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Journals



John


John: The End of the Trip as we Know It

Saturday, October 18, 2003 - 12:00:00 AM

   It's been over two months since the trip ended.  In a small corner of our living room is my desk, where I sit and type this journal entry.  I now live with Erik and Teresa and we share a small apartment that is right beneath the apartment that Erik and I used to have.  Currently, Teresa and Erik are at work and, after this journal, I have some work to do for my own web design business.  Sitting in this soft, comfortable chair is much easier than walking, but, I have to say, it's far less interesting.  I'll talk more about that in the next entry.  Right now, let's talk about the last day of the trip.  If this one seems less detailed than my others, it's because I failed to take any notes for this day!  (o;

   We woke up in the apartment of my sister, Michelle and her husband, Jon in Oakland.  We had planned on staying the night at a camp ground at the forest preserve just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, but, for several reasons, including the fact that it got very cold last night, we had opted to stay at Jon and Michelle's instead.  We slept a bit later than usual, knowing that we had only a short distance to walk and already feeling a little lazy.  After a quick breakfast, we pulled on our back packs for the last time, still full of everything but water.  Michelle had suggested that we leave much at the apartment since we wouldn't need it anyhow, but we all wanted to finish with the full load of equipment.  With the short distance we had, it wouldn't be all that important anyhow.  After gathering our things, the three of us, wearing our packs, and Michelle, packed like sardines into her tiny elevator and rode down to the first floor.  We were all fairly quiet.

   Before we left, Teresa called to let us know that she and her family had arrived late last night, getting rooms at a San Francisco hotel.  Teresa and her mom, Gloria, dad, David, and brother, Matt, were the only ones from out of state to come see us arrive in San Francisco.  She promised they would meet us at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, which is a touristy lookout just north of the bridge where we'd decided we would start off our walk.  We rode in Michelle's car to the lookout and, in our usual fashion, we got there about an hour late.  In my family, that's a normal and accepted practice, but Teresa's family tends to care about timeliness a bit more than mine, so I know they were a bit irritated, even though they were happy to see us when we finally arrived.

   We wandered around the place in the large crowd of people, looking for Teresa's family as we looked off the lookout towards the northern edge of San Francisco.  Of course, we couldn't see much due to the thick blanket of fog that the lie across the bay, flowing in from the ocean as it does almost every morning.  In fact, about all we could see of the bridge itself was the upper half of the first supporting tower, since the rest lay hidden in the slow-moving mist.

   I gave Teresa a big hug, feeling a bit like the hulk with the huge back pack strapped on.  I have her mom a hug too and shook hands with her dad and brother.  They gave us a big congratulation for our efforts.  I promised Teresa I'd call her once we got to the ferry for Alcatraz, although she said it'd be no big deal if she went to the prison or not since she'd done the tour once before.  After we said our hellos and looked off the edge of the Vista Point like all the other tourists who were milling about, we got moving on our final walk.  Michelle was accompanying us and Matt and his dad had also considered it, opting to relax and take a drive with Teresa and her mom instead.  I broke out the video camera to record this momentous occasion as Erik readied the tiny digital camera that had already captured thousands of images on the trip.  Michelle, Andy, Erik and I made our way from the Vista Point, waving goodbye to Teresa and her family as we found the walkway that led to the start of the bridge.

   The Golden Gate Bridge is the only bridge connecting to San Francisco that allows pedestrian travel, and there are two large walkways, one on each side of the bridge, that allow for both walkers and bicyclists to make their way across the bay.  As the fog rolled by, a low spot allowed us to see a glimpse of the city for a few moments.  We could even see the island of Alcatraz a good distance into the bay.  All of our heads were moving back and forth as we walked, trying to take it all in.  Even Michelle, who lives in the area, has never walked across the bridge, and was as interested as the rest of us in watching the fog flow over the mountains on our right, over the bridge, and on into the bay. 

   When we stepped onto the bridge, it was sunny, but when we got to the point on the bridge where the fog was, we walked into the cloud and the sun appeared to be gone from over our heads.  In the fog was an eternally overcast day, and we could actually feel the mist of the cloud all about us, tiny water droplets bouncing off and sticking to us.  Needless to say, it was a little cooler in the cloud, but we were grinning nonetheless, going through alternating cold and warm patches of air.  We were mere hours away from Alcatraz!

   Conversation was made difficult by the hundreds of cars zooming by during our crossing of the bridge, the surface of which making the rubber tires whine as they went by.  Vehicles even made vibrations in the bridge that we could feel as they flew by.  Erik and I grinned, happy to be there, but Andy seemed to be in his own world; I wasn't sure if he might even be depressed that it was coming to an end.  Michelle mentioned that the bridge was the most popular place in the world to commit suicide.    We passed a blue sign over a mustard yellow emergency phone box that said, "Emergency Phone and Crisis Counseling."  Another possibly odd thing was that few people paid any attention to us; apparently weird people like us are common in the San Francisco area.  Of course, while everyone going by was wearing pants and sweaters and jackets, I was still in shorts and a t-shirt.

