Bike Ride: American River Parkway

Daylight savings time is here! I’ve just about recovered from the sleep disruptions and am a-l-m-o-s-t ready to get back outside on my bike. Are you?

If you’re in the Sacramento area and you have a couple of hours, I recommend you try a section of the American River Parkway (also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail). Here’s a link to a map of the whole 32-mile masterpiece that is the bike trail.

Rules of the Road

The American River Parkway is great for beginning riders because it’s free of steep climbs and is well-marked with an orderly yellow dividing line. With rare exceptions, users are courteous and follow the rules for yielding and speed (15 mph).

If you are a beginner I do recommend steering clear on weekdays during commute hours. Bike commuters tend to be all-business. Also, weekend early morning is prime time for training groups, so hug the right and watch out for the peloton!

Saturday and Sunday afternoons can be busy, but I’ve observed that riders who go out during these hours expect a certain diversity of abilities and are kind to younger and slower riders.

As in U.S. driving, ride on the right and pass on the left. When passing, always announce “on your left” or ring your bell.

The Family Bike Ride Setup

On a Sunday afternoon not long ago, we set up for our ride in a gravel parking lot near Mile 22. There may be free parking in this area but I am not familiar with the neighborhood (it’s off Gold Country Boulevard), so we ponied up the $5 parking fee. Meh.

We don’t have a bike rack for the van so it’s always a puzzle getting four bikes in the cargo space. We build in time for staging and re-assembly (i.e., popping wheels back on).

Robin, our kindergarten-age kid, is a good rider but his bike is miniscule. His legs blur with the revolutions but he can only get up to about 5-6 mph. So we use this cool, but rather heavy, ride-along attachment on Ivan’s bike for him.

Parking at Mile 22 on American River Bike Trail costs five dollars

The Nimbus Fish Hatchery, at Mile 23, is a fun place to stop. It has a visitor center where you can learn about how the Fish and Wildlife Service manages the fish population on the river. You can also go outside and feed the little Chinook salmon and steelhead trout fry in their concrete tanks. We didn’t do that on this particular ride since the hatchery closes at 3pm and we were just starting out a little after 4pm.

Instead we rode up to where Hazel Avenue crosses over the Nimbus Dam. The American River was still impressive even though it was running pretty low at that time (end of May 2015).

cyclists overlooking the American River at Hazel Avenue

On the Hazel Avenue bridge overlooking the American River; salmon ladder and fish hatchery in the background.


The general trend in this section of the bike trail is upward. It’s a pretty gentle uphill with a few sections where you need to stand up.

Standing up in the saddle is still hard for Camilla, our 10-year-old. Rather than endure my “coaching” from behind, she let me pass and go in front. Then she’d get mad because she thought I was trying to leave her behind.

Get up on your dang pedals! Or, stay seated but gear down and pedal faster! Just, you know, pick one method!, I’d say. But I know: it can be hard with all the other mechanics involved.

As a child and teen, I didn’t ride much at all. I learned only the barest basics of two-wheeled locomotion. I started riding again at age 35 (four years ago), and was embarrassingly slow and teetery at first. So I know that uncertainty: the feeling that you can’t pull yourself upright. Or that shifting your weight forward over the handlebars will somehow tip you over.

Miles 24 to 27 take you right along the river. This section of the river is called Lake Natoma. Turns out we had just missed seeing a big NCAA rowing competition the day before! (If you’re interested in water sports, here’s a link to this season’s schedule of events on Lake Natoma.)

Lake Natoma from American River Bike Trail mile 26

Lake Natoma from American River Parkway, Mile 26

I did get a huge mouthful and noseful of gnats right by the river. Yum. I was glad at least my eyes were protected with sunglasses!

At Folsom Dam, Mile 30, we got off our bikes for a water break and turned around. The trail continues for two more miles to Beal’s Point, where there are picnic tables and other park facilities, and a view of Folsom Reservoir.

Resting at Folsom Dam on the American River Bike Trail

Dam–it’s definitely time for a break! (Folsom Dam that is)

Here’s a sign showing some of the main features and stops on the bike trail. What the sign doesn’t say is that certain parts of the bike trail are better known for homeless camps than family-friendly riding. This would be the Cal Expo-to-Discovery Park section, roughly.

American River Bikeway mileage trail sign

Still, for the most part the American River Parkway lives up to its reputation as an absolute gem. You can putter along—or choose a more sweat-inducing pace—maybe even see a jackrabbit or a fox, and not worry at all about car and truck traffic.

dad with kid on trailer bike

Back from a 16-mile ride, good and tired

Do you have a favorite ride near you? Share your links in the comments so we can check it out!

