Days do not get any better than this.
One of my favourite places in the world to begin the day. The youth hostel at Fort Mason. The common room has free wifi, a fire in winter, an incredibly well stocked swap shelf, lots of comfortable chairs, a generous supply of power outlets for laptops and chargers, and just such a warm vibe. It’s the heart of the hostel.
I waited for Discoverylover to show her face, wondering if I dared to go knock her up in the ladies dorm.
At the last possible moment for breakfast, she showed. Her sunny smile and sparkling eyes set the tone for the day. Breakfast in Franco’s cafe is a freebie: hot drink, juice, cereal and a waffle or bagel. We sat by the window, glimpses out through woodland to the Bay. The hostel is set in an old Army building, and there are gun emplacements here and there on the headland, now empty, rustic curiosities. I smeared jam and peanut butter over my waffle, telling myself that I needed energy for the day ahead.
I would have loved to linger, but we had a date. Outside, a few metres away to the path running along the edge of San Francisco Bay. Here we paused to take in the view. At our feet, the historic wharves where the soldiers and marines boarded their transports for the Pacific War. They sailed out in their grey Liberty ships down the Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. From Fort Mason, it stretches across the western horizon, blaze-orange towers in the morning sun leading the eye to the rounded hills of Marin. The dome of the Palace of Fine Arts rises intriguingly over the rooftops. Islands and inlets, Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge as you look around to the sun rising out of the east.
A glimpse of the downtown towers, Fishermans Wharf and Telegraph Hill as we strolled down the path, past the Aquatic Centre and onto the fringes of the tourist district. A little windy and chillsome as we came down, and I wondered if we might stand to get a couple of the cheap fleeces they sell at the souvenir shops. DL was thinking the same thing. “It’s cold here, what will it be like out in the middle of the bridge?”
I suggested that we could use mutual body heat to stay warm, but she was having none of that. The exercise of riding would heat our bodies, but if it was blowing hard on the bridge, we’d be frozen and unhappy.
Our bikes were easily obtained. The sales folk were randomly snagging passers-by from off the footpath, actually, and we got snagged. I’d brought along a voucher from the hostel, and we got the bikes at half price. Helmets, bike locks, maps and ferry tickets were tossed in free.
And then we were off, cycling up through the gears, laughing as pedestrians scattered before us in terror. Discoverylover managed to go further up the hill than I. She hadn’t cycled for months, whereas it had been years, possibly decades, in my case.
Did I mention the clear blue sky and the golden sun? The air cool and the water twinkling, busy with ferries and container ships. Walkers and cyclists shared our path. We paused at the top to take in the view again, and then down through parkland and grass, a totem sculpture, bay-windowed houses, the arched front of the Marina Safeway. Marina’s yachts on one side, the sunny apartments on the other, Californian open-tops cruising on the boulevard.
We turned in at the Palace of Fine Arts, where I took a video under the dome. One of my favourite buildings – so spectacular, so classical, so grand and empty beside its lagoon.
And then down to the path following the shore. This was fantastic. Every fifty or hundred metres the bridge would foreshorten a little more and the path would rise a little until the views and photo opportunities were amazing. We were slow, because we’d barely get up a bit of speed and have to stop at some even more spectular outlook.
And then, at last, we were on the bridge itself, and the stops became more frequent.
It was a glorious, brilliantly clear day, my friends, and not chilly at all. A golden day on the Golden Gate, with ships and ferries far below us, the tall towers soaring above, and the footpath alive with happy walkers, bikers, strollers, children and grandmothers.
And the happiest of all were we two. This was the climax of the trip. Something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but never had much chance. Of course, I could have cycled it alone in 2006, when I had two days here, but with a companion, it is far more than double the pleasure.
And what a smiling, delightful companion Discoverylover is! Bright and bubbly, each BookCrossing adventure with her is a treat, full of jokes and silly photographs. We left a couple of books – small pocket-sized books – here and there, just to say we’d BookCrossed the bridge.
An outlook carpark with restrooms and statues, benches for weary riders, more stunning views along the bridge, back to San Francisco and the broad vista of the Bay. We took it in and we took photographs.
The onwards road sloped down. Downhill all the way to Sausalito, and we fairly flew down the road, coming in past boutiques and galleries, little restaurants and houses climbing the steep hillside to our left, enjoying the Bay views to our right.
An hour before our ferry left, and though I wanted fish and chips, there was no time to hunt up a restaurant selling gold. An Anchor Steam with its salty overtones to wash down quiche and chowder, while DL had some pasta and lemonade. She hasn’t gotten America yet. If she truly loved the States she’d be drinking root beer.
And then we left, unlocked our bikes and followed the stream wheeling bikes onto the ferry. There may have been a few walkers, but it was bikes, bikes, bikes!
I honestly don’t have words to describe the pleasure of the ferry ride back. The beautiful day, the feeling of triumph of having ridden over the bridge, the pleasant aftermath of lunch, the glow of my companion, the incredible beauty and fascination of San Francisco and the Bay. It all added up to something special.
I have taken rides on the grand harbours of the world. Sydney, Hong Kong, New York. Through the rainforest of the Franklin in Tasmania, along the Suez Canal and the Seine. None of them matched this ride for golden splendour and the perfect contentment of a morning well spent.
Bittersweet because Discoverylover was leaving soon. Leaving for New Zealand after months in America, and it would be a long long time before I got to share another roadtrip, another convention, another silly prank.
The ferry slowed slowed as we passed Alcatraz, and for a few minutes we were with the convicts on this prison island in Paradise.
Then we pulled away, past the crippled Bay Bridge and it gradually dawned on me that we weren’t landing at Fisherman’s Wharf. We were aiming for the main terminal. And us with a deadline to meet: Shendoah was coming to pick us up for the airport at three, and we had, ummm, half an hour to get back to the bike rental joint, climb the hill to the hostel, retrieve our bags and be ready.
But we did it. Cycling along the Embarcadero at a furious pace, we made it all with a minute to spare.
Goodbye to our happy hostel, goodbye to Fort Mason. Hello to great burgers and root beer floats at Mel’s Diner on Lombard. DL had a thickshake, which she declared was much better than my root beer, but I didn’t believe her.
Shen was good enough to park at the airport so that we could get DL checked in safely. I was worried she’d be overweight, and I’d have to act as a mule for some vital item.
But she was okay, and she reported back that security had been no problem. I didn’t believe her. Scissors, bottles of Lemon and Paeroa, knitting needles and Pineapple Lumps – DL tries to smuggle all sorts of things aboard.
The saddest part of all was saying goodbye. Hard to break the hug of a delightful companion, but we smiled at each other and promised that we’d have another adventure somewhere down the years.
But I can’t believe that we’ll ever have something this good.