Vacaville to San Francisco - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

July 28, 2014

Vacaville to San Francisco

Half a million other people, having heard of my triumph, turned out to ride across the bridge with me
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MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Today I rode over the Golden Gate bridge, along with excited crowds who'd hired bikes to join me. Of all ways to end a ride across America, this must surely be the most symbolic.

We could, in fact, have

But I bet I was the only one who thought to have his photo taken there...
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ridden across several days ago. But we arrived in California ahead of schedule and we have been killing time at Karen's house, a day's ride to the north, to fit reservations made long ago at the youth hostel. We got out on our bikes in

All these people turned out to join me on the bridge. I never realised I was such a hit in California
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that time, of course, but only after three days of soft cushions and propped feet did I realise how tired I'd felt in the last two weeks on the arid, repeated mountain climbs of Nevada. It helped to ride into San Francisco with only enough luggage for a short stay, and that would have made a difference. But for the first time in ages, I felt good enough to want to turn round and

Where I wanted to stay in San Francisco, a charming and uninhabited island just off Fishermen's Wharf
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ride all the way back again. I couldn't, of course, and in reality I wouldn't. Apart from anything else, an inconvenience of faraway continents where little is known of the people or their customs is that you have to plan your retreat. Dr Livingstone overlooked that but I haven't: in a few days, I will catch a train from California back across the country to

Where we had to stay instead. The lounge of San Francisco's youth hostel, not inexpensive but a snip compared to the outrageous prices of hotels
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Chicago and then, after three days of getting under everybody's heels, I will fly to the comforting shores of Europe.

It has been a momentous trip. I have met kind people, and one who wasn't so kind, and once more I have been astonished by the open welcome and generosity of Americans. That's why I like riding here. I have ridden on four continents and in maybe 40 countries and nowhere comes close to America for its smiling welcome. Small-town America, anyway. I exclude American immigration controls at airports and I know little of big cities.

Americana lives
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It's hard to sum up a ride so varied. There are the contradictions, for a start. North America is a continent and you expect it to change as the distance rolls by. And it does. But it changes slowly, more slowly than in Europe, and when it changes, it stays changed for a long time. I have ridden through heat and hail, through meadows and mountains, desert and dust. And yet... had I ridden three months in Europe, I would have dealt with a dozen different languages and arrived on the borders of China. Here, after three months, I am still riding past branches of Wal-mart.

There were high spots and lows, naturally, good days and not so good. A few days were ordinary, a way to get somewhere else with little to report at the end. Some were a succession of encounters and amusement. I was less taken by the desert and dust of western America than Karen was. She gets a thrill from it. I could marvel at the grandeur of Utah and stand spellbound beside Bryce Canyon. But I remember brushing dust from my tent on yet another night without grass and reflecting that only weeks earlier I had fallen asleep in a meadow beside the Missouri, lulled by seagulls and the chug of river boats. But... had that contrast not existed, would I now appreciate the verdant luxury of trespass beside a slow river?

The old port area at dawn
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It's too early to put it all in context. That will come. I've ridden across America before but, as I said earlier, this is not a country but a continent. It will always be different but, because it's the United States, it will always be the same. Metaphorically, you are never more than 20 minutes from a Coke machine. Practically, you are never more than 20 seconds from someone friendly and helpful.

Thanks, America. You've been a good friend. But now I'm going home.

The old port, with renovated sailing ships. The cruise liners, towering over everything, moor just beyond the sails
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Lovers at dusk, oblivious to maritime history
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San Francisco's business area
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...and the shameless tourist glitz of Chinatown
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Woman with a silent tale to tell
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Yes, the cable cars are still there, despite the city's plans to do away with them
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...and, yes, we went on one and, yes, they really do go up and down the terraced hills you've seen on films
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Hard to show the crookedness of the so-called crookedest street in the world, but it's certainly crooked (the second most crooked street after Wall Street, say the locals)
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And so, goodnight America!
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Today's ride: 53 km (33 miles)
Total: 6,134 km (3,809 miles)

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