May 30, 2009 Golden Gate Park

The announcement

This Saturday, the “real” Memorial Day, is also my birthday. Can I get an amen from the congregation? To celebrate (well, party number 1), we’ll be hiking Golden Gate Park. No surprise to you who came on last week’s hike. For Grey’s benefit, it Saturday, Saturday, not Sunday, it’s Saturday, the day after Friday. Don’t make me have to call you up 🙂

We’ll leave here at 9 and park near the 9th Street entrance on Lincoln Way. We’ll start the hike around 10 or a bit before. I plan on going to Stowe Lake where I might rent a row boat and do a lap, or maybe try a tandem bike. But more likely I’ll climb the hill in the center and take lots of pictures. I’ll have to go by the Buffalo pen, by the Tai Chi practitioners, past the model boats, to the Greek temple, back amongst the squirrel gang areas, and up to the Conservatory of Flowers where I plan on taking a whole lot of pictures. I’ll visit the Rose garden, and maybe swing by the lawn bowling, the Shakespeare Garden and end at the arboretum/botanical gardens.

This will be about 6 to 8 miles of hiking, taking 4 hours or a bit more. I’ll choose the place of lunch, at least for myself and Kathy, but I’m open to suggestions. “Plan B” is to go back to the Russian cafe for Kavas and food.

The hike

“How about we rent a surrey for all of us?”, Grey asked. And thus began another FOMFOK adventure.

After a birthday lunch, the cool breezes tempered our recent climb to Stowe Mountain and the temperature dropped more as we gathered at the rental station. Pink popcorn and cotton candy flecked the choppy lake where a recent Russian college graduate rowed his future fiance into the center of the lake to make his dramatic proposal, which was causing a crowd to form along the bank. Tiny ducklings formed a symbolic bridal veil in the wake of the rowboat, an omen for a good marriage.

Seven of us climbed into a surrey designed for six, but which was built with steel only strong enough for four adults. There were six pedaling stations and we kept Jan in reserve for the long uphill that we would encounter at the end, coming back. Kathy sat in the steering position, wheel in one hand and a monstrous brake handle in the other, peering down the long hill at a narrow gate in the distance.

Champing at the bit, four of us grunted on the pedals, not knowing Kathy still held on the brake. Then, without warning, she let go of the handle and we were off like a shot. Ok, I tell a lie. Four of us grunted and groaned as we gradually built up speed, like a shay locomotive leaving the station. You remember that there were six pedalers, right? Kathy and Joanne were spinning like hamsters on a sugar high. It was a truly odd sight, if any of us bothered to notice, but our grunting soon paid off and we were heading at an all too frightening speed at the tiny gate down the hill.

The surrey was 7 feet, 3 inches wide and the opening in the gate was 7 feet, 7 inches at the narrowest. Grey and I, providing the big pistons at the back of the surrey, were bedecked in cameras with loose straps, hats, open jackets, GPS units and various doodads hanging outside of the protective frame of the surrey. We were perhaps a bit ashen as we went with undiminished speed towards the gate as Kathy was shouting, “Quit pedalling”. Judy, up front, was steering to beat the band on the other steering wheel, which would have helped if it were actually connected to anything. Joanne and Gary were ready to try dragging their feet and, if necessary, dive out of the surrey if it would help save the rest of us. Jan we kept in reserve, still. I think Jan was taking the reserved position seriously as she apparently was trying to rest. At least I saw she had her hands over her eyes.

With only a few yards to go, the surrey ground to a halt with room to spare. We inched past the gate and began the slow grunt of speed buildup again. With a stop and a turn only a short distance ahead, though, Kathy and Joanne were not pedaling. At the stop, out of the protective enclosure of the hill, the wind began to build. The fog which had dogged us all day began ghosting across the road. The mist began to build into a dull rain.

Kathy and Joanne were spinning like a presidential press secretary while the other four of us were grunting up to ramming speed. Jan’s hands were at least not covering her eyes now. Still the wind built. The road was supposed to be closed to cars, yet were were constantly threatened by large cars and rescue vehicles to our left. Directly in front of us and to our right, dogs, kids and portly moms with sports utility carriages continually blocked our path. A light snow began to fall.

A stop sign ahead had us all shouting to Kathy, “Don’t stop” as she wrestled the brake lever as if she were braking a semi. When she relented and let up again, our now sore knees wailed to get back up to speed. Except that Joanne and Kathy where merrily spinning as if we were skiing on a gentle, bunny-slope downhill.

We rolled through the second stop sign as the four grunters began wondering how it was the Joanne and Kathy were pedaling so easily. Kathy said that something was obviously wrong, so we decided to stop and check out the chain drive. When we were nearly stopped, someone shouted, “Don’t stop until we hit the crest of the hill”. So we grunted again and rolled a bit further.

As we all got off the surrey, Jan, totally fresh, grabbed the several hundred pound surrey as if it were a feather pillow and tilted it up on its side while Grey stuck his fingers in the gears and chains. Three curses and a yelp later, Grey suggested we try moving the pedals again. The chain linking Kathy and Joanne’s pedals to the rest of us was off the gears and Grey’s machinations cause it to drop down between the rings. We were really screwed now.

We tried moving the pedals. Forward, reverse, nothing. Some more cursing convinced Grey that we just needed one good oomph to get the chain to pop up in the right position and link all the pedals. We oomphed, and the chain popped up like an ad for male enhancement in your favorite browser and broke. Now we were really, really screwed.

And so we began the relay for life back to the rental station. Two people would push, four pedaled and one steered as we headed back in the blizzard, dodging ambulances, garbage trucks, truculent mamas and kids tossing snowballs at us. Every few minutes, we did a Chinese Fire Drill to swap positions. When Grey had his turn at the useless- steering wheel position, he tried warning away the trail blockers ahead of us by wailing on the bell. Except that with his first wail, the bell (you guessed it) broke.

Chain, bell, blizzard, sumo soccer moms, sore knees, it was not going well.

As we rose up the hill, the weather abated. We scraped by the gate and approached the unsuspecting guy who rented us this wreck. Grey and I were ready to do battle, with five people breathing like dragons and with evil eyes focused in the cowering rental agent, ready to back us up.

There was no question of an argument, and no question of us wanting to get a replacement. He quickly refunded our fee. The agent even laughed and said that the chains broke all the time, and that the surreys were a disaster.

And yet he didn’t mention any of this before we started.

At least Jan had her first official adventure on her very first FOMFOK hike. Usually, you have to wait months before getting entrapped, I mean privileged to participate in a FOMFOK adventure.

Thanks to all who wished me a happy birthday or who participated in my special, party adventure.

Pictures are HERE

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