Draft Book Excerpt
from “How America can Bike and Grow Rich, The National Bicycle Greenway Manifesto

[..snip..]

Soon, we were loading our bikes on to the ferry. We let Don go first so he could film us coming down the ramp. After he worked his bike and trailer down the short steel gang plank, we waited a few more moments for him to get his camera set up. Then one by one, my coast to coast team followed me.  Most of us waved as we approached Don. Our fun ride to Oakland City Hall awaited us on the other side of the Bay.

We hadn’t been on the boat long before we could feel the might of its engines forcing us away from the dock. Soon the powerful steel girders of one of the world’s largest bridges, the San Francisco Bay Bridge, towering above us to our right were interrupted by the small forested island, Yerba Buena, that it then tunneled through. While just ahead lay Treasure Island, the world’s largest man-made island. Connected to Yerba Buena by a narrow isthmus, it was once a dangerous part of the Bay, too shallow for safe passage. At one mile in length, and a little over half a mile in width, hundreds of thousands of tons of  quarried rock and many millions of cubic yards of sea bottom had been used to turn what was once a danger to boats of all sizes, into the 1939 World’s Fair and now a vacant military base.

On Treasure Island, plans for its 403 human-made acres are now being drawn up that could result in  a community where 20,000 people live mostly automobile-free lives. In this utopia, energy would be generated by windmills; shops and parks would be within walking distance and downtown San Francisco would be a 10-minute ferry ride away. The fact that there is a developer in place wading through the  state regulations and well-intentioned constraints that appear at every turn, communicates that this dream could actually become real by 2022, its projected completion date.

To our left a short distance away was Alcatraz, another legendary island. Once referred to as The Rock, it used to house America’s most dangerous criminals and looks out to the Pacific Ocean through the  storybook Golden Gate Bridge. While the Bay itself was alive with beauty, both natural and  man made, a rolling wave of hills encircled it and the busy cities that lay at its shores.

I wondered to myself how much of that beauty man  has compromised as we tamed the Bay for our own use. In fact, the redwoods that once filled its hills and were once so prolific that according to the  Spanish who discovered it in 1772, a squirrel could jump from the tops of the ridges to the edges of the Bay without ever touching the ground. I thought about this as the Oakland and Berkeley hills grew closer. While most of the forests that once covered them had been used to build most of San Francisco, there were still a few pockets of such green that had escaped the lumberman’s ax. And it was those little slices of heaven that I used to pedal in and out of as I trained for my first bike ride across the US.

<snip>

As me and my team would soon disembark at  Jack London Square in Oakland, I knew we were on a mission that could improve the quality of many people’s lives. Soon we would be pedaling across the Nation with a plan that would reconnect people with themselves, one another and the natural geography all of us take so much for granted.

Soon the mammoth shipping cranes that rose like steel butterflies hundreds of feet in the air marking the port of Oakland came into view. Once we soon reached them we were in a man made estuary with an abandoned air base on one side and massive shipping vessels stacked stories tall with truck containers on the other. In 1902, it was this waterway that had been dredged so that it could connect with the rest of the San Francisco Bay thereby forming an important shipping channel and turning the town of Alameda into an island.

We hadn’t been in the protected waters of the Oakland Estuary long when we could hear the ferry’s powerful engines start to slow down. Soon Jack London square, our point of debarkation. became visible. While most bike historians knew that it was from Oakland that Thomas Stevens began the world’s first ever bike ride across America, little mention seemed ever to be made about Jack London’s bicycle heroics.

It was London, the famous author, who’s example first  helped me to see that there might be interest in my own story. Since I had grown up in this area, in what was a lot of Jack London’s turf, there were reminders of him everywhere. With the newfound curiosity that my second chance to live had given me, I began to ask questions. When I saw his picture at a bar one time and asked Uncle Jam, the man so important to my recovery that he got a whole chapter in my book, “Awake Again”, who he was, he told me all about him.

I had felt challenged when Jam’ used his sometimes stilted English to say, “All his stories real. He didn’t make any of his stuff up. Lived all of them. He wasn’t like these writers you get now, just do it safe way. They hide behind these little typewriters and make up stories about what they think might have been like like. Jack London’s way was real thing.”

As the fog of my long coma began to lift more and more after my first bike ride across America, it began to dawn on me that I too had been on an adventure. And just like London did, I wondered if I could  teach myself how to write about it.

Greatly inspired by Jack London. I also found out that during one part of his life he used to spend weekends riding his bicycle from Oakland to San Jose and back, a round trip distance of 90 miles! On dirt roads. Also back at the turn of the century, he rode all the way to Santa Cruz, at the ocean’s edge, over the challenging Coast Range, a one way distance of one hundred miles. On his honeymoon!!

As the majestic Oakland Tribune tower that once used to dominate the skyline appeared for a brief instant, I thought about how having myself been born in Oakland that I would be taking its rich bicycle legacy across the Nation with me. Indeed, it did seem fitting that I would soon be starting my ride in earnest from the same city where two of my biggest hero’s first placed their own visions on the world stage.

