Thursday, 21 June 2007

Week 20 : Los Gatos To Santa Clara

“So this is Silicon Valley”, I said to Amy, my soft-coated wheaten terrier, as we left Los Gatos on our way north to San Jose at the start of week twenty of our epic journey. “Why” said Amy. “Why, oh I see what you mean, why Silicon Valley?”, I replied in my best instructional voice. “Well”, I continued, “it was first given that name in the early 1970s when a number of the early computer firms moved to the area, and since then it has become a world centre for microprocessor-related industries”. “Why” said Amy. “Why Silicon?”, I ventured. “Because silicon is the principal component of most semiconductor devices, such as integrated circuits or microchips, and these are central to the working of any computer”. “Why”, Amy persisted. “Because silicon is a tetravalent metalloid which is less reactive than carbon and its native oxide is easily grown in a furnace and forms a better semiconductor/dielectric interface than almost all other material combinations”, I snapped back. I was getting a little cross by now, Amy was behaving like one of those annoying infants who ask “why” in response to everything you say to them. When she again asked why, I turned to her and gave her one of my famous looks. Then I realised that she hadn’t been asking why but whining as her lead had got itself wrapped around her back paw. Such are the perils of trying to hold a conversation with a dog.

Amy soon cheered up and we followed the Los Gatos Creek Trail for a while. This nine mile path provides “a riparian corridor for plants and wildlife” according to the
Santa Clara County Parks website. For a time it protected us from the challenges of life in an intense urban setting, but after a mile or two we had to take our lives in our hands and paws and try to cross over a road. If you think that sounds easy I challenge you to give it a try.

When I first had the idea for this silly challenge, I always envisaged that the rural areas would present the greatest challenges. “A paucity of on-line resources”, I would say to Amy as we sat in my room looking at the maps of the Rockies, Oregon or Minnesota. Amy, who always liked to join in such discussions, would stare at her paws knowingly. But one of the biggest surprises is that the greatest challenge facing the virtual traveller is the cities and the urban sprawl. In walking the twenty-odd miles from Reedsport to Florence in Oregon there is only one road you can take and there is a limited number of things to comment on. Life for the dog-walker is sedate and quite relaxing. Here, in the middle of Silicon Valley, approaching the largest city in California (San Francisco) via the third largest (San Jose), the life of the virtual dog-walker is frenetic, often frantic, and usually frenzied. Take, for example, the problem of crossing the road.

Take the intersection of Highways 87 and 280 just outside the centre of San Jose. How, on earth, is a solitary man and his faithful dog supposed to traverse such a man-made barrier. The answer is by meticulous planning. Each night we would pore over street maps trying to work out the safest routes. That is why our route this week looks as though it has been drawn by a demented chimp. Whilst the shortest route between two given points is a straight line, in urban California such a route it is not usually the safest option.

Given all this coming and going, it took us three days to reach down-town San Jose. But when we finally got there on Saturday evening Amy had a treat in store for me. The following day was my birthday and she had managed to book us into the San Jose Hilton Towers Hotel for a couple of nights. The next day there would be no walking (well limited “comfort-walking” only) and the promise of “The Hilton Serenity Bed & Amenity Collection, high-speed internet access, oversized comfortable chair, refrigerator, coffee maker including hot chocolate and assorted teas, voice mail, 2-line speakerphones with data port, smart desk, auto wake-up call service, error-free alarm clocks with AM/FM and MP3 capability, mirrored closet doors and large bathrooms and complimentary CNN, HBO and ESPN as well as on demand movies”. We just had the standard room, but that was the standard room.

On Sunday, my birthday, we walked in Quadalupe Park and, because it was my birthday, avoided visiting the
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the largest outdoor Monopoly board in the world, or the San Jose Centre for Performing Arts. Instead we went back to our hotel room, ate potato chips and watched re-runs of Frasier. As the header on the site declares : San Jose : Where The Fun Never Stops.

The following day we started our walking again, still following a twisting, highway-avoiding route, but generally heading in the direction of Santa Clara. From there I intended to make my way down (or was it up) Silicon Valley towards San Francisco.

San Jose is a big city. With a population of about 900,000 people it is the third largest city in California and the tenth largest in the USA. It is modern, affluent and … well it’s full of buildings. There are an awful lot of them. Street after street of them. As Amy and I walked down the streets we looked at them. They looked as though they were full of people doing very important and very technologically advanced jobs. It was very impressive. And yes, if the truth is told, just a little boring. We walked up North 1st Street, down West Hedding Street, up Chapman Street, and on Market Street and … well we yawned. And we half closed our eyes. And we imagined ourselves back walking the Big Sur coast.

Towards the end of the week our walk took us past the Monastery of the Carmelite Nuns of Santa Clara. Our interest was not a religious one however. Before it became a monastery, it was a ranch owned by Judge Marshall Bond who was a friend of the writer Jack London. The writer was a frequent visitor to the ranch and used it as the scene for the start of his book “The Call of the Wild” This was the home of Buck, the doggy hero of the tale. It was from here that he was stolen and sold into a life of slavery in the Yukon. The story seems to be a great favourite of Amy’s and she was very impressed that we had visited its’ starting point. She sniffed a lot as dogs tend to do. Whether she was sniffing out the scent of Buck or the scent of the nuns we will never know.

Next door to the monastery was an equally unexpected find – the ground of the
Santa Clara Cricket Club. The Club sports five teams and, according to its website, an equally active social programme. The last thing I expected to hear in Silicon Valley was the resonant sound of leather on willow. I stopped to watch what looked like a practice game and thought about home. Amy stopped to sniff and thought about the sad story of Buck. We walked north up Pierce Street until we found a McDonalds where we stopped thinking and started eating.

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