Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A fun ride for a good cause: Supermarket Street Sweep

My friend Steve forwarded me a poster for the 3rd annual Supermarket Street Sweep about 1 month ago. It's an event put together by a few individuals aimed at raising food donation for the San Francisco Food Bank. It consists of two alleycat-style races taking place in San Francisco at the same time. The winner of the speed race would have purchased all the required items at the specified supermarkets and get to the finish point the fastest. The winner of the point race will have the most food items in addition to making all the required purchases at the specified supermarkets. The organizers have gotten lots of sponsors and collected lots of swags as prizes for the participants and all the food will go to the SF food bank.

Il Pompino before the race
(My pompino before the race)

I've always enjoy riding in San Francisco and since this is for a good cause and sounds like fun, I decided to join this year. The starting time was noon next to the Cupid sculpture on Embarcadero. Some folks were there before the start, but most came at or after the start time. The organizers got everyone checked in and handed out Crumpler cell phone hoisters and numbered spoke card for every racer. A wide variety of bicycles--many fixed gear messenger bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, cargo bikes, bike with trailers--showed up. At about 12:40 we were asked to gather on the grass and each got a manifest. We could choose to participate in the point or the speed race. The speed race required the racer to buy less food, but travel longer distance. The point racer's manifest has more food items on it that he/she needs to buy, but the 5 supermarkets are all relatively central.

Close to Start time
(Almost Start time, racers gathered)

I thought about joining the speed race, but the manifest asked for a can of fish at the Marina Safeway. I am a vegan and couldn't bring myself to buy fish, and thought it would be great to donate more food in the point race. At about 12:40, the race started and streams of cyclists poured into the street.

I looked at the manifest before getting on my bike and knew the location of all 5 stores. However, i was deciding the order by which I will cover the stores. The manifest is shown in the picture below.

Blank Manifest before the race
(my manifesto: pre-race)

I decided that I would go to Mollie Stone in Pacific Height (at California & Fillmore), and then move my way toward the south of the City. I made my first strategic mistake by riding to far north to Broadway before turning west. I should have gone southwest on Market and then head up California or a parallel street. On my il Pompino with 40/17 gearing, I was afraid that I might not have enough gears going through the central part (Nob Hill, etc) of the city. In hindsight, I could probably head up Sacramento or Washington through Chinatown, then cut across on Powell to California. Anyway, I rode on Broadway to circumvent the huge hills, but make an almost mistake by riding in the Broadway Tunnel. The tunnel is long and without good illumination. I couldn't really see the road that well and the lanes are not that wide. I was afraid to ride through a patch of glass or getting hit by a car, luckily, neither took place.

I also quickly realized that i forgot to bring water. So when I got to Mollie Stone I bought a drink as well as the required food donation--two bags of dry beans, 2 lbs or more. I met another racer Brandon, whom I will see at the rest of the stores, and rode to the finish together.


(slideshow of the photos I took)

The next stop is straightforward to get to and very close. I rode down Fillmore past Geary, then hopped through a sidewalk to the Safeway parking lot at Webster and O'Farrell. Many racers were there, but I have the impression that this was their first stop. I ran in and grab what i needed--two cans of vegetable, 15 oz or more and came out. I have on my Pompino an Ostrich front handlebar bag, and also carried a medium-size Timbuk2 messenger bag. I put the cans in the handlebar bag (the beans were in my messenger bag) and went for the third store.

before I left Safeway, I looked at the map and decided that i will go west to the lucky on Fulton and Masonic before heading further south to the two last stores. Here is where I made my second strategic mistake. Instead of heading west first on O'Farrell first, i descended webster and promptly lost a lot of altitude that I had to climb back on Fulton. I realized it as soon as I made a left turn on Fulton and saw the three consecutive climbs beginning at Steiner. Well, at this point, there was I can do but get off my saddle and climb. Even though the hills on Fulton aren't difficult, I could have more strategically get to the same point with less climbing and spent less time.

At Lucky, I picked up 2 bags of 2-lb basmati rice. i was looking for brown rice, but the package were all in the wrong weight. after a short decision process, I took the basmati and went for the self-checkout.

Out of the Lucky I made a stupid mistake. I went further west (uphill no less) on Fulton for a block when i realized I had gone in the wrong direction. I turned around and headed back. I am now heading for the Mission District. The two remaining stores are close to the main artery--Mission Boulevard--in the area and I initially planned to go all the way south to the Safeway at 29th and Mission first. I rode on fulton until divisidero, then rode down until Haight. I then turn off Haight on Octavia, which takes me back to Market Street. After a couple more short turns, i was on mission going south.

I was stopped at a light on 14th street, and decided to change my plan to hit Food Co on 14th and folsom first. When I walked into the store after locking my bike and reading my manifest, I thought to myself that maybe I should have stuck to my plans and go to the one further south first. We were required to buy 2 large plastic jars (64 oz or more) of fruit juice, which would be the bulkiest and heaviest items. But I wasn't going to run out of here without the juice. The checkout line also were longer than other stores, without self-checkout counters.

Juice at Checkout at Food Co in the Mission
(At the checkout line in Food Co)

After juice, I had to rearrange my bags and they were pretty bulky now. Luckily the things we need to buy from the last store--mac & cheese--are pretty small. I rode down shotwell, which parallel Mission, but is much quieter all the way to 26th, made a ride turn then turn back onto Mission again. Quickly I got to the Safeway at 29th and Mission. I got some organic mac & cheese and bought two more cans of food for extra point.

At my bike I took out my map and tried to figure out how to get back to the finish point--which is Rickshaw Bagworks on 22nd between Indiana and Tennessee. Brandon, whom I met in Mollie Stone and saw at every subsequent store, told me that he knew the way and can take me there.

We got onto Caesar Chavez from Mission and rode under the highways. Soon i saw the sign for Indiana and made a left turn. We got back to the finish line at about 2:40, 2 hours after i left embarcadero. Here is the map showing the route I took to the 5 stores. The bikely interactive version is here.

Near party time
(scene outside Rickshaw Bagworks after the race)

A couple dozen folks were there already. I checked in, took a photo in the booth and turned in my food and receipts. As time went on, folks started to pile in. One guy--I later found out he goes by Dirty Dave--pulled up with a trailer on his cargo bike. He must have had hundreds of canned food on the trailer. I also found out later that he had won the last two point race.

Just slightly past the cutoff time at 4, I heard a dragging noise on the street, and saw a guy in pink shirt (I later learned that his name is Jeremiah) on a mountain bike pulling 3 sections of trailers behind him with mountains of food. He clearly had Dirty Dave beat in terms of quantity but got disqualified because he missed the cutoff time.

Jeremiah and his haul
(Jeremiah and his haul)

I had another party to attend to so I left before the organizers handed out prizes. But I had tons of fun and plan to do it next year!

Closer-up Pompino at the Bridge
(taken on my way back to Berkeley)
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