andrew burke





Walking the Golden Gate Bridge

Posted on: 2013-06-08

My parents live in Eureka, in northern California, and I visit them every year in late March. Most years I've taken a flight that gets to San Francisco around noon and then I usually rent a car and drive directly up highway 101 to Eureka, usually making it in time for dinner. This year I took an overnight flight that got me into San Francisco in the early morning. I didn't have to be in Eureka until the following day, so I had two whole days to take a leisurely drive up the gorgeous coast highway, with lots of detours.

My first detour was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. I had done this once before, back on a cross-continent road trip back in 1999, and had always meant to do it again but either I was in a rush to get somewhere or the weather was lousy.

This time it was a bit overcast but not bad, and I had plenty of time. So I drove across the bridge, parked in the rest area at the northern end, stuffed my camera and iPhone in my pockets, and headed back south.

Starting Across the Bridge

(Note that all of these pictures are hosted on Flickr. Click on any to see more information and larger sizes. Also, there are more pictures in the full set - or you can even watch them in a slideshow.)

The Golden Gate Bridge is 2.7 kilometres from end to end. A quick check on Google Earth shows that my morning walk from home to work in downtown Halifax is about the same distance. For comparison, that's about the distance from Wellesley street to Queen street in Toronto, or half the length of Manhattan's Central Park. The whole walk is almost five and a half kilometres, or three and half miles.

It wasn't like walking in a city at all, though. On one side, endless dense traffic roared by at such a volume that I ended up putting in my earbuds just to block it out. On the other side was open sky and the cold waters of San Francisco Bay over 200 feet below.

Marin Rocks From the Bridge

The walk started out fine - but as I left the land behind, the vast emptiness just to my left started to get to me. The fact of a lethal drop just on the other side of that low fence preyed more and more on my mind. I wasn't thinking of jumping or anything - it was just the realization of how little it would take to be over the edge. Of course, the much more dangerous fact of hundreds of cars whizzing past at lethal speed didn't worry me at all. I've learned that fear is mostly about what you're used to. Funnily enough, I don't recall having been anxious when I walked the bridge 14 years ago. I guess age has something to do with it too.

Many of the people who walk the bridge turn around at the first tower, so the middle span is emptier, windier, and more bleak. The heebie-jeebies were still in the back of my mind, so it turned into a bit of an endurance slog, especially once it started raining in that noncommittally sad San Francisco kind of way.

However, the view more than made up for it.

San Francisco Bay is always scenic, but it's particularly so as rainclouds are moving in and bringing dramatic variety to the sky and the sea. I took a lot of shots of the two shores, of Alcatraz, and of the changing weather.

View From the Bridge

Rainclouds over Berkeley

Alcatraz and Ship

One nice thing about crossing a suspension bridge: you know you've made it half-way across when the giant suspension cable swoops so low that you can touch it. Right nearby is a little extension that you can walk onto for a great view directly beneath the cable. I found this wasn't too nerve-wracking if I concentrated on the cable rather than the void beyond.

Under the Cable at the Midpoint

After passing the midpoint, the second tower came up pretty quickly, and then the land and the southern end of the bridge. Just at the edge of the land is a large fortress, with empty cannon mounts.

Fort Point, San Francisco

At the south end of the bridge is a small park which has recently been connected to San Francisco's bike path network. I followed a small trail under the bridge, which got me a great angle on all of the supporting girders:

Beneath the Bridge

Past the bridge is a great view of the Marin Headlands, as well as a small exhibit about the retrofit work that has been done on the bridge over the years - complete with an example of an earthquake-damaged girder, bent like a piece of cardboard. A heartening sight before heading back north over the bridge again!

Metal Fatigue

The way back north was less daunting - I was already getting used to the height and the big empty spaces. I was less afraid of the edge, and took more pictures. I used the zoom lens on my camera for some close-up shots of San Francisco, the boats and ships nearby, and the bridge itself.

San Francisco Zoom

Bay Bridge and Treasure Island

Satellite Dish on the Golden Gate Bridge

Gate on the Golden Gate
(I thought this was an antenna, but it seems to be a gate to keep people from climbing too high on the cable, if they managed to make it past all of the other security further below.)

San Francisco Bay Tour Boat

I saw a large ship loom out of the mist and then turn back towards the city. I was able to zoom in close enough to read the name: The Golden bear.

Golden Bear and Angel Island

As I passed the northern tower again I felt almost blasé about the height - even more so after I got over land again.

Back Over Land

I had started my walk across the bridge around 10:30am, and finished just before noon. I got back in the car and headed north into Marin County.

Replay: 1999

That evening, I checked Remembary and discovered that on my walk across the bridge in 1999 I had taken 6 pictures. This time, I had taken 113! That might be more photographs than I took during the entire month-long road trip back then. Funnily enough, some of the pictures were almost exactly the same (although you can see that April 21 1999 was a much sunnier day):



Hilltop: 2005

If you take a left turn just north of the Golden Gate bridge, you can climb up into the Marin Headlands and to an old fort with a great view of the bridge, the Bay, and San Francisco itself. This is the view you've seen in movies, tourist brochures, and many other places. I've only been there once, back in 2005, but while we're discussing the Golden Gate Bridge, I figured it would be worth including a few shots from here:

Golden Gate Bridge
(It looks like it's the same "Red and White Fleet" boat going under the bridge as can be seen in a picture above).

San Francisco through the Bridge
(Those vertical stripes are the bridge support cables.)

Fort and Bridge Tower

While walking around the hilltop, I noticed what seemed to be a swimming team posing for a group shot, ready to dive off of a set of wooden fence stands.

Swim Team Getting Ready to Pose

I think the resulting photo came out quite well, as an interesting abstract exercise. This was years before Instagram, but I somehow felt it would be better in black & white:


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