Tag Archives: tourism

Jungle Reset – Dateline Malaysia and Borneo

The Fourth Parallel North, or Four North, runs round the globe just above the equator. Tracking it from the Greenwich Meridian, it heads East into Africa, passing through the Gulf of Guinea, Cameroon , the Congo, South Sudan, Uganda, and through Lake Turkana in Kenya, from where it routes through Ethiopia, and Somalia, crossing the Indian Ocean, passing through the Maldives and through the island of Sumatra. Crossing the Straits of Malacca and bisecting the Malaysian peninsular, it then streaks off over the South China Sea, over the third largest island in the world, Borneo, from where it crosses the Pacific, over Micronesia, eventually making landfall at Malpelo Island in Colombia. It then sneaks through Venezuela, the town of Roraima in Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, then crosses the Atlantic making the west coast of Africa just south of Cape Palmas in Liberia.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, if you are a regular reader of my not too regular posts, you will know that I am partial to a good cup of coffee, and instead of writing in my usual haunt of a local branch of Costa Coffee, I am sitting pretty much on the fourth parallel, on Mabul Island.

To be precise, and for those that really want to know, my position is 4°14’48”N 118°37’52”E. This is the Scuba Junkie Diving Resort, and I am slurping absolutely delicious coffee from a plastic mug, whilst contemplating life.

Since coming to Malaysia for a long break, I have taken in the sights in Kuala Lumpur, visiting Chinese Temples, and Muslim Mosques; I have eaten in fabulous street restaurants in Penang, (Try the Kapitan Indian Restaurant in George Town for a real treat) and from Hawker Stalls in Jalan Alor. I have stared out over the multifaceted city of Kuala Lumpur from the observation deck of the KL Tower, watching it disappear into the mist shrouded Malaysian Peninsular.

I have seen the struggling species of orang-utans, and seen the excellent work being done by the folk at the Sepilok sanctuary. I have been close to the wonderful yet so endangered Sun Bears too.

I have stayed in the Bornean Jungle, been privileged to see elephants, orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, giant kingfishers, silver leaf monkeys, herons, egrets, huge butterflies.

I have visited remote caves inhabited by swiftletts and horseshoe bats, and watched in wonder in the darkness, at the life that crawls through the inches deep carpet of droppings; Cockroaches, beetles, venomous millipedes, centipedes, spiders, crabs and even small flying lizards.

I have witnessed tropical sunsets, and towering thunderheads, illuminated from within by lightening spikes that compete with the dying orange globe of the sun, as it dips slowly into the South China Seas.

I have observed first hand, the abject poverty of the sea gypsies, and the living conditions that are their lot.

So now I sit here contemplating.

Looking around me at the slender Malay people, emphasises my decreasing height to weight ratio, I am definitely under tall for my 94 kilos. Back calculating, I see that I should be a shade over 2.08 metres tall, or about six feet ten in real money. Well, that’s never gonna happen.

So. I have to shed some of my blubber. I have to stop the regular uptake of alcohol, and get a bit more active – more riding my bicycle, and more walks. I have to also modify my work life balance. I have been sitting in possibly one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and I have been worrying about work for two weeks and wondering how I will cope on my return to the office.

Clearly this is not acceptable. Something has to be done. But what?

I need to address the work/life balance. Coming to 4 North has initiated a reset, Clear Alt Delete at a personal level. So, work less, laugh more, maybe earn less, but be time rich.

I may never own my own jet, but I have a sweet little microlight, on a rural farm strip, so I need to readjust my aspirations and expectations, and spend less time focused on working, and more on regaining my fitness, and enjoying doing not a lot.

Its going to take some careful planning, but the journey is beginning.

I wrote this about two years ago. Since then, I am pleased to say that I now weigh a trifling 89 kilos, so I only need to grow by another 2 cm and I am good to go! I also decided to retire from my previous role, and do something more enjoyable. Now I just have to shed a further 9 kilos. Well. Everyone needs a challenge, right?

Have a Safe(r) Flight!

