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This must be the place: The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great

The Golden Gate Bridge. (Garret K. Woodward photo) The Golden Gate Bridge. (Garret K. Woodward photo)

Editor’s Note: While on assignment for Rolling Stone out in Monterey, California, last weekend, Garret decided to hang out in San Francisco for a couple of days beforehand, just to hit the ground runnin’ and once again feel the vibe of the city he missed. The following is what he felt, and wrote about, in real time.

• Thursday, Oct. 13 (03:35 p.m.)

Went for a trail run up near Muir Beach toward the Muir Woods. It was warm and sunny on that north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, just above the Bay Area. Anyhow, my Bluetooth hasn’t been working with my rental car. No biggie, spin the ole radio dial and find some classic rock station.

As I made my way through Sausalito and back over the Golden Gate to San Francisco, the warm, blue skies quickly transitioned into crisp air and fog slowly overtaking the bridge. 

And, in that exact moment, as my vehicle approached the Golden Gate and drove over it, windows rolled down, Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” came over the radio station, the tune blasting out of the speakers. Chills rolling through my body, my soul vibrating happily. Sheesh, what a cosmically charged and beautifully surreal moment, eh?

Side note: I decided to head to Muir Beach, seeing as the parking lot was pretty much empty, with all the tourists overtaking the Muir Woods down the road. I wandered down to the beach, took off my trail running shoes and walked around the shoreline, the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean overtaking my toes and my soul. Ah, what an incredible feeling. 

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Thus, I hit the dirt trail around the corner. Not a soul around for miles. Jogged up the ridge toward the Muir Woods. At one point, I came around this curve in the thick brush and, all of a sudden, this single huge redwood tree appeared. All by itself, a mile or so away from the entrance into the Muir Woods. It’s been years since I’ve been in the presence of a redwood. 

The redwood was just as captivating and mesmerizing as I remembered. I had the tree all to myself. No tourists around or cameras or noise. Just little ole me and this lone redwood. I placed my hand on it and just held it there for several moments, all while looking up at the endless branches. I felt such a serene sense of peace and serenity in doing so.

• Thursday, Oct. 13 (09:29 p.m.)

I’ve been wanting to stand in front of the legendary City Lights Bookstore since the moment I decided to become a writer. The motto painted on the wall inside the doorway reads, “A literary meeting place since 1953.” 

Launched by the late, great Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who just passed away last year at age 101. City Lights was, and remains, the epicenter of the written word, at least as far as the Beats and the Beat movement goes. 

And it was June 10, 2005, when I first cracked open a copy of Jack Kerouac’s seminal 1957 novel, “On the Road.” A solo road trip of my own from Upstate New York to the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. I was alone in my tent that morning and, just a few chapters in, a bolt of lightning hit my soul from high above. I had an epiphany right then and there, “I want to wander America, seek adventure and curious souls, and write about it.” 

The next semester, I changed my college major to journalism and creative writing. That was 17 years ago, and with a deep well of gratitude, I continue to seek adventure and curious souls, and all through the lens of the written word. 

City Lights is where all my heroes ran amuck: Kerouac, Cassady, Snyder, Kesey, Corso, Bukowski, etc. They all roamed this building, these streets, and the depths of this city. 

And, to stand there, in the here and now, I felt such immense joy, all while slightly misty-eyed with emotion. Whoever you are, wherever you may be, and whatever it is you do or wish to do, I hope someday you stand in a spot of sheer, genuine inspiration like I am right now, and just soak it all in.

• Friday, Oct. 14 (10:01 a.m.)

Woke up this morning and my immediate thought was, “I should go run across the Golden Gate Bridge.” It wasn’t even 9 a.m. yet, most of the tourists wouldn’t be out and about until the fog burned off. I’d have the bridge pretty much to myself. 

I laced up my running shoes and headed for the bridge. Hitting the Golden Gate, the air was foggy and crisp, as expected. The over and back was about 3.4 miles. Only saw a handful of runners and cyclists. It was such a wild feeling to jog across one of the great technological creations of mankind. A true wonder of the world for all eternity. 

I noticed so many things, too. Locks attached to the fencing to solidify a couple’s love. Netting underneath to catch the countless workers who maintain the integrity of the bridge on a daily basis. The Bridge Patrol cruising by to make sure there are no jumpers, to which I felt such a sense of place thinking of all those downtrodden souls who decided to take the leap. 

And then, I noticed all the intricacies of the bridge: the bolts and rivets, cables and ladders. It is astounding to think of what it took to create this incredible structure. I also thought of all the workers who built the bridge during The Great Depression, a full-time job in an uncertain time with little employment and hope for Americans. 

One of my biggest inspirations is the late, great journalist Charles Kuralt, whose CBS “On the Road” series is at the core of my being. And one of my favorite clips of his, is when he interviews the men who built the Golden Gate Bridge, who, at that time, were old men, but still tough as nails (go on YouTube and track down the clip, it’s worth it). Endless thoughts, emotions, and gratitude this morning. I hope whenever you are right now, you know you’re loved.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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