No, no mentions of Denzel Washington here (outside of this mention). Ever notice you could take him from any movie he’s in and put him into any other movie he’s in and nothing about him would change? He’s not really a character-driven actor. He drives the character. In other words, there’s a whole bunch of characters who act exactly like Denzel Washington. I call that a one-trick pony.
In any event. The February 10th Showdown on the Lowdown… er… Love Ride is coming up. Chico Velo historically had this as a tandems event, so it’s pretty low impact. 40 (around the Buttes), 60 (from the Fairgrounds to around the Buttes and back to the fairground) and 100 (I don’t know the path cause I ain’t taking the path) mile rides. I guess there’s some other side rides and such to vary your mileage to your own personal degree of pain. The 40 miler involves checking in at the fairground, driving out to Grey Lodge (not a bad place to drive), unloading and riding ’round the world’s smallest complete mountain range – and one of the very few that run east-west – then back to Gray Lodge, load up and drive to the fairgrounds to complete. Then home.
Gray Lodge is a migratory waterfowl stopping point. More than 1 million waterfowl stop by here, grab a bite or two, poop and move on to the south or north, depending on the season. If you like waterfowl, this IS the place to go. From November to late January, THE place for waterfowl photography. But I digress.
Today’s ride was, for me, about building and testing longer term rides. Certainly, climbing the Ridge helps train, but in the end (no pun intended) it does not test saddle time. My ass needs to HTFU in order to make even 40 miles. My longest ride to date has been 14.5 miles and while I could have gone further, I didn’t. Most of what’s limiting me these days is either the end of clear trails (I’m still not keen to sharing the road with 3000lb killing machines piloted by California driving schools educated texting morons – also known as kids) or the cold. I talk about HTFU and I’ve ridden through rain and sleet and hail and over ice – so I am born-again hard. I’ve brought home sweatshirts that weighed 2lbs dry – now 20lbs wet. I am hard. I’ve dumped out my hood, only to find it full of HAIL. I AM hard. But my ass is weak. 15 miles, even if it climbs 1100′ in 5 miles, is no substitute for 40 miles on a saddle.
So today’s ride is all about time-in-seat. I decided to drive down to Chico and ride the Highway 99 Bike Trail. I HATE parking anywhere that leaves my truck exposed and this time I had a chance to put it where it could be watched. Perfect. I also found, in my garage and just HOURS after I ordered a new one, a tire pump with gauge that goes to 160psi. Naturally. I pumped up the new Marathon Supremes to 95psi. I checked out my tail light for brightness as I’ve never replaced batteries. All good. Since I was gonna be 25 miles from home, I packed all fresh clothes in a bag to be left in the car. Check. Everything else tight and ready. Since I’ve learned a little readying, I check and recheck quick-release skewers. All is good.
Chico trails are extensive and allow for many different trips. Since I truly hate doing the same path even twice (my Paradise Bike Path trips are exempted because 1) there’s no other bike path in town and 2) I’m so busy concentrating on just moving uphill I usually don’t see a lot beyond the trail. It all looks new each time to me. Of course, that could be the massive storms re-arranging everything in between my rides), Chico is a paradise (heheh) of bike trails. The one I picked, the Highway 99 trail, extends from (south) around The Skyway exit from 99, through town all the way to the Eaton exit (north). A pretty decent ride. Very flat – about 110′ to perhaps 210′. Mostly well-paved and maintained. Not always the best markings, often leaving you at an intersection where you have 3 choices of direction, looking for the sign that will be 50 yards down the selected direction. This resulted in me going down the wrong way a number of times before realizing that it was some connector ramp. Parts of the trail are not truly trail but rather surface streets with a “hit me while texting” 3′ section marked off by paint. The majority is, however, completely sectioned off from teenage would-be accidental killers.