   Michelle is not an architect, but since she's been with Jon for so long, she was explaining how the bridge was designed as we crossed it.  A green sign proclaimed that we were officially entering San Francisco, at only 61 feet above sea level with a population of 723,959 people at last count.  It took us a good 20 or 30 minutes to cross the bridge, finally popping out of the fog on the other side.  We even spotted crazy surfer dudes riding the waves in the very, very cold water beneath the bridge.  Erik got a call from Sarah from Clinton, Iowa, who was excited that we were at our destination, and then I gave Gerard a call, telling him we were almost where we belonged: prison!

   After leaving the bridge, there were bike paths everywhere, so we didn't have to worry about how to get to the ferry since practically the entire coast was parkland.  As we traveled down the path, Andy stole Erik's phone and called up his dad (or maybe it was Romey?)  About half way between the end of the bridge and the piers, we came to a huge park, with some odd things floating in the air.

   The park was having some sort of celebration, which Erik thought had to do with the 100th Anniversary of the Wright Brother's first flight.  Giant kites of all kinds of shapes and sizes were floating in the air between us and the bay.  Vehicles were holding down the kites as they were so big that they'd have lifted a man completely off the ground.  We walked, Erik running the camera's batteries dry, complaining about their lack of charge even though the little thing has performed rather well the entire trip.

   We were following a huge sidewalk, with cement blocks in some places, painted lines in others, separating pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and this sidewalk paralleled a side road, lined on the other side by many pretty homes, none of which had any yards.  One of these had a picture window where a child inside played a waving game with Michelle for a minute or two, making her giggle as we passed by some boats tied up in the dock.

   A few minutes later, we passed by a big field inhabited by flocks of kids playing soccer on mini painted soccer fields.  Erik was angry because of the relatively new trend where parents refuse to claim winners and losers in the game to make sure no kids are unhappy.  Andy claimed this is untrue, and, although I think Erik might be right, I hope Andy is right.

   We guessed at how far away we were from the pier that would allow us to board a ferry to Alcatraz.  Although today's trek is only 6 miles, we normally would break that into two segments of 3, but time would not allow us to stop for a break since we had to make it to the ferry by a certain time.  (Yes, if we hadn't been an hour late meeting Teresa's family, we'd have had the time!)

   Andy's pants, which had been falling apart more and more during the last week or two, were really trying to explode off of his legs as we made our final mile or two of approach to the pier.  We climbed another small hill, and Erik complained again, angry that there was still a hill to climb even though he was well aware that San Francisco is known for its hills.  It was all in jest, of course, since we were by the bay which is about the fattest spot in San Francisco.  Eventually, we made it to the piers.

   We stopped at one pier to watch the sea lions, a protected species, who had long ago taken over a part of pier 39.  Years ago, folks who owned boats tied up to the pier had to carefully extract their yachts without hurting the animals.  We passed loads of people on the street; the area is very popular with tourists, with all kinds of sea food dining opportunities with gorgeous views of the bay all around, not to mention all kinds of shopping.  Since most of these people were from out of town, many of them looked our way.  Even the homeless pan handlers are creative here, and Andy stopped to give one man riding an old bicycle a buck or two.  He had a cardboard sign with the words, "Donations to the Kitty" written in black marker.  The sign sat in the basket hanging off the front of his handle bars, and a seemingly happy black cat curled up in the basket, enjoying all the petting from the passing strangers.  Another man held a sign that honestly stated, "Donations needed for Alcohol Research."

   Other people showed off talents to gain attention and some donations.  One man dressed and painted himself all in silver and moved in a robotic fashion, making little kids squeal with pleasure, amused at his antics.  Others, dressed as oversized skeletons, danced about to a beat played by a band off to the side.  Of course, there just had to be a mime to finish it all off, trying to figure out how to get out of his invisible box.

   Finally, we made it to the big gray building where we could get our tickets to Alcatraz. We walked up to the prepaid ticket window and got our four tickets that Ranger Craig had set aside for us, telling the pretty cashier there all about our trip.  We walked around to the back of the building where the ferries docked and got into the line for our ferry.  Not long after we were in line, a man carrying a heavy-looking camera approached us, asking if "we were the guys" and we affirmed that yes, we're the guys.  He did a quick interview and filmed us getting on to the Ferry.

   Teresa called right as we were getting on the ferry, asking if I'd gotten her a ticket, and was a bit unhappy with me when I said that I hadn't because she said she'd already been to Alcatraz.  She and her brother, Matt, were running through the streets, trying to get to the ticket counter, but the ferry departed from the dock before they ever made it, unfortunately.  I admit, I was a little annoyed with how angry she was, but I did understand, too late of course, that she wanted to go to Alcatraz just to spend some more time with me since we'd been apart for so long.

