Two weeks ago we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. It wasn’t a planned part of our three-day weekend-trip to San Francisco. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge? Yes. But walking across the entire thing on foot? The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.
We had just arrived in San Francisco on an early morning flight from Phoenix. We’d gone straight to the hotel but our room wasn’t ready yet so we decided to wander around the city. With just our backpacks, the light travelers that we are, we stepped out to Union Square and tried our hardest not to crane our necks up and stare in amazement at every building we passed. I didn’t want to look like a tourist, but goodness. Those buildings. You can’t help but stare. I posted a SnapChat video of a crowded intersection with the caption New York City or San Fran? The crowds of people, tall buildings, taxis and cars zooming past made us feel like we were in New York. I posted another picture captioned Wells Fargo, or Gringotts? The banks actually looked like the real-life versions of the fictional bank in the Harry Potter series. That first hour of walking around is, I think, what made us both fall in love with the city. We had no idea where we were or where we were going. The bustling commotion of Union Square, the brightly colored homes, the rolling optical-illusion hills, and the big gusts of cold wind almost didn’t feel real. It was everything that Phoenix is not. We felt energized and excited and though I didn’t realize it yet, it was shaping up to be a very YOLO weekend.
We took a cab to Golden Gate State park, our faces glued to the windows as we drove across the bridge. Once we found ourselves standing next to the bridge we were speechless. There were dozens of people taking pictures from every angle and looking out at Alcatraz. The bridge somehow didn’t look all that big now that we were here. And there seemed to be an awful lot of people walking across it right now. Should we do it? Why not?
You’d think that the hardest part would be to not look down. But the rumbling of the ground reminds you that on your right are four lanes of cars and trucks and tour buses speeding by, while on your left there’s icy cold water sloshing below. So in fact, looking down might offer a more peaceful view of what was above. The walkway seems big but not with the bicyclists zipping past going both ways, large groups of people walking quickly, strollers with oblivious children and babies inside, and the occasional phone box with a suicide prevention hotline phone number posted on it. The further we walked I couldn’t help but wonder: What are we doing? Is this even safe? Too late now.
The further we got from land the more spectacular the view became, taking my mind off my growing fears and reminding me of something important.
I was becoming more and more aware of where we were at that moment in time: in a new city that we’d only be in for a few hours, standing on the middle of a landmark bridge. We were doing something that most people will probably never get to do in their lifetimes.
Lucky, I thought. We are so lucky to be here today, doing this.
The realization eclipsed my fears. I filmed a bit of our walk across the bridge and we stopped to take photos a few times. I wanted to savor this moment from both behind the lens and with my own eyes. I won’t go so far as to say that I became relaxed in the moment because the noise of the traffic just a few feet away was preventing me from becoming too comfortable.
What I was feeling was grateful. I was grateful to finally be in the city we’d dreamed of visiting for years, with the person that means the most to me in the world. Most importantly, though, I was grateful to have had the ability to be spontaneous.
I’m chalking this experience up to the most spontaneous thing I have ever done in my life. It set the tone for the rest of our trip. After we reached the other side of the bridge and I took what is now my favorite photo of the Golden Gate Bridge (the first photo, above) I felt amazing. We couldn’t stop staring at this big, giant thing we had just conquered together. I was no longer trying to figure out how we could squeeze as much as possible into the three short days we would be there. Being here, right now, was enough. If this wonderful thing could happen, bringing me these amazing feelings of happiness and gratitude, and it wasn’t something that I’d put on my to-do list, then why try to forcefully plan any other experiences? Why not let them happen as they come, unexpectedly and spontaneously?
The feeling stayed with us for the rest of the trip, and has remained with me still. I hope it never goes away. This fantastic feeling of recognizing how lucky we are to do the things we do every day. Things as simple as walking across a bridge spur-of-the-moment with your best friend are the kinds of things that, on reflection, bring the most gratitude into our lives. They can’t be planned for or paid for and sometimes they require a significant amount of courage. But oh, are they worth it.