EXPLORING THE CALIFORNIA DELTA ON 1850cc
“Manmade deltas and concrete rivers. The south takes what the north delivers.”
-Pavement, Unfair (1996)
In the fall of 2007, Bill and I were working and living in Berkeley, California. The environment of rose gardens, soy lattes and meatless pizzas was a far cry from our Midwestern hometowns. On weekends, we needed a break from Berkeley’s froufrou.
Plunging headfirst into a mid-20s crisis, we both bought motorcycles. Bill – a purple Harley Sportster 1200cc; and myself – a cherry red Yamaha V-Star 650cc.
Riding our motorcycles in the city didn’t quite satisfy us. Going west was impossible, due to an ocean. North and south too hair-raising; so we often headed east, regressing back into true American farmland, across the Coastal mountains and into the pastoral California Delta; the Midwest of the West.
The journey would begin in Berkeley with 24 miles of freeway to get out of the sprawling San Francisco suburbs. After passing by Mt. Diablo, things would flatten out past Pittsburg. Then, we’d cross the windy, often dangerous Antioch Bridge, a kind of culture warp between the SF Bay Area and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta- a land of pickup trucks, Coors Light, fishing trips, houseboats and high school football- much like Ohio.
The Sac-SJ Delta has only existed for 10,000 years and has only been reclaimed for agriculture since the mid-1800s. The Delta is a network of waterways that is actually not a ‘true’ delta (like the Nile or Mississippi), because the water has flowed inward. The only other delta located so far from the sea is the Pearl River Delta in China.
Anyway, it’s a great place to ride a powerful bike. The roads are flat, have nice gentle bends; the air is warm and the sky blue. Traffic lights and stop signs are few. A rider can really open up on these roads and enjoy what their bike can do. Plus, as one of America’s most fertile farmland, a rider is served with the scent of almonds, asparagus, artichokes, pears. Makes one hungry…
So, onto the food. The tiny town of Isleton is famous for crawfish. The town itself resembles something found behind a levy in the Mississippi Delta- with clapboard houses, bait shops, Bed & Breakfasts and friendly locals. My kind of place. No stop in Isleton would be complete without a crawfish lunch or dinner at Isleton Joe’s- the fulcrum of town activity and a near-perfect bar / restaurant.
The Ryde Hotel
14340 California 160, Walnut Grove, CA. (916) 776-1318
I’ve stayed at the Ryde Hotel a few times and I like the character. Located on a country road between Isleton and Walnut Grove, it has a rural location on a waterway and the sunsets seem to last forever. Rooms begin at $85 and are simple and comfortable. It’s really the location and the grounds that make this place a special place to relax after a day on the bike.
The flat landscapes and excellent light make the California Delta an ideal place to take photos. It doesn’t really look like California, but rather some fusion of Louisiana and California. Of particular interest is the town of Locke, which has a clapboard Chinese heritage and fascinating main street. Check out the River Road Gallery in Locke for some local art, design and photography.
The Delta’s Asian Heritage
After Isleton, you can push east into the heart of the delta. I’d recommend two distinct towns with a unique history. The are just one mile apart: Walnut Grove (Japanese heritage) and Locke (Chinese heritage). The two towns are like something out of a movie set, complete with clapboard houses, faded signs in foreign languages and old saloons and restaurants. The place gets a bit spooky after dark.