It could be described as a backstage pass to the Diablo and San Ramon valleys.
The Iron Horse Regional Trail runs south to north in almost a straight line from the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station to Highway 4 in Pacheco.
In all, it travels slightly more than 30 miles. There are proposals to add 22 more miles to the hiking and biking path, stretching it across the Carquinez Bridge to Benicia in the north and through Pleasanton and Livermore in the south.
Right now, there is a little more than 24 miles of Iron Horse trail in Contra Costa County and almost six miles in Alameda County.
On Saturday, I rode my bicycle from the southern end of the trail at the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station to Ygnacio Valley Road in downtown Walnut Creek.
It was a 17.5 mile journey that took almost 2 1/2 hours with plenty of stops for photos and sightseeing.
Along the way, I crossed several dozen intersections, about half of them with stoplights. I also traversed four bridges and rode by at least six schools, four shopping centers, one golf course, a number of parks and three drinking fountains (all of them in Alamo).
You see lots of bicyclists on this trail as well as a decent amount of walkers, an occasional runner and even a few rollerbladers.
In most stretches, the trail is 20 feet wide, flat, quiet and scenic. It cuts through neighborhoods, slips pasts retail centers and rolls behind schools, giving a trail user a behind-the-scenes look at these suburban communities.
This trip began at 11:40 a.m. at the BART station. The signs greeting you tell you the trail is a bit rough ahead and the maximum speed is 15 miles per hour. Yeah, right.
Initially, you pedal through the back of some Dublin neighborhoods before zipping past the southwest corner of the Camp Parks Reserve Forces Training Area. A few jeeps and hangar-like buildings let you know you're there.
A few tenths of a mile later you cross your first bridge, this one spanning the Alamo Canal. You can choose to head west on the Alamo Canal Trail or you can continue north on the Iron Horse Trail.
You cycle past more back yards and behind Dublin High School on a quiet, windy sector of the trail. There's a bridge from the trail over a canal to Dublin High's baseball field.
Slightly more than three miles into the ride, you cross another bridge and enter Contra Costa County. A rusty sign on that short span lets you know this is the San Ramon section of the path.
You cross Alcosta Boulevard and immediately roll past the San Ramon Royal Vista Golf Course. There are high black chain link fences here to keep stray golf balls from hitting trail users.
Across Pine Valley Road is the back side of Cal High. It's a good view of all the new construction going on there.
After that, you pass by Bishop Ranch and cross Bollinger Canyon Road, Norris Canyon Road and Crow Canyon Road. All busy streets with stoplights and crosswalks. Crow Canyon is the widest roadway on this particular trip.
It is in this sector you can clearly visualize the trail's history. You can easily envision the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks that sliced through this valley. The railroad right-of-way was established in 1891 and abandoned in 1977. The East Bay Regional Park District bought the land and established the Iron Horse Trail in 1986.
Here, the trail splits adjoining neighborhoods. Backyard fences adorn both sides of the paved path. It's a flat, straight route on which you can easily top the 15 mile per hour speed limit, if you choose to do so.
Streets like Fostoria Way, Greenbrook Drive and El Capitan Drive zip by. Here I find a Castro Valley couple who say they drive down to the Dublin part of the trail every so often and spend a Saturday cycling to Danville or Walnut Creek and back.
The trail hits Sycamore Valley Road in Danville. This is a major crossing and the closest you get to a freeway on-ramp.
About nine miles in, you cycle past Osage Station Park and then under Interstate 680. It's cool, shady and almost eerie riding under the highway.
Shortly after, you hit downtown Danville and cross Danville Boulevard. On this day, you can see the tents from the fair that has closed the streets downtown this weekend.
This is definitely a good place to rest. If you're really hungry, there's a Panda Express right at the corner.
There's also a Peet's Coffee near Lunardi's. This is where at least a dozen cyclists were taking a break this day. I went in to use the restroom and get more liquid. My water bottle was now empty and I had finished the peanut and raisins mix I brought.
Inside, I purchase an Odwalla strawberry juice drink and an oatmeal raisin cookie. I ask the clerk if the shop gets lots of cyclists and he just laughs.
Quickly, I head back to the trail and enter Alamo. This is a bucolic stretch of the path. There are trees and you can even hear some birds chirping.
You roll through neighborhood after neighborhood, crossing small streets like La Serena Avenue and Litina Drive. Even Stone Valley Road and Livorna Road are narrow, quiet lanes in this part of town.
There's a "for sale" sign for a house at the top of a hill. There are also three wooden bear statues an Alamo family has put along their back fence to greet trail users. A church has put banners along its back fence, welcoming trail users to Sunday services.
This is also a long part of the ride. The trail seems to keep going and going as it skirts the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. It's where legs can tire and a 56-year-old back can ache.
The Rudgear Road staging area in southern Walnut Creek is a welcome site. You cross South Main Street here and slip under Interstate 680 again. Caltrans has an equipment yard tucked away here.
The trail runs parallel to the South Broadway extension. You go behind the sound wall and zip past the athletic facilities at Las Lomas High. A noisy swim meet is being held on this day.
Across Newell Avenue you travel and follow the trail behind the Safeway and other shops along Broadway. Surprisingly, this is the ugliest part of this ride. The trail is squeezed behind the back of buildings sprayed with gang-like graffiti and the deep concrete channel carrying green-colored water.
A few minutes later and the old railroad bridge near Ygnacio Valley Road is in view. It's 2:05 p.m. I've traveled 17.5 miles in 2 hours 25 minutes. Certainly a leisurely pace.
I'm not as tired as I thought I'd be and I've seen more interesting things than I thought I would. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.