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A Tale of Two Californias

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On a recent west coast swing for a few conferences, I had a few days in Orange County, just south of LA, followed by a few days in downtown San Francisco. While both of these are very urban areas, I looked for elements of trail running at each of the locales. How can one do true trail running in the cities? I always look for parks, or parkways alongside water, or hills. Even though this is not QUITE the same as a good Vermont Trail, as long as one can put up with the stop and go of frequent traffic signals at road crossings, this is a great way of shaking off the lethargy of long sedentary hours in conference lectures, on airplanes, or in airports.

My first stop, in Orange County, held less promise for a memorable run. While “The OC” is well known for its excellent beaches, I was stranded about 10 miles inland, in an area which seemed to be mostly made up of featureless modern office buildings, 6 lane wide city streets, manicured corporate lawns, and generous sidewalks which seemed curiously devoid of walkers or runners. Looking at the map more carefully, I noticed that I was only a mile and a half away from the “Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve“, which held promise as a site for finding actual trails in this otherwise concrete jungle.  As expected, the early part of the run involved running on the sidewalks, which sucking in the exhaust of rush hour traffic, and stopping at numerous traffic lights.  As I turned one corner, however, I saw the oasis which I sought, and realized I had found a runners’ gem.  Apparently, as this area of California underwent rapid development in the 1970′s they had the wisdom to save this estuary from development, and while the pressure of encroaching homes, roads, and even a major airport (John Wayne Airport) was always evident, other than the roar of a jet every few minutes, it was a great place to run.  I suspect that at times other than 5 pm, the hottest time of the day, I would have seen more wildlife, but on this run I had to be satisfied with a few skittish rabbits and iguanas.

Wildlife Refuge

Wildlife Refuge

overhead plane

overhead plane

There were many more miles of pleasant waterfront running to be explored, but I had to return to my sterile business hotel for a planned dinner, so I turned back to the open road for my return. This route brought me alongside the airport, and the wealth of Orange County was obvious from the extraordinarily high concentration of private jets moored there, and the Rolls Royce dealership I came across at exactly 4.78 miles into my run. Apparently, only 19 of the 50 states are prestigious enough to harbor one of these dealerships, and not surprisingly, Vermont is not one of them.

Buy a Rolls in the OC

Buy a Rolls in the OC

Completing this run after about 5.5 miles, I was offered a bottle of water by the kind bellmen who must have thought that the sweaty middle aged fellow coming in their front door was ready to die – apparently Californians don’t sweat?

Google Earth of Orange County run

Google Earth of Orange County run

The second half of my west coast swing brought me to San Francisco – one of the most glorious cities in the US. It too, has large parks, such as the Presidio, for the avid trail runner, but my location in a downtown hotel sandwiched between the Financial District and Chinatown put those locales out of reach with the limited time I had available for runs. So, I built my run around the aspect of trail running which downtown San Fran has in abundance – HILLS!

Setting off from my hotel and passing briefly through the bustle of Chinatown, I came to the first of my hill climbing challenges – a steep incline which necessitated steps on the sidewalks for pedestrians, “The Macchiarini Steps“. At first, I thought that it must be some sort of sick joke on the tourists, calling this paved wall a road, but when I noticed the garage doors flanking it, I realized that people really do drive up and down this precipitous incline!

Steep Steps

Steep Steps

Skewed Garage

Skewed Garage

Once past this challenge, I continued uphill to my first summit, the top of Telegraph Hill, which is occupied by the Coit Tower, and offers some of the best views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. My descent brought me back to the lower elevations of the city, and uphill to the base of what is arguably San Francisco’s most notorious climb, the twisting gardens of Lombard Street. Again, the steepness of this road demanded steps on the sidewalk, and my passage was slowed by countless other tourists doing more traditional vacation activities on this scenic climb.

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

The high point of Lombard Street is very close to the summit of Russian Hill, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that the top of this hill, which has to be some of the most valuable real estate in the US, was capped with a public playground with tennis courts and a basketball court!  All directions from here were downhill, so I headed towards my final summit of the afternoon, that of Nob Hill.

Google Earth of San Francisco Run

Google Earth of San Francisco Run

The Streets of San Francisco

The Streets of San Francisco

“Milk”: the story of the making of LGBT rights

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

This is a biographical movie I watched this week with some people from Ross- my residence hall here at Middlebury. The movie was meant to inspire conversation about LGBT issues since the recent act of hatred against a girl associating with the LGBT community who has received a threatening note.

