Sunday, September 20, 2015

Urban Camino

We had reached an intersection in the network of trails that weave through the Presidio of San Francisco, a sprawling national park of 1,491 acres perched beside the bay. It was time to consult the map. 

"Stay left," advised a walker who moved behind us as we hunched over a brochure. "Stay left," she repeated, her voice so soft it sounded almost conspiratorial--a mere whisper of a suggestion. 

"Wait," I called as I looked up from the map. "How do you know where we want to go?"

"The best views are ahead to the left," she responded confidently. "It leads to the bridge."

The bridge in question would be the Golden Gate Bridge--a glorious landmark without question, but it wasn't actually where we were heading. We'd set out that morning, my spouse and I, to view sculptures created by artist Andy Goldsworthy in locations throughout the park. 

We'd passed two Goldsworthy installations and had two more to go--but now we pondered a course change. We'd already walked about 2.5 miles from our lodgings to the park and had covered only half of the route we'd envisioned. But a local expert seemed to be adopting us, intent on sharing the best of her favorite walking trails. We had no deadlines, no commitments to keep. We took her advice and stayed left. 

By the time we reached the Bridge, the sun was high and hot. We were growing weary, but were feeling satisfied. It was exactly the kind of day we'd come for--a morning of exercise and exploration on the streets and trails of San Francisco. 

We chose San Francisco for an 'urban immersion' vacation earlier this month and ended up on an 'urban camino.'  For nine days we trekked the neighborhoods that radiated out from our vacation rental apartment. 

The adventure put my new Garmin Vivofit2 2activity tracker to the test, and delivered a daily reward of satisfying data:
           23,260 steps the day we reached the Golden Gate Bridge
           22,205 traveling the length of Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean
           18,693 steps on a day of uphill and down to the waterfront

These distances didn't match the miles we covered a year ago on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, but this 'urban camino' carried us into unfamiliar landscapes and cultures too. It delivered views we'd never have noticed from a bus or car. It brought connection with kindly strangers. 

In Spanish, the word 'camino' is used to mean 'road' or 'way.'  To me it also suggests slowing down. Travel of a more pedestrian style--on foot and in close relationship with what surrounds me. 'Camino' takes a commitment of time and attention and reminds me of something I wrote several years ago in The Spirited Walker.
"All travel lifts us out of numbing patterns and introduces new points of view. But not all travel is equal. Travelers who venture forth on foot find that walking makes a world of difference. On foot, the journey becomes the destination. Where matters less than why." Chap 10: On the Pilgrim's Path

Please regard my laggardly pace in posting new Spirited Life blog entries not as loss of interest but as evidence of a full and stimulating life. "Not the Retiring Type," my monthly newspaper column, leaves little time for thoughts of slowing down. You can read the columns, or selections from "The Spirited Walker" on my website.  

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