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Our intended route today!
We have written several times about how we are riding on a very low-end tandem bicycle. We have heard of people spending $3,000 for one of these. We spent $300. Two days before we started our journey, the rear axle malfunctioned and one of the chain guards cracked. A third of the way through the trip, the frame started making an intermittent sound like a rock hitting metal. Every once in a while, the chain will lock up in the gears and we have to stop and fix it.
All this tandem bicycle has to do is make it through this one trip, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will happen. We figure that afterwards we may have a ceremonial burning or melting down of the thing.
So it was that today we started one of our shortest legs: a mere 8.1 miles from Hayward to Fremont. We specifically scheduled a short leg because:
As it ended up, we have been cycling 30-mile days and feeling awfully proud of ourselves. Nevertheless, we decided to keep this leg short. With mere days left to go, we’re at the point where we want to prolong this trip as long as possible.
Gail wrote about how we changed our accommodations in Fremont. After looking at the Motel 6, she decided to book us into the Aloft instead. It’s fairly new, and Gail was able to negotiate a price more than $100 less than the posted rate.
Because of this, we had to consult Google Maps for a different bicycle route. I should explain that before the trip, we printed out nice, color hardcopies of every leg’s directions. (We’re not clever enough to have smart phones.) With no printer among our electronics, I handwrote the new directions over the old ones.
Gail has also written about her lack of navigational skills, but she had the task of navigating from the back of the bike using my handwritten notes. At 10:30, we set out for a one-hour tour. (Cue the “Gilligan’s Island” music.)
Our first challenge was a block away from the hotel. Google’s instructions tell you to “Turn right onto Sycamore Ave,” followed by a “Sharp left onto Whitman St.” What they don’t tell you is that Sycamore and Whitman don’t actually intersect. Instead, you have to use a pedestrian bridge to get across the railroad tracks to Whitman.
Note that I said “pedestrian bridge,” not “bicycle bridge.” At either end of the bridge are a flight of stairs. There was no other way across the railroad tracks, so we got to haul the bicycle up the stairs, followed by a rather steep ascent and descent to the stairs on the other side. (“Gail was saying “Watch out for the broken glass” the entire time.) Our journey had not even begun, and we were already tired.
The pedestrian bridge
Whitman Street (right) runs along the far side of the railroad tracks
And, of course, there was a pigtail at the far end of the pedestrian bridge – very tight for a tandem bicycle
Fortunately, the next several miles of our ride were flat and pleasant. We had only ridden for half an hour, and we were already at 4.3 miles! More than halfway through our journey.
Then came Google’s next wonky instruction. “Turn left.” No street name. No nothing. There was a mileage indication of “0.7 miles” at which to do this, but there were several possibilities at 0.7 miles. I took a risk and turned onto an unmarked (but paved) bicycle path.
We knew that we had to end up on the “Alameda Creek Trail.” Well, we were on a trail and it was next to a creek. We encountered signs that said “Union City Trail,” but we figured it was an alternate name for the trail. It was at this point that Gail gave up navigating completely, and I started relying on my instincts. By this point, our rather useless directions were completely folded up and put away in my pocket.
Sure enough, we soon hit a junction with another trail. “Alameda Creek Trail,” the sign said. Success! We started cycling down a beautifully scenic paved trail, overlooking a drybed creek filled with all kinds of wildflowers.
The “left” side of Alameda Creek Trail
As we looked across the dry creek bed, we noticed another paved trail on the other side. We realized we were doing the equivalent of “driving on the wrong side of the road.” We asked a fellow cyclist how to get to the other side. He recommended that we go backward, take the path under the highway, then cross over at the next street. We took an extra mile to do this, but finally ended up on the “right” side of the creek.
The “right” side of Alameda Creek Trail
Time for Google Map attack No. 3. The instructions said “Turn right onto Union City Blvd.” The trouble was that the turn-offs from the Alameda Creek Trail were not marked with any street signs. We passed by several street turn-offs with absolutely no idea if it was the right one or not.
Finally, the trail intersected with Decoto Road. I go boardgaming in Fremont and knew that Decoto would intersect with Paseo Padre Parkway. Paseo Padre would change names and become Thornton Ave, and we would be at our hotel.
Sure enough, Decoto intersected with Paseo Padre. Any minute, Paseo Padre should become Thornton. So imagine my surprise when we came upon an intersection of Paseo Padre and Thornton.
Okay, by now I had absolutely no idea what to do. I knew I had to be on Thornton, so I turned in the direction towards the Bay. What followed was an excruciatingly long voyage that took us past the towns of Centerville and Newark. Finally, with the Dumbarton Bridge in sight, we knew that we had somehow gotten turned around and were approaching the hotel from the wrong direction.
We were just discussing how this bike would not need to last us much longer. “Two days and we can shoot it,” Gail declared. It was at this point that the tandem decided to give us one more exciting trip experience. Gail’s chain guard suddenly broke and derailed the gear. We had to bring the bike to a screeching halt. I tried removing what was left of the chain guard with the screwdriver on my Swiss Army knife, before finally just wrenching the thing with my hands and twisting it off.
