Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Epilogue Jammin'

October 15

Its always 4:20 in Haight Ashbury
There is always a day after.  No matter how momentous the occasion life does not stop, except in case of death.  Mark, Colin, and John left Saturday night on the red eye.  Ken took off the next morning.  I was alone once more, my flight not scheduled until Tuesday.
San Francisco surrounded me on all sides and I had some time to kill.  I figured I would stick to what I do best.  I went for a walk.
I was based once more at the Fort Mason hostel.  Departing from there i headed inland to Lombard Street.  San Francisco is known to have roads which challenge a car to defy gravity.  None are more precipitous than one block of Lombard, which is composed of a series of hairpin turns.  The speed limit is five miles an hour and I suggest you adhere if you care to live through the experience*. 
Next up was a trip to the cable car museum.  Trolleys once operated in cities all over the United States.  The introduction of bus lines after World War II led to their demise all over the country.  Three lines continued to function in San Francisco, defying the onslaught of technological advances in favor of attracting tourists.  One hundred and forty years later after the first bell rang, passengers are still being summoned for yet another magical ride. 
I won't ever know any of that stuff from the last paragraph, because the museum wasn't actually planning to open until 10 and I arrived at 8:30.  I didn't want to wait around.
The Chinese don't sleep in since they have a world to conquer, so I moseyed over to their little town.  Lanterns hung above the streets as if in preparation for a parade, but a multitude of dragons never materialized.  I trod quietly by storefronts decorated with Oriental characters, wondering at the mystery of what lay behind the doors.  I never gathered the courage to venture inside, the sidewalk carrying me inexorably onward like a river.  Only food could have pushed me ashore and he restaurants were not yet open either. 

I rolled on, past numerous city blocks, thousands of steps adding themselves to the millions that had gone before.  I stopped at the Mission district, where the Spaniards had first set up shop centuries before.  Father Juniper Serra established the Mision de San Francisco Asis here in 1776, although the first actual building was not completed until fifteen years later.  A larger church was constructed next door in 1918. 
The mission remains a major center of Papist sentiment to this day.  Pope John Paul II himself gave the sanctuary a visit in 1987.  You too can walk right up to the altar where J.P. prayed for the destruction of the Protestant faith#.  The basilica, chapel, and sanctuary are all open to the public, as is the cemetery where all the famous local Catholics rot in peace.
The Mission, with the Basilica looming to the right

Leaving the holy I went amongst the sinners in the Castro section of San Francisco.  This district is home to thousands of gays, lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and trisexuals.  Maybe you knew the city has a large gay population, but what caused the same sex loving masses to flock here?
Even before "In the Navy" was written, an extensive segment of that branch of our armed forces was infested with man love.  When during World War II the military decided to expose and expel these deviants, many of them were off-loaded in San Francisco.  Once outed, the ex-soldiers were frightened to return to their small communities in Minnesota, Texas, North Carolina, etc.  They opted to stay where they were and start a new life free from prejudice.

Castro became the unofficial capital of rainbow and fairy land in the late 60s, just as nearby Haight Ashbury was being overrun by the hippie hordes.  Artists, musicians, and homosexuals alike were drawn by the low real estate prices in the wake of white flight.  They created vibrant communities which still flourish today.  My only quibble with the Haight is the preponderance of head shops.  I appreciate mother nature as much as the next guy, but dedicating the square footage of a super Walmart to bong sales is going a bit overboard.
I had a disappointing lunch at one of the restaurants in the Haight.  Mea culpa, I should have figured the standards would be low. People with the munchies are not exactly what one would call a discerning clientele. 
Circling back towards the Presidio, I found one of the great architectural wonders of San Francisco.  The Palace of Fine Arts is the kind of public building we don't make anymore. The mammoth Roman/Greek rotunda and the accompanying columned halls soar above.  They are surrounded by immaculate gardens , the landscaping equal to any monument in Europe.  I was particularly reminded of the Crystal Palace in Madrid's Buen Retiro Park.  Originally designed for the Pan Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the Palace was so beloved that citizens petitioned to prevent its demolition after the fair ended.  I'm elated at their success; the Palace of Fine Arts was easily the highlight of the day's stroll.

