Skip to content

city treats and american life

On arriving in the metropolis, I discover that San Francisco is, in fact, a number of cities separated by water and linked by bridges, only some of which can be traversed by bicycle. By some chance, everybody I know lives in East Bay, on the other side of Bay Bridge, which is one of the bridges which prohibits cycle traffic. I jump on the BART(=Metro/Subway/Underground) with my bike, just as the rush hour crowd starts, and head out of San Francisco proper to Rockridge where I am greeted by Judy, a friend of a friend of my fairy god-mother* in London.

Judy, Greg and Clare are kind enough to let me slip into their busy lives and I become one of the family for the duration of my stay in the Bay Area.

On Friday night, in the interests of my cultural education, and in order to gain a deeper understanding of American life, I attend a high school football game with Judy and Clare. Clare is one of the cheerleaders who braves icy winds in a short skirt to give moral support not only to the team but also to the moms huddled under blankets on the sidelines during the three hour game – which in this case is a total rout of ‘our’ team. Judy and I defect in search of dinner and end up sipping mojitos and eating tapas in a stylish Cuban restaurant in the local suburb of Alameda.

Highschool football game.

High school football game.

Cheerleaders giving it their all.

Cheerleaders giving it their all...

And more.

...and more.

Saturday morning, I contact Sam, a friend I met when we both were living in Prague. Sam, a sociology professor at Berkeley, happens to live in Rockridge, about ten minutes away from where I am staying and so we agree to meet in a local diner. While we catch up on the last year or so of news, I partake in my favourite American indulgence – a stack of pancakes for breakfast.

A classic diner.

A classic American diner.

Saturday morning crowd.

The Saturday morning crowd.

Saturday brunch in Rockridge with Sam, a friend I initially met in Prague.

Sam, a friend I initially met in Prague.

My friend, Sam, and the trusty bike visible just out the front door.

Sam playing it cool over brunch in Rockridge. (Note the trusty bike visible just out the front door.)

I cruise past the Berkeley Farmer’s Market where I wander about looking at the boutique vegetables. They are certainly all very beautiful and stylish.

Amazing produce at the Berkeley Farmer's Market.

Amazing produce at the Berkeley Farmer's Market.

Heirloom tomatoes are all the rage.

Heirloom tomatoes are all the rage. America is a feast for the privileged.

Next stop is an excursion to the Bike Kitchen, a community co-operative bicycle workshop staffed and run by volunteers in the Mission district of San Francisco. For a small sum, annually, you can become a co-op member and use the workshop whenever it is open. As a casual passer-by, I can pay a donation of five to ten dollars for a day membership. Nobody is turned away for lack of funds and it is possible to yourself earn a bike, built from parts donated to the organisation, by volunteering for a certain number of hours.

I arrive an hour or so before closing time on Saturday afternoon and the place is jam packed, inside and out, with an incredibly diverse group of people working on their bikes. I chat to some of the volunteers and work out the best time to return to give my bike a thorough tune up and service.

The Bike Kitchen - a community co-operative cycle workshop staffed by volunteers.

The Bike Kitchen - a community co-operative cycle workshop staffed by volunteers.

Excellent place to work on your bike yourself if you need access to tools and advice.

The Bike Kitchen is an excellent place to work on your bike yourself if you need access to tools and good advice.

On Monday, I go to Emeryville, also in East Bay, to spend a few days with Stella, a friend of an old Australian friend of mine, from the days when I was an acrobat and performer. Stella is an artist, a member of the Flaming Lotus Girls, a group that create large scale pyrotechnic sculpture installations at festivals such as Burning Man. She is also an art and play therapist and I stay in her consulting room, which houses a large collection of plastic personages, to keep me company during the night.

Old ladies.

Old ladies.

Analyse this.

Analyse this.

Stella and I try to avoid the torrential storms currently drowning San Francisco. We chat over cups of tea and then, braving the tempest, go to a yoga class around the corner. I impulsively sign up for the three class newcomer’s special so I am now committed to a yoga class a day for the next three days; this surely can’t be a bad thing – it is not only my bike that needs a service and tune up!

In the morning, Stella goes to work and I avoid doing the dishes by heeding the admonition above the sink. I take photos of the dishes, rather than washing them, and then have to run off to my next yoga class before they are done. Later, I return to the Bike Kitchen, in the Mission, for the evening to work on my bike.

On the way to the Mission, a couple strike up a conversation with me on the BART and when the man hands me his card I am absolutely thrilled to discover that he is the director of SETI, the Institute for the Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence, at Berkeley. I ask him if he has found any extraterrestial intelligence and he suddenly looks terribly tired.

“I promise that I would tell you”, he says.

Art before dishes.

Art before dishes.

And I'll say it again - art before dishes.

And I'll say it again - art before dishes!

The next day the rain finally stops and Stella takes me on an expedition to find a new sleeping bag. My twenty year old bag has had me sleeping in all my thermals and my down sweater on cooler evenings recently and, as I’m hoping to head out of San Francisco over the Sierras, I think a new sleeping bag could be in order. REI are having a sale and Marmot sleeping bags are 25% off so it seems a good opportunity to upgrade but all the local stores have sold out.