One problem for me. I started, like I do at home, in the middle of the trail. The goal was 20 miles of flat land riding, checking what would be my average speed and doing some speed sprints. Just generally getting some serious saddle time and enjoying not climbing 400′ per mile. I had zero idea of which way to go once I got unloaded and dressed. A quick survey of Google Maps (finally on iPhone again!) and I headed off northwest toward Bidwell Park. I was going up East Blvd, so I was on the road that bisected Bidwell Park, splitting Lower from Upper. Bidwell Park, one of the three largest city parks in the country, is setup basically north-south. It runs from, in the city, a large flat plain, up into a canyon in the foothills. While East Blvd bisects Lower from Upper, Lower is further bisected, this time north-south, by Big Chico Creek. On each side of the creek are bike trails. From just below East is an access to the trail, creating a 3 mile, plus or minus, paved trail down to the pool. The pool is fed by the creek. As I rode, I decided I would go down Lower to the pool, loop around the pool which would put me on the other side of the creek. I would then ride up the other side of Lower till it hit Upper, then ride Upper to the gun range. Then down the whole thing and back down East. Basically abandoning my plan of Highway 99.
Two things: my plan now only gave me 11 miles. And there were some closures I didn’t anticipate. Also – the weather check I’d done at home proved optimistic on the temp guess. It was 39f not 50. I had on: thick socks and the black, high top Nikes, sweats over bib knickers and a tshirt under my new Pearl iZUMi Elite Barrier jacket. It took all of 40 feet to realize I should have a long-sleeve thermal on too. Oh well. HTFU! Oh yeah – no thermal gloves. Just my thin, armored Harley gloves. I have five sets of Harley gloves.
Once on the road, the increase in pressure in the tires became immediately evident! They rolled SO much easier than the 60psi LT2’s. They also transmitted every bump, every ant body, pebble, stick and blade of grass, right up the fork or seat stay to my body. Aha! That’s why roadies love them carbon fiber bikes. Up East headed for the first roundabout and the choice between Bidwell riding area or continuing up East to the Park proper. If this is confusing find a map. Out of the horse trail came a group of roadies, so I figured I could get off the busy road and onto that trail. I hoped it would lead up to the Bidwell’s. It did.
For tunes, I selected “All Albums, All Songs, Random”. 1120 songs. Should get some variety. First up: the interview at the end of ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ about how ELP worked together to create their iconic album. Note to self: Don’t do “All Songs” next time. Hit skip on the headphones and some Molly Hatchet comes on with Dreams (I’m Never Gonna See). Uh oh.
I ride though the sports and horse grounds and their parking lots on the trail. More signs (that mean little to those who are trying to follow them but probably mean a lot to those who no longer need them) help me find my way. I get to the park proper and find the underground path blocked by recent heavy rains. A quick nip across East and I’m on the Bidwell Park (Lower) MUP. Cars are allowed. I get everything from the Beatles ‘White Album’ to Korn’s “Issues”. I check and ride off on the west side of Chico Creek and down the mup. It’s cold, but not raining so the path is FULL of walkers, runners, horses, bikes, stroller moms, their toddlers and dogs. So far, I’ve not had issue with man’s best friend while riding. The path is wide and so there’s room. Ever notice how, on a ten foot wide bike path that is deserted, the only time you meet someone coming the other way is when three groups of you want to inhabit the same piece of ground simultaneously? Here folks have an idea of traffic flow and it goes well. The app tells me I’m going 14mph and 2 miles in and I’m doing 11mph average. Nice.
The slowest group listed on the group ride does 14-18mph. I’m a long way from there.
Korn relinquishes command to Mad Season (yes!) and then to some Temple of the Dog. Grunge is nice overcast riding music. Especially the non-commercial stuff like these guys. Long songs, lots of guitar. Good stuff. I’m in middle ring near the outside of the cassette and just cruising. The actual trail on this side wends along the Chico Creek and is shaded by aspen, oak, birch. Even now, in early January, there are still some leaves. It goes about 3.2 miles to the swimmin’ hole. Actually a huge, cement swimming pool fed from the creek (which is fed from melting snows just up the Ridge) and probably running at around 42f. Might actually be warmer than the air, but I’m not gonna find out. Down around the pool and I intend to go back up the other side when I spot a connector sign to the 99 Bike Trail. Hmm. That’s right. 99 goes over Lower Bidwell. Off I go on that path. After all, I do want to make 20 miles and I have GPS to get me back.