My happy balloon burst next door at the Exploratorium.  A hands-on science museum, the Exploratorium had delighted a younger me when the family and I had visited it twenty five years ago.  I wanted a nostalgia fix, but I was denied when the doors were locked.  Monday is the staff's sabbath it seems.
Unable to get my learn on I was thrown into a cyclone of dazed confusion, uncertain where to go next.  Barely avoiding epilogue epilepsy I regrouped at the hostel, where I showered and ran into my idols.
Karen and Jerry were only a few days from finishing their own epic three year journey across America.  They were also staying at the hostel that night, so we decided to have a premature^ celebration at restaurant Asqew.  The meal was excellent, a fabulous utilization of the cosmopolitan cuisine available in San Francisco. I can't exactly walk around the corner in South Carolina and grab restaurant quality shish kebab.
The conversation with Karen and Jerry was equally enchanting.  We have shared experiences that few humans can even comprehend, much less have the opportunity to undertake.  Needless to say, we have quite a bit to say to one another.  We took our blabbering back to Fort Mason, where we unwound by watching the hometown Giants defeat the steroid shooting St. Louis Cardinals in Game Two of the National League Championship Series.  I have a funny feeling the Giants are a team of destiny.  I believe they will go on to defeat the impotent Cardinals and then sweep the World Series.  Anyone want to bet?

*Steve McQueen excepted  
#  I recommend texting God instead, I hear he is a bit of a technophile
^Post-mature in my case

Miles: Don't care. Total miles: doesn't matter.  I'm done.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Fitting Climax

October 13

I had come to the last walk.  Point Reyes lay merely fourteen more miles away.  After nearly ten months of hard work the finish line was in sight.
As if I needed any more inspiration, Ken had shown up in the middle of the night, set to join me for the end run.  You may know Ken from our two days together in Ohio last June or because I am kind of doing the trek in honor of him.  It was somewhat of a big deal having him there.  My feet didn't touch ground much all day.  I was too busy floating.
Colin completed our squad and we set out on the trail towards the Pacific.  Time flew by despite my best efforts.  I wanted to linger over every last step, but our momentum carried us on in a blur.  Unsurprisingly, having people to talk to does tend to speed the process.  Ken filled our ears with his usual litany of penis jokes as well as the newest version of how he lost his arm.
When you are missing an appendage or two, people tend to ask you how the loss was incurred.  Ken had told one recent inquisitor, a young child, that he had been in a light saber duel with Darth Vader and the showdown had not gone his way.  The child fell for the ruse.  No shame there, Ken convinced a man in Las Vegas that he had his arm amputated after being caught cheating while gambling in Dubai.
Before I knew it, Point Reyes was in sight, although still a few miles away.  We had been blessed with a clear, cool, sunny day.  The Point jutted out into the Pacific, a thin finger of land indicating the way to Asia.  At this juncture we were supposed to call Mark, who had recovered somewhat from death and wanted to meet us for the last couple of miles.   We all had multiple bars on our phones, but were unable to call or text him.  No matter, Mark had the same problem, so he ventured out on his own to meet us.
The fellowship now consisting of four, we came to the southern edge of Limantour Beach.  One could simply walk out to the ocean from there, but that would be contrary to the very essence of the American Discovery Trail, which looks at hiking as the Tantric practitioner views sex, something to savor as long as possible, the climax delayed interminably.  The trail headed inland and I took it, worried we would miss the post signaling the end of the ADT, or perhaps one last magnificent vista.
The detour turned out to be pointless.  There was no sign and the path didn't take us to a grand overlook.  We wondered after thirty minutes whether we were even going to turn back towards the ocean.  Defeat was not be snatched from the jaws of victory, for eventually we did get going in the right direction.
My heart began to race as the runway approached the sand dunes.  I surmounted that one last, small barrier.  The ocean was only one hundred yards away.  I stripped down to my shorts and took off with an exultant yell, the eloquent speeches forgotten in my ecstasy.  A movie of the ten months I spent on trail, scored by Vangelis, played in my mind as I rushed towards the water.  As the crashing waves and I collided, the magnitude of what I'd done struck and I collapsed into the Pacific, then rose, waving my arms in triumph.  Suddenly, a great white shark came along and ate me.
There was a celebration that night.  Fortunately, it was not the shark who was exultant.  He found my flavor profile not to his liking and spit me out upon the beach.  After I spilled a few tears in the sand, Mark, Ken, Colin, John*, and I were able to enjoy one last supper together.  We devoured a Brazilian feast at Pizza Orgasmico in San Rafael.  A fitting climax. 

