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May 18, 2009
The longest day: Valley Springs to Clements

Today Russell walked 17.15 miles!
Total walked so far = 39.63 miles

“Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet…”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Road Goes Ever On and On”

There is a tradition that happens when our group backpacks or mountain-climbs. As we’re trudging miserably up steep elevations carrying 50-lb packs, we think, “Why on earth did we ever decide to do this?” We swear never to subject ourselves to this pain again. After the trip, when the pain subsides, the memories start to get fuzzy. We think, “You know, that wasn’t so bad. Let’s do it again.” And so it goes.

I’m currently having a similar experience, except daily. When I got up from the motel last night to walk to dinner, I could barely move. I was so tired, I had only one serving at the all-you-can-eat restaurant (a rarity for Russell). When I got up from the restaurant to walk back, I could barely move. Returning at 9:00 pm, I had my first trip experience walking in the dark. This made it even harder to keep from getting hit by a car on a road with no shoulder.

Nevertheless, this morning I was up again and ready to walk the next leg.

There is another tradition of mountain climbing. Climbers awaken at base camp at some ungodly hour (midnight or 2:00 am) to begin their trek, so that they can summit and descend all in one day. With another hot day ahead and a 21-mile route, last night I decided that I would start early today. I actually woke up this morning at 3:30 am but decided that was too early – I wouldn’t be able to see anything.

I did end up departing at 5:45 am. As a result, I missed the motel’s continental breakfast that starts at 7:00. I skipped the breakfast diner in Valley Springs that opens at 6:30. I even missed Mar-Val Foods’ opening at 7:00. On the other hand, I got to see a beautiful 6:00 sunset over Valley Springs.

Sunrise over Valley Springs

Valley Springs was originally established by the railroad company in the mid 1800s. The railroad had intended Valley Springs to be a major point, so it bought acres of property and laid out a town for many homes for its employees. Unfortunately, the local railroad never got off the ground to supplant the stagecoach industry, and Valley Springs didn’t turn into a major business district.

In the 1900s, three local reservoirs were constructed – the Camanche, Pardee and New Hogan – and Valley Springs was finally on the map. With the construction of a golf course in 1974, the town began to grow. Unfortunately, its rapid and overdevelopment in recent years caused an implosion during the recent real estate downturn.

Valley Springs

The 10th Green Inn, located next to the La Contenta Golf Course, is surprisingly still the only guest accommodation anywhere near Valley Springs. It was originally office buildings until the owner converted it to a motel. My corner room had the best amenities so far: a refrigerator, microwave, satellite television, DVD player, a fireplace, and – of course – continental breakfast. Unfortunately I didn’t get to use any of them.

(When I checked in yesterday, I was first greeted by Liz’s young daughter. Her first sentence was: “I sure hope you speak English.” But it was not nearly as funny as her next sentence: “…Because my Spanish isn’t very good.”)

My room at the 10th Green Inn
(Yes, the motel is for lease – in fact, the Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill is for sale)

There is a huge difference walking the 1.5 miles from the motel to town at 65º F as opposed to 109º F. It’s enjoyable.

My music selection today was Howard Shore’s Complete Symphonic Score for the “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy. At more than seven hours of continuous music, I hoped it would last me the entire day’s walk.

By the time the hobbits had reached the elven sanctuary of Rivendell, I had arrived at my own milestone of Burson’s Donuts, outside of the town of Burson (population 386, 3.6 miles from Valley Springs). We have driven past this place for years, wondering why anyone would establish a donut shop in the middle of nowhere. I was looking forward to having an 8:00 breakfast here. The sign on the door was devastating: “No credit/No debit.” I am carrying no cash on this walk. Oh well.

Wendy, a woman in the parking lot offered to drive me to an ATM or even give me some money. I declined both offers, and walked into Burson instead. At Burson Market I sat on the outside stoop and ate some leftover sandwiches for breakfast, then went inside and bought some more Gatorade (Burson Market accepts credit/debit cards). The clerk, a young man named Hans, was very envious of my walk and said he wished he could join me.

I did make a point of stopping in at the Burson Post Office, where Wendy is postmistress. We had a lovely chat about my birthday walk and her daily commute from Stockton to Burson.

Burson Donuts, where Russell did not have breakfast, and
Burson Market, where he did (sitting on the front stoop on the right)

At 11:15, just as “The Fellowship of the Ring” ended, I arrived in Wallace (population 220, 5.4 miles from Burson). I had been warned that both restaurants here are closed, so I just sat on one of the benches at C.K. Wang and had a snack (a granola bar from Hotel Leger and some Gatorade).

Wallace and C.K. Wang's (Russell snacked on the benches on the right)

At 2:00, in the middle of the battle for Helm’s Deep, I arrived in Clements (population 717, 6.6 miles from Wallace). Between Wallace and Clements I crossed the county line from Calaveras to San Joaquin, so I have officially passed from Gold Country into the Central Valley.

Today's terrain: the live oak orchards of Calaveras gave way to the vineyards and farms of San Joaquin

In Clements, I stopped for lunch at Webster’s Country Burgers (since 1963!), where I indulged in a Casper’s chili dog and a large root beer float. Webster’s advertises itself as a “drive-in” restaurant. Fortunately they also have tables for people like me who don’t have a car. I took a full 45 minute break here for lunch, despite being subjected the entire time to a very loud flock of roosters.

Clements and Webster's Country Burgers

It was definitely cooler today, and the early start helped immensely. But it was still a very long trudge, as I constantly fell a half hour or more behind where I thought I should be at any given time. The long periods of straight road didn’t help; they just informed me that I had even further to walk before I would arrive anywhere. I spent the day looking forward to the “Speed Limit 45” signs that announced that a next town was finally coming up. By afternoon, the backs of my legs were so sunburned that I had to switch to long pants.

I stopped in at a market to buy some sunburn medication, and had the following conversation with the bagger:

She: Are you walking for fun, or what?
Me: Well, it’s not really much fun right now. Why do you ask?
She: I saw you walking when I drove into work this morning, and now I see you here.
Me: Where do you live?
She: In Valley Springs.

My destination for today is supposed to be Lockeford, but so far I've only arrived in Clements. Well… I will talk about the last leg of today’s trip in my next entry.

Russell (finally) gets to sit down for lunch

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