[Published: April 18, 2022]
Having worked for Stanford Transportation for almost a year, I got a crazy idea. Why didn’t I give up my car for a day and ride to campus, then document the experience to inspire others to participate in Bike to Work Day on May 20. The only catch? I’m a recreational biker at best. On top of that, I live about 25 miles from the campus. Luckily, Pat Lopes Harris, senior director of Communications for the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, has been riding to work off and on for the last three years. I asked if I could tag along.
‘Twas the Night Before the Ride
The night before our ride, I tossed and turned and almost chickened out. Our one-way journey would cover 18 miles. I didn’t think I had it in me. But I couldn’t flake so I shoved my laptop, power cords, lunch bag, spare set of clothes -- basically everything but the kitchen sink -- into my backpack and drove to Pat’s. When Pat wasn’t looking, I picked up her Lululemon pack. Compared to mine hers was so light – had she filled it with feathers?
Although Stanford Transportation has a “How to Map a Bike Route” webinar, Pat was already familiar with our route. Just in case though, she pulled up her phone’s map app and toggled two buttons to ensure we would avoid hills and busy roads. To hear Siri’s directions, Pat tucked her phone into a small, sleek cross-body bag for easy access. Small, sleek, lightweight – I was sensing a theme.
I was almost afraid to ask how long the ride would take but I asked anyway.
“Only about an hour and forty-five minutes,” Pat said, hopping on her bike in a hard-to-miss bright pink cycling jersey.
On the Road
The trip started on a glorious note as we pedaled through San Jose’s Rose Garden district with a diverse display of rose varieties in full bloom, plus tree-lined streets with centuries old-homes. This is fun I thought!
After just a mile or two, I started to lose steam. We passed students heading to morning classes at Santa Clara University and I yelled, “Too bad we don’t work here! It’s about 16 miles closer than The Farm.”
Pat kept pedaling.
Too Early For Ice Cream?
I soon realized Siri was one smart lady-bot. We had the quiet neighborhood streets to ourselves. The birds chirped; the sun beamed; the temperature cooperated. Soon I was pedaling in an almost meditative state. I began to really ‘see’ things I certainly would have missed from inside the car: A fire hydrant glittering like the Tin Man. A teal-and-black dog mural on a storefront advertising Rocko’s Ice Cream Tacos. A trippy rocket ship art installation at Santa Clara City Hall.
Soon the bike lane widened which gave Pat and me room to chat. “It’s a privilege to look out and see the world from the seat of my bike,” Pat said. What sights did she like best? “I love it all -- the birds, trees, gardens; the strip malls, shops, restaurants; people of every age, babies in strollers, high school kids, partiers, bikers like me. I love seeing all the places people live -- campers, houses, apartments with funky ‘70s names mixing it up with places so new they're still under construction.”
Before I knew it, we were crossing over Wolfe Road heading toward Sunnyvale. The road got busier with traffic and buses whizzing by. Still, I felt safe in the protected bike lane. I had to agree with Pat – riding was a treat for the senses. We passed a preschool and the pleasing sound of children’s laughter drifted out from a play yard. At a red light, throbbing, molar-rattling bass blared from an open car window. Pat and I exchanged a smile.
Did I mention the smells? This ride was olfactory heaven. I got hits of the Colonel’s secret recipe as we pedaled past KFC and the breeze carried the scent of jasmine vines with those intensely fragrant white flowers known to help the body unwind. I was unwinding alright. I was so busy chillin’, I didn’t notice I’d fallen behind. Pat sailed through a green light that turned red by the time I arrived. Come on, come on, come on, I chanted impatiently.
Commuting Fairy Godmother Leaves Me in the Dust
At the next intersection, I was thwarted by another red. Pat got smaller until she was a pink dot in the distance. Then–poof! – my commuting fairy godmother disappeared. Earlier she’d said she was a slow rider but clearly Pat had undersold her athleticism. I began to panic. We had miles to go. How would I find my way to campus? Explain my hours-late entrance to my boss? Not only that but thanks to the heavy pack, my back started spasming. It felt as if I’d strapped a twenty pound toddler to my back. Could I keep this up for ten more miles?
I kept pedaling. Just when I thought Pat was a goner, I saw her double back. She waited under a colorful balloon arch advertising the grand opening of a Mountain View apartment. What a perfect backdrop – not only had we reunited but we’d made it to Mountain View! Now that was cause for celebration.
Even better, we hopped on the Peninsula Bikeway, which features 16 miles of low-stress residential streets running from Mountain View to Redwood City and signage aplenty.
In fact, it wasn’t much later that I saw a green directional sign: Palo Alto 2.5 miles!
I let out a whoop.
“Don’t get too excited garblegarbleunintelligble,” Pat yelled back. (Later she told me she'd said we still had twenty more minutes to campus.)
From there we cruised through Palo Alto’s eye candy neighborhoods, and crossed the Wilkie Way bike bridge.
Cloaked in ivy and oak trees, it was out of an Indiana Jones movie. My tires bumped on its wooden planks and I fantasized I wasn’t headed to my desk but starring alongside Harrison Ford in Stanford University and the Temple of Doom.
We crossed over Page Mill Road, hung a right on El Camino, then down College Avenue and entered through EVGR. Campus has never looked so good!
Riding to work felt like an adventure, not to mention a mini-history tour of the Valley. I arrived with wobbly legs and a little exhausted, sure, but also feeling invigorated.
Pat agreed. “I’d highly recommend riding, especially with a colleague. It’s a mindfulness moment, exercise, a business meeting and commute all in one,” she said.
With that we high-fived, and Pat rode off toward her Tressider Union office, this time disappearing for good.
— Kim Ratcliff
We Did This, So Can You!
- Recruit an experienced bike buddy to mentor and inspire you.
- Consider riding one-way to work. It’s less daunting. (Take Caltrain/public transit/ or commute home with a friend who has a bike rack on their car.)
- Stop by our Energizer Stations on Bike to Work Day on Main Campus at Palm Drive and Arboretum Road or SRWC’s Cardinal Hall. Get your free Bike to Work Day bag while supplies last.
- Take a free bike repair class on main campus and SRWC.
- Sign up for free events and webinars leading up to Bike to Work Day.
- Wear bright or reflective gear.
- Pack light and invest in a bike rack.
- During May’s “Bike to Wherever Days,” pedal to do errands, meet friends and family. Ride anywhere you need to go if possible.
- Take our free online “All About Cargo Bikes” workshop on May 4.
- Be an advocate for improved bicycle infrastructure and safety. Check out Silicon Valley Bike Coalition for tips on how to engage.
Enjoy the same fresh air and exercise riding on an electric bike. The little extra e-boost can lead to incredible possibilities. Look for more details in our May On the Move newsletter.