The following is a guest blog post by Marcus Brandford, a student at UC Berkeley and recent San Francisco transplant who recently walked the Crosstown Trail and offered to share his about the experience.
By the beginning of May 2020 my days were starting to feel like reruns. For the last few months, most of my time was spent rotating between three modes: work (at the dining table), relaxation (on the living room couch) and ‘active’ (with walks around the block). I was eager to break out of my routines. And as lockdown restrictions started to lift, my friends and I began plotting an adventure to expand our quarantine horizons. I was looking forward to a casual beach day or a drive along the coast – something accessible and relaxing. So you can imagine my skepticism when, out of all our options, our group chose to spend a full day walking 17 miles across San Francisco via the Crosstown Trail.
I love cities and I love to walk, but I had never clocked anywhere close to 17 miles in a single day. I was nervous that I would be bored by mile six and in serious pain by mile ten, but my reluctance subsided once we began to actually plan our trip. As I studied the map, I realized that the Crosstown Trail was actually a perfectly packaged adventure that would show us pockets, parklets, and neighborhoods that none of us had ever seen before. So on a sunny Saturday morning with Philz cups in hand, backpacks full of layers, and cue sheets queued up, we set out on our journey.
For seven hours we weaved through the city, alternating between enclosed wooded trails and expansive city views. We saw houses representing every color of the pastel rainbow. We pumped our fists as residents along the trail leaned out their windows and cheered us on. Halfway into our journey, we ran into another group of hikers and excitedly exchanged info on where each group had been and what they could expect to see next. It was the first time I had talked to strangers in months. And it was all because we were members of the same quirky club, united by an invisible line that led us to cross paths.
I never loved the term ‘urban hike’ because I never fully understood it. Until a few weeks ago, I so closely associated the act of hiking with nature that I didn’t think it was possible to go on a hike within a city. To me, hiking suggests a focused journey through an open landscape. The way I experience cities, on the other hand, is usually about hopping between various points of interest (e.g. the bookstore, the bar, or the park) while the in-between spaces fade into the background. What made the Crosstown Trail special was that it brought intention and focus to the in-between areas that are so easily forgotten. By carving a path through the entirety of the city, the trail encouraged me to pay attention to the entirety of the city. Side streets and storefronts and trail heads that were once hiding suddenly emerged on the trail and showed me a layer of San Francisco I never knew about.
I was skeptical about walking the Crosstown Trail because I didn’t think it would be worth the 17 miles of walking that it required. But it turns out you can learn a lot about something by cutting it in half. A tree cut in half shows the many rings of its years and events that happened along the way. A clock cut in half shows the gears that make it tick. By cutting San Francisco in half, the Crosstown Trail gives a peek into both the complex history and the inner workings of a beautiful and unique city. When I reached the finish line I was tired and my legs were indeed very sore, but my trip was far from boring. And while the the soreness wore off after a few days, my new appreciation for the city has stuck with me ever since.