Wednesday 18 April 2012

San Francisco - USA

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Contrasting architecture can be found all across San Fran, typified by this photo from the front door of my hotel where the run starts
This is one place I could live tomorrow, probably only number 2 behind Rio on my bucket list, so it goes without saying that this is a breathtaking run and the longest route of all the guides.

A lot of American cities lack identity and character and are all just full of huge chains like Starbucks, Walgreens, Burger King, Subway and all resemble each other.

San Fran on the other hand is like several different mini towns all thrown together. I was staying in Chinatown on the corner of Stockton Street and Broadway. It was a really vibrant part of the city, within walking distance of both the main shopping district and the famous piers.

It was July when I was here, so the weather as you would expect was glorious. California has blue skies like nowhere else I have ever been before or since.

From my hotel at 8am sharp I headed east towards the bay. I was only here for one day and it was a Sunday, so I wanted to take advantage of the quiet roads and take in as many sights as possible.

After 0.8 miles I reached the waterfront, which is lined with 45 Piers, some still operational, others closed and the rest converted into major tourist hotspots due to the brilliant views they offer.

Broadway leads to Pier 9 where I picked up the generously wide sidewalks making for a good smooth flat running surface. After a further 0.6miles I reached the famous Pier 33 where tours to Alcatraz Island Prison depart from. Obviously this meant the pavements were really busy, but again I was here in Summer so it is to be expected.

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Alcatraz from the Golden Gate Bridge, not where you want to end up
Alcatraz really is one of those places that until you see it in real life you will never appreciate it. It must have been really something when it was still in operation with the likes of Al Capone on the island.

It was only another 0.7miles from Pier 33 to the final Pier, 45. That was when I got my first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. With that now in sight and the sun on my back, it felt as though I could have run for days!
One of the great things about San Fran is the fact it never feels as though you are in a city, which is probably because it seems as though each block is unique rather than a sprawling mass of identical streets. There are also a lot of green spaces which break up what is a hugely populated city.
From Pier 45 I picked up Jefferson Street and headed west towards the Golden Gate. However it is not the only attraction on the route.

From Jefferson I entered the San Fran Maritime Park which was full of people playing all kinds of sports and lots of other runners. The park's footpath then picks up Van Ness Avenue and then Fort Mason which was a former US Army base but has a large recreational park.

Now 1.7miles from Pier 45, I continued from Fort Mason towards the bridge along Marina Boulevard, and then Mason Street which takes you all the west to the Bridge tourist centre (3.4 miles). I have been to some huge tourist sites before but I don't think I have ever seen so many buses, coaches, cars, bikes, people and dogs in such a small area!

Without letting this put me off, I am now at the south side of the bridge, still not feeling any kind of burn despite having run 7.2miles to get where I am standing. The sheer size and stunning beauty of what is just a metal bridge is not something that can be described or shown in a photo.

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The view of the Golden Gate Bridge at the 7.2 mile mark

It was then I had the ingenious idea to run across the bridge and back - I figured I had got this far and may never have the chance to comeback so why not. What a terrible idea!

I am pretty sure that almost every cyclist in the whole of USA was on that bridge. The wind was also very strong and was whipping across. Another thing is the length of the bridge. From the south bank it looked no more than half a mile. However halfway across it dawned on me that this was a little wide of the mark...
After 8.9miles in the California sun, I was considering an early exit but this sign saved me!
After 1.7 MILES (!!!) I reached the north bank. It was only then that the decision to run across seemed completely the right thing to do. The views of the bridge, Alcatraz and the sprawling bayside metropolis that is San Fran were fantastic. The only problem was, now I had to do it all again to get home!
The view of the bridge from the North Bank offers a different viewpoint and a chance to see the uniqueness of the bridge
When I am away I usually run with the equivalent of £10 and the hotel business card on me just in case I get either lost or into any kind of trouble. Yet for some reason the one time I could do with a taxi I had left both in my hotel room.

So off I trudged along the route, retracing my footsteps back through both parks, the piers and back to Chinatown where I had probably my most satifsying ice bath to date!

Joking aside, this is probably the best way to see San Fran, especially if you are only here a short while like I was. You get to see the two main attractions from lots off different view points as you follow the Piers and bay north.

Only shaded by Rio as my favourite run simply because of what finally being in Rio meant to me. Cannot speak highly of both the city and this run.

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Start - Corner of Stockton and Broadway in Chinatown
Journey - East towards Pier 9, follow bay north to Pier 45. Through parks and Fort Mason westbound until you can see the Bridge. If you are feeling brave then simply cross over, take in the views, and retrace your steps home. 17miles in total or if you choose not to cross the bridge, approx 13miles
Finish - The Stinking Rose, corner of Broadway and Columbus Avenue

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