The Streets of Santa Rosa
Posted on August 19, 2013
The spring of 2013 turned out to be quite the season for walking. In March I finished my two-year project of walking all of Santa Rosa, each and every street, alley, and cul-de-sac of the city. In May I walked the 10k Human Race in Santa Rosa, a week later the annual Bay-to-Breakers in San Francisco, and another couple of weeks after that a most amazing and enjoyable 25-mile walk in San Francisco.
But let me tell you now about the Santa Rosa Streetwalking Project. Many years ago, my daughter Suzi and I hatched a plan of walking Santa Rosa from end to end. We completed a number of blocks in our neighborhood before Suzi moved away and the project came to a halt. I forgot all about it. Then, in early 2011, after yet another heart attack and several foot operations behind me, it was time to get myself back into shape. So I started to walk, and when the neighborhood streets became too familiar and downright boring, I branched out — and soon conceived of the idea of exploring the entire town on foot. It was to be solely for my own entertainment. Very few friends knew about it. I didn’t keep a journal and only now and then took a few pictures. But it became a project I really could get into. The starting date was March 1, 2011, with a goal of finishing by March 1, 2013. (As it turned out, my last step was taken on March 17, 2013.) I kept a street map at home, but took copies of various sections and quadrants with me, and was never without my red pen. I soon discovered that if I didn’t mark each street as I finished it, I wouldn’t always remember whether I had been there or not, especially if the streets went every which way or were short connectors or were laid out in strange fashion. Back home I marked the master map with a highlighter and then watched the filled-in areas grow.
Sometimes I wouldn’t have much to show for my efforts that day — I was battling a back issue and could hardly walk more than an hour in the beginning — but was excited about each new city block I was able to color in. My back trouble miraculously improved so that I could walk longer and longer as time went on. Now and then it was nice to find a place to sit and rest.
I live in Rincon Valley, so I naturally started there. But I didn’t necessarily go “in order”: Whenever I had to go anywhere — doctor, bank, shopping, even visiting friends — I often would tack on an hour or two to do the surrounding areas. That was a lot more economical, both in time and gas.
I walked in the rain, but only once did I have to give up and make a mad dash back to the car during a storm that threatened to tear the umbrella out of my hand. I walked in 90 degree heat, doing the Fountaingrove hills that summer. I enjoyed watching the trees color up and remember fondly my walks through Oakmont that fall.
And of course spring time with pink and white trees and new leaves, bulbs, poppies and other flowers beginning to bloom, was especially beautiful.
Never did I feel the need for earbuds — I wanted to look around and experience everything and be present in the moment. How else would I have heard the grunting coming from a garage in Rincon Valley and seeing a pig looking at me?
Great joy when I completed east Santa Rosa and was ready to cross Highway 101 to the west side.
Things began to change — busier, more commercial, and denser populated than on the “other” side. Less affluent but many nice, interesting neighborhoods I had never seen before. I enjoyed walking through Roseland and often felt transported to south of the border. I discovered a great ice cream shop which I frequented several times. On other days I would find a coffee shop for lunch or a quick pick-me-up before continuing. I loved the rural areas of south and southwest Santa Rosa — still in the city limits but with a completely different feel: old barns in various states of disrepair, sheep, horses, chickens, peacocks …
Never did I not feel safe, even in neighborhoods I was warned not to go alone.
Sometimes I found the city arteries blocked, somewhat like my own arteries.
I usually walked by myself and enjoyed interesting and amusing sights along the way.
Only occasionally did a friend accompany me. I tried to engage my husband early on, but he didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t allow myself shortcuts or “cutting corners” (literally!). However, he was always willing to shuttle me to the beginning of a section I wanted to do and pick me up at the other end. This was especially helpful when tackling roads without sidewalks or shoulders. Some of those, like certain sections of Montgomery Drive and Bennett Valley Road, as well as Highway 12, we did early on Sunday mornings in order to avoid heavy traffic.
It took almost exactly two years before I could see the end of the tunnel. Granted, I was out of town for a couple of months in the summer of 2012, but otherwise I walked a good 5 days a week on the average (once I managed 15 days in a row of daily walking), just chipping away and highlighting one neighborhood at a time. The story of the driving of the Golden Spike came to mind, and I began to think that there were similarities here. I thought of leaving College Avenue between Dutton and Stony Point to the last, consider that my own “Golden Spike”, and plan a party after my last step, at Finley Community Park. My son was working at that time on the SMART railroad project, and he was able to procure a genuine railroad spike which a good friend of mine cleaned and scrubbed and spray painted gold.
And what a fine party it was! Son Thomas and some friends accompanied me on my last stretch along College Avenue.
We entered Finley Park welcomed by a bugle solo performed by friend John.
Bob drove the Golden Spike into a realistic looking “street”.
We enjoyed many friends, speeches, surprises, and lots of wonderful food.
Three weeks before this event, Chris Smith wrote an article about the streetwalking grandmother in the Press Democrat.
What had started as a project just for myself overnight took on a life of its own. People loved the article, even those who usually read only the Sports and Business sections. I received phone calls and emails from total strangers and people I hadn’t seen in years. Was it the project itself? I hadn’t heard of anybody else having done it. Or was it that a grandma, age 72 (at that time) was able to plan and stick with it for two years? Or was it that that grandma had had three heart attacks, foot and back problems, which she refused to let interfere with her love of walking and exploring? I don’t know. I only know that I thoroughly enjoyed this experience and looked forward to each day in a different part of our town.