Walkabout takes in SF Bay, valley

Some people think going around San Francisco Bay makes a nice drive. For Roy McCandless, the objective was a good walk. After he walked around the bay, he tackled its promontories. That represents 460 miles of hoofing it and 50,000 feet of climbing.

He did it partly out of love for his son, Tom, who occasionally walked with him until the younger McCandless was diagnosed with diabetes in 2005. McCandless kept up his quest, wanting his son to know that the disease did not have to be a barrier to achievement.

This winter, McCandless still is walking. He started his conquest of the San Joaquin Valley in the fall, covering 20 to 25 miles on each outing, depending on the terrain. So far, he has made it through Modesto and Denair from his Oakland home. He has reached Merced, a walking distance of 124 miles. He covered the distance on nine walks.

That's his method, walking one leg of a journey, then going home. Each time his stopping point will become his starting block for the next leg.

He said he spends nearly as much time planning his walks as taking the trips. A mantra at the bottom of his Web site says, "You can't get there from here."

He uses maps and Google Earth and he drives the rough routes to make sure he can gain access to some out-of-the-way areas. If he takes his car to the starting points, he always has to "figure out how to get back to my car."

McCandless became obsessed with walking by trying to teach a good habit to his son.

His children live in Texas and when his son Tom was 16 he came down with diabetes and lapsed into a diabetic coma.

McCandless noticed a picture of Olympic swimmer Gary Hall on his son's wall. McCandless arranged for Hall, also a diabetic, to call his son. Dad also arranged for calls from a man who had hiked to the North Pole and another who circumnavigated the globe.

Will Cross had ascended Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. Cross also hiked to the North Pole and the South Pole. Recently he scaled Mount Everest, completing his mission to climb the highest mountain in each of the seven continents.

Then there was Bob Scheidt, a painter in Pennsylvania. He took several weeks off each summer and hiked and biked around the perimeter of the continental United States -- 9,000 miles.

McCandless said, "My walk around San Francisco Bay and then to the nine Bay Area county summits replicates their two adventures in miniature. I can't walk around the country, but I can walk around the bay. I can't climb the highest mountain on each continent, but I can climb the highest mountain in each of the nine Bay Area counties.

"Athletes said they wanted to inspire just one person," said McCandless. "That person turned out to be me."

Tom did walk with him for about one quarter of the way around San Francisco Bay.

Roy McCandless' girlfriend joined him for a trek across the Golden Gate Bridge. Other than that, he has had few takers for what he calls "off the reservation" hiking.

To do the valley, he took off due east. "I can't walk freeways. I had to go over the mountain."

From Livermore he followed Corral Hollow Road. He dropped into the valley and followed the San Joaquin River and then the Tuolumne River through Stanislaus County.

"When you're on the hoof," McCandless said, "your impressions are very different than when you're in a car. In a car, many places are just something you go through."

On his trip down the Tuolumne River near Highway 132, he had profound impressions.

"I went by a wildlife refuge and it made me wonder what it was like before the plow and the cow," said McCandless. "There is so little of that left, it's important to keep that."

He has kept a journal and pictorial record of his journeys at www.sfbaywalk.com. Some entries are poignant and others show a wry sense of humor. One of his earliest showed good sense. "I have some concerns about neighborhoods where people get shot. I walk those in the mornings -- muggers probably sleep late."

As he walked through an orchard 20 miles from Modesto, he remembered to jot down his thoughts on Nov. 17. "My compliments to the guy in the red pickup truck who stopped, turned around, and came back to see if I was OK. You offered me a ride, made sure I had enough water, and gave me some oranges. You said, 'It's 3 hours to town,' which tells me you know something about walking."

Of course the next passage cast some doubt on the original estimate. "Actually, it took somewhat longer. The first 18 miles was interesting. The next nine was work."

One entry from the valley on Nov. 24: "Walked 13 miles from Modesto Amtrak station to Denair Amtrak station. I should have waited longer between walks. Aggravated a blister."

That route proved to be practical because he could ride the train back to his previous starting point and pick up his car.

His eventual quest will take him to Visalia and then to Mount Whitney.

Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at rhoskins@modbee.com or 578-2311.