Big Yellow-Shirted Circus

Nine oversized vehicles piled high with bicycles pull into a public parking lot at the end of Bryant Street on the Embarcadero in San Francisco on a cold Sunday morning. Immediately, 24 hyper kinetic boys in yellow Troop shirts explode from the cars. Most jump onto bikes as they are unloaded and start racing around the parking lot. Ten adult riders start checking tire pressures and comparing route sheets. Drivers of the two Sag Wagons review their maps and make sure they have the First Aid Kits and Medical Forms. Cell phone numbers are exchanged and tested. Instructions and questions are shouted back and forth over the sound of older Scouts singing rap songs and trying to stay warm. Adults start yelling at everyone to load up and get ready to ride so younger Scouts in line for the Porta-Potties start pounding on them so occupants will hurry up. It’s a big, boisterous, ear-splitting, yellow-shirted circus.

The outing leader calls everyone together for a group photo. Scouts stand beside their bikes, shoulder to shoulder, in two straight lines of 12 riders each. Older riders are in the back row, first year Scouts in the front row, all crowded together so everyone can all fit into the frame. Just as the final pictures are being taken, a young boy standing on the far left in the front row inexplicably loses his balance and falls sideways into the Scout next to him, who in turn topples sideways; and, like screaming dominos, ten Scouts suddenly end up on the pavement. It takes 15 minutes to apply band aids. Nobody is happy. Better get out of the parking lot before someone really gets hurt.

Parking Lot before the Golden Gate
Scouts lining up for pictures before the fall.

The first rider pedals out onto the street and turns left towards SBC Park, being careful to stay in the bike lane when possible. We try and form a line but it’s not easy when there are 34 riders in the group and we are often separated by red lights and right-hand turn lanes. In fits and starts we cross the intersections. Since it’s a Sunday morning, there are not a lot of cars on the street yet. Progress is slow but steady.
A rare early morning game means lots of Giant’s fans, but most of the Scouts are good riders and the boys dodge and weave through the crowds of people without upsetting too many of them. We stop at the statue of Willy Mays to take pictures, but the security people keep shooing the boys off the pedestal. So we get back on our bikes and ride down the Embarcadero towards the Ferry Building. That’s when we start to run into the crazy people.

Riding Along the Embarcadero

The Bay to Breakers 12 kilometer race is a wild and crazy thing. Thousands of people turn out in costume to celebrate. Along with the serious runners, there are men wearing cat costumes, women dressed as vegetables, men in bacon outfits, lots of people in weird makeup and bathing suits(despite the cold), and all manner of people in exotic and/or inappropriate attire. Luckily, the crowds are disbursing and all the runners are gone, so our Scouts are spared the indignity of peddling past a group of sixty year olds wearing only thongs and a smile.

We ride past Fisherman’s Wharf, along the aquatic park, through Fort Mason, and on to Crissy Field where we stop and get ready for the Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge restricts cyclists to the west side of the span, the side nearest the ocean. While not so dangerous, riding across the bridge can be scary, especially for younger boys and inexperienced adults. From Crissy Field, riders have to work their way up a very steep path to get onto the bridge, and then ride 1.7 miles, suspended in the air above the Pacific Ocean without any place to pull over and rest. No matter what, you just have to keep pedaling to the other end.

2010 Bride Ride
Getting Ready for the Bridge

To the left and in front is a panoramic view of the ocean and the beautiful Marin Headlands. To the right, a few feet from our handlebars, cars and trucks whiz by at 50 miles per hour. The wind is very strong, occasionally pushing boys out of their riding lanes into oncoming bike traffic, prompting faster riders coming from the other direction to swerve quickly and curse loudly. Along the way riders can sometimes look straight down through the mesh plates in the pathway and see the waves 220 feet below them. If you are terrified of heights, closing your eyes helps, but it doesn’t improve your chances of surviving.

GG Bridge Ride 2010
Scouts Riding Across the Golden Gate Bridge

We regroup in a parking lot on the north side of the bridge. Everyone is exhilarated. After a water break, we push off towards Sausalito, our scheduled lunch stop, then on to Tiburon about ten miles away. When we arrive, it’s time for a rest while we wait for the next ferry back to San Francisco. Adults order lattes and settle onto benches by the water, talking about their sore legs. Scouts run back and forth between the candy store and the ice cream parlor until their money runs out. Too soon it is time to leave.

Taking the ferry from Tiburon back to San Francisco is the second highlight of the trip. Boys crowd the upper decks to get a good look at Angel Island and all the boats and ships in the Bay. When the ferry gets closer, they look up in silence at the Golden Gate Bridge where they were riding just hours before. It looks huge and formidable from the water!

Ferry back to SF in 2009
Riding the Ferry Back to San Francisco

The ferry docks at Pier 41 and we walk our bikes through swarms of tourists back to the Embarcadero. The traffic is much heavier, and the riders are tired, so our movements are halting as we carefully thread our way through the congestion back to our parking lot near the Bay Bridge. When we have all arrived safely, the Scouts spontaneously break into cheers and gather in a circle to chant the new Venture rap song. Time to load up and go home.

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