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May 24, 2009
On my own again: Livermore to Pleasanton

Today Russell walked 15.12 miles!
Total traveled so far = 115.62 miles

“Counting the telephone poles, I phone you
Reading the signs on the road, I write you”
– Art Garfunkel, "99 Miles from L.A.”

A few days ago, I had made a mental note to start walking much earlier in the morning (like 6:00 am) in order to avoid the midday heat. It hasn’t happened yet. Yesterday was by necessity; I ended up getting a ride back for a hot breakfast in order to avoid hypothermia. Today was by choice; a chance to spend time with my family is more important than an early start.

Cameron and Joss might have disagreed. We got them up at 8:00 am to have breakfast with dad before saying good bye. By 9:00 am I was on the road again. Taking one last advantage of the car shuttle, I asked Gail to deliver my daypack to the next motel on her drive home. I walked with only a fanny pack.

My original mapquest route had me walking southward to some major roads. Fortunately, on Thursday my sister Joanne had gotten me a complete set of road maps at the AAA office in Tracy. Looking at the maps, I discovered a frontage road that would keep me alongside the freeway for the first few miles. Afterwards, though, I still ended up turning south and walking through downtown Livermore.

Livermore (population 80,723) is considered the gateway between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. After gold was discovered in the 1850s, Livermore developed as a stopping place on the way to the Mother Lode, as it was one day’s journey by horse or stagecoach from San Jose. Currently it is home to several wineries, as well as a bedroom community for the central Bay Area. It is also the home of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – the city’s largest employer – funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

I was not expecting much from Livermore. The few times we have driven through the city on our way to our mountain property, it is usually rush hour and our concentration is elsewhere. La Quinta Inn, our accommodation last night (picked only because it was the closest motel to the Altamont Pass) was lacking in everything from front desk hospitality to an adequate number of towels in the room. It is easily the worst accommodation I have had so far.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that historic downtown Livermore is very charming, with a sidewalk lined by trees and shops. On Sunday morning of a holiday weekend, it was just beginning to wake up when I walked through at 11:00.


(Livermore is noted for one world record: the world’s longest-burning lightbulb. The Centennial Light, housed by the Livermore Pleasanton Fire Department, has been burning more or less continuously since 1901. I didn’t get to see it.)

Other than Highway 580 – which does not allow pedestrians – there is only one through-road that connects Livermore with Pleasanton, my next destination. Stanley Road continues to slant south as it runs west. Once past Livermore it becomes a wide-open multi-lane highway, framed by large asphalt plants on both sides.

Despite my late start, I walked under largely overcast skies. The forecast high today was 75º F, fully 30 degrees cooler than last weekend’s heat wave. I started with both a jacket and long sleeves, and kept the long sleeves on all day. In addition, Stanley Road had a continuous wind (though nothing like the Altamont Pass), so I kept my hat in my pocket.

Today's terrain:
Southfront Road in Livermore (Highway 580 is on the right)
Stanley Road, from one of its three side-lanes

While Livermore is the nation’s third-wealthiest midsize city (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), Pleasanton (population 66,482) is the wealthiest midsize city in the entire country, with a median income of $101,022. While the city is not named for any particular cordiality (it’s actually a misspelling of Alfred Pleasonton, a Union Army Cavalry major general), it is indeed a pleasant town. In fact, every time we drive through Pleasanton, I tell my wife Gail that I wouldn’t mind living here.

The closer I got to Pleasanton, the better things got. The sun came out under a clear blue sky. Stanley Road became lined with three full side-lanes, dedicated to pedestrians and bicyclists in both directions. Near Pleasanton I passed Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, complete with a beautiful blue lake filled with boaters, beachgoers and sunbathers. I continued to be impressed as I walked by a water slide park, a BMX trail park, and even a skateboard park.

Approaching Pleasanton:
Shadow Cliffs Recreational Area
The water slide park
The BMX trail park
The skateboard park

Pleasanton itself is gorgeous. I arrived at 1:00. Huge trees line the streets. There are ample, meandering sidewalks. This was a benefit because I actually had to walk several miles out of my way back northward – while Stanley Road slants south, all of the hotels and motels are further north by Highway 580.

Pleasanton: a gorgeous town just made for walking

During my planning, I had considerable trouble locating an appropriate accommodation near my walking route. I emphasize “appropriate.” The closest place – right on my route – costs $250 per night, well above my budget. The second-closest place sounded good on paper until I read the online reviews, which contained such winning phrases as:

Thank goodness for the Internet! I could not make this stuff up. I will not name this motel (which I didn’t pick), but readers are welcome to research it if they wish.

Thankfully, the accommodation I did reserve for tonight is the Hyatt Summerfield Suites. While it required a bit of a walk, I have a full kitchen and a walk-in closet for under $100. Not only did they have my daypack waiting for me when I checked in at 3:00, the counter clerk also asked me if I had a nice walk (apparently Gail had been conversing with her).

This is the first day that I have not arrived desperate for a shower or exhausted for a nap. I proudly called Gail to tell her that, then lay down on the bed and immediately fell asleep for the next two hours. I woke up to discover that – as a result of wearing no hat for the last day and a half – my forehead is sunburned right at the hair line. (With my legs now healed, I had just offloaded my sunburn lotion to Gail. Oh well.)

After watching all of the barbecuers at the regional park, I had a craving for barbecue. Unfortunately, the first restaurant I encountered at lunchtime was (of course) McDonald’s. (I ended up eating lunch at Garlex Pizza and Ribs, which – strangely enough – does not offer ribs. But the pizza was delicious.)

Fortunately, the restaurant right down the street from the Hyatt is Eddie Papa’s American Banquet. This was one of my best dining experiences on the entire trip. The menu is filled with interesting historical trivia about every dish; it was such a delight to read that I asked for a copy. Not only did I get my barbecue fix, the waitress gave me a free cotton candy for dessert.

I am now fat and happy. So far, I am still having the time of my life.

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