Weather-be-damned, I was going to ride today. Since I'm such the Lincoln Highway enthusiast, I figured I'd run up the Highway through the slow-going part of town since this was a Sunday. So... I hope you're ready to geek out on highways! Otherwise, you might as well skip out now.

Map of the route:

The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway in the US. It was a patchwork of new and existing roads, with easy going back east, and lots of tough mud and rocks out west. The route was completed in 1913, and went over Donner and Echo summits to get into California. From there, the route went through Sacramento to Livermore to Oakland, and then to San Francisco by Ferry.

When the Carquinez Bridge was completed in 1927, it provided a new optimal route for getting to Sacramento. The ferry was changed to Berkeley Pier, and the route continued to University Avenue, then north on San Pablo Avenue, and over the bridge to Vallejo.

In 1928 the Lincoln Highway route was finalized, and on one single day in September, The Boy Scouts installed 2500 concrete highway markers along the entire route to immortalize it forever and for all time, the proudest achievement of a growing nation. Naturally, few of these markers remain today, and the road is all but forgotten.

In California, much of the Lincoln Highway became Route 40, and "Historic Route 40" metal signs are common in cities it passes through. Lincoln Highway signs are less common, but the name lives on in the many "Lincoln Way"s along the route.

When I-80 came into existence, city centers moved, and what was once known as "The Main Street Across America" became just another way to get through town.

I suited up and fired up the bike--it was cold and unhappy, but I let it get toasty, and headed out. I turned north on San Pablo, and cruised from light to light.

Now, from Berkeley to Rodeo, it's nothing but sprawl. I can imagine in 1928 there was plenty of farm and grassland between the towns. But nowadays, if you can find a creek anywhere in the east bay, you're lucky.

On the north end of El Cerrito, there were some patches of grass and some of the buildings had that low-slung 1920s brick feel to them--relics with shiny modern gas stations, The Home Depots, and fast food next door.

It was still raining, but I was still warm under my layers. I had made a custom mini-scarf that is fleece (from an old fleece shirt I had) on one side, and windproof material (from an old windbreaker I had) on the other. That kept my neck toasty and dry. And since this was at in-town stop-and-go speed, I was even a little too warm.

Finally, I rolled into Rodeo. This is a 150-year-old town that is close to achieving quaintness, but has a ways to go. It strikes me as a place that, given its relatively rural feel combined with its proximity to Interstate 80, could be underrated.

It does have one significant blemish, however: it's a short stone's throw away from the ConocoPhillips refinery that everyone who has driven north out of Berkeley on 80 knows so well. Let me tell you: it stinks even better the closer you get. If you are going to live in Rodeo, I recommend the south side of town, far from downtown and the refinery.

I stopped the bike to check the oil plug and oil filter cap for leaks. Everything was on tight, and no drips.

San Pablo Avenue bends north out of downtown Rodeo, and cuts through the heart of gasoline production country. Signs along road remind employees of the merits of safety awareness. It definitely smells like something is happening, and that is something that should be avoided. I gunned it up into the hills.

That stretch of road is quite nice, actually. It curves and swoops between tall grassy hilltops, and offers great views of San Pablo Bay (presumably, anyway, on days when it's not raining like this). Sadly, the stretch is over almost as quickly as it begins, but it's worth a look at the Carquinez Bridge from the vista point. And you can touch a piece of the original 1927 bridge while you're there, if you can contain your excitement at the prospect.

In 1927, San Pablo Avenue curved directly onto the span, much as the westbound offramp from the new bridge curves into town. I rode under 80, and punched it up the ramp.

The crosswind on the bridge was astoundingly strong and steady. I hiked up on the lee side of the bike as it naturally leaned windward to do battle. Across the bridge in the shadow of the hill, it was easy passage through the toll plaza, and off on the first exit to continue on the old road.

It heads up through Vallejo, but runs parallel to the east of highway 29, unexpectedly. The residential area to the south must surely have been grassland at the time, abutting the still-existing and rather picturesque Lake Dalwigk. Eventually, the road bends north into Vallejo-proper.

After stopping at an autoparts store to get some oil drain plug seal washers, I decided to head over to the Mare Island Naval Museum, open every other weekend (generally), and during the week. URL:

I missed that confounded bridge, and went too far north, but that gave me a chance to enter the facility from the north side. If you're never driven into Mare Island, it's something you must do if you're remotely architecturally-inclined. In operation from 1854 to 1996, and constructing over 80 vessels, Mare Island Shipyard is a mish-mash of every type of military building you can imagine.

Riding through also gave me plenty of practice riding over wet railroad tracks at low angles. Easy does it. The museum is conveniently located on Railroad Avenue, which probably explains that.

There was one other car in the parking lot, which I suspect belonged to the gentleman manning the front office. I had the museum to myself.

