The way I see it, there are two categories of people: those who simply see bridges as a way to cross over large bodies of water, and those who see them as an attraction in their own right.

When it comes to the giant red suspension bridge known as the Golden Gate Bridge, I firmly belong to that second category.

I had originally thought about walking across the bridge, but the option of cycling across it and all the way into Sausalito soon became a better choice for obvious reasons. As I was soon to discover, dozens of other tourists have the same idea every day, and bicycle rental companies promote it aggressively.

When I walked into Blazing Saddles on Hyde Street last Monday, I was immediately approached by a perky young brunette. “Ready to bike the bridge?” she exclaimed. “How did you guess?” I asked in fake surprise.

The reason I chose this company over several others near the waterfront bike trail, is because their web site promised a map and a detailed explanation of how to get to the bridge safely on one’s own. I could have made my life easier by joining a guided tour, but I wanted to go at my own speed, stop whenever I wanted to take photos, and spend as much time as I wanted in Sausalito at the end, before catching the ferry back. And doing it yourself is much cheaper of course! 🙂

Well, Blazing Saddles has the whole process down to a science, although you do feel a little rushed (or rather “processed”) as they put a map in your hands, show you a quick video illustrating the route, authorize your credit card, make you sign a deposit slip, and then hand you over to the “bike” guys who gives you a helmet and a bike, explain the bike features in 15 seconds flat, and make you ride the length of the floor to make sure you can actually keep the bike upright, change gears, and break. Then you’re on your way.

The bike trail at the foot of Hyde Street wasn’t really obvious at first but I just followed other bikes and soon found myself on a path which, although shared with pedestrians, seemed to be it. The path went along the water past Fort Mason, the Marina, and the edge of the Presidio, offering different angles and views of the bridge. It was mostly flat except for one hill which I walked.

The challenge came when the path ended at Fort Point, with the gigantic bridge looming way above where I was. “How do I get up there?” I wondered. The map showed two paths, and obviously, I was not on the right one. I could see bicycles on a higher path but it took me a while to discover the road (not a bicycle path) that led up there. I walked that too!

After that it was pretty smooth sailing… euh I mean riding to the bridge and across. I was surprised at the crowds, both pedestrian and cyclists, all sharing the same eastern sidewalk. I’m sure collision are not infrequent here, with walkers and bikes going in both directions on the same path. Apparently on week-ends cyclists get to use the western sidewalk.

I stopped several times along the way to take photos. Near both ends of the bridge, the walkers and bikers were augmented by tour groups from buses.

Once on the other side, finding the continuation of the bike path took a bit of head scratching again. I ended up following other bicycles downhill, because I clearly remembered that it was “10 minutes downhill to Sausalito”. This was a normal road, so I had to be mindful of cars as I zipped down. And sure enough, after about 10-15 minutes I found myself in a quaint little town of bars, restaurants, and shops, the “Historic Sausalito” where every other person seemed to be a tourist.

All I could hear at first was Spanish. It was 4 PM by then, and I started looking for a good and affordable place to have some food. Several cafés were closing already. Nothing really inspired me and the prices were a little crazy: $15 for a burger? $20 for a pizza? I ended up in a noisy bar/restaurant which was full despite the odd hour and ordered guacamole with corn chips, and a Corona beer. Except for the prices, maybe I could convince myself that I was in Mexico.

I took the Blue & Gold ferry at 5:35 pm, a pleasant boat ride back to the city in the late afternoon sunlight. I had survived the expedition without a scratch. There must have been hundreds of bikes parked on the lower deck, and as everybody retrieved their mount and lined up to exit, another bike’s wheel caught mine and I lost my balance. With no room to recover, I went crashing down into whatever was to my left, chair and tables probably and created enough of a commotion for people to ask if I was OK. “I’m OK” I said wincing as I got back on my feet, knowing very well that I would certainly have some bruises to show from this little fall.

It was only a short ride back to the shop where the staff welcomed us back as heroes, and quickly charged our credit cards. Total cost for this adventure: $44 (including $11 for the ferry ride). Don’t forget to ask for your 20% discount if you pay the daily rate (instead of hourly). Would I recommend it? Totally! 🙂

Note: If you want, you call also ride all the way to Tiburon, an extra 16 kilometres (10 miles) and return by ferry from there.

Have you ever crossed the Golden Gate Bridge? On foot, by bicycle, or even driving?

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