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A Wildflower One Hundred - Report w/ Pics

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

A Wildflower One Hundred - Report w/ Pics

Old 04-28-09, 03:55 AM
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A Wildflower One Hundred - Report w/ Pics

Or "Do Not Go Gently Into the Long Night - Dinner Ends at 6 P.M."






There are a couple of terrific rides named the "Wildflower Century" in California. One of them is my favorite Sunday bicycle ride in the spring, in Northern California, or anywhere else, and that's the Chico Wildflower Century. Sponsored by the Chico Velo bike club - "Eat, Breathe, Drink, Pedal" - it's a day's ride along winding roads through achingly beautiful landscapes, from quiet tree-lined lined streets in the quaint town of Chico, to outsized views of the Great Central Valley, from canyons built up from layers of lava, to oak and pine-forested mountain slopes.

It's a day to mingle with a few thousand other cyclists of every size, shape and ability, to refuel at five stops with a staggering array of baked goods, fruit, and energy drinks, to enjoy a wonderful lunch, and to finish the ride with a well-earned, sumptuous dinner. It is a day to test oneself, with muscle and sinew and bone and will, against time, space, and gravity. It's a day, for me, to wax nostalgic over my life long ago.

And, as I age, probably not so gracefully, it's nice to know my body can perform some of what my mind commands it do.

Below: The ride started as it almost always does, not on the bikes, but with packing a motorized vehicle with bikes and equipment and friends. Richard Nolthenius and I met for the ride at Silas Lum's home, in Monterey, on the Central Coast of California, on Saturday morning. I was up from Los Angeles, Richard down from Santa Cruz. We have known each other for something approaching 40 years.

Below Center: We approached Chico from Sacramento, the state capitol, and took Highway 70 past the town of Oroville, which sits at the base of several buttes created by ancient flows of lava. We would be heading up one of these buttes on our bikes the next day.

Arriving in Chico by late afternoon, we made our way to the town fairgrounds and registered, along with a few thousand other cyclists, for the ride. The ecological swag: a cool tote bag, a wide-mouthed water bottle, and a colorful map of the route rendered onto a handkerchief instead of a piece of paper.

Third Below: Then we drove a few minutes to the home of Dolly and Dan Dominguez, whom I've known for well more than three decades. In fact, I went to Chico State with Dan and Dolly, and Chico is my spiritual home town. We had the use of the kids' rooms, who no longer live at home. Richard chose the floor rather than the couch, and he gave me the bed. I didn't argue too vociferously. "This must be a girl's room," Richard observantly mused.



Chico sits on the western flanks of the meeting place of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains. It's home to Chico State, and Bidwell Park, a skinnier, longer version of NYC's Central Park, that stretches for miles into wild terrain above town. Although plenty of steep climbing - on dirt or pavement - can be found minutes east of Chico, the terrain in the city limits and throughout the Central Valley (known as the Sacramento Valley in its northern half) is dead flat.

Just Below and Below Center: The night before we'd consumed massive quantities of pizza, in a probably vain attempt at carbo-loading. This morning we decided to energize ourselves with something more healthy. For additional energy, we gorged ourselves on a couple of youtube videos of - who else? - Lance.

Way Below:: We weren't the first to arrive at the fairgrounds the next morning. It was a little before 7:00 a.m., shortly after the sun had risen over the volcanically created Cascade Mountains.


Just Below: We passed and were passed by innumerable tandems. And the number of women participants, on single bikes as well as tandems, seemed far higher than it was than when I first started riding the Wildflower, in 2001. Relatively few women of any age rode bikes in town when I was a student at Chico State.

Center and Third Below: Initially pedaling through quiet residential neighborhoods for a few miles, we reached the first climb of the day, which took us about 800 feet or so up Humboldt Road. It's not a steep climb, but it's annoyingly relentless, taking riders over old, lumpy and bumpy asphalt, past gnarled oaks and scattered pines and rock fences. Richard, on his first century ride in years, and coming off a hip replacement operation, took a relaxed pace, and after a while I left Silas behind, thinking I'd meet them both at the top of the hill or a few miles beyond, at the Honey Run Road Covered Bridge.



