The Roads of El Dorado County

Posted by SuperClydesdale on August 5, 2009 under Commentary, Rides | Be the First to Comment

El Dorado County - where it is

El Dorado County - where it is (source: El Dorado County)

I’ve ridden in many states across the US, and where I happen to live in Northern California is one of the best places in the country to ride road bikes.   The climate is great (albeit a bit hot it the peak of summer), and there’s an incredible amount of variety.   I live on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada, in El Dorado County.   The road I live on, Deer Valley Road, is one of the most popular cycling routes in the greater Sacramento region.   If I tell a (real) cyclist that I live on Deer Valley Road, they always know where I’m talking about.    Moving here is what got me back into cycling after a long layoff, and Deer Valley is well-named.   There are countless deer — you have a greater chance of running into a deer than getting hit by a car on Deer Valley Rd.  I’ve had several close calls.

Deer Valley Road in Western El Dorado County, CA

Deer Valley Road in Western El Dorado County, CA

El Dorado County has some of the best rural riding around.  Not a single bike messenger – or anybody else that would tell you that they ride a “pista.”   A few hardy souls that ride what we call a “fixed gear,” and if you do that in El Dorado County, you’re a pretty strong rider.  I have a fixed gear.  Technically.   It’s never been on a road in El Dorado County.

El Dorado County is massive.   It stretches from the Eastern edge of the Sacramento Metropolitan Area at about 25’ above sea level to the Nevada border.   It has Folsom Lake on the West end, and Lake Tahoe on the East end.   Simply spectacular.   Most rides in El Dorado County that I do have about 80 feet of climb per mile.  That’s a pretty respectable ratio.   When you get at or above 100 feet of climb per mile, you’re talking about a pretty tough ride – a ride specifically to emphasize climbing – and a ride where Clydesdales and whippets are fairly incompatible.   The whippets are waiting at the top for the Clydesdales and the Clydesdales are cursing their names.   Or getting pinch flats.   I choose to do both.

Other areas – many places — have nothing to offer cyclists.   Putting in bike lanes, bike trails, and the like is what my friend Dan says is “polishing a turd.”  These are communities with no place to go, nothing to see, and yet they are investing in infrastructure to aide cycling.

El Dorado County, on the other hand, does nothing to embrace cycling.   Cycling isn’t even mentioned as an outdoor activity on the “visit El Dorado County” parts of the County web site (but gold panning is) Its bike lanes consist of the stripe on the side of the road, and many locals don’t even want to concede that.   What El Dorado County does offer is remote roads often with breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada, remote valleys, or fields full of wild turkeys or deer.    Twisty strips of blacktop cut into oak studded hillsides or draped over ridges that may be nothing more than old chip-seal roads from the turn of the century, and whose origins are likely from the Gold Rush, or like Green Valley Road, which Deer Valley starts and ends on, which was a Pony Express trail.   There’s rolling hills of green grass in the late winter and spring, which turns into a wonderful gold in the summer, dotted with massive oak trees.  Then, as you ascend into the heart of the Sierra, there’s conifer forests, rivers & streams, waterfalls, and small one-store towns.

In El Dorado County you can taste wines right at the wineries, or get your methamphetamine straight from the lab – all on the same bike ride.   Where else can you do that?  You’ll find rocks – big ones – just sticking up in the middle of a road.  Where else can you see that?   It’s a diverse place.

Deer Valley Road - waiting for repairs that will never come, just the lame road maintenance crew.

Deer Valley Road - waiting for repairs that will never come, just the lame road maintenance crew.

It’s a sparsely populated county with thousands of miles of roads, more roads than people to maintain them, and a small road maintenance crew that seems… not so good.  In my own area, the problem is compounded by some local road maintenance activist who goes around pulling the broken road bits out of potholes, to try to force the county to fix them.  He’ll paint a square around the hole, and write “fix me” on it.  Between that idiot and the moronic transportation department, my road can be treacherous to a cyclist.   Small guys may get pinch flats, big guys could end up trashing a wheel.

Another job well done!   This will last at least a couple of weeks.

Another job well done! This will last at least a couple of weeks.

The road maintenance crew has been a puzzle to me.   I’m sure that they are limited in manpower, but rather than making repairs that could last, and avoid having to come back mere weeks later for another “repair,” they do the short-term fix.   Every time.  Over, and over, and over.  Almost all of their repairs, even for fairly large areas, amount to some dufus  shoveling some cold patch and then patting it down with a shovel.   It’s a little keystone-coppish.

What our roads lack in refinement, they more than make up for in sheer beauty and variety.  You can ride pretty much year round, and If you want a Paris-Roubaix experience but hate the French, just come to El Dorado County, and get your bone-jarring thrills.

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