Cranksgiving: An Alleycat to Support the Santa Cruz Community

Today I participated in my first bike race, totaling 18 miles in 2.5 hours around Santa Cruz, Soquel, and Aptos. Unlike you might be imagining, there were no fans lining the streets, no blocked off or set course of direction, and most people who saw me pedaling up Soquel Avenue with a huge backpack probably had no idea I was racing from grocery store to grocery store, gathering food based on a list I'd been handed at noon.

The ride was an alleycat ride called Cranksgiving, organized by Santa Cruz Bike Polo and Clutch Couriers. I had been invited by my friend and fellow bike generating enthusiast Jonny. He helps out with the Student Environmental Center's bike-powered energy generator at events, and he invited me to join his team a few weeks ago. All I knew was that I was supposed to show up with some money and that I would be racing around the Santa Cruz area picking up food that would be donated to families in need for the holidays.

Jonny stoked for the race before we left San Lorenzo Park.

When I arrived by bicycle at the duck pond at San Lorenzo Park at noon, Jonny and I paid our $5 and were handed cards to place in our spokes. I chose "The Killer Whale" as my card, and Jonny chose "Bike Polo." Then we set to work using Jonny's smart phone and my spatial understanding of various grocery stores in Santa Cruz and Aptos to determine who would bike to which store and which items we'd pick up. We had a list to follow and had to get a receipt from each store and return with each item on the food list. The food items had been requested by The Familia Center, a family resource center serving low-income Latino residents of Northern Santa Cruz County, and all proceeds from the ride would benefit the Center.

We put all the bikes between those redwood trees. After the organizers explained the race, they counted down and shouted "Bike polo!" We all raced to grab our bikes, and then it began. Watch a video of the start of the race here. If you look closely, you'll see me in the bright green helmet and tan shorts grabbing my bike.

Because I had better spatial awareness of the Aptos-Capitola area, Jonny and I decided that I would bike the farther distance to Aptos Natural Foods and Aptos Safeway, also getting the three grocery stores on 41st Avenue. He rode with me to Soquel to the midtown Staff of Life, Whole Foods, and Safeway, and then he returned to downtown and Westside for a few more stores.

I didn't realize how far Aptos is by bicycle until I was sweating and huffing and puffing along Soquel Drive for what felt like a long time. Other participants in the race kept passing me, speeding along and sometimes running red lights (I knew who was a participant because everyone had spoke cards). I abide by traffic laws whenever I can (sometimes stop signs are more like yields on a bike, and at times, staying safe in busy traffic lanes might require bending a rule or two), so I was a little slower than some who breezed right through red lights. I can blame it on lawbreakers all I want, but when it comes down to it, many of them were just plain faster on a bike than me. I resigned myself to that fact and realized the most important thing was that we were all working to gather a lot of food for people who need it. So I kept on pedaling, finally reaching Aptos Natural Foods about 45 minutes after the race had begun.

I won't bore you with the details of each store I ventured into, but there are a few things I learned  and had reaffirmed today on the ride.
  1. Bike racks in visible locations are important, and I definitely have more respect for stores with bike racks right out front. Don't hide your bike racks, stores! I had to ask some nice looking radio folks outside the Safeway on 41st to watch my bike because there were no bike racks... How can they not have bike racks? I know we aren't in Copenhagen or anything, but seriously...
  2. Nourish your mental map, and you will become a more confident road user. Understanding your city's street layouts is really important if you want to be efficient and safe on a bike. I'm not super familiar with the east side of town, so I wasted a lot of time by not knowing when to begin merging left on my bike to turn into parking lots (on 41st especially). When I did know where I was going, I felt so much more confident and didn't have to hestitate. In my opinion as someone who refuses to get one, smart phones aren't helpful when you're riding along, needing to make split second decisions. It's better to use your mental mapping skills, and I am so glad I don't have a smartphone because today's ride forced me to rely on my mental map skills... and certainly my mental map increased in detail for east side of Santa Cruz today. Sure, Jonny used his smart phone to tell me cross streets before I left, but I had to rely on my own version of Google Maps once we parted ways on the ride--my brain and its ability to recall details much faster than stopping, typing something, and then reviewing it on a screen.
  3. Bicycling is a completely feasible means of transportation, and Santa Cruz is a really great place to use it as your main method of getting around. I felt really safe on my bike today, especially on Soquel, and while there are scary places that make merging difficult (like freeway entrances), we live in a place that has a ton of bike lanes. Most definitely we can do way better as a community on a number of levels to become more bike friendly (we're nowhere near as safe or friendly toward bikes as we could be), but I didn't sense any hostility toward my presence today on the road, and I traveled farther by bike and into new places today than I typically do. That felt good to me, and I realized, too, that sure, Aptos is far, but it's not too far, and I was racing, so no wonder I felt a little ragged. Without the pressure to race others, that trip is totally doable.  
Though Jonny and I didn't place on the ride (I think we came in last for 2-person teams), we did get to celebrate afterward with everyone in Harvey West Park. Burgers, chips and salsa, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery keg, and good bike conversation... and then everyone got some prizes! I rode away with two new water bottles that are perfect for biking, as well as a sense of accomplishment and connection to my community.

Grateful for burgers, beer, and bikes.

Cool bike prizes. Everyone won something!

The food that was purchased throughout the race! In addition to actual food items, part of the race requirements including purchasing a $20 gift certificate to a grocery store, and there were bonus prizes for teams that purchased $25+ gift cards to clothing and book stores. 

It felt really good to know that my fun bike experience today will also provide families with food this holiday season. I found out on the Facebook event page that everyone on the ride today purchased collectively nearly $1000 worth of food and gift cards! Talk about pedal power!

How else can bicycling benefit our communities? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the ride, either in the comments or on the Green Gal Facebook page here.


  1. This is Jillian, one of the organizers for the race. Nice write up and photos! Mind if I link to this on the bike polo page and use a photo or two? Will give you credit of course!

  2. Hi Jillian! Thanks for reading! Sure, you're free to use the photos and I would really appreciate you posting a link to my blog from the bike polo page--thank you! And thanks for organizing the race--what a fun ride for a good cause!


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