airport, so I rode the train and my bike to get to the airport. Baggage wasn’t a problem. From my business trip to Seattle I knew I could carry bags for a two-day trip on my bike, including my laptop.

For ground transportation on arrival, I took a chance with the city bus instead of my usual taxi. My iPhone gave me explicit instructions, the bus was on time, and I got to my hotel in 45 minutes in air conditioned comfort, albeit with blisters from walking in my “sensible” shoes. It was painfully obvious I don’t walk much.

The reverse trip was equally smooth with another bus ride and a handsome man who met me at the airport for our standing Friday night bike date. With several good restaurants along the bay by the airport there were plenty of choices. There almost always are, if you are willing to look for them and take a risk.

Total transportation costs: $186 plane + $11 train + $2.50 bus + $35 bike + $0 feet = $241.50.

How comfortable are you with taking risks when you travel? Do you like trying something new or do you prefer to stick to what you’re comfortable with?

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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure, Travel

 

After 30 Years, My First Bike Ride to School

I had been back in town for my high school reunion less than 24 hours and suddenly I felt like a teenager again. “Mom, Dad, can I borrow Mom’s bike and ride to school today?” I asked gingerly. I had good reason to expect them to say “no”. The only road that connects my parent’s subdivision to the rest of town is Perkins Road, a busy, 45 mph highway with no shoulder. I had never ridden a bike to school, or anywhere else useful.

But I had learned from the Baton Rouge Advocates for Safe Streets that a developer had cut a path through the pasture that separates my parents’ 1950s-1970s subdivision from the older neighborhoods built before cars were king. Dad and I had ridden the path the day before, so they knew I wouldn’t have to ride Perkins Road.

My parents said “yes” and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then came the questions: “What route will you take? You won’t take the Perkins Overpass, will you? Can you walk underneath it instead?” Fortunately, I had already plotted out the full 5 mile route using Google maps and streetviews so I was prepared. They seemed satisfied, but I rushed to pack up and roll out before they changed their minds, just like when I was a kid.

The route was easier and more pleasant than expected. I arrived in time for the school tour and was only a little sweaty. It helps when you ride slowly to see the sights and stop to take far too many pictures. But what can I say, I love Baton Rouge. And I’m grateful to finally enjoy it from the seat of a bike.

Were you able to ride a bike or walk to school as a kid? Would you let your kids do it today?

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For people interested in touring the Southside and Garden District neighborhoods in Baton Rouge, here’s an annotated map of my route. You can also click on this image to get a higher resolution image of this map.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Around Town, Travel

 

I Left My Heart in Sacramento

Dick may be drawn to the old port town of Alviso, but I have an unexplained attraction to Sacramento. Maybe it’s because it’s a state capital along a big river, just like my home town of Baton Rouge. Or maybe it’s because they’re both overshadowed by more glamorous sister cities–San Francisco and New Orleans.

What I do know is that when I heard that the North American Handmade Bicycle Show was coming to Sac, I didn’t hesitate to put it on the calendar even though we visited Sacramento less than a year ago.

Like last year, we took the Amtrak Capital Corridor train, riding our bikes from home to the station and bringing the bikes with us on the train. Like last year, we stayed downtown at the historic Citizen Hotel, went to dinner on a bike date that included a night cruise around the city, rode out to Folsom on the American River Bike Trail, and saw California citizens speaking up by marching on the capitol. But I enjoyed every minute of it. Some things never get old, even in Old Sacramento. (And the bikes at the NAHBS were gorgeous!)

What city or place do you like to visit that never gets old no matter how many times you visit? What makes it so special?

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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Travel

 

Bike Date Friday: Dining with the Queen

The good news came while we were in Southern California–I got an offer for a full-time job! The company is top notch, the people I’d met were cool, the compensation outstanding and their location in San Jose is within biking distance from home. I didn’t have to think long before I accepted.

To celebrate, Dick and I splurged on dinner at Sir Winston’s on the Queen Mary. Restaurants in tourist destinations usually don’t have the best in food and are often pricey, but Sir Winston’s got great ratings on Yelp. Plus we wanted to tour the ship anyway. So I made dinner reservations on OpenTable and rushed down to the Queen Mary ticket office and booked passage on the Twilight Tour later that evening.

