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May 22, 2009
On the seventh day: Resting in Tracy

Tracy city limit

“Most of my treasured memories of travel are recollections of sitting.”
– Robert Thomas Allen

How is life on the road? Here is what my typical days are like:

All of my clothes fit into this flat zippered bag

I spend about six hours a day walking. This does not include drink breaks, bathroom breaks, and a longer lunch break. I try to stop every hour to drink two cups of Gatorade. (With my trekking poles, it’s not possible to walk and drink at the same time.) A drink break requires both shade and a suitable place to sit down. It can sometimes take me an extra half-hour before I find such a place. I’m only drinking about half of what’s recommended (one quart every hour), but I can’t pack more.

Bathroom breaks are even harder. I have to find a tree – in the shade and away from any residential area – that’s large enough to shield me from traffic coming from any direction. (The other day I found what I thought was a perfect spot. In the middle of doing my business, a motorcycle cop pulled up right behind me, stopped and parked. Apparently, he was setting up a speed trap. Luckily, he was facing the other direction.)

Lunch breaks really depend on the day. If I’m lucky enough to find a restaurant – and I’m still far from my destination – I will park myself for at least an hour. (The downside is that I end up completing my walk in the peak heat of the day.) I am challenged by an overall lack of appetite during this trip. I know that I am burning calories like crazy, but my body seems to be in “shut-down mode,” reserving its energy for my legs and brain. As a result, my stomach doesn’t tell me it’s hungry. I have to make sure that I eat regularly so I don’t get sick.

Drying ones clothes without a dryer is a long, slow process
It goes much faster when you have a car shuttle sitting in the sun!

I may write before or after dinner, depending on what time it is. It takes me at least two hours to write my daily letter. This includes downloading, sorting and editing photos; remembering what I did that day; formatting, uploading, checking and correcting the web pages. (I usually need to make a lot of corrections, because my brain is basically fried by this point.)

As I previously recounted, I originally thought of doing everything with an iPAQ. The laptop PC was a last-minute addition, but I’m sure glad I made it. At any point I will have multiple windows open: a photo folder, web letter folder, word processor, text editor (I encode all of my html manually), and web browser for uploading. An iPAQ would have taken at least three times as long every day.

Taking pictures during the day is a whole ritual in itself. In addition to scenery shots, I like to get some pictures with me in them. Because I am usually out in the middle of nowhere, it’s difficult to find someone else to hold the camera. I brought a backpacking tripod, but it’s three inches long and only works when there is a tall flat surface to put it on. So I also brought several strips of Velcro, which enable me to strap the camera to a nearby tree or post. The rest is up to the camera’s 10-second timer and my ability to run fast enough to get in place. Anytime I take a picture of myself, it requires a good five minutes of preparation.

Working in motel rooms can be a challenge. In Mokelumne Hill – which had no table or chair – I used a dresser and my tiny folding chair.

For entertainment, I brought crossword puzzles and several shows. I also grabbed a paperback book from the “free” box at the Mokelumne Hill library. I have yet to watch a single show or open the book. By the time I’m done with my day it’s 11:00 pm, and I am so wiped out I sleep like a log.

All of this brings me to today, which is actually a day off. In my original schedule it was a fluke; I didn’t want to cross the Altamont Pass until the weekend (with my family), so I had to spend two days in Tracy. I’m sure glad I did! I didn’t sleep in this morning (I don’t use an alarm clock, and once my body trains itself to awaken me at 5:00 am it keeps doing so), but it’s very nice to be off my feet for a day.

I had breakfast in a community room next to the lobby. At 6:00 am, my only companions where a couple businessmen wandering around in zombie-like stupors. I sat and did some crossword puzzles.

Tracy (population 81,107) is very much a “bedroom community” for the San Francisco Bay Area, with many people commuting back and forth every day. The town was used for the parade scene in the old Robert Redford movie “The Candidate.”

(More recently, Tracy has unfortunately been the center of two very tragic news stories. Last December, a teenage boy was found to have been tortured and shackled in a house until he successfully escaped. Two months ago, eight-year-old Sandra Cantu went missing from her mobile home park; her body was discovered a week later and a neighbor woman was arrested.)

My location in Tracy is in a commercial district, surrounded by at least three malls of stores and restaurants, including Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and even a Costco. (That’s a difference between guys and girls. My sister Joanne would have mentioned the Tracy Outlet Mall.) I had a lunch of comfort food at Chevy’s (molé chicken enchiladas) and hope to window shop this afternoon.

I am also taking advantage of this downtime to catch up on some business.

  1. My schedule going forward calls for five more days of walking, four of which have 15-plus miles per day. In some cases I don’t have a lot of choice; the closest accommodations are that far apart. But I considered whether I should add one more day of rest, or slow my pace down to 10-12 miles per day when possible. After doing some research online, I concluded that my current itinerary is still the best – so the route will stay the same.
  2. A reporter at our local home newspaper, the Cupertino Courier, interviewed me by telephone today. Matt Wilson and I chatted for half an hour about everything from logistics to loneliness. I was concerned that I was boring him, but he reassured me: “This is so much better than covering City Hall.”
  3. In yet another fantastic birthday surprise, Gail scheduled me for a 1.5-hour massage at Massage Envy here in Tracy later this afternoon! (It’s practically across the street from my motel, so I don’t even have to walk very far!) Gail told me about this right before I started, so I could look forward to it. Of course, I then went out and got sunburn on both of my legs. The good news is that the sunburn has now healed after days and days of aloe sunburn lotion.

Gail, Cameron and Joss are scheduled to drive up here tonight. We will have a belated birthday celebration, then my sons will join me in walking across the Altamont Pass tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is some more birthday trivia:

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