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.

Get more information about bike overnights.

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.

8 responses so far ↓

Jamesw2 - Feb 13, 2012 at 12:31 PM

I am about ready for my week end camping trip. I did a test run to the campsite @ 44 miles. My total weight was 344lbs. I manages almost 7 mph with 45 minutes break. 15 mph headwind temp was 35 to 45 degrees. I can sympathize with the packing thing, and road noise.
Really not advisable to swim in lakes and ponds around here because of alligators.

Tom H - Mar 6, 2012 at 1:45 PM

Michael, thanks for posting the trip. I'd had this ride in mind since talking to a amieable fellow at an REI touring presentation, unfortunately it fell from the radar. I found that Google Maps won't find it by name - anyone else out there can find it with the address " 8685 Pleasants Valley Road, Winters, CA ". I'll definitely put this one on the list for the next several months. Thnks again, maybe see you on the road. ps Are those cup holders commericially available?

Tim Viall - Apr 4, 2012 at 1:56 PM

Sounds like a great adventure, and always wondered about that causeway trail between W Sacto and Davis. We are riding that lovely American River Trail this Saturday; and I'll plot an overnight with this as inspiration! Thanks!

Michael McCoy - Apr 9, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Tom H., ha ha, yes I think those cup holders are available commercially, but only at shoe stores.

Michael Morin - Apr 11, 2012 at 4:53 PM

I can identify with the getting packed in the AM issue. We toured for a month and the earliest we ever got out was 8:00- and that was getting up at 6:00AM! Thanks forthe fun post!

Paula Joy - Jun 29, 2012 at 2:36 PM

I have wondered about this trip, and this makes it more tangible! Thanks for posting it. The American River Bike Trail, especially in early morning hours in summer months, is glorious -- the best thing about Sacramento, along with our estimated 6 million trees!

Doug Wirth - Sep 1, 2012 at 6:42 AM

Michael, thanks for posting your trip, just started over nite trips my self, I live in the foot hills east of Lodi, close to new hogan, camanche and Lake amador, with the limited time I have I can leave my house mid to late afternoon ride 20 - 25 miles ( very hilly ). Set up camp, relax, Scotch,and yes nothing better then noodles and sardines,

Michael McCoy - Sep 4, 2012 at 2:02 PM

Doug, thanks for the comment. And have fun on those trips!

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