Seriously. Say something cynical here. I dare you.
When engaging in an epic journey – say, walking to the Golden Gate Bridge from your bijou Nob Hill room – it’s best to do no planning whatsoever. Instead, you climb out of bed around 11 am on a Saturday and stumble toward the nearest Starbucks. On the way you vaguely remember that you thought about going to see the Golden Gate Bridge today – and since the Starbucks is in the same general direction as the bridge, what the hell. This is exactly how Bilbo Baggins began his journey in The Hobbit, and that worked out pretty well for everybody involved, did it not?
Nobody goes to the Fisherman’s Wharf Starbucks any more: it’s too crowded*. But I was desperate for caffeine so I elbowed my way in through the cow-like herd of tourists and stood in line for 15 minutes, eventually emerging triumphantly with a cup of coffee and a blueberry scone. This would be my entire sustenance for the upcoming journey (unless there happened to be a noodle shop or burger joint or something along the way, or maybe ice cream).
A tall ship and Alcatraz. Now they’re just rubbing it in.
Checking my phone’s Google Maps, I was somewhat taken aback to learn that the Golden Gate Bridge was some 4.5 miles away, plus another half-mile to the middle of the bridge itself. But I was committed, so I followed the trusty blue line west along Bay Street. I marched up a hill, then down a hill, then up another one. I was getting winded, so I sat down on a nearby park bench to finish my coffee and check progress.
By my calculations I had gone about one-and-a-half miles. By Google Maps’ calculations I had done half that. Grumbling like an old dog, I levered myself up and proceeded on my way, snapping pictures and frightening women and small children I met along the way.
As I’ve stated before, San Francisco is goddamned picturesque. I passed steep hills leading down to tall ships anchored in the bay, with Alcatraz squatting off in the distance. There are mysterious stairs leading up to mysterious stucco houses in-between big old Victorian row homes. There are murals on chain drug store fences. There are doggies.
And there are joggers. And cyclists, whom you quickly grow to hate with a cold, deadly passion. As you get closer to the Bridge, you enter prime biking/jogging terrain. And because you’re heading toward one of the top 10 coolest objects on the continent, many of the cyclists are tourists, with limited grasp of the rules of the road or common courtesy.
There’s nothing more invitorating than being rammed in the back by a wobbly European mom on a bike.
Mother: “Gabble, gabble, gabble,” gesticulate wildly.
Daughter: “[Oh God you hit this bald fat guy. I wish I was dead. Why do you always embarrass me? Can we go back to the hotel now?]”
Me: “That’s all right. I’m fine. Please go away now. Thank you.”
Mother: “Gabble, gabble, gabble.” Smile, wave, wobble off.
Daughter: Adjusts earbuds, looks at me as if I’m an insect, follows her mom into the sunset.
Boats. It’s January.
Despite the peril, I was enjoying myself. There was lots to look at, including water, boats, islands in the distance, marinas, the bridge itself, more doggies and tourists. I took many terrible photos and was happily distracted from the increasing pain in my feet.
The area being surprisingly bereft of convenience stores and bars and pizza joints the like, I found a terrifying water fountain to drink from and kept moving. I could see that I was making progress. The bridge was definitely getting bigger, and the tourists more dangerous. Eventually I reached the part of town which had at one time been the Presidio, a big military base which originally defended San Francisco from Japan and Mexico and Canada I guess, but which had recently been abandoned and turned over to the civilians. The area is an odd mixture of construction, shabby old Quonset huts, scrubland, shoreline and sandy parks filled with doggies and huge sculptures by some guy who makes huge sculptures.
The first thing I think when I see this is, “Gosh, what a great place this would be to dump a body.” What’s wrong with me?!
The bridge was definitely closer now. In fact you could reasonably say that it was “looming.” Which was good, because I could feel impending blisterage. I wandered down toward the water and around some old military buildings, where I was surprised by a buncha dudes in Civil War-era garb marching purposefully somewhere. They seemed hilariously out of place here, but they were carrying bayonets, so I hooted “huzzah!” respectfully and went on my way.
I climbed up a stairway which led up through some bushy scrub to the entrance to the bridge itself. There were flowers blooming in late January, and things being fragrant, with the water twinkling an alarming distance below me. It was pretty beautiful.
Up close, the Golden Gate Bridge is still frickin’ breathtaking. It’s a beautiful dark red color, and it frames the bay on one side and the Pacific on the other. Geometric shapes and graceful curves soar up into the heavens, and under your feet the whole thing thrums with a mighty thrumminess. Not even the terrible, terrible tourists gone amok on bicycles can ruin the experience. I marched to the middle of the bridge and took a lot of photos of stuff and gawked. I was on the Bay side of the Bridge (it’s impossible to cross to the Pacific side while you’re on it unless you’re insane) so I got lots of pictures of the city and bay and Alcatraz, but not so many of the Pacific. That’ll have to wait until next time.
By then I had been walking for two-three hours and it was getting late. I turned around and headed the five long miles back home.
I haven’t got much to say about the trip back except “ow.” I saw some cool things and stuff, but it was getting dark and I was kind of busy discovering new places to be sore.
It was a great adventure and I’ll do it again, once these blisters heal. Except maybe the next time there will be a taxi involved. Or I’ll rent a bike and do some damage of my own. Stay classy, San Francisco. I shall return.
*Thanks, Yogi Berra!