It all started in the beautiful city of San Francisco. I was on my way home from Mexico after spending a week with Jose Villa but instead of going directly home via LA I decided to see something different. After all flying from Australia to the US is not exactly a quick trip or a cheap one so when ever I am in town I try to extend my travel plans when I can.
I flew into San Francisco by myself and spent three days exploring the city. I am not going to lie, it was a daunting experience. While San Francisco is filled with beautiful historic buildings, gorgeous cable cars and is the home of the drool worthy Painted Ladies, it is also a city with a dark side. I had two close encounters where I thought to myself either I was going to get mugged, or I was going to get stabbed. That goodness on one occasion I had a friend with me that I met in Mexico and she managed to scare away our would be attackers. Hand on heart, true stories.
Even though I was uncomfortable being on my own at times there were several things I wanted to do in San Francisco and I didn’t want my fear to stop me. I really wanted to visit Alcatraz because my dad loved reading and watching old movies and he was interested in the ‘big escape’. I knew he would think it was really cool if I went there. The other thing I simply had to do was cross the Golden Gate Bridge. One of my besties Victoria had told me that the best way to experience the bridge was to hire a bike and ride over it and down the other side to this beautiful artists town called Sausalito. Victoria had visited San Francisco years earlier and had done the ride herself and it sounded like a beautiful way to see the city so I put that on my ‘to do list’.
The first day I arrived in San Francisco I spent the day walking around the Pier looking at the tourist shops, ate at the Hard Rock and rode my first American tram. The second day I visited Alcatraz, it was awesome. To sit on that island and stand behind the same bars that used to house Al Capone and other famous gangsters was surreal. But the thing that really hit me was that if you stood still and the wind was quiet you could hear the sounds of people having fun on the other side of the bay. What a mentally draining experience that must have been for the men who were incaserated at the time.
With the tour of Alcatraz complete I landed back at the pier and headed towards the bike hire vendors. I approached with a significant amount of trepidation, after all it had been a good 20 + years since I had ridden a bike with any kind of frequency and I knew my body was not going to take this new found appetite for bike riding well. I asked the assistant how far it was to ride across the bridge and how difficult the ride was and she told me that it was a good comfortable ride and that hundreds of tourists completed the journey every day without any issues. I decided to give it a go, after all I had promised my friend that I would do it and I didn’t want to look like a piker!
So I set out on my hire bike, tentavely negotiating the cars on the street near the fish markets until I hit the safe area of the bike track. At that point I was still unsure about the entire experience, I’ve suffered asthma my entire life and two of my biggest triggers are exercise and cold. This day had both! Yay! All was going well until I hit my first major hill, and boy oh boy it was a killer. I looked like such a loser getting off my bike to walk it up the hill as other cyclists rode past me at what seemed to be lightening speed! I could hear their sniggers and I almost wanted to end it right there. But I kept telling myself that I’d go around one more corner and see what was waiting for me. I wanted that photo from under the bridge anyway so quitting at that point was not an option!
So I persisted. I was a bit like the big bad wolf in the piggy story, I was huffing, I was puffing and I was mostly pushing that bike up those hills. But when there weren’t any hills to ride up I was loving the freedom and the childlike exhilliration that came with crusing along on a bike. It reminded me of the innocence of my childhood when I would get on my second hand green Malvern Star bike that my Grandfather painted for me for Christmas when I was eight. The same bike that I would ride up and down my rural street on the outskirts of Sydney almost daily, unaware of the complications of adulthood that awaited me. The only between riding my Malvern Star and this bike was the huge issue of me being unfit. My legs were like jelly after just a few minutes on this hire bike!
I finally got to the Golden Gate Bridge and I thought “Fantastic! I’ve made it. It’s all downhill from here”. But I was wrong. It wasn’t downhill until AFTER I got to the middle of the bridge. You probably haven’t thought of this but bridges are not flat, they are curved, something to do with structural stability blah blah blah……I found that out after I attempted the ride. Thanks! So I huffed and I puffed and I kept riding across the bridge, maneuvering around pedestrians and other cyclists until I got to the other side where I waited in the lookout area. The view from that spot was amazing and I wanted to take it in, to make mental notes of what it was like.
I noticed the majority of the bike riders had turned around and started going back the way they came and I wondered why. I knew this quaint little town waited for me at the bottom of the hill so I decided to keep on going. What an experience THAT was! The road downhill to Sausalito was treacherous. No bike track, barely a gutter to speak off and it was windy and twisty and how I didn’t end up being hit by a car was a miracle. Riding down the hill I started to get a feeling that I was riding the same road in ‘The Goonies’, one of my all time favourite 80′s movies, I guess it was the cute houses and steep hills. (Actually, the Goonies was filmed in Oregon but that’s another story). The houses in Sausalito were utterly gorgeous, I could totally see myself living in one of them! Once I got to the Sausalito ferry I felt a massive sense of achievement. I couldn’t believe I had done that. Not only had I not been on a bike in over 20 years but I was on my own, in a foreign land and I attempted something I would never have even considered on my own.
The next day my body ached all over. There is no describing the pain I felt in my thighs, they were letting me know big time that I had let my fitness slide and they were making me feel every single one of the 18 kilometers that I rode the day before. To make matters worse that was the day I had to fly home to Australia, and boy oh boy was I in agony! But I was also feeling really happy and proud that I had done something as simple as riding a bike and that it made me FEEL better. It made me feel alive. I needed to feel that more often, at that point in time I was so busy with work, so busy with outside influences that I had forgotten the simple joys in life like riding a bike. I could not wait to tell my husband what I had done!
In the months leading up to my trip to San Francisco my son Benjamin had started to enjoy riding his bike, I decided that I when I got home I would go and buy a bike so we could spend more time together as a family. I could have knocked my husband over with a feather when I told him I wanted to go shopping for a bike. He’s the guy who rode his bike from Sydney to Melbourne for charity two days after our first date and I told him he was crazy, and here I was asking to get a bike? What? I really don’t think he believed me but he came shopping with me anyway. It wasn’t such an easy task to buy my bike. My bike couldn’t be any old bike, it had to be a cute vintage looking bike that reminded me of my first bike and had to have more than one speed!
About 2 weeks after my maiden ride in San Francisco I found her. She was a pretty blue bike called Jenny and I had to have her. Since bringing Jenny into my life I’ve spent many hours riding with my family. I used my bike rides as therapy to deal with the death of my father who sadly passed away just 2 1/2 weeks after I came home from San Francisco. I’ve taken my son on 40 kilometer bike rides and I’ve spent days riding around parks just for fun. The best part is that my legs no longer ache, the seat no longer hurts my butt cheeks and I can travel much further than before. The thrill I feel being outside in the sunshine with the wind in my hair and pedal power as my fuel is fantastic, and I owe it all to the decision to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge!
If you made it this far without falling asleep, thanks! Let me introduce you to Jenny, you’ll notice on the top banner she features as an icon in the About section of the blog. Isn’t she pretty!
And thus concludes my first’Jenny Files’ blog post!