Day 20: Davis, CA to Vallejo, CA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 15, 2014

Day 20: Davis, CA to Vallejo, CA

We wake up for about an hour around 5:00 a.m., then fall back asleep, and don't end up riding away from the motel until after 9:00. Our bodies continue to recover from all of the mountain riding we finished a few days ago. On the way out of town we pass through the campus of the University of California-Davis. It has the old buildings and leafy trees and young people that all colleges are required to have, but what stands out at Davis are the bicycles, because they are everywhere. Even though class isn't yet in session, the roads and paths are thick with riders. There are dedicated bike lanes, roundabouts to control traffic, and instead of parking lots we see bicycle racks by the hundreds. It's a wonderful example of how the world would look different if we designed around bikes instead of cars and trucks.

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And then in less than a mile we cross a set of railroad lines and we're back into the country, riding by fields of dead sunflowers, tomatoes being harvested, cows being cows, and stopping to wait for thick white clouds of fertilizer to blow past us. I run over every tomato that sits on the shoulders, sometimes fast enough that the impact shoots the juice and the seeds up onto my legs, where it gets caught in the hair and dries in place. Every squish leaves a little wet patch on my front tire that flashes past every half second.

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It's a pattern that repeats itself all morning. We head through farm land, then run into the Walmarts and fast food joints and massive gas stations of Dixon, but within a few miles we're back in a place where the fields grow thick with corn, the air smells of fresh-cut grass hay, herds of curious goats call out to us when we stop, tractors rumble in the distance, dragonflies have sex in mid-flight while hanging above creosote-covered fence posts, and old men in overalls with dirty baseball hats wave to us. And then, all at once, we're surrounded again by the brick and concrete walls of subdivisions in Vacaville, which are followed in short order by strip malls where you can buy pizza or a radio-controlled airplane or a bong, get your taxes done or your hair cut, or rent-to-own a fifty-five-inch TV or high-end smartphone that you can't afford to buy outright.

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The pizza is terrible, too. A few miles down the road, past the prison but before the bleach production plant, I stop next to the edge of the road and wait for Kristen to come to a stop behind me.

"Impromptu Team Hawthorne team meeting," I say to her. "I call this meeting to order. I would like to propose a motion."

"I second your proposing of the motion," she responds.

"I propose that we never again, at any point on this trip, eat at a chain pizza restaurant."

"I second this motion."

"All in favor say yes."

We both say yes.

"All opposed say no," I ask.

Silence.

"Let the record show there are zero no votes."

"Approved!" shouts Kristen, and we both smack our saddles with a closed fist.

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As it has all day, the wind blows from the southwest at a steady twenty miles per hour, with gusts up to twenty-five. It's the kind of wind where I spit out in front of me but the wind blows it back with such force that I never see it hit the ground. We struggle both to stay upright and to hit six miles per hour, even on flat ground.

But Fairfield might be worse. There the wind is angry, the cars are angry, and even the kids walking on the streets are angry. We end up on a bike path, but it's lined by dead grass and garbage and shelters made of cardboard and wood that people live out of. It's a complete disaster. But then somehow we find a place downtown that serves vegan soft serve ice cream, to the delight of one half of Team Hawthorne, which gives us a break from the wind and a blast of sugar to help keep us pushing. We also find interested conversation with the shop's owner, followed by a hug, and then congratulations and well wishes. It leaves us refreshed.

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At least for the moment.

Farther on we go by buildings covered with graffiti, men passed out under trees, and then we travel under the interstate and right next to the interstate before finally being dropped off among the wide streets and vast empty lots of what will some day become the kind of business park that houses logistics companies and commercial property management firms.

Along the way Kristen asks me, "Did somebody in a truck yell something at you earlier?"

"Yeah, they did."

"What did they say?"

"I don't know. Probably something terrible. But you know what?"

"What?"

"It doesn't matter. There's nothing that anyone could say that could bring me down, because I'm out here, with you, doing this. There's nowhere else I'd rather be. I'm the luckiest guy in the world right now."

Although I don't yet know it, these words will be put to the test.