Just Below: At its apex, Humboldt Road ends at Highway 32, which runs straight from Chico up into the Cascades. Humboldt Road was the original highway. The Coast Range Mountains were dimly visible, on the west side of the Great Central Valley. I waited a few minutes for Silas, then pushed off. There was a long, straight, wild downhill descent; tucking into and holding an aero position, I quickly reached 30 mph and beyond as I shot back down the mountain, passing some riders, other riders passing me. I can't recall a single car passing me this year during the several minutes it took make the straight-shot return to the flatlands.

Center and Third Below: Many riders wore one of the three variations of the colorful Wildflower jerseys (including me). After riding through open land east of town, we headed up Butte Creek Canyon, the creek occasionally visible on our right. The road was still thick with riders; I hooked onto the back of a pace line for much of the way, happy to be able to hang on without much effort. Above us, once-fiery layers of lava, issuing from a massive, and long-dead volcano, Mt. Tehama, created the walls of the canyon.


Below and Second Below: I passed and was passed by a rider on a recumbent. Nearby canyon walls show layers of lava.

Third and Fourth Below After five miles of Butte Creek Canyon, we reached the picturesque covered bridge, where there was a restroom break and where Silas caught up with me. (There are more covered bridges in northern California and southern Oregon than there are in all of New England.) Lots of riders stopped to strip off a layer or two before the long, twisting climb up Honey Run Road to the town of Paradise, which was strung out along a forest ridge perhaps 1,500 feet above. I thought back to a few young women I'd kissed under that bridge a long time ago.

Route markers pointed the way for both the 100 mile and 65 mile option (there was a 30 and 60 mile "Flat Flower" ride and even a "Child Flower" 15 mile ride). It was time to test myself again, on the switchbacks that lay above me.


Below: Although riders swarmed up Honey Run Road, there were moments when it was just me and another cyclist or two. I pushed hard on the pedals, testing myself, and I passed several riders. But many rides swept past me, including a couple of teams that made me feel almost as if I were standing still on my bike. All around me I could hear labored breathing, including my own, as I gulped in the air and blew it out.

Gaining the heights at last, riders soon reached a fully-stocked rest stop. Then we were off on a few screaming descents, including a precipitous and lengthy drop down Pentz Road. I made no photographs, as I wasn't willing to risk pulling out my camera at 40 mph.

The Other Photographs Below: We made one more drop to reach the floor of the valley, then turned south, heading along an empty country road.


Below: Several miles of rollers led to the second rest stop. A few miles away we began the toughest climb of the day, up Table Mountain.

Second and Third Below: Reaching the top would involve 1000 feet or so of climbing, up steep, south facing slopes, with lilttle shade. Muscle, sinew, bone, will. A few cyclists stopped to rest or walked up some of the mountain. Silas and Richard made their own way upward; none of us stopped, none of us walked.

Fourth Below: Many riders took a breather or waited for friends atop Table Mountain, and took in the view of the broad top of the plateau, the valley far below, and the Cascade Range. A few minute's ride past the summit led to a steep, twisting, gonzo downhill run to the lunch stop. Now at about 60 miles, the hard-won summits were in the past, and so were the awesome descents. My altimeter read a little under 4900+ feet of climbing.



First Two Below: Lunch was, as usual, a spectacular feast. It would be impossible to enumerate each of the delicacies put forth, but a partial list would have to include the organic strawberries, the various sandwiches (cheese, vegetarian, roast beef and turkey), and a delectable tofu treat, as well as more pastries and Knudsen energy drinks.

Second Two Below: I made my way across the eastern edge of the Sacramento Valley, toward the little town of Durham, south of Chico. One home along the route showcased a terrific display of poppies.


Richard and I were just a couple of minutes apart, and we joined together at the Durham rest stop; Silas was nowhere to be seen. There were still 25 miles to go, mostly through almond orchards - Chico produces more almonds than anywhere else in the world. Although a few pace lines passed us, we rode together on our own, savoring the pastoral views.

Then we found ourselves headed back into Chico on the River Road. We pedaled onto Fifth Street, through the wonderful downtown, and we made a brief detour to ride through the Chico State campus, over to Bidwell Mansion and into Bidwell Park, each location significant Chico icons. (John Bidwell is an important and fascinating historical figure in California, as well as one of the great pioneers of the American West. With Gold Rush earnings, he purchased a Spanish land grant that would become Chico, and donated property for the state college. His wife, Annie, donated money for the town's municipal park, one of the largest and finest in the U.S. Long before Bidwell, the land in and around Chico was inhabited by peaceful Native Americans, known as the Mechoopda. Spain, Mexico and the U.S. would all lay claim to the land, and some Mechoopda continue live in the area.)

