The Ride Home

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.

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