by Ron Vitale
This weekend I needed to squeeze in a 12 mile training run as the Philadelphia marathon is only two months away. With being in San Francisco for work, I had an idea: Could I somehow figure out how to make time to run over the Golden Gate bridge? About three years ago I would have thought this idea insane and I would not have had the courage, fortitude or ability to make this dream become reality. But that was the past.
After the idea took root in my mind, I tried to figure out the logistics. Time was an issue and I had no idea how to get there. Thankfully, I met Brian at the front desk of my hotel who manned the concierge and he gave me a map and a suggestion. If I took a cable car or taxi down Market Street to the Embarcadero, I simply had to follow the paths through the Wharf and park to the bridge. He estimated that the run, one way, would be 7 miles. I filed his plan and the map and then did a Google search for “how to I ran across the Golden Gate bridge?” And, presto, an answer popped up.
Three years ago a guy (I can’t remember his name and I’m writing this on a plane so I can’t look it up) wrote a whole blog post that documented how he did it. He said that he ran along the bay and then off to the left saw a path that headed up. He followed the path, made a turn and there was the bridge. I thought this information would come in handy so I went to work and asked myself all day: Was I brave enough to pull off the plan?
After work, I changed into my running gear, headed to Market Street and walked all the way down to the Embarcadero. Right before I arrived I saw tents set up for a craft show and heard two girls screaming in glee. I looked up and saw that a zip line had been set up and the girls flew right me. I smiled and wished that I had time to do that as well, but my decision was made. The bridge awaited me.
There was a moment in which I waited for my GPS that my friends gave me (Butch and Jen , thank you) to synch up and I watched all the people, felt the sun on my face and just took in the scene. I turned out to the bay and couldn’t even see the bridge. That’s how far away it was. I took a deep breath, started to run and headed off. I weaved in and out groups of people as the Embarcadero was crowded. When I ran through Fisherman’s Wharf, I had to run in the street, zoom around buses and throngs of people. Once I cleared that area, I ran past the aquarium and could see Alcatraz and far, far off in the distance my goal. Like a toy model set across a train set, the Golden Gate bridge stretched across the horizon. I kept my pace steady and when I entered the park and fought against the steep hills, I did stop and walk for a bit and took some amazing pictures of Alcatraz. Time passed and I ran. I ran past the Family Kite Day festival, watching the kites swirling in the air and watched the sailboats on the bay. More time passed and I could see the highway that led to the bridge, but a sign said the walkway was closed.
I kept running and looked for a dirt trail, hoping that the blog post I had read was right. When I came to a fork in the road, I saw car traffic heading to the left and two guys with a dog walking down a very thin dirt path. I ran to them and, out of breath, asked if I could follow the path up to the bridge. They told me that I was headed the right way and I ran up (and then had to walk) the steep hills. When I came to the top, trees blocked the skyline and the dirt path changed to a paved bike trail. I ran on that and when the road shifted to the left, there in front of me loomed the main post of the Golden Gate bridge. It’s rust-colored beams filled up the sky. On my way up the bike trail, I took a few moments to stop and take pictures of the bridge and looked back at the city. According to my GPS, I had run more than 6.5 miles. At the top of the bike trail, I saw the visitor’s center and then the entrance to the sidewalk to walk over the bridge. To my right, I kept looking down and now I know why that blogger had mentioned the height. When I start running over the bridge, the wind buffeted me toward the railing and I had this irrational fear that the wind would blow me over. I felt weak, tired and a bit dizzy as I had pushed myself hard to make it to that point. I stopped a few times to take some amazing pictures and in my head I just kept saying: “I will face my fear. I will not stop. I will keep moving.” And the wind buffeted and at one point as I tried to put my smartphone back into a zip lock bag (that contained my id, hotel key and money), a gust of wind blew past and I nearly dropped everything. My hands were shaking a bit as I was so tired, but I made it to the main post of the bridge and the wind stopped. I took more pictures of the city and of the bridge and then zipped up my id and phone in my belt. What an amazing site to look out over the water, see parasails down below and sailboats look like tiny toys.
I ran onward and had to stop almost fully across because the sidewalk
was closed. I turned back around and had a moment alone looking out at
the city. The blue water, its beauty and white foam on the waves, and
the wind caught me up in nature’s beauty. What an amazing moment to be
there and this thought passed through my head: “I did it. I really did
it. I’m actually on the bridge.” I walked forward and put my hand on one
of the suspension cables and I could feel it vibrating. The bridge felt
alive. Down below, so far that it made me uncomfortable to look, I saw
the water and felt the bridge’s pulse. I stared back out at the city and
then realized that now I had to run back. And I did. I made a quick pit
stop, ate more GU gel for energy, sipped some Gatorade and was off.
When I made it back to the dirt trail, I ran down it and stumbled on a rock and fell forward, scrapping up my knee. I fell hard on the palms of my hands and dirt covered my whole left leg and my shirt. I pulled myself up, saw the blood around my knee, got up and started running again. I had been lucky. I had braced myself well for the fall and besides the scrapes on my leg, I was fine. Dirty and banged up, but fine. I retraced my route and once through the park I made it up the large hill, turned back and saw the sun setting to the left of the Golden Gate bridge. I couldn’t have timed it any better. I snapped some pics and kept running. When I arrived at Market Street it was fully dark. I had run 13.1 miles and had about 2 miles yet to walk to get back to the hotel.
I could feel my legs stiffening from the long run, but I had such an amazing experience that the adrenaline kept me moving. After I showered, I cleaned my cuts and saw that they were superficial. The day had been a long one and I took a few moments to relax and treated myself to room service. I had deserved it.
What a wonderful day and an amazing experience. I’m glad that I challenged myself to the run and faced my worries and fears. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on an adventure of a lifetime.