We take the opportunity to do a driving tour of San Francisco Bay Area and eventually end up in the Castro to visit Stella’s partner, with my brand new, and super lofty, sleeping bag in hand. Tori’s Castro garden provides me the opportunity to satisfy my constant urge to hunt and gather. Stella and I spend a happy hour climbing trees, foraging for apples and quinces. Stella says she will roast the quince with sweet potatoes, which sounds pretty good to me but I would make them into quince paste myself, if I had the opportunity.

Even in the Castro my urge to hunt and gather is satisfied.

Even in the Castro my urge to hunt and gather can be satisfied.

Stella, a proud quince hunter.

Stella, a proud quince hunter.



Quinces and apples - urban bounty.

Quinces and apples - urban bounty.

The Castro is the heart of San Francisco’s gay community and rainbow flags fly in place of the ubiquitous stars and stripes. A pretty mosaic outside the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy preaches tolerance and respect and other worthy ideals.

Mosaic mural on the Harvey Milk Civic Center in the Castro.

Worthy ideals espoused on the mosaic mural on the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in the Castro.

Ginko leaves turning - I couldn't help including such gratuitous prettiness.

Ginko leaves turning on the streets of the Castro. I couldn't help including this - simply gratuitous prettiness.

The next day I return to Judy and Greg’s house and set off in search of a haircut. Getting a hair cut sits somewhere close to a visit to the dentist in my personal hierarchy of stressful life events and this long-time phobia has been somewhat exacerbated by two and half years living in Prague where ‘fear-of-the-Czech-haircut” is a well known phenomena among expats.

I finally settle on Cuttin’ Up on College Ave where the price is reasonable, the decor stylishly idiosyncratic and the staff friendly in a no-bullshit kind of way. Mary-Anne, who I entrust with my ‘do’, is flabbergasted that someone can ride from Alaska to San Francisco and regales the other staff and customer with relayed accounts of my adventures.

Enticing window dressing.

Enticing window dressing.

She has style, for sure.

She has style, for sure.

Trust me, I'm a barber!

Mary-Anne: Trust me, I'm a barber!

Friday, I have an opportunity not only to show off my new ‘do’ but to finally wear the black dress that I have been hauling with me for the last 6500 kilometres, just in case I ended up with a dinner date. Stella and I go to an exhibition opening of some Gothic inspired art appropriate to the Halloween season and have fun dressing up for the occasion.

Dressing up to go out to an exhibition opening.

Dressing up to go out to an exhibition opening. The black dress I've been carting for 6500 kilometres finally comes into its own.

We finish off the evening eating the wicked chocolate mousse that I learnt to make from Danusia in Whitehorse.

Chocolate mousse - according to Danusia's

Chocolate mousse - according to Danusia's recipe.

I spend the last few days in the Bay Area devising the next section of my route. My preference is to cross the Sierra Nevada and head east from San Francisco over the Tioga Pass in the Yosemite National Park and into the desert. The far less exciting alternative is to continue down the Californian coast and turn east at a lower mountain pass further south. However, the recent storms bringing rain to San Francisco have meant snow in the mountains and resulted in temporary closures of the Tioga Pass and the weather is currently uncertain.

Greg and Judy tell me cautionary tales of winter misadventures in the mountains but Greg, an experienced winter camper, seems supportive, overall – and, after all, it is still only October! We discuss my onward journey over various family meals and I start to make preparations for the mountain pass. Even though the road is closed again by yet another storm, the weather forecast for next week seems promising and might provide a small window of opportunity in which I can squeak over the mountains.

*Not everybody is lucky enough to have a fairy god-mother, but I am, and it often comes in handy.


  • oil
  • 2 large quinces peeled, cored, cut into cubes
  • 1 red–skinned sweet potato (yam), peeled, cut into cubes
  • 1 tan–skinned sweet potato, peeled, cut into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • ½ cup maple syrup, divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

Position rack in centre of oven and preheat to 220°C. Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with your favourite cooking oil. Cut quince and potatoes and combine with ¼ cup of maple syrup in large bowl; toss to coat. Spread in single layer on the baking sheet. Roast quince and potatoes until tender and beginning to brown around edges, stirring occasionally and turning sheet around in oven halfway through roasting – about 40 minutes. Transfer quince and potatoes into a serving bowl. Mix in sage and remaining ¼ cup maple syrup. Season with pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. julie | November 3, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I’m glad that you have bought yourself a new super duper sleeping bags and hope you will still be using it on great adventures in 20 year’s time! Your new haircut looks very good and the little black dress looks extra stylish, too.I remember when you wore it here and you were cross because it seemed a bit tight – I bet that is not the case now after all that pedalling and meagre meals of noodles and lentils. The avocado mousse could have wicked effect though! That looks like a handy device for collecting friut – I have never seen one like it. I wonder where I might get one. I’m in the throes of looking at a piece of land to buy – it may not come off but I will let you know. It is time for a change here. So glad that you are having such a marvellous time – you seem to be perfectly adapted to life on the road! Much love and enjoy your cosy new sleeping bag nights. Julie xxx

  2. Paul Hutton | November 5, 2009 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    Anna- it was my pleasure to get to know you this past weekend at Eureka Dunes in Death Valley. I mentioned to you a possible route as you travel through Guatemala.. if you’re interested email back and I will do my best to provide you with that info. I know it was not merely coincidence that our paths crossed. I will be praying for safe tavels for you during your trip. Thanks for sharing part of your life with us. We were blessed by your company!GBU Paul

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *