September 05, 2017

Conquering LA's 'Golden Gate' Bridge

Since I'd driven over the Vincent Thomas Bridge, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to also walk across it.

That's totally normal for a New Yorker, but most Angelenos don't seem to have the same "thing" about bridge crossings.

Besides, our bridges don't even have pedestrian pathways.

The only way I knew to get over the Vincent Thomas Bridge on foot was to sign up for a Labor Day race called "Conquer the Bridge," already a handful of years into running. I wasn't interested at all in racing, per se—but if I could walk the 5.3 miles roundtrip, I was willing to give it a try.

Races like these are actually big to-dos, even if you're not in the competitive spirit. And since the Labor Day race occurs on the last day of Fleet Week in the Port of Los Angeles, some military hornists treated us with a performance of today's pop hits, marching band-style.

Of course, when I signed up a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get up early enough to make the 7 a.m. starting time. And even when I did manage to actually get up at 5 a.m., I was certain that something would happen along the way—a traffic accident, or whatnot—to sabotage my plan.

And I wasn't far off—because it actually turned out that the weather didn't entirely cooperate, and complications from the morning's rain delayed us for nearly an hour.

To be honest, as I stood there at Harbor Boulevard and 5th Street, I was hoping the organizers would find some good reason to cancel it. I would've gladly gone home and back to bed instead of standing there in my hot pink sneakers and bib safety-pinned to my green T-shirt, my car key slung around my neck on a lanyard.

Much to my dismay, by 7:45 a.m., we were off—first the runners, then military, and then the walkers like me.

I suspect I might've set off alongside Group 2 instead of Group 3. It was kind of confusing and disorganized—and I'm a novice when it comes to these things.

After all, to me, it wasn't a "race." It was simply an opportunity to see San Pedro and Terminal Island—that is, the Port of LA—from a vantage point that few others have experienced.

And while I'm glad I'm no longer a New Yorker, I've still got something of a thing for crossing bridges on foot.

I found myself uncontrollably smiling and somewhat giddy as I climbed up the ramp to CA-47 for the Vincent Thomas Bridge...

...a path that I've driven in the past...

...though never thought I would experience outside the safe confines of my own vehicle.

Walking the Vincent Thomas Bridge isn't worth it if you do it to get a good view of the surrounding Port—because whatever there is to see down there can only be viewed through a chainlink fence that keeps suicidal trespassers from leaping to their death.

You've got to walk it for the bridge itself—known as "San Pedro's Golden Gate."

Built in 1960-63 and named after California assemblyman Vincent Thomas, it was the first welded (nt riveted) suspension bridge in the country, using 1270 tons of suspension cable in its construction. It's also the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the state.

This morning, both runners and walkers occupied the four lanes normally crowded with cars...

...surrounded and dwarfed by its steel girders...

...traversing all 1500 feet of its length, plus the approach and the turnaround point, adding up to a total of 5.3 miles.

Of course, I've hiked five or six miles before—and I've walked as many as 17 miles in a day—but as soon as I reached the Terminal Island end of the bridge, I was ready to hop over the road divider and head back.

After all—and once again—I was there for the bridge and not the race. Why walk more than I had to? The bridge itself is only 2.2 miles!

But since I'm a completionist—and since I have a tendency to obey the rules I've been given until I have a very good reason for disobeying them—I completed the entire course without taking a cheater's shortcut.

Besides, the communities that the bridge connects are just as important as the bridge itself—which allowed the transport of shipping containers to become a prominent part of the harbor's import and export activity between San Pedro and Terminal Island.

In fact, the Vincent Thomas Bridge is considered the official landmark that welcomes you to the City of LA (of which both Terminal Island and San Pedro are a part).

In fact, it's such an important thoroughfare that our time spent crossing it was limited—particularly with the late start we'd gotten. Caltrans, the government agency that manages the bridge, would have to reopen it by 11 a.m.—which means they'd have to sweep it of any remaining runners or walkers prior to that.

In all honesty, having that exit strategy was the deciding factor in me signing up for Conquer the Bridge at all. I was worried I wouldn't be able to complete it on my own—so the thought of a shuttle scooping me up to clear the roadway by a certain deadline convinced me that it was worth a try.

Of course, I don't like trying anything that I don't think I can actually do.

So, when facing a challenge, sometimes I've got to psych myself out a bit.

In this case, I took my own advice that I'd given many times in my business career: Even when it seems impossible, just act like it's going to happen.

So, I paused only to take pictures and refill my water bottle.

I didn't sit and rest, for fear of never getting back up again. I didn't even use the port-a-potty.

I was out of breath, sweating, sun-drenched, and blistered—just by walking!

And when I finished in under two hours (having given myself three hours to complete the course, at least in my head), it felt like a triumph.

I was happy to even finish at all—and to not have finished last! In fact, there were 469 people behind me.

And I got my medal the same as everybody else who finished the race.

Related Posts:
To the Finish Line
Keep On Moving
Photo Essay: Walking the 110

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