Finding the Ocean – Chapter 11

On September 1, 2017, I did something a little crazy. (Again.) On a complete and utter whim, I took off on a 4,700 mile road trip to go find the ocean. Just me… and the dog.

Continue along on my healing and soul-inspiring journey below, or start from the beginning


The friendly staff at the Hotel del Sol had my room ready by noon, and Zoey and I immediately made ourselves at home in our cute new digs. I unpacked the YETI cooler bag, rinsed all the peach and strawberry slime off everything, then put the two remaining yogurts, bag of goose jerky, and knee surgery ice packs into the mini fridge. I rinsed out the cooler in the bathtub, gave Zoey a fresh bowl of water, then went to take a shower.

Ahhh…. a shower. The date was Monday, September 4, 2017, and I hadn’t had a shower since I’d left my house in Minnesota three days earlier. It was heaven.

I got dressed and dried my hair while Zoey eyed me with mild curiosity from the other room. I often wonder what goes through a dog’s head in moments like this. Did she wonder what we were doing, where we were, or why we were here? Did she even care? Did she realize we had just traveled over 2,000 miles for no better reason than to “go find the ocean?” I will always marvel at the blind faith and absolute trust Zoey has in me. She goes along with my every whim… never questioning, never judging… and is just so happy to live in the moment. She stares at me with those big brown eyes, with nothing but love on her fuzzy face, and waits patiently for me to make my next crazy move. She is such good therapy. We could learn a lot from dogs.

I grabbed my iPhone and checked the time. It was a little before 1pm (PST), and I was starving. Time to go find something a little better to eat than yogurt and goose jerky.

I popped into the hotel office on my way out to the street and asked where I could get a bite to eat. The nice man at the desk handed me a walking map of the Marina District and directed me two blocks south to Union Street. He said there were all kinds of restaurants and cafes there with sidewalk seating so I could bring Zoey. Perfect. I was starting to love this town.

I headed toward Union Street with a smile on my face and a new skip in my step. Just a block from my hotel, I noticed a message on the sidewalk and had to stop to take a picture.

When I reached Union Street, I quickly saw that my nice hotel man had not steered me wrong. The street was lined with sidewalk cafes, all up and down. Sidewalk cafes and people. Sooo many people. I walked along and weighed my options, stopping to read the menus posted outside the doors and hoping to find an empty table anywhere. No luck. Once again, I realized it was Labor Day and the whole world had apparently moved from Fisherman’s Wharf to Union Street for lunch.

I cruised up and down Union Street a few times, taking in the amazing salads, pastas, and sandwiches people were enjoying while I grew more and more desperate for a bite of real food. Finally, I noticed a pizza place with an open table outside… Extreme Pizza. I sauntered in, ordered two slices of pepperoni pizza and a cold Corona, then went to join Zoey on the front porch. Maybe it wasn’t wine in a REAL GLASS and I wasn’t eating my pizza with a REAL FORK, but I was deliriously happy. Never had pizza and a cold beer tasted so good.

It was just after 2pm and I had gone straight from starving to exhausted. According to my walking map, I was only about two miles away from the beach at Crissy Field, but that was about two miles more than I could muster at the moment. I had officially hit the wall.

I needed a nap.

Zoey and I headed back to the hotel and we slept like the dead for two hours. Finally, around 4pm, I got up, fluffed my bedhead-hair, put on my crooked aviators, and set out to go find the ocean.

We hung a left out of the Hotel del Sol and followed Lombard Street to Fillmore Street where we hung a right and headed north. As I walked along, it seemed to me there was a lot of creative parking in San Francisco. Wherever there was a spare sliver of space, random parking spots appeared… even if they were right in the middle of the road. Crazy, but clever.

Finally, I made it to Marina Boulevard. I could see the bay straight ahead of me and I was so close I could smell the water. I crossed the street and headed left along the walking/biking path, toward Crissy Field.

As I passed the marina on my right, I came to a big grassy field and picnic area with people and dogs everywhere. This really was a dog-friendly town. I crossed the grassy field and headed straight for the water. Unbeknownst to me, there was a spectacular view waiting for me right behind that row of trees.

And then, there it was… the Golden Gate Bridge. We had finally made it.

Zoey was dying to get in the water, and I was dying to see her reaction when she got her first taste of the salty water. I took her off her leash and let her go.

I couldn’t get over the view. While Zoey played in the water, I just sat and stared, mesmerized. The Golden Gate Bridge. I wondered why they called it that, since it was clearly orange and not gold. I would have to get to the bottom of that later. For now, I needed a picture. I stopped a random passerby and asked if he would take a photo for me. He graciously obliged.

As it turns out, it was U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont who originally coined the phrase, “Golden Gate.” The Golden Gate Bridge is simply the name of the bridge that crosses over the Golden Gate.

