My escape from the Rock

Golden Gate Bridge

I must have been a very bad boy because my next race brought me to the most famous high security Federal prison around, Alcatraz Island, also known as “The Rock.”  They gave me a few days of freedom before they put me away behind bars.  I got to San Francisco on Friday June 12th and somehow navigated through the multiple system public transit of the Bay Area.  I even met a great group of people that lives in Seattle while on the way over to my home stay with fellow blind friend Walter.  Walter is the man!  He owns a big house outside the city and then has his city home, a small condo two blocks from Giants Stadium and overlooking the Bay Bridge.  Fittingly enough Walter’s place even had a 25yd lap pool that I gladly took advantage of while there.  I dropped off my bags at Walters and headed on a scavenger hunt to check out Giants Stadium and McCovey Cove which is littered with Barry Bonds juiced homerun balls.  The Giants were playing a Bay Bridge series with cross-town inter league rival the Oakland A’s.  I am not really into baseball so I just snapped a few pics and went on my way.

IMG_0061Later that evening I boarded yet another train and with Walter’s superb directions got on the CalTrain to meet the marketing team from my new employer RehabCare. As well as guide Todd Wiley.  The RehabCare team was out in the bay area to visit Google but found out I was coming in and decided to meet up and even come back Sunday for my planned escape.  We went to a restaurant named Straits in a small town named Burlingame.  The only bad part of the meal was the fact that as we ate, the Red Wings fell to the waste side in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.  Once dinner was over we departed ways and oddly enough I guided Todd back to Walter’s 12th floor city home.  It was 11pm PST by then but for Todd it was 1pm Philly time.

Saturday morning bright and early like clockwork I woke up at 6am and was ready for a nice warm cup of Jo to start my day off.  Todd and I started walking block after block to find an open place for some coffee.  We walked for nearly 30minutes before there was any place open.  Maybe I have too high of expectations living in Seattle and all, but I thought this was a little late for bakery’s and coffee shops to be opening.  We finally found a local doughnut shop to curve our addiction.  We had a busy day ahead so we ate a big breakfast before heading out to check out the Farmers Market at the Mission Bay Yaught club and then jumping on the trolley to Fishermen’s Wharf.  At the Wharf we managed to avoid getting freaked out by the crazy Bush Man but we definitely did encounter multiple Silverman statue people and I even snapped a picture with a pirate.IMG_0062 From the wharf we walked along the water all the way to Crissy Field to survey the treacherous waters that we would be making our escape from on Sunday.  “The Rock” seemed closer than expected and the waters didn’t seem too rough from afar.  Afar being the key word in this phrase because the waters around Alcatraz are continuously swirling with eddy currents, making it a giant dishwasher.

At Crissy Field, we scoped out the transition area where we had planned to transition from water escape to land escape.  We then went and tuned up the escape vehicle, a stealthily Griffen Volkan tandem bike.  By the time this was all complete, it was nearly 4pm and we needed to head back to Walter’s for dinner.  On the way, we met up with some former Sparties out to observe our escape.  They would be the ones capturing the evidence of our great escape on Sunday.

Back at Walter’s at 6:30pm it was time for dinner and Walter had planned an amazing pesto Tortellini dish.  Walter, being the man that he is had a lady friend over as well for dinner and then the two of them headed out to a theatre performance while we lay down to rest for the last time before our escape.

Sunday morning our alarm went off at 4am.  We quickly ate our pre-escape breakfast, which would have to hold us over for many hours.  We could not get caught trying to get food in the city.  We rode the bike to our planned location one mile from the Golden Gate Bridge and then we were confronted by the guards who tied us together with a bungee cord and put us on a shuttle to the big boat that would take us to the prison cell at The Rock.  IMG_0175We boarded the boat and as it pulled away from shore we said our farewells to the mainland.  As the boat neared the island we went out on the deck to plan our route.  As Todd looked at the waters, he informed me that there were pockets of funnel clouds throughout our route and the waters were very choppy. We positioned ourselves at the back of the boat hidden from all the guards.  We waited for the boat to stop and then we quickly leaped off the boat.  The water was a cold 59°, but not as cold as I had prepared for.  As we swam, the water hit us from both directions and I began to feel like a rag doll getting tossed around.  Boats began to get near us and I assumed they were Coast Guard attempting to catch the two prison escapees.  They didn’t come after us though and we surged forward.  Todd had to continuously spot for the exit spot on the mainland because there were currents pushing us to the left and to the right.  If we didn’t hit our exit location, we would surely be caught by the search crew and taken back to the high security prison.  The swim seemed to take much longer than anticipated and we came out of the water in 38 minutes.  We had hid a pair of shoes near the exit to put on and run the mile to our bike.

