I have ridden hundreds of cycling events in the last 42 years and honestly, this quaint little event has won me over. Geographically, the intimate Fall River Valley sits at ~3300’ in the northeastern corner of Shasta County, which is up in northeastern Ca. just over an hour east of Redding. Burney is the largest town with about 3100, Fall River Mills has less than 600 and McArthur has about 300. The surrounding area has numerous inactive volcanic cones with dense evergreen forests to the west and basaltic lava fields and bluffs to the east. The summits of Mt Lassen (10,463’) and the snowcapped Mt Shasta (14,180’) are easily visible to the south and to the west. This valley is known for its wild rice, alfalfa circles, peppermint fields and Trout fishing in the Pit River and Fall River. Beyond the unique and beautiful surroundings and the very quiet and smooth roads, the warm and friendly people are the special ingredient that makes this event well worth the drive.
I was joined this year by a small group of friends and after setting up our tents on the shady lawn, we strolled to the check-in and we were greeted by the friendly registration volunteers. With our release forms autographed and wrist bands in place, we set our sights on dinner. We’d brought our own repast, but there was a nice dinner available for a few bucks if we’d wanted. As the sun rose Saturday morning, the inviting smells of bacon, eggs, pancakes and coffee drifted out, served by local volunteers who really know their way around those portable griddles.
We decided to ride our own 63 mile version, the first 2/3’s of the 100 mile route, to see the beautifully forested western portion of the area. Our day began with 13 easy warm up miles, then a mellow forested 4 mile climb followed by a delightful 7 mile descent on very smooth Hwy 89 and then a fun twisty 2+ mile descent into the first rest stop at mile 26.4. Very few cars passed us to this point and they were all very courteous. After the rest stop, the route descended a bit further to cross a small scenic dam holding Lake Britton, just north of McArthur-Burney Falls SP. After taking the obligatory “dam photos”, the route passed through the western edge of the State Park and our little peloton was taken with the brand new, super smooth pavement and the aromatic, evocative smells of the “Mountain Misery” plant.
Following a southbound section back on Hwy 89, the route turned northeast on pastoral Cassel Rd. and we quickly found the second rest stop at mile 44. We were once again greeted by friendly local volunteers who offered to fill water bottles, plates of fruit, home-made cakes and chairs in the shade. The next few miles were a warm yet pleasant climb through lightly pine forested lava fields sparsely dotted with “Silver Thistle” a distinctly colored plant with a bright ruby red flower. The gentle climb was over at mile 50, giving way to unobstructed views of the drier south and eastern expanses of the valley. Six fast and fun miles later we rolled into our last rest stop at the Fall River Mills Lions little league park. Under the large hexagonal shade structure we found yet another assemblage of volunteers who made us sandwiches and filled our bottles with ice. It was still early, just past noon, so we relaxed in the shade, continued to hydrate and share our highlights thus far.
Rolling back across the Pit River Bridge just south of town, we could see the falls of Fall River as it cascades from the tableland above and becomes one with the Pit River below. Our route turned east through alfalfa fields with a just bailed crop being gathered and loaded, the rancher waving hello as we rolled passed. On our own route now, we had just one short little climb before the finish back in McArthur at mile 63 and the shady fairgrounds there. The delicious finish line meal really hit the spot, right after we each downed a cold cup of “finish line” chocolate milk from the ice chest we’d left in camp! Over 200 riders participated in this year’s Fall River Century and the weather was beautiful, the pavement was smooth and the traffic was almost non-existent. But for all of us, the special ingredient that will draw us back to Fall River Valley was the warm and friendly people throughout the event. Yep, we’ll be back.