What's the point of an organized 100 mile ride? Why would I ever fork over my hard-earned money to join 4,000 other mostly lycra-clad cyclists, when I usually like to ride alone?
Why did I pay to suffer – not too much – up steep, long climbs, in the unshaded heat of the mid-day sun? And why did I drive 480 miles to suffer on the Chico (California) Wildflower Century?
One answer: Tradition! This was my tenth go at the Wildflower, and there is something to be said for repeating the rituals of a ride that takes a commitment of time and physical effort to make. Especially at my age, now that I'm a card-carrying senior citizen.
The other answer? Riding a century, for me, is a good way to connect, on a deep level, with other people and the world around me. It's a chance to ride and see old friends (a long time ago I lived in the town of Chico for a few years), to make new acquaintances, and to test myself against gravity and – this year – heat. It's a time to forget about aches and pains that come with the aging body.
It's a time to plug into something greater than myself, even as I am a part - a very small part - of that greater something. While I'm nominally an atheist, there is something biblically rhythmic – no matter what the religion – in a long ride's beginnings and endings, in the sense of renewal (symbolized both by my ability to make the same journey yet again, despite my age, and by the returning wildflowers), and in the communion of the road.
That's why I'll shell out money to share the road with thousands of other cyclists, as we ride through an ever-changing and mostly natural and beautiful landscape.
The ride from Los Angeles to Chico is long, and, especially in the northern half of the state, scenic. I made the trip with my brother, Dan, and my good friend, Rick. We stayed with friends from my days at Chico State, who still live in town.
Arriving in Chico, we parked at the Silver Dollar Fairground for registration. It's a good time to check out some of the bikes.
With temperatures predicted to reach into the 90s, we were up well before dawn, eating breakfast and putting on sunblock.
After riding a few miles through the pleasant, tree-lined streets of Chico, we began the first climb of the day, up the oft-patched, always uneven pavement of Humboldt Road.
While the ride up Humboldt is long, it's not steep. It's followed by a super-fast descent back into the Sacramento Valley via Highway 32, which is both steep and straight-as-an-arrow.
We rode beneath one of the two Steve Harrison Memorial Arches, dedicated to a local bike activist and vice president of the local Sierra Nevada brewing company (I'm a huge fan of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale).
Another six easy miles took us through Butte Canyon, where miners dredged for riches during the state's famous Gold Rush in the mid 1800's, and to the wonderful Honey Run Road Covered Bridge, spanning Butte Creek. I recall kissing my girlfriend, Nancy, one dark winter night under the roof of the bridge. We walked out onto the span, the sound of our footfalls echoing beneath the roof, the waters of the creek burbling below. And when we kissed, the night went suddenly silent.
Past the bridge, the road narrows like a coronary artery clogged with plaque. The angle of the pavement shoots up, too; so does my heart rate.
From the bridge, it's four twisting, uphill miles until the road mercifully tops off in the town of Paradise. Along the way, there are occasional views across the canyon to layers of lava that flowed from a monster Cascade Range volcano eons ago.
I wonder each year if I still have what it takes to climb roads like Honey Run with any vigor. Although most of the faster riders left earlier than we did, my brother and I managed to pass, without trying to race, at least a couple hundred cyclists on the way to Paradise. That's what lots of miles and thousands of feet of climbing up the steepest streets in Los Angeles did for me.
My friend, Rich, reaches the heights of Paradise on his old Serrota Atlanta, which drew many admiring glances. From there, it was a few rollers to reach the first rest stop.
~ I'll add a few more photos, including those of the crux of the ride, up Table Mountain, further down this post. ~