Once we arrived at Jack London Square, a several blocks long restaurant and shopping village at the edge of the Oakland waterfront, and began to push our bikes off of the ferry, we could see our welcome party. The Cycles of Change people, a few more HIWheel cyclists and a couple of bicycle police were there waiting for us.

“You guys made it,” a man surrounded by maybe a dozen kids on bikes called.

It was Larry, the bike group’s activity director. He and other adult members from the Oakland community  ran a successful after school program that showed inner city youth how to rebuild and maintain bikes for their own use.

<snip>

Up ahead we could see Lake Merritt. A sparkling jewel set in the middle of Oakland, it is, in what is a little known fact today,  America’s first National wildlife refuge protecting more than 90 species of migrating waterfowl. In 1869 when a tidal slough that drained into the Bay was dammed up to create this 145-acre body of salt water, such a designation was required to protect the flocks and flocks of migratory birds from the hunters who saw them as easy prey. Now home to innumerable herons, egrets, geese and ducks, this true urban miracle is surrounded by parks, homes, businesses, even a Children’s Fairyland.

We stopped near a small path that led down to the lake. While a couple of the HiWheel riders leaned on tress or poles, I jumped off with two of the other high bikes.

The kids all looked amazed.

“We were wondering how you guys get off those things. Pretty impressive,” observed one of the bicycle policeman  Continuing he said, “Well fellas, you have a fun ride. This is where we let you off. We’ll see you again in an hour. Martin knows where we’ll meet you.”

Soon we were pedaling on the path, three and a half miles in length, that surrounded the lake.

“I remember when I was a kid in the 60’s  sitting over there and watching drag boat races with my parents,” I said as I pointed to a grassy area where the lake spread out below stately apartment buildings that were fed by long staircases. “The used to come once a year but by 1970 or so, too many people were getting killed, so they stopped ‘em. I can’t believe that’s what it took. Man I can’t believe they ever allowed that.” I shook my head in disgust as just then a giant white bird with huge wings landed in the water right next to us.

“I agree, I wonder how those neighbors put up with the noise,” Faye said.

Don kept his camera trained on me.

“Man we’ve come a long way. As I think about it, there were drag boat races everywhere back then. You know that estuary by Jack London square where the Ferry let us off?” Not waiting for an answer, I continued, “they used to have them in another little inlet about a mile down where it rejoined the Bay. Talk about unconscious, they also had this major garbage dump there and they also were dredging the little mini bay for fill so they could build even more homes in Alameda. And hey you know that lake that we see when we cross over the freeway when we ride from Oakland to Berkeley? That used to be a full on water ski park. Talk about noise and more oil and exhaust fumes and a lot of it ending up in the water...”

“Well I don’t think people mean to be harmful, they just don’t know. And as they learn they start making smarter choices. That’s kind of how I see our ride this summer, we’ve just been reminding people there are options,” said Don, as he slowly swept around the lake with his video camera.

Looking out on calm, tranquil waters that were sparsely populated with wind and human powered boats, it is this beautiful setting and resulting peace that Oaklanders still use to escape the stress of city life. And yet besides the yearly power boat races that once desecrated this paradise, the lake was almost doomed by the time it reached adulthood. In fact,  by 1890, the lake that resulted after Mayor Samuel Merritt ordered a dam be built at 12th Street, had turned into a murky, smelly mess few wanted to be near. Brought about by  pollution from the large, gracious homes that had been built around it, it had become a watery wasteland.

Having lost its appeal, ownership of the lake  passed on to the Southern Pacific Railroad company, which soon began to talk about filling it in. Talk which grew increasingly serious  as plans for a railroad station were drawn up. All of this changed, however, when one of the railroad barons, university founder, Leland Stanford, convinced his partners that they should donate the land to the city so that it could build a park on its shores. At which point, the lake, given  a new vitality was reborn.

On weekends, the path we were riding on, marked now by the occasional person out for a stroll, would normally be filled with walkers and joggers. While if the sun was out, every kind of people powered watercraft would be visible. While there were a few of them to be seen today, if it had not been a work day, kayaks, canoes, windsurfers, little sailboats, pedal boats and even  Venetian gondolas would be turning these waters into a shimmering playground that glistened under the wide open sky.

What a setting for a bike race I thought as I reflected back on the Columbus Day races that used to encircle this epic setting. Put on by the legendary Peter Rich who still owns Velo Sport in Berkeley, one of the nations oldest and most revered bike shops, the bike contests ran from 1956 to 1978. Barely noticed, they took place at a time when bike racing in America did not have the benefit of television or corporate sponsorship that it enjoys today.

<snip>

Soon,  I could see our destination, Oakland City Hall. It was a tall square building that filled up the whole block. Completed in 1914, the 18 stories that made it the first government high-rise in the United States, were not visible from our vantage point. Once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, It was seriously damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and had to be closed for six years while it received an 80 million dollar seismic retrofit.

n the  large plaza area led up it to its gold framed doors, I could see people in business clothes. There were cameras set up on tripods. All of this was framed by the eateries and other businesses that serviced the office workers here.

“Is everyone ready? It’s just about show time,” I called.

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