The path takes me on, first, a bridge over Big Chico Creek. Since the park is a dogleg shape, the park is now running east-west and Highway 99, which is elevated for two miles over the entirety of the Lower Park, runs north-south. I decide to head down the trail to the southern terminus, about 3 miles from the Park. Within minutes, I’ve left the Park and have Highway 99 on my right, four lanes of speeding, screaming traffic beyond the chainlink fence. Middle ring and 4th gear on the cassette power me past the beaver pond (yep, actual beavers) on the left and to the shopping centers. At this point, the trail merges with and travels through parking lots, across busy streets and finally along another frontage road to the southern terminus.
I learn all this from a big sign pointing out all the bike trails, distances and other info. I rest here for a moment checking out my next move. As alluded to, I’m none too keen on mixing myself with traffic, if it can be avoided, so I consider my options (all the while, I’m listening while the iTunes app random actually works and I get Kiss, Zep, Tool and Hagar). My plan now is to go along the 99 back toward the north to Eaton, return on it to Bidwell and do the upper Bidwell trail before returning to my parking spot.
Back down 99, beaver pond now on the right, cracked pavement transmitting every single morsel of asphalt up the forks to the bars and into my now numbed hands. Across the street, follow the signs and.. where the hell am I? On a backstreet, covered in litter and glass. Ok, turn around. Back through the tunnel and …oh. There’s the sign. 100 yards away in a tree. Down the path and across 32. I miss again and go up a street till I figure out that, again, I didn’t look. Retrace to entry and there’s the sign. I go down a bike path between two houses and…
Suddenly, I’m back in Lower Park, on the west side of Chico Creek. How the hell did I …whatever. Some day I’ll get to ride that side of 99. Up I go along Chico Creek heading toward Upper Park. What I can’t quite figure out is how I left Lower going on the Highway 99 Bike Trail on one path, but somehow came back on another. The trail, while marked oddly and obviously for those that already know where they are going, is nonetheless marked. Big purple signs. So how did I get mixed up? (Winehouse sings from beyond the grave about someone named Frank.)
There’s several places through the park that bridges cross the creek, allowing for commute or a different length of ride/walk. I come upon the one I used to take when I was 365lbs and walking all of 2.1 miles. Thinking I was just whittling away the weight. Moron. Anyway, it’s closed so I go looking for another way around. Hmm. The sign on the path says “No outlets” so I go that way. It unceremoniously ends in a dirty, glass-filled court 200 yards up. Oh. So that’s what the sign meant. Back to the bridge and I spot the place they’ve moved the path to. It still goes under the freeway (99 is above us). But now, it’s in a space 5′ wide, unlit and flanked by chain link fences. For those desiring a great location to mug passers by – you’ve found it. I let the dad with the five year old go first. If she makes it, I figure I’ll be safe. She leads the way on her Christmas present Wally World bike. We emerge on the other side and you can see Dad is now convinced they are going the wrong way. Back under they go. The homeless lurking in the dark down there rub their hands. The app says 6 miles, 9mph now and 12mph average. iTunes plays some Meat Loaf and Alanis.
Now I’m cruising on a decent path. Up to big ring and around 4th gear. Pushing hard, but it feels good. 95psi is wonderful on the right medium. I sit upright to give my back a breather and even try to ride with no hands. Yeah, try. FAIL. No falls, just no stability, either. Lots of folks passing by. Stroller moms without rings on their left hands. They gaze right into your face. Nothing to lose. Young college girls skillfully yet casually avoid eye contact. Other cyclers in full garb nod as they pass – in both directions. Dog walkers pull in their mutts to keep them from sampling your calf. Little kids look back, see you, then wait till your four feet from them and bolt in front of you. I consider the world overpopulated already so this will be no loss… Dad grabs them as my disc brakes silently but violently slow me. Thanks. That kills my average speed.
