“I think that Google Maps for bicycles isn’t quite ready for prime time”

On June 20, it was time to hit the road again and see some Historical Landmarks. Since our last adventure, I had ridden the San Francisco Randonneurs’ Davis Night Ride (a 200 km brevet from Hercules to Davis and back that starts at 8 pm and ended for me at about 7:45 am the next morning). I was so excited about riding to Davis (and after we had so much fun in Solano County visiting Benicia and Fairfield), Gail and I wanted to visit the two Historical Landmarks that were in Solano County but most remote from our house. Also, Gail wanted to ride Pleasants Valley Road. Finally, I wanted to get her on the Capitol Corridor trains. To meet all of those constraints, we decided to drive to Fairfield, ride to Vacaville and Winters (to see Landmarks), continue on to Davis, and then take the train back to Fairfield.

At first, we thought we should take the train from Richmond to Fairfield. However, that was going to take some extra time and we were having trouble getting going, so we decided to make the quick drive from Richmond to the Amtrak station in Fairfield, which is where we would start our ride. Easy, right? I swear, we must have driven around Fairfield for 45 minutes, trying to find the Amtrak station. Our first mistake was to think that the Amtrak station was somewhat near Fairfield’s downtown. After getting off I-80 at the sign pointing toward downtown Fairfield, we were treated to a long drive down W. Texas Street, through and past downtown, before we stopped at a gas station to look at the map. Way too far. No problem…just turn around and head back, since we must have missed the signs pointing toward the Amtrak station. After making a U-turn, we headed back into downtown Fairfield. No signs to Amtrak.

I could see the tracks. I KNEW that the station had to be around here somewhere. We took the bicycle directions I had printed for the ride and tried to reverse-engineer the directions to Amtrak. It looked like we had it until we hit the road that forced us to get onto CA Highway 12, which was NOT where we wanted to go. We went down one exit, turned around, and headed back toward Fairfield. We finally saw it: a sign indicating that we were heading toward the Amtrak station! After some bobbing and weaving around the ramps of Highway 12, we finally pulled into the Amtrak parking lot. Now THAT was 1.5 hours well-spent!

After unloading the tandem, we headed out of the parking lot, trying to follow the directions that I had printed from Google Maps. Before I start on the rant, let me say that I LOVE Google Maps. It is the mapping program that I ALWAYS turn to. Google added a feature to Google Maps that seemed great: it would find a route for bicycles! Since Gail and I were going to be on a bicycle, we thought that we should give this feature a try.

The directions out of the train station to get to W. Texas St. (which was where we had been driving about 30 minutes previously) were incomprehensible. There were no street names in some cases (even though the directions indicated that we should turn). I guess if I had a military-quality GPS system, we might have been able to determine when we had traveled 255 feet. However, since my Ciclosport HAC-4 only measured in tenths of miles (and I was trying to avoid getting hit by Sunday morning drivers or running into curbs), I must have missed one or more of the turn. I finally said that we HAD to go over this pedestrian bridge to get across the railroad tracks and get to W. Texas St. Thus, for the next 30 minutes or so, we were riding based on my excellent innate sense of direction, the sun, and dumb luck.

After winding around in a few subdivisions of Fairfield, we finally came across one of the roads on the directions from Google Maps. I thought that this was a good sign. However, after following the directions for about a mile, we were told to turn right and then make a left turn in 39 feet (again, with no road named). We went into Capricorn Circle, looped around it once, and popped back out where we had started. No bike path. No way to get out of the circle (unless we were to get off the tandem, walk up to one of the houses, open a gate, and walk through their yard, and then hopped over their back fence). Since there was no mention of such antics, I wasn’t quite ready to face a trespassing  rap in Solano County, so we headed back out of the circle, with a single question on our minds: where in the hell do we go?

It wasn’t hard to know the general direction of travel that we should to take. We should be heading toward Peña Adobe, which is on the other side of the hills from Fairfield. We could see the hills. Google Maps said that there was a route that would go over the hills (rather than taking the route that I was familiar with, which went on frontage roads west of I-80). However, every time we tried to cut through a subdivision, we would hit a dead-end (at the edge of the subdivision…there wouldn’t be a road out the “back way”, which meant we had to go back out of the subdivision and try again). Finally, we found the road that was supposed to take us to the mystery shortcut over the hill to (aptly named Paradise Valley Road). We were home free!

