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Tuesday, August 14, 2007
By the time we got to the Ross Island Bridge, we were half a million strong
Or more like 10,000+. Whatever.
The second thoughts kicked in right after we reached the Hawthorne Bridge on Sunday morning. "Shouldn't the Bridge Pedal involve actual pedaling," I asked a colleague who had participated in the event a few years ago. Four blocks later, We'd found ourselves trapped in a crowd of several thousand bicyclists. We were wedged up against a chain-link fence, bored and hoping that the foul-smelling pile of excrement nearby had at the very least come out of a dog. The bottleneck would eventually lead up to the Ross Island Bridge, where only a single lane and the sidewalk was left open to riders.
I don't know if the organizers were expecting this kind of turn-out. It seemed like every bike-owning human being within 50 square miles of the city had gotten out of bed early for this thing. Portland's annual bridge pedal allows participants to cruise down the spans that cross the Willamette, including the Marquam. In a town like this, it should come as no surprise that the event is popular.
Hurtling down I-5 towards an onramp on a borrowed mountain bike was well worth the 40-minute delay at the Ross Island. Standing on the Marquam's three super lanes before our descent was surreal. I've driven over the bridge at least a thousand times and I can't think of a spot in Portland more inhospitable to pedestrians and bikes. For the first time in my life I was able to enjoy the view for longer than a three-second glance. Any other day of the year, standing up there would be considered insane, if not impossible.
We ran into another bottleneck on the Steel Bridge. Frustrated bicyclists around us acted like Christmas was being called off. "NO STOPPING," they begged. "KEEP PEDDLING! NO! NO! NO! AWWWWW!" Around this time, I looked over and noticed a bumpersticker on what had to be a $3,000 investment. It read:
"Welcome to Portland. Now get on your bike."
Having only been on a bike three times in the last five years, I was definitely a stranger in a strange land. It took a good deal of concentration to avoid crashing into everyone around me. Riding a bike alongside hundreds of people in conditions worthy of a cattle stampede ain't easy.
Our final bridge of the day was the Fremont. As we headed up it was seven minutes away from reopening to car traffic. We peddled our hearts out to beat the cut-off. Of course, the crowd on the upper deck was still thick when we rolled down an off-ramp towards Chinatown 20 minutes later.
For all intents and purposes, the 2007 Bridge Pedal was a debacle, at least according to the Oregonian and many of the riders I heard muttering under their breath on Sunday morning. Mystery poop aside, I didn't think it was all that bad. A long wait to ride a bike down the super fast lanes of two freeway? Some people pay $50 bucks to wait hours to ride the teacups at Disneyland. $25 to ride down a super-highway after a bottleneck or two? That's a steal.