I had bonked the previous day on Sonora Pass on a 90-degree day. It was the sixth day of a fully loaded touring bicycling trip with two teen boys. I was carrying 80 pounds of gear and supplies on my touring bicycle. They were on racing bicycles with just handlebar bags. The object was to crisscross seven major Sierra passes in seven days. The previous day we had crested Tioga Pass and were headed to Topaz Lake via Sonora Pass before tackling Monitor Pass and heading home to Lincoln.
Instead of spending the night at the Topaz Lodge, I spent it sleeping on an emergency room exam table at Tuolumne General Hospital being brought back to life with four IVs.
The ER physician said it was the worst bonk he had ever seen. Who was I to doubt him?
So instead of pedaling back to Lincoln on the seventh day, my mom drove to Sonora in my car since it had a bike rack. We then headed up to the ranger station near Kennedy Meadows where the two teens had spent the night after I was taken from near the top of Sonora Pass in an ambulance.
On the way back, we got gas at a station in Oakdale. My mom, too tired to keep driving, asked me to take over. I was still in another zone but I had noticed her fighting to stay awake.
I asked the gas attendant the quickest way to get to Highway 99 and Sacramento. He said French Camp Road. I told him I had no idea where that was. He suggested I just head straight into Manteca and catch Highway 99 once there.
I had never been to Manteca before. But as I passed the South San Joaquin Irrigation District office, the PG&E yard, the old ratty fruit stand on the right that is now gone, and Calla School it felt as if I had been here before. It was déjà vu. The feeling continued as I passed Manteca Trailer, El Rancho Mobile Home Park, and the Manteca Racquetball Club.
It was eerie.
Six months later I moved to Manteca.
That was 23 years ago this week.
Today there is no doubt in my heart that this is home.
It’s ironic on a number of levels.
Among my immediate family it is the farthest anyone has ever moved from Lincoln. For five generations, both sides of my family had stuck to Placer and Nevada counties with a few moving to Sacramento, Yolo, and Yuba counties.
I had been in my previous job 18 years overall, including 16 years full-time. Everyone assumed I was a lifer.
Personally, I figured I was never going to leave Lincoln. I also had come to the conclusion I’d never get married let alone divorced, buy a home, or drive anything other than sedans. I might also add I was ambivalent at best about the taste of almonds, thought only hippies ate yogurt, had never seen a gopher, and thought of cattle and rice fields when anyone mentioned agriculture.
Before I left for Manteca, Myron McIntyre — a longtime Roseville turkey rancher who was also a bishop with the Mormon Church — made it a point to cross my path. He said he was going to miss my daily columns in The Press-Tribune but was happy for me as moving to a new place I’d be able to re-invent myself.
It irked me a little bit and he could tell. McIntyre explained that I would no longer be forced to define myself by what others thought, a danger he believed was part of the risk of staying put in the same place you grew up.
“You’re not going to change,” he said. “You’ll just have a chance to be who you are because people won’t define you by your past.”
I didn’t think much of it until a number of years later on one of my fairly rare trips back to where I spent the first 34 years of my life.
Over the course of 15 hours, I had people call me not by my name but as Verna Wyatt’s boy, acting as if I was still on the school board, and had not one but two people inform me I was supposed to be fat.
I got it. In Manteca, for better or worse, I was being judged on what I was doing as an adult and not on what I was as a teen whether it was my size or being elected to the school board out of high school. And while in my mind being referenced as Verna Wyatt’s son was the highest compliment you could pay me, the fact is anybody’s impression of me in Manteca was based not partially on my family but 100 percent on what I did or said.
I have no issue with how I spent the first 34 years of my life whether it is the good or the bad. I’ve come to learn that even the vilest thing that can happen to you can make you stronger and a better person in ways you often don’t realize until years later.
With apologizes to John Denver it was in late winter and not summer and the 34th year and not the 27th that I came home to place I’d never been before.
And home isn’t the Rocky Mountains. It’s Manteca.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 249-3519.