   The ferry was fun as it rocked to and fro from the gentle waves of the bay waters, and we walked around a bit in our packs.  We were very excited to be "on the boat to Alcatraz," and we dropped off our packs and wandered around the boat.  Even Andy was smiling widely as we watched the view from the top of the ferry.  We even met someone from Rockford, Illinois while we wandered around.

   Before we knew it, we arrived at the island of Alcatraz, and we wobbled off the boat to solid ground again.  Michelle did some filming of us, a bit less stable than my camera work, as we made our way about the island.  Before we went too far, we stopped at the ranger station to ask if we could drop off our packs.  The friendly staff had no problem with it and we left our burdens behind.

   There were no hiking signs all over the island, blocking off old stairways and such for safety of course, which amused us since it seemed somewhat ironic in our case.  Michelle said that they were probably there not for safety, but because of the laws governing handicapped people.  It seems that stairs aren't allowed because then handicapped people wouldn't get the same experience as normal folk, so ramps were required almost everywhere.  California laws are kind of nutty.

   Wandering about, we saw all kinds of old buildings on the island and made our way quickly to the main attraction, the cell house itself.  Not surprisingly, Erik complained jokingly about the constant upward travel as the main buildings were situated on the top of the island.  Michelle did note, with a hint of amusement, that she was getting tired because she does not often walk often, and definitely not 6 continuous miles in one day.

   On the way to the cell house, Gerard called and we happily informed him that we were at Alcatraz (and he just e-mailed me as I write this journal to find out when I'll be done with my journals!)  We climbed the stairs (yes, stairs) to the cell house building so we could get our earphones to listen to the audio tour of the prison.  We had a goofy issue where they thought our tickets didn't include the audio tour, but a quick phone call to the all-powerful Ranger Craig took care of that.  Thanks Craig!  (It's good to know people.)  (o;

   The audio informed us that we were starting out on Broadway, which is what prisoners called the first block of cells, ending at what the prisoners called Times Square.  This is where new inmates would walk down, being made fun of by other prisoners as they went.  It was kind of odd walking around amongst all of the silent people who were also listening to the audio on their head phones.

   The older cells had flat bars, which were strong but could possibly be bent.  The round bars everyone's more familiar with are far stronger and were present on all the newer cells.  We also visited the barber shop, which was now just an empty room with some pictures of how it used to look.  Each of us tried out being in a cell, with Michelle filming us trying to escape, rattling the bars like everyone else since all of the paint was worn off of the bars.

   Gun galleries, catwalks high above the floor, were the only place where guards carried guns.  We even passed the cell of Al Capone.  After this, we visited the dining room, called the gas chamber by the inmates because of the many canisters full of tear gas above their heads, ready to stop any riot that might occur.  In the back of the dining hall is the kitchen, sectioned off by more bars.  The kitchen also had sets of racks for things like knives, each with its own silhouette so that inventory could easily be taken to make sure no one had stolen a knife.

   The D Block was the next place we went, the least favorite block of all the prisoners because of the cold, damp breezes that would penetrate the outer walls of the prison, even though the cells were the largest and best outfitted in the building.  Half of the block was full of the solitary confinement cells, which we each stepped into to get an idea of just how and horrible dark they could be.

   Next, came the library, which was not exactly full of books any more.  On one wall of bars was a large sign that explained The Battle of Alcatraz, which I'll quote here:



   On May 2, 1946, six convicts attempted to escape.  Led by Bernie Coy, who worked in this room as a librarian, the men overpowered several guards.  They broke into the gun gallery, stole two guns and several keys, and took control of the cellhouse.

   The prisoners were never able to get out of the building.  It took three days for the Alcatraz guard staff, San Francisco Police, the Marines, and the Coast Guard to regain control. Two guards and three inmates were killed.




   The bars surrounding the library were small and caked full of very old dust.  We also peeked out the door to the recreation area, which was the only time the men got to experience the outdoors.

   After we finished the tour, the four of us wandered around a little bit before it was time to return to the ferry.  We passed the Warden's house, now just a shell of a building.  We also had a bit of fun in the strong winds that constantly sweep across the island.  After we walked around a bit more, we were herded back to the ferry dock area by the island staff.  We retrieved our packs and again boarded the ferry.  The tour was over.

   After we got back, we met Teresa and her family for supper at a little restaurant on Fisherman's Warf.  It was very nice of them to pick up the tab, which is something they really like to do.  Matt drove Michelle back to the Vista Point so she could get her car.  We wandered around town for a bit we waited for Michelle to return, and then got a ride back to her and Jon's apartment.  That night, we went to the theater and saw Kill Bill, a most excellent movie.  Teresa and Matt were going to go, but it got a little too late for them, so it ended up being Michelle, Jon, Andy, Erik and me.  It was nice to be back in civilization again.

   That night, we headed back to the apartment with some intoxicants and got Andy stinking drunk, which was pretty funny, I have to say.  He prattled on about Romey over and over again and we all laughed at ourselves, happy to be done walking, not realizing that we'd be missing it soon enough.
- John