Chico is small, rural town about 3 hours north of the Bay Area. The town’s sole reason for existence seems to be the California State University of Chico, once a notorious party school:
(from snopes.com) Campus legend has it that Playboy does a yearly ranking of America’s top party schools. Truth is, we haven’t done such a roundup since 1987, when we tagged Cal State-Chico the craziest campus in the nation. Chico has had bragging rights for 15 years,causing students to binge with pride while parents and administrators have dried out fraternities and sororities and canceled Halloween. Some students have sent us e-mails that say “Don’t you dare say Chico State. I’m sick of having to defend it. It’s all because of your article 15 years ago!” Why do another ranking now? The kids demanded it, our public relations department is bombarded with calls from students who wonder where their schools rank. We wanted to hear what goes down on campus — the good, the bad and blurry — in your own words, more than 1500 of you wrote. These are your stories.
Raquel and I drove up on Saturday morning. We walked around. Had burgers at the “World Famous” Madison Bear Garden, took a tour of the Stansbury House and walked around the Bidwell Mansion Park. The town seemed pleasant enough.
We headed down to the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds to check in for the Chico Wildflower. It was very well organized. After a short wait in the Go-Hs line, I picked up my bag that included a water bottle, a route map printed on cloth and my wrist band.
That afternoon I did a fast 30 mile warm up ride around town. The start of the ride took in Bidwell Park (it’s all Bidwells all the time in Chico, apparently), a lovely green strip along the Big Chico River that juts out of town to the east. Seemed like an auspicious start to the weekend. But then it all went wrong. Quickly.
That night, I had a rough time getting to sleep at the motel. When I finally managed to drift away, I was woken up by some drunk kids running up and down the corridor at 2:27am and couldn’t for the life of me get back to sleep. So when we got up at 5am, I was less than well rested.
Before sunrise, we packed up, loaded the bike and we went off to Jack’s in downtown Chico to have breakfast. Most of the table were occupied by cyclists, which I took to be a seal of approval, but the food was awful: rubber pancakes and ancient, acidic coffee. Before we left, I filled my bottles with ice water and we headed out to meet up with Stephen from the Yellowjackets.
I had never ridden with Stephen before but we had arranged to meet at the start line and ride together. We headed out from the fairgrounds, but before we hit the road, I realized I wasn’t wearing my gloves and had to turn back. Then, with gloves on, I headed out again and got a little further down the road before I realized that I had forgotten to put on my wristband and had to turn back again.
Each time, Stephen waited patiently for me as he had at the start when I was gearing up. So I felt pretty bad when I realized that he was going to maintain a much slower pace than I wanted. We chatted for about 3 miles, but we were only going about 10-12 miles per hour and I knew I needed to take off and go my own pace. So I apologized and stepped on the gas.
The Humbolt Meat Grinder
The first climb, up Humbolt Road comes at the five mile mark. It would be a lovely climb through the grassy foothills outside of Chico, but the road surface was just hideous. Think Morgan Territory before it was repaved last year and add in hundreds of little pot holes and you’ll get the picture. It was an extremely unpleasant 2.5 miles. I had been sadistically pulverized.
The descent, however, was wicked. Back on a real surface, I rocketed back to sea level taking turns pulling with a woman in a George Hincapie US Champion BMC jersey.
The route continues down a narrow bike path, which made it hard to pass the early starters, before dumping out on Honey Run Road for the ascent to Paradise. I let two riders from the Tri Counties Cycling Team tow me up to the covered bridge, where the something of a rest stop: toilets, but no food or drink. Probably would have been a good idea as it’s at the 20-mile mark and comes just before the big climb of the day.
I got off and took a few pics, but didn’t hang around long.
6 Miles to Paradise
Quickly after the bridge, the road kicks up to the sky for the 6 mile climb to the small mountain town of Paradise. The road twists and turns like a contortionist as it makes it way along the edge of the canyon. There’s nary a car. It’s spectacular.
Words of encouragement to participants are painting on the roadway a la the Tour de France. There are some families by the side of the road cheering us on. There was even one kid dressed up a Big Bird.
