For years, when our children were young, my husband, John, and I didn’t do a lot of traveling to far-off lands. Since we lived in southern New Jersey, we decided to limit our road trips to destinations up and down the east coast. That worked out well since my brother and his family lived in Maine. And we were untiring fans of Busch Gardens and DisneyWorld. All we had to do was head north or south and we were happy.
Then the inevitable happened. I was bitten by the travel bug. Actually, it was a full-on attack.
I had just started a new job working in the travel industry. The offers of discounted travel were never ending. In my first few years as a travel agent, I was able to experience Paris, London, Montreal, San Francisco, Monterey, Wine Country …to name a few. All at a fraction of the normal cost. Before long, I began my quest to infect my husband with the same passion. To be honest, he wasn’t a big fan of air travel at the time (something to do with an uncomfortable experience many years prior) so he would not be easily convinced. I had fallen head over heels in love with California and just had to share the beauty and culture with him. We had a milestone wedding anniversary coming up, our 25th. What better way to celebrate than to experience coastal California, riding along the Pacific Coast Highway, with the top down? Ocean breeze blowing through our hair, sun shining down on us, you get the picture.
Well…. I’m here to say that he finally agreed. And so began my husband’s intimate relationship with the travel bug. Especially the California variety. We were in agreement …each year, we felt the need to return time and time again for a ‘fix.’ So we did and the west coast became our home away from home.
When our 35th wedding anniversary was fast approaching, we were both enthusiastic about celebrating where we now felt so at home. Our travel plans worked out so that on the actual day of our anniversary, we had a full day in San Francisco. After doing some research on-line, I decided it would be amazing to start the day off by renting bicycles and riding over the Golden Gate Bridge. Okay, so my husband thought I’d lost my mind. After all, we weren’t so young anymore …35th wedding anniversary, you do the math. Turned out my enthusiasm was contagious. Go figure. It was a plan.
We would pick up the bikes that morning at Pier 41. Enjoy the scenery along the Bay Trail as we head to the bridge. Cross over the Golden Gate. Head down to Sausalito. Park the bikes. Enjoy a leisurely lunch. Take the ferry back to the city. Freshen up and head to dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant. What a wonderful way to celebrate. Perfect, right?
You know what they say about those “best-laid plans.” When we picked up our bikes, the staff was impressed that we were taking on such a challenge. No big deal …just an eight mile ride, we thought. Armed with maps and helmets, we were on our way. It was a beautiful day, just a bit frosty on the bridge …by ‘frosty’ I mean 40 degrees. It was August in San Francisco, after all.
The ride along the Bay Trail was warm and sunny. The views were simply breathtaking. We felt as though we were soaring. Then we got close to the base of the bridge. The climb was so steep …we were getting a stiff neck looking up at it. Well, almost. We felt so lame getting off of our bikes to walk them up the hill. But, that’s okay …even the guys outfitted in their best Tour de France gear were walking. When we finally reached the bridge, we were both quite winded …and wishing we had hit that treadmill a lot more before our trip. But there we were. Yikes! We were on our bikes on the Golden Gate Bridge!
What we didn’t count on was the amount of pedestrians and bikers with the same plan that day. It’s amazing how many folks were up there with us. It was slow going but, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. The views from that bridge are simply stunning! And that wonderful fresh air! It just took a while. When we got to the other side, near Vista Point, the crowds seemed to thin and we were able to pick up the pace. Those guys in their professional riding gear had the same idea. In fact, they seemed to think they were in some sort of competition. The first one clipped my husband just as we were exiting the bridge …and down he went. After brushing off the dust and a quick bike repair, we were on our way. Then it happened again! What a trooper. He continued to forge ahead.
When you read the brochure, they describe the journey at that point as… “just a 10 minute downhill ride will take you into the charming bayside town of Sausalito.” Oh, here’s another one… “take the curvy road down the hill. You will ride down Alexander Avenue and share the street with the normal traffic. It is a relatively easy ride, as it is mainly downhill.”
We thought we would be scared on the bridge. We weren’t. That ride into Sausalito was another story. It’s true …the road is curvy. And it’s definitely downhill. And most definitely the cars are there right along side of you. What they don’t warn you about are the gusting crosswinds and the fact that you are literally on the edge of the road above a deep cavernous ravine. I was off that bike in a flash and walked my way into town. John was well ahead of me, deciding he’d stay on his bike and get off that road that much sooner. Once we rounded the bend and the sweeping bay and city views were before us, we were like a couple of kids. High-five’s and all. We did it!
And then we realized …we weren’t just hungry. We were ravenous. Once the bikes were parked and secured, we headed over to one of our favorite bay area restaurants, Scoma’s. We arrived just as their dinner crowd was picking up. Wait …dinner? It was close to 5pm! Time to rethink our schedule, wouldn’t you say? No problem. It’s all about going with the flow. We cancelled that dinner reservation in the city. Our lunch in Sausalito would now be our anniversary dinner. We weren’t all dressed up but who cared? They offered us a table out on the deck and, since it was a bit chilly, we had the area all to ourselves. Bring on the wine. We’ll have the fresh fish and traditional lazy cioppino. We couldn’t have planned a better celebration if we had tried.
After our amazing dinner, we grabbed the bikes and headed over to the ferry landing to catch the 7pm departure. Turns out that was the last ferry to depart that evening! The ride was relaxing and the views were, once again, stunning. When we returned our bikes to the Hyde Street location, we noted some relief on the faces of the staff. We heard them say, as we entered the building… “here they are.. they made it!” We had no idea that we were so ancient, we would cause such concern among the young ones. Or maybe it was the late hour. Maybe not.
What a wonderful experience. If we were to give some advice to those of our advanced age, we’d make a few revisions along the way. Definitely rent those bikes in San Francisco. The infamous hills are certainly challenging but you’ll be fine if you stick close to the water. The terrain is flat, the views are beautiful and you’re never too far from your bike return location. As far as the Golden Gate goes, drive over that wondrous bridge and take it all in. When you reach Vista Point, turn into the parking area. Park your car and head out onto the bridge by foot. The total span of the bridge is 1.7 miles. You can decide how far you’d like to venture considering that you’ll need to double back to your car. Then, definitely, head down to Sausalito. It is a charming seaside village loaded with shops, restaurants and views. Not to be missed.
So, now I’m thinking it might be time to book a flight and head west. Again.