We loaded up the van long before the sun came up. The morning was cold, but the crisp clear stars were wondrous. Empty skies before sunrise were much better than the rain clouds that had deluged our region for the past month. Conversations quickly ensued with reminiscing versions of how grown up we had become playing out. From how we had nursed our old VW across the state by blasting the heater on a hot summer day to stave off a blown radiator, to the ill-advised but infamous semi-truck drag wind assist, saving precious few mpgs because we had shoe-stringed our gas money only enough for one-way adventures... I glanced across our crew, and chuckled at the undeniable smell of new sprinter van in the air. We laughed at the fact that inside we continued to be those younger incarnations that craved the unknown path forward.
As we rolled into the small town of Maxwell, the sun’s warmth did its best to rise with us. The smattering of store fronts and houses were vibrant amidst almond trees in full spring bloom. Maxwell, an ag community long standing in the Central Valley, sits about an hour west of Chico and directly adjacent to some of the most amazing gravel exploration hidden in plain site. But it might as well be the capital of decades long forgotten, remaining stubborn against time even as the pulse of the Golden State grows and grows. With a pit stop at La Fortuna Bakery, bellies warm with café, chorizo, y pan dulce sabrosos, we began our Huffmaster experience. As we saddled up, a few laughs were exchanged about where Mig and his Huffmaster co-conspirator Jason Hoorn might be leading us. Had we brought enough match sticks to burn over the ensuing miles? With a bit of unknown trepidation, we embarked on a day off the grid.
The numbers were solid, roughly 90 miles and around 5000 feet of climbing. If you throw “Hopper” in the title of any route, prepare for what’s ahead. It's bound to get interesting, and to be totally honest we had no idea what we were in for. If you know then you know, but for those who don’t, Grasshoppers can push us well past type-two into type-three fun. No matter the course, the rewards are guaranteed for those willing to take on the challenge. And Miguel Crawford’s ever exploring mindset is a blessing to all of us who get to follow Señor Chapulin’s fresh tracks. Suffice to say the upcoming Huffmaster will not disappoint.
We rode for an entire day and saw less than a handful of cars, sometimes going multiple hours without seeing another living soul. Resident populations of coyote, eagle, and free ranging ground squirrels far surpassed any indication that humans existed in these peaks and valleys between the vistas. The Huffmaster navigates that place just beyond what you thought you understood, well off the the beaten path. True silence abounds, wild spaces are the only landmarks, and freedom to breathe deeply exists with permanence.
But what do we do when life overtakes your breakaway sprint and sets hard limits your mind can’t comprehend? For the past few years Mother Nature has been actively reminding us she is solidly in charge. On opposite sides of the Central Valley, the Ranch (AKA Mendocino Complex) and Camp fires burned on a scale never seen before. Spanning almost the entire width of Lake County, the Ranch Fire scorched nearly half a million acres crowning itself as the largest ever in California. And the Camp Fire forever altered the landscape of thousands of lives, as the most destructive in California’s history. Almost 20,000 homes and structures were incinerated. Paradise was literally lost, along with huge swathes of Magalia and South-Eastern Chico.
Photo: Roman Cho
My family and I were among the many thousands who lost everything in the previous “worst fire ever” that raged through Santa Rosa in 2017. But we were lucky. Our communal peloton wouldn’t drop us, and instead provided the supportive push back towards normal we absolutely needed. And that’s where the Huffmaster Hopper on April 20th connects the dots and comes into its own.
In partnership with the B-Rad Foundation, all profits from this event will go directly to support the Clear Lake Rotary District 5130 Fund and the Sierra Nevada Camp Fire Relief Fund. Both coordinate multiple charitable efforts in the Clear Lake, Chico, Paradise, and Magalia areas as they begin the long route back from the brink. We can make a legitimate difference with the Huffmaster, and lord knows they can use the help.
We all need to ride. It keeps us sane. But we can’t ignore that so many have lost so much in such a dramatic way. Miguel and I spoke in depth about holding an event to support victims from last year’s fire season. Mig and Jason had the route, the crew and know how. I had the reason. So we went all in and now you have a chance to support this worthy cause. Why wouldn’t you want to share in some of the most ridiculous b-roads and gravel that you never knew about? Lets just call it a two’fer. Getting to ride in places that will blow your mind and supporting folks who need our peloton’s embrace are the simple answers to the complex question of why? So mark your calendar. Hop’ in for the journey. And make a difference for those who truly need a hand-up in every way possible.