These are days where I think about how many post-apocalyptic narratives neglect the bicycle. We’re not at the end of world, but my motivation to bike came from the sense that driving made other activities almost impossible. How many times have we wanted to be sitting with friends over food and beer in the neighborhood, but can’t get there because there isn’t any place to park? When I lived in North Park, I figured I’d just stop off at Urbn for a little work-gathering, and circled for so long that I looked up to see I was two blocks away from my place at Texas and Lincoln. After that, it became clear to me that the only way to get around San Diego was by bike. It’s an idea I’ve kept with me for almost a decade, mostly riding if I didn’t have to crank up hills north of the 8.

Earlier this year, I decided to expand that geographical limit, riding from Normal Heights down El Cajon Blvd to either 70th or Baltimore, then heading north to my job at Grossmont College. A cargo bike (a Boda Boda by Yuba) makes this possible. I can ride 10ish miles in under an hour, and not be pouring sweat from the 276 ft. climb. I’ve been doing this about 4 times a week since January; the cargo also helped me accommodate biking with a growing toddler, and as he gets heavier, so does my imagination about what can be done with a bike in San Diego. A basket or paneer easily fit a bit of beer, but what about a 5 gallon keg?

Another factor, beyond a rebellion against parking frustration, has always been the awareness that the venture has been ecologically friendly, and I think about that in terms of beer, too. Getting beer in a keg (if one has the privilege of space and time to tinker with a carbonation system) is the most cost effective and ecologically friendly way to have beer—if you don’t mind pouring the same thing for 40 pints. Two weeks into the pandemic, the keg kicked. I hadn’t been this excited since the last time I was able to order a pizza at BLAH. I decided to bike the empty back up to a brewery in Miramar, and return with a full one. It did not happen that way.

If it’s not on social media, it doesn’t happen (right?) so I put up a quick post that I was excited to bike 15 miles with an empty keg (about 16.5 lbs) and come back with a full one (weighing in at just under 60). I wanted the adventure of trying it for the first time, and the bragging rights to say “Yeah, I bike 30 miles with kegs,” and thought of that while I aired up the fat double-wall tires, and got replies from friends: “Why did I have to go that far?” “There are like 50 breweries between Normal Heights and Miramar,” and “Why not something local?” I was going up there because that’s where I’d always gone. There’s lots of beer in between, but not all those places make kegs available to people (much less in 5 gallons). And, really, I just didn’t know that there were local options.

Also, I started to wonder (as I bungied the empty shell to the aluminum sideloaders) what does local mean to me?

Part of the resolve to ride a bike means reevaluating how we look at our city. It means thinking of new terms for how we understand distance and terrain. A drive all the way downtown becomes a 3 mile ride, mostly downhill on the way there; the freeway to OB is more of a quiet ride through Mission Hills to the path (when the paths and trails are open, that is). If I can commute to work 20 miles, surely I could also move my beer 30, in the smooth shoulder bike lane of Kearny Villa Rd. But this question of local raised some points I couldn’t ignore.

First, even a leisurely ride on a bike that weights 20 lbs instead of 60 cuts about two hours out of a day, and it’s a tall order to ask a partner to stay at home with a small child while I go out and ride my bike; it’s also possible to carry the kid along for the ride, but what’s great exercise for us is really just sitting in a chair for them. I couldn’t make this a habit, taking a ride like this every month or two (depending on how much we’re sipping at home). Another point is that Miramar, though possible and a really beautiful ride at parts, simply isn’t local. Also, I need to be honest about my own abilities and ignorance: riding with a full 5 gallon keg is a lot of weight, even on a bike designed to carry it. Bungie cords and tow straps give confidence, but I wasn’t sure it was

really wise to take on a challenge like 15 miles when I never even rode that far with my much-lighter child. Again, we stay local. That means maybe 5-10 miles, and that high end is pushing it.

I ran all this by my father in-law, who loves a long ride up to places like Torrey Pines or out to Santee. Marty’s the ideal riding partner: he’s not trying to break any records, is excited for the challenging new route, and is always happy to cheers when we arrive! He came with me, and we decided that if something went wrong, he didn’t want a torpedo making som

ething like a roadside flat repair more complicated (we attempted a ride up to Mira Mesa a couple of years ago, and popping a spoke on Black Mountain Rd. really killed that whole flow).

I also got some tips on local options I’d never known about, so the plan changed. A car is not necessary to get around the region, and we had a blast bringing the empty back up, but decided to return home with a few crowler cans instead of the full 1/6 barrel. But we didn’t head straight home; instead, we made it back to Uptown (via Texas, which is no longer impressive once the pedal assist is engaged), and went to a new spot on El Cajon Blvd. Just 1.3 miles from my place, I figured the ride was over.

Cargo bike with beer keg
Turns out a full 5 gallon keg on the sideloader isn’t a good idea.

It was not.

Turns out a full 5 gallon keg on the sideloader isn’t a good idea. I thought the lower position would make it easier, but it was a precarious few blocks. A keg is not a bag of groceries (which have also thrown me off, especially if you’re loading up and unlocked on a hill in a parking lot). No big deal. We repositioned it on the middle rack, and a couple walking their dog gasped, “He’s got a keg!” when I crossed Oregon on Madison.

I’ll do this again. If the ride is local, anything’s possible.

The next plan: a bag of chicken feed…

Adam Deutsch is the publisher at Cooper Dillon Books, and has work recently or forthcoming in Poetry International, Thrush, The Cossack Review, Ping Pong, and Typo, and has a chapbook called Carry On (Elegies). He is an English professor at Grossmont College and lives in San Diego, CA.