My introduction to distance biking happened Sunday on the 31st annual Chico Wildflower Ride, though I actually did the 65-mile “Mildflower” loop rather than the full 100-mile Wildflower. But given that my previous longest ride had been 40 miles around Wildcat Canyon, it was vigorous enough for starters (though not as intense as I had imagined it would be). I had blown it up in my head, thinking it would be one of the most physically challenging experiences of my life – but once you get into a rhythm, the miles fly by quickly.
Got an early start at 7:00 a.m. with 4,000 other riders, who split themselves between five optional routes – The Childflower 15, the Flatflower 30, The Mildflower 65, the Wildflower 100, and the new 125-miler for people who just can’t get enough.
There’s something really different about riding with a large group, as compared to going solo (which you can do any time). For one, it feels much safer. Since bikes are ubiquitous on a group ride, they get seen by cars, who take a wide berth. More importantly, the camaraderie and the conversations turn into one giant group hug, everyone cheering for everyone else.
First 10 miles through dappled early morning sunlight, before the Chico heat turned itself up, to a first rest stop at a beautiful old covered bridge along the Sacramento River.
Headed up the famous Honey Run Road, which is around 1400 feet of elevation spread over six miles. Training in the East Bay hills over the past couple of months prepared me for this one, and it turned out to be very do-able. This was easily the most gorgeous segment of the ride, though I felt terrible for the poor woman who slid off the road and into a ditch, where she landed with a broken arm. Reassuring (if a bit overkill) to see four emergency vehicles responding, though their presence was very disruptive on the narrow old fire road.
Reports about the amazing food served at rest stops were not exaggeration! Date and apricot bars from a local bakery, great coffee, bananas and cantaloupe, deli subs, high-quality juice you could dump into your water bottles, cookies and scones… the hits kept coming. Not to mention the sumptuous tri-tip lunch at the end. The saying is, “You may not make your target time, but you will make your target weight.” Though I burned 2,700 calories on the ride, felt like I easily replaced them en route. In fact, it was too much – I often felt too full (since I suffer from a complete lack of willpower).
After rest stop #2, it was downhill for miles – a seemingly endless glide, sometimes hitting speeds up to 35mph. Didn’t pedal for about 15 minutes, and it felt like free energy. After that, it was back to flatlands as the Chico heat rose up (though it never got warmer than 80F). Just chipping away the miles through orchard and dairy lands. Beautiful in its own way, but not as amazing as the first 30 miles had been.
Thighs started to burn around mile 40, and things got a bit uncomfortable. Hands and balls of feet falling asleep, shifting position frequently to keep the extremities awake. But soon caught my second wind and realized we were almost done. Pulled back into the Chico fair grounds after 4.5 miles of riding (not counting breaks). In the end, averaged almost 14 mph, which was a personal best I wasn’t even shooting for. It’s all about rhythm.
Weird to see all of the political/election signs along the way. Get out of the Bay Area for a while, and be quickly reminded what a bubble universe we live in. Even saw signs reading “Let’s undo the damage Obama has done – elect so-and-so.” Freaky, brain-damaged stuff like that.
Some people who lived along the route came out to ring cowbells and cheer us on (thanks – you made a difference!) There were also some fun musical surprises along the way. On Honey Run, an old man with a 2-foot beard serenaded us with some home-brew relative of the zither. And toward the end, a family had assembled a Dixieland jazz quartet on the back of an old flatbed to play for passing riders, which was wonderful, although “When the Saints Go Marching In” is a terrible ear worm to be stuck with for 15 miles.
Had been expecting to ride through vast fields of wildflowers, so the biggest disappointment was that we actually saw none. One gardener I spoke to said this was probably because of this winter’s weird rain patterns. The closest we came to wildflowers was a beautifully tended garden towards the end. Took a few shots as a consolation prize.
Great to see Renovo represented in the registration hall – their hardwood and bamboo bikes are amazing works of art. My other bike is a Renovo Pandurban commuter, which I totally love. Trying to imagine combining the quickness of a road bike with Renovo craftsmanship.
The experience was totally empowering – I now realize I can definitely tackle a full Century next year, and am looking forward to this June’s 75-miler around Lake Tahoe (but can’t, dangit – event’s already filled up and registration is closed).