Biking in San Francisco
In San Francisco, in northern California, I was attending my cousins wedding. The weekend was full of excitement. Family we hadn’t seen in ages, seeming long lost, collapsed in arms at the airport, beaming with anticipation of what this “informal reunion” would bring. Of course seeing my cousins, aunts, and uncles was a very exciting part of this extravaganza, but personally I was waiting for the arrival of a different section of my “family” to arrive, from Oxford, England. Although not biologically family, Jean and her son Henry may just as well have been. Close family friends, we saw them maybe once a year if we were lucky. I wasn’t only excited to see them for this reason, but also because Henry would be my sister and my ticket out of the insanity of my immediate family. Although they all hold a dear place in my heart, putting them all in the same room and adding a bit of wine is dangerous.
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In efforts to escape the madness, we were finally designated old enough to roam the city ourselves, exploring small side streets holding secret treasures of the city, and hiking up the endless, infamous, San Francisco hills. Although some escapes are too good to last long, as we were always, at some point, called back to the noisy ballroom of the hotel to join the party to chitchat with these long lost relatives, and meet second cousins twice removed, that I never knew I had.
The wedding was in the late afternoon and it would have been a shame to waste the entire morning, so being in a famous city, we decided to do the typical tourist thing and visit the icon of the city, the Bay Bridge, although, we decided to do so in a not so typical way. Along the boardwalk we came upon a bike rental shop called Blazing Trails. With hours still to kill, my family, Jean, and Henry, decided to rent these bikes and ride along the bay, and eventually across the bridge, then back down through Sasilito, where we would catch a ferry back to the boardwalk. Seeming like a spectacular opportunity I was fully on board. We were fitted for bikes, grabbed our helmets, and set off down the path, with hundreds of other tourists. The bridge loomed before us, casting shadows upon the small vessels who courageously dared to trek upon the blustering bay, as we pedaled hard into the distance.
It was a perfect day. Scattered clouds painted the sky with small puffs of white, as the sun created the illusion of crystals sparkling upon the surface of the water. We pedaled down the trail, only stopping momentarily to snap a new photos, which we would find out later were all the same. The bridge in the sun, the bridge casting shadows on the bay, all of us in front of the bridge, all of us below the bridge. The dirt path slowing turned to a dark gravel as were approached the base of the first pillar. I remember gazing up hundreds of feet, lost in the shadow of this towering object, and feeling all the excitement, and anticipation, drain from my body. Frozen in this lightless shadow, I found it hard to move, paranoia slowing engulfing my body. Taking little notice of my miniscule panic attack, the rest of the group began the short journey up the steep winding path to the bridge. With each step, the water moved further away, and with each downward glance, my heartbeat quickened. We finally reached the plateau on which the bridge rested. And we embarked upon a journey that I will never forget.
The wind seemed to pick up the second we pedaled onto the bridge. The sun hid behind the clouds, and my already fast heartbeat quickened. I gazed up at the monstrous tapestry of the bridge, towering hundreds of feet above my head, threatening to collapse and send me tumbling into the foaming bay below. I gulped and continued to pedal. After what seemed like ages, we reached the first pillar. We stopped and laid our bikes down, looking over the side fencing, that was hardly tall enough, below was a canvas of swirling blues and greens, as the wind tossed the bay to and fro. One glance was quite sufficient for me. I backed towards my bike dodging oncoming cyclists, who all but eased my nerves yelling “move out of the way!” in the most callous, uncaring tone I could imagine. Confidence low and tensions high, I reluctantly boarded my dreaded bike once more and pressed on.
With each rotation, I could hear my heart simultaneously beat, as if I were bound to my bike, trapped on this evil mechanism, leading me towards an inevitable fate of tumbling through the weightless air, with nothing to grab hold of, and falling into the abyss below. Trying to block this out of my mind, I tried to direct my thoughts to another place. I focused on my tightening grip on the handle bars, knuckles white, palms sweaty. Concentrating hard, I was only to be thrown off guard by loud shouts of glee as Henry zoomed by me, seeming to be having the time of his life. At this point, I never hated him more. I continued to pedal. I had reached the second pillar, I pedaled on, wobbling in the increasing wind. I had reached the third. The end was near. I felt the path head downhill. Yes, I was there, I had made it. I distinctly remember the feeling of accomplishment, and thankfulness for being alive. I got off my bike and felt the solid earth beneath my feet. There was nothing at that time that would have been more welcoming than that. In retrospect, I have never been more terrified for my life, even to this day. We completed the rest of the journey, which seemed effortless in comparison to what I had just been through. Finally we returned the bikes, and I couldn’t have been more ready to head back to the hotel and get ready for the wedding. Visions of this still sometimes haunt me, assuring me that I will never do anything like that again. Once is certainly enough. When the memories start to fade, I simply throw on my souvenir tee shirt and take out the photos of me terrified on my bike, and that unforgettable feeling of angst involuntarily returns.