July 8, 2018

Rattlesnake Reparation

The route for today would be shorter and less strenuous, but my friends humored me with an earlier start.

Ornamental residential entry gate, metalwork depicting mountains, clouds, and a lake, near Nevada City, California
We meandered through rural residential neighborhoods on quiet roads. The area offers a mix of the affordable and ... the less affordable. We stopped to admire this impressive entry gate, a tribute to the land complete with a swirling lake and cloud-topped mountains.

The route also offered more shade, overall, so I was having a much better day.

I was looking forward to the promise of a lovely descent on Rattlesnake Road, but alas: The road had been trenched for most of its length and the infill spoiled it. I'm sure it will be nice again, someday, when it's properly repaved.

Mining equipment on the grounds of the Northstar Mining Museum, Grass Valley, California
We regrouped at the Northstar Mining Museum, which was closed. Much mining equipment was displayed outdoors, anyway (in its natural habitat, as it were). These were not small machines.

pep's bike next to a Pelton Wheel, Northstar Mining Museum, Grass Valley, California
This Pelton wheel was forged at a foundry less than 500 yards from where it rests now, out of service. Much more efficient than the familiar traditional water wheel, it was a big innovation in energy delivery (and is apparently still used, in places, today). [Learn something new every day, even at play, that's my motto.]

My friends were keen to extend our route to revisit some scenic views. “A little more climbing,” in the heat of the day.

I was having none of that. 30 miles and 2,380 feet of climbing felt just right to me; I had no desire to get overheated again. Besides, I knew where to get a nice berry smoothie and a cool shower—and have enough time left in the day for a local adventure off the bike.

July 7, 2018

Bitney Springs

In Nevada City, we were staying in cottages that are part of a vintage motor lodge (dating back to 1933). The place is quaint and funky; my mom would have loved the birdhouses adorning the cottage across the garden from mine.

We chatted with a local cyclist a few blocks into our ride. “Oh, that will be hot—I wouldn't do that climb today.” I wished we'd gotten an earlier start.

I missed viewing a dramatic bridge over the Yuba River. I was focused on the unpredictable traffic and parked cars, and when I saw a climb on the other side (after a nice long downhill), I just wanted to keep moving. The day was warming quickly. Drivers were more foolish around here, crossing the double yellow line to pass slower cars. Passengers were foolish, too; I did a double-take when I realized the shaggy head hanging outside a Jeep was attached to a human, not a dog.

I didn't miss the historic covered bridge, later, though it's fenced off. The best view was from the road outside the park. I was already suffering in the heat; I saturated my arm coolers with cold water, which helped for a time. We would be mostly climbing for the next 13 miles, so I preferred not to check out the local history displays in the barn. The day would only get hotter.

The heat was taking its toll on me. At first, I stopped every mile. Later, every tenth of a mile. Finally, I made it from one tiny patch of shade to the next. I dismounted and walked the final, exposed pitch to the top. It wasn't steep, but my engine was just plain overheated. The cattle lolling in the shade had more sense than we did.

The reward for climbing Bitney Springs Road was not the view; it was the eponymous water at the bottom. Despite the county's official warning sign, a steady stream of people with empty containers pulled up in cars. I drenched my arm coolers again, but hesitated to refill my water bottle. “I guess it's okay?” I asked an elderly gentleman who was filling three jugs. “Been drinkin' it for 50 years,” he replied. Enough of an endorsement for me!

We stopped at a quirky little spot to refuel with some healthy fare. I was grateful for the giant berry smoothie, but even more excited at the prospect of a cool shower at the cottage.

Done and done, 34 miles and 3,560 feet of climbing.

July 6, 2018

Rainy Day Women

My friends had mapped out an 80-mile route for the first day of our biking vacation. After plotting the course on a map, I saw a straightforward way to reduce it to 60 and suggested considering that option when we reached the turning point. But the more I thought about it, the more certain I was to follow the shorter route—especially since we were not staying another night in the area, but would face a post-ride two-hour drive to our next home base in Nevada City.

Our loop started with a sweet downhill, passing through the town of Graeagle. I was glad that I'd tossed a vest into my bag, almost as an afterthought, “just in case.”

The morning was chilly, with a slight chance of rain (rain?!) in the forecast.

Uncharacteristically, Ms. C (who normally stacks on multiple layers), brought none. Here she is snapping a photo of me snapping a photo of her.

There were flowers and boulders and evergreens a-plenty.

At one point I looked up just in time to see two fawns trailing their mom across the road and up the hillside.

“Did you feel that?” Sprinkles.

Which turned to rain.

Enough rain for vehicles to flick on their windshield wipers and spray water up from the roadway and bring patches of oil to the surface.

We have neither windshields, nor wipers.

But I've weathered far worse.

I met the Boyfriend (Ms. C's) climbing back up. “She wasn't far back when I started descending, but she must be cold.” He'd offer her the option to turn back. “I'm going to continue,” expecting that I would ride out of the rain. [I was right.]