So beautiful.
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It's been a tough day — one of the toughest so far — but we're making progress. All that's left to do is climb over a small line of mountains and then drop down into Vallejo, where we're staying with a Warm Showers host for the night. But before we can reach the base of those mountains, the freeway elbows its way into our path. The directions I put together at home show a path running along the northern edge of the freeway for a mile or two, which then lets us cross over it on a little-used overpass and continue on from there without too much trouble. However, when we roll up to where the path should be, we instead see a landscape of dirt and orange barrels and earth movers that seem to be widening the interstate from eight lanes to roughly seventeen. Looking out at this mass of progress I see a narrow ribbon of pavement that still exists, running along the freeway, up toward the foothills, in the direction of the overpass that we're looking for. I figure the engineers left the path intact so that bicycle riders could make it through the chaos and continue on their way. How nice of them! So I call out "To the top!" to Kristen and we press on, not thrilled about what's laid in front of us, but happy we'll at least be able to power past it.

And then the path ends. Or to put it more accurately, it doesn't end as much as it reaches a six-foot drop-off, beyond which lies an ocean of churned rock and dirt so soft it can't even be traveled on foot. We can see the original paved path a few tenths of a mile ahead, running up the hill toward the overpass, but there's no way we're going to get there.

So we move on to plan B. We zoom back down about half a mile of the path we just rode, then hook a sharp turn and start back up the hill on the shoulder of a freeway off-ramp. It's noisy and dirty and as pleasant as a purple nurple, but it's progress, and with the sun speeding toward the horizon at a rate that seems about twice as fast as normal, progress is what we need. And for about five minutes we feel like we're getting somewhere. But then the shoulder disappears, and in its place stands an uninterrupted line of concrete barriers. They'd make for great protection if we could ride to the inside of them, but of course we can't, because a collection of unmovable yellow and black traffic safety barrels block the narrow passageway that would allow us to squeeze by and continue on the same last few tenths of a mile toward the overpass that we once again can see but cannot reach.

All we can do is coast back down the shoulder of the off-ramp, against the flow of the speeding, heartless traffic. At the bottom of the descent we're back where we started more than half an hour ago, only this time we eyeball our only remaining option: a steep, busy, shoulderless, two-lane overpass that leads to a long, looping route up toward the mountains that it seems as if we'll never climb. For about ten minutes we watch the traffic patterns and signal timing, trying to figure out when we can get a gap of even twenty seconds to get rolling and push to the top of the overpass, which we think will give us enough space to keep from getting squashed by an impatient Porsche SUV driver. But it looks like eight or nine is about the best we can do. As we stand there over our bikes, looking out at business parks, strip malls, outlet stores, RV dealerships, and hearing nothing but the constant and panicked roar of traffic, all I can do is stare off into the distance, wonder what we're doing as a society, and wonder what end all of this madness serves.

Fuck you, freeway.
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Daylight is fast running out, so we have to wait for what we think will be the biggest break in traffic, and then we gun it — at least as much as one can on a loaded bicycle going up an eight percent grade.

But we do it! We're almost to the top! There's enough room up there that we won't get killed! It's going to be — oh, wait, hold on, that doesn't look right.

Are you kidding me?

Son of a bitch.

Kristen's back tire is flat.

We pull off in front of one of the aforementioned RV dealerships and get to work. I've changed a lot of tires in my life, so even though it's yet another setback to have a flat work its way into our trip at this unfortunate moment, it's not a deal-breaker. We can still make it to Vallejo, even if we have to do the last few miles in the dark.

But it's not that simple. The Continental Travel Contact tires on Kristen's bike fit tight — so tight that it look two sets of hands to install them when we built up the bike back in Portland. My hope that the tires would have softened over the last 900 miles and made for an easier repair job is just that. In the end it takes almost twenty minutes of sweating, grunting, twisting, cursing, spitting, tire lever mangling, and possibly creating the beginning of a brain aneurysm to get the tire free of the rim so that we can pull the tube, find the puncture, and then yank out the offending thorn from the tread with a pair of tweezers. In the process I inadvertently shred enough of the rubber that covers the tire's metal bead that the bead becomes visible, which means that this otherwise perfect tire now has to be replaced before we leave San Francisco, because if the pressure in the tire drops too far at some point in the future the bead will pinch the tube and cause a blowout. Given how these types of things go, that blowout would happen at the most remote, mountainous point of our trek around New Zealand this winter. In addition to feeling frustrated, tired, and concerned about the remains of a day that's almost gotten away from us entirely, now I feel stupid as well.

