My alarm clock sounds.
5:01, my phone rings.
Samantha Jean Hawkins.
I groan in response.
There is no “hi” or “good morning.”
“Are we leaving from your house or mine?” she asks.
“Ride over, I’ll make some breakfast.”
An hour and half later our stomachs are full, we’re wearing padded shorts and running an hour behind schedule, and we’re clipping on borrowed helmets.
“This is the first time I’ve ever worn a bike helmet,” I state. “…And we’re about to ride a hundred miles…”
I bought my road bike a few weeks before. Sami has always wanted to ride her bike home.
She grew up outside of Auburn, Calif. — 100 miles from Chico.
I may have mentioned to her, months ago, that “if” she went I wanted to go with her.
That was before my first awkward, shaky time on a road bike, test driving the red and white Schwinn, unable to find the breaks and almost hitting a car in the Safeway parking lot while the Craigslist seller looked on. It was back before I wrote a $300 check, more than my truck had cost, and road Barry home.
Now that I had a bike, Sami wasted no time in setting the date for the ride. Our next available day was the Friday of finals week. My sister and her brother, Mojave and Nicko, would begraduating that weekend. And our last finals were Thursday, so we would ride down to Auburn on Friday, meet her parents and Nicko, and they would give us a ride back to Chico that night, so that I could go to Mojave’s graduation the next morning.
A smooth plan. With an extreme lack of preparation.
The longest I had ever ridden was 12 miles. That was on Wednesday. She had once ridden about 25 miles.
Thursday, after we finished our final exams, we stopped by Sports LTD where our friend Ariana Altier works and bought patch kits and padded shorts.
Ariana is the one who should be biking 100 miles, bikes are her life, not ours. But she has an exam the next day. Not to mention she thinks we’re crazy. So, instead of letting her study for her Chem final we force her to help us prepare. She gave us spare tubes, changed Sami’s tire which had reoccurring issues, lent us shirts and helmets and finally we leave her house at 12:30 a.m. on the morning of our ride.
So, we’ll just say we aren’t well rested when we carry our bikes down the steps of my apartment, a Google maps route printed out and in our pockets.
We start out on the Durham bike path, side-by-side and already having a giggle-fest at how ridiculous we are, with no idea exactly what we are in for.
Everyone we know has told us not to do this. Our friends, the ones who actually bike, have advised us against it. Our parents and roommates have said we should reconsider — even that little voice in the back of my head is saying, I didn’t realize we were actually going to do this. Are we actually going to do this?
We’ve been told we are insane, irresponsible, that someone is going to have to rescue us — that we wont be able to do it.
The good thing, or maybe the bad thing, is that we have back up.
Sami’s family will be traveling up to Chico that evening anyway, so as soon as we get tired of riding, all we have to do is call them up, tell them where we are, and wait. They will come along and drive us back to Chico.
But a competitive streak in both of us is pulsing. Sami has this vision of us eating frozen yogurt in Auburn after the ride, and I have had too many people laugh at me in the past week to let this go easily.
It’s us against those who have said we can’t do it, and those miles and miles of potholed blacktop between us and a Welcome to Auburn sign.
We make it to Biggs, about 25 miles from Chico, around 9. Biggs is the point where my mom predicted we would call her instead of Sami’s parents because we were still that close to Chico.
We stop at the only not-boarded-up store in the town and take turns going inside the tiny gas station mini-mart and waiting with the bikes because we didn’t brink bike locks. We buy trail mix and some gross packaged pastries and munch them, looking extremely out of place in our mismatched bike gear and helmets on the sidewalk of a decapitated hick-town.
Feeling good about our progress we take off again. We’re hitting our longest stretch between towns yet. It’s 13 miles to Gridley.
About two miles into farm land, my back tire goes flat.
No big deal. We pull off onto a side road, turn my bike over, and stall.
We had no reason to bring a wrench, all our tires are quick release. Well, all of them except the back tire of my bike that is. But that one back tire is not coming off without a tool.
That’s fine, we can just patch it while it is still on the bike.