Not so fast, cowboy! Paradise Valley dead-ended at a construction site. No way through. So, make a U-turn, go back down the hill, and head east on Manual Compos Parkway, where, to our surprise, we found yet another Paradise Valley Road! Feeling like there couldn’t be more than two of these, we turned and headed toward the hills, Lagoon Valley, and our first Historical Landmark.

We wound around a bit until we were on the road that was supposed to go over the hill, which happened to be named, you guessed it, PARADISE VALLEY ROAD!!! We went up what appeared to be a driveway until we arrived at a very serious-looking locked gate with “NO TRESPASSING” plastered all over it. The gate wasn’t all that tall and I think that we might have been able to get the tandem and our bodies over it. However, Gail was not going to have any of that nonsense. So, back down the hill. However, now where? We knew that we had to get over those hills. We saw a woman sitting in her car and I rolled up next to her and asked how we could get to Lagoon Valley. She guffawed a couple of times and said that she too had tried the Paradise Valley Road route (based on Google Maps) and had the same result as we had just had. She told us how to get back to W. Texas St., which would turn into N. Texas St., which would take us across I-80 and to the ONLY ROUTE FROM FAIRFIELD TO VACAVILLE. As we rolled off, I said to Gail “I think that Google Maps for bicycles isn’t quite ready for prime time.”

After 2.5 hours and about 10 miles, we were still in Fairfield. We finally found N. Texas St. and were heading toward I-80 when we realized that we were starving. After a Pollo Loco stop, we finally got across I-80 to Lyon Road. Finally, I had some idea where we were.

From there, it was a quick ride to Peña Adobe, which is the site of the Vaca-Peña Adobe (Historical Landmark #534). This is the site of the 10-square-league Rancho Los Putos that Governor Pio Pico granted to Juan Felipe Peña and Manuel Cabeza Vaca in 1845. The Peña Adobe, erected here in 1843, is still owned by the descendants of their families (as of 1955). The nearby town of Vacaville was established in 1851 on land that Vaca sold to William McDaniel.

The adobe was closed to visitors (which, unfortunately, seems to be a common trait among the Historical Landmarks). It took some hunting around but we finally found the Marker. There were a bunch of other monuments, plaques, and other items commemorating the place as a spot of historic significance. Aside from the plaques, there was some fairly neat antique farm implements. Also, the adobe had a pretty big selection of religious statuary and other stuff. Families were having picnics under the trees. Lagoon Valley was a stone’s throw away. This is also the starting point for the Knoxville Double Century, which is put on by the Quack Cyclists, who are widely acknowledged as the best organizers of double century rides in California. All told, it is a pretty nice spot, as long as you don’t rely on the Google Maps directions for bicycles to get there.

According to our book, the next Historical Landmark was somewhere outside of Winters. This meant that we could ride up Pleasants Valley Road to get there. This would be a treat. Pleasants Valley Road is an amazing combination of farmland, rolling hills, and ranches with a public road running through the middle. There is usually very little traffic, the rolling hills aren’t too tall, and it is just downright pretty. Gail had never ridden through here, although she did pick me up along this road one afternoon when I did a loop from Fairfield to Napa, Lake Berryessa, and Pleasants Valley. That day, the sun was out and the fields were an emerald green. Because of the late rains this spring, I suspected that the fields might be just as great today, which they were.

After riding most of Pleasants Valley Road, we turned onto Putah Creek Road, which goes to Winters and then continues onward in the general direction of Davis. When you start at Pleasants Valley Road, Putah Creek Road is just a blast, as it gently rolls down toward the Central Valley next to Putah Creek. We were zipping along at a pretty good clip, enjoying the views of Lake Solano and various orchards when Gail yelled “STOP! STOP!”

I jammed on the brakes, thinking that she had fallen off the back of the tandem. Nothing that dire had happened. Instead, she had called on just as she saw the unannounced Historical Marker on the side of the road! What the hell was this? Why, it was the University of California Experimental Farm, Wolfskill Grant (Historical Landmark #804). In 1842, John R. Wolfskill arrived here, laden with fruit seeds and cuttings. A true horticulturist, he became the father of the fruit industry in this region. In 1937 his daughter, Mrs. Frances Wolfskill Taylor Wilson, bequeathed 107.28 acres to the University of California for an experimental farm. The university’s research at this portion of Rancho Rio de los Putos has enriched the state’s horticultural industry.