So, you are going on holiday. Fabulous! You have packed your clothes for your two weeks away, you’ve bought your travel insurance, reserved a rental car, and still have a sore arm from getting the necessary inoculations and vaccinations.

But how much thought have you given to your personal safety on board the aeroplane?

If you answered “none” to this question, then you are part of the huge majority of air travellers who arrive at the airport blissfully ignorant of the potential risks attached to their chosen mode of travel.

Air travel is an extremely safe and efficient way of getting to distant places. Statistics seem to support this, including the oft-quoted “You are safer flying than you are driving in a car to the airport”  Whilst this may have a degree of accuracy, the fact still remains that aircraft accidents do still happen, some of which are serious. With a little care and forethought, you can reduce your exposure to these possible risks, by taking some simple steps yourself.

So, back to my question. How much thought have you given to your personal safety on board the aeroplane?  Or, to put it another way, when do you start thinking about your on-board safety?  A week before travelling? The day before? When you are sitting in your seat, waiting to take off?

Modern airliners are generally very reliable, but there are phases of flight that are more dangerous than others. Interestingly, more aircraft accidents occur during take off and landing than at any other time of flight. This is particularly true in some of the less developed countries around the globe, where flight safety is degraded as a result of under-investment.

In the highly unlikely event that the aircraft should suffer a serious in-flight problem, an emergency landing may be needed, and it may be necessary to “abandon ship” down the escape slides. There may be limited time for the cabin crew to prepare you for doing this, so you need to think a little about the slides.

The slides are made of a very tough neoprene, and are inflated automatically should a door be opened once the aircraft has left the gate. Naturally, you will have been requested to watch the safety demonstration, and refer to the safety card, but the vast majority of you will have been far too busy reading the newspaper, and listening to your iPods to have done so!

The reason that I mention this here, is that despite the instructions to remove high heeled shoes, and to leave bags behind during a slide evacuation, some individuals still place more value on their laptop computer and their bottle of duty free than on their own lives, or those of fellow passengers!

Amazingly, during a fairly recent evacuation of a Boeing 777 in Houston, passengers were observed jumping down the escape slides carrying their wheelie bags, bottles, and other bits of variegated hand baggage. Selfish and stupid in equal measures!

You may then have to walk across broken glass and damaged suitcases once you get off the slide.

For that reason, you should consider what you would wear on the flight. Stout, flat-soled yet comfortable footwear such as Deck Shoes, Moccasins, Training Shoes, and Flat soled business shoes are a must. I recommend that you resist the temptation to remove these shoes and put on the in-flight socks until the take off and climb is completed and the aeroplane is safely in the cruise.

Approaches and landings carry a higher statistical risk of emergencies, so you should put your “sensible” shoes back on at the top of the descent. This is normally indicated when you hear the engine note diminish as the power is reduced, about 30 minutes before arrival time. You may also hear a passenger announcement from the pilots at this point.

I also recommend that you invest in a simple body belt, so that you can carry your passport and travel documents easily. Its more practical than carrying them in a shirt or blouse pocket, and it may save you being delayed if you do have to evacuate the aeroplane.

Those passengers who have footwear and a passport may be swiftly re-booked onto another flight. Those who don’t will probably have to wait for some time in the airport until their passports and belongings have been collected by airport staff.

Your last consideration before leaving home for the airport should be the rest of your clothing, and the material from which it is made. I recommend that you wear clothes produced from natural products, such as cotton.

These materials may burn in the event of fire, but they will offer you more protection from flames than man-made fibres such as Nylon, which is highly flammable.

Now, lets consider your flight. You have boarded the aeroplane, and have been welcomed aboard by a smiling Flight Attendant. Soft background music will be playing, and you will shuffle to your allocated seat. This is easy in a well-lit cabin.

Now imagine the same cabin, darkened, filled with smoke and full of passengers. Your ability to see will be severely limited. Therefore, you should count the number of seatbacks that you pass on your way to your seat. This will enable you to locate the exits in poor lighting conditions should you need to escape from the aeroplane in an emergency.

