Paradise - Winterlude 2020 - CycleBlaze

November 20, 2020

Paradise

Yesterday we rode west across the walnut flats to the Sacramento River.  Probably 80% of the paved miles around Chico are through country like this, but today we decided to check out the country to the east.  It’s all rugged, hilly country in that direction, with the land deeply scarred by canyons and ravines.  There are very few roads out this way, and today we take the most obvious ones - a loop to Paradise, a town that sits about 1,500’ above Chico.  There’s a natural-looking cycling triangle that bikes up one ridge to Paradise and back down the summit of another next ridge over.  

The ride begins by heading south from town.  After a few miles through the neighborhoods we’re on the Chico-Durham bike path, a lane that parallels the Midway.  It’s a beautiful ride right now, with both sides of the road lined with Chinese pistache and the walnut orchards to the east a brilliant yellow.  This is another road I’m sure we’ll turn to soon.

On the Chico-Durham bike path.
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Some bike art along the Midway.
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Six miles into the ride, we leave the Midway and bike southeast along the Oroville-Chico Highway.  We’ve lost our bike lane and shoulder, but today at least it’s a quiet ride through the orchards, gradually descending to Butte Creek.

Two miles later we cross Butte Creek and busy Highway 99 and turn off for Neal Road.  Suddenly we leave the orchards and houses behind and start climbing.  We don’t care for the ride much at first actually, as large trucks pass us regularly going both directions.  There’s a large shoulder and it’s safe enough, but not really pleasant.  All this nonsense ends a mile later though when we pass a huge recycling and waste facility.  The trucks are all refuse haulers, dropping off their loads and heading back for the next one.

Along the Oroville-Chico Highway, we take a pass on the persimmons. One, we don’t want to carry the extra weight uphill; two, at 50¢ A pop, they sound too dear; and three, I don’t really like persimmons anyway.
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Passing the Neal Road refuse and recycling center, we leave all the heavy traffic behind. It’s a quiet ride the rest of the way to Paradise.
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The rest of the ride to Paradise is fine - a gradual climb the whole way, at a steady 4% grade for a bout eight miles.  There’s a bit of a headwind at first but it gradually shifts in our favor.  We have a wide shoulder most of the way, but lose it a mile or so from town.  The road follows a fin-like ridge with rugged arroyos dropping off either side.  This is an intensely eroded landscape, with a half dozen ridges and canyons fanning out southwest from Paradise.

Looking east from Neal Road.
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Now that I know what to look for, you really can’t mistake a Coulter pine for any other species - a least if it’s a cone-bearing tree. You can see it’s huge cones from far off.
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Looking the other direction from Neal Road.
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And, looking up. A steady, comfortable eight mile climb.
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To the west again. I assume that range is off on the western edge of the Central Valley.
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Nearing the summit - or rather, nearing our turnaround point at Paradise. The roads just keep climbing if you continue east
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I’ve heard of Paradise before, but I’d forgotten and didn’t really connect the city I’d heard of with this place just uphill from Chico.  I’m sure you’ve heard of it too.  Paradise is the town that was almost completely destroyed two years ago in the horrendous Camp Fire, the wort forest fire in a California’s recorded history.  I remember reading in horror of this disaster that November, when we were blissfully biking our way along the coast of southern France.  87 fatalities, and 90% of the town’s structures were damaged or destroyed, many of them burned completely to the ground.  30, 000 people lost their homes in Paradise and the surrounding communities in the Camp Fire.

You might also recall Paradise as the disaster sight that our president of the moment deigned to visit, and suggested that problems like this could be eliminated by better forest management practices.  Just grab a broom and sweep the forest floors, like the Swedes do.  Problem solved!

Before the fire, Paradise had a population of 27,000.  It was reduced to roughly 4,000 after the fire, with most remaining people living in temporary shelters.  Today though there are signs everywhere that the town is coming back.  There are many new homes, many others under construction, and still a lot of deadwood cleanup occurring.

It’s of course an interesting if sobering thing to see all this activity, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to take photos of.  You can use your own imagination.

Entering Paradise, on the Paradise Memorial Trailway.
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Another Coulter pine. Amazing that the cones didn’t drop in the fire.
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In Paradise.
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In Paradise.
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We dropped back to the valley on Clark Road, following another of the ridges that radiates southwest from Paradise.  On paper this looks like it would be a fine ride, but we didn’t really enjoy it as much as we’d expected.  A bit too much traffic, a bit too little shoulder.  I think we won’t repeat this exact ride, though we might return to Paradise as an out and back on Neal Road.

Back on the flats we face another fifteen mile upwind slog back to the apartment.  We’re beginning to suspect that upwind slogs are a standard afternoon feature here.  Once we get back to the Midway though, we’re in the trees again and enjoy a bit of a windbreak as we bike north through the glorious Chinese pistache tunnel.

For the last few miles we follow a different route through southern Chico.  RideWithGPS mapped out two options for us, so I thought we might as well check them both out. Now that we have, we recommend the western option in the map below - unless you like biking past all the shopping malls, crossing freeway accesses, frequent waits at long stoplights, and sharing the road with a steady stream of traffic.

Dropping from Paradise on Clark Road. Doesn’t that just sound like it would be a nice, quiet ride though?
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Looking southwest from high on Clark Road. I’m not sure, but my guess is that that large body of water is the flooded wetlands around Llano Seco.
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Ten miles into a 20mph headwind, with hardly a windbreaker in sight. Our favorite!
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With great relief we see the walnut groves just ahead and can hope for the wind to ease off. And it does, just a bit.
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Video sound track: Sonoita (dream), by Nando Lauria

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Ride stats today: 44 miles, 2,200’; for the tour: 103 miles, 2,800’

Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 103 miles (166 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 2
James FitchHoney Run Road, between Chico and Paradise used to be a great cycling road, used by the Wildflower Century. I haven't been on it since the fire though, and I think it was hit hard, so I can't speak for its current condition.
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1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo James FitchOh, you’ve been here before! Yes, I’ve read about Honey Run. It’s a candidate for an upcoming ride, and this moves it up a notch.
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1 week ago