Monday, December 30, 2013

12.28.13 Sacramento, Sutter Buttes and Solano...almost

Washboard roads, headwinds, and flat tires.  If that isn't the ultimate trifecta for the perfect weekend bike tour then I don't know what is.  The original plan was to head north to Colusa for Saturday night, continue south to Lake Solano for Sunday night and then return heading east to Sacramento on Monday.  I finished marking out the route on torn pages from a California road atlas on Friday night and packed up everything other than food that needed to be kept refrigerated, saving one front pannier for mounting in the morning before the scheduled 0800 departure.


The American River is glass smooth and the wind is calm, at least for now, as I ride through the Del Paso Rd intersection that I normally take for my ride to work.  After riding for a few miles north by some of the more run down housing complexes in the area the bike trail rolls through more scenic land and becomes E Levee Road, continuing north along Steelhead Creek east of Rio Linda and Elverta.  The road surface on sections of E Levee Rd would technically be classified as paved, but a well maintained gravel road would have offered a smoother ride.

Crossing over the American River.
Safari-like views over Steelhead Creek.
Quick bathroom break / photo op.
Small aircraft hangar with a small runway over the train tracks.
Continuing north on E Levee Rd gives way to the first clear view of the Sutter Buttes, known as the world's smallest mountain range.  The campsite for tonight is past the west side of the range, there are miles to cover. I steer all over the road trying to find the path of least resistance over the rough pavement, only pulling to the side when one of the few vehicles encountered all day is approaching.  Fright trains roll by and the wind picks up its pace, although not in the direction I prefer.  E Levee Rd becomes Natomas road before taking a turn over the Howsley Rd bridge to cross the creek and continue due north.

The Sutter Buttes in the distance.
Patchy paving job for the long straightaway.
Freight train pulling a long line of cars.
The end of E Levee / Natomas Rd.

Chains of power lines lead to even rows of almond trees which then lead to lines of old farm equipment as I continue northbound past the turning point from a previous attempt at making it to Colusa before heavy rain began falling, prompting me to turn around and ride the 30 miles back to Sacramento. It was nice to be in familiar territory after taking a different route to get to this point.

Power lines show the way.
Almond orchards line the roads.
These haven't moved an inch since the last time I rode by.
Stopping in an orchard for to make PB&honey tortillas for lunch.
Crossing the river on main roads leads me to my first real taste of rough gravel roads used primarily by hunters.  Where the gravel wasn't hard and corrugated it was soft and deep, probably a lot more enjoyable on a Moonlander.  Riding to the right edge of the road gave view to a smoother looking dirt road along the ponds, so I seek the relief for my already aching back and wrists.  The ride is much more mellow, but it seems like the road is also used by beekeepers because there are groups of beehive boxes stacked up along the way, so I pick up the pace and try not to get stung and avoid running over the scattered shoting clays and shotgun shells.  The trail leads to Sutter Causeway 113, merging to George Washington Blvd after a short distance on paved surface before returning to washboard gravel.

Washboard roads with the Sutter Buttes in the background.
Much more enjoyable riding down here.
Picking up the pace a little bit on pavement to make up for the slow gravel riding.
More washboard gravel, swerving in soft spots to try and find the least bumpy route.
If skiing moguls is hard on the knees then this stuff is tough on wrists.
The road conditions are getting to me, but it is more so the wind that is changing the mood.  The Buttes are getting bigger and I am only twenty miles out from the campground according to my planning, but the planning didn't account for passing through the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge.  One of the roads that I marked out on Google maps and on the atlas map was blocked off by a large gate with signs saying not to trespass.  I stop at the gate to consult my maps when an older guy wearing a Yuba City cycling club kit rides up after seeing that I looked a little lost.  He has toured all around the west coast and Alaska and knows the local roads very well and advised against going through the gate and riding the levee road.  We talk about different options and decide it would be best to continue on Oswald Road and battle a strong wind from the side and then turn north on Progress Road to take on 30 mph headwinds.  The flat tires begin here.  The front goes soft and I pull to the side of the road to repair it.  One of the disc brake pads falls out while re-installing the wheel and I decide to put it in my pocket and repair back at camp, the rear brake will suffice for now.  Two hunters returning home stop in their pickup truck and ask if I want a lift to Colusa, still a little over 12 miles away and exactly where I am heading, it is already 1500.  My pace has been hovering around 5 mph with the winds pushing hard and I decide to suck it up and tell them thanks, but no thanks.  They drive off, leaving me on the side of the road patching a tube and wishing I took the ride.

