A 64-mile road bike course that starts and finishes in the lovable little Amador County town of Ione may be one the best all-around rides you ever tackle.
Why? It offers enough of a challenge for experienced riders. It goes up and down pretty much all day, so top cyclists can push themselves at a high pace the entire distance.
Yet it's friendly enough for novices still searching for their climbing legs – those ups and downs are (almost) never severe.
In other words, it's not too long, not too hard and not too much for anyone who has put in a modicum of training in recent months.
The ride takes you along mostly quiet country roads, the scenery is pleasant and often panoramic, and most of all, doing a ride like this every so often will make you a much better cyclist.
Our recent visit to the area on a weekend found very few cars on much of the route. In fact, we saw more cows – and goats and horses and wild turkeys – than we did automobiles.
Speaking of automobiles, it turns out that a large segment of our "Great Rides" readership is made up of people who use these routes for lovely drives. That includes motorcyclists. While "Great Rides" will always be devoted to cyclists, we'll try to pay attention to the motorists, too. And while we're at it, wouldn't it be nice if motorists and cyclists could coexist a little more peacefully?
Today's Ione route is the same as the annual Party Pardee ride, held in early April. Sponsored and run by the Sacramento Bike Hikers, the ride rings in a new cycling season and, with its friendly, communal vibe and hundreds of participants, is also a celebration of the great riding opportunities throughout this region.
The Party Pardee ride always starts in Ione and meanders through a cozy residential area. It doesn't take long to hit a narrow farm road. The best feature: It's quiet. And we get the first hint of the rolling terrain that defines this route – a little bump up and a nice little descent.
One of the first things we noticed along these roads as the miles began to pile up was the diversity of farming in the area. In short order, we saw wine-grape vineyards, goats, cattle, a field of donkeys and many, many horses. Every so often, we spotted an old stone farmhouse or a weathered wooden barn.
About nine miles into the ride, we hit our first hill. Cyclists call these "rollers," but if you do most of your riding in flat Sacramento or if your power breakfast includes six glazed doughnuts, even a roller can feel like Mont Ventoux.
A small hill should not require much gear-shifting. Yes, you'll want to shift to an easier gear, but a roller is also a power climb, meaning you should jump on the power a little and get to the top with a surge. You can manage this because the climb is quite short and you can recover on the way down the other side.
At Mile 13, there is a place to stop for a break if you need something cold to drink. Experienced cyclists suggest keeping stops as short as possible, especially this early in a ride.
In a few more miles, we get to a pretty steep descent with a good leftward bend near the bottom. Be careful. Hit this turn too fast and you will get to meet all kinds of folks working in the medical profession.
Still, don't go too slow on the way down – you will immediately start climbing again, and momentum is a good way to cheat gravity, if only for a moment.
Overall, this course can require a lot of gear-shifting. Newer riders may wonder: When is the best time to shift? The short answer is, before you really need to. In other words, good riders anticipate the slope and they shift to an easier gear without having to really mash down on the pedals and look ungainly doing so.
If you're really smooth, your pedaling cadence will look about the same on the flats as on the climbs. Standing? Yes, you should get out of the saddle every so often. It can take weight off your backside, loosen up your legs and give you a little extra burst when you need some power on steeper slopes.
One thing I noticed while riding near the pros when they were training in and around Sacramento before the Amgen Tour of California is that they get out of the saddle much more often than recreational riders.
About 27.5 miles in, we crested yet another climb and paused for a moment to take in a glimpse of Camanche Lake. The views in this area are very pleasant and sweeping. This is the beginning of the foothills, with Sierra slopes visible in the distance. For a shorter ride, this would be a good place to turn around and retrace your route to Ione.
After entering the town of Wallace (population 206), you'll see a Chevron station. Another good place to grab a Gatorade and get off the bike for a few minutes.
At 33.4 miles, we get a long, pretty tough climb with a very straight descent where it's easy to get going over 40 mph. Don't let the straightaway lure you into a false sense of security. Unlike us, the pros ride on closed courses, so they can fly down as fast as they dare. We have to worry about cars pulling out of driveways or side streets – and those tiny brakes on road bikes just don't work very well.