Bike Month 2015: 100 miles or bust


If your bike is starting to look like this , maybe it’s time to wheel it out of storage and hop back on.

mud dauber nest in bike tire

Mud Dauber Nest And Bicycle Tire © Karen Rubeiz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Use caution and thick gloves when evicting any creepy-crawlies…then, consider challenging yourself or a friend to ride a goal number of miles. Give yourself a deadline.

This year I pledged to ride 100 miles on my bike during the month of May. Last year I pledged 100 miles and met my goal, so this year I thought about increasing the goal, maybe up to 150.

Unfortunately, my husband, who is great company on the road or any bike trail and who racked up several miles with me in previous years, was having off-again on-again sciatic pain. He didn’t feel like doing much riding. So with him out of the game, I kept my pledge at 100.

2012 was the first year I participated in Sacramento Area May is Bike Month. It’s a month-long series of group rides, races, benefits, bike repair classes, and other events. I even saw on Twitter that a beer place I like, New Helvetia Brewing, was offering dollar-off pints for customers who arrived by bike.

My participation in May is Bike Month was mainly online. I created an account on the website and signed up both of my kids under the same account. Adults can elect to have their miles count towards a workplace or recreational commuter club’s collective miles; kids can list their school and class and “compete” against other schools or other classes in their own school.

I entered our pledges (100 for me; 50 for my 9-year-old; 30 for my 5-year-old) and started recording miles. The online system crunches the numbers in all sorts of ways. If you enter your miles as Commute miles, for example, the system will aggregate that as part of the Sacramento area’s total Car Replacement miles. I counted riding with kids to school or swim practice as commute miles. Those are short trips but they add up quickly.

I’m sure there are others who get into Bike Month in a very big way, attending the rallies and collecting swag. I just look back at how, three years ago, I wheeled out my bike to find a black widow spider had taken up residence. Once I’d swept it out of the spokes and walked myself over to the park, heart pounding, I teetered around like a six-year-old with the training wheels freshly removed. I was scared to death to ride in “traffic,” even in my low-traffic neighborhood. I didn’t feel secure enough in my balance to lift my left hand from the handlebar to signal a turn.

So 100 miles, from the viewpoint of three years ago, is nothing to sneeze at. And even doing the May is Bike Month challenge in my small scale way, I found there were rewards to reap. Namely, the special socks.

May is Bike Month socks

Purported to be One Size Fits All…they are actually One Size Fits All Men. So I gave them to my husband.

I won May is Bike Month socks in a random drawing in 2014. The other “reward” I love is the virtual badges. It feels silly to admit it, but this little bit of gamification really, really works for me. Check out the badges I earned this year:

Did you participate in Bike Month? How did it go? What were some of your favorite rides? Please feel free to share in the comments. Include a link if you blog about biking. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing more about our family’s May is Bike Month rides and what I learned this time around.

Rides: El Dorado Trail, Placerville CA

I probably wouldn’t try anything new if I didn’t have kids.

So when my 5- and 9-year-old got all interested in mountain biking, I was like…

“Yeah but what if you spook a horse on the trail

we’ll probably spin out in the mud

OK fine let’s try it

…hey guys wait up for me!” Good old FOMO (fear of missing out) got me on the wagon, er, into the van. As it usually does.

Now, I’ll acknowledge it’s nice when Daddy can take the kiddos out someplace and leave me to my own devices. This does not typically mean a spa day or putting on my party dress. More likely, I’ve just got to finish a work project, or tidy up without anyone immediately messing up the vacuum lines. But I do value time with my peeps, and sometimes I’ve got to go outside my comfort zone to get that time.

So a few Saturdays ago we decided to check out the multi-use El Dorado Trail, in Placerville, CA. Currently most of the 28-mile expanse that lies within El Dorado County is “unimproved” but small sections of it are paved. There are plans afoot to extend the trail farther west, and east all the way to Lake Tahoe, and to build up the parts that are currently just train tracks and ballast (gravel).

From our home in Sacramento the trail is up the hill about 40 minutes on Highway 50. We parked at the Wal Mart and started with our bikes on the unpaved trail going west, next to the tracks.

image (c) Google Maps

image (c) Google Maps

Recent and much-needed rains had thoroughly muddied the trail, but we stayed mostly clean while on or near the tracks. Riding in big chunks of rock can really slow your forward momentum, so to avoid tipping down the sometimes-steep embankment we got off and walked quite a bit in the first half-mile or so.

RR track bridge2

Crossing a bridge on the train tracks

Finally we found some good mud to spin out in. I learned to ride well back from my daughter, who hasn’t quite mastered the art of standing in the saddle to go uphill. Not that there are many hills. This section of the trail is mainly flat.



We had lunch on the tracks about two miles out from our starting place, then doubled back. We moved at a pretty slow pace and managed to stay mounted, even while bumping over some gnarly roots.

Lunch on the tracks

One thing we know from being trail users elsewhere is to watch out for riders on horseback and always yield to them. We didn’t see any equestrians on that day, but we met a few dog-walkers, and a couple of people camping by the trail.

