When I was around ten or eleven, my schoolfriends and I took part, several years running, in an annual charity walk that raised money for the local elderly. It must have been heavily encouraged at school, otherwise I don’t know how we all decided to do it, seeing as it was twenty miles – quite a distance for kids our age. I remember now that one of my friends made an attempt to run it one of the times, encouraged by our athletics teacher, and managed to run the majority of the course before having to walk the remainder. The rest of us ambled around, and enjoyed a hearty lunch at my friend Stefan’s house, which was en route, cooked by his German mother.
It’s been years since I even thought about those times, though some of the memories are quite clear if I put my mind to it. I was trying to recall how many long walks I had done in my life, and those were certainly the earliest.
A few years ago, in my last summer living at Tassajara, I tackled a long mountain loop, half-running, half-hiking, which was either fifteen or twenty-five miles. It was amazing except for the part where a spring at which I had expected to refill my water supply had run dry, so I had forty-five minutes in the early afternoon heat trying to drag myself to the next potentially running creek.
There were no such dramas on the Crosstown Trail, which I tackled over Boxing Day. I slept lightly the night before, perhaps anxious of the rather amorphous sense of challenge. Debating how I would get to the start point, I ended up taking MUNI as far as the Caltrain station, and then, even though I was tempted to take a scooter, jumping in a waiting cab to get to Candlestick Point. I was happy, walking to the starting point at the easternmost spit of land, to see someone walking the other way with sheets of paper in his hand – the cue sheets for the trail, I guessed. Are you doing the whole thing? I asked. He nodded with a smile. It was nice to feel part of a thing.
A week ahead, the forecast had been for potential showers, but Christmas day had been drier than anticipated, and apart from a line of clouds that the sun rose over, the sky was entirely clear for the whole day. There was no wind, and it was a little chilly before the sun came out, but it was a peaceful place to be waiting, and to have a moment to properly arrive at the starting point. I had never been out in that park before (though I had scouted the nearby roads on my bike recently), and the first sections of the trail were the only ones that weren’t familiar to me.
When Lisa arrived, we set off at our usual clip when we are roaming together, past the site of the football stadium, under the 101, and up the Visitacion Valley Green Way. This was the nicest discovery of the day for me – exactly the kind of spaces I like to find for roams. There, as pretty much throughout the day, we were serenaded by hummingbirds.
We cut over McLaren Park, down to shirt sleeves, warmed up by the climb away from the bay, through the Portola district and over the 280 on a rusty old footbridge – a route I know from biking, which connects me very conveniently to the south east corner of the city. It had seemed to take a while to get to McLaren Park, but here was a sense of very different neighbourhoods being in close proximity.
Glen Park was next, along the newly-signed green way there (I remember that before it was a thing), and up the length of the canyon, tracing Islais creek, whose valley, cutting to the bay, now forms the route of the 280 (this having displaced the rail line). On Portola Drive, by Twin Peaks, there was a sense of getting over the spine of the city: behind us we could see back to the bay; ahead, we now glimpsed the ocean.
The new trails around Laguna Honda followed – we helped a group who weren’t sure how to get down to the old Bedpan Alley. There was even a section I hadn’t tried before, looping around a car park, and eventually taking us to the Forest Hill station.
We were both getting a little tired and hungry, having barely paused so far, but Lisa was determined to make it a little further before breaking for lunch. The next section, though, was the climb through Forest Hill to Golden Gate Heights – luckily we did not go right up to the highest points that we have previously roamed over. Perhaps the trail planners felt that there were enough staircases on the route chosen; we might have missed out on Golden Gate Heights Park, but we did have a fairly level run to Grand View, where we gratefully stopped to eat, watch the low-flying red tails, and take in the view.
The view, on this clear, unusually windless day, was most certainly grand. We picked up gas station coffee on 19th before the very meandering route through the park, where we found Pasha, waiting for us in the rose garden, his fresh legs boosting us out of our sense of fatigue. I would have quite happily stopped then and there, but for the wish to accomplish the whole thing. And I knew it was mostly flat from there on out, through the bushes alongside Park Presidio, along the Lobos Creek trail, down to a quite busy Baker Beach, and through Seacliff where the quiet and the grand houses were indeed the opposite end of the city from the modest villas and freeway hum of Visitacion Valley.
Finally we joined the numerous afternoon hikers on the Land’s End trail; like the Moraga St tiled steps, this has become massively more crowded in the last few years, but the views, of the bridge and up the coast, are sensational. Surfers were catching a break by a cove west of China Beach, far beneath us. Having set off with the sun on our backs, it was now bursting through the trees in front of us, and soon enough, we came out at Land’s End to the shining sea, seven hours and seventeen miles after setting off.
Happily the two buses I needed to get me home were prompt and fast. I rested my feet and texted friends who had had a couple of photo updates during the day. My head was spinning rather, as I headed back towards the city, beautifully illuminated in the last of the sun – not just from the physical tiredness, but also from how much I had taken in visually over the course of the day. So many parts of the city were showcased; my familiarity with most parts of the route did not prevent a deep enjoyment of the larger unfolding, and the amazement of all the beautiful little corners of San Francisco. I may not ever do the whole thing again, but it was really something to have done it once.
I took a lot of photos through the day, and decided to showcase seventeen – though they are not evenly spaced along the route. This is looking south from Sunrise Point, the starting place.
Looking north-west from the same park. The Sutro Tower beckons, and Mount Tam is just visible in the distance.
Starting along the shoreline of the bay, looking south to San Bruno Mountain, a favourite bicycle destination of mine.
The path to the top of McLaren Park above Visitacion Valley.
About to cross the 280, looking north-west to Mount Davidson and Diamond Heights. Glen Canyon runs between the two.
From Panorama Drive at Midtown Terrace, looking at the ocean over Juvenile Hall, between Edgewood Hill and Golden Gate Heights Park. Behind us, roughly equidistant, was the bay.
One of the new Laguna Honda Trails close to Forest Hill station.
Arriving at Grand View, looking over Seacliff to the Golden Gate, with the bridge and Mount Tam in shot.
Looking west from Grand View to the Sunset district and the ocean.
The 16th Ave tiled stairs are not remotely as popular as the neighbouring Moraga St staircase, even though the tiles are just as beautiful, and they offer a view of downtown over Mount Parnassus.
Looking down Judah towards the ocean.
The section through the Golden Gate Park includes Stow Lake.
Looking over the Lobos Creek valley trail from 15th Ave.
Lobos Creek running into the ocean at Baker Beach.
Sun along the Land’s End Trail, which follows the course of the old rail line.
Overlooking the Sutro baths.
The end of the trail, at the ocean.