Quiet roads, beautiful sunrises & friendly faces. These were not the dreadful sights that I was repeatedly cautioned against during my SFT planning. Usually the conversation went something like this, “The Central Valley? Worst idea ever. No one rides through there. It’s dangerous & hot. Can’t you pick a better route?”
Yes, it was quite warm. And yes, it was desolate. And yes, I did epic one day with a flat tire trifecta. But it was also a beautiful and fascinating 4 days of pedaling through one of the primary agricultural regions of our country. I whizzed past endless fields of tomatoes, peppers, melons, corn, grains, cotton & beans. I was shaded by orchards of almond, walnut, pistachio & pomegranate trees. Acres of vineyards, dairy cows grazing and enormous processing plants dotted the landscape as I raced farming equipment along the length of huge 5 mile ‘blocks’. I passed long hours in the saddle contemplating the scale of our food system and wondering about which path these truckfuls of tomatoes were destined to follow.
Another interesting sight this week was the California Aqueduct. This waterway winds down the valley, providing irrigation to 400 miles of the valley floor. Certain sections of the Aqueduct are open to bikes and allow a welcome respite from riding along the road. My route avoided freeways entirely as I followed the less busy farm roads that parallel I-5. Campgrounds are usually my accommodations of choice, but alas, they were quite nonexistent in the area so I stuck to hotels along the freeway corridor for nighttime shelter and a shower.
Towards the end of one particularly long day of 90+ miles in 90+ degree heat, I spotted an irresistible shortcut. I was faced with climbing one mile up a hill and then back down that same hill or a quick jaunt along a plowed field. An easy choice! However this seemingly time-saving decision quickly turned into an extended saga of flat tires and kind strangers as all three of my tires simultaneously flattened the minute that I returned to the pavement. After spending close to an hour pulling thorns out of my tires and replacing two tubes successfully, I came to the grim realization that the valve on my final replacement tube was broken. This meant patching a tube that was riddled with tiny punctures.
I settled into identifying all the leaks in the tube and carefully circling each one with a marker. As the hole count increased and my patch count decreased, I realized that the math didn’t add up. I was short on patches. Improvisation is key during life on the road. No patches? How about duct tape!
Knowing that this was a temporary solution, at best, I loaded up my rig and started riding. After 8 miles and equally as many stops to pump up my deflating tire, my quick fix finally failed and I walked the last 2 miles in the twilight. I watched headlights from the freeway flicker in the distance while thoughts of an impending In N Out burger occupied my mind.
The next morning I awoke and evaluated my situation. I was out of spare tubes, in the middle of the Central Valley and still 50 miles from the nearest bike shop. I could 1) Hitch a ride 2) Hitch a ride or 3) Meet a kind man named Mauricio who owns the local auto shop and just happens to have a bike tire patch kit. I chose #3.
Traveling by bicycle is unpredictable and exhilarating. You’re forced to adapt daily, reach out beyond yourself and keep your chin up at all costs. After my epic, as I was pushing my 85 pounds of gear through the soft shoulder of a construction zone for the final two miles, I found myself smiling and relishing in the experience. I am a Team Duke athlete, part of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and I’m pedaling “to bring courage, strength and grit to the fight against cancer”. I hope that John Wayne would be proud of the grit I showed in the Central Valley.
You can see ride details on my Garmin Connect page:
- Davis to Lodi – 68.75 miles
- Lodi to Westly – 57.14 miles
- Westly to Panoche – 99.61 miles
- Panoche to Kettleman City – 92.29 miles
- Kettleman City to Paso Robles – 54.40 miles (*check out the temps on this day… a scorcher!)