App tells me 9 miles have gone by now and I approach the East Blvd barrier between Upper and Lower parks. At this point, both bike paths converge to allow crossing via a tunnel under East Blvd and next to Big Chico Creek. It’s winter and there’s been some huge storms so the tunnel is closed with a sign “Flooded”. I can see that.
The other way across is the crosswalk through the traffic circle. No one coming and I skirt across and keep to the bike trail. There are signs all along the trail on posts with things like horse (and arrow pointing down left) and bike (arrow pointing down right). Same path. I guess poop control? Whitesnake, Chickenfoot and Bon Jovi serenade my ear drums while I make my way through 5Mile Recreation zone. Over the bridge and up the other side. I’m now in 1 mile recreation zone. Whatever that means. From here, I can see all of Upper Bidwell Park. Really, if you’ve never been here, it’s amazing.
My vantage point extends from, on the left, the city of Chico, to, on the right, the canyon walls on the far side of Upper Bidwell park. Directly in front of me is the North Rim. Trails criss-cross the Rim from bottom to top. Nestled in the curve of the Rim is a large pond, an observatory (yep, including an outdoor area with molded cement reclined seating for viewing the stars) and a indoor gun range. To the far right, an 18 hole golf course. And to the extreme right, the canyon walls. Between the golf course and the canyon walls is Big Chico Creek and the Chico Nature reserve. I’m sitting on a road that leads up past all of this and ends in a dirt path that, during warmer months, takes visitors up to the various swimming holes that make the 110f days of summer bearable.
Right now, however, it’s overcast, threatening rain, cold and yet the park is freaking full. Mountain bikers and hikers and runners and walkers all fill the trails leading up and down and along the North Rim sides of the park. Several of the trails are the popular treks and those are literally lined – I mean LINED – with people climbing up. I ride along the main drag, cross over to the bike trail and make my way up to the gun range. That’s as far as vehicles can go November through May and I turn around there. One other thing about slick 95psi tires – not so much good on gravel. App says 12.5 miles and averaging 10.5mph. WTF? I do that climbing! Of course, that’s because the mix is 5.5mph uphill and 24mph down.
I pump HARD down the bike path in big ring, little cog. My screen is dark and the app is silent so I have no idea how fast I’m going. I’m probably making like, 74mph. Or 20. I do this for around a half mile. Then my hips start hurting something fierce. HTFU. I usually get this pain early in the ride but maybe cause there’s been no uphill, it waited. I’m trying to stretch on the bike, rotate or just use it less but the cramping is continuing. Finally I decide to stop for a bit. I get down and the app announces (thanks) that my current speed is 0.0mph. Average is just over 11mph. Woohoo! I can ride the 40 with the adult tricycles. Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and Patty Smith all roll through the playlist. I can feel some of the pain leaving. I hop back on. Down through the rest of Upper Park to East. The app says 14 miles have gone by.
East has a 18″ bikeway painted onto the edge of the roadway. Easier for the texting teens to know where we are, I guess. Keeps us penned. Green Day gives me some ‘Dookie’ while Velvet Revolver issues forth with American Man from ‘Libertad’. East rolls quickly by. Most of my innards have reached a temp where they could be stored for future regeneration, like Walt Disney’s head. My final turn approaches. Motorhead finally makes an appearance with Religion. I push hard to get to the court. Ah! My truck is fine. I pull out the keys and pull off my glove.
Final numbers on the app: 1:19:35 time, 14.59 miles, average of 11.09mph, high speed of 19.48mph and calories of 1102. While my ass could take more – and will have to if I’m to make 40 miles – my body needed more insulation from the cold. I should have wore long sleeves and double pants. Next time.
Next is another 15 miler on the Ridge here. Then on Tuesday or Wednesday back to the flats to try to make a 25 miler. I’d like to, by mid January, be routinely making 25 miles. So the last week of January can be spent at 40 miles. That gives me 8 days in February (and it’s a short month so you have to work fast) to get to 50 or 60 miles so the 40 will be routine.
Right. Or I could watch some Doc Who and play GT5. Decisions, decisions.