Chico State, as we esteemed alumni refer to it as, is nestled in the small Northern California town of Chico. Get it?. . . It’s a unique place where the Central Valley borders the foothills of the Sierra Mountains and grassy meadows, oak, and pine, mix to create a network of and invitation to some of the best and most challenging trails California has to offer. Jagged ledges and softball sized rocks. Short, punchy climbs and steeper descents. Tight and technical switchbacks; up and down. Trails aren’t smooth and they lack flow; mostly. Bikes break here. So do people. It is pure competition between rider and mountain and on days when each brings its best, there is a sense of mutual respect for the other: rider for mountain and mountain for rider.
It’s been 22 years since my last effort in these parts, and while I’m a better rider now than I was then, the trails here make that progression irrelevant. It’s just as difficult. It’s just as fun.
Pick your poison. Hard or more hard? I rode the North Rim to B-Trail to Middle Trail in that order. This is the hard option. Go to South Rim and Green Gate for more hard.
Beginning at the entrance to the park, one is instantly met with a bumpy, grinding climb for 4 miles. It makes you sweat and makes you swear. Especially on a hardtail. My thighs and lungs were lit up just in time for B-Trail.
A wild descent down jagged, loose, rocky switchbacks. And it’s steep. About 700 ft. of drop in 2 miles with a few pedaling sections near the top. Much of the trail is off-camber and it’s a constant fight to not get pushed off the trail on the downhill side. Get too low and try to steer high? The front wheel washes out. Decide to stay low and ride it out? Boulders and trail gaps hide within the tall grass. You can wave to them during your flight over the bars. There is no opportunity for mental breaks and here lies the inherent difficulty. If any moment is not spent preparing for the next trail feature, the trail wins.
Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Powerful bursts to get over punchy climbs and white knuckles on the way down. Over and over. Flow sections and rock gardens. Drops and camber. All these conspire to tease and taunt and push. All these together induce big grins. Middle Trail combines the best of every trail I’ve ridden. It’s roughly 4 miles and 730 ft. of total descending. There a few sections of sprinting required to keep momentum over the ups and through the bumps.
Some would argue B-Trail is the best Chico has to offer; a tough point to argue. For me, Middle Trail is tops with the best blend of play, difficulty, and thrill. If you haven’t been, add it near the top of the bucket list of destinations to get rowdy on. You’ll be glad you did.