Once at your designated seat, you should stow your carry-on baggage in the overhead lockers.  Nothing could possibly go wrong with this.  Or could it?

This is an area for concern. The overhead lockers are not designed to carry very heavy items, yet passengers are often observed struggling to lift huge sports bags and holdalls, boxes, and even very heavy cases into the overhead locker above your seat.

In the event of a forced landing, these lockers may deform, resulting in the doors springing open, thus allowing the contents to fall on the passenger below – in this case you!

If you feel unhappy about the load in the overhead stowage, talk to a crewmember and ask, or even insist that the bag is removed from the overhead, placed in another locker, or put in the aircraft hold.

Now, before you sit down, you should use the opportunity to have a quick check of the area around your seat. Find the lifejacket stowage, and check that there is a lifejacket in it!

It may surprise you, but it is a sad fact that every summer, I witness passengers walking off aeroplanes with life jackets stuffed in their hand baggage. Not only is this a criminal act, it is also a very selfish one, bearing in mind that the jacket is safety equipment, and could potentially mean the difference between survival and death.

It is a legal requirement that a life jacket is available for each seat, and the aircraft will not depart until you have one – even if the only water you will fly over is the Manchester Ship Canal!

Most reputable European, North and South American and Australasian airline’s aircraft engineers will always check that every seat has a life jacket before the aircraft operates its first flight of the day. However, you may be flying on the third, sixth, or even the twelfth sector, so its always possible that someone has stolen the jacket as a souvenir since the engineering safety check.

Furthermore, you may be flying to a remote region on a carrier operated by a small and under-developed country. There is no guarantee that these checks have been performed, so you should take a peek to make sure that you have a lifejacket.

Once the aircraft is safely away from the gate, and starts taxying to the runway, the safety demonstration commences. This will consist of either a pre-recorded film, or a demonstration given by the cabin attendants.

I strongly urge you to watch the film or demonstration. You may be a regular traveller on a Boeing 737, or an Airbus, but each airline will have a different seating layout, different emergency lighting systems, and different types of safety equipment, so assuming that you don’t need to watch the demonstration is dangerous complacency.

Numerous safety items are covered on the safety demonstration; how to fasten and release your safety belt, how to use the drop down oxygen masks, and how to fit and secure a life jacket. You will also be advised to read the safety card, which will either be contained in the seatback pocket, or in some cases, riveted to the seatback in front of you.

The reason that you are instructed to read the safety card, is that it will contain information that the safety demonstration doesn’t cover. This will include how to open the doors and emergency escape hatches, and how to adopt the correct “brace” position in the event of making an emergency landing.

Pulling this card out to read it as the aircraft is skidding to a stop in a field is a little late in the day – so please read the information on the card whilst you are taxying out.

You may feel justified in ignoring the safety demonstration for numerous reasons. I was recently presenting a safety course and I asked a frequent flyer why she chose to ignore the demonstration. Her response was a common one: “It’s a bit patronising – any fool knows how to fasten a safety belt” Her frequent flyer colleagues all nodded their agreement.

Most passengers will be highly familiar with the operation of a seat belt, as they use one every day whilst driving the car. Think about where the belt release is. Its down by your hip.

Now, where is the belt fastener on an aeroplane? Its in the middle of your stomach.

Bodies have been recovered from wrecked aircraft, bearing trauma wounds to the hips, where the victim’s hands have been scrabbling to find the belt buckle that was in fact sitting in the middle of their stomach.

Some of these individuals survived the crash, only to be suffocated in smoke because they were unable to undo their seatbelts. Reviewing the operation of the seatbelt in the safety demonstration is done to remind passengers that the belt is different to the ones that they may be more familiar with.

You will also be shown how to put on and use the cabin emergency oxygen system.

Aircraft are pressurised to give a comfortable environment similar to normal air pressure at about 8,000 feet.

