Recent Bike Activity

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Portland Biking Misadventures

I consider myself a biking advocate.  In my advocacy, I actually participate a bit politically, but mostly, I just try to be an example, and now, I write this blog.

I traveled to Portland this past week on university business; three days sitting (and shivering) in hotel conference rooms followed by visits to Reed College and University of Portland.

Portland is one of America's true success stories regarding biking commuting.  According to Wikipedia, 8% of work commuting takes place by bicycle in Portland.  So, I decide to make my trips to Reed and U of Portland (from the downtown Marriot) via bicycle.  My plan (outside of my work responsibilities) is to make some observations, take some pictures, and write about the differences between my city of Thousand Oaks, CA, and Portland.  My planned route would have taken me 20-25 miles.

I arrive on Sunday, and already excited about the bike trip, take a little look around.  I find a bike rental place near the hotel, but find out they do not open until the time I'm to be at Reed.

I turn to Reddit (on-line community posting original content and interesting articles), which is also by far the biggest source of my fledgling blog traffic, and ask for advice on the page dedicated to Portland.  Two very helpful individuals, finiteautomata and _McAngryPants_ provide me helpful information regarding appropriate places to rent bikes and ride, respectively.

Finiteautomata clearly knows bike rental places, and offers a number places and links to other sites regarding bike rental in Portland.  One of the sites starts with, "Many visitors to Portland do as the Romans do, and rent bicycles to get around".  So much for my idea being original.

One of the suggested places is called Portland Bike Station, which has hours that work for me.  Finiteautomata mentions that the selection is "wonky", however.

Conference wraps up Wednesday afternoon, and I follow advice from _McAngryPants_ (who doesn't seem very angry, actually) and inquire if the Marriot will store a bike overnight.  They answer yes, and armed with that information, I leave the hotel room (feeling pretty dorky).

I find Portland Bike Station easily, and learn immediately what the "wonky" description was about.  The Portland Bike Station bikes look to be all abandoned bikes that have been refurbished and are now available for rent.

They have about four bikes with XL frames, however, and I select a Trek Mountain Bike conversion to street bike.

Portland Bike Station

I ride around a bit, and even cross one of the nearby bridges as I enjoy my biking freedom.  I get off the bike at the other side, and delight in watching the dynamic bike commuting environment.

Hawthorne Bridge

From there, I head back to the hotel, and relish in checking my bike in at the bell station (thanks again,  _McAngryPants_.)

Bell Desk, Downtown Marriot
7:15 AM the next morning, Thursday, I embark on my journey.  I start with a stop at Voodoo Doughnuts Too.  I'm not actually a big doughnut eater, but, my boss had told me that it was part of the Portland experience, so I think it goes nicely with my Portland biking experience.

Blueberry and chocolate doughnuts from Voodoo Doughnuts Too
 From there, I find my way easily to Reed College, although during the ride (caution, foreshadowing ahead) I'm a little uncomfortable navigating with my Droid GPS in my pocket where I cannot see it, and a little uncomfortable riding without tire repair stuff.  I arrive a good half-hour prior to my appointment.

Reed College 
Reed College Bridge

Bike Parking at the cafeteria demonstrated just for fun. My rental bike is at a nearby fence.
Everything goes swimmingly at Reed College, and by 10:30 I'm all wrapped up.  I am cautious about running my Droid out of batteries, (more foreshadowing) however, so I stop at a campus coffee shop, have a smoothie, and charge the Droid a bit.

At about 11:00 AM, I head out to University of Portland.  I find my way relatively easily, working with a scrap of paper that I can pull out of my front pocket and hold in my hand.  I do get disoriented around the Rose Garden, however, and end up on a street called Greeley, a street which  _McAngryPants_ recommended be avoided because of fast truck traffic.  As I ride along Greeley, I never feel unsafe, however, I do wish that I was on a calmer street.

As I close in on University of Portland, it sprinkles a bit, I have a new worry to add to navigation and lack of tire changing, but it quickly subsides and I'm at my destination.

Unscathed at University of Portland

I work as a university planner, and most of favorite campuses are catholic schools.
As with Reed, my visit completes without incident, and I'm soon ready to return after a late lunch and after again charging the Droid, this time to about 75%.

I head out with my scratched out directions hopefully leading me away from the aforementioned Greeley, and onto a calmer bike route.  Very soon, I see a sign for a bike route to downtown, and I already plotting the peaceful conclusion to my story.