*John joined us after we finished taking a few last pictures.  He had wandered over to where the ADT would have hit into Limantour Beach if the trail made any sense whatsoever. 

14 miles/4116 total miles  THE END

Monday, November 5, 2012

Me Walk, You Walk, Ewok

October 12

Sadly I have lost a portion of my crew, at least for today.  Mark's legs may never work again and the damage done him caused John to think walking with me may not be in his best interest.  John does not normally participate in day time activities anyway, so we left him at the hotel. Mark was kind enough to drop Colin and I back at Pan Toll Campground, where we resumed the march at eight P.M. Bangladeshi time. 
The trails took us north, paralleling the coast, although the reappearance of the mist prevented us from getting more than an occasional glimpse.  Nonetheless, the scenery did provide topics of conversation.  First we came upon a rusted car, lying upside down and unlikely to ever get up again. The location of the vehicle, only a foot off the trail, left us bewildered. The trail was too narrow to have driven down.  The state of the car indicated it must have been thrown from the bluffs above, but how did it get there?  There was no road in sight.
Mad man blocking view of the mystery car

We had nearly ceased speculating and given up the case as an unsolved mystery when we heard a string of curses coming from the forest.  An angry man was yelling so loud and frantically we though him to be in a manic state.  I was reminded of some moments I'd had when lost on the trail.  What would my outbursts have sounded like to someone unlucky enough to overhear them?  Ah, nostalgia...
Later, we heard the squeaky wheels of a bicycle coming up behind us.  We heartily waved at our trail mate, the first human we had seen in some time.  We received no greeting in return from the middle aged man, who grimly pedaled by, head down.  I looked at Colin.  "I think we just met Angry Man."
These oddities aside, the forest surrounding us was the main attraction. Conversations about a sequel to "The Passion of Christ" subtitled "Up in Your Ass With a Resurrection" could not compare to the ancient trees reaching high into the sky above us.  Colin and Mark had talked the day before of a resemblance to the Ewok Forest from "The Return of the Jedi."  As it turns out, the analogy was spot on - Mark later discovered George Lucas lived nearby and had used these very woods in the movie.  The name Ewok was surely plucked from this region as well.  The Native American tribe which once inhabited Marin County was known as the Miwoks.

Another stretch of forest reminded me of a different fictional creature.  A bright green moss clung to these trees, thickly matted to the trunks like a fur pelt.  Were these the coats of the Grinch and his family, taken as trophies?  If so Whoville's vengeance was indeed swift and mighty.

By the last few miles I worried Colin might be the next casualty.  His right leg had locked up and it swung clumsily forward like a rusty gate.  He limped well behind, but continued to soldier on despite the pain, until we finally reached the day's ending point at Five Brooks.  I was quite proud of the lad.
Mark met us a quarter of an hour later with a story of his own.  He had been driving around the San Rafael area, killing time while Colin and I forged up the coast.  While stopped at a red light he ran into this man:
Mark had wanted to give the man money to reward his creativity, even though, as Chris Rock says, "a homeless man with a funny sign hasn't been homeless very long."  I countered with a different version of events.  Consider this:  an illiterate homeless man unknowingly approaches a smart ass and asks him if he would write him a sign.  Ah, the possibilities of such a blank canvas...      

16 miles/4102 total miles 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are We There Yet?

