When in doubt, walk to the water. In the Bay Area, there is probably no more obvious walk than to head to that which binds all together here. This seemed like a good place to start for Hike #1 of my 50 hikes in my 5th year.I would literally start from our front door and head down to the Berkeley Pier and adjacent parklands. Here’s the approximate 7 mile round trip from the house. I couldn’t get Google maps to add the pier, which is to the lower left. (This hike was actually done twice, the first time exploring the park, the second the pier.)
It is an ancient desire, to head down to the water, or down to the river, or down to the the lake. In other times, this might be to greet arrivals, send off loved ones, catch dinner. These topographical features define the places many of us inhabit, and so this desire is partly a rite of passage, and the procession has been routinely enobled in verse, spoken or sung.But I was quickly ahead of myself as usual. I was a block from home for crissakes, still on our humble little street.
As I have already touched on, our new neighborhood sits in old West Berkeley. The city was founded, not surprisingly, near the water’s edge. All roads east lead to the water here, and any one will do. The many small wood buildings en route testify to history of this place.
The route also includes a couple of blocks along the upscale 4th Street shopping district. The thing we are falling in love with here is the somewhat blue collar/slightly artsy and funky vibe here in West Berkeley, so this shopping area is an anomaly. The norm instead along this stretch is residential meets industrial, where playgrounds give way to something called “Plexxicon”.
The other thing we have fallen in love with is the sound of the train, it a steady presence , the baying just far enough away. Reaching the tracks this day, there was time to wait to see if a train would pass. Such a kid, these things still excite me, but alas, there were none coming. Finally crossing the tracks, the route hugs the edge of Aquatic park, and heads over the pedestrian bridge that crosses the freeway. The bridge includes sculptures at each end celebrating the characters of Berkeley, on the east its town and gown, seen here, to the west, its theme is the recreating souls of the park you are about to enter. (wait, that’s sounds unintentionally sinister).
I have driven past this area to the east of the freeway so often, but had honestly no idea there was so much on the other side of the tracks. There is a marina, a playground, the pier , a hotel, 3 restaurants, and a 4th if you count the great roadside truckstop just off I-80. But what one really seeks out here is the release from the urban world of confinment, to the great release of space that is promised, both within the surprisingly vast lands of Cesar Chavez Park, as well as the shoreline itself. I had just completed a typically arduous Architectural deadline, and a couple of days removed from the madness of those long hours, this was what I needed. Having just celebrated 50, there was much flowing through my head, so many important things to work out, or so I thought. Then I became distracted…… perhaps buying a boat is the thing I need to do. I wondered if the “Rusty Scupper” was for sale.
The two best features of this area to me are, of course the pier and the park. Cesar Chavez Park is a surprisingly wide open wind swept expanse. Incredibly, this was a landfill used to store Berkeley’s waste. (My how that city’s ethos has changed). Eventually this moronic use was halted and the land gradually morphed into a park, now 20 years old. It is here that I landed. And here , with much to ruminate on, with the open expanses in front of me, and around me , so much to think about after the previous month’s madness, and after turning 50 I…………….I fell asleep in the middle of the park. Not a long sleep, a short one, but I was out. It was wonderous.
Here is a view of that park from above, it apparently a place of protest as well, this no doubt from those dark early days of Mr. Bush ( I assume this protest wasn’t directed towards Clinton, but… :/).
It turned out this day probably wasn’t going to result in any deep insights, other than perhaps that’s what can be best about an urban amble, a momentary release from the rat-race. We all need a starin’ window, as they say at the senior center, so this can be mine in the months ahead in West Berkeley. Not bad.
The second great thing is the old weathered pier, which at first glance seems to stretch all the way to Alcatraz. Walking a pier is one of the great California experiences, and this one is aimed straight at the Golden Gate and has a profound axial relationship to the bay’s opening. This was the second visit to this area, late on a winter’s day with the weather starting to turn. It was starting to get cold, but the late day anglers cast their lines one more time. I knew that feeling, knew it well from these last few years. Yeah one more time, maybe this is the one.
Hike 1 was in the books.
Total length 7 miles.
Total miles to date :7.