When people ask us how we get by without a car, my usual answer is that we just don’t range very far from home on most days. School is a two-block walk, shopping is a mile or less. Erik commutes to San Francisco every day for work, but I go weeks without leaving a 2-mile radius.
This weekend was different.
We ended up traveling more than a couple miles on each day of Labor Day weekend. Here’s how we did it:
Saturday: Jack London Square by bike
We have some friends who had an adorable new baby, and we hadn’t met him yet. So we made plans to meet them at the Jack London Square Farmer’s Market, where killer crepes and fish tacos are sold.
This is a 5-mile trip, each way, and it was to be Toth’s first long ride since he learned to ride his two-wheeler. I was a little nervous that the route would be too dangerous for him, since I have a bad habit of not remembering every single part of a trip and running into unexpected challenges. Also of course there was the chance that he would get too tired to complete the trip.
Since we had concerns, we made sure to leave nice and late so we’d be rushed on the way to our destination. OK, in reality we planned to leave with plenty of time, but there was this multi-family garage sale in the neighborhood that I really wanted to stop by, and besides our friends are usually late so I figured the 10:30 a.m. meetup time was a fiction anyway.
We hitched up the new cargo trailer, bought some rummage sale stuff (roller blades, an orange flag to make a bike more visible, some games), dropped it off at home, and headed over to the Park Street Bridge. On the other side of that bridge, even though we were late, we fulfilled our promise to the kids to stop at the wonderful Kefa Coffee and get pastries. Well, we hadn’t fed them yet that morning and it was now 10 a.m., so it was kind of necessary. Also, coffee.
This stop was about a mile and a half into our 5-mile ride. Toth was a little tired but not ready to quit, so we pushed on. Our path was along Oakland’s Embarcadero, a funny sort of route where you have beautiful blue waters on your left (the Oakland Estuary, which separates Oakland from the island of Alameda and connects to San Francisco Bay) and freeways and railroad tracks across the road to your right. On some parts, we can ride paths right along the water, but these are short and frequently interrupted by buildings or private property that force us out onto the sidewalk or into a bike lane. Because the right side of the road has freeway entrances, we bike on the left the whole way there, staying on the sidewalk when possible (we usually meet only a few pedestrians) or riding the wrong way in the bike lane when we can’t ride on the sidewalk.
It sounds sketchy but it’s actually pretty safe because we have very little exposure to car traffic the whole way. This time around, the little kids and Toth lagged behind to look into the water from a bridge near Jack London Square, and saw rays nesting into the sand in the water below them. I had no idea rays could be found in the estuary!
When we arrived at Jack London Square, we noticed that there was no farmer’s market. Turns out, that only happens on Sundays. Hem. But our friends were there with adorable new baby, so we just hung out near the playground, admired, held and jiggled our new friend, and then had some brunch with a nice view of the water.
We hadn’t needed the cargo trailer for farmer’s market after all, but we did stop at this fruit seller we usually see parked along the Embarcadero. Today he was selling watermelon and strawberries, so we bought a huge melon and a half flat of strawberries. Then, because we were having friends over after we got home, I stopped at a grocery store and picked up fixings for dinner. It all rode comfortably in the cargo trailer, and arrived home intact.
When we got home, we told Toth he had just completed his first 10-mile bike ride, and he said, “Awesome. I’m great at bike riding.” And he is, now. In just a couple of weeks he has gone from pushing along to riding almost as well and fast as the other kids.
Sunday: Ocean Beach by car
We were planning to lay low Sunday, getting some chores done and having a quiet day. Midmorning, I walked the girls to Kohls to shop for Nutmeg’s gym shoes for school, and the day was even warmer and sunnier than the day before had been. The girls and I agreed that this was a perfect beach day and could not be squandered on housework.
We called some friends in San Francisco who we have not seen in awhile, and made plans to meet them at the ocean, which is 22 miles from our house and across a bridge — not bike trip territory. We checked out public transit options on Google Maps and learned we would have to take the BART, then a bus, getting to the beach in about 2 hours if we were lucky. That would especially be a concern on the way back, when we were all tired. Besides, with three kids, we bring metric tons of crap with us when we go to the beach.
So I hit up Priceline for car rentals, and found that we could get a full-sized sedan for under $30 (plus the stupid liability insurance we have to buy because we don’t have our own insurance). I tried a few “name your own price” offers but could not beat the regular Priceline offer. Then, thinking I might be able to get a AAA discount if I booked directly from the company, I went to the Alamo site and found and booked the same price that had been offered on Priceline. I handed Erik a printout of our reservation and sent him on his bike to the airport at 12 p.m. At 12:45, he showed up with a cherry red Impala, and by 1 p.m., we were on the road, proud to have been able to pivot so quickly from day at home to day trip.
Sadly, our speediness ended there. As we drove toward the Bay Bridge, we hit a wall of traffic that just did not let up. It took us an hour to get to the toll plaza, inching forward, with the kids alternating between squabbling and singing “99 Bottles of Pop on the Wall.” At least we were able to check out the cool deconstruction of the old Bay Bridge.
Once we got onto the bridge things flowed more or less normally, and we got to Ocean Beach at 3 p.m. Yes, it took us at least as long to drive there as it would have taken to go on public transit. Longer, when you factor in the time spent picking up a rental car. And we still had to find parking.
The ocean was glorious, though. Warm days are all too rare at Northern California beaches, and we felt we had done the right thing by seizing the day.
Having the car did give us flexibility. At the end of our beach day, instead of heading straight home, we were able to go to our friends’ place nearby for some takeout. In fact, we ended up letting two of our kids spend the night there, which required yet another drive to the city in the morning to pick them up. But both our return trip and the next morning’s errand took only half an hour each way, with no bridge traffic at all.
We even squeezed in a one-kid-only breakfast date in SF before picking up the girls, because a trip to San Francisco does not count if you don’t eat anything:
Monday: Across Alameda by bike
Once we had returned the rental car, it was time to load up the cargo trailer to head to a barbecue with some of Erik’s coworkers. This time, we set a full-size cooler behind the trailer’s bin, and it fit perfectly, held in place by a wooden strip. Between the cooler and the bin, it was easy to bring a large tupperware of bratwurst, tons of corn on the cob, some cokes and half of that huge watermelon we’d purchased.
Our ride was only about 3 miles, so the kids handled it handily. During the stretch where we had a generous bike lane, Toth wanted to ride in the street, and although I could not believe I was letting a 5-year-old do this, I said OK. I rode between him and traffic, so he was pretty safe. Being Labor Day, traffic was quiet anyway.
On our return trip, late in the afternoon, we felt too hot. So hot that when we got home, the kids stripped down and got into a cool bath. I brought them Push-Up pops to eat in the tub. They’ve been lying around reading or playing video games ever since, so I guess we wore them out pretty good.