The week leading up to the North American Handmade Bike Show in Sacramento, many of my friends were posting Facebook plans on how they were getting to the Sac Convention Center. Some planned an early start so they could spend more time in Sacramento (not sure what for), some planned a reasonable 9 AM start to finish before nightfall, some just drove, some took the train. I was waiting til the last minute to make my decision, then my buddy Morgan messaged me asking if I wanted to ride with him at noon and camp out somewhere along the way. Wanting to stop at what is probably my favorite bar in California on the way, I thought this was perfect.
We were supposed to meet at noon, but going to a hockey game the night before, getting breakfast with the girlfriend, and not packing til the very last minute, meant that we hit the road closer to 1 30. That’s kind of the pace I was going for anyway; zero hustle.
I stopped to use this bathroom on the bike path in Walnut Creek. Someone had been clearly smoking right before I got in there. Damn teenagers. The smoke made a cool effect that the camera didn’t pick up, at least the weird yellowing lighting was interesting.
We meandered our way through the extensive bike path network of the East Bay suburbs. We survived the few interactions with traffic, and Morgan’s Garmin’s brilliant routing to make it to the Antioch bridge just as the sun was hitting the horizon. We switched on our lights and began the journey into the Delta.
I love that every direction you go you can see Diablo. It’s not that close to home, but it makes me think I’m never that far.
This was about the only part of the night that sucked. It was about 16 miles from the bridge to Rio Vista where we planned to get dinner. I’m not sure if we didn’t eat enough, didn’t drink enough, or it was just the headlamp daze from staring at the light in front of our wheels. I turned my head off and ignored the growing gap between me and Morgan.
Morgan knew of an Italian restaurant in Rio Vista, where we stopped for dinner. It felt like one of those places that Gordon Ramsey tries to fix (but never actually does) on Kitchen Nightmares, with kitchsy shit all over the wall and a giant menu. My pasta was great because it was food, but canned or frozen vegetables wouldn’t have wowed, pretty much any other time. How do you have a restaurant near where almost all American produce is made and have canned and frozen stuff? But, touring vegan for many a year, I don’t expect much when out on the road. Call it my snobbish city-folk tendency.
As we were sopping up the last of our meal I pulled out my phone to see how far we were to Locke. Google Maps showed two different routes, a faster one that was 16 miles and a slower one that was 15 miles. That didn’t make any sense to me so I pulled up the turn-by-turn. It was pretty straight forward, go north on CA-84, take the Real McCoy ferry, ride 220 East, then take the J-Mack ferry to East 220, continue to River Road, etc. Morgan’s eyes widen up, “We have to take the ferry”. Mind you it’s 9 PM at night. I confirm, the ferry is 24 hours. This is the dumb idea we needed to close out the night.
Going north on CA-84, we got some of the local flavor. Every half mile was a big crew cab pickup on the side of the road, country folks sitting around a fire drinking beers. What better way to spend a Saturday night on the Delta? We hit our first ferry, the Real McCoy, we shared it with a pair of cars. As we pushed off we pulled out some more whiskey for the brief river crossing. Once we hit the opposite side the first car rolled off the ferry, Morgan stepped on his pedal before the second car got out and the CalTrans employee starts yelling “STOP! STOP! STOP!” Morgan obliges, “You’re gonna get yourself runover,” we laughed. “No, I’m serious, this island is filled with nothing but druggies and drunks.” We break out in laughter and follow the second car onto Ryer Island.
All the best decisions were made that night.
We didn’t see any cars on Ryer Island. Most cars continued north on 84 it seemed, while we continued over toward Locke. With full bellies and good laughs the headlamp daze was gone. We hopped on the J-Mack where we were the only people on the ferry, crossed over toward Ryde. From Ryde it’s a short ride to Locke, we hit town, turned right onto the derelict Main St, saw the lights on at the only business open this late in this one block town, Al the Wop’s.
Let’s get some camp beers! Oh, wait, they only sell beer in big ‘ol ‘I’m goin’ fishin” packs. Oh well.
The first time I was at Al the Wop’s was a similar circumstance. A friend and I rode out to camp the Delta in the summertime. That was when I fell in love with this establishment. We of course were sore thumbs in the local bar. Even for being a Saturday night the place was pretty quite with about a half dozen or so people lining the bar. “You just missed the ghost special!” Johnny O, the lively bartender hollered at us in his raspy voice as we rolled our bikes in the front door. Apparently there had been a ghost hunters show on about the opera house across the street from the bar. Locke, CA was built in 1861 for Chinese workers who were draining the delta swamps to make it the levied system it was today. The town’s population swelled and saloons and brothels popped up for the workers. Story goes that the opera house was one of these brothels and that if any of the women talked out of line they would be dumped into the river. People claim they can hear this girl yelling in the opera house from time to time. The locals didn’t buy it. I would have if I watched the show, because why watch those shows if you’re not going to believe them?
The Wops. Seriously, best bar in California.
The thing that is great about these small town bars is that everyone is up for a conversation. Especially if you’re from out of town. We chatted it up with the locals, as Morgan put down his first empty glass Johnny O offered another and Morgan promised, “you’ll have to keep ’em coming til you throw us out.” We made good on that promise. Even as we were the last two in the bar for most of the night.
This was the drink special that Johnny O concocted for the ghost program. He had just enough to make two more for us, up front it tasted like booze, with an after taste of booze and a slight hint of booze.
“Hey, you seen a black guy running through here?” that was our alarm in the morning. I look up the embankment from where we camped and see a police officer, he noticed us and yelled down “Oh, hey! Sorry for waking you guys up!” Morgan and I were both perplexed as we looked at each other. Then as we looked up the embankment with our back to the water we heard a child’s voice “Look dad, bikes!” in surprise we turn around and it’s a father with his toddler daughter. They had apparently gone canoe camping out on the Delta somewhere. What a bizarre way to start the day. We packed up, still drunk, and headed up the road toward Sac.
The little girl on the canoe was freaking adorable. “We went camping on Scout Boy Island!” “Boy Scout Island,” her father corrected.
The adventure was over when we left the Delta. Twin Cities Highway left us from the magically strange place that is the Sacramento River Delta into the flatlands around Sac. By the time we hit town, we agreed we could go home and call it a good enough trip. But we did actually make it to the bike show, which would turn out to be the worst part of the trip. Which is that surprising? I’d rather ride a $400 bike than look at a $10,000 one.