Nothing beats exploring the 7 Hills of San Francisco on two wheels. Here are some highlights from the year’s rides, 2010. Our favorite route? Castro to the Marina. . .
Andy Goldsworthy’s art is candy for the eyes and food for the soul. His work makes real the magic that I like to think lives just under the surface of the earth, almost like there’s been a tear in the veneer of “the Normal” and a little magic has erupted from it, from the invisible to the visible.
So, when I read via Matte Gray’s journals the tantalizing first-hand report of a new Goldsworthy art piece under construction here in San Francisco, I had to jump on the scooter and get over to the Presidio to check the site out for myself, with the tantalizing possibility of meeting Goldsworthy himself in the back of my mind. (Gray did, after all.) That didn’t happen, but I did meet the Bird Lady, which was fantastic! And I found two solid bakeries along the way. Yum.
The ride took me very close to a Russian bakery that I’ve been wanting to try for a while, so I took a slight detour to check it out. The name is Cinderella and it’s located at 436 Balboa St (between 5th Ave & 6th Ave). The space is small and wide, with sweet pastries generally on the left and savory on the right. Standouts include gorgeous danishes, hamentashen and other fruit-topped pastries but the distinguishing feature of this place appears to be the savory, especially the extensive variety of piroshki, hand pies sort of like British pasties. I bought a potato piroshki for later that night.
Then, to my surprise, near the intersection of 7th and California, I saw a bakery with a familiar name, similar to that of my scooter. The place was Kaju and I stopped in to check it out. While the interior is rather nondescript, (uninviting in fact) the owner was friendly and a glance at the food suggested an interesting mix of standard coffee and cookies, scones and the like as well as some uniquely Asian offerings. As a sample, I picked up a triangle of sushi-styled rice stuffed with avocado called onigiri. Wrapped, it was the size of a sandwich and an interesting alternative to the same, easy to throw into my backpack. I also got a house-baked organic chocolate chip cookie. The onigiri has the same mouth feel as the sticky rice used for sushi and was tasty and filling, great fuel for the rest of the afternoon. The cookie was the prize, one of the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve had all year. Nicely chunky, medium sized, crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle. There was a ’roundness’ to the flavor that I loved, but which couldn’t quite identify, that made every bite irresistible. . . could there be a secret ingredient in there?
But I was losing the afternoon light by now so I didn’t linger. I started scooting around the edges of the Presidio and first, had to stop at the older Goldsworthy there, the Spire. Seeing it is a spiritual experience for me, a temple among the trees.
I’d found enough information about Wood Line to know that I was fairly close, but I had to travel from the Arguelo Gate (site of the Spire) to the Presidio Gate. I could have walked, it’s about half a mile, but I was losing the light fast by now. Back to the scooter! But not before checking out a beautiful, natural grove of majestic (magical) trees right across the street from the Arguelo Gate.
From here, I followed a winding road to the Presidio Gate and found the Wood Line immediately. Or rather, the sign for it. The installation wasn’t apparent until I got off the scooter and went over to the sign and, from that vantage point, saw a gap in the forest dead ahead along a single sight line.
Felled timber creates a lovely, snaking curve on the forest floor, with the trees reaching upward on both sides like the support columns of a gothic cathedral. It’s a spiritual place. It’s ephemeral, too. The forest will reclaim the wood through natural decay in about 25 years or so. . .
And I almost forgot, while I was enjoying the Wood Line, a woman offered to take my picture in front of it on my scooter. We started to chat and I soon realized the woman was more fairy than person. Her questions were punctuated by her quick looks up to the treetops, and the occasional bird call. She explained she’s a birder, and visits and follows the birds of the Presidio daily. Or, they visit and follow her. She talks to them. They talk to her. And as fast as she appeared she vanished; she heard the tweet of a bird and with that, had to go. She danced-skipped-floated away, down the dirt path into the forest, and was gone! The light was nearly gone, too, so with that, I mounted Kaiju and . . . vanished.
my ride is radioactive
Bernal Heights is a such a cool neighborhood. Slightly squished between the Mission, Potrero Hill and Alemaney Blvd, Bernal is a sweet spot that’s a little less traveled, and a little less known. It is sort of a frontier outpost of the City, and a lot laid-back. A week before my birthday, I thought I’d treat myself to a trip here. My itinerary included most of my favorite things: scooter exploring, a nature walk, a bakery (ok, two), succulents and a farmer’s market. Here are some of the sights:
Riding the scooter up and down the hills of San Francisco is always a thrill. The views of the Bay from the crests of our many hills can’t be beat (when the view isn’t hopelessly obscured by a blanket of fog, that is) and when you’re on a scooter, it’s easy to pull over on a whim and take a moment to enjoy the surroundings. . .