A woman we met near the Wal Mart told us the police had seized her tent in an attempt to make her move along. She’d have to make other plans for the night. We gave her our best wishes and wondered aloud what good it does to confiscate people’s shelter? Ugh. For future reference, I learned there are services for homeless people in Placerville such as transitional housing, though this may not be right for everyone’s needs.

There’s a pedestrian crosswalk from Wal Mart over to the other side of Missouri Flat Road. It makes for a little detour so if you’re impatient to cross, you can jaywalk I guess. (Yes, that’s what we did.)

For three miles on the east side of Missouri Flat Road up to the intersection with Forni Road the trail is paved, and much more heavily traveled. We went only about one mile, to the bridge at Weber Creek where there’s  a gorgeous overlook.

Couples apparently like this spot too, and some choose to proclaim their love by leaving padlocks engraved with their names, initials, and/or significant dates on the bridge.

Love locks2

Love locks on the bridge over Weber Creek, El Dorado Trail near Placerville, CA

We headed back tired and splattered but grateful for a beautiful day out and a ride that challenged us all in various ways.

Hair challenged

At least he’s not hair challenged

Muddy tires2

Have a recommendation for what ride we should try next? Share in the comments!


Wine Country Century and a Trip to the Redwoods

This weekend my husband rode with his bike club in the Wine Country Century. It’s a 100-mile, all-day ride that you have to register for at midnight when registration opens or you don’t get a spot. The kids and I tagged along. We goofed around at Westminster Woods Camp & Conference Center most of the day he was riding, but we did make it out to the driveway about 8:45 a.m. to watch the riders negotiate the Bohemian Highway stretch.

cyclists in the Wine Country Century, Bohemian Highway, Occidental CA

Watching the riders near Occidental CA, about 20 miles in to the Wine Country Century ride

Here’s hubby at the rest stop at mile 71, looking pooped. Because it’s such a hard life when you’re cycling through wine country.

cyclist at rest stop, mile 71 in Wine Country Century

Poor baby

I’m glad he did it, glad for his sense of accomplishment and for him to make new friends while feeling the burn. He also knocked 100 miles off of his 250-mile goal for May is Bike Month. (I need to get my plan together, as I’ve pledged 100 but am only up to 8 so far.)

The century ride, which starts and ends in Santa Rosa, was also was a great excuse for us to tack on a mini-vaycay. We took Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to drive up Highway 1 to California’s North Coast, where we checked out Humboldt Redwoods, MacKerricher, and Patrick’s Point State Parks as well as Redwood National Park. (Hover your mouse over each photo in the slide show below to see the captions.)

What makes me the most proud of my husband, aside from the sheer strength and endurance he deployed to ride 100 hilly miles, is that he’s brave enough to do so on roads with very skinny shoulders or none at all. Also curves that you and motorists can’t see around. I’ve so far stuck to established bike trails and simple, ’round the burbs Point A to Point B riding, because the other kind scares me silly.

The only road biking I’ve ever attempted was a 20-miler as part of a triathlon, on a road that was so straight any drivers could see us from far off, giving them plenty of time to slow down or move over to afford us riders a bit of knee room. And even then my heart was racing over and above its normal rate for physical exertion.

Do you ride on the road? How do you screw your courage up to do it?

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Great Day Hikes for Kids: Mount Diablo

California’s Mount Diablo State Park is open again following the Morgan fire. And I’m glad because we are eschewing soccer this fall to free up as many Saturdays as possible for day trips.

Like this one we took to Mt. Diablo in November of 2011.

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It began with a drive southwest from Sacramento through the Delta region. At some point we stopped for a barge to go by, and it struck me that the barge was floating at a higher elevation than our car on the road.

Now, I’m only “from” California as of 2009, so I didn’t realize before that California even had a delta. I figured there was only one, the Mississippi (and there ain’t NO Delta Breeze on the Mississippi, unless there’s a hurricane coming, blowing clouds of mosquitoes upriver).

In the parking lot at Mt. Diablo we met lots of tired cyclists and a troop of teenage Boy Scouts who seemed peeved that their leaders had made them take the foot-powered ascent.

The visitor center has a cozy fireplace, books to read, and comfortable seating. Soooo tempting. But the kids already had their nap in the car and needed to move, so off we went on the Mary Bowerman trail, a gentle 0.7 mile loop near the summit of the mountain.

The trail is indeed gentle, with gorgeous views when not hazy (we looked down on the San Francisco Bay)–but it has a steep drop-off so we felt it was safer to keep our then-2-year-old in a toddler backpack.

And after our hike we went to a larger, mostly deserted parking area that I believe serves as the trailhead to further hiking trails…but we used it to let the kids run around some more.

And there you have it. A great day out.