The way I designed this ride was for us to revisit two familiar zones in California – the northwestern coastal areas, and the Northern Sierras. I had carefully watched the weather forecasts, and planned to be in the Sierras on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday we’d return to Redding, then head toward Fort Bragg and the coast on Thursday.
We left Redding Monday morning on Highway 44 to climb east into the Sierras. To keep it interesting I like to take a few roads most riders don’t think to include in their routes. Such was the case on Monday morning. After a short spell on the evenly-paved Highway 44, I turned us south on Dersch Road. While planning the route I had come across a twisty-looking road that was calling out to me. I was hoping, with a name like Wildcat Road, it might be…exciting.
It was an interesting excursion. The area is geographically formed with a lot of one-man-sized rocks strewn about, probably from the Lassen volcanic activity. The ranchers in the area have collected these strewn rocks and placed them in neat rows along their property lines. The walls are about three feet high, and three feet across. They look like they’re very well constructed, and they run for very long stretches; it must have taken a lot of manual labor to collect all those rocks, and build those walls. The walls looked like the rocks were placed – not piled. All of the ranches we rode past had the same walls. That’s the sort of thing I like to discover when I ride. When you take a turn off the beaten path onto a “Wildcat Road”, you get to make discoveries that everyone on the main roads rolls past without ever knowing about.
Wildcat Road connected us with the Highway 36, which we rode to a short break at the small town of Mineral near Fredonyer Pass. I wanted to have breakfast there, but there was only one restaurant, and it was still closed for the season. There was a small store open, and a cranky old guy ran it. When I walked in the door to see if there was coffee, he just pointed over in the general direction of a small coffee pot. The coffee was bad, and there was nothing else open in the town. It was deserted.
Having gone through the rerouting on Sunday, I had taken a closer look at our route for Monday with an eye to elevations and updated information on the Cal-Trans web site. I knew there would be snow on Fredonyer Pass, so I took a look at the elevations of the roads around the pass, and found them to be lower, and perhaps better for riding. Highway 172 spurs off Highway 36 just before 36 climbs over the summit of the pass, and is a lower-elevation road that goes around the pass, rather than over it. In Mineral we turned onto Highway 173, and then rejoined Highway 36 on the other side of the pass. We joined up with Highway 89 and, when we got to Chester, stopped for breakfast at the Kopper Kettle.
My plan was to ride on Highway 89 to the Bucks Lake turnoff, follow Bucks Lake Road to Oroville, and then to climb back into the Sierras on the La Porte-Quincy Road. I had tried on the previous evening to find information about the road conditions but, since they are not State highways, there was no information on the Cal-Trans website, at least none I could find.
We took Highway 89 to Quincy, and took our proscribed turn to follow Bucks Lake Road to Oroville but, after getting past the lake and the resort area, we started seeing snow along the sides of the road. A few miles farther and we came to a “Road Closed” barricade, and a snow-covered road beyond the barricade. I had checked the elevation of the road, and it was lower than many of the roads we had ridden, but the road clearly isn’t sufficiently important for the highway department to clear in April. We were once again foiled by snow, and returned to Quincy.
I decided we would take the La Porte-Quincy Road west to Oroville, and then take Highway 49 east to Downieville to our lodging for the night. We cruised through Quincy and, at the La Porte Road turn-off, there was a manned CHP cruiser on the shoulder. I didn’t notice him, but I found out later that he was trying to wave us down to tell us that the La Porte Road was still snow-closed as well. This time however there was a sign about a block farther along that gave us fair warning. We turned around and returned to Quincy. We all gathered in a Subway restaurant where I hauled out my computer and started seeking alternatives. I finally settled on taking Highway 89 South to Highway 49, and then we could follow that over the pass and descend into Downieville for the night.
We stopped at a gas station in Quincy before we left town because I wasn’t sure of the status of the gas station in Downieville, and I didn’t want anyone to run out of gas the next morning before we could get to a station. While we were filling up, the CHP officer who had been sitting at the turnoff earlier pulled alongside, rolled down his window and greeted me. He told me he had been waving at me to let me know La Porte Road was closed. I explained to him that I never make eye-contact with law enforcement. He was friendly, and we chatted about our two failed attempts to get to Oroville. He asked where we were headed, and I said we would be heading back down toward Sacramento. I didn’t want to tell him exactly where we were going. He told me that we could probably get there on Highway 49 through Downieville. I agreed that this was the way I planned to go, and then asked, ”You’re not heading that way, are ya?” He chuckled at that and said “No.”
Highway 49 west to Downieville turned out to be a good choice. It was the last section of highway we rode, and was excellent as it descends from Yuba pass into Downieville.
Highway 49 crosses the Yuba River in Downieville on the only single-lane bridge in the State Highway System. Downieville is an old mining town from the gold rush days on the Yuba River that’s managed to survive. It’s now a small touristy town with a few hotels and restaurants. Most were still closed for the season, but we were able to get rooms at the Riverside Inn. Only one restaurant was open in town, and it really doesn’t deserve mention. The owners of the Riverside Inn are very nice people, and they do an excellent job of making people feel welcome. We checked in there for two nights.