Words by Morgan Fletcher
Morgan Fletcher lives in Oakland, California, in the hills above the city. He works in San Francisco’s Financial District, as a manager at a software company. The 46-year-old Philadelphia native is in the office about eight hours a day, but he’s in front of a computer, or a mobile phone, working the shoulder hours of the day. It’s probably a nine-hour day, on average. His daily commute is a phone-free, laptop-free zone. So is the ferry. —Ed.
When I leave the house for work is often impacted by other duties, as father and husband. I’m a parent to two teenagers, and my wife works. In my perfect bike commuting day, I’m up at 6 a.m., on the bike at 7:30 a.m., down the hill eight miles and 1,000 feet to the Jack London Ferry Terminal. I’ll ride the ferry with my friends to the San Francisco Ferry Building, arriving around 8:45 a.m., and get to the office by 9 a.m. My office is a short distance from the Ferry Building, less than a mile, but traffic and architecture in that part of San Francisco are dense, so it does feel like a bit of a journey. I’ll step away from my desk at 5:15 p.m. After socializing on the ferry—I always sit outside, and I always see some of the same friendly faces—I’ll be at Jack London Ferry Terminal by about 6:20 p.m. From there it’s anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes home, depending on whether I go the short or long ways. My morning commute takes me through narrow, hill-side, quiet roads down to big, busy streets, and the pattern is reversed in the evening. I have some grass and dirt options, to escape the asphalt, and my route to the ferry in the morning is creative.
The primary challenge of bicycle commuting—like anywhere else—is safety. The Bay Area has a very dense population, separated from most destinations by water. Everyone is in a hurry at commute time, distracted and late and completely self-centered. This all makes sense. No one’s looking out for the other commuters, and most of the cars have a single occupant and you, whoever you are, are in the way. As a bicycle commuter with over thirty years of experience riding to school and then work, I’ve developed a sense for how to safely navigate my commute. I’m a law-abider. It’s rare that I’m so late for work or home as to feel the need to not stop at a stop sign or red light.
The secondary challenge is darkness. I do not like bike commuting as much during the winter, and I hate Daylight Savings Time. I spend a lot of time cold, dark and wet on my bike, in the winter. “Real bike commuters” keep riding through the winter. Bleh.
The benefits of commuting are so many. I get great exercise, I get to train for my favorite activity, which is bicycling! I have time away from screens, grumpiness, drama and doubt, where my body and brain are energized and moving with a purpose, so that my thoughts can flow for tens of minutes at a time uninterrupted, and I can think and feel the wind on my face.
I’m burning the good food I ate, and not the dollars in my wallet, and I’m not making my expensive car an even more depreciated asset when I’m bike commuting.
I’m not frustrated in traffic, but flowing through two great, big cities efficiently and with style while I commute. I see things that others might not see, moving at just the right speed, with no walls around me.
I get to take a boat across the most beautiful bay, below bridges and among container ships, and I get to talk and laugh with friends while I’m doing it. I sometimes take the BART train; the ferry is vastly superior. I arrive at my destination happier and more refreshed than when I left. The sunsets are incredible.
Since I’ve never been a car commuter, I tend to be very economical with my bike spend, while at the same time being an absolute bike snob. I love bikes, and I’m always one bike away from having the right set of bikes. I buy parts used, do my own mechanical work, and take advantage of deals when available. We still drive enough, with kid transport and my wife’s commute, that I’m keenly aware of what a car costs to maintain. I’d guess I’m ahead by maybe $5,000 – $7,000 a year. Hard to say.
I’m always happy to have company, but there are very few people with whom I can share the bulk of my commute. I roll out from the ferry in the evening with a group of friends, and also some strangers. This “critical mass” of three to five riders provides some safety we wouldn’t have as single riders, especially when it’s dark and we have lights on. This first mile from the ferry is a good time for conversation, providing we’re paying full attention to the cars, pedestrians and bikes around us. Sometimes I’ll run into a friend on the longer climbs and the longer ways home, and we’ll ride together. I like the time alone on the bike.
I’ve hit deer twice on my bike commute home. Both times were at night. The first time, I stayed upright and the deer went flying. The second time I wasn’t so lucky, and we both crashed hard.