One of the best things about living in San Francisco is that it exists in Northern California. It's an often-heard argument when someone is touting the benefits of Bay Area living: you can go from the city to surfing to skiing and back again in a single day, if you so choose.
On Wednesday I had the day off, so my friend Leo picked me up (friends with cars are the best friends) and we headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge to the magical wonderland known as Marin County, where public transit is scarce, people are crazy rich and the vistas are absolutely breathtaking. That one county alone is home to Muir Woods redwood forest, the Marin Headlands, Stinson Beach, Mount Tamalpais and Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes, specifically Tomales Point, is where Leo and I went.
It took a little bit of time, but the drive was gorgeous. The fact that one can drive to something so spectacular in approximately 90 minutes from the confines of the middle of the City remains a mind-blower for me. I mean, look at this business:
That is some majestic shit, is it not?
I think I got on Leo's nerves with all the oohing and ahhing and being so appreciative of the splendor. I used the word lucky a lot and simply wouldn't shut up about how pretty the whole thing is. Then I realized the difference: Leo grew up by the beach in Southern California and I grew up in Tennessee, landlocked.
For me, up until age 30, going to the ocean was a big fucking deal. Tennessee has gorgeous lakes and rivers aplenty, but getting to see the vast, overwhelming sea involved a lot of money, lots of packing and planning, plus a ten hour car ride. Going to the ocean was a vacation, something I would look forward to for weeks. Now I can hop into a Honda and be there before two episodes of This American Life have lapsed, and I'm still not over it. The closeness of such wonder makes me positively giddy.
My friend Leo is a little more restrained in his enthusiasm for things, in general. To say the least.
"Why does everyone we pass have to say hi? I don't get it. And I refuse to participate."
"Because they want to acknowledge the other people's great choice on how to spend a day," I told him.
"I'm not going to do it."
"Man, you'd really hate living in the South where everyone says hi to everybody."
We only trekked about a mile before our day hike became a wildlife safari.
Leo saw them first, about 15 elk just chilling on a ridge overlooking the sea. Most were eating the vegetation at their feet. But some were looking dead at us.
"Don't look them in the eye! That's a signal for attack." Leo looked down at me dubiously, and I admitted I didn't know shit about elk or their attack habits.
We discussed the possibility of being charged by an angry elk:
"Do elk get angry?," he asked.
"Don't we all?"
We also discussed the possibility of being trampled in an elk stampede.
What we didn't discuss is whether or not we should hike ahead since we were so close to the herd. We just plowed ahead with implicit human right-of-way.
"Oh, I'm so glad you two came along!" It was a female hiker with a French, I think, accent and a red face. She seemed scared. "I wasn't sure what the elk etiquette was."
"Oh, we don't know what it is either. We just went. We discussed the possiblity of being trampled to death, though."
She didn't seem comforted by this in any way.
We continued ahead and suddenly there were even more elk.
"What if they are intentionally herding us down this trail?," we joked. "We're going to turn around and be surrounded."
We also wondered where the hell they came from. I joked that perhaps they had risen from the sea like in The Last Unicorn, but Leo had never seen The Last Unicorn, so I described to him in detail the awful Red Bull his mean boss King Haggard.
After taking in more of the amazing scenery ["This looks like some 'Lord of the Rings' shit."], we turned around and headed back. That's when we ran across a coyote so close to us I almost felt like calling for it like a dog. I'd never seen one before, much less one that near to me. It was incredible.
There were more elk sightings, a beetle the size of my fist, a near-miss snake incident and also couple of quail thrown in the mix. Cliffs shot up from the shore, and the sun shown in such a way that you couldn't tell where the sea ended and the sky began, and all of this is just right next door, just a short car ride away, and it's free. Wild and wonderful and free.
I'm so very glad I came back.