A turn onto Pine Street brought us in a few minutes back to the fairgrounds, where we found Silas, who had arrived a couple of minutes before Richard and I did. We enjoyed the riders' repast, which included tri-tip or a vegetarian tamale, plus a variety of salads and ice cream, and all the root beer and Knudsen juices we wanted. There was beer, for those old enough and willing to pay for it; the libations, including my favorite, Pale Ale, were provided by the locally headquartered Sierra Nevada brewing company; like John Bidwell, I was, at least for this day, an abstainer.

After dinner, we headed for Dolly and Dan's home, for showers. We said our goodbyes, both to our friends and to Chico. As the day ended, and night came slowly on, we headed back the way we'd come, feeling tired - and feeling alive - wondering if we would each return next year to ride the Wildflower Century at least one more time, wondering just how many rides matching our muscles, sinews, bones and will against space, time and gravity we had left in us.

Below: One of the many beautiful riders posed for me at the Durham rest stop. The back of her jersey is at the top of this page.

Second Below: Richard cruised by a field of wild mustard as we made our way into and through old downtown Chico to the conclusion of the ride.

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Last edited by icyclist; 01-09-13 at 11:44 PM.
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Old 04-28-09, 04:54 AM
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GREAT ride and report!
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Old 04-28-09, 05:05 AM
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Normal people riding road bikes for FUN. What a concept.

Somebody alert the Racing Forum.
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Old 04-28-09, 05:12 AM
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excellent ride and photos, thanks for posting
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Old 04-28-09, 07:31 AM
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Great Report!! Very scenic country!
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Old 04-28-09, 07:52 AM
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Most excellent!

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Old 04-28-09, 07:56 AM
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great post!...thanks!
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Old 04-28-09, 08:01 AM
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my allergies flared up looking at those pictures. thanks for sharing. later.
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Old 04-28-09, 08:16 AM
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You've definitely set the standard for a ride report!
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Old 04-28-09, 10:14 AM
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That's the only organized century that I regret ever not doing while I was in Cali.

Thanks for sharing.
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Old 04-28-09, 08:03 PM
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Another great post - thanks, icyclist.
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Old 04-28-09, 08:21 PM
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Yes!
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Old 04-30-09, 09:14 AM
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Thanks for the documentation of a great Wildflower! See you next year.
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Old 04-30-09, 09:24 AM
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Old 04-30-09, 06:48 PM
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Those are awesome pictures! I did the flat 60 mile ride, and I have to say I'm jealous of your scenery. I did get a couple of nice pictures to break up the fields.





Maybe next year I'll have myself a proper road bike so I can do the mildflower 65.
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Old 04-30-09, 07:15 PM
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I always look forward to your photo essays......more please...
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Old 04-30-09, 07:18 PM
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I didn't read a word but I did look at the pictures.
Dude. Clean your room!
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Old 04-30-09, 07:41 PM
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That's some purty country out that way. I love the valley area.
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Old 04-30-09, 08:13 PM
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I really enjoyed this report! Thank you for sharing...
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Old 04-30-09, 09:15 PM
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Please tell me how to pronounce Butte Creek.
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Old 04-30-09, 09:17 PM
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Nice photos,Thanks.
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Old 04-30-09, 10:10 PM
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Looks like a beatiful ride. No luck over the weekend here, though. Instead of HTFU, I WTFO 25 miles into a ride because I just couldn't deal with 47 degrees, wind and a downpour. Sixties next week, though.
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Old 05-01-09, 07:48 AM
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Excellent post…we definitely need more like this.
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Old 05-01-09, 08:26 AM
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Great photos and ride report. I need to look at the ride schedule for my neck of the woods and decide which rides I want to hit this year. Already missed a couple of my usual ones while I was wrapped up working on the house.
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Old 04-28-13, 06:42 PM
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I made it out to ride, my first century, my first hill climbs ever. Rode fixed and needless to say it was grueling. Super fun though, most everyone was friendly and helpful, can't wait for the next one.
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