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May 25, 2009
Niles Canyon: Pleasanton to Fremont

Today Russell walked 15.88 miles!
Total traveled so far = 131.5 miles

“There was somethin’ in the city that he said he couldn’t breathe
And there was somethin’ in the country that he said he couldn’t leave”
– John Denver, “Wild Montana Skies”

When I originally formulated my idea of walking 160 miles for my birthday, the plan was for Gail to join me. When we actually put it on the calendar, Gail realized that Joss would still be in school and shouldn’t be left alone for two weeks. The revised plan was for both of them to join me on the two weekends only. When we actually worked out the logistics, Gail realized that she would have to run a chase car as a back-up for Joss. In the end, the boys only walked with me one day – over the Altamont Pass – and Gail did not get to walk at all.

As I sat in my room in Pleasanton last night, Gail called with the spontaneous idea of trying to join me for today’s walk. She had been researching my route and discovered that it would be especially scenic – both Foothill Road in Pleasanton and Niles Canyon Road in Fremont. Furthermore, Niles Canyon Road had numerous historical artifacts along the way.

We didn’t work out an actual plan until 8:30 am this morning. I actually didn’t finish my blog until 11:30 last night and slept badly. This morning I entertained the idea of taking a second rest day, staying in Pleasanton for an extra night, and pushing the rest of the walk back another day. But Gail said that today would be the best for her to join me (both Cameron and Joss would be out visiting the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco). So I checked out and hit the road at 8:45 am.

The two main roads for today would be Foothill Road (which runs north-south outside of Pleasanton) and Niles Canyon Road (which runs east-west into Fremont). Each runs about seven miles, with a junction point in Sunol. The plan was for Gail to run a car shuttle with my sister Joanne and meet me in Sunol at noon.

I continued to be impressed by Pleasanton as I walked down Foothill Road. There was beautiful scenery on either side, as well as multi-million dollar houses that could have been in Hollywood. Most of the road had a separate sidewalk to keep me away from traffic.

Today's terrain: Foothill Road
Heading west out of Fremont, you can see the foothills of Pleasanton and Sunol Ridge
Foothill Road itself has a sidewalk to the left

The view to the east includes endless mountains
The view to the west includes multi-million dollar homes
I even saw wild turkeys!

After crossing the peak of Sunol grade, I descended into the actual town of Sunol (population: 1,332), arriving at noon. Sunol is tiny, consisting of a Post Office, train station and a couple of shops.

(In 1981, the people of Sunol elected a Labrador retriever named “Bosco” as their honorary mayor. The Chinese newspaper “The People's Daily” reported this story as an example of American decadence. There is still a bar here called “Bosco’s”.)

Downtown (in fact, the entire town) of Sunol

In honor of Memorial Day today, they were running historic steam train rides, so there were more people than usual. They were also offering a special barbecue lunch at the local Sunol Jazz Café, which Gail, Joanne and I happily enjoyed. (My original plan was to have granola for lunch. I’ve been carrying three packs of granola since Day One, and I have yet to open any of them.)

Lunch at the Sunol Jazz Café

After saying good bye to Joanne at 1:00, Gail and I began our walk down Niles Canyon Road (aka Highway 84). My original intention had been simply to walk on the shoulder of the road, sharing space with the cars. However, Gail had researched and printed out a map of the area, and she suggested that we be more adventurous. A fellow hiker at the café suggested that we walk on the railroad tracks. Thus began an extremely fun and adventurous afternoon with Gail.

Niles is one of the original railroad towns that has since been incorporated into Fremont. It most famous for housing an early films studio where Charlie Chaplin made “The Tramp” and other films.

Gail and I began on the railroad track, stepping aside every now and then as the steam train went by. When we approached a train yard, we decided it would be better to scramble down to the road.

Almost immediately, we spotted several families having a picnic on the other side of the road at Alameda Creek. At Gail’s suggestion, we removed our shoes and walked in the creek. For the rest of the afternoon, we went west toward Fremont in the creek, on trails next to the creek (avoiding the rampant poison oak), on Niles Canyon Road, and on the railroad tracks.

Alameda Creek, which runs parallel to Niles Canyon Road (which runs parallel to two sets of railroad tracks)

From Sunol to Fremont, by road, railroad track and river

Near the western end, Gail was overjoyed to spot the remnants of the old Niles Brick Works, whose products helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake more than a hundred years ago. (There was an old road continuing west out of the brick works, which we took. We were challenged to find that it ended in a locked gate covered with barbed wire. Undaunted, we climbed over it.)

Historic Niles Brick Works, which apparently nobody wants us to see

We finally popped out in Fremont at 5:00 pm, but my adventures weren’t over yet.

My reservation for the night is at Fremont Frontier Motel, which apparently has been here for decades. It is a one-star accommodation, but I reserved it with that knowledge. Although there is almost no information available (no photos or reviews online), it is the closest motel to the end of Niles Canyon Road. When Gail parked her car there earlier today, they had no reservation for “Lee.” They did, however, have a reservation for “Roosul.”

Historic Fremont Frontier Motel

After Gail left to return home to Cupertino, I checked out my room.

I am more amused than anything else, and my motel adventure is an appropriate capper to a very adventurous day. I am very glad that Gail was finally able to join me before my walk comes to an end. I am even more glad that we were able to share one of the most scenic, adventurous and fun days I’ve had.

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