[Worldtrippers home] [Birthday walk home]

May 23, 2009
The Altamont Pass: Tracy to Livermore

Today Russell walked 15.34 miles!
Total traveled so far = 100.5 miles

“Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings.”
– Hodding Carter

My family has arrived to celebrate my birthday! After a wonderful 1.5 hour massage at Massage Envy (thanks, Gail!), Gail, Cameron and Joss arrived at about 6:30 pm last evening. (They would have been here sooner, but… that’s a long story.)

Our first stop was dad’s birthday dinner at G.K. Mongolian Barbecue (G.K. for “Genghis Khan, apparently). For those who aren’t aware, at a Mongolian barbecue you fill your own bowl with a combination of meats, vegetables, noodles and sauces. The chefs stir-fry it on a large flat griddle and you eat it. All you can eat, in fact. (I think dad won the competition over Cameron.)

Russell's birthday dinner with Gail, Cameron (18) and Joss (16)

We spent the evening watching the season five finale of “Lost,” but turned in early due to uniform exhaustion. There was a big day ahead.

Both of my sons wanted to join their dad in walking across the Altamont Pass. We specifically scheduled that leg for today so that both young men could join me.

Cameron and Joss have been best friends since early childhood. When they were four and two, we spent a month traveling cross-country – they only had each other and one box of toys to share. When they were 10 and eight, we spent a year traveling the world – they only had each other.

For Cameron, walking with me today meant him coming all the way up from his studies at U.C. Santa Cruz. (Thanks, Gail!). He didn’t need much training with all of the walking he does every day, but he did a 1.5 hour walk down a steep hill the other day just to practice.

Joss made an even bigger contribution to attend. For those who don’t know, Joss has suffered from scoliosis for the past several years. After a full-time brace failed to stop his spinal curve, he finally underwent surgery to have 12 pins attached to his spine. He still suffers from ongoing back pain, but he wanted to walk with me anyway. (Joss was also supposed to join me for the first day on May 16, but his back hurt too much to allow it.)

I warned Joss to bring snack foods. He packed chocolate Easter bunnies. I warned Cameron that there were no bathrooms. He replied, “I’m a guy. The world is my bathroom.”

Gail’s job today would be to run the chase car. (Thanks, Gail!)

Our original plan was for the boys to join me for the entire 15.34 mile walk from Tracy to Livermore. Once I actually began my walk, however (and realized how strenuous every day was), I expressed some concerns to Gail. The worst scenario would be if the boys walked the eight miles up to the Altamont Pass, then were too tired to actually cross it.

As a result, our revised plan was for me to walk the first seven miles (Grant Line Road) myself. Gail and the boys would have a leisurely breakfast, then drive to meet me for the last eight miles (Altamont Pass Road). Based on my previous walking experiences, I would begin very early at 6:00 am. That way, the boys could join me at 9:00 and the bulk of the day’s walking would occur before noon.

Well as they say, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” The morning started out well, with me hitting the road at 6:00 am. Based on my walk two days ago with my sister Joanne (when I started out with a long-sleeved shirt and ended up removing it after five minutes), I went out in short sleeves.

At dawn, facing west – We would reach the mountains in the distance by mid-morning

There were two problems with that. First, the weather has been progressively cooling for the last two days. Second, about halfway down Grant Line Road, a huge headwind began to blow… and it didn’t stop. The wind was so strong that I did not wear my hat for the first time.

By 7:30, when Gail finally called me to check in, the temperature (including wind-chill) was probably 40º F. I was freezing and I told her so. Ironically, because we had a car shuttle today, I was walking without a backpack. My long-sleeved shirt and jacket were both in the trunk of the car. Gail immediately volunteered to drive out and deliver some warmer clothes.

When Gail arrived 15 minutes later, we had a quick discussion. One option was for me to continue and have the boys join later as planned. However, given the chill and wind, it would actually be better if they joined me an hour later than 9:00 am. The problem was that I would then need to sit and wait somewhere for an hour. The second option was for Gail to drive me back to the motel so we could all have breakfast, then drive me (and the boys) back to this exact same spot to resume the walk.

We agreed on Option 2. Actually, we both shared the same fear, though we didn’t articulate it: [Russell + heart medication = hypothermia].

The boys were only too happy to skip the motel breakfast in favor of IHOP. I was still so cold that I stole much of Joss’ hot chocolate to warm me up. In retrospect, it is a very good thing that I returned. The best cure for hypothermia is lots of warm food... quickly.

As a result, our revised revised plan involved me, Cameron and Joss all starting halfway down Grant Line Road. Because the boys would be walking 12 miles instead of eight, Gail would drive a chase car throughout the day and stay in touch via cell phone.

Three gentlemen about to embark on an adventure

The first good news is that the entire day’s walk stayed in cell phone range. The second good news is that Gail found a wonderful location for the chase car’s first stop. Near the beginning of the Altamont Pass, there is a home/office run by AES SeaWest, the company that many of the windmills that cover the pass. Gail knocked on the door and asked if we could use the place for a pitstop. The workers were happy to oblige. So at noon, the three walkers took a break with restrooms, running water and sofas.

José, John and Harry of AES SeaWest. Thanks, guys!

The Altamont Pass, in California’s Diablo Mountain Range, connects the Central Valley to the Bay Area. Because the former has (relatively) affordable housing and the latter has most of the jobs, Highway 580 carries thousands of commuter cars across the pass every workday.

The Altamont Pass also has continuous winds as high as eight meters per second (as I found out this morning). As a result, it is also the home of the world’s largest wind farm. The Altamont Pass Wind Farm includes more than 6,000 windmills constructed on agricultural land leased from the local farmers, each one generating enough electricity to power 20 houses.

Walking among the Windmills of Altamont Pass

It is this latter quality that makes the Altamont Pass so fun to traverse. While we couldn’t walk on Highway 580, we were able to walk on Altamont Pass Road, which winds around through many of the windmills. During the day, we officially crossed from San Joaquin County into Alameda County – from the Central Valley to the East Bay. The boys and I enjoyed being surrounded by windmills, although the continuous head winds meant that we kept long sleeves on all day and could only manage about two miles per hour.

Today's terrain: Grant Line Road and Altamont Pass Road

For the last several miles, we were able to walk on an old fire road (note Highway 580 in the background and Union Pacific train tracks on the right). We actually passsed Gail's chase car without her knowledge.

Gail stayed with us all day. (Thanks, Gail!) She brought lunch to Cameron and Joss (Subway sandwiches and Sonic milkshakes) and provided a mobile rest stop. In between, the boys walked, conversed, joked and explored. Much to my surprise and delight, they both walked the entire distance to the motel in Livermore, with all of us arriving at 3:30 pm. We enjoyed dinner at Melos Italian restaurant. And with Gail’s encouragement, I sat in a hot tub for the first time on my adventure. (Thanks, Gail!)

Mission accomplished!

It was an indescribable joy for me to share this special time with Cameron and Joss. I can still remember when they were born; today they are both on the verge of adulthood. I can still remember carrying them in my arms; today they walked 12 miles with me over the Altamont Pass. What an incredible birthday present from my family.

Two brothers

Post a comment here.


[Worldtrippers home] [Birthday walk home]