Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Great Job. A Golden One.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Symbolic. Historic. Absolutely insane to bike over on the weekends now that the bike lane is closed until May. I had no idea of the closure on Sunday morning when I put on my spandex shorts, pumped up my tires and hit the road for a leisurely ride to Marin and back. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea that my tolerance and patience would be tested to such a degree that I had to take a deep breath and ask: what's this really about?

Let's start at the beginning: For as long as I've lived in San Francisco, biking over the Golden Gate Bridge has been one of my favorite past-times. Not only does it represent freedom and leisure, but it connects my love for the city to my love of nature. One ride over the bridge and the natural world is yours! Beaches, mountains, lakes, hiking, waterfalls, wildlife. The list goes on.

As I left my house on that crisp and clear morning, I anticipated all of my favorite things about the ride: the quietness of the early morning Mission, braving the Arguello Hill, cruising through the Presidio, among the Eucalyptus and Cypress trees. As I approached the bridge, I felt as I usually feel: I made it! Can't wait to bike over it!

Then I noticed something strange. The bike lane (on the western span and only open on weekends) looked empty. Where were all the helmets, the wheels, the spandex? Then, I saw the signs. No specific mention of closure, but the reality of sharing. This is typical on a weekday: bikers and pedestrians must make do, together, with the eastern span. Normally this isn't too much of a struggle because the biking and tourist traffic isn't too heavy Monday through Friday. Sunday though? A beautiful, sunny Sunday in San Francisco? I smell trouble...

Pedestrians aside, I've experienced some crazy things simply in the bike lane in my time. Hardcore cyclists (spandex, whistles) navigating the less hardcore bikers (chilled out, maybe wearing flip flops). I'd like to say I've been both, but I don't bike with a whistle in my mouth. Tourists on rented bikes, stopping to take pictures, breaking the flow. I've even biked across on a tandem, fighting blaring wind and dense fog.

You get the idea? (pic from June 2010)

Sunday was something different. First of all, they've split the lane into "two lanes." Bikes on the westside, pedestrians on the east. Now, let me translate that: bikers biking at full speed towards each other and people on foot, stepping in to the bike lane, oblivious to everything. Of course they're oblivious. They're walking across one of the most famous and beautiful structures in the world. They're looking north to the Marin Headlands, East to Alcatraz, and South to the skyline. They're going about their walk in their merry own ways. This gorgeous landmark (and city) brings TONS of people in for viewing. I'm happy to share.

Or was I on Sunday? Here we go. Let's begin again: full disclosure. I was frustrated, fearful even. Pedestrians were driving me bonkers. Right as I realized what I was dealing with, I figured it would take me twice the amount of time it normally does to go over and back. Like all the other bikers, I spent most of time with one foot on the petal and the other on the ground, waiting until it was safe to ride. Once I achieved some momentum (in my "quarter" of the lane) someone would hop into "my" lane, causing me to brake fast (I didn't know which was worse—picturing a collision of my own or the thought of a pile-up behind me—caused by my sudden stop).

Eventually, I made it North (yay, view!) and then it was time to turn around again. I took a different approach on my way back. Maybe I can enjoy myself and not be so afraid/angry/accident-prone. I tried to use slowness as a tool. Take in the beauty, observe the tourists seeing the bridge for the first time. Lucky them, I thought (or tried to think). I also took advantage of my "new" lane—the "quarter" farthest to the west. Instead of constantly stopping, I was able to simply lean my body to the right and use the red ropes as a cushion. Who was I kidding? This is ridiculous, I thought.

I tried and tried to be patient, but suddenly my worse self came out (and I've often said that sharing the lane w/ bikes and pedestrians on the GG bridge brings out the worst in me). I felt defensive, yelling "Single file! Walk in single file!!!" Who was I to make those rules? And what was I thinking "my lane." None of it's mine. But clearly, I had zero perspective. I was even acting crazy, yelling "On your left, on your left" when I was actually on their right. I started laughing.

