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Biking the Golden Gate Bridge
By Janis Cooke Newman
'I've never been to the Statue of Liberty," my husband tells me.
"Never. And I grew up in New York."
"That's like living in San Francisco and never biking across the Golden Gate Bridge."
"I haven't done that either."
"Me, neither," says our 6-year-old son, Alex.
I am appalled. People from all over the world come to San Francisco just to walk or ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. Rain, shine, or fog, they're out there in saris and too-thin T-shirts taking pictures of each other with Alcatraz and the Marin Headlands in the background. I don't want Alex to miss one of the great tourist experiences of the Bay Area, just because he lives here.
So the next sunny Saturday, we load the bikes into the car and head down to Fisherman's Wharf. Our plan is to ride from Pier 41 to the Golden Gate Bridge, down to Sausalito, and back by ferry.
We park the car and attach Alex's tandem to the back of my husband's bike. Then we head out, three people in biking shorts and helmets, cycling among the tourists carrying maps and walkaway crab cocktails.
We ride on Jefferson Street along the wharf, passing shops that sell bears made out of burl wood, and enormous wind chimes. At Hyde, we turn left past the line of people waiting at the cable car turnaround, and then left again onto Beach Street. As we ride past Ghirardelli Square, a motorized cable car filled with camera-clutching passengers pulls up beside us. Alex lifts a hand from the handlebar to give them a little Queen-of-England wave. Several people take our picture.
We turn left on Van Ness, and then right onto Bay Street, riding past Fort Mason. At Laguna Street, we turn right again and hook up with Marina Boulevard.
Cycling along the Marina Green, we watch a man flying a rainbow-colored line of arrow-shaped kites. The kites soar up, and then nose-dive, narrowly missing the oblivious heads of a couple kissing on the grass.
At the big lawn near Crissy Field, we stop to watch the people playing volleyball. Every one of them is 25 years old and wearing sneakers that have air injected into the soles. Then we get back on our bikes and ride toward the bay to connect with the shoreline trail.
This trail passes a rocky stretch of beach where people have piled stones into small cairns that resemble mini-Stonehenges. In the middle of these rocky towers, a woman in spandex is doing deep knee bends.
Near Fort Point, we turn left into the Presidio and hook up with Lincoln Boulevard, the steep climb that winds its way up to the Golden Gate Bridge.
"Are you pedaling?" my husband shouts back to Alex. His panting sounds just like the dog's.
We stop at the top to take our picture with the bridge in the background. We have to wait for six Buddhist monks in orange robes and a Russian family whose kids keep getting too close to the edge. After the picture, we follow the signs to the west (ocean) side of the bridge, which is reserved for bikes, and start riding.
"It's pretty noisy up here!" my husband yells.
Cars rumble past us, making a sound like faraway fireworks every time they hit a seam in the pavement. Because the sidewalk is higher than the road, we can look down into the front seats of all the cars coming from Marin. Practically every person is talking on a cell phone.
We take our time riding across, stopping at all the towers to look at the view. The bay is filled with little sailboats like a giant's bathtub, and the Marin Headlands are green and look like Ireland. Behind us, the buildings of San Francisco resemble white building blocks against the blue sky.
Every now and then we're passed by serious riders zooming by on skinny touring bikes. These riders all have little water bags attached to their backs with tubes running into their mouths like portable life-support systems.
At the Marin side, we follow signs that lead us beneath the bridge and up on the other side. Cutting through the parking lot at Vista Point, we take the Alexander Avenue exit without having to get on the freeway.
We whiz down Alexander Avenue, past wood-shingled houses that seem to dangle over the bay from their parking decks.
"Are you pedaling?" Alex shouts to my husband. His legs are moving so fast, they're little pink blurs.
In Sausalito, we bike along Bridgeway, past the fat-bodied Bufano seal and tourists with fannypacks eating ice cream.
"I'm hungry." Alex is eyeing the vanilla cone a little boy has dribbled down the front of his new "I (heart) Sausalito" sweatshirt.
"Me, too." My husband is staring at a man eating a cheeseburger in the window of the No Name bar.
"Let's get dim sum," I say. And we ride north through town to Turney Street and the North Sea Village Restaurant.
Inside, we get a seat by a window and an order of shrimp dumplings.
Dim sum is perfect food for kids--they can look at everything first to make sure it's not going to be gross, and it comes fast. We eat salty prawns baked in their shells, and sui mai (shrimp and pork dumplings), and sticky rice wrapped up in flat green leaves.
Outside the window is a harbor filled with docked sailboats. We watch a weekend sailor with a six-pack of beer who is trying to figure out how to untangle his sails.
After lunch, we hop on our bikes and ride back down Bridgeway to the ferry landing at Anchor Street. There, we get in line for the ferry behind a group of Italians, who are managing to look incredibly chic in their rented bike helmets.
"Where are you from?" my husband asks one of them, a man with little oval-shaped glasses.
"Firenze," he says. "Florence."
"I love Florence," my husband tells him. "Last time we were there, we climbed to the top of the Duomo. It's an amazing view."
"I have never seen this," says the Italian man. "And I grew up in Florence."
Janis Cooke Newman's memoir, The Russian Word for Snow--A True Story of Adoption, has just been published by St. Martin's Press.
Riding the Golden Gate Bridge: The Details
If you're a strong and confident rider, you can start this trip from Noe Valley. If not, drive down to the wharf and park in one of the lots a couple of blocks away from Pier 39--they're cheaper.
The North Sea Village Restaurant is located at 300 Turney Street, just off Bridgeway in Sausalito. It serves dim sum seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Blue & Gold Ferry runs between Sausalito and Pier 41 in San Francisco. Call 415-773-1188 for schedule. Fares are $6 one-way for adults, $3 one-way for kids 5 to 11.
Are We There Yet? is a Noe Valley Voice feature about places to go and things to do with your kids. If there's an activity or outing you'd like to see explored, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.