2022 Bay to Breakers celebrates car-free JFK boardwalk

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It was also a business that some people (like yours really) chose to take without shoes.

Photo: Courtesy of Twitter via @wafoli

MMuch like consensual group sex, running brings me immeasurable joy. It’s melodic in its boredom – putting one foot in front of the other in repetition until a distance is reached or the body gives way. It’s also quite simple biologically; as a species, we are as evolutionarily adept at running as we are adept at building tools.

Right now on planet Earth, where all certainty remains a mercurial albatross, running gives me a tangible sense of faith. That we can do difficult things that make us feel good on a cellular level; that we can accomplish things—big things, small things, medium things—of our own free will; that forward propulsion is, more often than not, simply sufficient.

Bay to Breakers this year, which was the first half of the IRL iteration of SF’s iconic rise since the pandemic began in March 2020, was an exercise in that direction: giving pleasure at your own pace.

Yeah, there’s a “Straight Pride” tinge to all of this…that I don’t really care about. Of course, the moral compasses of his fiscal sponsors don’t point in, say, the same direction as most racing fans. Traffic slowdowns and displays of outright drunkenness are abhorrent.

But it’s the equivalent of Mardi Gras in San Francisco.

RUnning Bay to Breakers, steep and precarious road course, is nothing new for my lower body. It was, after all, my fourth year running the race…without shoes.

(What might surprise you the most, dear reader, is that this race, in particular, is one of the best of its kind in the county for barefoot running. It’s a fully enclosed road course, lending itself to conditions for the seasoned minimalist runner to savor their well-deserved calluses.)

Photo: courtesy of the author

It’s a monotonous spectacle which I have taken a liking to. Like early spring rain on the bougainvillea. Or the first unusually thick blanket of mist to roll over the Golden Gate Bridge comes “Fogust.” How the passage of the hand of a benevolent stranger on Page Street reiterates a particular salubrity still evident in San Francisco.

What I didn’t understand at the start of the race was the fact that something had, in fact, changed this time: we were going to race on a permanent JFK Drive without a car for the first time since it was solidified by the city. April legislature.

My the breath had not yet eased upon entering Golden Gate Park – an attack of respiratory distress made difficult by my recently recovered case of Covid-19 – but there was lightness in the air.

Not the lightness offered by the stripping of the mass.

No.

Not that.

What I’m referring to is the frivolity of watching pedestrians reclaim pavement. Then, the realization of this dominance acquired through automobiles will continue to exist after the barriers of the ancients are removed.

This I was at the intersection of Conservatory and JFK drives when I felt truly present and engaged with San Francisco. The nearly five miles to this point were placed inside a stimulation fishbowl; inebriated spectators were exacerbated only by the deafening roar of well-meaning applause; it was an orchestra of encouragement that my introverted self found more entertaining than valuable – but that in no way negates the joyful, celebratory, and supportive nature behind these chants.

But all that cacophony of motivation dissolved into a calmer, more still impulse to continue on JFK Drive, enjoying the beautiful city I managed to find myself in.

Where I can run towards a horizon embraced by the Pacific kissed by the setting sun.

San Francisco is where I met a kerosene beauty, a man who burned me down again after it all turned to ash – and, in his absence, kindled a wildfire in me somewhere along of Lincoln Avenue during a race in December.

My career as a journalist germinated here; has since dug its roots deeper here; produce saccharine fruits and periwinkle flowers by tending to these roots with painstaking obsession.

I, also, I noticed my pace picking up on JFK Drive, getting back into the 6:30 minute-mile range I had been shooting for the entire race. My eyebrows relaxed, my shoulders dropped. A smile was smeared. Sweat kept pouring down my hat and down my lip as if to remind me (by saline means) how hard my body was working.

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At this point in the race, I gave myself up to any sharp detritus that might get lodged in my calluses. Much like the way primates preen on mites, I’d soon be involved in a comparable chase – albeit a solo affair that would see me pick up shards before they burrowed further into my skin.

Balance is a fleeting thing that we put a glossy, glazed veneer on with vanilla bean icing. Rhythm, on the other hand, is something less rushed and less expected. We understand the inevitable back and forth, and how everything in our lives is in a state of entropy – a key principle of rhythm but one that doesn’t mesh too well with the ethics of balance.

Like I sat a few feet from the finish line, holding a still-peeled banana and drinking a bottle of water, I, with one pruning motion after another, cleared the debris from my feet. In these rhythmic movements to rid my soles of foreign waste, I bathed in the content that had overwhelmed me over the last 7.65 kilometers – and also realized that a substantial amount of that joy was being mopped up in running along JFK Drive, without a car.

Now imagine the fun one would find on a car-free Upper Great Highway that would stretch almost four times that length.

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