By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in March, it was a snap for me to get enough movement in during the day to satisfy the mechanism in my Apple Watch that prevents me from being too sedentary.

But when things started shutting down – starting with schools – I suddenly found myself sitting at home a lot more than I had previously, and it became very easy to enjoy all of the leisure that came with my newfound settings.

And so, I gained a little bit of weight.

Not a lot of weight – my clothes still fit and I’m still able to do all of the same things that I was doing before, but the number on the scale became too hard for me to ignore anymore.

It was time to get back into a routine that included me moving my feet a lot more than I have in the past three months.

Let me just start by saying that I’m not a runner. While I was in high school, a knee injury not long after led to a new ACL and to this day the constant pounding on the pavement leaves me achy and sore – something that I’ll probably have to deal with for the rest of my life.

So, with running out, I figured if I could set my sights on a couple miles of walking every day, I could get myself into a position where when I finally am able to get back into the gym, I’ll be much more productive for having prepared.

This is where the Tidewater Bikeway comes into the equation.

For years I’ve written about incidents that have happened along the route, and even seen a huge replica of route that the original railway as it passed through Manteca that was maintained by a history group that kept the model train set at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds.

On more than one occasion I drove out to the fairgrounds Stockton and spoke with Ben Cantu who is part of the Tidewater Southern Model Railroad Club about the historic railway and its importance to Manteca’s history. I was blown away at the detail that the individuals put into recreating it on a smaller scale.

In all of those years, I’ve never actually explored it.

I’ve been on parts – chiefly the section that runs from Center Street to the Manteca Skate Park so I could talk to kids for stories about what the city was discussing at the time, or to grab some photos for a package.

Kids love getting their picture in the paper – especially when it means they get to show off tricks in front of their friends.

But what lies beyond that?

On Wednesday I laced up my running shoes, grabbed a hat and some earbuds, and set out to walk the entire length of the Tidewater Bikeway through town to see exactly what lies between those arterial streets on the landscaped path that is both revered and reviled depending on who you talk to.

And I have to say – I’m more than impressed.

I was fully expecting to find fences covered in graffiti and trash strewn everywhere, and while there were parts where somebody had tagged a wall or a fence, seeing that was exceedingly rare.

The same goes for the trash-strewn passageway I had read about in social media bulletins over the years. The area around Moffat Boulevard had some issues with trash, as did the one near Library Park, but for the most part people appeared to be utilizing the trash cans that are placed out along the path and where the route intersects major streets.

I was a bit perplexed as to why somebody was practicing their golf swing in the basin park behind the Manteca VFW – carrying what appeared to be a wedge and a putter and focusing intently as they chipped the ball back and forth across the path with a determination that needs to be commended.

While my first instinct was to avoid this gentleman, he actually nodded and waved as I passed by and went on with working on his short game. It was strange, yes, but relatively harmless.

The same could be said for the crew near the Manteca Library that has erected a makeshift camp on the city property behind the gazebo. There were quite a few bodies packed in the dense space and none of them were wearing masks, so I simply walked to the other side of the walking path and turned down my podcast as a precaution and passed by without incident.

It’s not the kind of scene that I would feel comfortable with walking with my family in tow, but there wasn’t anything obscene about the group and the conversation appeared to be mild. Again, it was a little strange – the encampment appeared to have been there for a little while – but it wasn’t anything that will keep me from coming back.

It was at this point, as I crossed Center Street and started making my way through the residential areas, that I really started to find the beauty in this local charm.

With what appeared to be a grove of trees providing shade cover and a completely empty and isolated path for me to enjoy by myself, I got lost in the fact that I was walking through Manteca between streets that I have been driving my entire adult life. The perspective was completely different – quaint, even – and while there the occasional weeds along the fence line and pieces of trash that been blown down the corridor, it was reasonably well kept especially during the summer as a pandemic is raging across the country.

I got to see the grassy backstopped area behind McFall School where I used to practice Little League and smile as I looked at the trees that my sister and I used to climb together when my father would coach Delta Rebels football next door at Neil Hafley. Lost in thought, I had long ago forgotten that I was doing this for my health.

I stopped watching the exact distance I had walked as I eclipsed the three-mile mark and chose not to extend beyond Lathrop Road along the Calvary Community Church property.

I had seen what I came to see and grabbed a few pictures along the route.

So, I’m a late arrival to the joys that the Tidewater Bikeway brings to the community – late by more than a decade.

Better late than never, right?

This route will be a regular part of my days for the time being, so if you see me out there don’t be afraid to throw a smile and a wave.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.