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Of jails, bike rides, and bridges

March 21, 2010

As the bus descended the Bay Bridge into San Francisco and the bay lay hidden under a layer of fog I realised that my trip was indeed coming to a swift end. After a six day sojourn here I had a few last days in L.A. before I would board the plane that would bear me home and to whatever lay beyond. But such thoughts were soon forgotten as I stepped into the sunshine and made my way past a cursing window cleaner to 2nd and then up Post Street to the hostel. By sheer chance, Chris from Seattle walked in not two minutes after I did, so we arranged to meet back downstairs at 6 and get a catch up beer.

I returned to the sunbathed streets and wandered down Post Street to Market Street. Finding not a whole lot of interest down this end of town I headed back uphill and found myself in the sprawl of Chinatown. Feeling in need of a caffeine fix courtesy of reigniting my addiction with repeated and frequent doses in Seattle and Portland I found a cafe and sat sipping at a table in Union Square Park. Time got on as I people spotted and soon it was time to head back to meet up with Chris.

Together we set out to find a bar but the only two we chanced upon were empty (it was only 6pm after all). Stopping a passerby we enquired as to the whereabouts of a drinking hole. He told us to walk four blocks south and make a left. We did just that, and a couple of hundred metres up the road I spotted a queue. Upon approaching it however we found it to consist entirely of middle-aged men dressed in leather and giving each other backrubs. We hurried on and found another passerby. “Could you tell me if there’s a bar around here?” I asked. “Gay or straight?” he lisped. “Straight, preferably,” I replied. “Oh sorry, can’t help you there!” he said cheerfully. We watched as the string vest-clad form disappeared into the distance and wondered why we’d been sent to the gay district. It was at this point we learned a valuable lesson: if you’re straight, heading out on Valentine’s Day night with another man is not the wisest of decisions to make in San Francisco.

After a lengthy walk we finally found an Indian cafe that served beer, Indian food, and showed sports on TV. Hungry and in dire need of several beers by this stage, we gladly entered and got korma and a jug of ale. We caught up on our respective journeys over naan and the Winter Olympics. 4 jugs later we stumbled back into the warm night and headed for home.

Over breakfast the next morning we decided to hire bikes and head over the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond. At Fisherman’s Wharf we acquired bikes and we soon speeding our way along Beach Street towards the bridge. A clearing overlooking the bridge offered something of a panorama but the fog obscured much of the bridge. By the time we got to the bridge the fog had lifted somewhat, but looking down revealed only fog instead of the bay. We crossed the bridge and headed uphill along the path to Sausalito. Unbeknownst to us it was the Presidents’ Day weekend and so the place was packed. We stopped for lunch at a rather unfortunate restaurant called the Winship where the policy appeared to consist of having 4 or 5 empty tables while a queue gathered at the door. We were later told that they were horribly understaffed, which explained the 45 minute wait for some rather ordinary fish and chips.

By the time we left the time was pushing 4pm, but we continued towards our destination, Muir Woods. The path up through Mill Valley was unbelievably steep and I had new respect for the Kings of the Mountains in the Tour de France. Exhausted, we arrived at the summit of the 1.5 mile climb after almost an hour. It was then a five minute ride to the park entrance; the road was the same distance but downhill. By the time we arrived it was 5.30. The ranger advised us that the park closed at 6 so we quickly chained up our bikes and entered the woods. The sequoias towered overhead and the whole place was cast in a sort of twilight. We eventually turned back, and upon exiting realised that night was rapidly falling and we did not have lights for our bikes.

With little choice, we began to walk our bikes up the hill we had just come down. After close to six hours of riding our legs could not get us up the climb. Presently the ranger pulled alongside in his pickup. Fantastic, I thought, he’s going to offer us a lift. “You boys got lights for those bikes?” he asked. “No, we hired them and they didn’t give us lights,” I replied. He looked at the darkening sky. “Well…good luck!” And with that he shot off up the hill. Fortunately, another car soon pulled over. “Do you guys need a lift?” asked the Danish driver. We gratefully accepted and Stefan pulled out a bike rack and attached our bikes to it, explaining he was a cyclist and “knew what it was like to be stuck in the dark.” A 20 minute drive brought us back to the Golden Gate Bridge; I shuddered to think how long it would have taken by bike.

We thanked him profusely and rode to the bridge, where we found it shut at nightfall. I rang the hire company to see if they could suggest something. “But the bridge never closes,” I was told unhelpfully. Fortune once again smiling upon us, a local informed us we had to cross to the other side and ring a bell, and the gate would be opened for us. This happened and we soon riding back across the bridge towards San Francisco. After a somewhat hairy ride through the darkened streets we finally arrived back at the hire place, where thanks to a crazy ex-girlfriend throwing bottles through the store windows the place was still open. We deposited the bikes and walked rather painfully to the closest Italian restaurant and got dinner.

The boat to Alcatraz the next morning was due to leave at 10.30, and so myself, Chris, David from Germany and Steve from the Gold Coast anxiously awaited the arrival of our driver Shannon from Brazil, who was searching for a park. With minutes to spare he joined us and we boarded the ferry to Alcatraz. Upon our arrival we were given an overview by a ranger and left to explore the old cellhouse. After an audio tour lasting an hour and a bit we regrouped and walked around the grounds, waiting for the walking tour to begin. To our dismay, the walking tour consisted of roughly 100 people and annoying children who kept asking inane questions. After the ranger concluded telling us about the various escape attempts we returned to the dock and caught a ferry back to the mainland.

We headed up to Pier 41 where we had an Italian buffet lunch and Shannon and Chris, our Spanish-speaking friends, were hit on by the Spanish-speaking waiter. After a drive down Lombard Street, the world’s most crooked street, we arrived back at the hostel and prepared for the pub crawl that night.

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