Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fog City Primer: Biking the Golden Gate

As landmarks go, this one's a real corker. This was another of those must see, must do attractions that brought us to San Francisco in the first place. The Golden Gate Bridge is surely the most attractive yet functional structure in the western hemisphere and friends had told us that there was only one way to see it in all its glory - to pedal over it on your very own bike.

Now we hadn't taken the trouble to fly our two wheeled transport over the Atlantic, but luckily this is a very popular pastime on the peninsula. Those helpful folk at Blazing Saddles, on production of the requisite plastic, furnished the whole family with bikes, routes and tickets for the Blue and Gold ferry for the return trip. This August Saturday was sunny but cool, with a stiffish breeze as is common on the coast - in short almost perfect conditions for the trip.

We set off from the Fisherman's Wharf and followed the edge of the bay round, passing the cable car turnaround at Mason and heading for the small incline up to the tree topped mound where Fort Mason lies. From this elevated position we got a good view of our goal, and so pressed on through the small park and down to Marina Blvd. Now we were on the flat again and made good progress as far as the Yacht Club, on its own small spit of land which protects the boats from the choppy waters of the bay. We took a small detour to see the less than impressive Wave Organ, a small sculpture located on the end of the finger of land.

We were impressed by the sheer number of locals jogging along this scenic bay-side stretch. Not for them the weekend chores of food shopping or cleaning, but Ipod Nanos fixed to arm and ear-buds to ear, with their best mate by their side for company and motivation. We saw others at the nearby Marina Green Park, where there was a volleyball competition in full swing, with rock music beating out over the PA. San Franciscans really know how to enjoy themselves.

We set off again, through the Presidio, part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area and a former military outpost of the Spanish. This is a beautiful area with a wide grassy margin crossed by paths, leading down to the beaches which line the bay. The main road was now far from us, having turned inland to start its journey up the bridge itself. We were able to enjoy the relative peace and tranquility, save for eddying groups of people that frequented the route, all taking part in their own journey.

A food stop was now necessary - a family marches on its stomach, and luckily the Crissy Field visitor centre hove into view just in time. The cafe here seemed to pride itself on great wholefood ingredients and the freshly prepared sandwiches were definitely worth the wait and the whole process of ordering bread, filling and dressing types separately for a family of four. Suitably re-fueled and with pictures of the now very near bridge safely in the camera, we went to view the small fort that sits beneath the approaches to the span.

It was now uphill and once we had purchased our souvenirs in the shop, it was out onto the deck of the bridge itself. The wind really picked up now as we headed out on the separate walking and cycling lane, conveniently one-way, on the Western flank of the bridge for our journey North. The youngest needed some help as we reached the towering supports and the wind stopped all forward movement, but after another photo opportunity we were on our way and eventually made it to the far side.

Needless to say, the views of the city from here were fabulous, and the topography from the shoreline to the highest hill were all laid out to see. We crossed under the main carriageways and headed for Vista Point which gave exactly what its name suggested. Unfortunately we left the relative safety of the off traffic cycle lanes, and the remainder of the switchback descent into Sausalito was on the road, which didn't please all of the members of our party. Nevertheless we made it back to Bay's edge and found our way to the ferry terminal.

Sausalito seemed to have its fair share of bigger property, a convenient bolt-hole from the pressures of city life perhaps? Surely in such a relaxed and fun loving place, who could possibly need such a thing? We didn't have long to ponder these questions before the process of loading a hundred or so bikes and a couple of hundred people onto a ferry began. It didn't look like it would be possible, but of course the operators were experts and had done this once or twice before. We set off back across the bay to our starting point on Fisherman's Wharf.

We had done it! And yes our friends were right - 'Biking the Bridge' was an experience not to be missed.

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