Bikes, boats, and trains from Oakland to Palo Alto

11/30/21

Today was a trip!

I left my cohousing guest room near Jack London Square in Oakland, and rode just a few blocks to the ferry dock. The ferry ride was nice, again, with lovely bay and bridge views.

Upon disembarking, I pedaled along the San Francisco waterfront over to the alterations shop, where I picked up my expertly mended nylon pants. (Yay!) Along the way, I passed some cool big silver mirrored orbs, so I took a brief detour to enjoy the funhouse effects.

After the tailor, I headed over to the Caltrain depot, since I realized my time was running too short to arrive in Palo Alto in daylight (which I prefer, for safety and ease) if I biked the whole way.

I had never ridden a Caltrain (commuter rail to the south bay) so this was a fun new experience. They have a dedicated bicycle car, with fewer stairs to board and places to secure bikes, so that was great. (My host tonight told me there had been a dedicated activist named Ellen Fletcher who was largely responsible for this particular piece of infrastructure. A local bike boulevard—which I rode tonight, enjoying the festive holiday lights along it—was also named for her; it was the first bike boulevard in the United States, and she was the one who pioneered it, in the 1970s and 1980s.)

I got off the train in Millbrae, and began bicycling along beautiful waterfront paths (well, after a bit of a harrowing mile or so getting over to the paths, via a busy, multilane road with multiple freeway on-ramps—yikes!) starting right at the San Francisco airport! I found a bench for a snack before starting along the pathway, and watched many planes arriving and departing.

Strangely, along the ride I seemed to enter a bizarre space-time warp of some kind. (Part “user error” [ahem], part extreme and poorly marked bike-path detour, and perhaps part supernatural vortex.) I somehow ended up traversing maybe four or five miles—as the crow flies, for whatever that may be worth—in the span of about an hour and a half. I’m still mystified, and a bit chagrined, as to how this might have happened, but suffice it to say it became very clear to me I would need to take the train for several more stops.

I ended up re-boarding just one stop past Millbrae, in Hillsdale. That platform was trickier to board from than San Francisco had been. It was hard to figure out how to get on the platform, and then when I did, I didn’t know where to stand to get on the bike car. I miscalculated it. And since it was a very brief stop for the train, I had to scramble to get both the bike and the heavy and bulky trailer up four or five stairs, and then stand awkwardly in the aisle with it, since there was no place to secure or even store a bike. I spent the next several stops fretting about how I was going to get them back off the train in Palo Alto, without having the train speed away!

Luckily an employee saw my predicament, and reassured me that someone would probably help me to disembark.

Sure enough, I made it off the train OK. However, darkness was nigh, and finding my way from the platform onto the paths and streets I needed to take proved very mysterious (and even unsafe at times) and therefore rather infuriating.

I made it eventually. And the darkness did show off those holiday lights along the bike boulevard very nicely. (There always seem to be silver linings for setbacks.)

I arrived at my hosts’ house (more of Mimi’s friends!) and was greeted warmly not only by the three human members of the family, but also by a fluffy cat who had joined their household only an hour prior to my arrival! She seemed to be settling into her new home very smoothly.

Rose, my host and Mimi’s friend, is a bicycle transportation advocate in Palo Alto, and their family likes to “live local” by not owning a car, getting around primarily on foot and by bike. (Including a Brompton!) She also runs a podcast, Rose Pedals, and tonight she interviewed me for it! I’ll share the link when the episode goes live.

There are so many people doing so much good in the world. I’m humbled and excited that I get to meet so many of them on this journey.

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2 thoughts on “Bikes, boats, and trains from Oakland to Palo Alto”

  1. What Map database do you use? I like “Pocket Earth” (only available on an iPhone). It is a very nice presentation of the OpenStreetMap map. It is easy to use, easy to evaluate and follow bicycle routes on.

    After reading the challenge of getting from the Millbrae Station to the water I looked at other options.

    It looks like if you would have stayed on the train one more stop to “Broadway” you could have crossed the US 101 freeway on a pedestrian bridge to get to the bay front path.

    (Though I see this route also jumps out in the Google maps bicycle map option. Sometimes Google maps delivers on the bicycle touting, but sometimes it doesn’t).

    The big plus about PocketEarth is that you can download cities, states, countries ahead of time. And access the map offline. Then easily delete them after you have moved on.

    (I’ve used it bicycle touring in 25 countries and have found many good routes through otherwise difficult-to-navigate areas).

    Ted

    1. Thanks for all this, Ted. I maybe could have specified that Google Maps (which is what I use, almost exclusively) definitely did not recommend that route. I just looked at the map and thought, “I’m here. I want to get there. Looks pretty direct.” So… yeah, sometimes that approach isn’t the wisest!

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