I felt strange leading up to this ride--locked in a time warp. First, I thought I'd bypass Chico this year for Devil Mountain Double but none of the old double gang doing DMD this year. Mt. Hamilton Challenge also on this date but it must be the lowest energy century in existence--at least when you suffer on DMD there is some bang for the buck return with great support. So I decided to have some fun and do Chico, with the proviso that I'd definitely ride the last loop of the 95 mile course twice to get in a double metric. Some people consider the last flat loop though ag land boring but where else can you ride a continual 20 miles with only one intersection.
But I mostly felt strange as I had done this ride for so long--and hoped that one of my kids would go to college here as Chico is the quintessential college town (even though some strip malls have now eroded part of downtown's allure.) About nine years ago I did the metric with John on a hybrid and we must have been the last folks to finish. One year I missed Chico due to a No Doubt concert my daughter wanted to go to, and a Patti Smith concert the next day i wanted to go to. The next year I went up to Chico and walked around with the kids as I couldn't ride due to my knee injury. The following year I went up solo and time trialed around the course, repeated as a two man with Big Mike the year after, when we decided to ride the course backwards with no water after my kids drained my bottles, looking for our wives in 95 degrees. One year staying at my daughter's place along the train tracks while the building shook every hour all night when the freight train passed. Then a few years of iffy weather when Big Mike and I hammered the final loop twice when the weather turned good, and we called it a day with Dough and Ward when the weather turned bad, but after a massive sprint to town. One year skipping Chico for suffering on DMD. And now we were back in Chico but my little daughter had graduated and was far away starting her first job. It seemed like it was just yesterday that we hoped for Chico over some So. Cal schools.
Chico Wildflower is a great event that you can easily make into a two day bike fest. When Donna and I hit town we went into the bike shops in downtown who all had specials--half price on tubes, 20-50% off clothing. (Last year rain jackets were a big seller--luckily nice and sunny so no demand this year.) Then Ward, Big Mike and I announced an anti-hammer policy for a warm up ride--this policy easily kept as I stay in my small compact chainring for warm up rides. Donna started laughing at us when our average speed was about 12. After tooling around Bidwell Park we went down the Midway looking for the best way to get to the last rest stop on the course from the starting/ finishing point--there is a bike path as a bail out route for riders on the 95 mile course but it is suicidal to ride on that as we'd be riding against the wave of tired riders coming back 3 abreast (Big Mike and I tried this two years ago and people didn't even move out of the way for Big Mike.) Then it was out to the fairgrounds where I received an unexpected gift--a messenger bag for doing the ride so many times. Checkin a breeze and a few good vendors set up at the fairgrounds, which seemed at alot 10 years ago but now seemed paltry compared to some shows and what is available online. (eg. Paul Components down the block--I'd love to see him at registration.)
(1) Street fair at redesigned Chico Plaza (20 Always liked inside of Brooklyn Bridge Bagel Company (3) My next bike
Everyone gets a flowery nylon bag that Ward and Mike have to sling over their shoulder--they look so dainty. Ward/ Mike staying on the other side of town at the "other" Heritage Inn (motels with the same name in town--who would have thunk it.) We meet for a pizza dinner and plan to meet at 7:00. We actually got everyone on board for a 7:00 start--which would get us squarely in the middle of the ride. A few years ago Diablo Cyclist old timers like to start rides at 7:30 and cut out the Humboldt Loop but Ward and I always push for early starts so we are squarely in the ride. Joe, Jim, Beth and some wimp in a vest which will be taken off for good in 5 minutes, in front of the Magic Kingdom gate (Fairgrounds) before our 7:02am start in warm weather. Yippie. (Ward-o-crazy photo)
We get to the fairgrounds early so Donna can leave by 6:15. I sleep in the car for 1/2 hour, quickly set up the bike and spin over to the fairgrounds gate. Almost everyone is there except for Big Mike who is sometimes time management challenged. We wait a couple of minutes and then take off--a new Diablo Cyclist tradition is that we leave on time and anyone late has to chase back. Without Big Mike there is no one to laugh at me when I wear a vest that will be coming off in about 10 minutes. We go at a good clip but not a killer pace, and no one is bothered when we are passed on our way to Humboldt Road--Joe and I on good behavior at the same time, they said it couldn't be done. The absent Big Mike must be the instigator!
We begin the pock marked Humboldt Ride climb shortly and I'm glad I'm wearing a cycling cap as the sun is coming up right in front of us. This climb is pretty shallow, the only thing to watch for are riders bunched all over the road, which this ride features on its 3 climbs, and the moonscape pavement. Joe and I bs uphill at a conversationalist pace while passing lots of riders. When we get to the top I pull over to wait for the rest of the group, take off my hat, put on my vest for the downhill....while I am sleeping the rest of the group suddenly appears and, oh no, starts the ski ramp downhill on the parallel smooth road--I have no chance in hell to catch them. Big Mike comes flying by drafting a tandem.