Very occasionally a fault may cause a drop in cabin pressure, and the air may become too thin to breathe comfortably. Therefore, oxygen masks will automatically drop from cubbyholes overhead each passenger seat. It is important that you put the mask on quickly, as it is possible to lose consciousness for a brief period if you don’t.

Many aircraft use chemical oxygen generators to produce oxygen, as it saves the requirement to carry large metal tanks. When activated, these generators combine two chemicals to produce oxygen, which is then delivered by a plastic tube to the mask. A by-product of this reaction is heat.

The generators are located in compartments built into the overhead lockers. Over time, they will be covered in a layer of dust. This dust heats up, and creates the smell of burning. This may create panic, as some passengers will assume that the aircraft is on fire.

So, what may happen in reality?

You may feel a slight popping in your ears and the cabin may start to become quite chilly. This is to be expected if the cabin altitude is rising. At some point the safety systems will detect the falling pressure, and the oxygen masks will automatically drop out of their stowages under the overhead lockers.

You may hear a pre-recorded passenger announcement that reminds you to put your mask on, and informs you that an emergency descent has been started.

If you have paid attention to the safety demonstration, you will have already grabbed the nearest mask, and will have put it on. The air flows as soon as the rubber tube is pulled.

Don’t worry about pulling the mask out of its connection to the air supply – the rubber tube is very strong and secured very tightly, and you do need to pull the mask firmly in order to start the oxygen flow.

Whilst this is going on, the Pilots will be doing their emergency drills. They will have donned their masks, and will have immediately put the aircraft into a fairly steep descent to get the aircraft quickly to an altitude where the air is breathable.

Modern aircraft wings are designed to create as much lift as possible, but lift is now the last thing that is needed. The pilot will have extended the speed brakes, which are large hydraulically operated panels located on the top surface of the wing.

Once these are lifted up into the airflow, they interfere with the lift, and the rate of descent is now much faster. They also cause some turbulence and noise, and this may add to the sense of alarm in the cabin.

However, you must remember, that the apparent feelings of being in extreme danger are deceptive, and whilst this is an emergency situation, you will be quite safe. Aircraft depressurisation is practiced by the crews regularly in the flight simulators, and is relatively easy to handle and resolve.

The last item that is normally demonstrated is the use of the lifejacket. Lifejackets are generally similar in operation regardless of manufacturer or airline. They will be simply placed over the head, and either tied around the waist with canvas cords, or secured with nylon webbing and plastic snap fasteners.

They are inflated by pulling a toggle on the front of the jacket, which discharges a CO2 cylinder into the jacket.

Although lifejackets are designed to have no “inside” or “outside” they are best worn with the CO2 cylinder outside, as the metal cartridge becomes very cold after discharging the gas, and may cause burns if left touching the skin. It is imperative that jackets are not inflated inside the aircraft cabin, as they will either get ripped, or will cause obstructions in a densely packed cabin.

Should you forget this, and fire your jacket early, you may deflate it easily by unclipping the inflation tube (the one that is normally used for topping up the jacket by mouth) and pushing your finger into the tube end. Inside is a Schrader valve similar to that used on a car tyre. Simply press the stud in the middle and compress the jacket to deflate it. Once outside the aircraft cabin, two or three deep breaths should re-inflate the jacket to the point where it will support you in the water.

If you are instructed to put on your lifejackets, then there will be an element of panic throughout the cabin. I strongly suggest that after you have donned your jacket and tied or buckled it up, you briefly release your seat belt and stand up!

It will be too late to discover that you have tied the jacket (and yourself) to either the seat frame, or your fellow passengers once the aircraft has ditched. Doing this ensures that the jacket is secured, and that you can still exit the aircraft when required to!

Aircraft typically have an approach and landing speed of anything from 150 knots (130 mph) to about 120 knots (105 mph) but in an abnormal or emergency situation this could be higher. As you will appreciate, under the rapid deceleration of an emergency landing, anything not secured in the cabin will become a projectile, and will travel through the cabin at very high speed. This will include unsecured items of hand baggage, food carts, and other pieces of aircraft equipment.

