Confessions of a Problem Packer: Hot Time in the Central Valley
I purchased a new Raleigh Sojourn touring bike last June and this was the second overnight trip taken with it. I rode from Sacramento State University to Lake Solano County Park and back on August 10 and 11, 2011.
Being the procrastinator I am, I didn't pack until the morning of departure, so didn't start riding until 11 a.m. Not a smart idea in the California Central Valley, where it gets hot in the summer.
I rode the first 24 miles in relatively comfortable temps (the hottest part of the day is around 5 p.m.) The first 8 miles were on the American River Bike Trail from Sac State to Discovery Park and Old Sacramento. This bike trail is a jewel, running 33 miles along the American River to Folsom Lake. I highly recommend a ride on it if you are in the area.
From Old Sacramento, I crossed the Sacramento River into West Sacramento. The next 16 miles were the least lovely of the route. Riding through West Sacramento on a thoroughfare loaded with tired old motels, light industry, and funky strip malls, all of which leads to a 5-mile-long bike trail running parallel to and just three feet from Interstate 80 (it is incredibly loud).
In the city of Davis I stopped at Redrum Burgers for lunch. The original name, Murder Burgers, disturbed some customers so a contest was held to rename the place. Redrum, murder spelled backwards, was the winner. Davis is a great college community and a top-notch cycling town. A several-miles-long paved bike path took me out of town, into agriculture country, and onto two-lane roads that were tree-lined, offering welcome shade.
It started to heat up quite a bit during the 20-mile ride toward the little town of Winters on Putah Creek Road. I don't do well in the heat, so I had to take four breaks to cool off in the shade. And then the planned 20-mile ride became 24 miles because I missed a turn. Thankfully, the ride back to the turn was downwind. In Winters, I filled up my water bottles and took a break, eating some cantaloupe I carried in an insulated lunch bag (along with some yogurt, a quart of water, and a bottle of beer. No wonder my bike was so heavy!)
I was beat from the heat but had just 5 miles to go. Lake Solano County Park was practically deserted, so I had many campsites to pick from. Camping next to the water seemed like an excellent idea, until I thought about the likelihood of mosquitoes in the evening. I ended up choosing a site far away from others but close to a bathroom with a free hot shower. Lovely!
Before I did anything else, I broke out that beer -- and man, did it go down well! Then I did all the camping stuff: set the tent up, ate a dinner of instant noodles and sardines, waded in the lake, walked around the campground, showered, and hit the sack at 7:30 p.m. when it was still light.
For this trip I brought my pillow from home to see if it would result in a better night's sleep than my usual fitful nights camping. I didn't sleep like a lamb, but certainly better than when I use clothes in a stuff sack for a pillow. It was a weird night, weather-wise. Initially, I was very hot and slept on top of my bag. As it got colder and colder, I slept under my bag, then in my bag. Finally, I put on a shirt and zipped up the tent fly.
Oatmeal wasn't appealing in the morning, so I decided to bike into Winters to eat at the Putah Creek Cafe (featured on the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives TV show). Before I could leave, however, I had to pack. I've got plenty of experience backpacking, snow camping, and some bike touring, which means I have plenty of experience packing. Yet none of it has resulted in an ability to perform quick, efficient packing. No matter how I do it, I always take about an hour to pack up. It frustrates me to no end. I have no idea how to be quicker, other than shoving everything into compression sacks and just tossing them into the panniers willy nilly.
I did manage to leave by 10 a.m.; however, it wasn't early enough to avoid the hot afternoon temps on the return trip. Total mileage over the two days: 97 miles. (I should have ridden around the block a few times to make it an even 100.) It was hotter than heck -- but a heck of a lot of fun.
Tip for this adventure: To ameliorate the effects of heat, try a wet bandana tied around the forehead and a product called Cool Cap.
Favorite local bike shop: Ken's Bike, Ski, Board in Davis, California.