Back on flat ground, a sprint and the pelaton stopping for a light has me back with the group and I'm glad I didn't wait. We are soon taken a new way--off the road in a new section of subdivisions and on a long crowded (joined by the 60 milers) bicycle path. Of course speed slows due to the ever present poles everyone has to go through and everyone is effectively neutralized as it would be crazy to pass. We soon are in the flat run in to the covered Bridge-Honey Run, though many slow cyclists insist on bsing while riding side to side to side and cars are coming from the opposite direction where some numbnuts keep passing on the wrong side of the road. Once the Honey Rn climb starts I take off as it is incredibly crowded and it seems that a big effort will get one out of the pocket of packed cyclists, but it is a wishful effort as soon there is another group of cyclists clogging the narrow-twisted road. Would be a perfect Belgium narrow cobbled climb except much much longer and not nearly steep--as my legs are fading as every effort to stand and motor is checked around a hairpin by a slow cyclist or two on the left side of the road. I call out my approach like crazy, Joe riding on my wheel, and then Big Mike motors up which causes Joe to take off. Big Mike chases our best climber, then suddenly returns as he almost blew up, so I set a good working pace that Mike can stay on. Think of regrouping at the top--like dozens of cyclists are doing--but the rest stop is only after a few downhill rollers.
We had skipped the Covered bridge rest stop, and the Paradise rest stop a little disappointing. A bike mechanic one duty, as always. Lots of local baked goods, a always. But somehow they had everyone cuing up into a line and getting anything took 5-10 minutes. Though numerous porta potties the cyclists were overwhelming and getting to one of these took 5-10 minutes more.
Now a series of Italian (long that you can't coast mostly over) Rollers started, and now that we had the club together hoped we would stay together. This went to hell when someone from another club powered past me, so I'd get it into gear to charge to the top. My roller riding, on a series of short step rollers, is still my best. Then a long downhill started and though I was off the front I was soon passed by all of the other Diablo Cyclists and I managed to stay close to the back except for Big Mike/ Joe, who opened it up to 50mph+ and unfortunately they would be seen as much as the non existent Wildflowers until the next rest stop. Ward delighted that he rode around the Photocrazy sensors where robot photographers take your photo.
Besides losing Big Mike and Joe up the road, we now lost the 60 milers so roads less crowded--and the run in to Oroville my favorite part of the ride. As it is off the beaten path with no traffic on a smooth road over a series of baby rollers. We started losing some riders in our group so Ward and I hung out to bring them back up, while Jim would take long pulls in the front cracking up the speed. We were joined by one other cyclist, and when the rollers got a little long he and I took turns exchanging long pulls. Road straightened out and a tandem came by that we jumped on. All of a sudden at the Oroville rest stop--15 miles just went poof!, passed in a moments notice. This is a greatest stop, less crowded than the earlier ones, tree lined next to a lake. Another long line at the park's rests rooms, but no one cued up on the other side of the building. More apricot coffee cake and a bottle of Hansen's Sports Drink/ Juice while Beth tightening up her cleat which had everyone sitting on the grass. As soon as we started sitting the grass we'd never leave a rest stop in less than 20 minutes.
Now warm and the Table Mountain climb just a few minutes away. Table Mountain out in the open--so now protection on hot days, a little steeper than Honey Run with some vehicle traffic. I had no motivation to go hard, and while I passed lots of cyclists I was passed by many who swung into the far left (opposite traffic) line--not a good idea as 10 cars or more came down while on this climb, But no impetus--maybe it was remembering what happened on Sierra a few weeks back during a hot day. When we got to the top Joe waiting and Ward not far behind--so I led them out for a long pull to the steep downhill they'd take great .
After long downhill I took worse than my usual poor--pull into the lunch stop where we see Donna almost ready to leave. A group of Benecia cyclists also are on their way out. Lunch stop is nice but very very crowded. Run into Steve of Erma's Diner. Not very hungry so eat lot of orange slices and the insides of two premade sandwiches--so unfortunately the hint of mayo and soggy lettuce is on the ham/ turkey. Oh no--everyone is sitting in the shade--we'll never leave the lunch area. Drink some more Hansen's--at least it is cold--Chico Velo has brought us bottled water but there is no ice and all the water is lukewarm.
The remainder of the ride is very flat and we form a nice looking paceline as we motor across the valley. I'm locked up from being in lunch for so long so I play ticket collector--figuring riders we pass will try to cut off our girls at the end of the paceline but I will be less inclined if I'm riding in the back. Also, if anyone falls off I can bring them back to the group. Jim and Mike drive the paceline, with Ward and Joe helping out, and eventually I loosen up and go to the front at appx 21+, Joe follows at the same speed and a request is sent up to slow the paceline as we may loose part of our group. At the same time Jim passes by and revs up the speed to 23+.
