Thursday, November 08, 2007


There’s a charming phrase I learned reading an article about people who bicycle across the country. Some riders, or at least the group I read about, were constantly vigilant to make sure that on their journey they covered “EFI”—let’s say it stands for “Every Fabulous Inch.” In other words, they wanted to be able to say they’d covered literally the entire length of the country. If they stopped in a particular place one day, and then got a ride to a hotel or campground, they had to start the next days’ ride at exactly the point where they had left the road the night before. If a portion was washed out or closed for whatever reason and they had to portage around it, this was cause for great consternation. I think, though, that they decided that riding every inch of available road counted—they didn’t have to penalize themselves for impassible stretches.

So I’ve been asking myself lately how strict I need to be with myself. Somewhat to my surprise, the answer has been, “Not too strict.”

I’m surprising myself because I know I do tend slightly toward the compulsive—it’s not enough to collect pennies, for example; I have to have one from every year. And every mint. I can get rid of duplicates—I’m not a hoarder—but I do want that sense of completion and order.

So far, I lead a mostly normal life thanks to low-volume collections. But I know I have it in me to take things too far, so I’m happy to report that I’ve been coming up with some pretty reasonable rules for myself. I don’t have to walk every literal inch, for example. I know I mentioned that I felt like I had to go down even short dead-end streets, but I don’t have to compulsively walk to the very end and squish my toes against the fence or whatever it is at the very end of the pavement.

I don’t have to walk on both sides of the street except in special cases like the Mandela Parkway, which is a road divided by a median strip so wide it has landscaping and benches. I don’t have to do anything heroic, like walk on freeway ramps, or through hard-hat construction areas. No trespassing. No poison oak. No superfund sites.

My guiding philosophy is that I’m exploring to learn about Oakland, not to bump into every wall in town.

I’m curious to see how other walkers handle the “EFI” issue. Anyone have any personal philosophies they’d like to share?


pohanginapete said...

The EFI approach does little or nothing for me. I guess my guiding philosophy resembles yours, although I'd be more inclined to say I'm exploring for the sake of it.

That being said, I do enjoy the feeling of coming to know a place. Perhaps it's the process that differs — it's the deliberate (and deliberated on) approach of the EFI that puts me off. As for the strict view of the EFI — having to cover every "fabulous" inch... well, I think I felt that way years ago. Now, I delight in not feeling constrained like that. It's a kind of perversity, an acquired aversion to following rules, I suppose. A bit like climbing mountains and not standing on summits (although there are other aspects to that, like respect for the mountain and acknowledgement of my own status as a guest there — the mountain has allowed me to ascend; I most certainly have "conquered" it).

Whew! I think that's enough...

Eric Fischer said...

Thanks for bringing up this issue.

My own standard is, first of all, that reaching any sidewalk of a corner counts as reaching the corner, so if I have reached the same corner from both sides on different occasions, it counts as a connection even if I never actually cross the street there.

I only feel compelled to walk both sides of a street if it is so wide that the sides function more or less independently, especially if there is a bridge from one side of the street to the other. So far the most extreme case is San Jose Avenue, where I am counting each sidewalk at the bottom of the slope and each walkway at the top of the slope independently, as well as the staircases and ramps that connect the levels and the bridges that cross the street.

Any street that is gated off or otherwise physically impassable I've got to skip. In general I try to touch the wall or sidewalk at the end of dead end streets, although it's not strictly necessary. I tend to follow what appear to be extensions of streets through parks and over buildings but not through buildings. There are still lots of special cases that I need to figure out general principles for.

Nicole said...


Thanks for weighing in! I think it does take a special kind of uptight personality to be into the EFI thing. I'm glad to hear you're not in possession of such a personality.

EFI is not an approach I would ever attempt in getting to know a new place. When I'm exploring a place I'm visiting for the first time, I usually take more of a Taoist approach. I often set a small task for myself--"Today I'm going to see this sight," or "Today I'm going to pick up a CD of local music." If I manage to accomplish that, great, but what I'm really looking out for is something more interesting to distract me and send me off on a tangent. I love it when a place suggests an alternate itinerary and sends me off on an unplanned adventure.

But I'm finding that EFI is enabling me to become much more intimately acquainted with this city that I already know pretty well. The discipline is working for me in this context.

I like your summiting philosophy. The sport of mountaineering would certainly be different if everyone shared your respect for the mountain.

Nicole said...


Thanks for sharing your rules! I think you and I are of the same mind. I don't need to cross every intersection, either. For me the guiding philosophy is that I'm doing this to see my city. Covering every street is probably already overkill, and covering every inch of every side of every street is definitely getting too literal for me.

Gates, though, I find troublesome. Gates are meant to be passed through. If a gate is clearly guarding private property, I'll accept that. But sometimes I have to come back. For example, Eleventh Street in downtown Oakland passes through the grounds of a school. Gates close off one whole block during school hours. But they are open between the end of the school day and sunset. So I did have to come back later to walk down that block.

Streets with no sidewalks are giving me trouble right now. On Monday I walked several blocks that are officially the western end of the Embarcadero, but which in practice make up a narrow street lined with concrete barriers and used exclusively by semi-trucks heading to and from a giant metal recycling plant. It was a little scary and I think I'm going to rationalize a way not to have to do things like that in the future.