Since all my books are currently still in boxes, and being that it is a time of year for more leisured reflection, I hope I will be forgiven some more personal ramblings…
It was traditional in my family to take a walk on Christmas Day, as a bracing antidote to sitting by the fire and the usual over-consumption. In later years I also took to going for a run on Boxing Day to get my sluggish system moving again.
It is ten years since I have spent Christmas with my family, and these days, without festive traditions to uphold, I like to go for a ride early on Christmas morning. Bearing in mind that I had not been out on my bike in three weeks, and was still feeling the lingering effects of sickness, I did not intend anything grand, but took another loop around the city.
How wonderfully quiet it was, with the sun just up over the east bay, far to the south of course at this time of year. There were occasional buses and street cars, and a number of homeless people trying to stay warm – it was on the cold end of San Francisco weather, with a little bite to the wind, and I had on merino for my various extremities. Junctions and sections of roads that are usually stressful became serene with almost no cars I needed to pay attention to. It was easier to relax and just watch the wider scene around me, noticing details in buildings that are usually just in the background on a ride.
More people started to appear, walking and jogging, as I rode around from the bay piers to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, and past the bridge, but it was the lack of vehicles that was really causing the sense of quiet.
There are a number of times when I have been in car-free urban spaces, and it is a whole different way of experiencing the city. Most notable was the Millennium Eve, when I left my work at the BBC at around 9pm, and managed to navigate my bike through the celebrating crowds to get over the river and back home for my own celebration. Similarly, visiting London for the Tour de France grand départ in 2007 was a time of joyful crowds and no motor vehicles, as have been more recently and on a smaller scale, the Sunday Streets initiatives in the city. This year, on the weekend the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to install the new median barriers, but was still open to pedestrians and cyclists, I was lucky enough to ride across, and it was quiet enough to hear the waves and the seagulls. When a police patrol car appeared on the bridge, you could hear it from one end to the other, which really brought home how much of a din is usually being created. And it is not that there is anything wrong with the busyness of the city, but experiencing its opposite is incredibly refreshing.
On my way around, I was keen to try the new trail which meets the west side of the bridge; not ideal for bikes, but it will still be a nice way to bypass the tourist crowds on the east side. Coming out by Immigrant Point, there was a gorgeous view of Sea Cliff and Land’s End, the sun mostly out, illuminating beautifully from its low angle.
After the full moon, the tide was running strong under the bridge, and swooping down past the Cliff House from the seaward end of Geary, I could see lines of breakers rolling into Ocean Beach, scouring the sand as I continued along Great Highway with expanses of sky in all directions.
Even though I had been struggling to get up the hills on the way out, I noticed I could not resist the challenge of coming back from the zoo over Portola and Twin Peaks instead of through the park, to take in the views, from Point Reyes to the Dumbarton Bridge, before a cold descent to my new home, and a welcome hot bath.
I looked for pictures to illustrate some of the places on the ride, and there were surprisingly few that matched up:
The Cliff House from Ocean Beach; the tide was much higher today
Big skies on Great Highway on a warmer day