Ride Recap: Pedaling Paths in the Valley

Now that’s more like it! Alas, no other Spokers joined Roger H and me to schlep 80 miles into the Valley to do this community fundraiser last Saturday. The ride was fantastic: perfect weather (73 degrees!) with sunny skies, a well-supported yet inexpensive ride, and a near-Goldilocks size ride of about 300 participants altogether (but only about 130 on the metric century).

Our ominously dry winter continued but in exchange we’ve been given excellent riding weather. Unlike the last two Valley centuries, the Velo Love Ride and the Almond Blossom, which started in the low 40s, this one opened at 51 degrees, a sign that the day was going to turn out just right. By midday we were basking in glorious sunshine, almost no wind, and short-sleeves and shorts weather. It’s downright amazing that the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Handicapped could put on a century like this for a mere $45. It has all the trappings of a big event: stocked rest stops, sag support, ham radio, mid-ride lunch, post-ride meal, and course photographers! How are these guys making any money? It’s probably due to the immense community support the non-profit organization has: a great volunteer corps, enthusiasm, and lots of donations.

Unlike the Velo Love Ride and the Almond Blossom the Pedaling Paths has rolling terrain with short hills because it goes over to the eastern edge of the Valley. The first part is mostly flat with just a few gentle rolls, but at the midway things get decidedly more interesting with a long series of rollers some pretty short and some just long enough that you can’t sprint up them. The metric is a large counterclockwise loop and like the Almond Blossom it doesn’t go ‘anywhere’, ie. you don’t pass through any towns or suburbs—you’re in rural land the entire time. And that’s a good thing because the ag zone around Linden, the start town, is diverse and pretty. The northern end is mainly large walnut groves and vineyards; as you head south you’re greeted with miles and miles of almond blossoms, which are hitting their peak. There is rangeland and you pass by grazing cattle and sheep and a couple of stockyards. With the gently rolling terrain you have vistas of the area around you unlike the Almond Blossom, which is so flat that you’re submerged in trees for a great portion and unable to see much around you other than the occasional farm building or tower. At this time of year the green is high (despite the lack of rain) and the hills are verdant and colorful.

But back to the beginning. The start is about ten miles east of Stockton in the small town of Linden. Stockton is the ‘big city’ but it doesn’t take long before you’re nowhere near urbanity and it’s all farms. The start was busy for such a small event and registration was old-school: get in line to check in, turn in your waiver, and get your wrist band. Fortunately the line for the two portapotties was short. But that wouldn’t be true the rest of the day! This century is big enough that you see other cyclists almost the entire day but the road doesn’t look carpeted with spandex as it does in the Marin. The deal with these Valley centuries is to go fast on the flat and find a good paceline so you can go even faster. Oh, and latch onto a tandem if you can. But Roger and I weren’t in the mood to go fast (as if we could anyway). At least I thought that was the case until a tandem passed us with a clutch of remoras and Roger started to go faster. We didn’t try to glom onto the tandem but we were going a bit more quickly than I had expected (and wanted). Unlike the Almond Blossom the roads near Linden—still ag roads—are in much better shape, so it’s pleasant to whiz by the orchards rather than go bumpety-bump and dodging potholes and cracks. After swinging through a bunch of orthogonal turns and a lot of different orchards you head south for a long stretch and you get to see cyclists in front and behind you as you roll up and down the short swales. We got passed a few times but we were passing a lot more.

In a trice we were at the first rest stop at a fire station on Highway 4. In the engine bay. I was wondering what they’d do if they got a call with all those cyclists munching in their way. The rest stop food was better than perfunctory: pbj sandwiches, oranges, cookies, coffee!, energy bars. The line for the portapotties was long so we took off. This section south of Highway 4 is also beautiful and without many cars. We stopped for a natural break and promptly got passed by about 30 cyclists. The road eventually turns north into the hills and suddenly those cyclists who passed us were being flung out the back one by one. Roger has a poker face but I can tell that he doesn’t like to get passed and he enjoys catching cyclists. He didn’t go any faster (if it wasn’t clear by now: I was hanging on to his wheel for most of the day) but he just didn’t slow down on the hills. Which meant I was seeing alarminglly high heart rates. There were a couple of cyclists who were trying to catch us but every time we went uphill their imminence dwindled; conversely they slowly would close on us on the flat and downhill sections since we weren’t pushing it there.

Lunch couldn’t have come fast enough. I was just about wasted and very hungry. Lunch is always held at the Milton cemetery. Milton is the name on the map but other than a few farm houses I’m not sure there is a real town there anymore. Lunch was better: bags of potato chips (salt!), and ham & cheese sandwiches along with the other stuff. And chilled Gatorade. We didn’t stay long—just enough to throw down some grub. And the line for the two portapotties was long. Again.

We took off and it was clear I was wasted. I usually feel much better after lunch but today I was lagging. And after lunch the hills got a little steeper (or maybe it just felt that way.) By now everyone was spread out so we weren’t seeing too many other riders. Roger slowed down for my sake and we basically did the section to the third rest stop at a reasonable pace.

At the third rest stop we had some trail mix and I suddenly felt better. Ah, salt and sugar! So the last nine miles were done faster. Boom, we were back at the start. The dining room was pretty full; was it that we started late or was it just folks doing the shorter ride? The kids from the local community college were dishing up the food: salad, bread, pasta in a pesto cream sauce, and grilled chicken. Not bad at all. On the tables were bowls of Lindor chocolates that had been donated. Less than two hours later we were safely back home. Total time from leaving the house to returning was nine hours with about five of that actual riding time.

Who did this ride? It was a much bigger crowd than the Almond Blossom. I saw jerseys from the Stockton Bicycle Club, Sacramento Bike Hikers, Davis, PenVelo, Fremont Freewheelers, and some other clubs I didn’t recognize. It was the ‘usual’ crowd, ie. recreational cyclists in spandex, with a few racers slumming. What was quite noticeable was the large number of women on this ride. The age was also quite varied, ie. except for Millennials every other age cohort seemed to be represented.

The food culture was interesting. There was absolutely no effort made to cater to anyone with ‘special’ diets. If you wanted gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, peanut-free, no HFCS, organic whatever, whole grain this-and-that–well, you were shit out of luck. You better like to eat cheese, meat, peanut butter, sugar, and cream. I actually found it to be refreshing: a call back to a more innocent era. Especially for a small fundraiser like Pedaling Paths, you just can’t expect it to cover all the bases. Living in the Bay Area we’ve come to expect that diet diversity is a given. Not in the Valley!

We will, no doubt, come back to ride it again. But I do hope they have more portapotties the next time.