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I've posted in other places about this day, but I've been recalling it with great fondness recently, dreaming of the day I return.

One of my favourite places in the world. The youth hostel at Fort Mason. The common room has free wifi, a fire in winter, an incredibly well stocked swap shelf, lots of comfortable chairs, a generous supply of power outlets for laptops and chargers, and just such a warm vibe. It's the heart of the hostel.

I waited there for DL to surface from sleep in her women's dorm. We'd just spent a fantastic weekend in Kansas City with other BookCrossers, a long and interesting roadtrip with crrcookie down Route 66, stopping at some amazing places, and now here we were in San Francisco. DL's last day in the States, and me not far behind.

At the last possible moment for breakfast, she showed. Her sunny smile and sparkling eyes set the tone for the day. Breakfast in Franco's cafe is a freebie, hot drink, juice, cereal and a waffle or bagel. We sat by the window, glimpses out through woodland to the Bay. The hostel is set in an old Army building, and there are gun emplacements here and there on the headland, now empty, rustic curiosities.

I would have loved to linger, but we had a date. Outside, a few metres away to the path running along the edge of San Francisco Bay. Here we paused to take in the view. At our feet, the historic wharves where the soldiers and marines boarded their transports for the Pacific War. They sailed out in their grey Liberty ships down the Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. From Fort Mason, it stretches across the western horizon, blaze-red towers in the morning sun leading the eye to the rounded hills of Marin. The dome of the Palace of Fine Arts rises intriguingly over the rooftops. Islands and inlets, Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge as you look around to the sun rising out of the east. And a glimpse of the downtown towers, Fishermans' Wharf and Telegraph Hill as we strolled down the path.

A curving beach, the cable car terminus, Ghirardelli Square. We hired bikes at one of the many outlets, cycling happily back along the path we'd just walked.

Did I mention the clear blue sky and the golden sun? The air cool and the water twinkling, busy with ferries and container ships. Walkers and cyclists shared our path. We paused at the top to take in the view again, and then down through parkland and grass, a totem sculpture, bay-windowed houses, the arched front of the Marina Safeway.

Marina's yachts on one side, the sunny apartments on the other, Californian open-tops cruising on the boulevard. We pulled aside to circle the lagoon and walk under the colonnades of the Palace of Fine Arts, spinning our gaze under the grand dome and just drinking in the place, its classic decorations, its perfect proportions, its outlook over water and park.

Back out to the bayside. We paused here and there for photographs, the bridge growing ever closer and more impressive, until finally we were winding up a gentle gradient, dinky little married quarter houses of the Presidio, a superb outlook over the Golden Gate, and then the bridge itself.

It's a long way over the bridge, but we broke it up at the pylons, and a few photo points along the way. A container ship steamed below, the cables came down to join us for a few minutes and then soared away away up again.

An outlook carpark with restrooms and statues, benches for weary riders, more stunning views along the bridge, back to San Francisco and the broad vista of the Bay. We took it in and we took photographs.

Then down, down the road to Sausalito with never a turn of the pedal, just soaring along in the breeze, swooping and curving along into this pleasant little village.

We had a while before our ferry, so it was lunch in a pasta joint. The daily special washed down with a bottle of Anchor Steam. Wheeled our bikes aboard the boat, sat on the stern in the sun, and watched as Sausalito dwindled, Alcatraz loomed, and the wharves and hills passed by.

I have taken rides on the grand harbours of the world. Sydney, Hong Kong, New York. Through the rainforest of the Franklin in Tasmania, along the Suez Canal and the Seine. None of them matched this ride for golden splendour and the perfect contentment of a morning well spent.

We raced our bikes back along the Embarcadero, handed them in and sweated back up the hill to retrieve our bags and meet our guide for the afternoon.

Shendoah! Passionate and intense, she lives her life sharp and focused. She took us to Mel's Diner on Lombard, a scene straight out of American Graffiti. Burgers and chips and rootbeer floats. A few final photographs and we were gone, San Francisco International Airport ahead. I hugged DL goodbye, and got back in beside Shen for the ride down to San Jose.

She handed me a jersey. Teal blue with "Sharks" across the front. Shen's husband had graciously agreed to let go his season seat for the night, and we watched the Sharks defeat Los Angeles in The Tank, an echo chamber for the frenzied screams of fans in ecstasy and despair. And final triumph in penalty overtime. My first ice hockey game, and I'd never seen a sport so intense and active. They changed the players over ever few minutes to slug down Gatorade and plug into power sockets before whizzing them back out on the ice to bounce around as fast as the lightning puck.

Back to Shen's home and a fold out bed, into which I gratefully sank into deep slumber. In the morning, a light breakfast with Shen's husband, movie-star handsome, and her two children, as sharp and active as their parents. Walk the dog down to the daughter's school, and then I heaved my bags into Shen's van and we headed off to Scramblez for a second breakfast.

It was the best breakfast of my life. Every slurp of orange juice, every bite of golden toast and light omelette , every last morsel of fruit and sip of steaming latte. Perfect.

I told the waitress so and she hauled me off to repeat myself to the manager, who beamed with pride. And rightly so. The purpose of the universe is to make me happy, and I was as happy as anyone could possibly be.

Shen drove me past hi-tech headquarters, back past the airport, into the steep hills and quirky buildings of San Francisco, and then I hugged her goodbye as well, checked in, and I was back in the hostel common room, dreaming of the perfect day and night I'd just had.

That was last year. In a few weeks my wife and I will be boarding a jet at Canberra Airport, heading around the world for three nights in San Francisco. So long as the weather holds, I'm hoping for another wonderful day or two.