Gail’s right gear guard cracked and broke, sending a piece of plastic into the gear assembly
What was left of the gear guard after Russell’s emergency surgery
Me: “You know what the trouble is, Gail? We never named the bike. It’s feeling slighted.”
Gail: “You’re right. How about ‘Iron Horse’?” (We had spent a brief time riding the Iron Horse Regional Trail back in Dublin.)
Me: “Hm. I was thinking, ‘Dead Meat.’”
Our final experience was braving the ridiculously strong headwinds of the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge before finally arriving at the Aloft Hotel. Our 8.1-mile tour had doubled into a 16.5-mile slog. Good thing we had a short leg today!
On the plus-side, the Aloft is an absolutely stunning hotel. We arrived at 1:15 (versus our 12:00 noon target), and proceeded to do our car shuttle.
With only a few days left, we drove the shuttle all the way back to Cupertino. The van is now parked in front of our house with the two solo bikes inside. This means that we are now:
We’re still keeping our fingers crossed that ol’
Dead Meat Iron Horse gets us all the way home.
When we told people that we had bought a tandem bike, we got one of two responses. We either got “Oh cool!” Or we got “Well that’s a marriage buster.”
Well we’ve heard both before. Once when we decided to travel around the world for a year with the boys; and once again when we decided to build a house ourselves. And to be honest, they both had challenges. But here we are. We figured that this bike would be a piece of cake. Okay, not at first, but we did believe we could master the communication we knew would be needed.
On the day we went to try out the bike – the very first day – I was worried we would fall over, crash or get in to a huge argument. Amazingly, none of those happened. What did happen was instant and easy communication between the two of us. “One, two, three, pedal”… and down the street we went.
We have since developed our cue words. First Russell gets on the bike – standing, not yet on his saddle – while I wait. He then sets the left pedal to his preferred position, and lets me know he’s ready. Then I get myself up on to my saddle (much easier with my short, no-horn saddle). Then I say, “I’m up, I’m on, I’m ready.” He then gets on to his saddle and says, “one, two, three,” and off we go. We have yet to crash. We have had a couple of misfires, but we have never fallen over. We do this at every stop we have to make.
Another thing we found out early on is that he has to let me know when we are going over a bump, or my ankles get jammed. AND – this is the big one – he has to let me tell him when we are fully over the bump; otherwise he starts to pedal when I am still standing up. The few times this happened were not pretty. We learned the hard way.
He also lets me know when we are going to coast and when to start peddling again – otherwise I am trying to push against his feet. I am in charge of turn signals; and since I am not in front, I don’t always know when a turn is coming up until I hear “Am I clear?” and I check behind us. I say “Yep” and then he says “Signal (whichever way we are going)”. Today in Newark was the first time I almost had my arm hit by a car who did not like that we were on the road.
My other job is to let Russell know about everything that doesn’t feel right about the bike – the funny noise, the jammed chain, the broken chain guard. And let’s not forget the “OMG, you are not going to cross the intersection right now” duty. I have personally saved our lives and driven Russell nuts many times since we hit city traffic.
I won’t go into navigation again – except to say that I had the directions today, and yep, we got lost.
Balance, speed, braking, turning and going downhill are all done non-verbally. That takes trust. There have been a few back-seat “requests” and a few front-seat comments – use your imagination here, folks.
I am in charge of the kickstand, but more often than not I forget. We haven’t left the bike to fall over yet, but that is mostly due to Russell’s diligence. For me, once I am off the bike all I want to do is stretch and walk away. That is another whole series of statements. Me: “I am off, I am clear.” Then he gets off the bike, stands there for few moments hoping, then says, “Could you do the kickstand?” Ummm…
So we have communicated ourselves all the way down to the entrance of the Dumbarton Bridge. Our next decision is dinner. Tonight we are going to a place I saw on TV. We hope to enjoy the food of the winners of a recent episode of “Food Court Wars.” It looked really good – Guatemalan food. In our original plans we weren’t going to be anywhere near their location, but things have changed so we are going to the Newpark Mall food court.
Russell is going to drive and navigate.
“Sabor de San Miguel” at the Newpark Mall food court
Gail with a celebrity – Noris, who won “Food Court Wars” with her brother Juliano
Fried pork, pico de gallo and a chicken tamale! (Tomorrow, we’ll have to tell the story of Russell’s orange sweatshirt.)
When we got to our room, the first thing we did was boot up Google Maps to figure out what went wrong.
Blue was our intended route. Yellow was our actual route.
(1) Our big mistake was turning the wrong way onto the Alameda Creek Trail. Instead of turning right, we turned left. This took us away from the hotel instead of toward it.
(2) We discovered that Decoto Road and Paseo Padre Parkway intersect twice. Who knew? Russell thought we were at the western intersection near the hotel, when we were actually at the eastern intersection on the other side of town.
Furthermore, (3) Paseo Padre and Thornton Avenue make a big loop and connect twice. At the western end, Paseo Padre changes names and becomes Thornton. At the eastern end, they cross at right angles. Who knew?
Total distance: 153.99 miles
Distance traveled today: 16.53 miles
Time spent riding: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Average speed: 10.3 mph
Maximum speed: 17.7 mph
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