In Search of the Perfect Adventure Loop

If you’re looking for adventure, you’ve come to the right place.

From Shasta County on up, central northern California was made for adventure sports. This fact hasn’t escaped national notice. One of the few highlights of the past otherwise depressingly hot summer was Redding being named to Sports Events magazine’s “Top 12 Outdoor Adventure Sports Spots.” The trade magazine conducted a Facebook poll of white water kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing and other extreme outdoor sports enthusiasts and Redding placed a solid sixth in the nation. It’s nice to be on someone’s good list for a change.

Adventure sports were at least partly on my mind two Sundays ago when my girlfriend and I climbed on the BMW and blasted off toward the Mt. Shasta Ski Park, where they’ve been running the chairlifts for mountain bikers, hikers and sight-seers since July. I’m no mountain biker—too much pedaling, for one thing—so I’m not likely to be barreling down the side of Mt. Shasta anytime soon. But the idea of watching someone else do it? That sounds highly entertaining, like maybe something Red Bull would sponsor.

At any rate, “adventure sports” can be a fairly wide term that encompasses various forms of motorsports, including motorcycling, and our region has some of the best motorcycling roads on the planet. We planned our journey to Mt. Shasta Ski Park as a 200-mile circle, beginning and ending in Whitmore, near where we live in eastern Shasta County. It turned out to be the perfect loop. It doesn’t matter where you start your own loop. Just pick a spot and keep driving till you get back to where you began.

Always wear highly visible protective gear while riding a motorcycle! Photo by R.V. Scheide.

In splendid weather, we wound our way northeast on Fern Road toward Oak Run, then east on Buzzard’s Roost Road toward State Highway 299, passing large estates, rickety ranchettes and swaths of Sierra Pacific timberland on winding county roads that have recently been repaved in large sections. We grunted our way up the hill to Burney, stopped at the McDonald’s for late breakfast, then proceeded east on 299 to four corners, where we turned north toward Mt. Shasta on State Route 89, which along this stretch is part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.

The byway isn’t as challenging as eastern Shasta County’s country roads when it comes to cornering, but its undulating hills are as mesmerizing as a roller coaster. Even though it’s just 50 miles or so away from home, it always feels like a completely different region to me. The parallel tracks of asphalt cut straight through the rolling timberland, up one hill and down the other side, mile after mile, like someone forgot to put the turns in. It makes a road that might otherwise be unbearably straight tolerable, even pleasant, and in no time at all we were winging past McCloud and making the final climb to the Mt. Shasta Ski Park.

Mt. Shasta with ski runs in foreground. Photo by R.V. Scheide.

I’ve been to the ski park before, more than a decade ago, when I thought I was going to take up skiing, and the first thing that struck me upon my return was just how naked the place looks without the snow. Even Mt. Shasta, which just a few months ago was covered from peak to base, was more or less bereft of the stuff, and the grass on the ski runs was burnt dirty blond. What a wicked summer that was!

There were maybe a dozen cars in the parking lot, and I guessed from the bumpers stickers that about half the people there were hikers and sight-seers such as ourselves and the other half were hardcore mountain bikers. One skittered down the mountain and into the parking lot as we arrived, jammed on his front brake, pirouetted on his front wheel, and slammed sideways into back of his parked Subaru hatchback, just like he planned it. Things were looking up already.

Buy the ticket, take the ride! Photo by R.V. Scheide

I don’t want to sound too wimpy, but to me, a chairlift ride is an adventure in and of itself and well worth the $15 ticket (two lifts are running, the lift ticket lasts all day). Having been caught out getting on the chairlift more than once while I was allegedly learning to ski, I’ve developed what I’d call a healthy fear of the contraptions, and nothing breeds adventure like good old fashioned terror. For those with similar concerns, it may be inspiring to know the Black Diamond Deck is at the top of the lift, where you may purchase the adult beverage of your choice once you’ve taken the ride up.