Aircraft structures are designed to withstand loads of up to nine times normal gravity, but under a crash landing scenario, these limits may be exceeded, and the cabin may start to deform during the deceleration.

The safety card will contain details of the correct brace position to be adopted should a forced landing need to be made. The brace position is designed to minimise the whiplash effects of rapid deceleration, and to protect the head from injury.

Some authorities suggest that bending forwards, and clasping your arms under your thighs will offer the best chances for survival. I personally prefer the brace position used by British Airways. This brace position is adopted by leaning as far forward as possible, and placing your hands over your head.

You should then place your feet flat on the floor, and move them backwards until they touch the baggage restraint bar under your seat. This will guarantee that your feet are behind the line of your knees, thereby ensuring that your legs won’t swing forwards under deceleration loads, and smash your shins into the seat structure in front of you.

I also suggest that although it is a natural tendency to interlace your fingers when you place your hands over your head, that you don’t do it!

If you are right handed, place your right hand on your head first, and then protect that hand by placing your left hand over the top of it. This will make certain that even if the baggage lockers above your head collapse onto your hands, you will not have all your fingers broken and will still be able to unfasten your seat belt, and still have the use of your good hand.

Taking your dream holiday trip of seeing Orang-Utans in the wilds of Borneo or Indonesia, may well involve a considerable amount of flying with air carriers of dubious or unknown quality. You wouldn’t travel without insurance or vaccinations – so surely investing fifteen minutes to watch and understand a safety demonstration is time well spent!

Now, its time to take a reality check.

According to the UK Civil Aviation Authority, during the period from 1992 – 2001, UK airlines carried 802 million passengers with no fatalities!  Quite an impressive record in fact.

The biggest UK Airline operates 285,000 flights per year. Over the last five years, they have only had to evacuate an aircraft on two occasions. These evacuations were only conducted as a safety precaution, rather than as the result of a cabin fire. This means that statistically speaking, you stand a one in 712,500 chance of having to evacuate an aircraft.

To put that further into perspective, The UK’s Health and Safety Executive estimate that the chances of you dying as a result of an aircraft crash are one in 125,000,000 passenger journeys. In fact, they calculate that you stand a one in 16,800 chance of being killed in a road traffic accident.

So, you are relatively safe in the air – but how safe are you once you check into your hotel? Do you know the risks? Have you thought about your welfare? This will be covered in a later posting.

 

Airline Loyalty Programmes. Good For You – But Better For Them?

Member of an Airline Loyalty Programme?
Good for you – But better for the Owner!

If you are a regular airline traveller, you have special cause for celebration on the 1st May each year.

For on this date thirty seven years ago, American Airlines launched it’s Aadvantage® programme, the first ever integrated Frequent Flier Loyalty scheme.

In 1978, just prior to the launch of the then unique programme, the US Government had enacted the Airline Deregulation Act, and the US air carriers were in a state of turmoil.

Against a backdrop of recession and economic uncertainty, airlines were struggling to contain costs and make even meagre yields, so great thought was given to enhancing the profits from existing customers.

It is said that it is six times more expensive to generate a new customer than it is to hold on to an existing one, so the ability to retain customers was seen as being a high priority.

Executives at American Airlines created the Aadvantage Programme, a system that rewarded loyalty by offering free upgrades to either business or first class, or free tickets, based upon the number of air miles that the passenger travelled.

Prior to the launch of the programme, American’s marketing department trawled through their SABRE reservations system for bookings with recurring telephone numbers. The 130,000 most frequent flyers were selected as the initial members of the Aadvantage programme, closely followed by the 60,000 members of the Admirals Club (American’s Airport Lounge Club).

Naturally such a scheme was hugely popular with passengers, and United Airlines launched their own loyalty programme called Mileage Plus the following week. Subsequently most large airlines have launched similar programmes.

So, the passenger may enjoy a free Business Class ticket from New York to London for every 50,000 miles travelled. That’s certainly a good deal, but what’s in it for the Airline.

