Route Description

The symbol on California's state flag is the mighty grizzly bear, and it's no coincidence that you'll see the grizzly bear motif during the GRR. Sadly, (or luckily, depending on your point of view) they are now extinct hereabouts. Nonetheless, grizzlies used to roam like kings over all the areas covered by the GRR route. Pugnacious and fearless, nothing kept a grizzly bear from its chosen path. Its menacing growl, or "GRR", was a warning to others to stay out of its way! Now it will be determined cyclists riding around the clock, who will do the same. Indeed, there will be times when modern randonneurs will need "grizzly bear determination" to finish the Gold Rush Randonnée-it is a rugged bike ride! Starting in Davis, just 14 miles west of California's capitol city of Sacramento, the GRR route travels north by northeast to Goose Lake and near to the Oregon border. The GRR passes through some of California's last unspoiled regions. Much care was taken to design a route that has scenic beauty, tranquil roads for rider safety and enjoyment, sufficient support in towns (stores, motels, etc), and a total elevation gain of less than 30,000 feet.

Though at first flat and easy, the GRR is definitely a mountainous randonnée. Preliminary measurement of the GRR route shows a total elevation gain around 26,000 feet. When compared to the 31,000 feet found at both PBP and BMB this may not seem so bad at first glance. However, keep in mind that the first and last 90 miles of GRR are essentially flat and so the vast majority of undulating miles are compressed into a 570-mile section of the route. Factor in the long descent from Greenville down the Feather River Canyon to Oroville on the return ride, as well as 80 fairly easy miles near the Oregon border, and you now have a figure somewhat closer to 400 miles of challenging terrain. Make no mistake: all GRR finishers will need good climbing and descending ability. In addition, they will all need to bring low gears and good brakes! The steepest gradients will be found on the ferocious Janesville Grade and some other roads measured 10% in a few spots. However, the vast majority of climbs are more in the range of 4 to 6%, with some tough stretches of 8%. Overall, most of the GRR climbing tends to be on gentle to moderate slopes, not cruel ones-except the aforementioned Janesville Grade. This memorable road offers audacious randonneurs and randonneuses wonderful mountain scenery, but it also has some brutal stretches of 15% or worse on its 6.8-mile length. (The whole climb has a deceptively "easy" overall average of 8%-but that will be cold comfort when you are on the steep sections.) On the outbound ride, this descent will definitely test your cycling skills and brake pads. Alas, when climbing it on the return, the very strongest riders will want a 39x27 gear to survive; others will need front triple chainrings and large rear sprockets that yield a 1:1 gear ratio or less. The good news is that once the summit of Janesville Grade is reached on the return, there are many miles of easy pedaling and descending to recover on-this is the last hard climb on the GRR. Doing the gentle Jarbo Gap many miles later will be easy by comparison. (Click on route profile" to get a visual representation of the climbs.) The sensible rider may be logically asking why such a challenge is being included on the route of an already difficult bike ride, but the only alternative in this region carries too many logging and cattle trucks to ensure good rider safety and route ambiance. And at its worst, Janesville Grade isn't all that bad: the lack of auto traffic on this charming little road will make it a fine stroll in bucolic mountain surroundings for those riders who didn't heed our warnings to bring low gears.

Happily, the GRR doesn't start with any climbing concerns. Leaving Davis on Monday evening, randonneurs will cycle north through the flat Central Valley. This is the heart of a vast agricultural region that is among the most productive in the world. After the first hour of riding, the little town of Knights Landing is reached where the route crosses the mighty Sacramento River and begins a steady northwards direction through the rice fields of Colusa county. The route used by the GRR riders has been carefully selected to stay away from the busier roads in this region since speeding trucks with little patience for randonneurs now do the work of the old riverboats.

As dusk approaches, the GRR riders will approach the Sutter Buttes, a landmark of days-gone-by and the meeting point of the 1846 Bear Flag Revolutionaries. In the town of Live Oak, about 75 miles into the event, randonneurs will want to stop and refill their bottles and pockets. North of Live Oak, the route begins some very gentle rolling climbs through the Sierra foothills that lead to the first official control in Oroville at mile 95. Since these miles will be ridden in the dark around midnight, riders may not appreciate the jumbled volcanic rocks that bear mute testimony to how this region was created millions of years ago. Take note that this tortured landscape also revealed the gleaming nuggets that drew hardy prospectors to search for gold during the great Gold Rush of 1849. Oroville was the jumping off point for miners headed into the nearby hills to seek their fortunes, and so it is again for adventurous randonneurs in search of their 1200k medal and GRR finisher's jersey.