In the meantime, I lean on the roof of my cab in the airport cabyard, watching the wingtip lights dwindling into the velvet sky, my thoughts and hopes and dreams rising with them.

skyring: (Default)

Golden Jay
Originally uploaded by skyring
Days do not get any better than this.

I waited for Jay to show her face, waiting in the hostel lounge, snarfing freebie internet wondering if I dared to go knock her up in the ladies dorm.

But she showed, and we went to the hostel cafe, Franco's, overlooking the Bay, where we had the very light breakfast. Light, that is, until I smeared peanut butter and jam/jelly all over my waffles. Figured I needed energy for the day ahead, you see.

We walked down the Fort Mason headland, past the Aquatic Centre and onto the fringes of the Fisherman's Wharf district. A little windy and chillsome as we came down, and I wondered if we might stand to get a couple of the cheap fleeces they sell to the tourists. Jay was thinking the same thing. "It's cold here, what will it be like out in the middle of the bridge?"

I suggested that we could use mutual body heat to stay warm, but she was having none of that. The exercise of riding would heat our bodies, but if it was blowing hard on the bridge, we'd be frozen and unhappy.

So we found a souvenir shop and bought the cheapest possible fleeces in appropriate colours. Blue for Jay and maroon for me. Jay was upset because the fleece jacket she'd been wearing for the past twenty-something years had finally given up on the zipper front and been cast aside.

Our bikes were easily obtained. The sales folk were randomly snagging passers-by from off the footpath, actually, and we got snagged. I'd brought along a voucher from the hostel, and we got the bikes at half price. Helmets, bike locks, maps and ferry tickets were tossed in free.

And then we were off, cycling up through the gears, laughing as pedestrians scattered before us in terror. Jay managed to go further up the hill than I. She hadn't cycled for months, whereas it had been years, possibly decades, in my case.

Down, through the park, past the Marina Safeway - the best supermarkt in the universe, give it a look someday - and along past yachts and seagulls.

We turned in past the Palace of Fine Arts, where I took a movie under the dome. One of my favourite buildings - so spectacular, so classical, so grand and empty beside its lagoon.

And then down to the path following the shore. this was fantastic. Every fifty or hundred metres the Bridge would foreshorten a little more and the path would rise a little until the views and photo opportunities were amazing. We were slow, because we'd barely get up a bit of speed and have to stop at some even more spectular outlook.

And then, at last, we were on the bridge itself, and the stops became more frequent.

It was a glorious, brilliantly clear day, my friends, and not chilly at all. A golden day on the Golden Gate, with ships and ferries far below us, the tall blaze-orange towers soaring above, and the footpath alive with happy walkers, bikers, strollers, children and grandmothers.

And the happiest of all were we two. This was the climax of the trip. Something I'd wanted to do for a long time, but never had much chance. Of course, i could have cycled it alone in 2006, when I had two days here, but with a companion, it is far more than double the pleasure.

And what a smiling, delightful companion Jay is! Bright and bubbly, each BookCrossing adventure with her is a treat, full of jokes and silly photographs. We left a couple of books - small pocket-sized books - here and there, just to say we'd BookCrossed the bridge.

Eventually we passed the midpoint and the road sloped slightly down. Downhill all the way to Sausalito, and we fairly flew down the road, coming in past boutiques and galleries, little restaurants and houses climbing the steep hillside to our left, enjoying the Bay views to our right.

An hour before our ferry left, and while I wanted fish and chips, there was no time. An Anchor Steam with its salty overtones to wash down quiche and chowder, while Jay had some pasta and lemonade. She hasn't gotten America yet. If she truly loved the States she'd be drinking root beer.

And then we left, unlocked our bikes and followed the stream wheeling bikes onto the ferry. There may have been a few walkers, but it was bikes, bikes, bikes!

I honestly don't have words to describe the pleasure of the ferry ride back. The beautiful day, the feeling of triumph of having ridden over the bridge, the pleasant aftermath of lunch, the golden glow of my companion, the incredible beauty and fascination of San Francisco and the Bay. It all added up to something special.

Bittersweet because Jay was leaving soon. Leaving for New Zealand after months in America, and it would be a long long time before I got to share another roadtrip, another convention, another silly prank.

We slowed as we passed Alcatraz, and for a few minutes we were with the convicts on this prison island in Paradise.

Then we pulled away, past the crippled Bay Bridge and it gradually dawned on me that we weren't landing at Fisherman's Wharf. We were aiming for the main terminal. And us with a deadline to meet: Shendoah was coming to pick us up for the airport at three, and we had, ummm, half an hour to get back to the bike rental joint, climb the hill to the hostel, retrieve our bags and be ready.

But we did it. Cycling along the Embarcadero at a furious pace, we made it all with a minute to spare.

Goodbye to our happy hostel, goodbye to Fort Mason. Hello to great burgers and root beer floats at Mel's Diner on Lombard. Jay had a thickshake, which she declared was much better than my root beer, but I didn't believe her.

Shen was good enough to park so that we could get Jay checked in safely. I was worried she'd be overweight, and I'd have to act as a mule for some vital item.

But she was okay, and she reported back that security had been no problem. I didn't believe her. Scissors, bottles of softdrink, knitting needles and Pineapple Lumps - Jay tries to smuggle all sorts of things aboard.

The saddest part of all was saying goodbye. Hard to break the hug of a delightful companion, but we smiled at each other and promised that we'd have another adventure somewhere down the years.

But I can't believe that we'll ever have something this good.


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September 2010

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