Firstly, the Airline can build up a profile of an individual’s travel behaviour, seat preferences, times of travel, and class of travel booked.

Such statistical data is gold dust for a marketing department, and the information may be used to make decisions related to routes, departure and arrival times, and size and type of aircraft to be used on various flights. These decisions could make or lose the airline millions.

Loyalty programmes are good – for the owner, but British Airways made an inspired development of the AA system when they launched the BA Credit Card,

Once the programme was launched, passengers were given a double incentive. Book the ticket on BA, and get airmiles for the flight, and pay for it on the airline’s credit card, and get bonus mileage!

The passenger obviously benefits from this, but not as much as the airline.

Consider this – The passenger buys his ticket on BA, using his BA credit card. He then rents a car through the BA booking system (getting some airmiles bonus of course), and then pays with his airline credit card – for more bonus mileage.

When he gets to the airport, he buys some duty free liquor, a Mont Blanc pen, and some Chanel perfume for his wife. He then orders some Lalique Crystal, and some Caviar from the Caviar House.

Having finished his shopping, he takes his trip, and whilst abroad uses his Airline credit card for further purchases, enthusiastically hoovering up bonus air miles, all to be redeemed with the airline for future flights, which of course, he will pay for with his airline credit card.

Now, the passenger thinks that the loyalty programme is basically for his benefit. Not so!

For the company is now building up a comprehensive profile of the passenger, logging his purchases, and his shops of preference. The marketing department is creating a whole new armoury of tools to use on the passenger.
You, the passenger, may not realise the stealthy gathering of data, and may be quite happy amassing your bonus airmiles.

It should be said, that there is nothing sinister in the gathering of such information. Many corporate E-commerce websites make no secret of the fact that personal details will be used for marketing purposes.

The airline gains far more than the passenger, mainly because air transport ticket prices have fallen in real terms over the years. They make profit on the ticket cost; they then make profit on the interest generated on the credit card. But most valuable of all is the comprehensive demographic information they glean.

Long-term analysis of the passenger’s buying behaviour enables the marketing department to design incentive packages targeted personally at the individual, and thus generate more business.

Further examination of the flights booked may help the airline’s network analysts to plan new routes, or revise timings of existing routes.

This type of programme promotes exceptional loyalty, and ties the passenger more effectively to the airline. A passenger who is mishandled for whatever reason is more likely to stay with the airline if he has amassed a significant number of airmiles.

Global economic problems and the huge costs involved in operating an airline has led many airlines to form commercial alliances. These alliances allow airlines to pool resources, share booking systems and flights. In most cases, they will also honour the redemption of airmiles gained on another alliance members loyalty programme.

Many airlines have invested in hotel chains and car rental companies, and these will also offer airmiles for the airline, generating further profits – and all for the cost of a free ticket for every ten return trips London to New York.

Compared with the total spend made by the customer, the net gain is heavily loaded in favour of the airline.

These programmes have proved so successful that many high street chains have embraced the idea with great enthusiasm. Tesco’s have their Clubcard; Sainsbury’s have the Nectar card.

Interestingly, ASDA, which is part of the US Wal-Mart group do not operate such a scheme. Their philosophy is that low prices at the time of checkout ties the customer more effectively to them rather than the promise of money back later. It must be a successful business models, as Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest employer.

It may be argued that Low Cost carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet drive loyalty through low prices, but this seems to be a less powerful argument, as service standards are much lower than that provided by legacy full fare airlines.

The only other loyalty programme that doesn’t seem to translate very well into the world of air transport is that operated by the Co-Operative Retail Group.

The Co-Op as it’s popularly known has been running a loyalty scheme for many years, and is known throughout the UK as “dividend”, or just plain “divi”. Put quite simply, customers were encouraged to become members of the Cop-operative.

They purchased a share, which then enabled them to receive a percentage of the profits generated. This scheme has been running for decades, and has been very successful in keeping customers loyal to the brand despite enormous competition from much bigger rivals such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

So – Loyalty programmes are good for the customer, but not as good as they are for the provider!!!