The reality of course is that it’s much easier getting on a chairlift when you’re not wearing skies and standing on ice. It also helped that the park wasn’t too busy, and no one rushed us to get on board. We stood on the dots, our designated chair came around, the operator slowed it down ever so slightly, we sat down and pulled the safety bar down (it’s optional), the cable took our weight and cranked us up the mountainside.

Intrepid mountain biker on his way up the hill. Note GoPro on helmet and mountain bike on chair behind him.

Our five-minute ride paused briefly in the middle when someone else got on, and we swung in the breeze for a few moments, stuck on the ferris wheel, feet dangling 20 feet above the precipitous slope. Then our gradual ascent continued in silence. We passed a lady with a baby who were on the way down, the kid was obviously delighted with the ride. They rode up and down the chairlift several times that afternoon.

What you do when you get to the top 6500 feet up is up to you. There are a multitude of hiking and mountain biking trails to choose from. The views of Mt. Shasta and the north end of the valley are spectacular; I’d say you can see for miles but on the day we were there the north end of the valley was still filled with smoke from the summer’s wildfires. Even at altitude, we were still in the smoke. It turned the whole scene into a blue/grey impressionist landscape, where valley, mountain and sky were but vague suggestions.

The Black Diamond Deck is not a bad place to take all this in, jutting out as it does over the mountainside, with clear views of the valley, the mountain and the mountain bikers as they begin their descent down one of the more treacherous, high-speed trails. The trail begins right next to the Black Diamond, where there’s also a cornhole court set up. People were actually cornholing while we were there. Don’t mock, it’s a popular and growing sport.

The Black Diamond Deck. Note cornholers to right.

I’m no mountain biker, but there’s a part of me that thinks maybe I could get into it, if there wasn’t so much pedaling involved. Which makes this whole bringing your mountain bike up on the chairlift behind you all the more interesting. I saw some older gentlemen riding fat-tired mountain bikes on one of the gentler courses and it looked totally doable. I could just go slow and ride the brakes all the way down.

But these hardcore guys barreling down the mountain? They’re not letting gravity do all the work. They’re pedaling every chance they can get, right from the very start, wearing helmets and full crash protection gear because wiping out is par for the course. They’re actually trying to go faster. You can only see them from the deck for two or three turns before they disappear, but many of them have GoPro cameras attached to the side of their helmets, and you can view their terrifying, high-speed descents over jumps and other obstacles on YouTube here and here.

Some of the mountain bike courses have manmade obstacles such as this.

The Sports Events magazine poll is correct. Redding is a totally legitimate adventure sports hotspot. Even the mayor is a mountain biking fanatic. Design a diabolical downhill course on the face of Mt. Shasta, and people will pay good money to stand on the mountainside and cheer their favorite world-ranked mountain biking champion on. They’ll pay even more for the TV and internet broadcasting rights.

It’s not just a pipe dream. Major corporate sponsorship is a definite possibility when it comes to adventure sports, because you need a car or a mountain bike or a soft drink to get you where the adventure is. That’s one reason why Redding Subaru (their all-wheel drive vehicles are extremely popular with adventure sports fanatics) is sponsoring the first annual SubaBrew at Mt. Shasta Ski Park Sept. 30.

There will be food, wine, beer and live music, all from the vantage point of the Black Diamond Deck. It’s the last chance you’ll have to ride the chairlift before the winter season begins in December, so don’t miss it. There’s a raffle for a $500 mountain bike and you can ride it down the hill if you win.

Speaking of going downhill, the ride home on our perfect loop was down the aptly named Cascade Wonderland Highway, easily the best stretch of the I-5 freeway, which spans the western U.S. from the Canadian to the Mexican border. From Dunsmuir on, I-5, the world’s most boring freeway, turns into a serpentine monster, a death tunnel filled with slow-moving trucks and fast-moving cars plunging downhill through an endless series of sweeping turns that coil progressively tighter as you near the bridge that crosses Shasta Lake.

The billboard-sized warning signs positioned in the corners flashing, “You’re going too damned fast!” may have been helpful to the truckers who were melting down their brakes in the slow lane, but they were quite distracting to the weary motorcyclist and girlfriend on their way home, trying to commit to the fast lane while being tailgated by a Jaguar pushing 80 mph.

