It was a great feeling to be able to start day 2 feeling ahead of schedule and with a good night’s rest. I had figured that day 2 would be the hardest day of the ride, with 5373 meters of climbing over 312 km of distance. Day 1 only had 1522 meters of climbing over 341 km of distance. Day 3 was mostly descending, but not without its fair share of work at 3018 meters of climbing over about 350 km. At least, this was according to how things were intended to go, which for better or worse, did not turn out that way. This might have been another lucky break for me, but we’ll never know… Anyway, on with day 2.
The thought had occurred to me to leave Oroville as early as possible, and put an extra hour in the bank for the next night. But Bryan didn’t want to do too much climbing in the dark, and Steve and Tom seemed to want to sleep a bit more. I deferred to their judgement, since they had all done PBP and multiple other long rides, but this was my first of anything longer than a 600k. When we finally left Oroville, it must have been around 0430. I was full of beans again, ready to take the Sierras, sprinting out for the city limit signs in the purple, marshy darkness south of Oroville. On our way out of town, Bryan had an issue with his new rear brake he’d just installed prior to the ride, so we all paused for a moment while he fixed it, and I got this picture of an accountant’s office at the edge of town.
I only read the story of Ishi after moving to my adopted hometown of San Francisco, but did not remember that Oroville was the town to which he walked when he was “discovered”. He had walked from Mount Lassen to Oroville, a distance which could have been as much as 100 miles. Seeing this sign reminded me of where my grandma lived in northern Wisconsin, near the Lac du Flambeau reservation.
We continued on after Bryan fixed his brake, and the roads were very peaceful at that hour. Just a few speeders to Oroville… going to work? Couldn’t figure that out. I remembered Eric noting on his Worker’s Ride he had taken a wrong turn around here, so I was very careful to keep an eye on the cue sheet. We got to the info control, and stayed several minutes trying to figure out the answer. Definitely one of the more mysterious info control questions I’ve had to answer, even with the four of us putting our heads together. We eventually just gave up and moved on. Steve’s Garmin kept beeping at us, and we missed a turn in the dark. Turning around, we finally found the road we were supposed to be on. Bryan and I started to speed up as gradually the sky lightened. It was foggy and gray out, and we were moving from marshes to peaceful pastureland. The Pennsylvania riders passed us along with a couple other people. It was nice that we all got to regroup at the controls somewhat. I was always amazed that in spite of being such a long course and with only 27 riders, I often saw other people from our group throughout the ride.
At some point, Bryan wanted to stop and wait for Steve and Tom. I was starting to get an eerie feeling about the fact that we hadn’t seen them for so long. I took it as an opportunity to eat some snacks, since I didn’t eat too much for breakfast at the hotel. We had pulled to the side and were looking backwards when after about 15 minutes, Tom rode around a corner alone. He rode up to us and said that Steve had decided to call it and return to the hotel. My mood sank. Tom said that Steve just didn’t feel up to the climbing we had to do today and couldn’t even keep up with us on the flats. My mood sank further. I knew that Steve’s work schedule had been pretty harsh lately along with other stuff he’d had going on. He and I had started doing weekday evening training rides around the time of the SFR 400k, but he couldn’t keep them up due to work. I was looking forward to his sense of humor to get me through what looked to be a hard day. Ah well. We finally pressed on, starting the climb up Loma Rica, then Marysville Road.
The climbing was not too bad actually. It wasn’t like Joy Road or anything. The grades were pretty gentle overall with a few short spots at 8-9%. And overall, the pavement was smooth and in excellent condition. Rough roads and dirt climbs tend to take their toll on me even more than steep grades at times, but this was all buttery smooth. The route took us off Marysville Road onto a wicked road called Texas Hill that was a little more like the SFR climbs. Then one more hard part on Marysville, and a nice descent down to Bullards Bar Dam. This was totally unexpected for me. I hadn’t known there would be a huge dam on the route!
