More adventurous than anticipated

This morning I went on the Portland ByCycle Autumn Adventure to Vancouver and back via the two I-Bridges.

In a previous entry I described the ByCycle rides thus:

These rides are awesome. They start after work and end before dark, are hosted by incredibly friendly and knowledgeable city staff, and explore Portland’s bicycle infrastructure and nifty places.

This was a special ride, happening on the weekend rather than after work, and longer than the after-work rides: 25 miles rather than 5-10. Since it says 25 miles right on the description, and I knew perfectly well it was four or five miles from my apartment to the starting point, you’d think I’d be pretty clear that it was going to be a longish ride. But somehow I wasn’t: I kept thinking 20 miles, because it says 2 hours and the usual PBC pace is ~10mph.

Furthermore, yesterday in Portland it was in the eighties and sunny — a perfect, warm, late summer day. But today proved true to the “Autumn” epithet of the ride. Even now at 3:30, it’s only 68 degrees. This morning it was 58, and raining. I also somehow had a hard time believing it was really going to be wet and yucky out there, even though it said so clearly in the forecast.

So my brain was not really ready, and the adventure was more adventurous than I anticipated. I was wearing long shorts and a short sleeve jersey and jacket, and my summer gloves. My jacket was soaked through before I even arrived at Peninsula park, although I was doing fine staying warm. But after we started out at the group’s slower pace, in a continuing rain, and headed out toward the Columbia river with its associated wind, I got colder and colder, and my left thumb actually went numb — I couldn’t feel it properly when I rubbed against it. It became clear that I should have been wearing leggings and fall/winter gloves, and possibly arm-warmers as well. (My legs were warm enough, but most likely keeping them warm made it hard to make enough heat to keep my immobile hands warm.)

Fortunately, one of the wonderful Transportation Options staff managing the ride, Janice, lent me a pair of winter gloves that she wasn’t wearing. I was infinitely grateful for these as we went up the I-205 path: a bike path sandwiched in between two four-lane freeway segments. The path itself was like a normal bike path (blocked off with a low fence, two-way and about 5 feet wide in each direction) but was very, very wet, and very, very loud: probably one of single the least pleasant cycling experiences I’ve ever had. I felt deaf and headachy for a while afterward.

After we got over to Vancouver, it stopped raining for the most part, and with the gloves I felt more comfortable and enjoyed the paths we took along the river. Unfortunately, one person broke a chain, and then another later took a spill on some diagonal railroad tracks. I was very impressed with how well the staff handled everything — they were totally calm and cheerful about it. I was able to offer some band-aids that I often bring with me on rides (though no neosporin; it was in the cabinet at home).

On the way back, it finally cleared up and I was mostly dry (except for my poor sopping wet gloves, socks and shoes) by the time I got back. As the Ecotrust Hot Lips Pizza was on my route back, I decided to stop there and dry out and feed myself. Yum.

The whole ride was quite fascinating even aside from the weather. The first section was through low-traffic streets in North Portland, and then in an area west of the airport that seemed like it was almost in a different city/decade — quiet, semi-rural roads and houses. Very nifty. Then Marine Drive and the Marine Drive path to the airport and the I-205 path — a narrow bike lane, and a nice wide multi-use path, but very wet and windy.

The approach to the 205 path was quite well signed and designed — the street crossing of Marine Drive wasn’t signalized, but it was signed, with a light-activating button, and junctions were fairly clearly marked. Getting off on the other side was the same way — the path came down, veered left, and abruptly we were in a quiet neighborhood full of trees, then on a quiet street.

The paths on the Vancouver waterfront were impressive, wide and smooth, with new condos behind them and lots of trees, bushes, and other plant life. We went through several parks and saw lots of signs for the path showing that a lot of effort was recently put into it to revive the waterfront area.

The I-5 path was a totally different story. Although plenty of signs (similar to Portland’s green bike route signs, with distances and directions) directed us there, once we reached it we had to cross the street in a random and nearly unmarked spot. The path itself is set to one side of the bridge, and is one-way on that side (I assume there’s another side but didn’t see it). It’s a shared bike/ped path that is not even wide enough for a bike to pass a pedestrian unless the pedestrian ducks to one side when a pillar isn’t in the way. Still, the experience was less inherently unpleasant than the 205 path (quieter, because you’re to one side and have some steel supports between), and the bridge itself is certainly more attractive — like the Hawthorne Bridge on crack, kinda. (I can’t believe anyone wants to replace it with a 12-lane monstrosity, but that’s another story. ) But when you get to the other side, the access is TERRIBLE. Words are inadequate to convey its TERRIBLENESS. You have to get off the path, go around in a confusing way, cross the street a few times, ride on the sidewalk, cross the street again, and finally you’re on a path, which then curves around confusingly again. I have no idea where we were, and I’m so glad that I did it with a group led by someone who knew the way.

The fact that it’s so completely easy to take I-5 in a car to Vancouver (I’ve never done it but I can tell you how to do it from my place) and so completely confusing to navigate and/or unpleasant to do it on a bike is a classic example of how our transportation system is set up to encourage driving. It’s easy to drive; on a bike, it takes dedication to navigate and a certain amount of chutzpah to deal with the unpleasant noise and limited facilities on offer.

The freeway-crossings part of this was sufficiently educational that I’m glad I went, even if I did get wet and cold. I do like riding in the rain — I just don’t like doing so at 10mph when I’m underdressed. Can I suggest an optional, but planned, mid-route coffee break next time?

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