Typically my strategy for these rides is conserve energy on the climbs and go like crazy on the flats and descents. That’s worked well for me in the past, so I found my tempo, got into a nice groove and just cruised up to the top enjoying the scenery and the scene.
At the summit, there was a crowd of about 50 folks with cowbells cheering us on. As I rolled though Paradie to the rest stop. I was feeling ok. Tired, but not fatigued. I was thrilled that two of the three climbs were behind me.
Then I got off the bike at the rest stop and I felt a little cramp in my left hammy. Not a bad one. Just like a little tweak that let me know that all was night not right. I grabbed a banana and a couple cans of V8 and did a little stretching. I didn’t want to hang out to long because I was anxious to get to the descent.
Expelled from Paradise
After the rest stop, i was expecting to plunge back down to sea level, but instead there’s a series of massive rollers that rise from about 1650ft (Paradise) to 1870ft (the actual summit). I wasn’t prepared for this at all. Nor was I prepared for the long, flatish initial part of the descent. It doesn’t tkae much of a headwind to turn a 1-2% descent into a grind. I was riding alone and I used up a ton of energy desperately trying to latch onto a large group riding tantalizingly in front of me, but I never did catch them.
Then we passed a sign that read 11% grade and I hit 46 mph as we plunged down along Lake Oroville. I think I could have gone faster. The road was smooth and straight. There was a little headwind, but that didn’t really stopped. I just got a little nervous riding alone and being unfamiliar with the roads.
After the quick descent, the route winds through cow country for several miles before we hit the second rest stop in Oroville right on the lake.
At this point, I’m feeling pretty good. The ride is about halfway done. I had ridden 19.8 miles in the third hour, which was just wickedly fast for me. And it wasn’t even 10am yet. I sat in the grass, stretched my hamstrings, refueled and pondered the miles ahead.
Table Mountain Bonk
After the rest stop, the route meanders through suburban Oroville. At the 48 mile mark, there was a confluence of three events. (1) The road kicks up between 7-8% for about 5 miles. (2) The mercury started rising as fast as the road. (3) I started suffering immensely.
I had seen Table Mountain, a large and impressive looking mesa. It was looming to the left of us as we rode south towards Oroville. It looked big. It was hard for my to believe mentally that we’d be climbing up there, but I had seen the route profile and I wasn’t that concerned, but I should have been. I really should have been.
I don’t know the exact reason, but some combination of sleep deprivation, dehydration, extreme exertion, and poor fitness just made me bonk early on the climbing. I was chugging along at about 4 miles per getting passed by anything and everything on two wheels on Cherokee Road.
If I were in better shape, I think I would have appreciated the scenery. The road hugs the side of the Table Mountain cliff with on of the fingers of Lake Oroville on the opposite side of the road. This is the area where the Wildflower gets its name. I don’t think this was the most impressive year, but there flowers here and there. To be honest, we have better wildflowers in Hercules.
Someone, probably with intentions had painted mile markers in orange on the road. 3 mile to the top, 2.5 miles to the top and so on. When you’re strong, this is encouraging, but when you’re creeping along at 4 mph and you do the math in your scrambled brain and figure that at this rate 2 miles is going to take you half an hour, it’s demoralizing.
Granted, I wasn’t going 4 mph the entire climb. The road pitched up and down like a dinghy in high surf and I was able to quicken my pace in sections, but it was still a long and miserable haul. I was so thrilled to finally reach the summit, that I skipped the little hydration station up there and continued on.
As you’d expect from Table Mountain, there a long, flat stretch at the top. I tucked in behind some stronger riders and let them drag me across the mesa. I could see snow covered peaks in the distance and the top of volcanic Mt. Lassen peaked out from behind the Cascades.
The descent off the ridge was hampered by a pick up that was stuck behind a slow rider, but I wasn’t too concerned because the hills were behind me and all that remained was 40 miles of flat riding. No problem, right?