I do not go with the sign, however, in what turned out to be a boneheaded decision, as I think it's actually pushing me back onto Greeley and I think Portland's grid of streets and numerical avenues are straightforward enough that I can manage an alternative route.  At this point I'm going north on Interstate, but I think I'm going east and heading towards the street I want to be on, which is called Vancouver.

I ride along way long enough that I should have figured out what was going on, as I do not hit Vancouver and I'm covering a lot of distance.  However, I'm moving easily and suppose that I'm kind of tuned into the rhythm of cycling.

Soon, however, I'm completely jolted back to reality because, I realize I've maneuvered myself onto the on ramp, and even onto the actual 5 Freeway.  Indeed, I'm now breaking a fundamental rule of cycling in SoCal, anyway, which is never ride a bike on the freeway.

So, I ride along a bit, contemplating whether to walk off the side of the freeway to a nearby road or to take the off ramp, and almost immediately the situation goes from bad to worse, as I begin to feel my back tire flatting out.

Now I have no choice but to get off the bike.

Don't fail me now!
I pull out the Droid to figure out where I am, and am quite surprised that after maybe 45 minutes of riding I'm actually over six miles from my hotel, and I'm farther than when I started.

My ride of disorientation is here, incidentally)

My first thought is to find a bike shop within biking distance, but according to my Droid the closest shop is three miles in the wrong direction.

My second plan is to find a mass transit station, and according to my Droid there is one about a mile away.  I crawl over the barricade pictured above, cut across a grassy clearing, and am on a regular street on my way to a bus station.

I walk the mile to the bus stop, and as bad things always come in threes, I cannot find anything that looks like a bus stop even though my Droid tells me I'm right on top of it. Now I'm only five miles away from downtown, so I decide to just keep walking, as worse case, I can cover the five miles in an hour and a half.  (Incidentally, I know I could have called a cab, but that seemed like it would be cheating.)

Soon, however, I have a brand new worry as I know my Droid's battery is starting to get low.  I figure I need to locate myself on a map (which I did bring, fortunately) for when the Droid's battery does run out.  By this time I'm in a somewhat ramshackle residential neighborhood, and am definitely not in the dynamic community of bikers that I enjoyed so much previously.

So, I'm hunched over my map, and I notice out of my peripheral vision a car drive past me slowly, stop, and back up.  I look over, and just like in the movies, I meet my guardian angel who of course is an older black man driving a polished white Ford Thunderbird from I suppose the mid-80's.  He smiles at me, and asks if I need help.

I manage to resist the urge to shout hallelujah, toss the bike to the ground, and beg on my knees for ride, and merely ask for directions to a bus stop.  He points down the street, and tells me that a bus going directly to downtown is only a half block away.

I thank him profusely, and, this time, find the bus stop easily (at this point I turn off the GPS program from the link above.)

From there, after struggling and needing help from a somewhat annoyed bus driver in securing the bike to the rack, ride to the stop in downtown Portland, and find my way to the Portland Bike Station.  At the Portland Bike Station, they are very graceful, and inform me that they would have sent a car to my rescue.  I talk to them a bit more, and will write more about them and what they are trying to do in a later Blog post.

At the hotel room, I figure out my navigational error, and reflect on the day.

At the beginning of my post, I say I'm a bike advocate (and I am), but even more than that I like to think that I advocate against pervasive thought in today's society that things like biking and strange neighborhoods and being in an unfamiliar city are inherently unsafe and that life should be conducted in the cocoons of cars and gated communities and guarded places of work.

The reality is that I biked and got lost and had to walk my bike a lot further than I would have liked (29 miles between the two), but I never felt even a bit unsafe. In fact, I even did something pretty stupid in not paying attention and ending up on the 5 Freeway, but, I obviously survived.  (Of course, however, I guess there was that guardian angel guy looking out for me.)


  1. Sorry to hear about your misadventure, but glad it worked out OK in the end. I think it is a good representation of how we have come to rely too much on technology, and less and less on good old fashioned analog resources. (so says the guy who has a gps mounted on his bars lol)

  2. hey, at least you had a good ride! in true PDX style I hope you grabbed an IPA after you got back downtown. It looks like you wandered into the least bike friendly area of the most bike friendly city in the USA, sorry 'bout your luck. Next visit give a shout and I'm sure someone (I will if available) give you a quick tour of PDX, looks like you missed the Springwater Trail which follows the river from downtown to . . . well, I think all the way out to Boring, OR (I've only gone as far as Gresham) and would have made a great ride to Reed. Also, Greeley is insanely busy but all the traffic is used to bikes and you can go REALLY fast coming down past Adidas!