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May 24, 2014
Stockton and Lathrop: The Big Valley

Our route today!

She says…

Some of you might remember the TV show, “The Big Valley,” from 1965 to 1969. As a young girl in Michigan I watched that show, never ever imagining that one day I would be bicycling across this vast area. Actually I had no idea where Stockton California was.

But today we started our trek across The Big Valley at Lockeford. The day started nice and easy with another amazing breakfast from Lani- Dutch Baby and fresh fruit. At 10:20, after packing our gear on to the bike, we said “Goodbye until two days from now” and set off. Two days is when we would return to shuttle our van up to the stop before the Altamont Pass.

Because this is a holiday weekend – and Highway 88, the main artery to the water fun at the reservoirs, is one lane each way – we knew we needed to get off that road as soon as possible. Jack Tone road was the perfect solution. There is much less traffic, a good shoulder and nice scenery. We spotted a few more snakes along the way, avoided a dust storm put up by a farmer tending his orchard, and enjoyed the variety of fruit trees that are grown in this area.

The view down Jack Tone Road

A baby king snake (Gail’s hand is in there for size reference)

We just rolled along at about 10-12 miles per hours under blue skies. We knew the day was going to get much hotter than the 75 degrees we were currently enjoying, but that was okay as we would be at our next destination within 16 miles.

Once again the riding is great, but even better are the connections you make along the way. During our car shuttle yesterday afternoon, I spotted miniature horses and knew we had to stop on our return and see them. We were very lucky that the owner was in the barn yard and saw us. Marilyn has been raising these cute miniature horses, and her horses are award winners – and oh, so small. Marilyn is 81 years old and delighted in showing us all around her place. She used to have a business breeding the horses, but the economy has made this harder. She let us know that she is currently giving her horses away – fostering them, actually, with people she trusts. We couldn’t fit one on the bike, so we had to pass.

The miniature horses

Gail with Marilyn Solari of G-Mar Miniature Horse Ranch (named for Marilyn and her late husband, George);
Marilyn is pictured with one of her show horses

We hugged Marilyn and continued on down the road until we finally made it to the day’s stop at Highways 88 (Waterloo Road) and 99 – right on the edge of Stockton. 16 miles! We had made another 16 miles in what seemed like no time at all!! I flopped myself down on the grass area outside of the Clarion Inn Motel and guzzled down my water.

The end of today’s planned 16-mile leg... resting in front of the Clarion Inn, Stockton

Now, here’s the catch: it’s only noon. We can’t check in until 3:00, and this is basically a roadside stop area with nothing but fast food places lining the road. We kind of looked at each other, and Russell said, “Can you make it to the next stop? I’ll support whatever you decide.”

The next stop is 16 more miles away. It’s getting hotter, but not horrible yet, and the breeze is helping. Doing the vehicle shuttle yesterday down these upcoming roads, I was really worried about it being totally flat and not having hills to fly down – of having to pedal the whole time. But I felt good, just a bit saddle sore… and we decided to try for it.

Of course, this meant we had to adjust our room reservations for this night and the next couple of nights. First we called Quality Inn, the place 16 miles further along in Lathrup. They had a suite we could have for just 20 dollars more. Since we were cancelling a whole night at Waterloo, this seemed okay. We took it.

Then we had to go in and cancel the room at the Clarion where we were. No problem with that at all, as we were well before the 4:00 pm cut-off time. (We would worry about the rooms beyond that after we made it to Lathrop.

We had to go through East Stockton, which is sort of like Southeast San Jose. We were out of the country roads and into city streets. But I was amazed at the reactions we were getting. One girl called out from her yard, “I like your bike!” Other folks waved and smiled. It was really great.

The view in East Stockton

We did end up back on more open, less trafficked roads… and still folks were waving from their yards. One older man came up beside us at a light and put down his window just to say “Hi.” We are Bike Ambassadors!!

So somewhere along the way, we have passed a milestone of strength. The bike just rolled along with ease. We only stopped twice in the next stretch to get some shade and drinks. It felt pretty easy. Yay, us! Until we hit the head wind, that is. A friend put it perfectly: “Wind is demoralizing.” It was also now 93 degrees. Fortunately for us, we had just a bit over two miles to our next hotel; and with one more rest break, we made it.