I paused now and then for a snack, and to admire the scenery.

If they hadn't turned back, they'd surely catch up to me.

Continuing was the right choice (but then, with my vest and arm warmers, I wasn't really cold). I dried out soon enough.

I realized that my internal soundtrack had started playing a tune ... Gershwin. The mind works in mysterious ways.

I lingered a while at the Sattley Cash Store, by now convinced that my friends had turned back.

I had earned these photo-worthy views.

A barn dating back to 1895.

Vehicles traveled fast, but there weren't many. Visibility was excellent, so I wasn't worried about sharing the road.

A flock of white pelicans rose up from the field, swirled overhead and vanished.

In addition to the views, I was rewarded with a smokin' tailwind.

Puffs of cloud dotted the sky above massive rock formations.

Bright flowers were a welcome sight after the morning's gloom.

I was glad I had stayed the course: 4,025 feet of climbing over 61 miles (some wet, some dry). For my friends, who turned back, more wet than dry.

The afternoon drive gave us the views we missed this morning. Maybe I'll come back, one day.

July 5, 2018

A Walk in the Woods

With most people celebrating Independence Day, traffic was light and I made it to Auburn yesterday without growing exhausted in the process. That left today for the rest of the long drive to Graeagle, where I would rendezvous with two biking buddies for a mini getaway.

Graeagle? Where the heck is Graeagle? Until they'd suggested it, I had never heard of it. Entering the town, I think the sign claimed a population of 737.

Carved wooden Indian Chief statue atop sign "Chief Graeagle Welcomes You.", Graeagle, California
We visited the town when my friends arrived, and later I went exploring on my own as they relaxed before dinner. Our lodge provided a map that showed the start of a path leading to “the river.”

Light streaming through the trees along the Clareville Road path, Portola, California
The path wasn't marked, and I had no sense of the distance to the river. The bouncing blue GPS dot on my phone kept me on the main route (Clareville Flat Road, according to Google Maps).

I was rewarded with the sound of the wind in the trees and the occasional song of a bird.

And, of course, flowers. It may be late in the season, but the altitude is higher (and the nights cooler).

I wondered about bears ... but didn't see telltale signs of large mammals.

I wondered whether I would, in fact, find the river. The Middle Fork Feather River, as it turned out.

Railroad bridge over Middle Fork Feather River, Portola, California
I didn't expect railroad tracks, and a bridge.

Middle Fork Feather River flowing over rocks along granite cliffs, Portola, California
I didn't expect to find the river flanked by cliffs, dotted with granite boulders.

A most satisfying walk in the woods.

July 4, 2018


I learned my lesson from past Fourths of July: Don't sleep in. To the early arrivals go the pancakes.

Almaden Reservoir on a windy day with fog blowing in over the hills, San Jose, California
My post-pancake aspirations were modest this year. As tempting as it was to head up to the summit of Mt. Umunhum (which I have still not visited?!), I had other plans for the afternoon. It would take me at least an hour, I calculated, just to get to the top—bracketed by more riding.

The day was windy and unseasonably cool—I stepped into the sunshine at breakfast, just to stop shivering. The subsequent climb up the backside of Hicks warmed us up handily, of course. To get there, we looped past the Almaden Reservoir, where we had a clear view of the fog blowing in from the coast.

After 33 miles and 1,945 feet of climbing, I got cleaned up and embarked on my next challenge: Heading out on another road trip, this time solo. Apprehensive about my stamina for a drive of four-plus hours, I scoped out motels for a few “halfway” points along the route.

Could I make it as far as Auburn? We'll see ...

June 30, 2018

Riding with the Bunch

After last year, I was looking forward to repeating the MacMurray Ranch training ride for Best Buddies and was excited when it materialized on our calendars.

Mural showing a map of Forestville, California
I was eager to book the same Airbnb spot and was delighted that it was available. This year, I was joined by a biking buddy who took the leap to register for the big event this fall!

It was promising to be a hot day, so everyone was ready to get rolling. Our ringleader and master of ceremonies, Richard Fries, commanded us to “Go easy when it's hard and hard when it's easy” in a noble attempt to keep the group together. No reason not to do the 40-mile route today (well, other than the impending heat), and this year I saw a range of riders lining up. The hammerheads would split off soon enough, and the rest of us would stay together.

Or so I thought.

My cycling computer showed that I averaged 15.7 mph (!) for the first hour, and for me that's not sustainable. This was the slow group?

Bicycles lined up in front of the Dry Creek General Store, Healdsburg, California
When we stopped for our break at the Dry Creek General Store, I learned that I was part of the “middle” group. [Ohhhhh.]