California Dreamin’ – Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge

California Dreamin’

When The Flowerpot Men were urging us to go to San Francisco back in 1967, I very much doubt that cycling was uppermost in their thoughts.

I expect that the only peddler that many of the Hippie generation were interested in was the one who dropped them their daily fix of psychedelic drugs.

Flower Power and the Hippie dream was all 50 years ago, and a lot can happen in half a century.

Having said that – the 60s ethos appears to be alive and well (if in a slightly diluted form) and living happily in California.

As crew for a major UK airline, I frequently fly to the USA, and decided some time back, that when I was next on a San Francisco layover, I would rent a bicycle, and enjoy some California Dreamin’

I had done a little research into bike rentals before my trip, and had decided that a company called Blazing Saddles (www.blazingsaddles.com) offered a good range of bicycles at a very reasonable rates, with a well appointed Mountain bike starting at just $9.00 per hour ($36.00 per 24 hours), and a range that includes Hardtail MTBs, Full Suspension MTBs, Comfort Tandems, High Performance Tandems, and High Performance Carbon/Alloy Roadies.

An Electrically assisted Bike is also available at $69.00 per day. Trailers and Tag-alongs are also an option if required.

In the highly unlikely event that they can’t help, then Bay City Bikes also offer a good range of cycles for similar prices. They are also located on Fishermans Wharf and may be contacted at http://www.baycitybike.com

Included within the rental package are a Helmet, a Handlebar Bag, and a lock. Cycles are all fitted with sturdy rear racks, bells, and bungee cords.

So it was, that on a pleasant June Sunday morning, four of us decided that we would cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then ride into the little town of Sausalito.

The plan was to enjoy a relaxed lunch at a waterfront restaurant, and then ride back on the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf. All in all a total mileage of about 9 miles.

This would ideally suit our party, as some of the riders were quite inexperienced, and there were some quite steep hills to negotiate on the way to the bridge.

We decided that as we were in no hurry, we would catch a cable car from Market Street at 1000, and enjoy a scenic trip through the City on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where Blazing Saddles are located.

Riding the Cable Cars is a highly recommended part of the trip, especially for movie buffs, as the route crosses California Street made famous by Steve McQueen in the film Bullit . Other films made around the City include Mrs Doubtfire, and of course, the hit 1970s cop drama The Streets of San Francisco.

The Cable Car also passes Crookedest Street. This little street gets its name because the road is a series of very tight hairpin bends compressed into about half a city block, all of which clings precariously to a very steep hill. Walking down it is “interesting”, but I imagine the bin men, and emergency services have a nightmare accessing any of the houses there!

Blazing Saddles have a number of locations spread throughout San Francisco, but we would be renting from their Hyde Street branch, which is located about two blocks from the beginning of the cycle path leading to the Bridge.

The cable car route terminates about 100 yards from the shop, which is immediately identifiable by the selection of cycles outside.

Blazing Saddles is a very efficient operation. We were greeted at the reception desk by a team of friendly and knowledgeable staff, and we were rapidly talked through the options, and the required paperwork.

We opted to take the additional insurance that covered the bikes against all damage, and all decided on “Comfort” Mountain Bikes. These differ from the standard models in that they are fitted with a gel saddle disc brakes and front suspension. A good decision, as the difference in price is only a dollar an hour!

We also decided to take advantage of Blazing Saddle’s offer of ferry tickets, which meant no queuing up to buy them at Sausalito. These tickets are offered on a sale or return basis, so it would have been foolish not to have taken advantage of the offer.

We were also given a voucher for a free appetiser at the Paradise Bay Restaurant in Sausalito, and reduced rate secure bike parking adjacent to the restaurant.

We had to leave a credit card number as a security deposit, and we where then whisked to the cavernous area behind reception where we were swiftly fitted up with bicycles.

The staff in bike despatch give a rapid fire briefing on the cycle controls; it is important to listen to this, as the brakes are set up in a different way from in the United Kingdom. In Britain, the right hand brake lever operates the front brake, and the rear brake is activated by the left brake lever. In the USA that convention is reversed.