I'm all for wildlife refuges...
...but this wasn't a good thing to see.
Strong winds from the north riding on Oswald Road to Progress Road.
Riding along Hwy 20 from Tarke to Colusa.
The sun disappears and I switch on my helmet lights and bicycle mounted lights.  If anybody hits me they must be blind.  The reflectors on my four panniers, rear safety triangle and safety vest make me impossible to miss, or so I hoped.  The highway finally ends in town and a gas station sign catches my eyes.  I ran out of water early on Hwy 20 and was quite thirsty, not to mention hungry.  Two Gatorades and a high-calorie muffin later I continue through town in search of the Colusa Sacramento River State Park.  Finally, I made it. The price for camping was listed at $15, but I talked the lady down to $5 because it was already late and I planned on leaving before the sun was up.  

I stake out the tent, take off my front tire, still leaking air, and make dinner to calm my stomach. This is my first trip with a tent and I was excited to try out the Nemo Morpho 1P that uses air beams instead of tent poles, making it perfect for stuffing in a sack or pannier.  With about 10 pushed on the included foot pump the tent is upright and plenty sturdy.  Off goes the front tire and on goes the brake pad so I don't have to deal with it in the morning.  After 8 hours of riding and 74 miles covered it doesn't take long to fall asleep.

It should be obvious which photo was taken before all of the wind and flat tires began.

Up at 6am for a breakfast consisting of bacon, potatoes, and the gas station muffin.  Camp is broken down around 7 and I'm on the road shortly after.  My route weaves through a residential area before dropping off on Hillgate Rd, becoming Wildwood road as the pavement gives way to more gravel.

Breakfast with Ortleib's special wind blocking system.
Loaded up in perfect timing with the daylight.
Sunrise over farmland.
Navigating gravel county roads by map instead of the turn-by-turn written directions.
Passing by ponds with gunshots from duck hunters in the background.

Gravel transitions to packed dirt, a much smoother ride, as I move away from the areas heavily traveled by hunters in heavy trucks.  Ohm road continues straight and gets rough toward the "road closed" sign, but the map shows a quick detour to the right and brings me back along the power line road, eventually back to gravel along nut orchards.  It's tough to notice a slow leaking tire when riding on soft gravel, but back on harder road it becomes obvious.  I stop at a house still on Ohm Rd to sit in the grass and patch two punctures, cutting one of the larger patches in half to save the remaining couple of patches for future troubles.

Riding south of the Buttes.
Detour time.
Back on track and quite smooth riding in tire tracks.
Plagued by front flats.
Riding on pavement until the next dirt stretch and the front gets awfully cushy again.  I pull over at a gas station after passing under the highway and transfer most all of my cargo to the rear rack to take some pressure off of the front tire before pumping some air back in the tube to see how long it would last.  This seemed like a good idea at the time.

Transferring the load to the rear.
Wild horses. 
Previously flat ground give way to rolling hills through more nut orchards and bird hunting territory.
First the front wheel and now the rear.  Trying not to torque on the stem too much with the frame pump.
Rolling hills through groomed farmland.
Front flat, rear flat, stop and pump. Repeat. Front flat, rear flat, stop and pump. Repeat. Patch. Pump. Broken stem.  Patch. Pump. Broken stem.  Two tubes down and they won't hold any pressure.  The rear tube is holding pressure fine, but the ride is unstable and rough without front air.  Now I'm fucked.  I try to wave down the first truck I see and the driver waves back at me and continues going down the road.  The next truck continues past and then backs up, initially thinking I was just a construction worker before seeing the bicycle on its side.  I ask for a lift and he helps me load the bike in the bed of the truck.  There aren't any bike shops around for a long ways, but he decides that my best bet it to try the local hardware store in Esparto, about 10 miles away from the hitch point.  That would have been a long walk.

One after another...
Bike in the bed.  Cruising at 50 mph is much better than walking and pushing the bike along.
10 minutes later I get dropped off next to Ace Hardware and shake the friendly farmer's hand.  He says, "I hope I don't read about you in the paper tomorrow morning."  The only tube size in stock is 26", but there are some tire repair kits.  I purchase a kit for $2.00 and  try to cut a patch that fits around the stem and glue it in place.  The tube holds some air and I try and install it to pump up to full pressure.  Hissing air escapes from around the stem, I'm out of luck.  The nearest bike shop in in Davis, about 25 miles away by car and bike.  My only other option is public transit.  Luckily there is a Yolobus stop a couple of blocks away in town with only one transfer in Woodland to get to downtown Sacramento.  Not too bad for $2, I'm lucky.

Waiting for the bus transfer in Woodland.
The trip didn't go as planned, obviously, but it was still worthwhile and will help to plan for future rides. Now it's time to upgrade to more puncture resistant tires and integrate the bus for multi-modal touring trips to help cut down some of the miles on rough pavement.

Update: I installed 35mm Schwalbe Marathon Supremes and noticed a wobble in the axle when installing the wheel.  Tried a different type of skewer and same problem.  Brought the bike over to Edible Pedal and just like I thought, the axle was broken.  I wasn't joking about rough roads.

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