The view down Airport Way – 8-1/2 miles of flat, open nothingness

The view down Louse Avenue – more flat, open nothingness, but this time with a headwind

We got to our hotel right at 3:00. We were hot, sweaty and exhausted… but we are so proud of ourselves.

We had gone 33-1/2 miles in one day, 10 miles farther than our previous record. Now we are one full day ahead of schedule.

We are just part of the way across the Big Valley, and are looking forward to finishing this adventure the entire way on our bike together.

He says…

When I first proposed taking this tandem bike ride with Gail… and going an average of 15 miles a day… her first response was, “What are we going to do with all of that extra time?” I knew from experience that a lot of time is spent resting, washing clothes and writing the blog. (In addition to eating and sleeping, that is.) We would gain time from bicycling instead of walking… but it turns out that most of that time is eaten up with our vehicle shuttle.

Have you ever heard of those vacations where you can bicycle around the European countryside, and there is a chase car that carries all of your luggage and food, following you down the road? We’re doing something like that, except we are managing both the bicycle ride and the chase car(s). It’s a lot of work.

The fact that we rode two legs today, instead of one, only made it worse. Fortunately, we had the prescience yesterday of placing our shuttle two stops ahead. Here’s how we spent much of the afternoon:

  1. After yesterday’s shuttle, this morning we had the van in Lockeford and the car two days ahead in Lathrop.
  2. After we bicycled into Lathrop, we got in the van and drove 33 miles back to Lockeford to pick up the car.
  3. I drove the van, Gail drove the car, and we caravanned 46 miles forward into Tracy. We parked the van at our next stop.
  4. I then got into the car with Gail, and we drove 13 miles back into Lathrop.
  5. We now have a vehicle in Lathrop (our current stop) and a vehicle in Tracy (our next stop).
  6. Tomorrow we will repeat this cycle all over again.

Yes, this uses up an obscene amount of gas. But as I mentioned, this is just one of the ways we are ensuring that this trip is successful. If (for instance) Gail gets exhausted one day or has a migraine, I can take the next leg on a solo bike and she can meet me at the next milestone. The alternative is that we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a tandem bike and only one capable rider. It’s worth it for the precaution.

We had a very interesting cultural experience in Lathrop. Lathrop is basically a traveler/tourist stop along Highway 5, populated by chain motels, chain restaurants and fast-food places. I asked Helen at the Quality Inn if she could recommend a local restaurant that wasn’t a chain or fast food. She said that the nearby mall had Sushi, Chinese and Mexican restaurants. Or, if we drove to the other side of town, the other mall had Sushi, Chinese and Mexican restaurants.

Gail voted for Mexican. After searching Yelp, we settled on La Hacienda Taqueria at the other end of town. This is where we had the cultural experience.

First, we seemed to be the only non-regular customers there. One table had three women, another had four men. As far as we could tell, they were all couples, but eating segregated. We got this feeling because a third table (outside) had a half-dozen 13-year-old girls acting like typical young teenagers. (All we could think about was, “All of these parents have girls? Where are all of the boys?”)

The waitress at this tiny hole-in-the-wall seemed completely overwhelmed by all of these people. They were out of mole sauce. They were out of metal flatware. (We were given plastic.) It took forever to get any service or food. Fortunately, the food itself was delicious, and we were in no hurry.

Coming back to the motel, we decided to sit in the hot tub. Just after we got there, we got an answer to our “boys” question, as a half dozen teenage boys came out of nowhere and took over the swimming pool. (It actually turns out that they are here from all over the Bay Area for a baseball tournament.)

The hot tub soak felt great. We are extremely proud of ourselves for making it 33+ miles in one day – something we never thought we would be able to do. Tomorrow, we hope to treat ourselves to sleeping in, before we embark on one of the most scenic legs of our trip.

Outside Stockton Airport – the point where we officially passed 24 miles in one day, breaking our previous record!

Total distance: 79.22 miles
Distance traveled today: 33.50 miles
Time spent riding: 2 hours, 54 minutes
Average speed: 11.5 mph
Maximum speed: 15.2 mph

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