Cycling to Mexico

California Dreaming

SAN FRANCISCO HAS BEEN SO INCREDIBLY AMAZING THAT I FEEL LIKE WRITING THIS ENTIRE ENTRY IN CAPITAL LETTERS TO EXPRESS THE THRILLING SENSE OF EXCITEMENT THAT I’VE BEEN FEELING THE WHOLE TIME WE’VE BEEN HERE – but I’ll switch to normal typing because all capitals are pretty annoying…!

It’s been a whirlwind, with so much diversity in each of our new-found (often completely random) adventures. I wanted to write about all of the highlights so far, as we’re leaving San Fran tomorrow (I’m pouting as I say this, but also excited to get back on the road). We started off, as Mike mentioned, cycling to the summit of a sizable hill/mountain in the Marin Headlands to get an awesome view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the SF Bay – turns out this hill is the equivalent of a popular gym destination in the early morning, as we were joined by hundreds of spandex clad, road bike toting, racing-minded cyclists that looked as though they were training for the Tour de France, rather than enjoying the early morning views. This is the city cyclist, a breed all too familiar that we’ve encountered in every big city we’ve been through. They’ve got the splashy coloured and extremely tight outfits, the clip-in petals, reflective strips on almost every conceivable surface, the ultra light bike, the ipod, all the possible accessories – and generally no regard for traffic rules or common etiquette! Cyclists in San Francisco do NOT seem to stop at traffic lights, stop signs, intersections, or even at the threat of being run over by a city bus (as documented by the front page headline about cyclist fatalities in the city last year – a record number, apparently).

Anyways, all of these cyclists zoomed past us up the hill – but we’ve got one up on all them – the 200 odd pounds of gear we’re carrying on our old 70s bikes. They might be quicker, but as Mike puts it, we’ve got “street cred!”

After descending to the bottom of the hill and dealing with another problem with riding the weight equivalent of a freight train down steep hills (the brakes work overly hard, heat up the rims so that they’re too hot to touch, the tire pops of the rim, and the darned thing explodes – a minor nuisance!!), we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, a major highlight. The mood was set by Mike’s near-constant karaoke performance of the “Full House” theme song…

We spent a long time hanging around in the Golden Gate Recreation area, eating lunch and watching tourists. San Francisco has a booming tourist bicycle rental industry – we played a very entertaining game while enjoying our lunch feast: watch tourists try to go up a slight slope on their 18 speed bikes in the hardest gear, get frustrated, and start walking. Particularly entertaining were those on tandem bicycles – especially when they tried to make corners. Does our enjoyment of this make us cruel? 🙂

Tourist watching (yes. I am aware that we are technically included in this category) is always fun. Hoards and hoards of people lining up to take the same photo and getting in each others’ way. While Mike was using the payphone, I had an interesting “conversation” with a man who didn’t speak a lick of English. He had an accordion strapped on his back and sang Jingle Bells to me, using his hands to conduct the music. He tried to get me to participate. After this, we had a lovely hand gesturing chat about where we were form. He showed me a piece of paper that said Chena, and I said Canada. Communicating with him involved a lot of dancing. This was only the beginning of our San Fran random experiences!

We took a wonderful cycling tour through SF’s parks, as recommended to us by Christina from Santa Rosa, through Haight-Ashbury, and along some yuppy streets (everyone – literally – had a yoga mat strapped to their stylish messenger bag on their classic wide-handle bar bicycles). We (completely randomly) ran into Dan, the cyclist we met on the Oregon coast while we were having dinner on Haight street and made plans to meet up again later. We spent the evening with Brad and Joy, two PhD students that lived in a very cool two bedroom apartment in central San Francisco. We had a lot of fun hanging out with them while they concocted fancy appetizers for a lab retreat. Mike was in his glory, using all his long-lost (but not forgotten) lab vocabulary, as they were biochemistry and neuroscience students!

We took off Friday morning, enjoying a vegan brunch at Herbivore, a nearby restaurant. Mike had discovered that America’s largest sustainability event – the Green Festival is on this weekend, just the start of San Francisco’s quest to prove that it is, indeed, perfectly catered to all of our interests and that it may just be the ideal city for us. We cycled over, left our bikes at the complimentary bike valet parking, and were overwhelmed with the whole scene. From organic pillows to vegan chocolate to recycled paper coffins to purses made from pop cans to wildlife refuge volunteer positions to reusable feminine products to recycled jewelry to ethical investment opportunities, this place was pure heaven!! It was a Friday, so the crowds, which we thought were huge, were minimal compared to the weekend crowds to come. We got a lot attention for being touring cyclists – including above average portions of free samples. We didn’t need lunch, as the food section had enough samples to feed a large army.

Finally tearing ourselves away after hours of chatting with vendors and associations, we walked over to Union Square to have a look. A Friday night, it was packed with tourists and people dining on $57 racks of lamb. We met up with Dan later that night and stayed at his Grandma’s house. His Grandma is quite possibly my new favourite 85 year old lady – an extremely charismatic and witty lady, with enough stories to write volumes upon volumes of bestselling books. She lives alone in a Victorian house right in between Haight (the hippie street) and Castro (the gay community) – the house was the San Francisco equivalent of a mansion – her dollhouse as she called it, complete with high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, original art, and old photographs of times gone by. Dotty spoiled us rotten, staying up with us well past midnight to chat.

And San Francisco wasn’t done with us yet. Saturday morning we woke up bright and early to catch a bus to a tourist attraction only people like us are actually attracted to – the dump! We had a great tour of the facility and an overview of the recycling program and SF’s new policies (plastic bag bans for high-profit companies, styrofoam ban for take-away containers, etc) and also had a look at the facility’s artist in residence program. Aspiring artists can apply for a paid internship and are given access to a studio AND all of San Francisco’s garbage. They get to dig through garbage ALL DAY!! And they’re paid for it!! (Mike and I thoroughly enjoy dumpster diving around the university, so this idea is fascinating). Make fun of me for my nerdy recycling obsession if you like, but it was a blast.

We headed back downtown, only to be greeted by the National Gay Rights Protest – swarms of people taking over Market Street – our first real protest (unless you count the carpenters’ union rally I went to as a teenager to protest foreign workers!). Lots to see – naked people and pleather underwear – as well as a wide diversity of more tame protesters – families with strollers, self proclaimed young republicans and christians, and everything in between. There has been a hige amount of coverage and debate on California’s recent passing of Proposition 8 – a proposal to change California’s constitution to ban gay marriage.

Still digesting the excitement of such a passionate protest, we headed to Adana Fuero, a vegetarian restaurant that we’re told is “cultish.” It was packed from the protest, so we ended up sharing a table with two ladies at an “Energy Medicine” conference – they were a blast and had a lot to stay when it came up that Mike had been accepted into medicine. He had a reading list as long as his arm!

This has how our entire experience has been – never boring! We’re constantly thrust into new situations that show us another dimension of the excitement of a city with such cultural diversity and political fervour. I do miss home, but San Francisco has certainly earned a place on my “cities I might like to live in” list…

And with that – Hollywood here we come!

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