Day 18: Chico, CA to near Colusa, CA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 13, 2014

Day 18: Chico, CA to near Colusa, CA

After many days of waking early, packing up everything we own, walking out of the woods, and then riding down the highway, today we break the pattern. We sleep in, eat breakfast on a table instead of in our laps while sitting cross-legged on a sleeping bag, wash and dry all of our clothes, and catch up on the minor details of everyday life that just seem to take care of themselves when you're at home but stack up like a pile of unpaid bills when you're on the road.

We don't wheel the bikes out of the garage until the middle of the afternoon. Then we make it all of three miles across town, through the campus of the university, and back to downtown before we make a stop for burritos. By the time we're fueled and ready to roll for real it's 4 p.m. and the temperature pushes north of ninety-five degrees.

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Almost as soon as we make our last turn out of Chico we find ourselves riding along a series of orchards where the almond trees stand in precise rows for miles on end. Sprinkled among them we see century-old walnut trees with fat trunks and broad branches, and every so often we hear the smack of an acorn that has fallen to the pavement from the branches that hang over the roadway.

If we stop in the sun we begin to dump sweat in waves, but as long as we pedal at an easy pace or stop in the shade, a gentle breeze keeps us from roasting. And by leaving when we did, within an hour the hottest part of the day passes and we know that we have ahead of us an evening of quiet, cooler riding on flat and empty back roads.

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When farm land occasionally gives way to marshes that sit within the bounds of a state wildlife preserve, dragonflies hover over the water by the hundreds and we hear a chorus of at least half a dozen types of birds that echoes unseen from the bushes and the trees and the tall grass. Spiderwebs are revealed by the backlight of the setting sun, cicadas whine in the distance, and the sloughs run thick with lily pads. It gives us a hint of what this part of California might look like if it wasn't dominated by agriculture.

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But most of the time we ride among walnut orchards and fields that come alive with color and sometimes spray us with streams of sprinkler water. The water bumps up the humidity and our arms become slick with sweat and our handlebar taps feels slippery to the touch, although the moment we pass into fallow fields the moisture disappears. Above, the few clouds in the sky reflect pale shades of orange and pink and yellow.

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By 8 p.m. it's dark, so we ride all lit up. There's almost no traffic, but whenever a pair of lights appear in our mirrors we pull off the road and walk the bikes as far over into the shoulder as we can. The rest of the time we travel side by side, our headlights casting two bright halos forty feet in front of us. Kristen says that riding at night out here feels like sneaking out of home as a kid, that there's something about tonight that feels like you shouldn't be out here but you are, and now that you are you can do whatever you want.

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We push south for a couple more hours. Along the way we watch two-inch-long frogs jump across the road just in front of our wheels. We almost run over a snake. We startle deer grazing or drinking from ponds beyond the road and watch owls swoop down from tree branches and fly off into the black. When we stop and turn off our lights we can look up and see thousands of stars and even the faint glowing arc of the Milky Way. There are only two things we can't stand: the bugs that swarm and bite whenever we pass near water, and the dogs that bark like mad and chase behind us heard but not seen in the dark because we're out in the country and the people here don't care if their dogs get run over by passing cars or smacked in the face with a tire pump by bicycle tourists.

Seven miles short of Colusa we pull off the road, push the bikes up and over a levee, and set up at the edge of a state recreation area. In the distance, and sometimes not that far away at all, we hear the muffled pop and boom of gunshots, because this is rural America and this is also Saturday night. There are war zones that don't sound so explosive and raucous at this hour, and there's something both unnerving and sad about that. We also take in the sounds of the howling coyotes, the revving motorcycle engines, and the chirping crickets that surround us. All of which is to say, we head to sleep but it's an uneasy sleep.

Today's ride: 47 miles (76 km)
Total: 850 miles (1,368 km)

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