By Jimmy Rintjema
Part one of a two-part tale of adventure:
There is something, it seems, that makes certain days different than others. Every once in a while, the wind blows in a strange direction and the sky seems to be a slightly different colour blue. So it was on that sunny day in March. The day that found my friend Jeff and I wandering along Pier 41 in San Francisco, California.
We walked along the pier through a mess of signs and shops. What once was probably a bustling market and display of art and culture had transformed in the past ten years into a tourist trap. Every way we turned led us to kiosks of over-priced junk souvenirs, really expensive restaurants, and ice cream stands.
Eventually, the labyrinth of cheesy boutiques gave way to open horizon and the fresh smell of salt water. The one thing that money and commercialization could never change was the view. We strolled along the edge of the water, absorbing everything in sight. The Bay Bridge spanned out on my right as I passed a large marina. Next, I saw Alcatraz, the small island sitting contentedly in the middle of the bay. Finally, as I rounded the corner, the rust-red bridge that adorns so many calendars rose up out of the waters of the San Francisco Bay. A triumph of engineering just a few decades ago (1937), now serves as a well-known landmark for the city and a picturesque scene across the opening to the Pacific Ocean.
The rusty red cables and iron trusses seemed to stare back at me in that moment. My hands shifted their grip on the railing in front of me. It seemed like the great sentinel to the Pacific Ocean was calling my name.
Now things might have been different from that point. Things might have just continued on like any other day, but for the strange wind that gusted in just at that moment, rustling the vinyl roof of a tent. Not just any tent; a bike rental tent. Cycling has been a long time hobby of mine, so I wandered over, casually interested in the quality of the rental bikes.
My hand grazed along the chromoly frame of the nearest bike. Jeff strolled up and asked if I was interested in biking. Naturally, I was, but I’d be darned if they would get a dime out of me for something I could do for free at home. That’s about when we saw the flyer: “Bike The Golden Gate Bridge!” There was a strange allure to the simple phrase.
Jeff picked it up and looked at the map of trails. They led as far as the Muir Woods National Monument, a protected forest of the famous costal redwoods. I picked up one of the flyers and saw the potential for some good exercise and a fun bike ride. Jeff, on the other hand, held the same flyer, outstretched in both hands and saw a quest for the Holy Grail.
I turned and looked at the sky to see some gray clouds looming in the distance. “What about those clouds, Jeff? I think it’s going to rain…” Jeff assured me that it hadn’t all day and if it did, all the better for the sake of adventure. It didnt take too much to convince me. With my camera slung over my shoulder and my sunglasses on my face, I donned a helmet and adjusted my seat to a comfortable height.
Jeff and I set off at a light pace down the streets of San Francisco. Soon, a path opened up, and we rode along the bay for several kilometres. I heard a tick hit my helmet. Distracted by the stunning view and fresh air, I thought nothing of it. Then, a second tick hit, and a third, and eventually, the sound became persistent enough that I looked up.
Several raindrops hit my sunglasses as I turned my face upward to the gloomy skies. A monolithic wall of dark clouds was lumbering right towards us. Over the next few minutes, the fabric of my jeans began to absorb the descending moisture. The shoulders of my T-shirt gradually became saturated with precipitation. I looked back at Jeff, his aviators were dotted with beads of moisture, and his face was grimacing against the chilly rain. We were getting soaked.
Ten minutes later, we reached a small boutique that sold books and souvenirs and hot drinks. Two cups of overpriced hot chocolate bit back against the chill of our wet cotton clothing. Admittedly, the day was looking kind of grim at this point. We had biked roughly five kilometres, getting soaked and freezing the whole way, and we still hadnt reached the Golden Gate Bridge. It was there that we met the man in the yellow raincoat who said, Only skinny people come out on days like this, remarking on the absolute dreariness of the day. Yet, it wasnt skinniness that led us to that day of adventure; it was sheer desperation for the unexpected, a break from the norm and a head-first dive into adventure.
Maybe it was the sugar in the hot chocolate, or maybe it was that the rain had slowed down a bit. Either way, Jeff and I decided that we had our second wind and that since we had come this far, there was no turning back. We hopped back on our faithful Schwinns and pedaled up a large hill to reach the beginning of the Golden Gate Bridge. As we ascended with Jeff singing the theme song to Full House, the rain increased its intensity. Five and a half minutes later, we were in the middle of a monsoon. The bridge stretched out before us: two-and-a-half kilometres of steel and concrete. The wind and rain ripped across the expanse harder and faster than the vehicles that formed the six lanes of traffic.
Jeff and I took one last look of commitment at each other and put our foot down on the pedals of our rental bikes. With a boyish cheer, we rolled onto the bridge. Vehicles and rain roared with such intensity that Jeff and I could barely hear each other cry screams of elation and encouragement. Pumping our fists in the air like sports fans celebrating a victory, we cheered as if our shouts and excitement could hold back the rainstorm. Upon reaching the centre of the suspension bridge, we touched the giant cable that suspended the highway between the two spires, ratifying the experience to all of our senses.
With water dripping freely from every part of our body, we successfully traversed the expanse of the bridge. A rest station was conveniently placed at the end of the bridge and we found our way to the public washroom. We took off some of our clothing and used the hand dryers in an attempt to evaporate the moisture from our garments. As people entered and exited the washroom, we encountered many reactions from stares to shrugs to feigned ignorance of our presence to advice on why cotton was a bad fabric to wear during a rainstorm.
Utterly convinced of our own insanity, Jeff and I ventured back outside to find that the rain had abated. The sun even poked through the clouds to provide a fraction of warmth.
Rejuvenated and a little drier than we were on the bridge, Jeff pulled out the map. We stared bemusedly at the soggy piece of paper. A single word stood out on the disintegrating piece of paper. Redwood.
“Do we keep going? It’s at least fourteen miles to get to the woods.”
I looked at him ironically, “We haven’t come this far for nothing. We have to keep going!
A grin crept across Jeff’s face, “Let’s do it.”
Continued in: Skinny People, Pt. 2: Biking through San Francisco
Jimmy Rintjema is from Ontario, Canada, which explains why he spells some words differently. In addition to being a writer, he is an avid cyclist and all-around adventure seeker.
*Photos also by Jimmy Rintjema.