The Bridge at the End of the World

The Hikers’ Guide to the Valley (#1)

“It’s the edge of the world and all of western civilization
The sun may rise in the East at least it’s settled in a final location.”
— Californication, Red Hot Chili Peppers

“If we go ahead from here, we won’t be able to catch the next train back,” I said.

Vinayak took a pause from his brisk walk, “Uhh.. okay, are you sure you want to go back?”

“Screw it. We’ll catch the one after that. Aaj to Golden Gate Bridge dekh ke hi jaenge,” (we’ll visit the Golden gate bridge for sure today) was my firm reply. I had been checking my watch regularly to make sure we had enough time to get back to the train station, but I realized when the time to turn back actually came, that not catching this train was an option. And I took it.

How many times does one get to walk over to one of the most famous bridges in the world?

Vinayak chuckled and the three of us started walking again, following a trail that we had found after losing it about a quarter of an hour back.

This was the sixth (or was it the seventh? I don’t remember exactly now) weekend since the start of my first quarter at Stanford. Archit was working at Google Brain, and Vinayak had graced us with his presence in the Bay Area thanks to his orientation at Facebook. Our fourth partner in Valley explorations, Kart, was busy working on a project, and as a result, had decided to stay on campus for this trip.

After walking for about two hours from the south end of the Presidio up to the edge of the ocean, Archit, Vinayak and I found ourselves standing at the Golden Gate visitors’ center. Looming large in front of us was the Golden Gate bridge, with the Pacific Ocean flanking it on either side. The mighty red bridge that stood inviting before us was the iconic image symbolizing San Francisco, and even California in certain contexts.

The Bridge at the End of the World, on a smoky afternoon

The entire state of California, and especially the San Francisco Bay Area, had been up in smoke for the last few days due to wildfire and the subsequent worsening of the air quality. The reduced visibility gave an impression of half the bridge being completely out of sight, swallowing up the people and the cars that went into the distance, and spewing out an equal number in return. The smoke did take away from the view, but not enough to deter the waves of awe splashing against my heart, just as those down in the Pacific kissed the sand.

Adding to the stunning view was the regular rhythm of the sound that the speeding vehicles made as they shot across the road onto the bridge. A certain part of the road was slightly raised, and the change in altitude as they sped over it produced a deep version of a click, which was music to my ears. There was a toll booth just before the bridge on the road leading up to it, which seemed like the origin of the hundreds of cars coming towards the bridge.

The setting felt surreal to me. My daily life gradually faded away from my mind as I lost myself in soaking up the significance of being at this place.

I realized then that I was (likely) at the westernmost point at land on the map of the planet at a specific latitude. Geographically, that was significant.

That realization seemed huge to me then, and it seems huge to me now — this place, in a way, is at the edge of the world. And yet its contribution to the world of technology makes sure that it is never at the fringes.

When I was in my sophomore year, I had read major portions of a book titled The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, the author who shot to fame, at least in my eye, with the publication of Steve Jobs’s biography (he was the chairman and CEO of CNN). It was a history of the digital revolution, from the first known programmer Lady Ada Lovelace, through the invention of the transistor, the first computers and eventually the age of gaming and smartphones. That was also the time when I was just starting out with Computer Science classes, and thus the book had a deep impact on my perception of the tech world and its history, and had planted seeds of fascination for the Silicon Valley in my heart, if there weren’t enough reasons for them to exist already.

The sky grew darker as we walked along the bridge. I turned back to look at the city of San Francisco, glowing brightly in the dark with tall buildings and speeding cars with yellow headlights, with the eyes of a pilgrim. This city and the small strip of land south of it had caused more ripples in the tech world, the world I considered myself truly a part of, than the entire rest of the world combined, or so some would claim.

Is this place perfect? No.

Is it worth spending two years of your life in? I guess so.

Graduate Student at Stanford University. Interested in Machine Learning, entrepreneurship and literature.