[This one really got away from me. But plenty of pictures]
Go West, young man! So I did. West to East, but first I had to go north. And then back south. The bus took me to the San Francisco side of the Golden State Bridge. I let it pass. What’s the point? I’ll get off on the other side and walk back.
Winging it does have it’s downfalls. There is no stop on the other side. The bus just went right past it. I watched it pass with my anticipation of an upcoming stop deflating into a WTH? As we slowly started climbing into the hills, I’m looking around. More than a few miles along, I’m thinking to myself, “I’m screwed and this hike is going to be far, far longer than expected.”
A tap on my shoulder. I turn around and an elderly gentleman has a smile on his face. “Happens all the time. You wanted to go to the other side of the bridge?” I nodded. “Just tell the bus driver. We’ll be pulling into a station in about 10 miles and he’ll be able to direct you.”
With a free pass, and directions to tell the next bus driver exactly where I needed to be, I was heading south again.
[Dear San Francisco: Winging it and total lack of planning aside: if it is so common that strangers on a bus and bus drivers have a knowing smile, shouldn’t there be a huge sign somewhere that says “THERE IS NO STOP ON THE OTHER SIDE.”]
After winding my way through a marina, jumping off the bus in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere with directions on a short walk to somewhere or another, I finally made it to the starting point. Sitting there and looking out across the bridge, at the suicide prevention signs, and the bay, I realized it was also an anniversary. Or close enough.
It was early September, 2019. In late August, 1989, almost 30 years ago to the day, I graduated from advanced training at Ft. Benning, Georgia and earned the baby blue chord of the infantry. To commemorate, I posted on Facebook:
“To all those who think I am lazy and out of shape, I am. But I can still walk all of you ‘in shape’ people into the ground. Once Infantry, always Infantry. Hoo rah, my ass. “Follow me” is our motto.”
And I started walking.
The drive east into Maine, well, sucked. My apologies to all of you Mainers out there. I was absolutely sure there is a beautiful and scenic route to take, but going from Mount Washington, New Hampshire, following maps for the quickest route, it is like you enter a dilapidated and dryer New Hampshire, where the colors are fading along with the towns. There was just a unwelcoming heat along the byways I was following. Sunlight that had been so sparkly through the leaves of trees with hints of great mountains in the backdrop turned into a depressive weight. Where the hell was Maine?
It really wasn’t all that far at all. Portland was about 2 ½ hours away, but more south than west. That would have had me hit 95 or the coastal route, the way I came back.
I trudged across the Golden Gate Bridge. To Trudge. “To walk slowly and with heavy steps, typically because of exhaustion or harsh conditions.” Bikes were whizzing by, joggers jostling for lane space, couples and families almost skipping. I trudged. It’s the way I walk. A purposeful gait that can carry me anywhere, far after the non lazy and in shape people would drop.
A destination? That way? I tried to find Steinbeck’s quote on it that I liked, but I couldn’t. But it mirrored my own thoughts on it. You need a destination but don’t have to actually reach it. A destination could be a mid point or an ending point or somewhere way off the map and beyond compass points. My destination as I trudged across the Golden Gate Bridge? Technically, it was where I had been the day before, at Rodin’s The Thinker at the Legion of Honor Museum. Across the bridge, up along the coastal trail to the park and then see if I had enough gas left in my tank to continue along.
My destination? I was already there, trudging across the bridge, out on the west coast. Away. And inward. Aware of the cars and trucks rumbling across the bridge, making way for bikers and joggers. Aware of the boats passing underneath with Alcatraz far off in the bay. Aware that to my right was the great Pacific, a seemingly endless expanse.
I was exhausted. Strung out and pulled so thin I didn’t think I could stretch anymore. And worse was coming. My office manager was about to leave on maternity leave. My partner and employees would do what they had always done: nothing. I should have let the place die years ago. A decade ago. But I needed to hold it up for a few more months while I sold it and get the hell out.
I learned long ago that I could trudge my way through and towards anything, long past where all others would fail. But that day, it was about the coastal trail in San Francisco.
The byways finally ended in Maine and I was on a highway towards Bangor. I would have stopped to see Steven King if I knew where he lived, and if he had invited me—I only like to go where I am invited. I’m funny like that. I was NOT invited into Canada. I really wanted to go further east into Nova Scotia. But I would settle for as far as I could go: the beginning of Highway 95. As a student at the University of Miami, the end of 95 had been a part of my life for 6 years. Long stretches of the highway defined my life between Philadelphia and Washington DC. Between DC and Miami. But I had never been to the beginning. I wanted to see that.
Trenton, Maine was a pit stop. The gateway into Bar Harbor. Out of the way, but home is where family is and my cousin was there.
A pit stop along the coastal trail. It’s the oddest thing. The bridge is far behind you, as are many hills and beaches. Then, the path takes you into a ritzy enclave of houses. It’s weird. You see hikers with backpacks and their water bottles and walking sticks walking along sidewalks next to multi million dollar homes. There was a good granite bench after I had seen China Beach, so I had sit, spread my belongings on the bench, and stared at he house across the street. It was massive, but rundown. Empty.
