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May 27, 2009
Homeward bound: Milpitas to Cupertino

Today Russell walked 16.07 miles!
Grand total traveled = 160.18 miles

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”
– Lin Yutang

Today is the last day of my 12-day, 160-mile walk. Unfortunately my body seems to know that too, and it is apparently trying to race me to the finish line. Last night the skin on my legs started peeling (remnants of the sunburn), and they were itching so badly that I had to take a Benadryl. Fortunately it knocked me out, and I slept soundly until 6:30 this morning. After a quick continental breakfast at the motel (bagel and fruit), I hit the road by 8:00 am.

I decided to pack a single bottle of Gatorade this morning, after my unfortunate experience yesterday. I ended up needing it, but not because of thirst. Since I have re-entered the Bay Area, my allergies have really started acting up. My throat was very dry from coughing; in addition to the drink I opened up a pack of Skittles candy that I hadn’t touched since the beginning of the walk. (It’s kind of sad, actually – we get so used to living in dirty air that we can’t even tell the difference until we get out of it for awhile.)

I am back in the land of endless suburban streets, offering a hundred different route options. Nevertheless, there is only one road that runs the entire length from Milpitas to Sunnyvale anywhere near Highway 237 (our normal driving route): Tasman Drive. I could have picked a quieter, less congested and more scenic route, but it would have involved switching streets every few minutes and I didn’t want to keep pulling out a map as I walked.

Tasman Drive wasn’t bad. I walked past literally miles and miles of buildings from the networking company Cisco that seemed to go on forever. Tasman Drive follows the same path as the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA) light-rail commuter train. The county had to re-lane the road in order to put a train track down the middle; as a result there are some sections where there is no sidewalk, no bike lane and no shoulder.

Today's terrain: Tasman Drive
Some sections had absolutely no place for a pedestrian to walk

One sad sight was the current condition of Santa Clara Valley’s rivers. In other counties, I saw rivers that were untouched, rivers that were preserved, and rivers that had parks built around them. Today, what’s left of rivers such as Penitencia Creek, Guadalupe River, San Thomas Aquino River and Calabazas Creek have been reduced and re-routed, forced into cement conduits, and hidden behind chicken-wire fences overrun with weeds. I’d bet that many of this valley’s residents have little idea where (or what) these rivers are anymore.

Somewhere behind this fence is Calabazas Creek
I did get to see a mother duck with her seven babies in the Penitencia Creek

Tasman Drive took me from Milpitas to Santa Clara to Sunnyvale. As a consequence of suburban sprawl, it’s often difficult to tell where one city ends and the next begins. (I still remember walking through miles of emptiness between the towns in Calaveras County.) All of a sudden, places are no longer called “Milpitas So-and-so;” instead they’re suddenly called “Santa Clara So-and-so,” etc.

Santa Clara (population: 102,361) is named after the Mission Santa Clara de Asis, one of the original California missions. Santa Clara University, built around the mission, is the oldest institute of higher learning in the state of California. Where the area’s economy was once based on orchards and agriculture, it was changed forever by the arrival of the semiconductor.

Sunnyvale (population: 137,538) is home to several aerospace/defense companies as well as high-tech companies. Sunnyvale is one of the only cities in the entire country that has a single unified “Department of Public Safety,” where all personnel are trained as police officers, firefighters, and EMTs and can respond to any corresponding emergency. Famous Sunnyvalers include Teri Hatcher, Brian Boitano and Peter Ueberroth. There is also supposed to be a ghost at the local Toys-R-Us store (I didn’t see it).

I emerged at the end of Tasman Drive and turned south onto Mathilda Avenue at about 11:30 am, looking for a place to eat. I was greeted by a Denny’s, but thought, ‘Do I really want to eat at a Denny’s again?’ Fortunately, hiding in the shadow of Denny’s was Hobee’s, one of my favorite places for comfort food.

Today's terrain: Mathilda Avenue

I sat far back in a corner at Hobee’s, imagining the specters of hundreds of business deals being conducted during the old dot.com days. I ordered deluxe hash browns, a bowl of fruit, and a blueberry smoothie. I didn’t get up again for an hour and a half.

I am amused by how many people see me with my dark glasses and two trekking poles (they are black, red and white) and assume that I am a handicapped person. As I walked down Mathilda Avenue, I did what I normally do – cheat out into the street to see if there is a photo opportunity for “today’s terrain.” A couple of teenage girls saw me, came over, and gently helped me to get back onto the sidewalk. Apparently, they were afraid that the poor blind man was going to wander into the street and get hit by a car. They were very, very sweet.

(I did feel partially redeemed when another woman stopped to tell me how much she enjoyed her own trekking poles and how much exercise she got from them. Of course, she looked to be about 80 years old.)

By now it was about 1:30 and I was five miles away from home. Gail had asked me not to get home until at least 4:00 pm, because Joss wanted to be home from school to welcome me. (Gail actually drove all the way down to Santa Cruz – again – to pick up Cameron, because he also wanted to welcome me home.) So in a deliberate plan, I stopped at the Borders Bookstore in Sunnyvale, where I parked myself in a chair for another hour and a half.

Today's two rest stops: Hobee's Restaurant and Borders Books

Ever since I first envisioned my walk, I planned to end it by walking across the new pedestrian bridge that connects Sunnyvale with Cupertino. The bridge – a very contemporary architectural design – is destined to be the new symbol of Cupertino. Even more, it holds symbolic meaning for me. This is a pedestrian bridge that took more than 20 years to build. It is only a block away from my house. I remember my mother and father lobbying for it decades ago. I remember wishing that it existed when I went to high school. It was finally opened a month ago, and I wanted it to symbolize the last leg of my walk, my entry into Cupertino, and my return home.

A new pedestrian bridge connects Sunnyvale to Cupertino via Mary Avenue

Cupertino (population: 50,546) is named after the town of Copertino in Italy, a name that translates to “little blanket.” The formerly small town has seen a huge increase in development with the rise of high-tech, as office buildings and high-density housing have all but eliminated any traces of the old orchards. Today, the population is officially more than 50 percent Asian (mostly Chinese and Indian). Families move here just to enroll their children in Cupertino’s schools, which has driven property values exceedingly high.

Famous Cupertino-ites include Aaron Eckhart, Ronnie Lott, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (the corporate headquarters for Apple is in Cupertino), and – of course – Russell Lee.

As I walked down Mary Avenue in Sunnyvale, I was met by my neighbors Steve and Debbie, who wanted to walk the last leg with me. I crossed the bridge at precisely 4:00 pm… and saw one last surprise.

At the other end of the bridge, there were dozens of people – family and friends – cheering me on and welcoming me home. There were banners and balloons. Apparently, Gail had been planning this for weeks. (And as she told me later, every time I talked about changing my arrival date, she was going through conniptions.)

Everyone from my sons… to my step-daughter and her family (including my three grandsons)… to my sister Joanne and her family… to neighbors to friends from church were there to welcome me. (My friend Dirk, who besides Gail was the only one to see me off at the beginning, was also here to see me home at the end.) Joss was playing the theme from “Rocky” on his boom box. We all walked the last block to my house, where Gail had a full surprise birthday party for me, complete with a pasta dinner.

A triumphant homecoming!

I am home, I am healthy, I am happy, and I am surrounded by loved ones. What an incredible birthday experience! My walk is over, but my feet are still dancing with joy.

Thank you to everyone who attended, thank you to everyone who was here in spirit, thank you to everyone who followed my latest adventure. I will write one last letter tomorrow, to close out this blog.

The obligatory “after” picture

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