It starts with a hill. A steep hill sprinkled with speed humps, which are like speed bumps but bigger and humpier. After topping the hill and bumping over the last hump, the road flows into a right turn line that joins with Esquimalt Rd. There is a dedicated bike lane that starts just before the turn, which leaves you space for an immediate turn onto Esquimalt despite the heavy traffic, leaving the poor suckers in the cars at the turn still waiting. You can’t gloat for long though, because the bike lane ends abruptly less than 100 meters from where you got on it, and suddenly you are jostling with the cars for one of two narrow lanes.
But then there is a shoulder, and lots of room, and the next challenge is crossing the train tracks, which would be easy if they ran perpendicular to the road, but they don’t. They run more parallel than perpendicular, maybe 30 degrees to the road, and you’ve heard stories of people getting their wheels caught in the tracks, you’ve seen the scrapes and bruises from the resulting wipe-outs. You survive today though, it’s bumpy but you flow over the tracks without injury. Suddenly the shoulder’s gone again, and right lane gets so narrow now that sometimes you have to hop on to the sidewalk for a block to bypass the line of cars waiting at the upcoming light, dodging the stroller pushers and old folks making the journey from Esquimalt to downtown on foot.
A right turn at Kimta makes the route longer, but it’s worth it for the smoothly paved, gently curving stretch of road that runs alongside the profusion of expensive Songhees condo complexes. At the crossroads that come up from the complexes along the waterfront, strong gusts of wind funnel between the buildings and provide brief moments of struggle in an otherwise smooth and quick section of the ride.
Kimta ends and you cross Songhees Rd. to get onto a bike and walking path that runs alongside the old train tracks, eventually crossing the Johnson St. bridge. But you get off of the path before the bridge, follow a connecting path that flows downhill and feeds right into the sidewalk that runs along the right hand side of the bridge.
This part is tricky, there is one of those metal, diamond shaped barriers at the bottom of the path feeding into the sidewalk, with only room for either one cyclist or one pedestrian to either side of it. If you’re lucky, the timing is good and you can blast by the barrier and hop off the curb and onto the road leading onto the bridge at a good speed. A few more strong pedal strokes, and even if traffic is heavy, you can flow with it and ride in the middle of the lane, just like the sign over the bridge tells you to.
The surface of the bridge itself is a sparse feeling metal grating, through which you can see the water below, if you’re not watching where you’re going. Riding across it on small tires gives you an easy sensation of floating, of not really being in control of your bike, of feeling that it is imperative that you just continue in a straight line ’til you are over the grating.
On the other side there is a light that is almost always red. It marks the start of the downtown portion of the ride, fraught with parking cars, parked cars with recklessly flung open doors, pedestrian tourists that sometimes wander off sidewalks with an arrogance that makes you wish they WOULD get hit, but not by you.
Downtown is also the place where there are other cyclists. They are also transporting themselves on two wheels, under their own power, and it is beautiful! But goddamn they are slow. And when they’re not slow they come from behind and try to pass you, but always at the light, always when you are stationary and they are still moving, and the fiery rage this induces sometimes leads to a brief drag race. You’ve only lost one of these impromptu contests once, when both you and your foe were pushing hard but you just couldn’t inch past him just didn’t have the fire and the fuel to not only keep alongside but push ahead. Aw well, most days you just ride up Johnson at a good pace, passing when necessary, eventually speeding up to traffic speed and crossing over to the far left side in preparation for the turn onto Cook St.
If you catch the light and can flow into the turn onto Cook then it’s just a short push up and across Pandora and you are heading downhill into Fernhood. This part can be tense; it is very easy to outpace traffic, but also very easy for someone to turn right in front of you without shoulder checking. Vigilance is key. Halfway down the hill is a bus stop where the same bearded old man is always sitting and waiting, but not for the bus. At the bottom of the hill, just before you cross Bay, one lane becomes two and it’s safest just to take this lane as your own, it’s too tight to comfortably share with strangers. On the other side of Bay is a right turn onto Haultain that has to be taken fast to avoid any inattentive dangers speeding along in the lane behind you.
Haultain is a relief. It is smooth, the traffic is light, and all the way up to Scott St., there is only one stop. That stop is a four way. You wait your turn and the rest of the ride home is clear and level. You can cruise along at a good pace now, passing a few fellow commuters along the way, then turning left at pace onto Scott St. Home is only a block away, and if you’re close to hitting a fast pace you might give an extra push here. You flow off the roundabout onto the sidewalk, hop off, and catch your breath before you head inside to an enthusiastic welcome.