Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Footing Across the Golden Gate

Ever since my youngest sister told me that her entire class walked across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as part of their 8th grade trip, I've wanted to make the trek myself. I've driven over it dozens of times, but I guess the idea of crossing the monumental landmark on foot never occurred to me before that.
So, when we were headed to San Francisco on a recent fun trip, and I heard that the weather forecast called for a sunny, warm day, I mentioned walking across the Golden Gate. The kids had no idea you could do such a thing, and were all over the idea.

As we pulled into San Francisco, I noticed that while the sun was shining all around us, the bridge was shrouded in fog. But, we weren't that easily deterred, and figured that a little fog wouldn't hurt us.

The bridge really is the icon of the San Francisco skyline, and its' outline is plastered all over mugs and sweatshirts in gift shops all over the city. It was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built in the 1930's, the project came in $1 million under budget (which is pretty rare with public works projects) and it seems to have withstood earthquakes better than many of the bay areas other bridges. Seeing the construction up close and personal, it really is an impressive structure.

We parked on the San Francisco side of the bridge near the Presidio, and bundled up in sweatshirts, even though it was still technically summer. Plaques and statues near the base give some history of the architectural beauty. Apparently, many experts of the time didn't feel a bridge could even be built in that spot because of the harsh conditions there. The tides are strong, the wind is fierce and the fog is blinding, but humans are determined, and while only one person, the chief engineer named Strauss, got a statue of himself erected, many, many people worked hard to design and construct the bridge.

It may be a beautiful spot on a clear day, but since it's usually cold, damp and beyond blustery there, I can only imagine how miserable the working conditions must have been. And, as is often the case, many of the people who did all the work, didn't even get any credit.

Apparently, some of the steel workers who built the bridge did get to accidentally test the movable safety net below them. As you can imagine, in the 1930's the safety regulations were probably a tad bit more relaxed than today, and it was pretty much their only protection from an over 200 foot fall. The net worked for nineteen men, but sadly, failed on another eleven of them.

These days, even on the foggiest days, the bridge is full of traffic- cars, pedestrians and bicycles. By the time we made it across, our lungs felt very full of car fumes, and we were almost run over a few times by racy cyclists. But, then, miraculously, the sun made its' way through the clouds a few times and we were treated to some lovely views.

This led to spontaneous skipping and singing, which might be considered slightly embarrassing in some places, but no one even blinks an eye at such behavior in this city. So, we were free to rejoice out loud in the beauty of the sunshine.

At a little over three miles round trip, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot is a pretty easy walk. The weather seems a little unpredictable, and could have certainly made it unpleasant, but we lucked out and saw bits of blue sky before we hit Marin County on the other side. On the way back, we checked out the gift shop, and learned a little more about the icon that we, along with several hundred other tourists, had just crossed. The black and white pictures and film of the construction give a feel for what a huge task those men had taken on. Despite having had more than our weekly quota of carbon monoxide in the short time it took us to walk across the Golden Gate, I'm glad that we did it. It's just one of the fun and free things to do with kids in a very expensive city, and I'm pretty sure they'll remember it.

I love when everyday life inspires us, and after this walk we were inspired to learn a little more about the building of suspension bridges. I found some fun activities to explore. The kids are busy at work and making bridges now and I'll post the results soon. So far, they've passed by me with straws, tape, dental floss, and marbles. I have no idea what else will go into their creations, but I'm looking forward to seeing the results.