Then, I hit my breaking point. Bikers coming at me, tons of bikers behind me, pedestrians in my lane, blind spots up ahead, people with ear phones in their ears, families, children, sudden wave of vertigo!!! I pulled over. Like the slow leader of a pack of cars on a curvy road, I found my turnout and used it. Why couldn't I keep up? What am I so scared of? Why am I so frustrated with everyone on this path? Why am I saying "this is psychotic, this is psychotic" over and over in my head? Then, something happened. Once I pulled over in shame, the sweet, bearded biker behind me (who probably just came from the Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes) said: "You're going a great job." Really? I thought, and searched for sarcasm in his voice but couldn't find it anywhere.

Then I realized what was happening. All the while I was worrying about the bikers in front of me, the bikers behind me, the pedestrians to my left, right, in my face—I wasn't even thinking about my experience. I was worried that I was in the way, that I was causing every spandex clad bad-ass on the bridge to roll their eyes at me. Why? They were just gettin' by, like me. You're doing a great job? Really? What he should have said was: "You're doing a great job, but can you just enjoy yourself a little more?" Like in a Woody Allen movie, I fantastically picture all the cyclists in his pack shaking their heads in agreement.

About half way through my southward ride over the bridge, I thought: What? am I going to let the bike lane closure prevent me from riding over the bridge until the end of May? I think not! Suddenly, I let go of the fear. I'm not going to hit that pack of teenagers because I'm going slow, taking my time, soaking in this beautiful day. We're all in this together. Spandex. Rental. Feet. Walking shoes. Tricycle. Cameras. Posing for pictures. Aw, how cute I was finally able to think. Soon I made it back to land. Here I am now wishing I could have it back again.

At one point during the ride, I watched as a sweet family on rented bikes approached the lane. A young boy (maybe 6 years old) on his small rented bike looked fearful, hesitant—like he knew. His mother, curious where their little guy was, looked back and said, "it's okay, honey, it's okay." At the time, I thought: NO, it's not okay! This biking experience is a freak-show. DO NOT ENTER! He did though and, in the end, he did a great job. He'll always be able to say, "When I was six I biked over the Golden Gate Bridge with my family." He won't remember the crowd, the yelling, the whistles. Because it's a memory and he doesn't have to.

Me in the Presidio. I might be over the bridge, but the ride is just beginning.


  1. love this. and i have had VERY similar experiences on the bklyn bridge. tourist/bike/runner/stroller cluster*#*%. but the view is killer. xo

  2. sissy!!! ou are so awesome! I remember when we biked this together and i was scared shitless.

  3. Yay for you for having the guts to do this!

    I need to ask your advice: where do you love for brunch in SF? We are meeting some friends there next weekend. We are staying in the Embarcadero area, but it wouldn't have to be there..... xo

  4. Hey Jora,

    Thanks for asking. I have so many recommendations! In the Mission: I love Universal Cafe and I also love this place on 24th street called Knead. If you want to be adventurous, I would try Outerlands in the Outer Sunset, but be prepared to wait. I also love Piccino in the Dogpatch, Eats in the Inner Richmond and Zuni in Hayes Valley. But, seriously, Universal has the best brunchy, weekend vibe. Hope this helps!!


  5. As the mother of a daughter about your age, I would have to say, "I admire your courage and the awareness of all you experienced during your bike ride, but until the bike lane has reopened, please don't do it again." Is that a wrong comment to make? Maybe so, but I can't help myself. Just reading this scared me.

  6. Dear Kathy,

    I love this comment. It's absolutely not wrong to make. You have a good point (safety first!) and I completely understand your concern. You are sweet to look out for me. I promise (and I'm sure my Mom would like to hear this too) that I'm always super safe (and slow) on the bike! Promise :)


  7. Kathy and I are on the same page here. Please don't do it again! I am glad to hear that you are always safe and slow on the bridge. As usual your pictures are beautiful!

  8. I would have FREAKED OUT! way to go, meggie -- you did it.

  9. WOW - I really love this post (though sorry the bike lane was closed). I find some similar traits within myself when running, and definitely try to take those moments to be less irritated by the touristas seemingly everywhere in GGP (I mean - how great they are enjoying my beloved city!) and to just soak up the experience. This was a gentle reminder to keep on doing that! Hope your next ride (perhaps in May?) is a bit less crowded ...