It was a dam/reservoir on the Yuba River, and I found a fascinating video of it from above, linked here. This video was taken after all the intense rains this season, probably why the spillway is raging! If you can see the road in the video that curves around just at the top of the dam, that’s exactly where we were riding. It was cloudy out when we rode over it, but it was still pretty cool! After the dam, we got on CA-49, named after the (18)49ers, and also nicknamed the Golden Chain highway. More climbing, and a swoopy, delicious descent. The descent made me a little nervous, because I knew I’d be climbing back up all those meters, but I tried to relax and enjoy (it was not that hard). Smooth pavement on the climbs also made for smooth descending, so I hardly had to use my brakes. It reminded me of Andrea S’s description of the Old Santa Cruz Highway descent, which she says brings a tear to her eye. Some descents do that! At the bottom was a little parking lot, and I noticed a brown Westfalia van–Eric! Apparently there was a secret control there. We pulled in and chatted with Eric for a short time, explaining what had happened with Steve.
Eric offered us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I should’ve eaten, but instead we kept going. We got to Downieville and stopped for a late breakfast/early lunch. String cheese, yogurt, fruit, and pretzels. There was only one business open in the town at that time of day (10:00 or so?), and it was a small grocery store with lots of touristy junk food. Tom had wanted a hot pocket, but the clerk said “The freezers broke, and they took away all the frozen food.”
While we were there eating on the porch, Bob B and Sergio G rolled up. Volunteer Scott also was there, and he helped me top off my water. From there the route followed the Yuba river, which was rushing forcefully. It was amazing! I could hardly take my eyes off it. And the sound… unforgettable. One great thing about riding a bike is you can hear things in nature that you can’t hear while driving or riding a motorcycle.
This was a very pretty section of highway, which mitigated the further climbing we had to do. There were also a lot of jerks for drivers out, several jacked up 4x4s hauling ATVs and the occasional coal-roll, and one logging trucker that seemed to have it in for Bryan. I had been pretty worried about traffic behaviors on these stretches of road, but fortunately nothing bad came of it. Along this part we rode with Jeff and Yu a lot, and we got to chat with them. Apparently both Yu and Bryan had done a lot of hiking, so they got to talk about that. I remembered having ridden a short part of the SFR 600k with Jeff and Yu a couple years ago, very nice guys.
As we continued to climb, a light rain set in. The rain became heavier, and I wished I had my rain jacket on. We eventually stopped and put our jackets on; it was getting chilly, too. We rode past Sierra City, and saw where the Pacific Crest Trail crossed the highway. Later we heard that some riders had decided to stop at a cafe in Sierra City and met some hikers there. We continued on. We saw the “ELEVATION 5000FT” sign yet again. Those elevation markers seemed to keep coming back like a bad penny… up to 5000, down to 4000, back up to 6000, down again. We took it all in stride, though. The area was so beautiful and different from what I was used to, it didn’t matter. It was actually why we came. The day still felt young. I was also anticipating the climb up Gold Lake Highway, which had looked much steeper than where we were at that moment.
The rain kept coming down. We were getting very close to the turnoff for Gold Lake Highway. I was hoping we would stop at the turnoff so I could put on another layer. I saw the big store at Bassetts: our turn!
I looked to the left, and saw Eric’s van. Hmmm, again? Something was up. We rode up to the van and Eric explained to us that the weather conditions were too treacherous on Gold Lake Highway, and we’d have to re-route. I remember thinking… are we Larsenneuring yet? Ha. But seriously, I was grateful to Eric for paying such close attention that he was able to catch us all before we navigated into a bad storm, and in any case we might have had to backtrack down after climbing up then-blocked Gold Lake Highway. And, he had warm food for us, which was very welcome. I usually don’t like the idea of sag wagons following riders around, but in this case, it was nice to see Eric at various points along the way, and it was also quite magical to see volunteers along the course at unexpected places. I was cold at that point and wanted to get out of the rain and wind, so I went over to the shelter/bathroom structure off to the side. I wasn’t sure if Tom and Bryan wanted to stay and have something to eat; I think someone was having cup o’noodles Eric had made, and I probably should have eaten something too. I wanted to keep going, just to stay warm. I was bummed about not going to Graeagle, since I had been there before with a friend whose grandfather lived there. But it was ok with me; it was all part of the adventure.
So instead of Gold Lake, we would continue on 49, climbing Yuba pass (which had the same elevation as Gold Lake: 6701 ft.), and then rejoin the original route. This would include descending down to Sierraville before climbing again (and descending again!) to Truckee. There we could have a big meal before climbing Brockway, another big pass of the ride, at 7179 ft. Then we’d descend to Lake Tahoe, ride the length of the lake, and hit the sack in South Lake Tahoe. Eric explained we would have to add some mileage onto the third day to make up for the mileage lost from not riding Gold Lakes Highway. That was not great news, but I figured we would cross that pass when we came to it.
