When my friend Sean sent me an email titled This is Fresh Air, I assumed he was linking me to a podcast from one of my beloved NPR programs. Of course, this was yet another lesson that assumptions and conclusion jumping are never a good plan, as his message was actually an invitation to a crew of fitness-forward friends to take an urban hike on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail.
Are you asking yourself what an urban hike is? Yeah, I did that too. It sounded like something hipsters made up in case their fixie-bikes were under the weather, but actually urban hiking is not a new phenomenon. Urban hiking is simply the act of purposefully walking through a city with the intention of experiencing the city as you see fit. Typically it involves planning a trail or following a pre-determined trail, but even that aspect is up for negotiation.
The game plan was simple: five friends would take BART into the city, find a bookstore that sells the map of the trail, enjoy the gloriousness of the trail, and maybe have some lunch. Our first hurdle came at exactly the second we stepped onto the BART platform. We’d just missed a train and being a weekend, BART trains only run every twenty minutes. So our hike began with standing and chatting, which was quite pleasant.
Hurdle number two came in the form of the bookstore that sells the trail tour-book was closed. So while we could follow the trail based on the bronze markers nestled into the sidewalk, we wouldn’t really get to know when we were passing the graveyard of Gold Rush ships, or the Pony Express stations. Hurdle number three was the really passionate man yelling at the top of his lungs and who scared the bejesus out of all of us. After all this though, there weren’t any more hurdles; instead, there was awesomeness!
Here’s the thing about hiking an urban area you’re already familiar with: it allows you to opportunity to look at the streets and shops and people with new eyes. Instead of looking down at the sidewalk and hustling to a destination, we looked up. There were Nevada fans everywhere because they were in town for a football game. And right off the bat, there were two marching bands playing in Union Square! Our markers led us through the crowds of people who were getting ready to cheer on their Alma Mater to the sound of band!!!
Next, we passed a man simply singing opera in an alleyway. Clear skies highlighted the Trans-America building. Chinatown has an intricate system of alleys that look like they are from 75 years ago, right down to the laundry hung on lines over patios. Mala found a retro-restaurant that she wanted to share with her dad. 50 people meditated in a park together, silent and still, in winter clothing. Firecrackers were being set off in the streets without regard for the fact that they sounded like rapid gunfire. A Jewish Community Center was on our left and I got really excited.
The five of us stepped off the trail for lunch at Rogue Brewing Company (um, Chipotle Beer is a must) and a chance to all face each other and talk. We’d been in little bunches of two and three, someone always ahead and someone always behind, so that was a nice face-to-face moment. We resumed the trail, and found ourselves at Fisherman’s Wharf, watching tourists, watching sea lions, buying taffy, and dancing to a man named John Hayward playing “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” A brief walk up the Embarcadero took us right back to BART, and away we went, back to the East Bay.
While we may not have learned the history of San Francisco, I feel like instead we created part of the history of ourselves. And got exercise, too!