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May 29, 2014
Palo Alto: The one where Gail cries

Our route today!

He says…

For the past few days, we have been riding through uncharted territory. Normally when we drive back from Gold Country, we take Highway 205/580 to get across the Central Valley through Tracy and Livermore. At Dublin/Pleasanton, we turn south and take Highway 680 down through the East Bay. We cut over to Highway 880, then take Highway 237 through Milpitas to get home.

When I planned my birthday walk five years ago, my goal was to follow our driving route as closely as possible. However, I discovered that you can’t recreate that route by foot. (The authorities frown on people walking on the freeway.) The biggest obstacle was the Sunol Grade. I ended up walking along Alvarado-Niles Canyon Road.

For the current trip, we decided that Alvarado-Niles would be too dangerous for a tandem bicycle. It’s a major commute lane, but it’s also very winding and narrow, with no shoulder.

After pouring over the maps, we decided that the best option would be to continue east from Dublin/Pleasanton along Highway 580, crossing the San Leandro Hills to get over that mountain range. (We wrote about this leg on May 27.) This would land us in Hayward. From here, we would continue south to Fremont.

At Fremont, we could pick up my previous walking route. However, as I mentioned yesterday, I come here to go board gaming on a regular basis. Every time I drive across the Dumbarton Bridge, I look at the bicyclists and think, “Wouldn’t it be great to ride a bicycle across this bridge sometime?”

Luckily, I have a very accommodating wife.

Our various routes home from Gold Country:
Red = Our driving route
Yellow = Russell’s 50th birthday walk
Blue = Our tandem bicycle trip

So today’s route has us bicycling across the Dumbarton Bridge from Fremont to Palo Alto. We have written about how we changed our Fremont accommodations at the last minute. We have also changed our Palo Alto accommodations at the last minute.

It is difficult to find affordable accommodations in Palo Alto, a fairly rich and business-centric city. Our original plan was the Travelodge on El Camino Real, where Gail was quoted a price of $140 a week ago. When she called back two days ago to make an actual reservation, she was quoted a new price of $400. Apparently, the price goes up the later you book, just like an airplane ticket. Who knew? Gail said, No thank you,” and we were ready to settle for a two-star motel.

Then, my sister Joanne surprised us with an awesome a stupendous joint birthday present: a luxury room at the Westin Hotel in Palo Alto. We would be able to celebrate the last night of our two-week bike trip in style.

What this means is that my pre-printed Google Map instructions are once again out the window. We are starting from a different location and bicycling to a different location. So we have once again handwritten new instructions… but this time Gail and I have gone over every turn and direction to make sure we know where we are going.

One more note: as we mentioned yesterday, we went ahead and drove our car shuttle all the way home. On the downside, we accidentally left some things in Cupertino as a result, including Gail’s suntan lotion and my jacket. After braving yesterday’s strong headwinds, I came to the conclusion that I would probably freeze on the Dumbarton Bridge. So while we were at Newpark Mall yesterday, I bought the cheapest sweatshirt I could find (on sale at Sears for $17).

Everything that’s going into our panniers for the last two days. (Note that we finally dumped the ThermaRest pads.) (Note also the really spiffy new sweatshirt.)

She says…

It finally happened. That fear that has hung over us from the day we started talking about this trip has finally happened.

I woke up with a migraine. It was 6:00 am, and I was feeling pretty miserable. I took two Excedrin and put my head back down, trying not to wake Russell. At 6:45, I took one of my prescription migraine meds and hoped. (I try to limit the prescription meds, as they can cause a bounce-back headache; but sometimes I just have to use it.) Russell gave me a head rub and then let me sleep, while he left the room to finish off yesterday’s post. We were both worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the ride over the Dumbarton Bridge and on into Palo Alto – about 12 miles. When Russell came back at 9:00, I got up. I was groggy and unsure about the day.

We had returned our van with both solo bikes back home yesterday, and we had a hotel reservation for today that we could no longer cancel. I had to go. I tried to eat a bit, and drank some to hydrate. This hotel does not offer a breakfast and it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so we cobbled together a meal from items we… um… “pilfered” from the other hotel breakfasts along the way – instant oatmeal, plastic bowls and spoons included. Then we packed up. One last Excedrin, and I reassured Russell that I could make it. He was worried because once before I went out on the bike with a migraine… and I ended up in the hospital the next day. He didn’t push me. I wanted to do this. I needed to finish this whole ride.

Throughout our trip, we have been collecting oatmeal packets, granola bars, bowls, cups and spoons… waiting for the day that we would need them. Today is that day.

Once we got out on the road at 10:30, the cool air and meds finally did their work. The headache disappeared. We headed off toward the bridge. We had assumed that it would be as cold as it was yesterday, with the wind blowing just hard. We were not looking forward to pushing against the wind. Instead, what we got was an exceptionally beautiful day. I shed my jacket about five minutes into the ride when we stopped to fix the chain.

[Russell: I stubbornly kept my sweatshirt on until we hit the bridge, when I finally got too hot and took it off. What a waste of $17.]