The fast group was ready to roll when the slow group caught up, and the middle group was dawdling. “Let's go,” I said. “They'll drop us, but the day is only going to get hotter.”

pep's bike on the Wohler Bridge over the Russian River, Forestville, California
I soon found myself in a familiar in-between place: behind the fast group, ahead of the slower groups. That suited me just fine, allowing me to indulge in some photo-taking.

Despite the heat, the last leg on Eastside was actually pleasant—a little bit cooler, with a hint of a breeze even.

Green grapes on the vine, MacMurray Ranch, Healdsburg, California
We rode 38 miles with a scant 695 feet of climbing—which factors into how I was able to average 14.9 mph (wow).

Back at the party, Richard said “You're a strong rider, I watched you in the group today.” [Me? A strong rider?] “I have no power,” I sighed. “We can work on that, and the first thing is: Stop saying that.”

June 23, 2018

Castle Crags

Another Saturday, another metric century. [What?! Three in a row?]

How could I resist when a friend asked me to join her for the Castle Crags Century Mountain Metric? We managed to squeeze yet another Friday off and headed for Mt. Shasta. Long-distance driving is not one of my strengths, so I was thrilled—normally I would not consider such a distant event. [Not to mention that this one was not on my radar.]

Our motel was close to the the route, so I suggested we just start from there—that approach worked well last time I rode here, too.

View of Lake Siskiyou with hills in the distance, Mt. Shasta, California
When I rode the Mt. Shasta Century a few years ago, I missed getting a good photo of Lake Siskiyou. This time, I knew where to stop. It wasn't long before we stopped again, my ride buddy shouting behind me to look up. Ospreys! And then ... a Bald Eagle. What a way to start the day!

Fir trees anchored in a rocky hillside, W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
We'd tackled the principal climb first; the ride three years ago was an out-and-back on this hill, not a climb to the summit. [Oh, what we missed!]

Snowy top of Mt. Shasta framed by tall evergreens, W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
A rear-view mirror is handy for more than just checking the traffic behind you. Sometimes, there's a picture-worthy view.

Cyclist pedals through volunteers waving international flags at the Gumboot water stop, W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
We got the full Tour de France welcome from enthusiastic volunteers at the first water stop.

Sign reading "It's Just a Hill, Get Over It" along W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
The gentle grade turned serious after that. Encouraging signs were planted in strategic locations. The first one reminded us “Remember You Signed Up For This.”

View of the Trinity Alps from W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
As I admired the Trinity Alps from the summit, my internal soundtrack spontaneously began looping on a particular song.
Over bridge of sighs,
To rest my eyes in shades of green
Under dreaming spires
View of the Castle Crags framed by evergreens, Mt. Shasta, California
Around the bend, Castle Crags came into view.
What did you do there?
I got high ...
Clear view of the Castle Crags, Mt. Shasta, California
What did you touch there?
I touched the sky ...
View of the Sacramento River from a bridge near Castle Crags State Park, California
Soda Creek Road on-ramp to Interstate 5, near Castle Creek State Park, California
Even the on-ramp to Interstate 5 framed a lovely view of the Crags.

Century / Super Century / Mountain Metric sign pointing to the on-ramp to Interstate 5, near Castle Crags State Park, California
And as you see, that's where we were headed ...

Semi truck passes cyclists riding on the shoulder of Interstate 5 approaching the Crag View exit near Dunsmuir, California
The orange cones on the shoulder of I5 were a helpful reminder to passing cars and trucks to stay clear.

View of Mt. Shasta with cyclists heading toward the distant mountain, near Dunsmuir, California
The weather was near perfect, but a tad warm in the afternoon. I was holding up better than last week, grateful to have my lowest gears again after I'd taken my trusty steed in for some adjusting. I'd also mounted some new (wider, 25mm) tires—the organizers had been emphatic about the poor road conditions. I chose to walk when my wheels started slipping on an uphill dirt section, but the rest of the route was rideable. The hazards were well-marked and all was well, until ... I got excited about a downhill stretch and slammed into a pothole that launched a water bottle. [At least that was the worst of it.] At speed, in the shade, I didn't see the markings.

The road kicked up, I shifted down, much clattering was heard. I stopped (luckily before the rear wheel would have seized up): the chain had dropped off the largest rear cog and become thoroughly wedged between the cassette and rear wheel spokes.

I nudged.

I tugged.

I yanked with all my might.

I was skeptical when the technician had turned the limit screws on both derailleurs last week. I'm no bike mechanic, but ... that wasn't the right solution.

My hands got plenty greasy, but the chain would not budge. [Somehow it always seems like Too Much Trouble to fish around in my saddle bag for the latex gloves. Why do I carry them?]

I looked at the map; so close, yet so far. The SAG guys transported me seven miles to the finish, and then carefully pried the chain free with a screwdriver, link by link. “We should have tried that out there, you could have finished the ride!”

After partying with my bike buddy and some newly minted friends we pedaled back to the motel as planned, rounding out my day with 55 miles and 5,805 feet of climbing.

It's all too beautiful ...