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Ladoga Dreams


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The dream of striking it rich is endemic to California, and to those devoted to motorcycling and travel pursuits. For me, on this Sunday, the possible ticket to the moon was a ride across the northern part of the central valley to the foothills of the coastal range.


I left Grass Valley just as then sun was coming up and found Highway 20, the soft glow of the sunrise lengthening the shadows in front of me as I rode west and into the valley below. It’s just the beginning of spring, the season not set and the atmosphere cannot make up its mind, its puerile nature showing in the temperature of the shadows and light, so cool in the canyons and so warm upon the open road. My grips are on low, my chin and nose a bit cold and the warm, and yet the almost hot air from behind scurries under the back of my helmet. Neither is extreme, moderation and balance, the skills needed to ride well and live well.


North on Hwy. 99 the landscape was alive. The earth here is as flat as a Kansas prairie and there are farms large and small. The flower buds are out in the walnut and almond orchards, row upon row of white and pink petals that rustle and wave whenever a breeze blew. I stopped for a moment to adjust earplugs gone awry and before re-inserting them, the sounds of this place came at me, stood up for me to hear – the hum of a powerline, the chug of a tractor starting, the hiss of a sprinkler.


As I started up again, Redwing blackbirds, wings dotted with a splash of red on the shiny black dipped and crooned in and out of the trees. I slowed down and saw tomatoes and strawberry plants and maybe some beans. Irrigation ditches cut through the farms. Spanish moss hung from the oaks. I passed old cars with farm workers and in the distance saw grain elevators climbing toward a stunningly blue sky, their sides a rich wavy brown reflecting the tilled and furrowed land below and around them.


In Gridley I stopped for something to eat at the country store. They had no fresh coffee, so a canned Starbucks and a pastry wrapped in cellophane would have to do. The guy behind the counter was a small man with a too-large apron tied loosely around his back; the bib hung low from many pencils and swayed back and forth when he spoke. “Can you tell me what’s growing across the road?” I asked him, curious about a crop I didn’t recognize.


“Why, it’s barley, I believe, “he said, eager to tell me and stepped closer, a bit like the classroom expert coming forward for a prize. Ask me another one, his grinning face was saying. Ask me another.


Outside, I unwrapped the pastry. It had a sort on institutional softness that didn’t seem right. After two bites, I tossed it aside and downed, in one gulp, my little can of Starbucks espresso.


I rode west on Gridley Colusa Road, straight as an arrow, zipping along at 75 miles per hour, past the rice fields and vernal pools, teeming with spring birds and fowl. A couple of California’s version of good ole boys, I imagined, were sitting on the slough and angling for catfish. They had no shirts in the morning sun and a case of breakfast Budweiser next to their rods.




I finally started to climb just west of the town of Maxwell. Maxwell Sites road takes you out of downtown Maxwell, through a small subdivision or two. It took me past the dairy, past the ranches, up, higher and higher, curvy and smooth, reaching towards the little towns of Ladoga and Stonyford. This is where I wanted to go, where the little valley’s and hills seemed remote and distant, where horses and cattle dotted the land, where the young grass and old oaks talked to me.


I turned left on Ladoga/Stonyford Road. This road of pitted pavement and dirt, uneven and rough, water worn and blasted by summer heat is one of the prettiest roads in the state. One could drive quickly I suppose and if your body and bike survived, you might be happy. But it shouldn’t be done that way, if you can’t ride it slowly, if you are in a hurry – don’t come. I shared lunch here with birds and squirrels, slowed from 10mph to 5mph for a chipmunk, weaved through sinks and potholes, slid sideways through deep gravel and grinned every moment along this road.


I hope it never changes.




Ladoga Stonyford Road meets Hwy 20 just west of Williams and I turned left there, surrounded by walnut trees and the beginnings of this years cotton crop. Back to speed, right up there with the traffic…Colusa, Yuba City, Marysville…passing semi’s and slow drivers, racing a freight train, nodding and waving to the bikers riding in the other direction and soon I’m home.


Richer still.





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Nice report and photo's. Reminds me of my favorite roads around this area, but not quite as diverse agriculturally as your area.


Don't stop now, keep em coming. thumbsup.gif

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