I’ve already failed my mission. The one I mentioned in the last post. Dammit. What was the mission you ask? Well, I’d heard about these things called ‘cruffins’ - essentially a muffin made with croissant dough - and I wanted to try and get my hands on one. Simple enough, you may say, but the trick is that the bakery that produces them, Mr Holmes Bakehouse, only makes a limited number every day, they go on sale at 9AM and once they’re gone then that’s it for that day. Apparently you need to be there well before 8.30AM to secure yourself a cruffin - I realised I’d blown it when I awoke shortly after 9AM with a pretty fuzzy head. That should be a lesson to me about the risks of drinking before a mission… Oh well.
With one dream already dashed before 10AM, I got my casual gear on and loaded up my day pack - I want to see as much of the city as possible today, but really want to do it using only my feet. I set off up towards Mr. Holmes anyways, just to rub salt in my own wounds, and find that around 9.45AM it’s actually pretty quiet. I have a ham and cheese bake - I always crave savoury things when I’m slightly hungover - and eat it warm, fresh out of the bag as I walk up yet another insanely steep slope on my way to the bayside.
I crest a hill, which in many ways was tougher going than some of the mountains we’ve walked up during this trip, and then suddenly see the bay. Alcatraz floats rather forlornly in the water, being much smaller and further away than I’d imagined it, I can see boats sailing out toward the Pacific and can just make out a small stretch of beach somewhere to the west, but no sign of the famous Golden Gate Bridge just yet. My walk towards the shore takes me past Ghirardelli Square (home of the famous chocolates) and Fort Mason, an historic military base that now houses an arts centre.
The walk over Fort Mason’s grounds suddenly reveals my first view of the Bridge - it’s red and big (watch out Bill Bryson), but more stunning is the day growing around it. It’s stunning, with bright sunshine and and increasingly warm temperatures making me glad I decided not to go with some of the warmer clothes I’d thought about in the morning. I walk along the edge of a crowded marina, as lots of people are clearly taking advantage of the weather, before spying something I recognise from the movies.
The Palace of Fine Arts is an unusual thing, built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915 and completely demolished and rebuilt in the 1960’s. It’s a remarkably ostentatious construction - one that I recognise from several movies but most notably Michael Bay’s classic, The Rock - but it doesn't really seem to mark anything out. There’s a sort of conference centre / exhibition space adjoining it, but that seems relatively empty as I wander around. It’s still a pretty impressive piece of architecture, although I wonder about the motivation to totally demolish and rebuild an icon exactly - maybe this is something that ties into the ideas of identity that I discussed in an earlier post, but it seems a bit disrespectful in some way.
I head along the shoreline, walking on the sand of a nearby beach and dipping my toes in the Pacific waters. It really is a glorious day and, were it not for my self-imposed agenda, I think I would have stopped here for longer. But I race on, up a steep hill and winding pathways that eventually bring me to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s packed with people and the shared pedestrian / cyclist pathway over the Bridge is absolutely heaving - I actually see somebody get thrown off their bike after clipping a meandering tourist so it makes me especially wary.
It actually takes ages to walk across the Bridge; my timekeeping wasn’t up to scratch, but I’d say it takes at least twenty minutes. It’s well worth doing though, despite the congestion and chance of cyclist-strike, as it give you great views back towards the city and makes me realise just how vertical San Francisco is. When I eventually reach the viewing platform that ends the Marin County end of the Bridge, I spot a little set of stairs that actually take you underneath the suspension structure and on to a little path on the other side. I follow the route, which leads to an old gun battery on the northern shoreline and the looks I’m getting as I walk up the steep hill suggest that not many people use their feet to get there.
But I continue to use my feet and keep walking on the path - it looks like it reaches all the way up to another viewpoint on a much higher hill some way off in the distance. So I push onwards and upwards and end up setting out on one of the most enjoyable walks of the trip - it’s only about a mile’s walk, although at quite a gradient, but with the sun in my face the time just flies by. I eventually reach the top, another gun emplacement called Hawk Hill and spend half an hour at the top enjoying the sun and stunning views along the Californian coastline. It’s a genuinely rewarding experience, one made even more so when I spot none other than Lydia and Nick getting out of the truck and walking towards me. Serendipity indeed - both in the chance meeting and in that this gives me an opportunity to reclaim my sunglasses from the glove-box of the truck, something I’ve been missing all day.
After a brief catch-up, I head back down the hill - it was a mistake to not bring any water, and I’m feeling a bit woozy as I wander into a deserted cafe on the San Fran side of the bridge to buy a bottle. Suitably refreshed (and without the white and black dots skittering in front of my eyes), I wander back along the shoreline and end up walking along the Embarcadero - the road that runs along San Fran’s bayside and connects all its wharves, piers and landings. It’s now a little bit of a tourist trap, with lots of branded restaurants and chain shops, but the atmosphere is good and there are lots of people on the streets.
I eventually reach Market Street and walk through the Financial District and the shopping malls on my way back to the hotel. I arrive just after the sun’s gone down - today has seen me walk for almost nine hours straight and my motion tracker tells a similar story. My typical day in London will see me achieve around 3,000 of Nike’s now-defunct ‘FuelPoints’ - my FuelBand today is reading almost 12,000. Not bad, and something that probably explains why I have two blisters on my feet that look like you could use them as flotation devices in the event of a water landing.
A message from Nick tells me that I’m on my own this evening, so I hit Google to find a place that might be lively - I end up at Tommy’s Joynt, a nearby hof-brau that serves simple but tasty food and decent beers. I have the bison stew (which was great) and end up chatting to a couple sat beside me at the bar. This leads on to a wider discussion with some of the other people sitting further down and before I know it, I’m collapsing into my bed at 11.30PM.
It’s been an excellent day, one of the best of the trip, and I’m determined to get my cruffin tomorrow. What can go wrong?