Wilton to Vacaville - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

July 20, 2014

Wilton to Vacaville

Dawn south of Sacramento
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I LEFT the campground before all but the earliest were about. That's not uncommon; not everybody on holiday feels the need to unzip the tent and make coffee at dawn.

Someone was up, though: a paunchy and tanned man carrying a bag of laundry to a bank of white and silver washing machines. Making coffee before sunrise is curious but dunking your dirty clothes at dawn may be odder. He paused, hugging his laundry to his belly and bringing his flip-flops to a halt.

"You do much trav'lin' on that bike?", he asked. "Looks like you're pretty much kitted up for trav'lin'."

I hesitated, unsure what to say.

"Oh, a bit," I answered.

Odd how how industrial ugliness can seem appealing: on the road to Sacramento
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"What, round here some place?"

"Well, no, not really. I've just ridden from Maryland."

"MARYLAND? Holy moley!

We've all had that reaction. But it never stops amusing me.

Karen, you'll remember, was at home in Vacaville with her brother. He had to drop his hire car off in Sacramento and we arranged to meet at the railway museum in the city. It stands in old Sacramento, a square of streets either preserved as they'd been or cunningly rebuilt. It's a tribute to how well that it's not obvious which, although there's been a lot of connivance, of course.

There are old advertisements painted on walls and shops and offices which must once have been estate agencies and insurance brokerages but have been repainted to look more authentic. The roads are unsurfaced and lined by wooden sidewalks.

It all reminds me of Williamsburg, on the other coast, right down to period characters hired to walk the streets. There were swanky gents who awkwardly commented "They're queer kinda horses!" when they saw our bikes, and women carrying placards calling for the vote, and a boulevardier with a liquor bottle, and a gunslinger who scowled at all he passed.

Old Sacramento, carefully restored to how perhaps it never was
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In fact none of it is genuine, or at least not original. The story is that Sacramento kept flooding, not every year but, when it did flood, it flooded several times. In the end people got fed up with it and they decided to move upstairs. Some time in the later 1800s, they walled up the street level of all the buildings and filled in the gaps with earth and anything else that was around. What had been the street level thereby became the basement and what had until then happened at street level moved upstairs. Because upstairs was the new ground level.

The fun of it - unless you were there at the time - is that there was little supervision and so not everybody got the job done at the same pace. Which meant that you could go for a walk in the dark at the new street level and topple into a hole down to the old one. Such things got into the papers, of course, and eventually persuaded everyone to get on with the job. And so it is that, today, the true Old Sacramento is down beneath your feet and what you see now is a sort of Middle-Aged Sacramento.

There are contradictions, of course. Cars drive and park in the street; the tourist railway has a massive diesel rather than a steam engine with cowcatcher and a smoking funnel.

The train now arriving...
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The striking yellow bridge at Sacramento rises in salute for passing ships
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A train never waits long at a station; it always pays to hurry
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If you want to see real steam engines, you have to go to the state railway museum, also there in the centre. And it's worth it, the best railway museum I've visited anywhere short of York, in England.

The road to Vacaville, though, lacked excitement. It also lacked hills, although not a headwind. Mentally, the ride had ended in Sacramento. Riding to Vacaville was an imposition. I got there in a daze, had a drink and went to bed.

Miserable old bastard, aren't I?

Sacramento: one of the world's best railway museums
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Davis is so much a cycling town that its badge features a bike
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Bikes galore at the station
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The local bike club provides a stand and tools at the station
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Art at Davis university
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Today's ride: 95 km (59 miles)
Total: 6,081 km (3,776 miles)

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