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May 20, 2009
Entering civilization: Stockton to Lathrop

Today Russell walked 14.3 miles!
Total walked so far = 73.08 miles

“Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone,
and the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
– Paul Tillich

When we drive from Cupertino up to our mountain house, we regard the intersection of Highways 88 and 99 as a milestone. It is at this point that we leave civilization. The concrete and car-filled freeways give way to open fields and country roads. Because I am walking this same route backwards, I have anticipated that my arrival in Stockton would mean the opposite: a return to civilization.

The international symbol that one is approaching civilization

My accommodations last night – the Clarion Hotel – were at this intersection. I had always regarded it as part of Waterloo. Officially it is in Stockton, but it is not really in the city. Instead, it looks more like a large truck stop, with fast-food restaurants and motel chains. I had dinner last night at Perko’s so I could have breakfast this morning at Denny’s.

The intersection of Highways 88 and 99

I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in until 6:30, and it really helped. This morning I felt refreshed and full of energy. After a “Grand Slam” breakfast, I hit the road at 9:00.

I have entered the part of my trek where I can no longer walk the same route that we drive. With the beginning of “civilization,” the driving route from here on consists of freeways that don’t allow pedestrians. So instead of walking on Highway 99, I stayed on Highway 88 where it turns into just Waterloo Road. I am now seeing things that I have never seen before, and I was surprised to find myself in East Stockton.

Stockton (population: 290,141), where my father grew up, is the first community in California whose name is not Native American or Spanish. It is the 13th largest city in the state, as well as the county seat of San Joaquin. Unfortunately, it is also the country’s fifth most dangerous city because of its crime rate, according to Forbes magazine.

This is partly because Stockton was disproportionately affected by the real estate collapse a few years ago. The value of houses had tripled in value between 1998 and 2005, which means they had a long way to fall. In 2007 and 2008, Stockton led the U.S. in foreclosures (one out of every 30 homes). Stockton also had an unemployment rate of 13.3 percent last year.

East Stockton – in the background is Highway 4, which we normally drive to get from 5 to 99 (I wonder if it has occurred to Gail yet that all of these photos are taken from the middle of the road)

I kept all of this in mind as I walked for several hours through what was obviously a relatively low-income and industrial section of the city. (The first person I encountered was a guy walking down the street, screaming into his cell phone, “You’re going to jail! You’re going to jail, man!” I did not make eye contact.) The good news is that everyone was friendly to me, which was important because my mapquest route was completely wrong and I had to ask for directions. I had the following conversation with a group of construction workers:

Worker: Excuse me, but we were all wondering. What are those things?
Me: These are trekking poles. They’re not ski poles; they have rubber tips.
Worker: What are they for?
Me: If you use these while hiking, you can burn off 40 percent more calories.
Worker: Okay. We all knew you weren’t crazy.
Me: Oh no, I could just be crazy.

After several miles, I finally turned onto Airport Blvd, which runs north-south directly between Highway 99 and Highway 5. From the map, I had expected a smaller and quieter road that would preserve the feeling of being in the country. I guess the name “Airport Blvd” should have tipped me off. It was a multi-lane industrial thoroughfare, filled with traffic and long-haul trucks.

I arrived at my halfway point at 11:30: the Stockton Metropolitan Airport. This gave me an opportunity to wash up, sit down in a real chair and rehydrate myself. I didn’t need any food because I was still full from breakfast (I never did have lunch today).

Russell at his mid-day rest stop (there is no reflection of a photographer because there is no photographer)

Once I was past the Airport, Airport Blvd actually did turn into the smaller and quieter country road that I had imagined. I saw cows, horses, sheep and goats. The cows were absolutely fascinated by me; entire herds would just stop and just stare at me as I walked by (I guess when you stand out in a pasture every day for your entire life, you’ll take any thrill you can get).

My music selection for the day was “The Beatles Anthology.” I discovered that the walking goes much faster when you have discrete songs with beginnings and endings, as opposed to the continuous background monotony of a soundtrack.

The temperature was a good 20 degrees cooler than a few days ago; even in the noon sun with no shade, there was a pleasant breeze. I really felt today that I have hit my walking stride. My body has realized that I’m going to walk 15 miles a day, and it has given up trying to fight me. The “plumbing” is all back to normal. (And thanks to everyone for their comments and emails wishing me well!) Both Gail and my sister remarked that I sounded particularly chipper when I talked to them on the phone.

Today's terrain: Airport Blvd before and after the airport is like two completely different roads

By 3:00 I had arrived in Lathrop and checked into my motel. The Holiday Inn Express is a fantastic accommodation; the friendly receptionist gave me a newspaper, two bottles of water, two apples and a package of microwave popcorn.

This part of Lathrop looks like another large truck stop. My dinner choices are Denny’s… or every fast-food chain known to mankind.

(Gail has asked me to write a few words about dining alone. How’s this: “I love it.” I love to sit in a booth by the window and watch traffic go by. If I’m lucky, I can get ahold of someone’s newspaper. If not, I have my crossword puzzle book. I get to take my time and spread out. I get to chat with the waiter/waitress.)

I have finished walking early today, so I have the whole evening to relax. My sister Joanne is going to meet me here later tonight and walk with me tomorrow (on my birthday). Because of upcoming car shuttles, for the next several days I will get to walk “lite” – without a daypack! Life is good.

I can just make out the mountains in the far distant background. It's hard to believe I will be crossing them only three days from now!

Personal note to Gail: The dog bites shouldn’t leave scars, but the rabies has made me a little crazed. I have grown a beard, and I am currently having so much fun that I’m never coming home.

Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!

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