Pittsburg to Sacramento: A Day Along the Delta

The Bearded One and I were planning on heading to Santa Cruz yesterday to join a posse of friends for a big mountain biking party, but unfortunately TBO had contracted some mysterious stomach ailment that plagued him during the night. After struggling through hours of nausea and cramps, he managed to feel somewhat human again by the early afternoon. A flat, leisurely ride sounded like the perfect antidote to his malaise, so we scanned a map of the Bay Area for a new destination for the day. TBO had biked to Pioneer several weekends ago and loved the section where he passed through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, so we set out from the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station for a one-way trip towards the capital.

The 10 mile-ish stretch from Pittsburg to Antioch is a rather nondescript mix of bland residential neighborhoods and industrial lots. There’s not much to see until you hop onto the Antioch Bridge, a thin, narrow structure that spans the San Joaquin River and gives you a sweeping view of the delta. It’s really windy (so leave your disc wheelsets at home), and if you’re lucky, a semi-trailer truck won’t blast past you as you’re crossing the bridge. One massive truck flew by while we were at the foot of the bridge and “wind slapped” us so hard that our jerseys flipped up our backs and nearly smacked the back of our heads.

Then we pedaled past miles of farmland until we finally caught a glimpse of the Sacramento River on our left. This particular part of Route 160 is a veritable minefield of nasty bits of metal just waiting to puncture your tires; one of TBO’s Grand Bois got speared by an inch-long nail on his previous outing, but we fortunately we were spared this time around.

Not too long after crossing a bridge that leads to the Brannan Island State Recreation Area, you’ll find the Delta Farmer’s Market that sits at the junction of Route 160 and 12. It’s the perfect sanctuary on a hot summer’s day as it’s well-stocked with fresh local fruit, BBQ and a assortment of homemade goods. And you can even indulge in a wine tasting for $5 a glass. There’s also a large patio where you can relax next to your bikes — and the cool mist spraying the grapes growing on the trellis will feel refreshing (if you happen to be roasting away in the heat like we were ) on your sweaty, salt-encrusted skin.

We continued on Route 160 towards the small town of Isleton, following the curves of Sacramento River that snake northward. Small riverbank communities have settled along the shores and face the large fields of crops growing on the opposite side of Route 160.

Isleton had a street festival in full swing, and there was an armada of motorcycles camped out on its main thoroughfare.

Shortly thereafter, we crossed over to the other side of the river to River Road on the first of several bright yellow bridges that provide access throughout the delta.

This was my first time venturing through this area, and I became instantly enamored of this scenic corridor of the delta. It’s quiet and peaceful, even with the occasional spurts of weekend traffic (and we weren’t honked at even once, despite there being no shoulder on this part of the road; everyone passed us respectfully). All you’ll hear are boats cruising down the river, in search of fish or a good spot to swim.

The final 30-ish miles to Sacramento were hot, hot, hot. For some perverse reason I was wearing a wool jersey, so I finally stripped that off and just wore my base layer as we sweltered through the furnace-like temps of the late afternoon. Pouring water on my legs cooled me down some, as did a quick pit stop for paletas and V8 in Cortland — but the 90-degree heat was relentless. Plus the roads — built on top of the levees — were rather uneven. Whenever we took a breather in the shade, my hands would be tingling from the vibrations caused by the bumpy pavement. And TBO was on his single-speed, so he was worn out from the tiring effort of spinning out too fast on the flats with the tailwinds. (Headwinds actually provided him with some relief; I tried to show some empathy by switching to his gear ratio on my road bike, but I didn’t last too long spinning like a hamster in 56 gear inches.) Traversing back and forth across the river helped to break up the monotony of this part of our journey, and whenever we’d encounter a section of fresh, smooth pavement — it would temporarily revive our slowly wilting bodies. We were tormented by the fact that the river was right there, beckoning us to jump in for a swim. But neither of us had brought sunscreen, so we didn’t want to wash away our precious layer of protection.

At long last, we spotted the skyscrapers of Sacramento in the distance — beer o’clock was upon us! After riding through the illustrious arches of the Tower Bridge, the most majestic of the yellow bridges on our ride, we ventured to Lowbrau for beer, brats and French fries decadently cooked in duck fat. Then we made our way to Gunther’s Ice Cream Shop to end our day on a sweet sugary note, which was packed with tons of other folks lined up for dessert.

By the time we ended up at Amtrak Station to take the train back to Emeryville, we had 85 miles under our belts. We’re looking forward to embarking on other cycling adventures via train, especially now that TBO’s discovered that the bar car stocks tasty beers!