On the last Sunday in April, I participated in one of my favorite bike-related events: The Chico Wildflower Century. The Wildflower is an organized century ride put on by Chico Velo, and the proceeds benefit bicycle advocacy in Chico, CA.
On the Friday before the ride, I made the 3-hour drive to Chico. The weather was cold, rainy, and blustery. I had monitored the weather in the days before I left and kept hoping that the rainy conditions predicted for the day of the ride would change for the better. As I drove to the Northern Sacramento Valley, I knew that it wasn’t likely to change.
I spent Friday night and Saturday morning catching up with friends and family. I was happy to have a bit of time to hang out with my Chico peeps! The thing I miss the most about living in Chico are all of my wonderful friends and family who live there.
On Saturday afternoon I headed over to the Fairgrounds to check-in for next morning’s ride. The fairgrounds were hopping with live music, a food-truck gathering, and a small expo. I walked around the expo a bit and listened to the music for a few minutes, but because I had plans for that evening, I didn’t have very much time to enjoy the pre-ride festivities. Instead, I made my way back to the registration area.
Since I had pre-registered, the check-in process was a breeze. There were a lot of people waiting to check in, but because there were several check-in lines, I waited just a few minutes before I was checked-in and picking up my schwag bag. Now, I’ve done quite a few running and cycling events, and I have to say, the Wildflower Century has one of the BEST schwag bags of all of the events I’ve done! This year’s bag included a Klean Kanteen stainless pint, a Specialized water bottle, and a rider quick-reference sheet all inside a re-usable Chico Bag. This year, one of Chico Velo’s goals is for the Wildflower Century to be a zero-waste event. To help accomplish this, they didn’t include any extra paper flyers/ads in the schwag bag. This was very much appreciated by this cyclist!
On Sunday, I woke up at 5:15 a.m. After getting dressed and choking down a banana and a bit of peanut butter, I did one last check of my bike and headed off to the fairgrounds where the ride started. I arrived around 6:45 a.m. and headed into the building where check-in was happening in order to grab a cup of coffee and one of the legendary apricot bars that are provided every year. On the way into the check-in area, I noticed that an awesome water re-fill station had been provided for riders to fill their water bottles. Nice addition to help the event reach their zero-waste goal!
After finishing up my quick breakfast, I headed out to the front of the fairgrounds to begin. The ride has rolling start times, depending on which route you are riding. For the Flatflower 60, start times were from 6:30-7:30 a.m., and I set-off just before 7:00 a.m. Just then, I glanced over at a fellow cyclist, saw a hot pink strip of paper around their wrist, and quickly realized that I had forgotten to put on my wristband! The wristband is important because it gets you into the rest stops and the lunch stop! I had to make a quick detour and backtrack to my truck to grab it. Thankfully I wasn’t too far down the street and lost only about 5 minutes. Whew!
With wristband securely on, I started down the first leg of the route, winding first down a bike path, and then on country roads through the orchards south of Chico. With the weather getting colder, windier, and a bit grayer I made it to the first rest stop in Durham, about 10 miles into the ride. After a quick bathroom stop and savoring a delicious raspberry bar, I hopped back on my bike and continued on.
The route continued on quiet country roads through orchards of walnuts and almonds. At about mile 13, the wind picked up. A mile later, the route turned onto Agua Frias Road. The name, literally translated as Cold Waters Road, was a fitting name for the day’s conditions. After turning onto Agua Frias Rd., I was hit with a headwind. As the wind pushed against me, my speed dropped from a nice steady clip of about 15 mph to between 9 and 10 mph. The wind was relentless and soon I started to feel a couple of drops fall on me. As I looked to my left, I could see the rain coming down in the distance. My heart sank a bit as I realized the rain was moving in my direction. I couldn’t tell how quickly it was moving though, and I only hoped that it wouldn’t start pouring before I was done riding. As I pedaled down the road , I remembered that the route turned off near the end of the road, and I kept hoping it would come soon. By mile 24, I could finally see other cyclists turning left off of Agua Frias, and I hoped that this turn would make the wind a bit more bearable. By the time I made the turn, the few drops I had felt before soon became a light drizzle. While I had on a light windbreaker jacket, I wasn’t wearing anything that was rain appropriate. It was cold, in the low 50’s, and the rain and wind were making it feel colder. Even though I was wearing gloves, my hands were stiff from the cold. I knew the lunch stop wasn’t that far away, and I was bolstered by the thought of warming up inside a heated (hopefully!) building while eating a delicious lunch.
Cruising along the route, I tried to keep my thoughts positive, but the wind was relentless and the temperature seemed to keep dropping. Ugh! Luckily, just as I felt like giving up, I rode into tiny Richvale, CA and knew that the lunch stop was less than a mile away. I could already taste the turkey sandwich that I would be eating shortly!
Turning out of Richvale, I spotted the sign for Lundberg Family Farms and quickly made my way to the back of the property for lunch. I hopped off my bike and hurried inside. I was immediately grateful for the heated building and to be out of the wind! I made my way to the lunch table and greedily grabbed a turkey/ham sandwich (which I inhaled, eating it in four giant bites), rice chips, a banana, a chocolate chip cookie, and a handful of peanut butter filled pretzels. The lunch spread was plentiful and my body thanked me for ingesting all of those calories after a tough 30 miles. As I ate lunch, I kept an eye on the sky, hoping that the wind would die down a bit (no luck) and that the rain wouldn’t start pouring (it didn’t). The thought of going back out into the cold was really not very appealing, so I ended up lingering at the lunch stop a lot longer than I had originally planned. After about 30 minutes, I finally made myself go back outside (but not before grabbing a couple of payday candy bars for the road and a bottle of my favorite, locally-produced beverage, R.W. Knudsen’s Hibiscus Cooler).
Leaving Lundberg Farms, I made my way down the Midway and back to Durham. By the time I rolled back into the Durham rest stop, I realized that all the peddling into the wind had exhausted my legs. After taking a minute to refill my water bottle, I pondered whether I really wanted to finish the last leg of the 60-mile route. When I registered for the ride, I had mapped out a possible bail-out route that began in Durham, in case I wasn’t able to finish the last 20 miles of the ride. As much as I wanted to finish the entire route, I knew that the wind, rain, and cold temperatures were making the ride more miserable than enjoyable at this point, so I gave myself permission to cut my ride short. I was a little disappointed, but honestly, I knew it was the right move. Being out on the road for another hour and a half, likely riding into the wind and rain, and then having to make the 3-hour drive home, wasn’t something I wanted to do. Instead, I rode the last 10-miles back to the fairgrounds feeling really good about riding as many miles as I had, and looking forward to riding it again next year, hopefully in better conditions. As I pulled back into the fairgrounds, my parents were waiting for me at the entrance and it was nice to finish with them cheering me on.
All in all, I rode a total of 45.5 miles, 16 of which were into a headwind. The ride was challenging because of the weather conditions, and while parts of it were a bit miserable, I was really glad I did it. I like challenging myself, and doing the ride just a little over a month after I had surgery is something I feel really proud of. I know that I could have used the surgery as an excuse to not do the ride, and I’m glad I didn’t! Even though I didn’t finish the entire route, I did more than I thought I would be able to do!
Yesterday, I received an email from Chico Velo as a follow-up to the Wildflower Century. They reported that a large number of riders did the same thing I did; they shortened their ride due to the weather conditions. Apparently, this year was the coldest and wettest it’s been in 10 years. I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me!