Join us in this three-part series as we bike 800 miles down Oregon and California, exploring the impacts of COVID and climate change in coastal communities. This series focuses on stories of people, place, and change.
The City sprawled on the other side of the Bridge. White homes and glass monoliths, patches of grass and beach and trees covered the peninsula. From here it looked like a diorama, cut from construction paper and held together with cheap glue and invisible tape.
Our bikes stood against the railing. Compared to the bridges on the Oregon coast, the Golden Gate seemed so stable, its pathway so wide. And even still, I got a pulling in my stomach when I glanced over the edge.
We tried taking a few photos, tried shooting some video.
It felt like we needed to do something to celebrate, like we needed something to mark the fact that we’d biked all 800 miles.
But mostly, we just stood and looked out at the Bay.
As we crossed into San Francisco, dodging other cyclists, threading our way through hikers and walking groups and tourists taking selfies, I was surprised at the sheer number of people.
I was surprised too, that everyone here was actually wearing masks.
At the start of our trip, it struck me that COVID-19 really was affecting the rest of the world. Intellectually, I knew masks and social distancing weren’t confined to our hometown. But seeing it in person, recognizing other communities were also struggling through the pandemic, it made it feel more real.
And it made the divide feel more immediate.
We saw it at the cafe in North Bend that didn’t mandate masks. It surfaced again in a Mendocino coffee shop, where a family flatly refused to wear face coverings. We felt it at the diner in Klamath where the waitress and cooks and customers–all maskless–stopped and stared at us like we’d walked in from an alternate reality.
We could feel the frustration–the frustration at the mixed messaging, at the constant changes. The frustration that businesses and individuals often feel when they’re left to figure it out on their own.
Mostly we saw people trying to make it work–they followed local guidelines, they put up signs. They adapted.
But everywhere we went, whatever the response, we could feel the fatigue, we could see the desire for normalcy. We could see the longing for things to get back to the way they were.
Everywhere we went, we could see that people just wanted to live their lives.
We walked the last three blocks. After being out on country roads for so long, all the cars rushing around and hunting for parking, the delivery trucks occupying half the street with their flashers on, the pedestrians looking down at their phones, the urban bikers ignoring traffic signals–it all seemed so overwhelming.
When we found the apartment, actually got inside, and leaned the bikes in the entry hall, we hugged.
“We made it,” I said. “We made it.”
We’d resolved to explore the City on foot today and tomorrow, to avoid the stress of navigating SF on wheels. We changed into dry clothes and headed out to find lunch.
Before walking out the door, we paused, and looked at our bikes. They stood there against the wall. And we left.
Our attitudes towards the virus and the way we’ve adapted are strongly influenced by our social environments and cultures. Consider how the pandemic has changed the way you view space, time, and people.