When you turn onto Hartvickson Lane at 41.3 miles, you come to the toughest climb so far, the one I remember best. It's not long, but it's steep. Just a tough little climb.
On my fixed-gear bike, I was barely able to turn the pedals. If you see anyone spinning smoothly up Hartvickson, he or she probably does this for a living.
Soon enough, we encountered a massive wall of gray rock that turned out to be Hogan Dam. When you ride parallel to the dam, the climb doesn't look like much. But we were getting tired, and this climb began to sap our strength. Yes, we were running out of gas. But that's part of the plan: If you finish a big ride and still feel fresh, maybe you didn't go hard enough.
Take a break at 46.3 miles, where you'll find an excellent observation point along with restrooms.
We're headed for the finish – and only a couple more good hills. On a ride like this that takes three hours or more, you should be drinking and eating – nibbling, that is – along the way to keep your energy up.
This ride is called Party Pardee is because of Pardee Reservoir and dam. This is one of three major bodies of water along the route. The others are Camanche Lake and New Hogan Lake.
We hit the narrow road across the dam, no wider than a bike trail. The latter part of that road is so tight that only one lane of traffic can make it across. The signal light alternates to accommodate traffic in both directions. By now, you'll be happy to hit a red light.
Right after the dam comes a steep hill – you may want to take in the view of the water to get your mind off your legs. After that, there are a few more miles to go – and those always seem the longest. Sure, you're happy to be out there, but you're also ready for it to be over.
You may think you're getting delirious when you encounter a sign that reads "Ione 2 miles," followed a mile later by a sign that reads "Ione 2 miles." Huh?
When we finally got back, we were happy to enjoy two tasty panini at Clark's Corner, a comfortably upscale cafe and coffeehouse that is open early and late.
Whether you rode or drove, you've just experienced one of the area's top bike routes – up and down but not too much of either – with country roads that seem so far removed from life in the big city. Next month, we're heading out to Apple Hill in El Dorado County for some riding, driving and, best of all, to track down some apple pie.
MAKE A DAY OF IT
While you are in the Ione area, there is plenty to do before or after your ride. We enjoyed a nice meal at Clark's Corner (12 W. Main St.). This cafe and coffee shop is quite a place, with a wide variety of entertainment on different nights. The cafe is owned by Kraig Clark, a cyclist himself.
His cafe is sponsoring an exciting bicycle event Saturday, the Clark's Corner Cycling Challenge, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It includes riding with pro Chris Horner, a standout in this year's Tour de France. Entry is $30 and there's still time to sign up. For information: http://clarkscornerione.com.
A visit at the historic – and some insist haunted – Ione Hotel is also a good bet. Rooms range from $80 to $145 for charming accommodations. On the ground floor, there's a nice steakhouse and saloon that has some of that Gold Rush ambience without the fistfights or obligatory duels. There are also plenty of wineries within a few miles of Ione in the Shenandoah Valley. For more information, visit The Bee's wine site, www.sacwineregion.com.
For an archive of Great Rides, go to sacbee.com/outbound
SEND US YOUR IDEAS
Great Rides and its companion, Great Treks, are monthly features that invite readers to enjoy the region's outdoors by bicycle and on foot. Have a suggestion for a route or another kind of great outdoors experience? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
JOIN THE RIDES
One of the best ways to become a better cyclist is to get involved with a bicycle group. The area's two most prominent clubs are the Sacramento Bike Hikers (www.bikehikers.com) and the Sacramento Wheelmen (www.sacwheelmen.org).
If you're interested in joining, try doing the groups' organized rides as a guest and see which is the right fit for you. Riding with a group can be motivational and can teach you about new places to ride.
The Bike Hikers host the annual Party Pardee ride each April. It routinely sells out. Early registration is recommended.
NEED A SHORTER ROUTE?
Ride out to enjoy a view of Camanche Lake, then turn around and retrace the route to Ione.
View Roller coaster with a view in a larger map