“We are not on this earth to accumulate victories, things, and experiences… but to be whittled and sandpapered until what’s left is who we truly are.”-Arianna Huffington
I never knew that the Captains of these big cargo and cruise ships aren’t the ones who actually navigate them into port and dock them. I found out the hard way that it’s actually someone called a harbor pilot that maneuvers the ships the last few nautical miles, which in our case is across the San Francisco Bay and into the Port of Oakland.
I only learned this terrible travel tidbit because our harbor pilot is over eight hours late.
We were supposed to get into port around 10AM this morning, but we’ve stopped about two miles shy of the Golden Gate Bride.
It’s tantalizingly close and shimmering off in the distance like a giant orange finish line.
The journey across the Pacific Ocean has been a marathon in more ways than one. It’s been twenty days since our little pit stop in Tahiti and thirty days total. Not only has it been mentally exhausting, but physically exhausting as well. My whole body aches from the inability to ever get a good night’s sleep. If I was dying to get off the ship for a breather in Papeete, then today I’m whatever the word is that makes dying seem minuscule. I can’t take another moment on board.
I’m completely over the Capricorn’s long gray corridors, dimly lit stairwells and depressing silence.
I did, however, actually wake up smiling this morning. It was the first smile my face had seen since Tahiti because I knew that today was my last day on board this dreary and soul sucking ship. But my smile was quickly washed away when I stood up and out of bed and realized that we weren’t even moving.
I’ll be damned if it isn’t always the last hour on all of these long journeys that always gets to me. It doesn’t matter if the bus ride is 22 hours or 3 hours long. It’s that last 60 minutes that seems to extend on forever, like the travel gods are playing a cruel and twisted joke on me. Maybe it’s because I’m overly excited to arrive at my next stop or just that I’m ready to unfold my long legs and be done with whatever cramped bus seat I happen to be in that day. Either way, it’s that last little stretch that always seems to find a new way to test my patience.
But today is exponentially worse than anything I’ve ever encountered before. We are just sitting out in the middle of the ocean and not even moving for God’s sake. No one’s updated me since breakfast about what’s going on or given me any information about when we might actually start moving again. And what makes it that much worse is that our actual destination is oh so tantalizingly close. I can practically see Oakland just behind the Golden Gate Bridge.
This afternoon took on a new form of helplessness that I’ve never known.
After thirty days on board I’ve honestly grown so tired of this ship that I’m just about ready to jump off and swim the last little bit if we don’t start moving soon.
When I took a trip up to the bridge after breakfast, Devinder told me that the harbor pilot we’re waiting on is coming from the Port of Oakland. Apparently, there are a lot of other cargo ships like ours coming into port today and we are just at the mercy of his backed up schedule. When I ask why the Captain can’t just do it, he tells me, “The harbor pilot has a detailed knowledge of the intricacies of the channel, the currents and tides.” Devinder even showed me a map of the tides and currents in and around the San Francisco Bay. I’d never been so confused. It looked more like a paint by numbers canvas than any map I’d ever seen.
Devinder then explained how the pilot will climb aboard our ship, “A smaller ship called a ferry-boat is going to pull along side us. The boarding is tricky and dangerous, but he’s going to climb from his boat onto a ladder that’s hanging off the side of the Capricorn. The ladder is about 40 feet long and goes to our main deck. Once the pilot climbs aboard, he will make his way up here to the bridge and then take over control of the ship as the Captain stands by to assist.”
When I first got on the Capricorn I thought a long trip at sea would be good for me, that it would give me a chance to disconnect from the world and fully get over Hayma. But after Tahiti, the opposite started happening. With no way to reach out to her, I fell into this dark place and wound up missing her more than I’d ever missed anyone in all my life. She loomed large in my mind each day and being trapped at sea left me with a feeling of desperation that I couldn’t shake.
There’s just something so special about her, and there’s no getting over her and no moving on like I’ve done in the past with other women. She’s etched out a permanent place in my heart and I’ve been clawing at the walls of my cabin because of it.
I’m not sure exactly where I was when it happened, but somewhere between Australia and Oakland I decided that I’m going to fully commit to the line that’s right in the middle of the vision board I travel with. The same one that pushed me away from Jess has only drawn me closer to Hayma.
“There are many things in life that will catch your eye. But only a few will catch your heart…pursue those.”
Not only has she caught my heart, but she’s lit a fire in my mind, body and soul too and I’ve got to see her again no matter what it takes.
At the same time, I’m just not sure what to do. I’ve felt so lost on this damn ship. It’s been paralyzing.
The lack of life on board hasn’t helped ease my pain either. It’s been absolutely excruciating being around the malaise that the crew members live under. Never talking, never smiling, never seeing anything other than the ship’s gray interior, has left them listless. No matter how hard I’ve tried to fight it, it’s rubbed off on me.
All of this pent-up frustration takes over as I march up to the bridge just after dinner.
I’m determined to finally find out more information about our delay, but as I furiously swing open the door to the bridge, a face that I don’t recognize greets me. Instinctually, I can tell that he’s American and his blonde hair and accent (or lack there of) sticks out like a sore thumb as he barks out orders to the Captain.
I quickly realize that he’s the harbor pilot we’ve been waiting for. He must have climbed aboard while I was in the dining hall just a few moments ago.
I watch him in anxious anticipation as he swiftly takes full command of the ship’s navigational equipment and overrules the Captain on a decision. I must admit that it’s kind of nice to see the Captain take a back seat for once. He hasn’t been the friendliest of fellows I’ve ever met or treated his crew with any sort of fondness.