But stupid soon takes a back seat to aggravation, because when at last we start our climb into the mountains we find the wind funneling down through the gap above us at a sustained thirty miles per hour. Perfect! Everywhere else in the world the wind seems to die when evening arrives, but not here, or at least not here today. Today, everything must work against us. That might seem like hyperbole, like the words of a man who's about to find the end of his wits, but it's true. As we continue on the climb we pass not one but two dead black cats that lay slumped in the bike lane; that's how bad our luck is today. There's also a literal bed of glass at one point. And then there's the fact that we're on a frontage road forty feet off of Interstate 80 and just below its level, so that every one of the thousands of sets of headlights shines right in our eyes.

"We will not let the suburbs win!" I call out to Kristen.

And I mean it. I want to overcome all of the adversity that's been thrown or blown in front of us today, to push through the anger and the fatigue, and to come out the other side victorious and to look back on everything with a shrug of the shoulders and say something like, "But hey, that's bike touring."

But the suburbs have other plans.

The first false summit doesn't much surprise me. The second one gets me a little bit, but I put my head back down and keep pushing. When I see the third one I think, Where the fuck do these things keep coming from?, but I resolve to keep grinding because I know there's a shower and a bed waiting for us on the other side. But after the crest of the third climb there's a short drop and a fourth false summit starts to rise up in front of me. Somewhere between where the drop bottoms out and the bike trail starts to trend up, the complex network of emotions that have been swirling through my brain under some manner of control since about six miles outside of Davis this morning fall apart at once and come tumbling out of my mouth in the form of this kind of primal yell.

I'm broken.

I'm also alone, because Kristen didn't see me turn off the road and on to the bike path that goes to Vallejo. At the moment I realize this I see a modest headlight glow and tiny red taillight shoot past about a hundred feet below, so over the roar of the traffic I yell out "STOP!" and a half second later hear the rhythmic squeaking of two sets of bicycle brakes that need to be realigned.

When we reunite a few minutes later, we do something I've never before done during the middle of a day on a bicycle trip: give up. Bruce, our Warm Showers host, has been in contact with us all evening as our adventure has gone from saga to odyssey, and about an hour ago he messaged us with the offer of a ride and the promise of pizza and beer and showers and not having to ride a bicycle up, over, or anywhere near these godforsaken mountains. Ten minutes ago we weren't ready to take him up on that offer. Now we are.

With our bikes on the roof of Bruce's biodiesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta, and our stuff crammed in the trunk and the back seat, the last eight or nine miles to his home Vallejo all of a sudden become much easier. By the time we reach his garage and finish up the process of moving our gear inside I notice that the time is 9:05 p.m., exactly twelve hours after we left rested and fresh-faced from Davis. And yet, as so often happens with bicycle touring, things work out alright in the end. Bruce helps rebuild our spirits with his delicious homebrewed beer and the best pizza we've experienced so far. He tells us about his bicycle trips along the Pacific Coast, introduces us to his bird Chico (who is skilled at being concerned and saying Chico!), and explains what its like to work as a professional trombonist. We do our best to stay awake and alert, but like everything else we've experienced today that task turns into a struggle.

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Kristen clicks off the light in our bedroom at 11:30, at which point there's nothing left in the tank. In the moment before my eyelids snap shut for the next seven or eight hours, I think about how today will serve as an important reminder as we go forward. Even though I have all kinds of experience traveling by bicycle, and even though I think I have great skill in traveling by bicycle, the truth of the matter is that every day I pass through a world over which I have almost zero control.

Message received.

Today's ride: 52 miles (84 km)
Total: 963 miles (1,550 km)

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