I usually ride with friends. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve ridden solo. Saturday I’d arranged to meet up with a group of girls for an easy spin on the river trail. 15ish miles, just enough to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. Then one by one, most of my friends cancelled. So Saturday afternoon, when I found myself standing alone kicking rocks at our meeting place, I decided to ride in my own good company.
Sure I could’ve called it quits and stuffed The Rocket back into the car, but I was already clad in Spandex and you know I love Spandex. Plus I’d been battling a sinus infection all week and I was just sick of being sick. I, quite literally, needed to clear my head. And I knew just the road to clear it. I had a conversation with myself that went something like this: Today I will climb. Today I will climb the North side of Shasta Dam. I’ve ridden to the Dam countless times, but always from the South side. The North side is bigger, badder and has been beckoning me for months.
I set out along the river, her waters rising up to meet me, rippling right up to the edge of the trail. The Sacramento is the river of my childhood and as I pedaled her curves, I remembered riding my pink Schwinn on this very trail. Remember riding bikes as a kid? I don’t know about you, but my hindquarters rarely made use of my flowered banana seat because being a kid was about speeding over hills, crowing into the sky and slamming on the brakes to make the most impressive skid mark.
I rode along the river climbing beyond the section of trail populated by strollers, scooters and the occasional Segway. I was in the mountains now, alone save for a handful of cyclists enjoying a nice downhill from the opposite direction. I thought about turning around and coasting down behind them, but Shasta Dam called to me. I reached a clearing and there she stood.
Do you see that road to the left of the Dam? The one that snakes around the mountain? That was my road. At the base of the mountain, I shared the road with some ATV’s and some dirt bikes, all of whom were operated by extremely polite drivers. No, really. Each and every off-roader, gave me a wide berth on the road. About half way up the mountain, the dirt bikes and ATV’s raced onto the dirt trails, leaving me alone with the road. With every turn, it looked like the Dam was just around the corner. She’s tricky like that, playing hide and seek in the trees, coaxing me further and further up the mountain.
My legs were strong and steady all the way up the mountain to the Dam. I’m as shocked as you are, since my legs are usually about as strong as partially set Jell-O. I cruised across the Dam, riding close to the edge and peering into Lake Shasta, who had swallowed the entire tree line. I turned my bike and peeked over the other side. Staring down the face of the Dam, I felt my stomach drop. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m falling in a dream. Terrifying and thrilling all at the same time. And yet, I can’t cross over the Dam without taking a glance. 2 more miles of decent hills lay just on the other side of the Dam. That last bit of climbing was nothing compared to the ascent to the Dam. I zipped up and over the mountain into town where I crossed over Keswick Dam and slipped back onto the river trail.
The river welcomed me as I raced along the flat side of the trail toward my car. I was killing the flats and when I looked down at my speedometer, it was ticking away at 18 mph. This isn’t fast for a real cyclist, but for me it’s a pretty decent pace. I cranked into a harder gear and whipped my legs faster and faster. I was really flying now! I leaned my head back and crowed into the blue sky. At the end of the ride, I’d racked up 41 miles, but more importantly my head was completely clear. Driving home, I replayed the ride in my mind. I held the beauty of the water in my eyes and the joy of climbing mountains in my heart. I’ll be crowing about this ride for a long time.