After taking Table Mountain Road north out of Oroville, the fun really begins. Riders are faced with miles of uphill toil on Highway 70 past Yankee Hill to Jarbo Gap. The highway gently drops downward for a few miles from the Gap, and then resumes its upward journey, now in the beautiful Feather River Canyon. This is the easiest way into the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains and is used by the railroad for its gentle gradients. During their night ride into the early hours of Tuesday morning, randonneurs won't see too many cars or trucks on the highway, but they will be aware of many trains doing their laborious work all night long on the other side of the narrow canyon. There will be food and water for weary randonneurs at the Tobin Resort control at mile 136. Be sure to stock up here since many more miles of climbing await with no services available until daytime business hours. (By the way, randonneurs who carry a cell phone will find they don't have coverage between Jarbo Gap in the Feather Canyon and Susanville except for the small town of Belden near Tobin Resort.)

With the coming of dawn most riders will be approaching the northern end of the Feather River Canyon; perhaps they will get some sense of its rugged beauty in the early morning light. The canyon is left behind as the route takes Highway 89 into the famous Sierra Nevada Mountains. Luckily, this is the northern Sierra, not the steeper southern Sierra around Yosemite or Lake Tahoe. Here, gentle gradients and lower elevations predominate and the ride to Greenville, while nearly all uphill, is on easy slopes most of the time.

After passing the information control in Greenville, randonneurs will enjoy miles of very pleasant cycling eastward on enchanting North Valley Road over hill and dale up Diamond Valley Road and finally toward the old town of Taylorsville. Here at the Indian Valley Grange Hall riders will get what is most likely, their first daylight meal. Then after a short rest it's on to the old gold camp of Genesse, now nearly deserted. After Genesse comes miles of difficult climbing up Indian Creek Road. At times the gradients will be tough, but eventually the scenic Antelope Lake area (GRR roadside water stop) is reached. More miles of arduous ascending come after that to the unnamed summit at 6075 feet that is the "top of the GRR". Take a moment to congratulate yourself, brave cyclist-the Sierra Nevada has been crossed less than 24 hours since leaving Davis! Take care on the ensuing descent to Janesville as it is often both steep and beautiful-taking your eyes off the road to see the sights could be folly. If the temptation is too strong, pull over and stop while you look about. It'll also give your rims and brakes some time to cool off.

Next comes the control in the busy lumber and ranching town of Susanville (be sure to eat and restock your jersey pockets), followed by a long uphill out of town on Highway 139. This section of the ride has exquisite beauty as it climbs and descends toward the village of Adin, some 70 deserted miles distant. There is a GRR roadside water stop near Eagle Lake call Grasshopper water stop, but this isolated stretch of the ride is marked by an ever-changing landscape of mountain and high desert wilderness that provides a glimpse into what the first pioneers and prospectors in old California experienced.

The ride from Adin to Alturas, some 44 pretty miles, is easier than the previous section, so ride sensibly and rest up for the return journey. The climb over Adin pass on Highway 299 isn't too steep and the scenery is sublime. At Canby (stores), GRR riders will turn onto Centerville road for another great section of cycling. Nearly deserted, and very scenic, this back road travels the southern side of the Pit River Valley for 20 miles to Alturas, our penultimate control on the outbound leg.

By now GRR riders will be eager to reach the turnaround at Davis Creek, but resting and eating in Alturas first will be a good idea. The distance to the seemingly close "hairpin" that sends them back to Davis will feel near, and the flat-to-rolling terrain offers no real obstacles, but the ride onward to Davis Creek (store) will be difficult if a headwind is blowing. Still, determined randonneurs and randonneuses will eventually reach the Goose Lake and Oregon border area. While the GRR doesn't actually cross the state line a few miles to the north, the 600-kilometer mark is pretty darn close. At the turnaround the GRR riders will experience a mixture of pride and joy, having come this far, but there will also be apprehension and dread: Now they must retrace their long path all the way back to Davis! But since the elevation at Davis Creek is 4750 feet higher than the start in Davis, there will be that much less climbing on the return leg for exhausted riders to surmount. Nonetheless, an unwavering "never-say-die" mental attitude-always the most important ingredient to successful randonneuring-will be needed to finish the GRR. Bonne route, et bonne chance!