Starting at the Golden Gate Bridge, we crossed in front of Alcatraz, then on to the curviest road in the world, Lombard Street, but we had to climb 27 percent grades to reach the top. Later Pier 39, Chocolate Factory, artists and jugglers, street cars, Tony Bennett singing, “I left my heart in San Francisco….”
San Francisco proved crazy and loaded with gridlocked traffic and extreme people: one car driver on purpose ran down four cyclist the day we started our ride in the streets of San Francisco. I think one of the four he ran down died. All suffered severe injuries.
Californian John Muir the great original ecologist said, “Tell me what you will of the benefactions of city civilization, of the sweet security of streets—all as part of the natural up-growth of man towards the high destiny we hear so much about. I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found. If death exhalations that brood the broad towns in which we so fondly compact ourselves were made visible, we should flee as from a plague. All are more or less sick; there is not a perfectly sane man in all of San Francisco.”
In my journal, “How do you describe the feeling of being on the front end of a grand adventure? I just thrilled to sheer joy of it, the fun of being with my friends, the expectation of amazing experiences. Today, fog covered the Golden Gate Bridge, but we gazed across the bay to see Alcatraz prison, the skyline of San Francisco, people walking across the bridge and people taking pictures. After a few minutes, we mounted our bikes and the pedaled into the mist flowing in from the Pacific Ocean. Our first stop: Lombard Street, the curviest road in the world. It’s been the front for many a movie car chase from Steve McQueen to Clint Eastwood. But first, we hammered up a 27 percent grade that felt like climbing a vertical wall. Denis and Scott powered up the insane incline, but Bob and I suffered immediate exhaustion half way up the street. After pushing the final section, we reached the top. A line of people awaited their turn to ride down the cobbled Lombard Street lined with flowers and beautiful homes. In front of us, a fabulous view of the bay and shoreline. Vintage San Francisco! On the way down, we stopped and talked to many people. Later, we pedaled over to Pier 59 for a walk through food shops, outdoor markets and a sea of humanity on vacation. We met Bob’s daughter Rexanna and her husband Lance. It all mixed together when we pedaled up to one of Bob’s friends on yet another high street. Agnise shared her home with showers, food and conversation. What a great way to start our grand adventure. Tomorrow, we shall ride along the Pacific Ocean. P.S. Glad we didn’t get run down by an irate motorist!”
One thing about bicycle travel: we become ‘part’ of the scenery instead of ‘apart’ from the landscape. We merge with it in a most spiritual manner. Instead of taking pictures of the beauty around us, in fact, we become a part of the beauty surrounding you. We become like animals that eat, breathe sweat, get rained on, snowed on, suffer the sweat of heat and gobble our food with abandoned. It’s an amazing difference to automobile vacationers. At night, we camp out under the stars and sit by campfires. Motor home riders park their vehicle and watch TV while they eat an ‘instant’ dinner from a package. During the day, they stay changed to their air conditioned cabin and take pictures from inside the motor home. They call it ‘camping’!”
“Most travelers content themselves with what they may chance to see from the car-windows, hotel verandas, or the deck of a steamer on the Lower Columbia; clinging to the battered highways like drowning sailors to a life-raft. When a excursion into the woods is proposed, all sorts of exaggerated or imaginary dangers are conjured up, filling the kindly, soothing wilderness with colds, fevers, Indians, bears, snakes, bugs, impassable rivers, and jungles of brush, to wich is always added quick and sure starvation.” John Muir, 1888.
We rolled south along the great Pacific Ocean to Santa Cruz. Beautiful sunsets, eternal waves, dolphins in the surf, craggy cliffs, rocky islands, sea birds, graceful pelicans and flowers. We met other touring cyclists at campgrounds and on the road. I dipped my small glass vial into the Pacific Ocean for a sample. That evening at sunset with mist rolling in from the ocean, we cruised along a bike pathway filled with flowers five feet high—like pedaling through a mystical dream.
From Santa Cruz, we cut across the crop-filled fields of the Central Valley as we headed toward Yosemite and climbed to 4,000 feet along the Merced River at full blast from spring runoff. Energy shook the road and carried us upward in wonder and awe and inspiration.
Denis said, “I have never ridden a road that gave me so much energy!”
Bob said, “For what it’s worth, it exhausted me!”