I wake up early on the morning of our last day, a little saddened but with a real sense of purpose - today I am getting a cruffin, come hell or high water. I leap out of bed and realise, as soon as my soles touch the soft carpet, that my amazing day of walking yesterday didn’t come without a cost - my feet feel like they’ve been mashed with a meat tenderiser. I chose to wear my Toms yesterday (I know, I know, but they’re comfortable, lightweight and are probably the only vaguely charitable thing I’ve done this year), and their lack of padding means my poor feet are black and blue.
Undeterred, I shower, pack and set off for the now famous (in my head, at least) Mr. Holmes Bakery, located on Larkin Street, about 15 minutes walk from my hotel. I can't say I relish the experience, on the flattened steaks that are now my feet, but I get going anyways, arriving around 8.15AM to an already well-established queue of about 20 people. As I walk past the line, I'm impressed by the eclecticism of those waiting - there are the obvious tourists, like me, student-looking types and local professionals on their way to work. It make me think that the cruffins must be more than just hype, if even San Franciscans are prepared to wait in line for them.
Over the next forty minutes or so, in between reading a book on my iPad, I watch as the queue get longer, and longer... and longer still. By the Tim one of the bakers steps out to issue the stickers that entitle you to two cruffins, there must be over a hundred people forming a queue that literally stretches around the block. I'm not quite sure I would have the perseverance to join a line like that - although the walk past the bakery does show the cruffins on display so maybe that's motivation enough.
Eventually, after a nice chat with the three Anglophiles waiting in front of me, I pick up the cruffins (banana chocolate today, there's no choice in that), some bilberry danishes and some blood orange doughnuts. They all look amazing, but I've decided to share them with my traveling compatriot when he collects me later, so I watch them get packaged into a beautiful gift box - whoever has led the branding exercise for Mr Holmes has done an excellent job - and leave the bakery absolutely ravenous. Somewhat fortuitously, I walk back past a place called Saigon Sandwiches, somewhere I'd read about last night when I was researching what to do for dinner. It's an innocuous looking establishment, but, and this is important, it's my only cast iron recommendation for if you ever visit San Francisco. The roast pork sandwich I order is probably the tastiest thing I've eaten on the whole trip, so much so that I consider going back for another - even on my ruined feet. It's amazing, and incredibly cheap, so please go if you get the chance.
Returning to the hotel, I do one final check of the room, finish packing and lug my bags to reception to await Nick. As I'm sitting there, trying to understand whether Donald Trump's seeming success with the conservative voters is some sort of massive practical joke, I reflect on my time in San Francisco. It's been a hugely enjoyable part of our journey, which is rapidly coming to a close, and whilst it's something of a shame that Nick and I never really got a chance to have a proper send off together, this city has still managed to be an amazing place to explore and ranks second in my internal list of 'Favourite US Cities' (second only to New York, which is a pretty ringing endorsement in my eyes).
Eventually Nick arrives, and it's comforting to get back into the truck, if a little unusual after a few days on my feet. As we approach the airport, I think we're both feeling a little melancholy about a return to London. We have both relished the freedom this trip has afforded us and a return to the constrictions and (only mildly enforced) routine of our day-to-day lives doesn't appeal after three weeks of boundless horizons, crystalline peaks and effortless evenings.
As such, the journey through the airport goes past in a bit of a blur - except for a momentary adrenaline spike when I thought they might try to take my cruffins from me at the security gates - and finds us sitting in a crowded lounge at the airport, drinking champagne (thanks Air France) and eating cheese and fruit (and again). As we catch up with our social networks, there's definitely a feeling of malaise that's as unlikable for its rarity between us as it is for the actual impact it has on our moods. We strike up conversation with two Londoners sitting next to us who are also traveling back after a tour of California and we share our baked goods with them (although not the cruffins, of course - they'd already gone by then and they were excellent) in the spirit of goodwill between travelers.
Before long we're boarding the plane, finding our pre-booked seats right at the back - it was worth the cash not to have people constant prodding the back of your head as they change channels to find the next episode of Will & Grace - and then we're airborne, with the United States of America 13,000 feet below us. The flight is uneventful, if long, but we both arrive in Heathrow relatively awake and partially alive. Not much happens between picking up our bags (which always takes what's seems to be an inordinate amount of time at London airports) and our key hitting the lock in Shoreditch. We unpack, get some food and then get to bed - our first day back at work is tomorrow and I'm already questioning the wisdom of that decision. At least it gave us another day in the US.
I'm not quite sure I can do a 'closing statement' here. So much is still in my head and much of my mind is still eight hours in the past, in a different country and on a different continent. I think I'll save that for another post, so I'll just leave and say 'Thanks America, see you again soon'. That seems a fitting summary of how I'm feeling.