Well, we could if I hadn’t forgotten the patch kit on my bedroom floor.
We could walk back to Biggs which was only a couple miles, but there were no stores there even if we did. We could walk to Gridley, but it was 10 miles out. We didn’t have time to walk/run 20 miles and bike 100 miles in one day.
We could hitch-hike…with road bikes.
We could split up and one of us could ride Sami’s bike into Gridley and come back.
We could call my mommy.
Or — there was that gardener we had seen trimming hedges a little way back along the road.
We back-track and roll our bikes down the gravel drive.
He’s in his early 50s with a big beard and doesn’t speak much English.
His name’s Jose. And we would long make reference to him as our token of faith in humanity.
We told him our story, explained our situation and, while he undoubtably thought we were idiots, he dropped what he was doing, grabbed a wrench and changed my tire.
Chatting all the while, telling us the story of how he cared for the yard of this house even though the people hadn’t lived their in years and how his daughter was taking her drivers test that day. At least that’s what we gathered from what we could understand.
He sent us on our way but not before handing me the wrench and saying, “No keep it, you will need it more than me.”
The same tire went flat again outside of Yuba City, our half-way point. We pushed it to a Mexican restaurant and ordered burritos.
When we mentioned our ride to the waitress she went and told the restaurant owner, who apparently had an interest in biking, and he chatted with us our entire meal. Burritos, while not recommended when you still have 50 miles left to ride, had never tasted so good. Before we left The owner refilled our Camelbaks with ice cold water from the kitchen.
We patched my tire in a grassy area in front of Subway, and weren’t across town yet when it was flat again. We stopped at a coffee shop, and put in a new tube.
By the time we rode out of Yuba City three hours had passed since we arrived and it was passed 2 p.m.
We had eaten up well over half our time and still had half our miles, and the hard part, up ahead.
That was when Nicko called to ask where we wanted to get picked up. We told him to shut up, we were meeting him in Auburn.
We had to get from Yuba City to Marysville which would include crossing the Feather River. It’s illegal and sketch to ride on freeways so we couldn’t take the main bridge. We found this side road and came out at a bridge that paralleled the highway bridge but was an old train bridge. It didn’t have tracks on it anymore, just railroad ties, set about 10 inches apart. Ten-inch gaps seem really wide when you are stepping across rotting railway ties 100 feet above a river with a bike on your shoulder.
When we reach the other side there is a road block and a sign to prevent people from crossing. We climb over it. Well, maybe that crossing hadn’t been completely legal either.
Marysville is surprisingly confusing for a small city, and we know we still have to cross the broad Yuba River after the Feather River flows into it, but we don’t know how we are going to do that either. We can’t find the road we thought crossed the river and we are no where near the next freeway bridge, but even if we were we wouldn’t want to use it. Sightly desperate, we ask a homeless man how to get to Sacramento. He just points.
We ride our bike down a steep hill and see another man riding a bike across a long narrow bridge in the distance. There doesn’t seem to be any roads that lead to the bridge so we shoulder our bikes and run up a narrow trail to the base of the bridge.
It’s a train bridge, but this time not an old unused one. It’s the current train bridge.
We live up-track from here. We know how often this train runs.
We look up and down the river. We don’t have time to find a different way around. On each side of the tracks there is a place just wide enough to ride a bike, so I climb on mine.
Sami has stopped so I call back, “Do you want to do this?” I’m already steering my bike onto the bridge.
“No.” She says flatly. “No, I don’t.”
My heart is pounding. My stomach feels empty, screaming that the end of that bridge and my chance to get away from the tracks is really far away. In my head I hear the train passing my apartment in Chico, the frequent intervals, and I wonder when the last train passed. When the next one is coming.
“If you think it’s a good idea, I’ll do it.” Her voice almost sounded shaky, and I realize it’s the first time I’ve ever lead her into anything dangerous — it’s usually the other way around.
“Why the hell not? We ride in cars every day.”
It’s something we often say to convince ourselves it’s a good idea to do something dangerous. We ride in cars everyday, and people die in car accidents everyday.
