San Francisco and Yosemite
I rolled into San Francisco with my friend Natascha and was presented with a very exciting prospect; two weeks off the bike! It would in fact turn out to be even longer, but the chance to rest my legs and be a tourist for a while was extremely enticing. The first few days were spent sorting out all my kit from the trip, running errands and starting to get my bearings in the city. It was extremely pleasant to enjoy the warm weather lounging in parks and preparing for the Rock n’ Roll Half marathon with a couple of relaxed runs. The day of the race came soon enough and my report on that great event can be found on the blog! Following the race, I got a taste of normal life, joining Natascha and some of her friends for brunch. It was fantastic to step back into a world away from my bike and tent. I enjoyed my time talking about triathlons and San Francisco life. I was immediately taken by the supportive network of friends Natascha has, as part of the Golden Gate Triathlon Club. Later in the day I returned to the trend of not overly exerting myself, chatting and dozing in the Panhandle Park with just a couple of the group from the morning.
That evening my friend Charlie flew in from the UK. She had planned to arrive in San Francisco for a holiday whilst I would be in town so we could be proper tourists and see all the sights of the city and region. On her first day in San Francisco, we walked down through the heart of the city to the Ferry Terminal with it’s excellent food stalls and restaurants. We then jumped on the boat out to Alcatraz, for a tour of the infamous prison. It was a beautiful day to be on the water and we enjoyed the views of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge on the way out. The prison and island itself are a great exhibit. The audio tour of the prison told you all about life on the island, some of the notorious inmates and both successful and failed escape attempts. It is certainly a must see for all trips to San Francisco. Once back on the mainland, we walked through the very touristy Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf areas, enjoying the views of the lazy Sea Lions. That was us for the day and we walked home for dinner, making our way along some of the staggeringly steep streets.
The next morning we headed in the opposite direction to take on the Golden Gate Park and the California Academy of Sciences. This is a great museum and I can especially recommend the planetarium and the rainforest exhibit. This took most of our day but we also had brief looks at the Japanese Tea Garden, the De Young Museum and the Conservatory of Flowers. For our final day in San Francisco we decided to take it easy, do a little shopping and have a Mexican lunch in the Mission District. In the evening we experienced some of the excellent food and drink San Francisco has to offer, joining Natascha and her friend Camille in The Haight district for dinner. It was a great evening.
It was then time for us to pick up a hire car and head out of town to the world famous Yosemite National Park. We headed across the truly spectacular Golden Gate Bridge, pausing briefly for photos, before heading inland and through Cowboy country to the mountains. I had seen photos of the Yosemite Valley before, but nothing can prepare you for the sight that greets you when the road turns a corner and the valley opens out before you. It is truly breathtaking. We spent a fantastic few days living a wonderfully simple life in the park. We stayed in Curry Village, a collection of permanent tents that served us very well. It was a little chilly though and all food had to be carefully packed away each day and night in the bear-proof lockers! We did three great hikes during our stay. First, we headed up the Mist Trail past the Vernal Falls and across the top of the 595 ft Nevada Falls. The views were great and the waterfalls pretty spectacular. I loved edging right to the brink of the falls to take photos of the water plunging into the valley below. We returned to the valley floor via a section of the John Muir Trail. The next day we decided to climb the Four-mile Trail to Glacier Point. As we gained height, the views of the valley, the Sentinel Rock and the imposing Half Dome just got better and better. As we approached the top we edged along the cliff face and passed through some beautiful redwood groves before emerging to the spectacular views from Glacier Point. You can see almost the whole valley and right up into the high Sierras. It was just incredible. One slight disappointment for me is that there is a road up to this point and even a gift shop. I felt that I had earned those views and my very plain cheese sandwiches tasted just great. There were people everywhere. As we descended back to the valley floor via the same path I was delighted to return to the remote nature of the track with just views and other hikers for company.
Our final hike was the best yet. Under moody clouds, we climbed the Yosemite Falls Trail. We followed steep switchbacks and some very uneven terrain before rounding a corner to be greeted by views of the Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. The three tiers of the falls drop a total of 2,425 ft, making them the sixth highest falls in the world. Up close the power was just staggering. We climbed further and eventually made the top, heading to the viewpoint that almost overhangs the top cascade. This was more like it. There were a few others up there, but they had all climbed the same, difficult path as us. It was just perfect. We headed to Yosemite Point and I had great fun taking photos from the edge of an 800 m high precipice! You could also see into some of the remote high-country of the park. It is possible to get permits that allow you to wilderness camp almost anywhere in the park. I would absolutely love to return one day and just set off into the wild, with a load of food and a tent, for a few days. We headed back down and the next day it was time to return to the city. Yosemite Valley is one of the most remarkable places I have ever visited. It has been described as a very spiritual place and I understand this, but the one reservation I have is the number of visitors and especially cars. The valley often turns into a traffic jam with thousands of people visiting. It is great that they have access to this stunning spot, but I feel there must be a better system than turning a natural wonder into a standstill every weekend.
After a long drive back, I dropped Charlie at the airport. It had been great to have her to visit. We had got on very well and really confirmed a great friendship. I was a bit sad to say goodbye but it was time to start preparing to hit the road again. That evening I took part in a small American ritual, drinking beer, eating chicken wings and watching the final of the College Basketball March Madness tournament. I joined Camille at a sports bar and had a fantastic time drinking a little too much and chatting sport (or sports as she would call it) for the whole evening. The next day I was up to take my bike in for a service and to replace a few components. Everything seemed to go well but as I headed up some of the extremely steep streets towards home I noticed a few problems with the chain slipping. This would lead to a significant delay to my departure but also meant I had even more time to enjoy the city and surrounding area.
I headed to one of the track training sessions for the triathlon club, of which both Natascha and Camille are members. It was awesome to see the quality of the coached session and I am looking forward to joining a team at the end of this trip. The bike shop then decided that I needed a new cassette for my bike. This had to be ordered in but it was good to have the time to really get to know the city. It also meant that I could join Natascha, her friend Max, and Camille at a triathlon festival at Lake Berryessa in the Napa Valley. Natascha was racing in the Olympic distance event on the Sunday. We had a great Saturday morning volunteering at a support station for the run in the half-ironman and ironman distance events. We also got to camp for two nights and build a couple of huge fires, which as you will know by now, made me very happy. One slightly hairy moment occurred as we were woken up by a huge 4WD seemingly determined to park on our tent. Saturday afternoon was spent relaxing in the sun and swimming in the lake, before the serious business of supporting Natascha on the Sunday. Camille introduced me to a lot of members in the club who were just there to support and it was great to join in with them in cheering the racers on. I have only previously done events on my own or with a few family or friends around. It looks like great fun to do it with a huge group! Natascha did extremely well and we then all headed to a local spot for a beer and a fantastic burger for lunch. I could seriously handle this life!
All too soon it was time to return to the city and after a final day of work on the bike it was time to leave. It was very strange. There was none of the panic that had previously afflicted me, especially after being settled in the same place for a while. I have become completely comfortable with my life on the road. I know I can do it. Barring complete disaster I now know I will make it to New York. Instead there was a conflict. I just found it so hard to set off. San Francisco was great. I can really see myself living there in the future. I had made a small group of friends and didn’t want to leave them behind. In addition to that, the lifestyle of the city is just amazing with all the perks of a major urban centre with great access to the outdoors. It was pretty miserable to give all that up again. It felt very normal. It’s what I signed up for though, and I have a trip to finish. I had to go; up to the Golden Gate Bridge and out into the wilderness. The North Pacific Coast, Canada and eventually New York awaits. San Francisco certainly hasn’t seen the last of me.