A 25-mile walk through San Francisco? That sounded awfully daunting to me. Who would voluntarily pound the pavement for hours on end? To be exact: 113 enthusiastic walkers showed up before 4 am at the Coddingtown Library to check in and board 3 yellow schoolbuses for the ride to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was still dark when we left Santa Rosa, but by the time we were dropped off on the Marin County side, some mist was still hanging over the City, however the bridge was already in sunshine. It promised to be a wonderful day — and it was.
As it turns out, this is the 9th annual history walk sponsored by the Sonoma County Historical Society. Every other year the walk has been along various routes in San Francisco. Other years the walks have been in Sonoma County.
Off we went, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, always a thrilling experience. We entered the Presidio, and for many this was the first time to walk any of the many trails on this former military base, now a National Park. Intoxicating scents from pine and eucalyptus groves, stately homes of former officers, converted barracks, the National Cemetery, more forests and more trails, grand vistas of city and bay and bridge and ocean … we were amazed at how large the Presidio really is. Breakfast in the Park was a welcomed break, and the food was delicious. A couple more miles and we reached the ocean. The views were spectacular, and so was the hike along the coast to the Cliff House — the route of the former steam train that brought revelers to the Sutro Baths. But oh, those steps! We climbed up and down lots and lots of them. From the Cliff House we headed south, then east into Golden Gate Park. A great, satisfying lunch was served near the Conservatory of Flowers, and a number of walkers took that opportunity to change into something more comfortable — a pair of sandals or shorts. I had never before walked the entire length of the Park, from the ocean and out through the Panhandle. Then nature was behind us, and we entered the urban landscape of San Francisco.
We all love The City, and we all have favorite districts or sections. Here was a chance to discover new ones, or see the changes that recent times have brought to once run-down areas such as the Mission District. I learned about NoPa, or North of the Panhandle, an area between the Mission and Chinatown. No guide book mentioned it in the past, in fact warned against venturing into its dangerous streets. Now? Hip, funky, eclectic, multi-ethnic, everything goes, and so colorful. I would like to explore those streets in detail. While Jeff was on the phone with our sweep who was far behind us with a walking straggler, we enjoyed ourselves in front of (not inside of!) a transvestite bar. The gorgeous people, in immaculate make-up, beautiful gowns and high heels, had a lot of fun posing for dozens of cellphones on the sidewalk. Then it was off toward the Civic Center and Union Square where a bridal party caught our attention. A vigorous walk through Chinatown: fascinating architecture and shops that called out to us, some old gents playing mahjong, tourists (you can always spot them) mingled with the “natives” who were out shopping for their dinner. Changing traffic lights often split our group into several sections and often one bunch of people seemed to have disappeared, but the sight of yellow T-shirts rounding a corner got everybody back on track. Down Columbus Avenue to Aquatic Park, the last stretch. By this time some of us were slowing down and some were hobbling due to sore feet and blisters. The sight of a great and tasty buffet laid out for us at the Park made the last tiresome mile or two worthwhile. We even had a choice of pies for dessert. At 9 o’clock, after an hour of eating and relaxing, our school buses took us back to Coddingtown. The ride back became strangely quiet!
We all had great admiration for Jeff and his marvelous crew who had put all this together. There were two support vans that carried our packs with a second pair of shoes and socks, an extra sweatshirt, snacks, anything people needed during the day. We generally carried only a water bottle. The drivers of these vans would meet us every hour or hour and a half, we helped ourselves to ice cold water, snacks, did our stretches, and these breaks were crucial to the overall success of this walk. Kudos to the meal crews who had everything ready when we got to our eating spots. And a great big Thank You to all the businesses and individuals who donated food and services.