I last visited Chico in April 2013 for the Chico Velo Wildflower Century. I wanted to return to this area in Northern California, which required a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my place in the Bay Area. Home of Chico State University and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, it is also a very bicycle-friendly city. It earned a Gold Level Award for 2016 to 2020 by the League of American Bicyclists.

Chico Velo, the local bicycle advocacy and stewardship group founded in 1980, organizes the Wildflower Century and draws up to 4,000 bicycle enthusiasts to the area every spring. I wasn’t going to return for the big event this time, but I wanted to see how the area had changed over the last 10 years.

I parked my car at Lower Bidwell Park, bisecting Chico and providing a formidable green space for residents in the city. After a short stint through the city outskirts, including the Steve G. Harrison Memorial Bikeway, I found myself at the crown jewel of the ride: Honey Run Road. A scenic two-lane road meandering up to Paradise by climbing the flanks of Butte Creek Canyon, climbing about 1,500 feet in a little under ten miles.

The approach to the start of the actual climb in late March was already picturesque, with sunny conditions, lush green vegetation, and a free-flowing Butte Creek next to the road. The views of the canyon got more expansive the higher I climbed; the pavement was patchy, broken, and cracked in parts, with faded graffiti on the asphalt.

Paradise was decimated in the 2018 Camp Fire, and the devastation is still visible more than five years later. Empty lots where homes used to stand, countless “for sale” signs trying to lure potential buyers. In between, one could make out recovery rebuilding efforts, which have gone too slow for some. With plenty of new construction and the place regaining life, Paradise is currently the fastest-growing town in California, but it is also becoming less affordable at the same time.

From Paradise, it was a speedy descent into Butte Valley with side arms of Lake Oroville visible to the east from Pentz Road. While the longer rides at the Century extend to Oroville, I turned west towards Durham. The climbing was now behind me, and the rest of the ride led through firmly flat territory. As I cruised, my gaze constantly drifted across vast farmland areas, with Highway 99 as the major traffic artery running north-south.

I found myself in Durham, pop. 5,500, shortly after, which provided several options to take a break and refuel. Durham Elementary, the location of one of the rest stops during the Century event, allowed me to rehydrate and refill my water bottles. Continuing west, both sides of the road were now lined with an endless parade of fruit and almond trees.

Shortly after the hamlet of Dayton, the route turned north for the loop back to Chico, with more farmland until I reached the outskirts of Chico. Visible and audible signs of spring break were noticeable as I crossed Ivy Street, an area home to local fraternity houses just about to gear up for mid-afternoon parties. Passing by City Plaza, I returned to the starting point at Bidwell Park via Humboldt Avenue.