Our ride took us alongside the southernmost edge of the Bay along Marshlands Road. It is a waterfowl preserve. Our route ran between the edge of the preserve and the freeway. It was like having a foot in both worlds. However, the water levels are low and we didn’t see too many birds.

A waterfowl preserve on the left. The freeway on the right. And, oh yes, that bridge out there in the middle.

Taking photos meant that I didn’t have to focus too much on the incline of the bridge that was still ahead of us. It’s about a half-mile of up, and we knew we would probably have to walk the bike up to the summit. Before getting onto the actual bridge portion of the trail, we stopped to take pictures; and another couple on solo bikes came by. They waved, then he swerved in front of her to get onto the bridge and cut her off. There were no injuries, and he did stop to make sure she was okay, but it made me glad for our tandem. We always go together.

It was also at this point that I realized I could see Shoreline Park in Mountain View on the other side of the Bay. Our oldest son Cameron works at Google right there, and I had to text him to say we could “see” him. A crazy Mom moment that he was wonderful about.

So here we were on the bridge bike path, and there was no turning back. Huge trucks are flying by on the other side of a three foot cement “barrier” just a foot or two away from where we are standing. I am trying to not freak out. A few folks honk and wave as they go by, but still I feel really exposed and vulnerable. The bike lane itself is only about three feet wide, so we can’t mess this up. And as Russell puts it, we are doing a “hard start” – which means starting off uphill in a higher gear.

A three-foot concrete barrier between you and the huge trucks hurtling by head-on at 65+ mph. What’s not to like?

I’m up. I’m on. I’m ready. “Three, two, one, go.” There is no turning back, and we pedal with all we’ve got. I keep expecting Russell to say, “Let’s walk it now.” I keep thinking I am going to need to say the same. But no – we keep going and going and going. My head is down and I am focused on keeping my legs moving, when suddenly Russell says, “Mumble, garbled, something,” and we stop dead. I can’t figure out why. The summit is still about 50 feet ahead of us. Why stop now? Breathlessly, he points over his head. It’s the County Line sign. We are so excited and take some photos.

Then I start to cry. I can see home. This is the last big obstacle we had to get past. Neither of us has been over the bridge by bike before. I can see where Cameron works. I almost didn’t get to go this morning. I have pushed myself here. We made it this far and are still happy to be with each other. We are standing almost on the summit of the bridge as cars whiz by, honking at us as we jump up and down. We are hugging and I am just about sobbing.

The summit is ours. The downhill is ours. This day is ours.

Gail at the (almost) summit of the Dumbarton Bridge

The other side of the wetlands rewards us with herons, egrets, pelicans and cormorants. I want this to last. I know I can return. It’s close to home. But leaving the nature preserve right then was hard. It meant one step closer to the end of the adventure.

The Don Edwards - San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

We are heading into city traffic once again – civilization. Our first brush with re-entry is the Facebook campus, which is almost at the bottom of the bridge. I nix Russell’s suggestion of eating our granola-bar lunch on the grass in Facebook’s parking lot. Instead, I suggest we have a “real” lunch for the first time this whole trip. We stop for pizza at a Five Star Pizza with all-you-can-eat.

We are congratulating ourselves and talking about riding up the entire incline, when Russell says he was so exhausted at the time that he felt like throwing up. Uh oh. I didn’t feel that. I thought I was giving my all. I thought it was just that he had the bike in a great gear. I thought we were super strong. Now I realize that he powered the bike and me up over that bridge. I gave all I had, but he gave all that and more. I am humbled.

Our ride to the hotel is pretty uneventful, even with me holding the directions. Notice I do not say “with me navigating.” Russell once again had to handwrite directions and they were pretty wonky, with the streets and bike path not matching what I saw in a few places.

At various points along our trip so far, we have been on bike paths, bike routes… but in Palo Alto, we were on a “Bike Boulevard.” We took this through downtown Palo Alto. We rode down a street near the Sunset magazine offices and right through where they are setting up for a festival this weekend. At one section we had to through a bike subway, and when we came to the bottom all we saw were steps. A sharp sort of hidden left turn took us back up. And this is where the directions lost connection to reality. We ended up taking a sharp right turn uphill along an unnamed path, and found ourselves in a parking lot that—miracle of miracles – let us out on the exact street we need be on… just feet from the hotel. How does Russell do that?

Downtown Palo Alto

The Embarcadero Bike Path pedestrian tunnel

We arrived at just about 2:00 at the Westin, where – believe it or not – they let us store our bike in our room. And what a room… a great place to spend our last night. Thanks to my sister-in-law for the gift.

Our last hotel: the Westin Palo Alto!

This afternoon will be our most relaxed of the trip. We arrived at about the same time as usual, but today no car shuttle. Happy dance time. We had a nice lunch, so there is no hurry for dinner. Showers are already done, clothes washed, and the blog is well under way.

Total distance: 165.21 miles
Distance traveled today: 11.22 miles
Time spent riding: 1 hour, 14 minutes
Average speed: 9.0 mph
Maximum speed: 16.4 mph

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