The movie tells the story of Harvey Milk- an American politician who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California and his determination to put an end to all the discrimination and violence against gay people.


A Golden (Gate) Run

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

While Vermont runs are the focus of this blog, recent professional commitments have brought me to the little known and not particularly interesting city of……San Francisco!  I couldn’t let an opportunity for running in a city which is pretty much new to me go to waste, so I thought it would be fun to do a run along the shoreline from my hotel across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf to that most famous San Francisco landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge.  So, on my first morning in the city prior to my meetings, I set off from the hotel, heading west towards the bridge.  My first curious observation was a group of people swimming in the nearby protected section of the harbor.  What I found amazing was that some of these people were actually swimming laps in 42 degree water.  To put it in perspective, part of the reason Alcatraz was so secure, was the fact that the water was so cold most escapees died of exposure in a matter of a few minutes!  Do they make “people antifreeze”?

The Inner Harbor and Fishermans' Wharf

Much of the rest of the run was along land which long served military purposes, but has been spectacularly reclaimed for civilian enjoyment. The first former military site which the shoreline path (OK – it is an urban path, so most of it was paved!) passed through Fort Mason, the point from which most of the US troops departed for the Pacific theater in WWII. Angling from the fort heights back down to the waterfront level, the next section passed by a section of shoreline known as the Marina District, which not surprisingly, featured a marina! For those with longer memories, the Marina District made the news during the infamous Loma Prieta earthquake (aka the World Series quake) of 1989, when the early news flashes proclaimed that San Francisco was burning, and showed scenes of what appeared to be quite a conflagration in the Marina District.  While this quake was certainly tragic, both in regards to human life and financial costs, when I asked about it, I found out that only a handful of homes actually burned down as a result of the quake!  Ah, our news media, always looking for the big story.  Running through this district, I also noted a few scenes which looked very typical California, at least to my northeast caricature of the culture – I saw a few men bodybuilding along the beach (I thought that was more an LA phenomenon?) and a young man walking his dog, while he rode a skateboard.  A little further along, the oceanside (OK more specifically, San Francisco bayside) trail passed through the Crissy Field area, which had been the site of the city’s first military airfield until the 1930′s.  This huge open space is now a wildlife refuge and park for the inhabitants.

View of Crissy Field

Leaving Crissy Field brought on the only true climb of this run, the 2oo vertical ft ascent to the headlands of yet another former military base, the beautiful and legendary Presidio, now used for pricey housing in old barracks, and public parkland, where the bridge itself abuts. The contrast between the view towards the city in the above picture, and the bridge itself was amazing. While most of the city was having a glorious sunny California day, the bridge itself was wrapped in varying degrees of fog for my entire stay in the city. Nonetheless, as the fog cleared a little bit, I enjoyed a very dramatic view of at least part of the bridge – views of the Marin Highlands behind would have to wait for another day.

Golden gate bridge in the fog

At the 3.75 mile mark, the real goal of this run began – the run across the slightly longer than a mile Golden Gate Bridge itself. I wish I could tell you of the great views on this run, but as the above picture shows, they were rather limited. There were countless tourists on the pedestrian walkway, and yes a few other runners and bikers enjoying it. I also noted the scaffolding for the bridge painters -apparently the sea spray is so corrosive, that the bridge in a state of “perpetual paint job” which takes 3 years per cycle, only to be immediately restarted upon completion. Unfortunately, a short way across the bridge, my GPS ran out of power – despite what the GPS track shows, I really did make it all the way across……and back to Fisherman’s Wharf for a round trip run of about 10 miles, and some great California culture and scenery.

Truncated Google Earth projection of the run

 

Completing the run, I had another opportunity to savor the flavors of California – my west coast friends have been regaling me with stories of their favorite burger joint, the institute known as “In-N-Out Burger“. I certainly felt like I had deserved this treat after a long run! I had also been informed that there is a poorly kept secret (not on the public menu!) that if you ask for your burger and fries “animal style” they would put all kinds of extra stuff on them for you. While the animal style burger looked good, and I enjoyed it immensely, the animal style fries looked way too much like the Quebecois treat, poutine. I knew I could afford a few more calories than usual for lunch, but didn’t want to have to go to a cardiologist after lunch.