the outside world

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Trying to Breathe

Now that I'm once again living within the City and County of San Francisco, I bike to work along a completely new route, without a commuter train portion of my commute. But just like in my my former neighborhood, I can't help but notice that some streets I drive down have turned into a monster truck parking lots. You know what I mean: massive work vehicles legally exempt from passenger vehicle pollution standards which get as little as 11 miles to the gallon ( are used daily by thousands of my neighbors, who joyfully sit in traffic with thousands of other commuters complaining about "traffic" (by which they mean people like themselves) while their polluting vehicles ( damage the climate and the health of all around them.

And most of them appear to think it's fine to share their emissions with others. A mailing list I read tells of encounters in which SUV owners rationalize not only their ownership of extra-polluting tanks, but also say their vehicles are 'too large to park legally' and so block the sidewalks, making pedestrians walk in the street.

Well, gosh.

On top of that, those monsters waste a lot of energy. According to the Sierra Club,

"Switching from an average new car to a 13 mpg SUV for a year would waste more energy than leaving a refrigerator door open for six years, a bathroom light burning for 30 years, or a color TV turned on for 28 years."

Plus they have worse brakes than other vehicles. Gee, what more could one want?

Consider this, from Redefining Progress (

"While consumers love to complain about supposedly high gasoline prices, the price drivers pay at the pump is actually misleadingly cheap," said Redefining Progress Executive Director Michel Gelobter. "Every time we drive, we create economic and environmental costs for which we are not responsible. This must change. It is time for drivers to pay their own way." The congestion costs outlined by the 2002 Urban Mobility Study ( are an example an "external cost," or those costs not borne directly by the people causing them. There are other external costs in driving, including air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, noise pollution, and the sheer infrastructure devoted to vehicles.

Hold your friends and loved ones to a higher standard and teach them that driving costs us all something, in money or in health. Ask them to drive less, to drive a less polluting vehicle, or not to drive at all. Everyone who breathes will thank you for it!

Useful links:

About SUVs: About the bad things dependence upon cars causes: Alternatives to auto-dependence:

Two Wheeled Joy

One breathing-friendly mode of transportation is biking. Biking is fast, fun, and inexpensive. It can save you hundreds of dollars every year in health club dues (admit it: you feel silly driving to the gym, taking the elevator up a level, and then running or cycling on a stationary machine going nowhere. And you pay to do it!), hours sitting in traffic, and hours waiting for buses. It's fun, and even in relatively urban areas like San Francisco (where more than 30 pedestrians were killed in one recent year), it's reasonably safe. Also, it improves your aerobic capacity and lets you breathe easier all the time!

And then there's that strangely satisfying feeling that comes from biking past huge lines of cars stacked up in daily traffic, going nowhere while you sail past. [sigh!]

I used to think that biking was too dangerous and too much effort. This is a popular misconception, which people who feel secretly guilty about driving try to promote. Like eating right and exercising, there are folks out there who choose not to make an effort, and will try to convince you that it's a terrible idea. And then you'll try it, and it's like jumping into a cold swimming pool: once you're in it, you can't figure out what took you so long to take the plunge.

Biking in San Francisco is just like this ( article by Jan Richman).

Some useful links:

California and Bay Area organizations with tips on getting started:

Great Places to Hike in the San Francisco Bay Area

A friend recently asked me where he should go hiking, if he had his car and wanted to get out of the City, but didn't want to go more than an hour or two away. I was going to say, 'you silly goose, why don't you just go to my 'great places to hike' report on my web page and look?' And then I realized that I only touch on a few of the places I love, and that they're not in any sensible geographic or jurisdictional order.


Pardon my laxity. This list is now organized first by the national parks, then by state parks; on each list, they're organized from north to south. Links to the official park websites are provided. (Sadly, you'll need a car to get to most of these parks for day trips, so take all of your friends in one vehicle to make it worth the gas.)

National Parks and Recreation Areas

Point Reyes National Seashore ( This is a windswept peninsula filled with forests, big trees, meadows, elk, beaches, cliffs, and an adorable lighthouse at the bottom of a very long flight of steps (currently being restored). There are hiking trails, biking trails, and equestrian trails. There are hike-in campsites which can be had on short notice, so long as you can hike a few miles over a tall ridge to get to camp. It's just west of Samuel P. Taylor State Park's redwood forests (see below), and is very, very large. There aren't many places just an hour by car from SF where entire herds of elk roam free. You can visit every weekend for months and not take the same trails.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area ( is a huge, multi-use area in the San Francisco Bay Area which provides gorgeous views and coastal access both north and south of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. In addition to all sorts of old military fortifications, which are slowly rusting and eroding in the sand, there are cool old forts, fabulous hiking trails to gorgeous coves, sandy beaches, windy cliffs, and fabulous views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. On the north side, be sure to see the Point Bonita Lighthouse. On the south, enjoy the Presidio's ( lush eucalyptus forests, the fresh breezes of Crissy Field, and the view of sailboats bobbing in the bay.

Muir Woods National Monument (, within the GGNRA, is a heavily visited redwood forest. Tourists love it; much of it is wheelchair accessible, but I also find it crowded. It's worth visiting, but won't be your most peaceful redwood forest experience. (See my State Park recommendations instead.)

