1:21am

Wed November 13, 2013
U.S. Commutes: The Way We Get To Work

Forget The Car Keys — This Commute Requires A Paddle

Originally published on Wed November 13, 2013 11:41 am

This story is part of a project on commuting in America.

We all know what it's like to be stuck in traffic. But what about paddling under it?

For kayak commuter Stephen Linaweaver, there is no rush hour or gnarly gridlock. His biggest commute worry is a really big ship.

Linaweaver kayaks from Oakland, Calif., to his job as a sustainability consultant in San Francisco. His hourlong commute begins at the Port of Oakland each morning at 7.

"So, I basically put all my work clothes in here, in this dry bag; and then I bring this flag, because you're actually really low in the water, and with waves and a blue boat, no one can see you," Linaweaver says.

There may be someone else who paddles a whitewater kayak from Oakland to San Francisco to get to work. But in four years of commuting this way, Linaweaver's never seen him. What he does see are some of the hundreds of cargo ships that pass through the bay each day. He usually knows where in his trip he's likely to encounter them, but still, he says, "it's kind of like a little bit of early morning human frogger."

Dodging the ships can be unnerving, but otherwise, his trip is calm, filled with the sounds of lapping water and far-off noises.

"You can hear the train whistle of the Amtrak, foghorn from Alcatraz, and there's a lot of cars on the Bay Bridge," he says.

His route may not be shorter than yours — but yours probably doesn't include harbor seals.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Another commuter in the San Francisco Bay area has a way to get to work that is never affected by gridlock or transit strikes. Casey Miner, of member station KALW, reports on a commute where the major worry is avoiding really big ships.

CASEY MINER, BYLINE: If you met Stephen Linaweaver after 7 a.m., you probably wouldn't think he's much different from any other Bay area professional. He's 41, a sustainability consultant, kind of outdoorsy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS)

MINER: But if you met him before 7 a.m., you'd definitely think he was unusual. For starters, you'd have to do what I did - which is drive down to the Port of Oakland before dawn, and talk with him while he's getting ready to launch his kayak into the bay.

STEPHEN LINAWEAVER: I basically put all my work clothes in here, in this dry bag. And then I bring this flag because you're actually, really low in the water and with waves and a blue boat, no one can see you. (Laughing)

MINER: There may be someone else who paddles a whitewater kayak from Oakland to San Francisco, to get to work. But in four years of commuting this way, Linaweaver's never seen him. What he does see are some of the hundreds of cargo ships that pass through the bay each day.

LINAWEAVER: There's one channel you have to worry about, which is right off the coast of the Port of Oakland, right here. It's only about two football fields wide. So you know where they're going to be. And it's kind of like a little bit of early morning, human "Frogger."

MINER: As he talks, he's pointing at one of those giant ships. By the time he's ready to go a few minutes later, there's another one coming. He says he's going to wait for it to pass, but then he doesn't. He picks his way down the slippery rocks - there's no dock or anything - and just goes.

LINAWEAVER: That's it. I'm going to shove off and hopefully, not scrape too much off the boat. All right. See you on the other side.

MINER: Yeah. Have a good ride.

LINAWEAVER: Thanks.

MINER: It looks like he's on a collision course with this giant container ship.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIP HORN)

MINER: Don't worry; he was OK. I know because I gave him a tape recorder, so he could tell us what it was like out there.

LINAWEAVER: That's amazing.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

LINAWEAVER: So you can hear the train whistle on the Amtrak, foghorn from Alcatraz, and a lot of cars on the Bay Bridge.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

MINER: Linaweaver's commute takes about an hour each way. That may not be shorter than yours, but yours probably doesn't include harbor seals.

For NPR News, I'm Casey Miner in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

INSKEEP: Now, if you have an unusual commute, tell us about it at npr.org, or on social media using the hashtag #NPRCommute.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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