October 11

I no longer walk alone.  I was joined this morning by Joel, one of my roommates at the hostel last night.  His background as the son of a career Navy man made him a fitting companion as the north end of San Francisco is steeped in military history.  We left the Fort Mason, which served as a Civil War barracks, passing the docks from which the Navy shipped supplies to the Pacific fleet during World War II.  A few blocks onward was Crissy Field, a former Army facility used as an airfield from 1921 to 1936.
The land was in high demand after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  The 30th infantry set up headquarters at Crissy along with the Military Intelligence Service Language School.  The airstrip itself returned to prominence after the war, since the small field was useful for helicopter and light airplane take offs and landings, particularly Medevac flights bringing in casualties from Vietnam.  Crissy Field finally closed amidst a series of national budget cuts in 1994. 
Joel and I soon approached the Golden Gate bridge, whose 1937 construction conceals a choke point once vital to the defense of the harbor.  Here is the only entrance to the bay.  The Spanish established earthworks on the hills above, known as the Presidio.  Gun batteries dotted the shore thereafter and additional artillery was later placed at Fort Point (now tucked underneath the bridge) by American forces.
Fort Point, hiding under the Golden Gate

Enough with the sex and violence, I was ready for my showdown with the Golden Gate.  The crossing is one of the most significant milestones over the long course of the American Discovery Trail.  I was blessed to have additional company for the momentous occasion.  My friend Mark Normington met me up top, along with my brother Colin, whose visit would have been a surprise if everyone involved hadn't contributed to botching the operation. 
Before 1937 the only way to get your car to Marin County was via the ferry, an inefficient means of transport given the demand.  The country was in a crushing Depression that even Paxil would not cure and the bridge would be terribly expensive.  Economic necessity drove California to act on the plan of engineer Joseph Strauss, who did not invent blue jeans.  Strauss was able to formulate a functioning yet artistic design which surmounted the what supposedly could not be mounted - "strong, swirling tides and currents, with water 372 ft deep at the center of the channel, and frequent strong winds. Experts said that ferocious winds and blinding fogs would prevent construction and operation."
The bright red bridge is now one of the symbols of San Francisco.  In fact, Frommer's lists the Golden Gate as the most photographed bridge in the world.  I was honored to have the opportunity to view the Bay Area and the city from her heights. The ubiquitous fog was kind enough to dissipate long enough to accommodate me.
The end of the Golden Gate bridge would seem to make an excellent finishing line for the ADT, but major trails in the United States simply do not begin or end in a major city.  A much more remote location is required.  The Appalachian Trail runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, while the Pacific Crescent and Continental Divide Trails run from isolated spots on the Mexican border to other places you have never heard of on the Canadian border. The ADT ends at Limantour Beach in Point Reyes, meaning I still had forty miles to go.
Nothing for it but to complete another dozen miles before ending the day.  I was glad to have Colin and Mark tagging along.  We proceeded onto a series of trails, up and down numerous grassy hills, all the while being slowly consumed by a shroud of mist.    After we snatched a quick peek at Sausalito, the veil closed completely and we had to satisfy ourselves with staring at nearby objects.  The terrain changed to thick forest and we reveled in the glory of the massive redwoods, whose trunks disappeared into the sky.  Another marvel lay at our feet, the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, the banana slug.  The mollusks were omnipresent in the damp, dark woods and Mark was especially adept at spotting the slimy greenish-yellow creatures, which can move at a lightning fast rate of six inches a minute.
Banana slug, the Usain Bolt of the animal kingdom

As we neared the day's goal, Pan Toll Campground, Mark began to move a bit sluggishly himself.  His knees, in dire need of surgical repair, began to fail him and he was forced to halt whenever the pain became too great.  I ran ahead to meet our friend John Byrd, who had also flown in today and was scheduled to pick us up.  This turned into a bit of a fiasco as John was not where he was supposed to be and I had no cel service as usual.  After nearly an hour of trying to shake a text message out of my one bar, Mark finally limped into Pan Toll and collapsed on the ground.  Colin was able to contact John and we managed to figure out where he was and explain where he actually needed to be.
We hit a great taco joint for dinner, then took Mark back to the hotel in San Rafael so he could die in a bed.  Colin, John, and I visited the hotel bar, where we enjoyed celebratory pints of beer before realizing they cost twelve dollars a pop.  Sport stadiums and concert venues would have been envious of such vicious overcharging.  We beat a hasty retreat before being driven into bankruptcy*.  Unbelievably I have only two more days left to walk. 

*His friends paid, the author is already bankrupt - Editor    
 17 miles/4086 miles total