The Mighty F*ing Wind
In aerodynamics, a headwind is a wind that blows against the direction of travel of an object. A headwind reduces the object’s speed and increases the time required to reach its destination[*].”
We doubled back down Durham Pentz Road to the lunch break. I grabbed more V8, some delicious pate sandwiches and sat my weary ass under a shady tree. I was rested refueled and ready. I just sent a few tweets before I hit the road:
Sitting under a tree in the shade. Cool breeze blowing. Eating pate sandwiches while I rest my weary legs. Hard to beat this. 11:19 AM Apr 25th
Made it to the lunch stop. Damn good thing. I was dying up the Table Mtn. climb. #cycling #wildflower http://myloc.me/6p7vF 11:20 AM Apr 25th
I only managed 10 miles in the 4th hour after clocking 19.8 in the third. All blame goes to the insufferable table mountain #cycling #wi … 11:21 AM Apr 25th
Only 40 miles to go and it’s all downhill or flat. WOOT!! #cycling #wildflower #chico http://myloc.me/6p7Ew 11:22 AM Apr 25th
Clearly my optimism was misplaced. But I was reasonably please with myself as I started down the long flat ride back bast west towards Chico.
The problem was that there was a massive wind heading east. I don’t really know how to estimate it, but if I had to guess, I’d say 25-30 mph. The temp on the road was now close to 90 degrees. I was exhausted.
Another problem was that it was just so boring. The long stretch of road offered nothing but pain. The scenery was just so unmemorable. I just had to put my head down and fight through it.
I tagged along with various groups at various speeds until I ran out of energy and then the wind pushed me back. I would continue along solo and then another group would pass me and I’d get a hitch for a while. This went on for mile after bloody mile until the final rest stop at some nondescript school in Durham.
I really wanted to quit at this point. I had been beat down by this ride. I was alone. A little bored. My knees were starting to hurt from the effort. I was dirty. I wasn’t having fun anymore. The wind had just sucked all the pleasure out of the ride.
The thing about climbing is that there’s a payoff at the end: the descent. With the wind there’s nothing. And it didn’t seem to matter which way we turned, although there was precious little turning, but the wind was always anyplace but behind us. The few times where we turned north and suffered a cross wind were the worst. I couldn’t find any shelter. It just sucked.
It was taking a toll on everyone. For a long time I hitched a ride behind a guy with big 6 on his jersey. He was much stronger than me and seemed to have no problem taking the lead. But after about 5 miles of wheel sucking, he started to tie and I started to feel guilty so I went around and him and took a 20 minute pull. It killed whatever energy I had left and when he eventually came around me, I couldn’t hang on to the 16 mph pace and sucked out the back to continue on my own at 13-14 mph. But later I saw number 6 leaning on his bike in a small patch of shade by the side of the road. He hit the wall.
Later I latched onto a woman wearing a Triple Crown jersey. She had finished three double centuries in a one year. Certainly she’d have no problem towing me along and she didn’t. Seemed happy to do it. I could only hang for so long before crumbling again.
Eventually I got my second wind. And when I did, I started passing slower riders. When I was passing this one woman, I felt something hit me on the hip and when I looked to my left, I saw this red with the side view mirror bent backwards. I thought, fuck, he just hit me. The fucking bastard just hit me!
So when traffic slowed and I was able to pull up to the car, I knocked on the window. When he lowered it, I told me just hit me. I must have been a little delirious since I expected him to say, dude, I’m sorry, are you ok?. The last thing I expect was for him to say, “how much do you pay to ride on these roads? I pay my DMV fees. Get off the fucking road ass hole.”
I was stunned speechless. I should have taken note of his license plate or even better, taken a picture of his car with the mirror bent backwards, but I wasn’t thinking straight.
When we rolled into downtown Chico past the Stansbury House I knew the end was near. The temps were cooler in town. The breeze was finally behind us as we finished the short section between town and the finish.
As I pulled into the fairgrounds, my odometer read only 95 miles. Normally I would have felt cheated—five miles short of a century, but not today. The ride was a sun-stroke inducing sufferfest, but it was over.
Continue reading “The Chico Windflower”