Thursday, July 21, 2005
Sauvie Island at 6:30am, or
What I did on Wednesday
Do you ever have one of those "why am I doing this?" moments? That was me getting out of bed this morning at 4:30am. I'm not a morning person and being up before sunrise (especially in the summer when it comes up so early) is definitely a big deal to me. But I was to help my friend Petr with a movie project, so this was special.
I rode my bike down to SE 26th and Holgate Blvd to catch the #17/Holgate bus. It arrived at about 5:10am. Thankfully, the bike rack wasn't full. But the bus was. At 5am? I was puzzled. Not having to get up this early blinds you to the reality that yes, some people need to get to work by 6am or earlier.
The sleepy bus ambled across the Ross Island Bridge towards downtown, slowly disgorging its passengers and then picking up a new set downtown. These were the folks heading to all the factories up in the Northwest Industrial District, and by the time we got to NW Industrial and 29th, all that was left was a hardy few on their way to Sauvie Island.
The bus arrived on the "parking lot" of Sauvie (right at the east foot of the Sauvie Island Bridge) at about 6:20am. I got my bicycle off and rode the two miles to the meeting point for the filming. Petr, Missy, Seth, and (gawd, already forgot her name) were waiting. I consumed breakfast and coffee, got black eye makeup applied to my face, and then rode my bike back and forth several times while Petr shot. Then ate more food, drank more coffee, wiped makeup from my eyes (well, most of it), and bid the others goodbye.
Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I decided to hang out on the island for a little bit. I went over by the boat launch on NW Ferry west of NW Sauvie Island Road where I drank coffee and wrote letters to people. Incidentally, the boat launch is the site of the former ferry that ran between the island and the mainland, discontinued when the Sauvie Island Bridge was built. (they don't call it Ferry Road for nothing!)
Next a quick ramble up to the Wapato Wildlife Area. It's basically a big loop trail going around a seasonal lake, with one part of the trail following Multnomah Channel (the waterway separating island from mainland). It's a really nice natural area, part of the trail goes through meadowland, part goes through riparian forest (dominated by Black Cottonwoods) and part through a more traditional Nor'western forest (dominated by Douglas Firs).
Sauvie Island represents one of the reasons why I love living in Portland. Within a short distance from the central city, you can find yourself in any variety of countryside, whether it be forested hills, riparian lowlands, the mountains, the Columbia Gorge, or in this case, the world's largest inland island! Sauvie Island is a world apart from the cosmopolitan city I enjoy, a flat plain surrounded by the Columbia River (mightiest in the West!) and Multnomah Channel, occupied by working farms and wildlife refuges. And yet it's totally within my reach, the 10 mile distance from downtown making me able to travel here any day I want with ease.
It was about 11:30am by that point, so I decided to head back. The three miles back to the bridge was beautiful, mostly passing by farmland with their promises of "U Pick Berries". The mainland wasn't that great, however. Oh, it's mostly nice-looking. It's just that riding along St Helens Road (US 30), a four lane highway mostly consisting of semi-trucks whizzing by at 60mph, is not fun.
I soldiered southward, passing through the forgotten neighborhood of Linnton. Linnton was founded in the 1840's, a few years after Portland. But it's dreams were dashed when it realized it's location would never allow the type of growth that Portland became, so it remained a quiet village until it got annexed by Portland. Now it's a collection of buildings for a couple blocks while cars whiz by at 60. There's a nice residential area on the hill overlooking this, however. And remember to "Stick With The Plan", as the banner underneath the sign says.
Things improved after I turned right on the St Helens turnoff (where Yeon meets it) and the truck traffic drops off. The ride was more peaceful, but the mid-day sun was beating and I was starting to feel that "waking up at 4:30am" nonsense, so I paused at Lower Macleay Park to eat my lunch. I sat in a pleasant area underneath the Thurman Street Bridge, enjoying the shade that rattling structure provides.
On my way through the Pearl towards downtown is where the ride turned a bit sour. Riding down NW 12th, I got passed at a very unsafe distance by (what else?) an SUV. 12th right here is pretty quiet, and there was plenty of room to pass. Startled, and now hyped up, I raced the two blocks to where the SUV was waiting for a light (at Glisan). I went to the driver's side window (closed, of course) and said loudly, "Excuse me! Could you roll down your window?" No response. I then knocked on his window and did the "rolling the window down" motion with my hand. He looked at me with a half-displeased, half-smug expression, and although I couldn't hear the words he said, I could clearly read his lips, and they said, "Don't touch my car."
How many of you fellow bicyclists out here have been in this situation? Your life was possibly endangered by this person, and they don't even care enough to engage you in a dialogue about it! Your life is inconsequential. They can't be bothered to look out for you. They'll only react if you touch their precious automobile.
And what do you do in this type of situation? With adrenaline pumping, you definitely want to lash out in a visceral way. You want to take your U-Lock and smash their window open, or at least dent their car. But where will that get you? Nowhere. It will either escalate into more violence, police action, or both. And there was a considerable crowd around the scene. How would it look to them if they saw some bicyclist starting to bash away at an SUV with a U-Lock? (You can be sure that none of them saw what happened to me two blocks ago.) It would look pretty bad. In their eyes I would become one of "those crazy bicyclists", the type portrayed in lopsided 10 o'clock News reports on Critical Mass, y'know, those venomous militant car-hating types. As for the driver himself, I don't know if he would get the point of my action. The next time he passes a bicyclist, rather than giving the "safe space" that I was so insolently asking for, he might decide to see if he can pass that bicyclist closer. It's a losing situation.
But I wasn't going to let him get away so easy. If aggression wasn't going to work, maybe passive-aggression can do something. I planted my bicycle squarely in front of the SUV, and when that light turned green, I proceeded up 12th, riding as far into the lane as possible. In short, there was no way he could pass without going entirely into the lane of oncoming traffic. And he followed my 8mph bicycle for a full three blocks. If he couldn't learn how to "Share the Road" through peaceable means, well he's going to learn it the hard way.
And it's going to be the hard way for us bicyclists as well. No matter how much right we have to ride on city streets, there will always be those who see us as in the way. No amount of referencing to laws on the books will get them to change their mind. It's something more insidious in our society, a malaise that causes rational human beings to regard certain other humans as inconsequential. It's not just the bicyclist minority, it's well documented in human history what people have done to other minorities, whether it be race, sex, sexual orientation, age, ability, etc, etc, etc. And I don't know if things are going to change anytime soon.
Sorry to end this originally positive adventure report on a downer. It's going to take a lot of work to change the tide, not only for bicyclist rights, but for all human's rights. So keep on bicyling, and remember, you have every right to be on the road.