I knew I could walk another 20 miles at that point if not more, but I wasn’t in any rush to get anywhere. My exhaustion had nothing to do with my feet or legs. It had to do with my soul and spirit. In the sunshine, on the cool marble, I felt a little lighter.
A well dressed gentleman was passing by and stopped. He had to be from the neighborhood.
“Do you know who’s house that is,” he asked, motioning to the abandoned home across from where I was sitting.
“No, sir, I don’t.” –I always found that being polite opened up doorways.
“Look at the bench you are sitting on,” he said. “Have a good day.” And he continued his walk.
I moved my stuff to look at the inscriptions on the bench. And then on the next one over. The benches were dedicated to the memory of the parents of Robin Williams and his wife. I was sitting across from the former home of Robin Williams, whose exhaustion got the better of him.
“I always thought that being alone was the worst thing that could happen to me,” Williams is attributed to saying, “but I realized that the worst thing was being surrounded by people that made you feel alone.”
It inspired a post about suicide that you can find here. It began percolating in my head as I gathered my things and continued my trudge up the hill and back into the forests.
A trailer park in Maine, a gateway to Bar Harbor and Arcadia National Park (closed). Dana and Adam took me down to the town to where they would be working once things opened up. THIS was the Maine I was expecting.
The coast of Maine is like the fjords of Scandinavia. Please excuse me as I get a bit geologically geeky. It has to do with the ice age. When the glaciers receded, they gouged the earth. So, instead of the coastlines in Jersey or Florida, you have “hands” sticking out into the ocean. Think of a spread palm. The “palm” is the starting point, like Trenton, Maine. The “fingers” are the islands and isles. It creates a beautiful landscape of inlets and islands, of sandbars and deep channels where the tide creates entire new landscapes.
I had two “destinations” in my first run up into New England. The first was the beginning of 95. Looking at Google maps, I always wondered why I had never been there. It is only 10 ½ hours from where I lived and yet I had made the 22 hour drive to Miami a dozen times. With the border to Canada closed, though, I decided to make my way to the other first “destination,” Deer Isle, Steinbeck’s first destination.
Deer Isle was as different from Bar Harbor as Maine is from Miami. Bar Harbor is where the cruise ships come in. It was odd to me, but I couldn’t even smell the sea there. With Deer Isle, you knew you were going to experience something different when you first drive across the beautiful bridge. It’s a sleepy little place, made even sleepier with the virus. It was downright deserted. The smell of the sea is pungent in the air. Causeways bring you across inlets.
I got lost. No big deal. It was an island. I didn’t even put a destination into my maps, just looked and saw that the main road takes you on a circuit around the isle and back out to the beginning. The drive had a relaxing feel, with the harbor filled with lobster boats and backyards filled with lobster traps. Steinbeck was essentially bullied into making Deer Isle a destination on his way up to northern Maine. I’m glad I made it one of mine.
I reached my destination in San Francisco: Hero Legion, home of The Thinker. I got there at an ideal time as well. It was closed. I wish I was a better photographer. It was just…perfect. The massive monument of a nude of heroic proportions sits with his chin resting on his hand. It is argued that it was originally made to represent Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, but is has come to represent thinkers and creative types, at rest but never at rest. With the park closed, The Thinker sat imprisoned behind a black iron fence.
I’m not really sure where I went from there? On the previous day, I had started here and then hiked the coastal trail south, winding down the cliffs to the old public baths and Land’s End Lookout. I’d eventually have a very expensive cup of coffee that was not very good and then walk down along the beach and then make my way to the beginning of Golden State Park.
I think I just walked right down the hill from the museum to the park and ambled along the edge until I found a place that served coffee, just a corner store wrapping up for the day. It turned out to be a damn good cup of coffee. I sat outside drinking it—they were kind enough to tell me that I could use their outdoor seating as long as I wanted, as they had a lot to do inside. I sat thinking of the The Thinker. Imprisoned. It was the end of another day in San Francisco.
It was tough leaving Deer Isle behind. I stopped at the park before the bridge and just sat there for a while thinking about things with the massive arch my backdrop, that smell of the sea wrapping me with the cooler winds. But I finally set out along the backways and byways to get me to 95. I had a date at a biker bar.
I got the recommended biker bar right at sunset. It was closed of course. Route 1 is defiantly the way to take up through Maine. It is just more relaxing and scenic, connecting all of the “palms.” 95 is great as well, though my damn EZ Pass wasn’t working and I’m still waiting for all of the tickets to come in. I needed speed now.
Rolling through the Maine forests along 95 is picturesque, but I had only planned on making it into Massachusetts and find the first hotel. On all of my trips and travels, I wanted to be in before dark, just take it easy and enjoy the country side. Bar Harbor to Massachusetts was pushing it. I had called ahead. Hotel were accepting travelers, I was told, if you told them you were essential. Isn’t having a place to set up my coffee maker essential? I thought so.