Saturday was both sunny and cool, a great day for a ride. Here’s the view from Pacific Street, moving downhill on Steiner Street. . . note the pretty melange of sailboats traversing the Bay in the distance.
Yesterday was a beautiful day, and when there’s ample sun in San Francisco, one has to capitalize on the opportunity to be outdoors before the FOG rolls back in. After a workout at the gym Saturday, I hopped on the scooter and made myself a little itinerary. From SOMA I would head south to Bernal Heights via Folsom, check out the oldest still-running farmers market in San Francisco, then head east to the Dogpatch, home of Flora Grubb Garden Center. Heading back from Flora on Third, I spontaneously decided to take Evens to Bayview, and explored the hinterlands along the all-but-unknown India Basin shoreline there, studded with warehouses, powerplants, junkyards and the like. I was delighted to see an amazing view of the city skyline from there, to boot!
If you’re a fan of farmers markets, you’ll love Alemaney. The selection of produce is extensive and varied enough to include lots of fruits and veg I ‘d never encountered, and all of quite high quality. I bought some cherries and strawberries for the crisp I’m going to make tomorrow.
I discovered something called the tay berry, billed as a cross between a black berry and a raspberry, so I bought some of those, too.
And the donut peach. . . ! It’s sort of short and wide and does look like a doughnut, and it’s incredibly sweet. I will toss a few slices of those in the crisp, too. The prepared food vendors are topnotch, including great soul food, MEXICAN and wood fired pizzas made to order. . . I had a salvadoran mushroom and cheese papusa for breakfast. . .
From here I wound my way to the Dogpatch. It’s a neighborhood of heavy industry, warehouses and a nasty reputation for being rough. It’s not pretty but there’s something I find kinda cool about the aesthetic, the rusted metal, huge cargo ships just off shore and the bare bones of the power plants. Lots of abandoned buildings which is a shame because as I said, the view of the San Francisco skyline from here is pretty cool. Some say this neighborhood could be the next up-and-coming success story and I hope it can be revitalized. The City extended light rail service to the neighborhood and some artists and small business owners are gradually moving in, like Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, of my previous post!
Flora Grubb is another star of the neighborhood, with her gorgeous store that celebrates the idea of reclaiming discarded materials and making art of them. More than rare plants and an amazing succulent collection, she’s educating people on new and creative ways to pot and display plants, a talent which has earned her recognition beyond the city.
Check out this centerpiece of the store, an old car that Flora turned into a huge planter.
Flora Grubb must have been celebrating a sunny day as well- there was a food vendor tent set up in her garden selling huckleberry lemonade and fried chicken sandwiches, and even whoopie pies. I was happily surprised to see my buddy Michael waiting in line for plants, we haven’t seen eachother since last year, so we had a spontaneous lunch and caught up right there in the garden.
The ride ended with a leisurely exploration of the industrial coastline before heading back into the city. Thank God for gorgeous days, and for scooters!
No doubt the scooter is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. And yes, I’ve named him. I call him Kaiju.
Having spent years using public transit (which was a fine, if time consuming option) life on two wheels of my own has made getting around San Francisco a dream. It’s given me a newfound feeling of freedom. It’s my wings.
I never realized until I had one just how FUN they are. I originally bought Kaiju to get to and from work quickly, putting behind me the hassles of waiting for bus connections, or waiting through service delays of the subway system. The gas is cheap relative to using a car; I use a gallon every ten days or so. And parking is far easier than it is for a car; I can utilize the gaps between parked cars, or the tiny bits of sidewalk between the driveways of houses, or any of the plentiful motorcycle parking places in the city.
But all those eminently useful arguments aside, riding on two wheels is just plain fun. And going for a ride has become an aim, in and of itself.
San Francisco is made for it. As cars inch block to block, stuck in a city not made for traffic, the scooter can leap ahead, when it is safe of course, getting you there just a little bit faster. Riding along the beach or over the hills, the scooter becomes a means to explore. There are seven hills in San Francisco and I believe I’ve ridden every one of them. It’s nice to be able to pull over easily whenever you want to take in the view. It’s nice to be able to feel the air as you ride.
I ride a 2006 Blur, a 150cc bike made by Genuine Scooter Company.