For the second time in 2 years I made it out to the park by 6:00 pm for the takeoff of the "Fast 50" ride (a name that doesn't necessarily apply to the ride I did in speed or distance, but so it's called). Even though everyone is dressed weirdly at these events it was exciting to ride through town in a group that was about a block long and a lane wide. It was a lycra parade. I really like the clicking sounds of all those shoes detaching from all those clipless pedals at the stoplights.
No doubt I've made some kind of cycling progress since I did this ride last year...heck, last year I didn't even have clipless pedals. I sure feel like I'm faster. But everybody else must have felt that way too. I was dropped in pretty much the same place as last time, shortly after we got out into the orchards. The "péloton" moved ever farther away, then around the next bend and out of sight until I had turned back onto the River Road and saw a bunch of the Tri Group women showing solidarity for a sister with a flat. At least it looked like somebody was fixing a flat and everyone else was standing around. So I felt free to pass by on the other side and they didn't catch me again until we were back in town.
The high point of this ride, and other rides I've been on in these parts lately, is the smell of the fields and orchards in summer when there are sprinklers going or as today, it was threatening rain off and on during the ride and the air was muggy. Muggy but about 10 degrees cooler than the past couple days (only 94 instead of 104--felt like heaven). It's a smell that seems natural and cultivated at the same time. It's almost a food smell--which makes sense--sort of the primeval food smell. Here and there are undertones of fermentation, decay and manure which add complexity. It's also a homey smell. This is what a place with open fields and irrigation smells like in the summer, and my hometown smelled something like that in its pre-stripmall & subdivision days. I think most of these really good smells have since retreated north to Idaho, perhaps with a few remaining outposts south of the border. I never expected to find myself in Chico, and I never expected to be so pleased by the landscapes and smells...orchards, fields and a river to the east with an outline of the Coast Range in the distance; rolling buttes and Sierra / Cascade mountains to the west. While the heat isn't easy to handle, it brings out some of these good smells. Slow-cooks 'em.
Along the route there is one stretch however that is a bit too complex in fragrance. The water treatment site. It's almost completely hidden behind big flowering hedges but it smells like shit, and not in a happy California cow sort of way. Well, when it happens, it has to go somewhere.