Chico Velo is well known for putting on the Chico Wildflower Century every April. It’s a huge event they’ve made successful despite being a “backwater”. A large number of SF Bay people, including quite a few Spokers, annually head northward to take part. What isn’t as well known is that Chico Velo has for many years sponsored a much smaller century every February called the Velo Love Ride and it takes place on the weekend on or just before Valentine’s Day. It was formerly known as the Rice Valley Tandem Rally because it runs through a major rice growing region of the Central Valley and is a favorite for tandems being virtually dead flat. I think the new name is a lot catchier, and face it: you have to really love bicycling to get out in February to do a big ride especially in years like 2017 when rain has been ever-present.
We did the Rice Valley Tandem Ride in 2011 and had a great time. The event was super low-key and the vibe was like back in the day when cycling was fringe and cyclists were members of a secret club with its own password and handshake. The ride took place south of Chico in Gridley and went around the Sutter Buttes, an anomalous set of volcanic lava domes in the middle of the Sacramento Valley. The route is the same today. The ride passes by the Gray Lodge Wildlife Viewing Area, lots of rice paddies full of fish and ducks, beautiful orchards, and of course the Buttes. So in addition to sporting cool scenery (both literally and figuratively), the route makes you feel like you have the whole world to yourself because it’s wide open yet so isolated. The event is practically like a family reunion—maybe a couple hundred altogether?—everybody seems to know each other, and the after-ride meal felt like a big family dinner. And it was delicious too!
We finally were able to head back this year. Despite this winter’s Biblical drenching with which we’ve been punished, the weekend of the Velo Love Ride was auspiciously dry. In 2011 we went up a day early and spent the night in the Motel 6 in Yuba City so we could get an early start. This year we decided instead to wake up super early and drive up in time for an 8 a.m. start. The Butte County Fairgrounds start is about a two-hour drive from our home. We got up there right on time and expected to see a bigger event having blossomed in our absence. Instead we see just two dozen cars parked at the start! Same as it ever was. Check in was no mosh pit: just a few people hanging out. Well, that just set the tone of the day. However even though it wasn’t raining, we found out that a short low-lying section of the route was flooded. But we could try to get through it if we wanted as it might be bikeable. They didn’t seem to know for sure, and actually no one seemed too bothered! We were just going to have a cool day on the bike. Whatever. We were already up there, so we were going to ride, period.
The metric route heads west out of Gridley and then drops south along orthogonal farm roads all the way to the tiny town of Sutter. As in 2011 the scenery was pristine and dripping with character and a world away from the typical Bay Area schmutz. I’m not sure how many people were doing the ride but until the “lunch” stop we saw only five other riders! We were on the tandem after a long abstinence and despite the gentle weather we were struggling at times to get back in the groove. But it was a day meant for a mellower pace rather than hammering.
In Sutter there were about a dozen folks at the lunch stop. The one snafu was that the bathrooms were locked and Chico Velo couldn’t rouse the fellow responsible for opening them. We also found out the flooded section, which was after lunch, wasn’t some shallow puddle across the road but was um, more lake-like. Not wanting to get soggy in the cool weather and not relishing the idea of having to repack the bottom brackets and pedals after the ride, we decided to turn around and head back the same way. Since the lunch was at the 30-mile point, the distance either way was about the same. After a satisfying handmade sandwich, plenty of snacks, and Cokes we rolled back to Gridley. It must have been the Cokes because we finally were hammering! Even though it was later in the day the car traffic was ridiculously low by Bay Area standards making for a pleasant, unharried roll. At the finish Chico Velo arranged to have a local Mexican restaurant, El Tamborazo, provide the post-ride meal. Hot Mexican food after a long ride: perfect! After heaping plates of delicious food and a hot cup of coffee, we were ready to zoom back to the Bay Area. We were home before 3:30 p.m. making for a nice, short day.
For atmosphere, righteous roads, and beautiful scenery, Spokers should definitely check it out next year.
Afternote: Little did we know that just hours after we split Gridley the emergency evacuation order due to the Oroville Dam would be announced. We were lucky not to have to endure an onerous traffic jam to get out of town! If we had done the full century, it might have been a different outcome.