Day 1: Alcatraz - The North Face Endurance Championship San Francisco, CA

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Friday morning, I woke up a little before 5AM and made the short trip from downtown Charlotte to the airport (CLT).  I managed to travel enough in my two years at Siemens to learn how to be an efficient traveler; specifically knowing which security lines are less busy and being able to spot who not to get behind in line.  After making my way through security, I found some coffee and then headed toward my gate.  I made sure to hydrate while on the plane and while the flight attendant wouldn’t give me a large bottle of water she was accommodating in that she filled up my cup a few times while she made her way past.  She later remarked, “I should’ve just given you the bottle.”  What can I say?  I was parched.  For some reason, I had the idea in my head that the flight was only five hours but in actuality it was closer to six with us leaving around 7:30 AM (EST) and arriving in San Francisco a little before 10:30 AM (PST) with a three the hour time difference.  Pretty darn long the morning before a race!  However, I managed to use the flight to be productive and knocked out my pre-race post as well finish an assignment for school.

I mentioned in my pre-race post that I purchased a ticket to tour Alcatraz via Alcatraz Cruises on the Wednesday prior to leaving.  At the time I booked, the latest possible tour departure time was 1:35, which gave me roughly three hours from the time I landed at SFO to travel downtown via the BART train, stop by packet pickup at the North Face store on Post St., pick up the rental car, and drive to/find parking near the pier.  Psh!  Plenty of time right?  Once the plane landed, I quickly navigated through the airport (via the airtrain) following the signs for the BART train where I hopped on the train toward downtown.  A short 40 minutes later I reached the downtown area and walked the three blocks or so from Montgomery St. station to the North Face store arriving just after 11:30.  I spotted these folks along the way and thought, “well you just don’t see that everyday in the city.”

Upon arriving at the North Face store on Post Street, I followed the signs for packet pickup, which was efficient and painless as usual.  I think I spent all of 10 minutes from the time I entered to the store to when I left.  The packet pickup was on the upper level of the store and had three tables.  First, you checked in at the table in photo below below (left) and picked up your race bib.  Next, you headed to the two folks in photo below with their backs turned in the photo (left) these folks were from Smartwool and provided us with an awesome pair of their PhD run socks!  Super nice! Finally, I headed over to the table (below right) where they explained the process of silkscreening the race shirts at the race, which I think usually throws everyone off because they expect to leave the store with their race shirt.  To be honest, I was thrown off by this the first time I went to a North Face packet pick-up but after seeing how awesome the shirts turn out, two times now, the process definitely works!  

I noticed this wall on my way out of the store and decided I had to stop and take a photo, too cool!  As North Face athletes visit the store they sign this wall.  Later in the evening, the store would host an athlete panel with North Face athletes Dean Karnazes and eventual winner of the 50 mile race, Rob Krar.

Post packet pick up, I made another short walk to National rental car, albeit the wrong National location but they were able to get it sorted out and just move my rental from the location a few blocks over.  With the rental car secured, I began the very short, distance wise, drive over to the pier 33(1.9 miles and ~30 minutes later) and found possibly the most expensive parking in San Francisco.  I knew this going into the situation but the convenience of having somewhere to put my bag was worth the cost.  Additionally, I was able to make several trips back tot the car while I waited for my boarding time to grab an extra layer (wise choice) and remove some of the extra stuff from my bag.

I arrived with plenty of time to spare as the 1:10 tour over to the island was boarding and spent the remaining time until my tour left checking out this giant model of Alcatraz and reading about its history.

**Travel advice for those considering this in the future:

  • Book your Alcatraz Cruise tickets early.
  •  Use public transit in the city or be prepared to pay for parking near the pier ($35).
  • Allow 2.5-3 hours for the entire venture, including the ferry ride over to the island (~10 minutes each way).

Once boarded, we were given a mandatory safety briefing and then made the sort jaunt from the pier over to Alcatraz Island.  The trip provided for some awesome pictures of both the island as well as the Golden Gate Bridge.  I opted to ride over on the front of the boat but for those less brave you could stay warm and toasty inside.

Looking back toward the city of San Francisco

Once on the island, you have several different options including doing your own thing (i.e. wandering around) or following one of the guided tours.  I had missed the last guided tour of the day, although I did catch a small bit of their talk, which meant I was on my own and honestly I don’t think I missed much.  I think the main attraction for most folks, myself included, is the cell house that served as a maximum security federal prison from 1934-1963 and housed notorious criminals Al Capone and Robert Stroud “the Birdman of Alcatraz”.  The cell house tour is an audio-tour that is part of your entry fee/ferry ride and was totally awesome!  The audio tour is narrated by both former inmates as well as former prison officers and did a phenomenal job walking you through the building multiple times without coming off as cheesy.

"Michigan Avenue" The row of cells with a view of San Francisco.

The library looking out toward "Michigan Avenue"

The "hole"

One of the really neat things about being on the island was the opportunity to take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Just a really neat perspective!

Before I boarded the ferry back to San Francisco, I asked one of the folks who worked on the island (and lived in the city) for a recommendation on good Italian food and he pointed me in the direction of Columbus Avenue where he said pretty much everything is good.  I began walking toward Columbus Avenue and called Michelle for help since she had a computer in front of her and my phone was almost dead.  I knew it was important to get a decent amount of calories in my body especially because I had only snacked throughout the day on things I brought with me but knew the walk would come back to bite me the next day.

I had already decided when booking the tour for Alcatraz that spending the day touring around rather than with my feet up would put me at a disadvantage but justified it to myself by saying, “when’s the next time I’ll be in San Francisco.”  In total, I probably walked between 4-5 miles including the walk to and from the pier and looking for food and walking up and down Columbus Street.  Eventually, I settled on Trattoria Contadina and enjoyed THE best meatballs and spaghetti I’ve ever eaten.  Amazing!

With my belly full, I made the chilly walk back to my rental car so that I could drive over to the headlands.  One lesson learned and perhaps a lack of foresight on my part was the need to pack/bring/pick up everything I need to eat for race morning.  I should’ve done this on the way to the headlands but failed to consider not having food available at the hostel and wound up relying on the Clif Bar, dates, and fig bar I had in my bag the next morning for race day food.

The hostel was simply amazing!  The large common room provided an area for everyone to gather and discuss their experiences from past years and gave me the opportunity to meet lots of folks who were running the 50 miler as well as the 50k the following day.  I the opportunity to meet Gerad Dean (black t-shirt in the photo below), race director of Headwaters Ultra, who ran a 7:44 the following day and took 28th overall.

Interestingly, the hostel used to be a hospital back in the early 20th century.  

Eventually, I turned in for the night ready to take on the Marin Headlands the following day!


Unknown January 5, 2014 at 4:11 PM  

Hey Brett,
Great race report and stunning photos from TNFEC - California! You nailed it!! And, congratulations on your blogging partnership with The North Face Endurance Challenge. Awesome stuff!

Don't be a stranger to California. I hope to see you again at the Marin Headlands Hostel for the 2014 TNFEC event. Even better, come out to race Headwaters in August, 2014!

All the best,

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