“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 Tour de Manure Metric Century.
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 the Spencer family next to their ranch; bicycle clubs and church groups people the rest stops, offering the kind of food the gold miners hefted through the mountains in their sacks; at the finish line party in downtown Sierraville, firefighters don’t let the cyclists go hungry, serving up BBQ chicken and trip tip, along with pasta, salad, juicy garlic bread and homemade desserts, while Michael Hogan and his retro country rock ‘n’ roll band The Simpletones play live on a turquoise Chevy truck.
The ride itself is glorious, circling one of northern California’s great secrets, the headwaters of the Feather River, stitching together the ranches that have been the region’s keepers since blue-eyed Swiss-Italian dairy farmers arrived in the valley 150 years ago.
The Tour de Manure gets its name from the weeks in May when the cows come home from their winter grazing grounds in California’s Central Valley to enjoy the water-drenched grasses of the high meadows for summer. Journeying along Highway 49 (the Gold Rush Highway) and county road A-23 and California State Route 70 (a route that Irish/British/African American explorer Jim Beckwourth charted across the Sierra), in long-haul trucks, they mark their passage with polka dot sprinkles of manure on the pavement, a familiar site and smell in the delightfully fertile weeks of spring.
The Tour de Manure threads wetlands full of red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, and pairs of nesting Sandhill Cranes. Redtail hawks circle overhead, and an antelope or two might bound away across a field. At Sierra Hot Springs lodge, thermal springs bubble steam, while in Calpine nearby Indie-folk-country bands rattle the walls at 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 Highway 49,bounds over three sagebrush-speckled swells.
The 62-mile route starts in Sierraville heading west toward Sattley, turns north on A-23 to Beckwourth, then east for 2.5 miles on busy State Route 70 , through the valley on A-24 into Loyalton and Sierra Brooks, and down 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!