As we left Eric and continued up to Yuba pass, the weather continued blustering. Bryan crept ahead on the climb and Tom got ahead of me too. We all regrouped at the top, where it was hailing! When Bryan had arrived, it was brightly sunny. Mountain weather! One of the many nice things about riding with Tom and Bryan was that they always waited for me at the summits. I kept pushing as best I could, but I never felt pressured. We all got to climb at our own pace, yet we stayed together. Riding with them was another lucky break for me of sorts. We started the descent and paused at a small vista point. We had emerged from thick forest to an overlook of a vast and gorgeous meadow.
It reminded me of passages from John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra. Another vista, of ones that seemed to be constantly unfolding, that was so beautiful it almost brought a tear to my eye. It seemed entirely possible that this valley looked the same to us that day as it did to John Muir 100 years ago. We continued down into the sunny meadow, where muscular, shiny brown horses grazed peacefully. Old farmhouses stood firm there, against the tests of time and weather. I didn’t take any pictures; I was too tired and hungry, so you’ll have to go there yourself… We looped around this heavenly valley to reach Sierraville. Kingdom of Heaven indeed! There happened to be a cafe there, and I was starving, so we agreed to make a quick stop.
It turned out the Dixons were there, eating sandwiches. We chatted with them a little, but I was feeling kind of overwhelmed by the experience, so I just ate my apple so we could be on our way. I think I also had one of my Ensures and started to feel better. The cafe was filled with lots of kooky paintings of farm life that I liked a lot.
I wished we could have stayed for lunch, but we needed to keep moving. We were aiming for a full dinner in Truckee. Before we got there, though, we had some work to do. From Sierraville, we climbed through the warm sunlight of the bright afternoon. We returned to the forest and rocky terrain.
We got into Truckee just before the dinner hour, and it was jarring to be around so much local traffic. We made it to the restaurant Eric had been to on his Worker’s Ride and parked our bikes outside. Tom and Bryan shared a pitcher of beer and I had another glorious root beer float. They shared a large pizza, and I got spaghetti and meatballs! This has been my favorite meal since I was a child. The spaghetti did not disappoint, though the meatballs were not quite as good as my own, ha.
The pizza was unfortunately not totally cooked… but we were just all glad to sit down and relax. Tom face-timed with Grant and Alayne, Bryan texted to Emily, and I sent some messages to Volunteer Sweetheart John. As we were finishing our meal, Eric showed up! Yay! It was great to see him. He took pictures of us. Some other riders came in too: Bob B, Sergio, Tom V, and some of the Pennsylvania crew. They were all very happy to be there, and we were happy to give them our table so they could sit down and rest.
We continued on again, climbing up to Brockway summit. The long break had been good for me, and I felt strong enough to tackle the last major climb of the day. Bryan got ahead of us again, and Tom got ahead of me again too, though I could usually see him from where I was. We made it to the summit, regrouped, and started the long descent toward the north end of the lake.
The lake was amazing, ringed at the far shores by snow capped mountains. It was mostly covered by cloudy skies, but there were small spots where powerful rays of sunshine broke through the clouds to shine on the lake. It was something unusual to behold. I pondered the interplay of water and land throughout the day so far, from the soft marshes of Oroville at sea level or slightly above, to the rushing Yuba River, the man-made dam, the rain and hail, the snow still piled up by the roadsides in spite of all the bright sunlight, the water running over the meadow we saw, and now this gigantic lake.
The next element to be in awe of would be wind, as we fought against strong headwinds all along the eastern shore of the lake to get to the final control of the day. I had noticed the surface of the lake was choppy, so I knew what was in store. But I also knew we were closing in on a decent finish time for day 2, and kept going. Some of the areas were heavily trafficky, but I kept pressing on, riding mainly single file with Tom. I’ve invested a lot in my reflecto profile over the years, and Tom has good reflecto as well, and I felt pretty confident that drivers would see us–if they were paying attention to the road. There are some things in life we can’t control. But every driver behind us changed lanes to pass around the lake, and it was fine. I made it to the hotel by 10:20, still several hours ahead of my projections. I got to see John at the control, eat plenty of food, take a nice hot shower, and fall into bed. It had been a long day with a lot of ups and downs. Even if I had to abandon the next day, I made it through the hardest day, and that was all that mattered to me. But was it the hardest day? We would see…