As darkness fell, we slapped lights on our rental bikes and cruised a short half mile down the waterfront path. The air and water were surprisingly still–all the better for reflecting the lights from the city. We found the well-hidden bike rack and took the elevator up to the promenade deck to start our tour.

With her maiden voyage at the height of the Great Depression, the Queen Mary symbolized the grand life and sleek sophistication at a time when few could afford such luxury. During World War II she served her country ferrying troops across the ocean to fight for the Allied forces, carrying to up to 16,000 people in a trip–more than six times greater capacity than in her peacetime voyages.

After oohing and aahing the beautiful wood paneling, furniture and fixtures and watching children’s eyes grow wide during the ghost stories, we headed up a metal flight of stairs to an upper deck for dinner at Sir Winston’s. It was old school elegant with a glorious view and utterly divine. The perfect way to celebrate.

How do you like to celebrate the big days and happy occasions in your life? A fancy dinner, an expensive trip, a big party or simply a quiet evening with friends?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Bike Date, Travel

 

The Most Bicycle Friendly City in America

When a city aspires to be “the most bicycle friendly city in America” and it’s not Portland, Minneapolis or San Francisco, you have to check it out. Since I was down in Southern California for a professional conference, Dick and I stayed over for the weekend in Long Beach to see if there was a glimmer of reality behind this lofty goal. And the beach is always fun in the off-season.

Knowing little about Long Beach, we chose a hotel located on the waterfront with a bike path connecting it to downtown and hoped for the best. When the waiter at the hotel restaurant casually mentioned how nice the weather was on his commute along the beach, I knew we had hit the jackpot. The hotel rented bikes at $25/day, but waiter Kelly declared them junk and recommended renting from the Bikestation instead. That’s service.

The next morning we walked the mile to the Bikestation Long Beach, the founding location of 24/7 facilities for storing and repairing bikes, plus lockers and showers for bike commuters in a half dozen cities, including nearby Palo Alto. It only took a few minutes before the gruff mechanic warmed to us, gave us a military discount on a couple of city bikes (33%!) and sent us off with brunch recommendations that I’m sure waiter Kelly would not have approved of.

Colorful characters on bikes, whimsical bike racks and a cool new vintage bike shop. Well-designed separated bike lanes with bike-only signals, beach paths, river paths and patient, friendly motorists. Long Beach has the makings of a great bicycle-friendly city. Will it be the most friendly in America? Perhaps, but only if Portland, Minneapolis and San Francisco don’t find out.

What makes a city bicycle friendly to you? If you could do one thing to make your city more bicycle friendly, what would it be?

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure, Travel

 

Glamour on Two Wheels: Hollywood Stars on Bikes

“What Hollywood did for smoking, Hollywood also did for bicycling,” said Steven Rea to introduce his book, Hollywood Rides a Bike, a collection of glamorous photos of stars on bicycles. As a big fan of the vintage photos on his Tumblr blog, I was excited to read that he was publishing the collection and that he would be promoting the book in Los Angeles while I was in town for a conference. The stars were aligned indeed!

The signing was at Book Soup on the famous Sunset Boulevard, less than three miles from our hotel. If had bikes to ride like the stars in the book, it would have been a delightful 20 minute ride through Beverly Hills into West Hollywood. Instead, it was a 45 minute slog down Santa Monica Boulevard at rush hour, including circling the block twice before giving in and paying $10 to park in a lot. Welcome to LA.

Before a small group of enthusiasts, Rea described how his two passions–bikes and film–ignited into a quest for old photos and detective work to identify the bikes with scant details. How did he and his vintage bike geek friends recognize a 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub from a faded black and white photo?

My favorites were the candid shots taken on the back lots where the stars rode studio bikes to get from sound stage to sound stage, or goofed around on during breaks in the shooting. Like Lauren Bacall taking a coffee break sitting on a studio bike. Or James Stewart with Grace Kelly riding his top tube during the filming of Rear Window. Or Anthony Perkins and Ray Walston playing bike polo, batting a tin can with wooden canes.

Other photos were promotional shots, like Steve McQueen on a turn-of-the-century safety bike, 7-year-old Shirley Temple beaming as she rode without training wheels or Rin Tin Tin riding on a beach cruiser in Malibu, front paws planted firmly on the handlebars. I would go on, but the review is never as good as the book.

Which glamorous movie star would you like to see on a bike? Which would you like to be?

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Travel

 
 
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