Saturday, September 16, 2006

Balboa & Stuff

One might think that the Orange County beach bike paths would be a full-on crowd scene on Labor Day weekend, but that was not the case this past Saturday. Carrie had previously devised a plan for a ride and we decided to follow through on it with Rebecca joining us.

We started at Huntington State Beach and made our way South to Newport with a pretty stout tailwind. I could see that all of the cyclists headed North were having a bit of a time pedlaing into the wind. We pretty much just sat and cruised lazily down the "alley" section in the North of Newport. Bike and foot traffic were both surprisingly light, which was a nice change from previous Summer weekends.

Once we hit 36th Street, Carrie took the lead and wove us through more light traffic with "bell assists" from Rebecca and myself when needed. We found ourselves at the Newport Pier in very little time and continued past onto the Balboa Peninsula.

The path traffic on the Peninsula was also surprisingly light. It all seemed really strange compared to Memorial Day weekend when it was handlebar to handlebar down there. Approaching the Balboa Pier, I took the lead and turned us onto Palm Street and over to the Balboa Island Ferry.

The ferry ride over to Balboa Island was a quick one. Some lightly intoxicated college aged dude was walking around offering free hugs to all of the ladies. He was obviously harmless and having a lot of fun, so nobody seemed to mind and everyone went along with it all. The guy collecting the toll must have gotten a "D" in Math because something just didn't add-up to what he had charged us. It didn't matter though because we were on a mission.

It had been about twenty years since I had ridden the Balboa Ferry and our mission on Balboa Island was the same as it always had been for me, we were seeking a Balboa Bar at Dad's on Marine Avenue. The pedal through the narrow streets was a little tight when vehicle traffic was present, but we made it in one piece. Rebecca and Carrie opted for chocolate sprinkles on their Balboa Bar and I chose cinnamon crunch for mine. They were worth it! As we sat on a bench outside of Dad's, the tiny Catholic Church next door was preparing for a service. I noticed that one of the altar boys had a very SoCal choice in footwear and just had to get a photo of this phenomenon. As I extracted my camera from the case, the procession started to move so I turned the camera on while taking it out of the bag, popped the lens cover and hit the shutter, pointing it off of my hip towards the door of the church.

Wyatt Earp had nothing on me...

The long way off the island seemed like the best choice for the three of us, having just fixed an ice cream jones followed up with some water. Why is it that one gets thirsty after eating ice cream? Looping around Bayfront was a nice pedal when there wasn't any traffic and there wasn't too much really. The ferry ride back to the peninsula was faster than the trip over and the ferry much less crowded. The attendant collecting the fees on the return trip got an "A" in Math.

Once back on terra firma, we moseyed over towards the Balboa Pier, deciding to take a walk on it. While walking out, the amount of fishermen increased and Carrie commented that she had never seen anyone catch a fish on a pier. Rebecca also chimed in that she had not seen a fish caught on a pier either. These words must have been heard by a school of Mackerel just about then because more than a few were suddenly hooked and being pulled up onto the pier. One kid pulled a little one up, unhooked it and let it flop around on the pier locked in a struggle with its own mortality. I was just about to give the little fella a swift kick over the edge when the kid's dad grabbed the fish and dropped it into a bucket with the others they had caught. It hardly seemed big enough to pan fry, but who knows what their intentions were?

Having grown up in SoCal and fished with my maternal grandfather up and down the coast as a kid, I had seen many fish caught by him, myself and others on piers, the shore and from boats. Even so, I did manage a first after Carrie's comment as well. Making our way back to our bikes, I noticed a guy fishing with light tackle and his pole bent tip to tail. Heading over to the edge, I saw what he had hooked. It was a Barracuda that had probably been feasting on Mackerel and had been unlucky enough to bite the wrong chunk of Mackerel. I had never seen anyone catch a Barracuda, let alone on a pier, so it was all very cool to see him haul this 3 ft long dart of a fish with little razorblades for teeth up onto the pier.

Leaving the Balboa Peninsula in the mirror on Carrie's Rollfast, we headed back towards Huntington Beach. By now the wind had subsided sunstantially and was a mere light breeze. The time we spent in the Balboa area had given the wind a chance to calm down pre-sunset, a-la the evening glass-off. The "alley" section was all but deserted and we got to ride three abreast most of the way through it, just enjoying the cruise.

Once in Huntington, it was back to my truck to load the cruisers up and move on to the evening phase of our plan. Parking well North of the pier on 17th Street, the plan backtracked us to the pier on two wheels via the bike path and locking the bikes up in the convenient bike parking under the pier. A quick hike up to PCH and across the street landed us at Fred's for dinner.

The Sun set as we waited for our food to arrive while enjoying cold beverages. While at dinner, Rebecca kept trying to guess the songs that were playing in the restaurant. She's getting pretty good at Classic Rock recognition. Neither Carrie nor Rebecca finished their dinners because they had loaded up on chips and salsa, so we walked out with a couple of bags of food to carry on the bikes for our ride back to my truck.

The last leg of the ride went quickly. The temperature had dropped quite a bit while we were at dinner and the ladies were a tad cold, so we pedaled rather quickly to warm up a bit. Those two were talking up a storm all of the way back while I led out, keeping them in earshot. Rigging the bikes back into the back of my truck was a snap and within 30 seconds of arriving at it, we were on our way.

I decided to take a "long cut" on the way back by driving down Edwards Street Hill. After not having been there since I was a kid when we used to skateboard down it from time to time, it was weird to see how much it had changed. There were houses all over what had once been oil fields and the hill itslef had tranformed from a two-lane to a four-lane road, as well as being "sanitized" into a much less steep hill than it once was. No way could I hit 50mph on a skateboard on what it has become. The times they are a changin'...

All of that fresh air must have been just what the doctor ordered. Rebecca crashed out early and I know Carrie hit the hay right after she let me know she had made it home ok. I wasn't too far behind them, but just *had* to finish Rebecca's burrito and chase it with a Pacifico before cutting a few Zs myself.


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