Monday, March 23, 2015

To BART and Back

The Pittsburg stop of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. The BART sign (with the "ba" logo) is on the right side of the picture, a train extends from that sign to the left, and the station itself extends from the center of the picture to the left.

Goals are wonderful things, even if they are pointless. They inspire me and give me enthusiasm and energy. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the public transportation system is named BART, an acronym for Bay Area Rapid Transit. My parents' house in Brentwood is at the outer limits of the Bay Area, past the last BART stop. Bicycles are allowed on BART trains, and I had always wondered if it would be practical to bicycle from the last BART station in Pittsburg, California, to my parents' house in Brentwood. Mom is no longer with us and Dad has moved to an assisted living facility, but he still owns the house and that is where I stay when I go to California to help with his care, as I did again last week. I have previously blogged about the Sand Creek Trail and the de Anza trail, and how the closing of a gap in the de Anza trail finally allowed me to bicycle from Brentwood to Pittsburg. The branch of the trail I took did not allow me to make it all the way to the BART station but examination of maps upon my return gave me an idea for a branch that might. Last week, I was able to explore that branch, made it to the Pittsburg BART station, resulting in the 45 mile ride mapped below:

Click on map to see a larger version

So, in theory, I could bring a bicycle on the airplane, reassemble it at the Oakland Airport, take it with me on BART, getting off at the end of the line in Pittsburg, and then bicycle to Dad's house. Demonstrating the feasibility of the last leg of that plan gave me a lot of motivation and a very fun ride but it is not a plan I am likely to execute. And, having had the fun of proving the point, I have to say that the trail through Pittsburg in not very attractive. It is very urban with not much scenery, there is a lot of broken glass on the trail, it has a lot of grade crossings, and the last and probably the least of my objections is that it has a bizarre geography. I guess that part of California is highly gullied and that means that the trail contains a large number of very steep downhills immediately followed by very steep uphills. The total elevation change is not much, maybe 20 or 30 feet, but I cannot overstate the steepness. The change from downhill to uphill at the bottom is so acute that I found it difficult to execute the usual strategy of using the speed gained on the downhill to make it most of the way up the next hill, to do so felt like riding over a rather nasty pothole at the bottom. As a result, I tended to brake on the downhill, leaving me with little momentum and a brief but bitter struggle to get up the other side. Normally, I love hills, but these were no fun at all. Somehow, my photographs do a terrible job of capturing hills, but here is my best effort:

I was feeling strong on this ride, so I kept up a pretty brisk pace. That plus the 45 miles, more than I have been riding recently, left me pretty tired so I took the next day off. Even so, I was looking for a shorter (not to mention a prettier) ride the day after that, so I rode the Marsh Creek and Big Break trails, about 22 miles out and back. As I had remembered, I found it to be a much nicer ride! I did a little exploring and stopped off at Big Break Regional Shoreline, a park I had ridden by many times but never visited, and I was entranced! To quote the park's website, "Big Break Regional Shoreline is a part of the great 1150-square-mile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The water flowing past Big Break through the Sacramento and San Joaquin-the State's two greatest rivers-drains half of California and creates the largest estuarine environment on the Pacific coast." The park gets its name from a break in the levies which occurred in 1928 and which flooded a large asparagus farm, now a permanent bay off the San Joaquin river and site of this park. The nicest thing about the park is that it provides a place to experience the delta, including a pier that can be used both for fishing or for simply soaking in the delta experience:

A particularly nice feature of the park is an interactive map of the delta, made out of concrete and set into the ground. Water can be poured onto the map to show how water flows in the delta. I have added a red arrow to the following picture to indicate the location of the park; San Francisco Bay is off of the lower right corner of this picture:

I am honestly surprised that I ended up writing yet another blog post about trails near my dad's house. Upon reflection, I think the reason I did so is that finding and using these trails was neither easy, obvious, nor quick. Because I learned about these trails over many rides, they featured featured in several blog posts. A summary of what I have learned is that some trails are dramatically nicer than others, these trails can take you to unexpected places, and finding one's way on these trails is not trivial. I am pretty sure that there are people out there who would appreciate the information I have accumulated, but I am also sure that the vast majority of these people will never see this blog. Besides, a blog post is not the best format for sharing this kind of information. My subjective impressions of which trails are nicer or less nice come across fine, but what doesn't fit is a list of confusing intersections, ways around gaps, and a list of trails and where they do (and do not) go. I would have loved to have this information when I started using these trails, and I searched for it diligently but without success. It's not that there is nothing out there, but that nothing out there was quite what I was looking for. I have contributed in a small way to making this situation better by submitting corrections to the bike route information on Google Maps, but I feel like I would like to do more. This is something I plan to think about going forward. If I have any inspirations, I will share them here. Stay tuned.

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