People die in car accidents much more often than riding their bikes across railroad bridges. That’s the logic. (Kindly forget the percentage of people who ride in cars everyday compared to those who ride their bikes across railroad bridges, please.)
A train doesn’t come. We reach the end of the bridge, there is a moment of relief, and then we realize our situation has not improved.
Funny thing that happens when you ride your road bike across a train bridge. There is no road on the other side of the bridge. Just train tracks. And you can’t ride a road bike on train tracks. On either side of the tracks is steep embankments, so we shoulder our bike again and slide down the sandy bank.
We end up in an orchard. At first we are relieved again to be away from the tracks. Then we our distress returns. Then we are laughing and we can’t stop.
Riding a road bike through a sandy orchard, is…let’s just say, road bikes aren’t designed for that.
We have no idea where we are. All we want to get out of the sand and find a paved road.
We climb a couple gates, under a few graffiti-covered bridges, and eventually come out in a neighborhood where people are hanging their wash outside on makeshift clothes lines and chickens are dashing through yards. There is trash everywhere and old broken-down cars are the only thing on the road. Other than us and our road bikes.
No one here is speaking English, so we don’t ask for directions. But eventually we find our way back to our route.
We have 40 miles left to go. They’re the steep ones, and it is 3 p.m.
The first 80 miles stay even at around 200 feet elevation. We are about to climb to 1,230, up the Auburn grade.
Knowing it will get dark around 7p.m., we stop taking breaks, and Sami’s pace excels. Or maybe it’s just in comparison to mine. I’m starting to get hungry. We’ve been snacking along the way but 60 miles in, keeping up with Sami is starting to become a push. I find my mind searching for reasons to take a break. But eventually she is far enough ahead that I can’t stop because she won’t know see me and I don’t want to fall further behind.
I could find my way to Auburn, of course. But she’s the one who knows the route, not to mention that I hate the feeling of being alone.
My muscles ache a little, but it’s my mind that is starting to object now.
She slows to tell me that we’ll stop off to get water at a friend’s place who lives part way up the grade. I act as if I could take or leave a break, but when we walk into the house we immediately sink into chairs.
Courtney, a friend who is working at the house starts discussing giving us a ride up to Auburn.
Sami and I look at each other.
“Oh no, we’re not stopping here.”
Sami calls Nicko to let him know we’re close. He is already in Auburn and tells us he will start driving our way.
“If you do,” we decide, “We will not accept a ride and we’ll make you drive back into Auburn and pick us up there.”
But figuring we better not allow Nicko time to insist on picking us up, we head back out.
After the short break, my legs start to tear apart. Sami is ahead again. With each sharp turn I think if I round the corner and have to pedal up another hill I will give up.
I want to hitchhike.
I am in such a low gear I could walk as fast as I’m riding. Sami is so far ahead now when I get to a fork in the road I don’t know which way she went, but both lead to Auburn so I keep going up.
I want to close my eyes. Then I do. It doesn’t even feel like a hill anymore.
I call Sami on her cell phone, she took the other road. We hit Auburn in separate places, so I now have a long down hill ride to meet her near downtown.
I want to be angry at her for leaving me behind, but by the time I see her I am so relieved to be one hill away from our destination that, as close as I was to crying from frustration before, I’m that close to cryign from excitement and relief.
We ride the last long hill together, right up to the Chill Yogurt Cafe in downtown Auburn.
And let me tell you, I will never look at that “Welcome to Auburn” sign the same again.
100 miles. 12 hours. Three flat tires, two sketchy bridges, a very long hill and who knows how many laugh attacks may equal an aching body, but also the feeling that you can do anything, if you have the right friend to do it with.
And when people ask us why we did it, we just look at each other and say:
“Why the hell not? We ride in cars everyday.”
So next time I want to do something I would never think I could do, first I’ll find someone else to tell me I can’t. Then I’ll call up Sami and see if she’s tired of riding in cars and wants to do something else for the day — or maybe the week, or the year.