After that kind of pressure, I was almost grateful when the road straightened out after we crossed the lake. We gassed up in the city of Shasta Lake and took the backroads home, perfect adventure loop completed.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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14 Responses

  1. Great story!
    Have you ventured very far east on 299?

  2. Frank Treadway says:

    Sorry to put a blanket on this mountain bike thing, but as one who was born at the base of Mt. Shasta CA in the mid years of the 20th Century, I for one, can’t endorse using this mountain with 10+ glaciers and a certain amount of reverence for many folks who move to Mt.Shasta just for its beauty and mystery, for motor biking. Not to mention the indigenous Siskiyou, Shastan, Modoc and Wintu tribes who continue, after 100s of years, trekking to this sacred volcano for meditative moments and places to gather very rare grasses and herbs for ceremonies. There’s plenty of other land in state and national parks in the area for this noisy and polluting form of adventure.

    • john says:

      No motor bikes were used on the mountain and the use was restricted to a small area, not the entire mountain.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I understand your concerns Frank, and there has been longstanding tension between environmentalists and some mountain bikers. However, the proposed event would take place within the existing ski park, on trails that are already in use. We could insist on some sort of EIS for the event as well. I might argue (wait, I am arguing!) that such an event might bring more people to Mt. Shasta, where they might develop an appreciation for our particular environment. Anyway, your point is well taken!

    • Ned Estill says:

      Mountain bikes are bicycles. They are not motorcycles.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      R.V. sez: “I’m no mountain biker, but there’s a part of me that thinks maybe I could get into it, if there wasn’t so much pedaling involved.”

      See there, Frank? Pedaling. Mountain biking involves pedaling, not twisting the throttle.

      Also, a National Park is no place for off-road motorcycles, per your suggestion.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      R.V. sez: “I’m no mountain biker, but there’s a part of me that thinks maybe I could get into it, if there wasn’t so much pedaling involved.”

      See there, Frank? Pedaling. Mountain biking involves pedaling, not twisting the throttle.

      Also, a National Park is no place for off-road motorcycles, per your suggestion.

  3. cheyenne says:

    Take HWY 3 North out of Weaverville along Trinity Lake and over Scott Mountain. At Callahan take the Forks of the Salmon road West. After winding over a mountain you come into Cecilville, recently in the news for the hideout of the fugitive school teacher and his kidnapped student. Also a town that my wife said reminded her of the film Deliverance. As you leave Cecilville headed west a sign posted on the road states, “If not used to driving mountain roads turn around. Honk on blind corners”. I must be used to mountain driving as the road didn’t seem that bad. The worst part was in the spring, and as the road hugs the Salmon River the kayakers racing along the road to their next launching point was quite daunting. Eventually we made our way back to 299W and looked for an open restaurant to eat lunch. As this was Sunday nothing was open until Weaverville. A good scenic long day drive through rural northern California.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      We’ve ridden through that area several times, very awesome roads there as well. In fact, it’s pretty easy to make many adventure loops that pass through interesting places in that area. One thing we like to do with the BMW, because it will do OK in light off road situations, is find mountain passes that are gravel or dirt roads. We’ve gone through some pretty hairy stuff I never thought we’d make it through, and I’m not really that good in the dirt.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Here’s a two-day loop that’s always intrigued me:

      1. Redding to Arcata via Igo-Ono-Platina-SR 36-US 101. (Optional run up to Trinidad if you wanted to spend the night there.)

      2. East on 299 to SR 96. Northeast on SR 96 to Scott River Road, south to SR 3 through Scott Valley, south past Trinity Lake to SR 299, east to Redding.

      That’s about 11-12 hours of total driving time. It’d be easy to make it a three-day trip.

  4. Ginny says:

    Keep up your good writing R.V. You do it so well. And, thanks for the photos. I will never see those places in person, but you gave me a bird’s eye view………….

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