Monday, September 18
The thing about camping is you go to bed early, not long after darkness falls, and you wake up early with the sunrise illuminating your tent. I think it was shortly after 6 am when I got up. I stayed in my tent for a while, trying to get some more sleep and waiting for Dave or Greg to wake up. A little after 6:30, the call of nature was too great and I had to get up to relieve the ever increasing pressure on my bladder. By the time I had walked back to camp, I passed Dave, who must have been feeling the same pressure. I made a cup of coffee and restarted the fire to warm up a bit.
We sat around the picnic table perusing Greg’s Butler map in order to lay out our day. We decided we would head to Chico for a late breakfast after riding through the park. Once in Chico, we would plan the rest of our day. We broke camp and headed out, making a stop at the visitor center.
I had last visited LVNP at least 10 years prior during a college geology course field trip. We rode by several of the places I had seen on that trip. I was amazed at the amount of regrowth in the areas I had seen before – places that were wiped out during Lassen Peak’s last eruption in 1917. Life finds a way.
Before we knew it, we had climbed to more than 8500 feet in elevation as we rode by Lassen Peak. The morning air was very chilly at this height, but my gear kept me warm enough. We passed by frosty meadows, bubbling mud holes, and fumaroles that smelled of rotten eggs. There’s a wide variety of things to see around volcanoes.
The main road through the park has many tight turns that keep you on your toes. One wrong move, or target fixation, and you will find yourself tumbling down a steep drop. Don’t worry, sharp rocks or trees will break your fall at the bottom. At elevation, there was still a lot of snow visible on the mountain sides despite winter ending more than 6 months prior.
We stopped near Emerald Lake and Greg had an idea to take some video of Dave and I riding down the curvy road. We immediately messed it up by not riding in the formation Greg had envisioned, then I stopped as soon as the road straightened out. It’s so hard to find good talent that can see a director’s vision.
We exited the park and made our way to Highway 32 to ride toward Chico. Highway 32 follows a single stream that has multiple names on the map, but I think the main name is Deer Creek. 32 had lots of fun curves that keep you engaged in your ride. The road starts climbing at some point and there were many great vistas to be seen. Dave and Greg had gone ahead of me at some point and I lost sight of them (a common occurrence). I took the opportunity to “ride my ride” as Greg would often tell me to do, and stopped at several places to take pictures of vast valleys being lit by the morning sun. The thing is, I never have to worry about losing Dave and Greg on trips because at some point they will stop and wait for me to catch up. Greg says they’re never waiting long, so I must be doing something right.
Highway 32 follows a ridge line as it descends into Chico. The ridge is the long transition between the Cascade foothills and the vast Central Valley. I could see the foothills were carved into many canyons, one of which was clearly visible from the ridgeline. It wasn’t on the scale of the Grand Canyon (though I’ve never been and have only seen pictures), but the canyon was quite a sight to see.
We fueled up our bikes and ourselves in Chico. Chico is a college town, and riding through it reminded me a bit of Arcata, near where I live, which is also a college town. Perhaps all college towns are similar in some way – strings of bars close to campus, and students commuting to and fro on bicycles and on foot.
Our original plan from Chico was to ride east on Highway 70 toward Quincy, but upon further review, we found that it was almost backtracking as Highway 70 bears northeast. We instead chose to ride down toward Oroville and take Highway 162 to make our way to Highway 49 and try to get as far south as we could before it got dark. Our plan for Tuesday was to cross Sonora Pass, and we wanted to get as close as we could.
We slabbed it on Highway 99 from Chico to Oroville. Straight lines are just no fun. We turned onto Highway 162 and rode through Oroville. Oroville, fortunately had been spared from destruction during heavy rains last year that caused damage to nearby Oroville Dam.
We climbed out of Oroville and turned onto a side road called Forbestown Rd. This road was a windy two-lane road through the forest. It reminded me a lot of some of the local roads closer to home. The twisties were fun through here, but again, nothing too difficult. The nice thing was how little traffic there was, which allowed you to keep your speed up. We wound our way down a bunch of local roads until we reached Highway 20 south of Browns Valley.
We slabbed it again on Highway 20 east until we reached Grass Valley. We then hopped on Highway 49 to continue our journey south. It was in Grass Valley where we ran into our first heavy traffic of the trip. Likely it was because we hit the city right around commute time. We took 49 south to Auburn at a slow pace despite it being an expressway.
In Auburn we stopped at a grocery store to pick up food for the night and to decide where we would camp, as it was getting close to sunset and we were all pretty tired from the day’s ride. My butt was hurting, along with my knees, and the top of my right boot was rubbing my shin raw because my socks weren’t long enough. Note to self: Acquire longer socks when possible.
Greg checked around with local campgrounds to seek out the cheapest option, but found nothing in Auburn proper. He found a deal at a KOA in Placerville, which was less than an hour away. We all agreed we were getting tired, but could handle the remaining 30 miles to the KOA. We continued south on Highway 49.
49, also known as the “Golden Chain Highway,” strings together a series of old gold mining towns throughout the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. As the highway leaves Auburn it climbs up and then immediately descends toward the American River east of town. The downhill grade is steep and the curves are sharp. The highway crosses the river and then immediately starts climbing back up the other side, where the road is steeper and the curves are sharper. It was not uncommon to find myself going 10-15 mph through the curves. Some of the curves seemed like a test to see how slow you could go before the bike would no longer stay up. I managed to find my groove, and some of the things I had been learning through my two years of riding were finally starting to click. Once the road climbed out of the canyon, it straightened out and had many sweepers that let you keep your speed up.
We got a little bit of confusion as we got closer to Placerville. For some reason, Greg’s GPS (and mine) told us to turn down a gated private road, necessitating a quick stop by Greg so he didn’t crash the gate.
Though it was a KOA, not a “real” campground, it was nice to be in civilization for the night. We had decent cell service (I got to Skype home), and even took a hot shower. The downside was the campground was spitting distance from Highway 50. The traffic was loud.
Day 2: 249.2 mi, Total Distance: 444.2 mi.
Highways Taken: CA-89, CA-36, CA-32, CA-99, CA-149, CA-70, CA-162, Forbestown Rd., Yuba County Rd. E-21, CA-20, CA-49, Lotus Rd., North Shingle Rd., US-50