“It’s a bunch of firefighters who never get on bicycles, putting on a century ride for people who do!” says Doug Read, founder of the one of California’s quirkiest rides, Sierra Valley’s annual Tour de Manure.
Cyclists say they love the Tour de Manure most because of its spirited volunteers. At the registration booth in Sierraville, Dwight Brooks sets the tone with a few country yodels. Out in the valley, a padre of “Turn Cowboys” waves directional signs to guide you through tricky intersections; just when you think you’re riding into a meadowland outer space, a homemade lemonade stand appears, run by one a ranch family; bicycle clubs and church groups man the rest stops, offering the kind of food the gold miners once hefted through the mountains in their sacks, like salted boiled potatoes and peanut-butter-slathered celery sticks (did miners have peanut butter?)— along with cookies and other treats; at the Sierraville finish line party, firefighters don’t let the cyclists go hungry: they serve up a gigantic meal of BBQ chicken and trip tip, along with pasta, salad, juicy garlic bread and homemade desserts, while Michael Hogan and his country band The Simpletones play live music off the back of an old Chevy truck.
The ride itself is glorious, circling one of northern California’s great secrets, the headwaters of the Feather River, and stitching together the ranches that have been the region’s keepers since blue-eyed Swiss-Italian dairy farmers arrived 150 years ago. The event is called the Tour de Manure because in May, the cows come home to graze, in long-haul trucks from their winter grounds in the Central Valley. Their passage sprinkles the pavement with polka dots of manure.
The Tour de Manure passes wetlands full of birds, including red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, and pairs of nesting Sandhill Cranes. Redtail hawks circle overhead, and an antelope or two sometimes bound away across a field. Hot springs spew steam into the air at Sierra Hot Springs lodge while a few miles away, Indie, folk and country bands rock the walls at the Sierra Valley Lodge. Mostly, it’s just a real pleasure to soak in the Sierra Valley scene and enjoy the hospitality of its people.
There’s only a little climbing in this tour, primarily at the end when historic Highway 49, the Gold Country Highway, bounces over three sagebrush-covered swells.
The 62-mile route starts in Sierraville heading west toward Sattley, turns north on A-23 to Beckworth, east for 2.5 miles on Highway 70 , through the valley on A-24 into Loyalton and Sierra Brooks, and down historic Highway 49 back to Sierraville.
The 42-mile route cuts off the Sierra Brooks leg.
The 30-mile route follows the curves of Highway 49 from Sierraville to Loyalton and back.
*Proceeds benefit Sierraville Volunteer Fire and Rescue!