The American pilot settles into a spot behind the helm and within seconds, the Capricorn shimmies and begins to lurch forward.
The energy inside the bridge is extremely tense. With millions of dollars of cargo on board and the ever-changing tides and currents of the San Francisco Straight, it’s a stressful situation for all crew involved. There is nothing worse than when I’m trying to take a creative photo and someone is trying to look into the lens with me, so I decide to get out of their way and let them do their job.
I climb up a ladder that’s outside the bridge to the weather deck, which actually leads me to a little platform that’s atop the bridge. It’s the upper most deck on the ship and it’s a tiny, tiny space. It certainly isn’t for the faint at heart. I’ve got to be at least fifteen stories above the sea, but the view from up here is worth fighting my fear of heights. I have a full 360-degree panorama. As I look out to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Capricorn hits its stride and the wind whips across my face.
“Were moving!” I call out against it.
A red-tailed hawk soars within a few feet of my face as if it’s trying to say hello and then it effortlessly dives down towards the water. Within minutes we are upon the beautiful bridge that I’ve been anxiously staring at all day. It’s considered a California Historical Landmark. Frommer’s travel guide describes the Golden Gate Bridge as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Frommer’s evaluation because the bridge is absolutely stunning from up here. It’s a rare cloudless summer day in San Francisco and the entire one-point-seven-mile-long bridge looks like it’s achieved Buddha-like inner peace. It’s as though it’s attached to nothing and levitating above the bay. Irving Morrow is credited with the design of the bridge. He took over as the lead architect in 1930 with the goal of creating the bridge with sleek, modern, simple, lightweight towers and artfully curved cables. He’s responsible for the dramatic Art Deco look, which connects San Francisco to Marian County.
When I first set out to make it around the world, I’d never imagined that I’d be sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. It never so much as crossed my mind as even a possibility. To be honest, I didn’t even know that ships this big could even sail underneath it. But I guess its fitting that this beautiful landmark is marking my return to the United States. Back when it was first built, a suspension bridge of this length had never been tried before. And here’s the thing about Irving Morrow that I can relate to, he was an obscure choice to design it. He had only ever designed houses and commercial buildings in San Francisco up until that point.
Like Morrow I too had no experience in what I’ve been doing, no right to just drop everything and travel around the world like this. Even though I never knew the man, I think we have one thing in common, which is that we envisioned our own creations before they ever happened. Eleven years before he was hired to design the bridge, he romanticized it by writing, “The narrow strait is caressed by breezes from the blue bay throughout the long golden afternoon, but perhaps it is loveliest at the cool end of the day when, for a few breathless moments, faint afterglows transfigure the gray line of hills.”
I’d imagine that Morrow had probably been thinking about the Golden Gate Bridge his whole life and pictured it stretching across the San Francisco Straight long before it ever did. Much like him, I’d been envisioning my own journey around the world the years that led up to it.
So many times so, that it’s like I’d already completed it before I even set out to do it.
I remember the days leading up to me leaving the United States and the uncertainty about what lied ahead. Back then I knew I’d make it, but I had no idea how. I hadn’t calculated up how much my journey would cost me; there was simply no way to know. I had no idea whether or not hotels all around the world would accept my offer to barter a film and photos for a free room.
I can’t help but to think back to my first week in Cape Town. I was so scared to spend any money that when I bought spaghetti at the supermarket I refused to let myself buy a jar of tomato sauce because I couldn’t justify splurging the extra $1.50 for such a luxurious topping for my pasta. Instead I settled for free packets of salt that someone left out on the dining room table of the first hostel I’d ever worked with.
I’d boil the noodles each night in the communal kitchen, then I’d sprinkle the salt overtop of them and try to think about what lies ahead instead of what I was eating.
As we get closer and closer to the bridge, the biggest benefit of our eight-hour delay begins to make its presence known. The sun gently sets to our west and it creates a yellowish hue that engulfs the entire bay like a thick blonde fog has just rolled in. I’d been cursing our delay all day, but its only because of it that I get to experience one of those breathless moments that Morrow wrote about nearly 100 years prior.
Surely I’m not the first person to say that sunsets have an incredible calming affect, but they really do, especially on me. They always seem to put me in my place and carry a special message with them. It’s like this one is whispering right into my ear, “Chill out, slow down, and just appreciate how far you’ve come since that first week of salty spaghetti.”
And so this is exactly what I do as we finally sail underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
I raise my arms like I’ve just hit a walk-off home run in game seven of the World Series. Waves of euphoria rush over me and a profound happiness for making it this far takes over. I let the wind carry all the feelings of frustrations from the past 30 days back out to sea. I can feel the heaviness from my time on the Capricorn drain from body and I simply allow myself to soak in the momentous moment.
As we sail past Alcatraz Island I can feel my country’s power, its size and strength engulfs me. This feels different than any other overland border crossing I’ve ever done. The United States feels like a sea of possibilities and I feel ten thousand times stronger than when I left it nearly two years ago. And strangely I haven’t missed it until right now.
“It’s good to be home,” I say over and over to the sparkling San Francisco skyline as we sail along side it.
One day my journey around the world is going to end. And only one of two things will happen: either I’ll make it all the way around the world, or I won’t. But in this moment, the only thought that keeps repeating itself in my head is, thank God this isn’t the end.