Car-Free Family Update: Our Semi-Fiasco Outing to Angel Island

With three months of car-free living under our belts, we’ve found that the day-to-day is no problem. Grocery shopping and getting the kids to school and activities can all be easily accomplished on the bikes, and public transit is nearly always the best choice for commuting into the city anyway.

The challenges come up on weekends, when we want to introduce the kids to the beautiful Bay Area.

Like last weekend, when we carried out my oft-delayed plan to get to Angel Island, with all of our bikes. This was a puzzle to figure out to begin with, because on weekends the only ferry that runs from Alameda to San Francisco (then connects to Angel Island) leaves from the ferry terminal five miles from our house. I wanted the kids to be able to ride their bikes on the island, but of course Toth, age 3, could not pedal his tricycle five miles in a timely manner. Pebbles, ¬†age 5, would have about as much trouble on her 2-wheeler with training wheels. And although Nutmeg is a good bike rider, a 10-mile round trip, with biking on the island in between, seems a lot to ask of an 8-year-old. Besides, I didn’t know if there would be safe bike lanes on all the roads between our house and the ferry terminal.

So instead of trying to have everyone bike together, I came up with this plan: I would bike to the ferry with the tricycle and Pebbles’ bike in the trailer. Epu would take all three kids on two buses. He and Nutmeg would put their bikes in the racks on the front of the buses.

I know, it sounds crazy, and it turns out it was crazy. Not in that “so crazy, it just might work” sense, either.

The ferry left at 9:10, so we left the house around 8. My bike ride was beautiful on a misty morning with few people on the street. I rode along the Bay, seeing lots of water birds, and then along streets for the last couple of miles. It was 9 a.m. by the time I headed into the ferry parking lot, and my phone rang. I could see the passengers lined up to board the ferry.

“I’m here, I’m here,” I gasped into the phone.

“We’re not there,” Epu told me on the other end.

In fact, they were sitting at a bus stop a couple miles back. The first bus in their trip picked them off as expected, but their connecting bus never showed up. When a bus finally came along, its bike slots were full. That bus probably wouldn’t have gotten them there on time anyway.

I rode back to Webster Street, where we were sitting, so we could figure out what to do now. While I rode, Epu called our San Francisco friends who were supposed to meet us at the ferry to Angel Island to warn them that we had missed the ferry.

After studying ferry schedules on our phones, pouting and arguing, we decided to just take the next (and only other) ferry to San Francisco and take a bike ride there with our friends.

We let the little kids pedal their bikes the two miles back to the ferry, since we had over an hour to cover the ground. Unfortunately, about half a mile from our destination, the chain came off of Pebbles bike. After many attempts to fix it, we gave up and locked the bike and trike to a lamppost, put the kids (Toth screaming because he didn’t want to leave his trike) into the trailer, and booked for the ferry.

We boarded on time, and would have had a nice time on the boat ride if it wasn’t for the part where I may have brushed a lady’s fancy Trek bike with the edge of my finger and it toppled over, causing her to spend the rest of the ride furiously running her hands over every inch of her precious bike and glaring at me. It was 11 a.m. by now, and the kids ate most of their picnic lunches on the ferry.

When we disembarked, we heard people directing Angel Island passengers to the ferry right next to us. We were confused. The schedule had said there was only one ferry to Angel Island a day! Turns out, that was totally wrong, and we could board an Angel Island ferry right then and there. We called our SF friends, who were just wrapping up a sushi lunch, and they rushed to pay their bill and try to get to the terminal before this ferry took off.

We all, miraculously, got onto the ferry with our bikes. We got some bloody marys (just the adults), went outside and had a great time watching the Bay speed by.

When we arrived at Angel Island, we rode along the waterfront a bit, then arrived at the official bike trail. It was steep and gravelly. There were some nice wide paved paths, but they were all labeled no bikes. We thought we would try struggling up the steep and gravelly path anyway, but before we even got started, one of the 8-year-olds (who still had their bikes with them) fell and got hurt, and basically none of the kids wanted anything to do with biking or riding in the trailer.

Instead, they really wanted to smash little rocks on a big rock. Right next to the ferry drop-off.

Too tired from our journey to argue, we adults sat around chatting and reading the Sunday paper for a couple hours while the kids had a grand old time banging rocks. Our comments that we could have found them some rocks to bang back home in Alameda fell on deaf ears. After awhile, we went to the cantina, where a nice country cover band was playing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” got some orange juices for the kids and beers for the adults, and some snacks, and chilled.

And then we got back on the ferry to go home.

Once home, we had to deal with the question of how to get all the bikes and kids home again. Since it was getting toward dinner and everyone was tired, we decided to ride straight home, and Epu would ride back with the trailer for the abandoned bikes after dinner. Now that we had scouted the route, we knew that there were off-street bike paths or uncrowded sidewalks all the way, so we didn’t have to worry about safety.

Nutmeg handled the 5-mile ride back with ease, even getting way ahead of us on the bayside trail. I was really proud of her! The little ones, of course, fell asleep in the trailer.

Epu was sore and tired after dinner, and didn’t really relish going 4.5 miles back for those bikes, and back home again. But he did it.

This was one of the days when I felt that life would have been so, so much easier if we’d just had a car. Drive to the ferry parking lot nice and early, get the right ferry, drive back home again. On the other hand, it pushed me to ride, what, 14 miles or more on my bike in one day, with a load in the trailer? I did not know I could do that.


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