Knowing San Francisco is 7 X 7 miles makes this city seem so accessible. We can walk everywhere! We run at least seven miles five times a week, so on paper the distance from here to there looks like nothing. Maps are deceptive. They should really color code by the steepness of the hill each block is most certainly on. A friend recommended a cycling app before we left that maps out the most bike-friendly (Flat!) routes, but I figured Nah. Hills are part of the experience.
Experience in clogs = every step delivers the sensation of stepping down on the upward swing of a hammer.
It’s not that I don’t like hills. It’s the hills that create so many crazy views throughout the city. But add hill after hill IN CLOGS to hilly morning runs and something unexpected starts to happen in the legs. You grow a burning new muscle – the hill muscle is the scientific name. It runs from ankles, around the calves, up the quads and deep into the lateral rotator group. It’s always slightly on fire and it has a brain.
This pulsating hill muscle quickly taught me that in San Francisco the least painful route from Point A to B is not always the shortest one. Often you can take a round about route, hugging the base of the hill and staying relatively level instead of up, up, up, UPUPUPUPUPUP, DOWNDOWNDOWN, down, down. In super hilly neighborhoods like the Castro this might not be possible, but the walk through Glen Canyon made that climb worth it.
I read about Glen Canyon in Gary Kamiya’s book Cool Grey City of Love, which details 49 views of San Francisco. “Views” has varying contexts here from surprising vistas, to historical and geological. I mostly skimmed it before leaving, but his chapter on Glen Canyon inspired us to go a bit out of our way. It was too deep for the city to fill in and develop so there it sits, a 90-acre secret in the center of the San Francisco home to coyotes, owls and raptors. The place took my breath away as we approached from behind a baseball field. The paths of loose dirt feel a bit unstable where the drop off is steepest, but, again, clogs are not the best footwear for this mini hike. At one point I felt a single drop of water on my arm and assumed it was about to rain before remembering the 4+ year drought CA is currently in. I hope the drought ends soon, but am glad it didn’t happen while we wandering at the bottom of the canyon in terrible mud slide footwear.
San Francisco is more than hills and steps and hill muscles. An envious sigh came every time we passed a palm tree. My sisters and I have this thing that requires us to hug palm trees when we see them. SF has too many for one woman to hug, but I did squeeze a few along our first long, long walk from our airbnb in Lower Haight through Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean, the bay and back. A 14-mile walk was not the plan for our first day, but on the map it all seemed so close. Then those fateful words come out of my dirty mouth: Let’s walk it.
Walking barefoot on warm sand is the best kind of foot massage. But I was surprised to find the sand on the California beaches we walked on (about 5 total) looked and felt just like the powdery dirt of the Coney Island beach. New Jersey sand is more like smooth tiny crystals and it’s lighter in color. I should probably go to Hawaii and Florida and other beaches along the East Coast for the sake of fairness, but in my mind Jersey still has the best beaches. Then again, the Pacific looked clearer and bluer and you can have fires on some (legally), so I guess they both win.
By the time we made it to the ocean, I was a little shaky on 3 hours of sleep and hardly any calories. We walked on the beach and saw a sea lion swimming parallel to the shoreline. The water felt colder than the Atlantic does now, but not by much. The best sight right then wasn’t the waves or open sky, but a giant SAFEWAY sign a block away. Our first food in San Francisco was … store brand spicy edamame hummus and tortilla chips, possibly the best I’ve ever had.
Our new hill muscles powered through this one more flight of sandy steps up to a hilly overlook. We laid out the airplane blanket I totally forget to not stuff in our bag and feasted on hummus with our toes in line with the massive infinity pool that is the Pacific Ocean’s hazy horizon.