Highway 36 has no shoulder, but it does have plenty of logging trucks and enormous RVs seemingly intent on driving my friends and I off the road. The asphalt radiates heat. The pace is relentless. Truck tires spit rocks at us. The uphill is a new kind of struggle. The downhill induces fear of spills on loose gravel. I realize that I can totally zone out while hiking. Road riding demands attention.
We stop every hour to check in with each other. One clear advantage of being on bikes is regularly passing through towns, which also means food and icy drinks. After riding for 20 miles, we stop in Mineral. We sit on the porch of the Mineral Lodge, laugh at how intense biking is, and eat food from our bags plus sodas and marshmallow fluff purchased at the convenience store.
We have 45 more miles until the town of Red Bluff. I want to make it the whole way – 75 miles. My bike messengering muscle-memory begins to kick in and things get somewhat easier. My biggest issue: the bike seat. Between the four of us, we have one good seat, one ok seat, one terrible seat, and one seat that makes your genitals go numb. This is the one I’m current using. I have to constantly fidget. Eventually, I can no longer find any comfortable position.
We continue riding in the dust turned up by cars through the dry and tired landscape. It’s close to 100 degrees. It’s like when we all first started hiking. We’re getting hangry – irritable from hunger. We approach what looks like a vertical climb ahead. My cohort can’t take it and turns off to camp just past a trailhead at the side of the road. I follow them, but it doesn’t feel right to me. I still have at least ten more miles left in me. I leave them and start the climb. Strangely, it’s an optical illusion. The hill is gentler than it appears. I speed up, past cow pastures, an archery club and into the outskirts of Red Bluff. I see signs, side by side, for custom butchering and hydroponics. Northern California is a strange mix of gerrymandering Jeffersonians and weed growers. I text my friends that I’m in Red Bluff.
I continue over a mostly dry river to downtown Red Bluff and into a farmers market. It’s very charming. An organic fruit farmer hands me two pluots and a peach. I get a shave ice. I want to put my entire body in the cone. I find a cheap motel with a swimming pool. I dive in. The rode stress dissolves. The trail re-emerges.
I get a text from Gizmo. They’re on their way.