For all other national parks, visit the National Park Service ( home page.

State Parks in the San Francisco Bay Area

I highly recommend the following parks, listed more or less north to south. Each state park can be found within the California State Parks Home Page (

Samuel P. Taylor State Parkis my favorite public redwood forest: a lush and narrow valley full of soft trails, giant trees, fresh smells, and the sound of a creek. (Also, the sound of large trucks passing on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, but still.) Dry grasslands are gold in summer, lush and green in spring. I camped here regularly as a child, and have always felt especially relaxed while visiting this 2,700 acre park. Despite easily 100 visits, I inexplicably still haven't visited the fire lookout.

Angel Island State Park, in San Francisco Bay, requires a lot of planning: the ferry schedule is fussy, and you don't want to have to sleep on the island when the fog comes in after missing the last ferry! Excellent bay views; isolated beaches; fresh air; a great view of the Golden Gate; plenty of sun in sheltered coves. It looks crowded from the ferry, but that's because so many people never leave the harbor!!

San Bruno Mountain State Park includes that very, very large hill you see when you leave the airport and head for San Francisco. No, not the one with the sign on it -- the BIG on behind it. The trail at the ridge of this mountain is windy, but provides great views of San Francisco, Daly City, San Bruno, Brisbane, and the bay. This park is known for its wildflower display in spring, including some flowers which feed butterflies that exist no where else on earth. (Should I mention the plague fleas? No.)

Big Basin State Park is a massive, part old, part second growth redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is possible to feel 1,000 miles away from the silicon valley here. It is quiet, the hiking trails never seem crowded, and there are NO cities visible in any direction from any peak within the park. It is cold in the lush, dark bottom of the valleys and hot at the tops of the ridges, just as it should be. The streams and waterfalls are GORGEOUS in the spring (and even when they're just a trickle). As a luxurious and slightly expensive-for-camping bonus, a concessionaire offers "tent cabins," which have wooden walls and screens with canvas covers topped by a canvas roof, each with its own wood-burning fireplace, a dining table, and a couple of bed frames with hard mattresses. I cannot even tell you how wonderfully warm those fire places get on a cold, cold forest night.

Castle Rock State Park is a small park just past Big Basin -- you can see some of Big Basin's ridges from its ridges. There are only a few trails, but the views of the mountains are wide and lush. There's a waterfall and some rocks that are popular with climbers. The last time I considered camping here, I could hear constant gunfire from a nearby private firing range. THAT is an unfortunate neighbor for a park to have!

Out on the coast, you can stop at Point Lobos State Reserve, a large coastal park with some very strange rock formations, at least one nearly white-sand beach, lots of tidepools, and seals!

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a pretty place to camp, though campfires from the 200+ sites can make the entire sheltered valley very smoky. There's a nice little waterfall and a very fancy restaurant in a lodge in this park that makes delicious, hot, hearty breakfasts. Mmmm, huevos rancheros. Luxury!

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is Big Sur's big sister, but without campgrounds. This park has a gorgeous beach waterfall and some rigorous hiking and fabulous coastal views. It's about 12 miles south of its sister park. Many of the trails are all up, up, up to the ridge, and then steep down. Wear good shoes. Additional trails are being added, making more of this park accessible to hikers.

Speaking of parks that include the word Sur, Point Sur State Historic Park is this wild, steep rock that juts out of the coastline from a dramatic slope, and has an improbable lighthouse built right at the top of it. The park is run by volunteers, who give excellent tours. The neat old buildings at the top of the rock are being restored. Visit! Visit! Visit!

I haven't visited most of the state parks in my very large home state! But I would like to, over time.

Great Places to Hike far, far beyond the San Francisco Bay Area: Yosemite

Admittedly, this section is now entirely about Yosemite. But that's okay: Yosemite is GREAT.

Yosemite National Park ( has a huge wilderness with scenes of incredible beauty. There are high altitude trails that pass frosty lakes and look on glaciers; low altitude trails that pass through grassy meadows were deer graze; and steep, long trails that climb to the tops of waterfalls and back again. There is also a valley, the center of the park, that is just teeming with tourists and traffic.

I don't go there much. But it is a great place to get oriented, get used to the altitude (for those of us wimpy sea-level dwellers who get altitude headaches easily), and catch a bus to a distant trailhead, with a long, largely downhill backpacking trip in between. Not that I usually have the good sense to plan downhill hikes, but the option is there, if you choose it.

Backpacking: a few short adventures

Backpacking vacations may be the most beautiful, challenging, meditative time I spend each year. In honor of the great outdoors, I've started a page devoted to this, one of my favorite outdoor activities: my backpacking page, which could use some work, as always. Included are links to my web galleries, which cover several of my trips.

Things to Eat in the Great Outdoors: camping food

Camping supply shops sell all kinds of overpriced, dried foods for your outdoor adventures. Many of them are NASTY. When I go camping, I like to go to health food stores and Asian markets and bring such foods as:

Finally, I recommend Tom Harrison Maps ( for all of your California outdoor adventures.

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last updated december 30, 2006

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