We hopped on the bike and flew past potential chasers.  One mile into our escape route we made a sharp left hand turned and began climbing a long windy hill that took us underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and away from the well watched area.  There were many others that had evidently planned the same escape that we had but we were plowing past them like they were standing still.  The route was grueling with continuous climbing and then fast descents.  As we barreled down a long descent at speeds over 45mph out of nowhere another biker cut within a foot of our front wheel and nearly caused a major accident and an end to our escape.  Todd managed to control the bike well but that was not the end of this guy in my mind.  I yelled to Todd, “that’s it. I am gonna crush that guy.”  For the next mile or so we played cat and mouse with this hot shot but then it was time to put the hammer down and so we put enough distance on him that he knew better than to play chicken with us any more.

The route that we had planned out was 18 miles long and at about mile 12 there was a climb that was just ridiculous.  This climb shouldn’t even be legal for cars to attempt.  By halfway up the hill my legs were burning so badly they could hardly move but we still had 400m to go.  We put the bike in super Granny gear and even this was tough but we managed to push the pedal over the top and keep moving.  Thankfully, this was the last big hill.  We started our decent and cruised through Golden Gate Park and passed the grazing buffalos that wandered in the open field.  Down the long windy hill and onto the flat straight away to the finish of our bike route.  The third and last part of our escape included a difficult run through all types of terrains and obstacles.  The run was 8miles long and was sure to clear us of the danger of any Federal security search crew on the look out.

If they were going to find us they would do it in the first 1.5 miles which was flat and out in the open on a dirt path.  From there the course became a blind man’s nightmare with obstacles at every step.  We first climbed a set of long narrow winding stairs that were unsymmetrical in height and length.  Todd became a metronome of “step, step, step.”  At the top of the steps we continued climbing but this time on trails with roots and ravines.  My legs were burning but there was no stopping now.  We then entered the 4 1/2-foot tall pitch-black tunnel.  At the middle of the tunnel was a drop down that nearly cost me a good face plant.  From the tunnel we climbed yet more trails until reaching the summit, which was a paved road that we were able to enjoy for about 400m before the big descent to the beach.  Once reaching the beach one would expect a nice run on the hard packed sand with a beautiful view to sooth the mind.  This was not the case.  Our escape route took us through the deep sand to the turn around ½ mile down the beach.  We then turned around and slugged through the deep sand back until we hit the infamous sand ladder.  The sand ladder was the one major obstacle standing in our way between a successful escape and just another prisoner ATTEMPTING to escape.  The sand ladder is 400steps made of soft sand and logs extending 1,100ft up.  By a quarter of the way up this demon, my legs were shouting obscenities at me but I ignored them and kept going.  It got to the point that I could not step up to the next step without the help of my arms on my legs.  My glutes felt as though someone was stabbing a knife repeatedly in and out on both sides.  It was definitely not a comfortable experience but my motto is, “pain is just weakness leaving the body” so I just thought to myself how I was just getting rid of all my weakness and becoming strong!

IMG_0179We finished the sand ladder and the rest was nearly a cakewalk in comparison.  The route back was the same as we took out in reverse.  The last difficult challenge were the long uneven steps that we now had to go down as well as dodge the never ending stream of other escapees going up.  I nearly fell ten times on these steps as I got out of control and could not see any of the steps ahead.  Luckily, I reached the flat ground without any more ankle damage than was already done in previous events.  I told Todd, “let’s pick it up,” and that is what we did.  We began running at a 5:30/mile clip and could taste the gates of freedom nearby.  My fellow MSU Sparties were right along with us capturing all the details of the escape.  As we turned onto the paved path there were thousands of spectators watching us approach the promise land.  I stuck out my hand and gave high fives to each and every one as we passed.  With the final left hand turn we entered the blue carpet and the gates to freedom were within an arms reach.  We broke through the gates and put up our hands in celebration.  We were no longer prisoners of The Rock because once passed the gates we were free from persecution.  Our escape took 2hr 31minutes.  This was a little longer than we had planned but the route had so many variables that no one can accurately predict what will happen when trying to escape from The Rock.

Now that we were free men, we no longer had to wear the bungee leash that was placed upon us by the prison guards.  We could finally enjoy the city of San Francisco without watching our back.  What better way to enjoy it then to be with some of your favorite people from your alma-matar as well as executives from your new employer.  We went out for breakfast and I ate the biggest omelet available.  From there the rest is history.  I went back to Walter’s and relaxed before boarding the train to the airport to say farewell to my prison stay at Alcatraz.