We weren’t able to see very much here. There is a pretty high chain link fence that keeps unwanted visitors out of the Experimental Farm. Perhaps that is why the state decided to not put any sort of sign announcing the Historical Landmark on this road. Had my sharp-eyed bride not seen this, we would have been in Winters, scratching our heads and wondering how we had missed this piece of California history. Although I am a big fan of agriculture, I don’t think I would drive all the way out here just to visit this site. However, when you toss in Pleasants Valley Road, warm sunshine, a good tailwind, and the prospect of food in Winters and a train ride, that tipped the scales and made the ride worthwhile.

After the Experimental Farm, we rode into Winters and had some food at Steady Eddy’s. This place is a staple for Grizzly Peak Cyclist rides from Berkeley to Davis. It is obviously a standard stopping point for other riders too, since it has a couple of well-used bicycle racks in front, so that riders can get their food and keep an eye on their bicycles. Winters itself is a very cute town, with a small central square and a nice main street. After eating, we rode up and down a bit, checking the place out. It looked like there were some good eateries there. Those would have to wait for another day.

As we headed south out of Winters and back toward Putah Creek Road, we rode over the J. Robert Chapman Memorial Bridge, which used to be a railroad bridge back in the day but has since been converted into a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Putah Creek. The City of Winters took this hulking, dilapidated bridge and renovated it, which makes crossing Putah Creek much nicer. Don’t miss this if you visit Winters.

Turning left onto Putah Creek Road again, we continued our gradual downhill ride toward Davis. Along the way we saw a large steel bicycle statue on the side of the road in honor of the Davis Bike Club and the Davis Race Team, which hold their annual Putah Creek Time Trial along this road. As we continued along, we somehow managed to sneak up on a couple engaged in a little illicit sexual activity on the side of the road by an orchard. Man, did they jump when we rode past! There was also a big lavender farm that was made you want to stop and just breath deeply because of the scent of the lavender.

After a few more miles and a couple of turns, we finally got onto Russell Blvd., which is the main bike route into Davis from the west. Even though there was a very official-looking bicycle path next to the road, I wanted to ride in the road. We went along for a bit and then Gail expressed her displeasure with my choice, saying that the bike path was there to be used and that she thought the locals would be unhappy if we were in the road, even though there was a fine shoulder and almost no traffic. After a little back and forth, I turned onto the bike path. The path, while separate from traffic, didn’t insulate you from cars, since riders still had to deal with cross streets. Also, for some reason, the bike path changed sides of the road a couple of times, which would have required crossing Russell. At that point, I said “No mas!” and we rode on the road the rest of the way into Davis.

We had some time before the train was departing, so we tooled around Davis a bit. The students were gone, making the town look like all college towns during the summer: sleepy and catching their breath. We had a frozen yogurt and then headed over to the Amtrak station to get tickets and wait for the Capitol Corridor. The warm weather and the sweets in the yogurt caught up with me and I was soon snoring on a park bench while Gail got the tickets.

When the train arrived, we dragged the bicycle onboard, put it in the bike rack, and found seats in the upstairs passenger compartment. We tore along through the Central Valley and in no time at all were in Fairfield.

After getting off the train, we noticed that there was an It’s It outlet next to the train station. $1 for an It’s It? I was there! That alone might be reason enough to start a bicycle ride in Fairfield.

Lessons learned:

  1. When Google Maps says to turn but there isn’t a street name, it seems that they are recommending that you turn onto a sidewalk. Perhaps a little note somewhere explaining this convention might be helpful.
  2. Google Maps doesn’t appear to distinguish between public and private roads, at least with regards to their bicycle maps.
  3. Although an adventure is a good thing now and again, always keep track of where you are so that you can find your way out.
  4. I can’t think of a nicer road to ride than Pleasants Valley Road, especially during the daylight hours.
  5. Having a sharp-eyed stoker can save a lot of backtracking when trying to find something.

If you want to see the rest of our photos from this adventure, click here.


One response to ““I think that Google Maps for bicycles isn’t quite ready for prime time”

  1. As strange as it may seem, we’ve been to Peña Adobe, which is the site of the Vaca-Peña Adobe (Historical Landmark #534). And not because it is the starting point for the Knoxville Double (Fred has been there more than once for that). This was our first stop on our Canada road trip 3 summers ago. Yes, I know, Fairfield is not very far from CV for the start of a road trip but we were hungry and it was a good place to stop for a picnic. The Adobe was locked then too.


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