The maps I learnt to use as a child, from England’s Ordnance Survey, marked elevation with contour lines. Not that there was much elevation around where I grew up, along the Thames Valley: I just looked up the height of the most prominent hill I could remember in the area, Winter Hill near Marlow, and it is about 200ft. I just wish the online maps I use now were as clear.
With my schedule getting more solidified, and the weather getting nicer for getting out on a bike, it has been hard to find good times to run. Last week I had to content myself with one short outing, so I made it count. I don’t bother measuring distance and sometimes don’t even check the clock, but set myself a neighbourhood, or a landmark to run to, and perhaps count the hills on the route. Last week’s course is called, in my mind at least, the Liberty Hill classic. After a lap of Dolores Park to warm up, I set off up Church, turn up Liberty, then work my way over the top of Sanchez, across to the top of Collingwood on 22nd, and then zig-zag from Diamond and 22nd back to 19th and Sanchez using as many staircases as I can find. This is an area I used to visit on my short mid-week bike rides, and feels very familiar underfoot. I am still trying to figure out if it would make a good Roaming Zen route – I think it needs more parks.
On Monday I wanted something longer and steadier – while I have the legs it is nice to contemplate an hour and a half of running: first I tackled Diamond Heights (one of the drawbacks of living in a valley is always needing to climb out at the start of a run), crossed to Glen Canyon (which will feature in an upcoming Roaming Zen), currently very green and studded with poppies, and then tried working my way to Mount Davidson from a different side to my first attempt. I had checked all the online maps, and written down the street names and turns from Elk to Molimo, but I was definitely caught out a few times by rounding a corner to see an unexpected steeply rising block in front of me. At one stage, heading west, I worried I would be dropping down into a hollow which looked like it continued into St Francis Wood, which to my mind is almost at the ocean, but luckily my turn came before the descent.
I am not clear what this neighbourhood is called, and I had certainly never visited it before. There was Sunnyside Park, and Miraloma School. For sure, a hundred and fifty or so years ago it was gently sloping ranch land, and the quiet suburban thoroughfares that replaced it arc across the hillside in a most indirect manner. Somehow the open south side of Mount Davidson suddenly appeared close by, looming above the houses. It was only on the hill itself that I started to get the views of the city befitting the elevation. The trail I took to the top seemed very short, though it was steep enough, and, once past the cross and into the woods, amazingly full of irises, I allowed myself to follow a trail that brought me back to where I had started, slightly wary of poison oak, having had a bout of it after visiting Tassajara the other week, courtesy of a borrowed towel.
With the Sutro Tower and Twin Peaks as waymarks I had no trouble finding my way back out of the quiet meandering streets into the sudden hubbub of Portola and Upper Market. Downhill, with a tail wind, I was enjoying that settled feeling that comes after an hour or so of running, in contrast to the stiff beginning and the cautious pace around unknown streets. I was glad to then be able to escape down an unexpected staircase alley, to the more secluded Grand View, which is pretty much the homeward stretch, with final views of the city from Kite Hill.
From the top of Mount Davidson – the green swathe is the upper end of Glen Canyon, and the houses at the lower right are the ones I was trying to navigate around.