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Friday, July 05, 2019

June 6-8: Shasta and Scotts Valley Loop

Thursday morning was significantly colder than the day before, so we took our time getting ready and only left at 9:40am. There was rain in the forecast but we got lucky and saw no sign of rain other than an occasional damp road. Arturo hadn't brought his saddlebag, but I had a brand new Revelate saddlebag that I loaned him, and he would like it so much that I gave it to him, not having any possibility of doing a bike tour on my single bike any time in the near future.
The city of Shasta was at 3800', which meant that going to Shasta Valley was a fast descent that didn't need any brakes. That would be the theme of the entire trip: the area was blessed with swooping, gentle descents that never provided any technical challenge. On a single bike I probably would have been bored, but on a tandem it's great to achieve high speeds without any effort.
Once in the valley floor, the views opened up, with Mt. Shasta the volcano dominating the landscape with its beautiful, snow-covered peak. This was "Big Sky" country, and I had explain to Bowen the concept because of course through all the touring we had done we had never traversed this type of terrain before! Cars came at the rate of one every 30 minutes or so, which explained why Mike tended to ride in the middle of the lane or even on the other side! "You should tour in England, Mike, you're already riding like you're there!"
Past the town of Gazelle, the road turned up towards Callahan and we switched to our low gear. The road was lonely and it was cool, so for a change I could work as hard as I liked. At one point we stopped and a rally/race with fast cars came past us at speed. Fortunately, we were off the road but after that the wind grew as we approached the summit and we put on more clothing again for the descent.

The descent was interrupted by a short climb up to Callahan at 47 miles, where Arturo and Mike had already ordered lunch for us. After lunch it was a mere 15 miles to Etna, where we had pre-booked the last room in the affordable Etna motel. Mike asked for the reason why a motel in the middle of nowhere was booked in the middle of the week and the manager said it'd been like that all summer and was projected to get worse, as one of the motorcycling magazines had named Etna a destination for one of the coming issues!

We did laundry (this being a 3 night tour, this was the only night of laundry we needed to do), and Mike and Arturo flipped a Euro coin to decide who got to sleep on the floor, and Arturo lost. We had dinner at the Denny Bar, a distillery/restaurant that served a very expensive lobster Mac & Cheese that Bowen devoured, guarding it jealously against all attempts to taste it. I had the short ribs which looked tiny but turned out to be quite a hefty portion.

Etna to Yreka in a straight line was only twenty-odd miles, but Mike wanted to show us the Quartz Valley loop, so away we went! It was a day with quite a bit of headwind, and to my surprised that headwind came from the front no matter which direction we faced!
The area was mostly composed of flat farmland interrupted by Mugginsville (notable only because of the name) and an Indian reservation.
Exceptionally for California, the roads were in excellent condition, so much so that at one point when Bowen saw patches on the ground where the road had been repaired he asked to get off and examine it because it looked still wet!
Having satisfied my little scientist's curiosity, we rode on to Fort Jones where Dave's place provided hefty hamburgers that to my surprised, I could eat and still not feel too stuffed to climb! Bowen had been complaining of his aching butt all morning, so I declined the dirt alternative to Yreka. While he and I had ridden much longer days in the Alps, with much more climbing, the little towns in the Alps are spaced together nicely, providing a playground stop every hour or so. No such luck in the isolated parts of California, where most playgrounds appeared to be people's backyards.
The climb reminded me why I told Mike to buy the European version of the Garmin 1030 because touring in America sucks. The climb over Forest Mountain summit (4097) therefore came only after a few rude drivers, unrelenting sun, and of course, a litany of complaints from Bowen: having been spoiled by much prettier mountains in the past, he wasn't happy to endure this road just for the descent.

The descent when it came was a relief. Like all other descents in the area, you could ride it with no brakes though our pannier slowed us like an air dam. We arrived a good half hour before Arturo and Mike, but only because they stopped at a coffee shop to celebrate. Bowen made me stop at a fruit stand for some mediocre fruit, but the motel let me check in using Arturo's reservation. Arturo said he had to walk and I would have had to walk a lot more because the off-road route wasn't very tandem friendly. I was glad I made the decision to short-cut the route.

Dinner was at Jefferson Roadhouse. I had such a huge lunch that I opted for a salad and the fish frenzy instead, and still couldn't finish the meal.
Bowen woke up on our last morning of touring complaining about missing his bunny. "Today you'll get to see your bunny, because we're riding back to Mike's house!" We had the hotel breakfast, while Mike and Arturo went to the Black Bear Diner. The hotel breakfast was surprisingly rich, with eggs, bananas, apples, and even good yogurt! When Arturo and Mike got back we departed north-east in order to get to more isolated roads back to Shasta.
The views were once again sensational, and the isolated roads very pleasant, granting us 2 cars per hour, if that. In the town of Montague, we were offered a chance to extend the route by 15 miles, but Bowen was hurrying to see his bunny and was already saddle sore, so I opted to short cut the route by going straight to Grenada to pick up the rest of the route.
In Grenada we turned under the I-5 again, and once again got vast expansive views of Shasta and the surrounding country side. Traffic was light and it wasn't too hot, but I knew that this ride had most of the climbing back loaded, as the valley was at 2000 feet and Shasta was at 3800'. Fortunately, this part of the ride had very gentle climbing spread over a fairly large distance.
We re-entered the town of Gazelle and suddenly the road look familiar to me. We ate most of the food we brought with us (with the lone exception of the hotel pastry, which Bowen declared to be too sweet!), digging into our store of clif bars. At the intersection with I-5 and Old Stage Road, we took a break. Right after the break, a little dog ran out of a fenced area, jumped over the concertina wires, and began chasing us! Bowen with the dog on his heels put in some power and we gained some real speed to outpace him until we were out of his territory.

From there on, the climb to Shasta began a series of stair step climbs, with the steep parts between 10-11% grade. It was all manageable on the tandem, but by the time I got to downtown I was famished. I made the mistake of buying lunch in town at the Bistro which took 15 minutes to get everything ready. That made my legs stiff and I had to climb the last 4 blocks to Mike's house feeling like someone strapped splints to my legs. But we got back about half an hour ahead of the single bikes and Bowen immediately ran into the house to get his stuffed bunnies, worried that the cats in the house might actually consider them prey. What a great pre-tour checkup ride for our upcoming adventure!

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