This summer Peter and I rode the old roads of the northern Sierras. We carried paper maps and sometimes there was no road at all. Peter grew up in these parts, with a mountain boy’s sense of trail. Ten miles out of town on our first day, he pointed us up gulch from a tributary of the Feather. After hauling our bikes up a vertical slope of timber, sure enough we emerged two hours later at the end of a logging road.
“That’s about how long I thought we’d spend in there,” said Peter at the top.
And with a fine bushwhack to kick off the trip, we picked our way for 6 days on 100 miles of logging roads, mining trails, and old abandoned paths. We camped at lakes and meadows, hit granite bowls on Grouse Ridge, and rode flow trails into Nevada City.
The old roads were built by my great great grand uncles. The work gangs of Gold Rush California – many of them Chinese from the Pearl River Delta – hand built railroads across the Sierras and mule roads into every drainage in between. And while I have not yet traced back a Gold Rush relation, there were gold seekers from my grandma’s heung ha in Guangdong Province.
They fed the rich foothill timber into steam engines to drive stamp mills to crush rock to pave these roads in cobbles the color of cinnabar. After pushing my bike up Baltimore Lake Road – a 4 wheel drive, broken mining track that climbs to views of Donner Pass – I wondered if that great great grand uncle, dynamiting rock for the railroad, stopped to admire the granite peaks before him.
And so to push my bike along an old piece of dirt re-animates the sweat and blood and song that built the old roads of the mountains. Maybe great great granduncle sat here too. Washed his face in the stream and thought of family far away. I ride these old roads in a new country.
With all the side trails and bushwhacks, I gave up trying to handmap our actual route so here’s the route we intended to take. It’s not entirely accurate so get in touch for details. If anything, my point is that riding old roads is not about your GPS tracks, it’s about the story you take away in the end.