On July 1, 1846, two years before the discovery of gold in California U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont gazed at the narrow strait that separates the Bay from the Pacific Ocean, and said “it is a golden gate to trade with the Orient.” The name first appeared in his Geographical Memoir, submitted to the U.S. Senate on June 5, 1848, when he wrote, “to this Gate I gave the name of “Chrysopylae” or “Golden Gate” for the same reasons that the harbor of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.” (SOURCE: GoldenGateBridge.org)

I also wondered about the name “Crissy Field.” It seemed an odd name for a beach. I found out later that Crissy Field was named in honor of Major Dana Crissy who was killed in October 1919 while participating in a U.S. Army transcontinental demonstration flight. Crissy Field was the military’s first Air Coast Defense Station on the Pacific coast.

According to Wikipedia:

Crissy Field, a former U.S. Armyairfield, is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San FranciscoCaliforniaUnited States. Historically part of the Presidio of San Francisco, Crissy Field closed as an airfield after 1974. Under Army control, the site was affected by dumping of hazardous materials.[1] The National Park Service took control of the area in 1994 and cleaned it up, and in 2001 the Crissy Field Center opened to the public.[2] While most buildings have been preserved as they were in the 1920s, some have been transformed into offices, retail space, and residences.

I found a section of sea wall to sit on so I could just sit still for a minute and take it all in. Throughout my life, water has always made everything better. It is my calming agent, my happy place, and the first place I want to go when things get stressful. I was a swimmer throughout junior high and high school, and no matter how hard (or early) the workouts, I couldn’t wait to get in that pool. It was the one place my mind could just be quiet. No noise, no distractions, no deadlines. Just me and the water, back and forth.

I am still drawn to the water. Lakes, oceans, rivers, waterfalls… it doesn’t matter. Whether I’m swimming in it, floating on it, walking by it, or just plain staring at it… it is the one place I always want to be.

Now, as I breathed in the salty air of San Francisco Bay and stared at the gentle, calming waves, I was happy to be sharing the experience with the one friend I knew loved the water as much as me… Zoey.

Crissy Field’s East Beach was filled with people and dogs. Zoey fit right in and was soon making fast friends.  She fetched up a paper plate for me to throw for her, and when that didn’t work, she found an empty Play-Doh container which kept her busy for another short while.

I could have sat there and watched the ocean show all evening. It was about 5:15 PM, and as I looked west, I realized the sun would set right behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I wondered what time that would happen. It was hazy, but I could see that the sun still had a ways to go before it sizzled into the ocean. I figured I had a few hours, so I decided to bide my time until sunset.

I walked down to the water and Zoey followed me with her Play-Doh container. I tried throwing it for her, but it was so windy, the container just flew right back at me. To make it heavier, I filled it full of water then threw it again. That worked. Zoey swam after it, then returned and dropped it next to my feet again. I did this a few more times, then started walking down the beach, heading east.

I watched a bunch of crazy kite surfers for a while. As the wind caught their sail, they would fly out of the water, board still strapped to their feet, then glide along in mid-air before landing back on the water again. I wondered what would happen if they lost their grip and the kite flew out of their hands. As I watched and contemplated all the potential hazards of this crazy sport, I noticed a small island off in the background. Hey… was that Alcatraz?? I pulled out my phone and Googled it. Sure enough, it was. I had no idea. I zoomed in and took a quick photo.

As I watched the kite boarders and continued to throw the Play-Doh container for Zoey, I noticed another black lab swimming off in the distance. It was a little way off shore, and I wondered if it had swum out to fetch something and lost sight of whatever it was looking for. I glanced around looking for the owner, but I didn’t see anyone watching. Then, suddenly, the dog sunk and didn’t come back up.

I panicked. I started hurrying down the shore looking for the owner. I knew Zoey well enough to know that the same thing could very well happen to her. She would never give up if she was trying to fetch something, and maybe the strong current was just too much. As I got closer, I still couldn’t see anyone looking for the dog. Where was the owner?? I was just about to say something to a random stranger when I overheard someone say something about the seals in the bay. Seals? Here? In San Francisco Bay? Again, I had no idea. Sheepishly, I realized my mistake. It wasn’t a black lab I had seen; it was a seal. I turned around and started heading back the way I had come with Zoey happily carrying her Play-Doh container alongside me.

The whole thing unnerved me so much, I took Zoey’s Play-Doh container away and threw it into the nearest garbage can. Do seals attack dogs? At the very least, I knew sharks did, and from what I remembered of Escape from Alcatraz, the waters surrounding that island prison were infested with sharks. I shuddered. Sorry Zoey. No more swimming for you.

I put her back on her leash and headed back to the safety of our sea wall. As the sun started to work its way closer to the water, I suddenly realized maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to walk back to my hotel after dark. I put my shoes on and decided to start heading back. I had at least two more days to drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway into Oregon, so I knew I’d have more chances to view this beautiful ocean shore. I couldn’t wait. Tomorrow morning, I would get up extra early and leave before rush hour so I could drive over that beautiful Golden Gate Bridge on my way to the Oregon coast.

It was a good solid plan. Or so I thought.

Next time… road closures, forest fires, and a missing teen comes home…

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