I must confess at this point that I really wanted to go to the other Vallejo Naval Museum in downtown Vallejo, since they apparently have a 1928 Lincoln Highway marker hidden away in storage, but they were closed today. URL:

Nevertheless, the museum at Mare Island is quite impressive, covering the life of the shipyard. The museum is itself housed in the oldest building on Mare Island. The gentleman overseeing the museum on this particular day was himself a submariner deployed on the USS Halibut in 1970, a boat constructed at Mare Island.

The current main two exhibits focus on submarines, and the legendarily productive women who built the boats. In addition, there is plenty of general history, photographs, and other exhibits.

But the pièce de résistance is still a work in progress: a reconstruction of the control center for the USS Vallejo ballistic missile sub, I think made with original parts. Her sail is clearly visible through the window of the museum, and sits just outside.

The day was waning, and I still had to get... somewhere. Cordelia? But first, back to the mainland by the Mare Island Causeway, a steel-decked drawbridge from the 1940s which starts with a low-angle railroad crossing. Add a crosswind, and it's all kinds of slippery fun.

Cutting back through town, I headed north, and the road headed out into farmland. I'd consider this the end of the Bay Area Sprawl along the Lincoln Highway as it runs up toward Napa.

The road, Broadway at this point, used to cross the train tracks south of Mini Drive (before it existed), but once Mini was there, it made more sense to divert. The old alignment is overgrown and undriveable, but accessible by walking. (I suspect the railroad might own the land.)

Continuing north, new road bends around a Walgreens; old road continues under the parking lot to finally connect with highway 29. Here the grass is green, and houses are few and far-between, relative to the ride so far. It starts to feel more and more Napa-like. The sky was gray, and US flags snapped directly west in the foul weather.

The existing modern cloverleaf 29/12 interchange is new within my lifetime, though highway 29 has run that way since the 1940s. In the olden days of the late 1930s, the road used to run east of the current alignment on Kelly Road, and went right past what is now the Hy-29 Cafe on the now-abruptly-ending Cafe Court (the centerline literally disappears into the grass.)

South Kelly Road is a mighty fine bit of asphalt. Lined with trees, it feels like you're properly on the old highway, and the superslab is but a distant future memory. Cows turned and listened to the Volkswagen whistle of my KLR's exhaust as I rode past. The rain kept falling, and turned thick with mist.

At the highway 12 intersection, I turned east and at last headed toward Times Square, the unmarked starting point of the Lincoln Highway. I accelerated directly into stiff buffeting wind and rain, and decided, on this stretch of dangerous road, that I'd stop short of New York City today.

Highway 12 is also quite picturesque in the sun, and not too bad even in the rain. It runs past vinyards at Kirkland Ranch Road, which was the road through these parts even before the Lincoln Highway existed. At some point, the old road vanishes under the 12/80 interchange, which is the way I'd have to go now that we live in the glorious future and all have flying cars. But immediately exiting and the turning right will get you down to Cordelia Road, the Lincoln Highway once again.

Heading back west a couple blocks on Cordelia Road, you eventually deadend at a gate--but it's the old road that runs under the gate and points back to highway 12 on the other side of 80. This tiny bit of broken concrete was the only disused section of the Lincoln Highway I was able to ride on this day.

Riding east, Cordelia Road goes under 680, and arrives in short order at Thompson's Corner Saloon, which opened in 1902, though the building went up in 1890. Every Lincoln Highway traveler back in the day came past this same Thompson's Corner Saloon on their journey. Motorcycle parking available out front.

Just a little farther east the road crosses Green Valley Creek, then turns north onto Pittman Road. If you look closely when the road begins to bend to the right, you'll see the original alignment heading straight out through a grassy field. It bends right just before a church at the far end of the field, then runs under 80 to continue northeast to Rockville. There was no parking on Pittman, so I rolled into the church and parked there for a quick peek at the old road. Finches skittered across its cracked, soaked surface, hiding in the tufts of grass.

Realizing that the road and rain would continue indefinitely, this seemed like as good a place to return home as anywhere. Being practically on 80 at Cordelia Junction, it would be easy to again join the Lincoln Highway eastbound someday in the future.

I got on the freeway and was back in Berkeley in 20 minutes, still warm and dry except for my shirt sleeve cuffs--I can't seem to keep the water out of there. The freeway left me zero time to reflect, so I turned west on University and rode a minute to the Berkeley pier. It's hard to believe in the day of the SUV that the Berkeley pier was once a two-lane road. I looked at San Francisco standing in the misty distance, but the days of the leisurely ferry ride are long gone--the last ship sailed in 1939.

And with that, my end-to-end Berkeley-to-Cordelia tour of the Lincoln Highway was complete. The rest will have to wait for another day.

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Lincoln Highway, Berkeley to Cordelia
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