Missing this piece of vital information could mean an interesting emergency stop scenario, and a subsequent in depth look at the inside of an American Emergency Room.

Having been given our bikes, and had saddles adjusted, we were instructed to ride towards the exit, and come to a complete stop so as to ensure the brakes were working satisfactorily.

We were then free to depart for the Bridge.
The route heads west past aquatic park on a dedicated cycle path, running adjacent to the waterfront, and is well maintained and free from potholes, and is mainly of tarmac or concrete surface. Within half a mile or so, there is a fairly steep (but luckily short) hill leading into Fort Mason Park. At the top of the hill is a vista point, giving a view over the bay.

Disappointingly, the weather in June is characteristically foggy in the morning, and only the first tower of the bridge could be seen, and the fog horn sounded moodily melancholy.

We decided not to let this dampen our spirits, so we continued on, with a gentle descent through the pleasant grounds of the park, at the bottom of which our sign-posted route took us through a car park, and out again onto a wide, well maintained path. This is shared space, with a pedestrian footpath of about ten feet in width, and two cycle lanes clearly marked for two way bike traffic.

As this was a Sunday morning, every cyclist in the San Francisco area had decided to get their bikes out, and the air was filled with shouts of “On ya left dude” and “Comin’ though” On the whole, other riders were courteous, and polite.

The route remains fairly flat in the main, and passes a tidal marshland nature reserve, and a variety of birds and fowl may be seen here if you bother to stop and look. The route then passes Crissy Field, an old army airfield, but which is now a part of the Golden Gate Nature Reserve Area.

Eventually, the path sweeps left, culminating in a short, steep uphill climb on Long Avenue.
This intersects with Lincoln Boulevard, but this is probably the only stretch of the route which uses roads. Within a hundred yards or so, the route forks right and heads to the base of the bridge.

As the vehicular traffic across the bridge is very busy, there are segregated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, but quite sensibly, the Bridge authority has ensured that cyclists and pedestrians do not conflict with each other. This is done by the simple expedient of splitting the walkers and bikers onto either the east or west side of the bridge.

So, as it was a weekend day, cyclists were obliged to use the West path and walkers the East. This system is excellent, and makes for a good flow in both directions.

So with the last climb of the ride, we wound our way under the bridge, and up onto the bridge itself, where we stopped for the obligatory photo by the Golden Gate Bridge sign.

The ride across the bridge is a little chilly, mainly due to the coastal breeze, and in our case, the mist. However, the road surface is well maintained, and clearly signed.

Once over the bridge, a steeply descending curving path leads down into the town of Sausalito.

The town is obviously a prosperous area, and the houses and streets are beautifully maintained, and spotlessly clean.
The cycle path disappears here, and the ride into town is conducted on public roads, but the car drivers in this idyllic spot are courteous, and generous in their encounters with bicycles – of which there are literally thousands!

We cycled to the western edge of the town, where we found our restaurant, and duly handed our cycles to the valet, who ensured that they were parked and locked in a secure area – and all this for just one dollar per bike.

The restaurant, The Paradise Bay, is in a nice location overlooking the waterfront, and we chose to sit outside to enjoy some top quality fish, and sample some of the local ales – in my case Steam Bitter, which is a refreshing way to end a fabulous ride.

Having eaten and drunk to our capacity, we cycled the half mile to the ferry terminal, and were soon boarded, along with about a hundred and fifty other cycles for our half hour crossing of the bay, back to Fishermans Wharf.

A short ride along the sea front took us back to Blazing saddles, where we returned the bicycles, and settled our bill – which came to just $40.00 each for a whole days use of the bikes, and the ferry tickets which normally retailed at $10.00 each one way.

Lastly, We all purchased a tee shirt proclaiming the we had “Biked the Bridge”

So – if you are looking for a fun day of leisure riding then I would thoroughly recommend Biking the Bridge, and Blazing Saddles are there to help you do it.

Mark Charlwood©
17/06/2014