We suddenly, again to fast, close to the Durham stop--only 13 miles from lunch, and I call out if anyone needs to lake a LONG break or can we just fill our bottles and go. I don't want to lock up again, I want to catch up to Donna, and I plan to do the closing loop twice so we'll be here again. Everyone agrees that we just need a quick drink/ bathroom stop. So sure enough we pull in, lots of people that we pulled through the valley thank us, look for soda (there are a few cans around but none to be found), fill up, ready to go AND HALF THE GROUP IS SITTING UNDER A BIG SHADE TREE. Oh no, that means 10 more minutes. I check for soda again and try to pull a Jack by getting on the bike and on the road but no one is moving until I yell "hey--wake up Big Mike" who looks the most comfortable of all. He and everyone else under that shade tree get what they deserved on the next section.
Now nice and warm and looping the ag fields SW of Chico. Flat as a pancake. Yes, rather that there be rollers but 20 miles with 1 intersection and not much traffic, great to get a rhythm going. We get our paceline organized again, now I feel good and stay on the front to long until Jim gets impatient and again ups the speed 2 mph. We have a few riders now being bugged by the heat, so I drop in the middle of the paceline and am soon at the front, again feeling good so take another long pull. Only problem are some riders bsing 2-3 side by side that you have to yell out to in order to pass.
About half way to Chico I see a rider coming though again--I think it is Jim coming through again. No. Two junior race teams with coach and some hanger on'ers motor past. Jim, Joe and Big Mike jump on their paceline--I'm too tired to rev yup the speed "that" fast but sprint up and barely hang on to the back of the pelaton as they go faster and faster. As Ward later said ",..I was OK when they came by at 23...then 24...and then when they went to 26...27 we started dropping out."
As ticket collector I could see in front of me about a half dozen green clad racers and a half dozen red clad racers, our 3 guys, about 3 guys with no race kits, and a coach with no helmet directing traffic. At one point coach moved from the back of the pelaton to near the front, I should have followed him up but when he was doing it it was one of the few times a car passed, so I continued sitting in the back, knowing I was too far back. All of a sudden someone from one of the teams attacked. and was 200' down the road, which was good as now the "other" team would do all the work to get back, so now I really took it easy recovering on the back. OH CRAP--all of a sudden someone from the other team jumped out and caught the other rider, so now two fast riders down the road and no one would chase. Jim dropped out but about 6 riders ahead of me Big Mike LAUNCHED with Joe on his wheel. I knew where I should be so I started sprinting up to them but it was impossible trying to catch Big Mike in a sprint and I soon fell off. Another rider came up with me and we started working together, we eventually caught up to Big Mike who had used all his energy getting Joe up to the leaders who he stayed with. I then started pulling Mike, the pelaton caught us, but then I went to the front and worked with the racers--and nailing back 1-2 people that tried to get off the front. Soon we were at the train tracks signifying back in town. An easy roll the 1 mile back to the fairgrounds where we waited @10 minutes for the rest of our group to do the last loop again. Joe-Big Mike and Ward game and off we went.
Nice shaded stretch down the Midway--and the through orchards lining Jones Road as many cyclists heading in the opposite direction on the bike path as part of the bail out route. Back to Durham where they now have ICE and DIET SODA--which is perfect as it seemingly has gotten even warmer. No sign of Donna who would be in and out of this rest stop. Not my group, which again parked themselves under the same tree as last time. Back on the road there are now much slower cyclists than we encountered the last time, and 17-18 mph (unlike 21-23 the first time around) has us passing everyone. And we couldn't do anything higher now anyway--actually Joe takes a big pull upping the speed as I ride 2nd wheel, I take a good pull at the front, and then expecting Ward/ Mike to come around---Joe comes back to the front. I slow to wait for Mike/ Ward and pull them in as they have pulled me so many times. And I already told everyone that if we passed Donna I'd ride in with her. Joe took off and we didn't even seem him at the post ride dinner--as he took one look at the crowd and headed for the brewpub.
Surprised we hadn't seen Donna until I got back to the car. She didn't do the last loop 2x--as she was out of water when she pulled in the first time around, and getting some in the fairgrounds would have delayed her starting the course. She did a nice job riding 95 miles solo but the extra loop would have been good Davis Double training. The end-o-meal is usually nicely organized but the line wound around the building as they were behind giving people 2 tiny pieces of chicken that looked like meatballs. We heard from club members who pulled in before the bonus loop that there had been tri-tip earlier but they ran out, and the lines were just as long. But nice ride recap meal with Ward, Mike, Mrs. Mike (who did one of the shorter course on a 70 lb bike), and Donna.
Great century--only thing marring it (apart from the post ride meal) was the 3 1/2 hour drive home from the Chico hinterland, and as it was Sunday there is no down time before the work week begins.