Trip Map

Area Map for trip. Trip start and end points are marked with red boxes. Overnight stops are marked as red plus signs.


This writeup describes a trip along the Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail (PCBT) from Hamburg, CA to Tahoe City, CA. We followed the route given in The Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail by Bil Paul, one of the riders. The total trip distance was about 407 miles. We rode from July 23 through July 30, 1995.

Our group varied in size along the way, as some folks needed to head home early, and we "adopted" others along the way. Ages ranged from 20's to 60's, but all had quite a bit of self contained touring experience. I had the least, with only about 400 miles earlier this year, and a sagged cross country trip in 1992.

One distinction of our group was the inclusion of 4 amateur radio operators (a.k.a. hams) who tried to make long range contacts with radio equipment carried on the trip. This had the potential to also provide the evening's entertainment, watching the hams try to get lines over the trees to raise antennas. However, these folks were too professional, and got the antennas up without gaffs!

There were also 6 of us hams (yah, I'm one) who carried "handi-talkies" for communicating on the road. This was my first experience with such communication during a tour, and it turned out to be quite useful at times. We did get quite spread out sometimes, and the radios allowed us to know a bit about what was happening. Of course, the fast group sometimes didn't have a ham (because they weren't slowed by the weight of the radio gear?), so communication wasn't always complete. [TOC]

D-Day minus 1: Getting to the starting point

Six of us were from the San Francisco Bay Area, so we managed to car pool up in a Dodge Caravan with a trailer for the bikes. This made a long ride (about 7 hours) much more enjoyable, and gave me a chance to meet some of the folks I didn't know. However, it's amazing how many bicycling folks we knew in common.

Others, coming from the midwest and Germany, came into Oregon or Seattle and biked down to Hamburg. They managed to get there before dark - by car, we didn't arrive until about 9:30 p.m..

One advantage of arriving so late was that the mosquitoes were already asleep, and I was able to sleep out without a tent. There were few other spots where I was able to do that. Since there was a new moon in the middle of the trip, the night sky was very beautifully lit by the Milky Way, something this city boy doesn't often get a chance to see. [TOC]

Day 1: Hamburg to Etna

We started from Sarah Toten Campground (CG) in Klamath National Forest. This is within a mile of Hamburg, along SR-96. To start our adventure off on a good foot, the water had been disconnected at the campground. Fortunately, our carpool driver stayed the night, and made a water run in the morning for us. However, I didn't mange to get my morning caffeine fix.

I had never been in this part of California before, and was very pleasantly surprised to find such scenic countryside, both wild and farmed. The Scott River Valley, which we rode through, appeared to be quite prosperous. Not only were the roads freshly paved, but very few of the buildings and farms could be described with the euphemism "rustic" meaning "run down".

Although we saw a lot of wildlife along the entire route, this was perhaps the best day. I saw three deer, including a spotted fawn. And, I got to see a Bald Eagle, sitting a few trees down from a nest (thanks to Bil who spotted it). I wonder how many eagles nests get hit by lightening, given their usual location atop high trees or power line towers.

We stayed in the Etna City Park, a quite nice facility. They had good trees for the hams along on the trip. And, they had some hoses that could be rigged as showers, although a bathing suit was more appropriate than a birthday suit.

The town of Etna is quite nice. We were there on a Sunday, so most facilities were shut down. But there was a good super market in town with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with main course selections. Not all of the stores we would encounter would have such niceties as bagels! [TOC]

Day 2: Etna to Mt. Shasta

In many ways, this was probably the toughest day. We started out with a nice side road that paralleled SR-3 from Etna to Callahan along the eastern edge of the valley. The gently rolling road allowed good vistas of the upper end of the Scott Valley and the surrounding hills.

Callahan is a quaint town. Basically, there are two (long) buildings on either side of the street, each with a general store. One also houses a bar, the other the post office. Another large building is an old hotel in an interesting state of impending collapse. Rickety scaffolding tries to hold back bowing walls, but I bet the locals have a pool on when the walls will finally give way.

Callahan did provide about the best example of a traditional general store on the trip. The first aisle (about 8 foot long) had jeans and the freezer with ice cream. The next aisle some dry goods and household products. The final aisle had some more food and the dairy case. It was well stocked within the constraints of space, and I enjoyed an "It's It" bar in the early morning heat.

From Callahan, we left SR-3 and took the Callahan-Gazelle road up and over Gazelle Pass. This is a very scenic route, and there is an exquisite valley about half way up the climb. While traversing that valley, a few of us were privileged to have a coyote cross the road about 30 feet in front of us. What a beautiful animal! I've never had the opportunity to see a coyote in the wild before, and was enchanted with the many hues of tan and brown in his coat, as well as the graceful running style. Fortunately, the terrain was only sparsely vegetated, so I had a chance to watch him run for a while.

The downhill (eastern) slope of Gazelle Pass was quite steep and winding over less than perfect road surface. There were a few sections of loose gravel where potholes were being filled. Once at the bottom, we began traversing a very wide valley to Gazelle. Part way along this section, the surrounding hills give way to a magnificent vista of Mt. Shasta to the south east.

Along this route, we also picked up our first hot dry headwind, which would accompany us on almost all of our future uphill stretches. At least, we were able to get used to it on the flats....

Gazelle is a tiny town, mostly shut down. Besides the Post Office, there was only one open business, a cafe. While they didn't have air conditioning, they did have a wonderful ice tea and real (non bicycle or picnic bench) seats! They also had a television playing an old western that none of use could remember the title of.

The stretch from Gazelle to the town of Mt. Shasta was the hardest one of the entire trip for me. It was flat for the first section, but very hot with a hot dry headwind. After reaching I-5, we took Old Stage Road. In this stretch, the hot dry winds were compounded by some rather steep rollers. The nasty kind, that not only get steeper towards the top, but make each segment appear to be the last one though the insidious use of turns and trees!

Along this stretch, I had my first (keep count, kids) mechanical problem. My new touring shoes had felt fine during a few test rides, but my feet were burning climbing the hills. I finally traced the problem to toe clips that were too short (the new shoes were longer to get them wide enough), so the ball of my foot was forced behind the pedal axle. Wow! What a difference an inch can make! On the road, I stripped the toe clips off my pedals, and tried to make due (they were old Shimano Exage pedals, which aren't designed to be used without toe clips).

So, when we hit the town of Mt. Shasta, while the others headed for the cool shade, shower, and pool of the KOA campground, I headed into the downtown area. The one bike shop in town had a rather good selection of gear, given that they also supported (at least) 4 other sports, and really featured mountain bikes. I ended up with a $8 pair of composite pedals without toe clips, which worked well enough for the rest of the trip. Although, I did find that I hadn't really been lifting on the up stroke while pedaling, as I had no trouble keeping my feet on the pedals without clips.

Actually, the camping area at the Mt. Shasta KOA is among the nicest at any KOA I've seen. It's separate from the RV section, and sheltered by real trees! I can't tell you how wonderful the shower felt. I almost missed the dinner run to stay in the shower!

We ate at a local Mexican restaurant called "LaLo's". The food was good, but the salad bar was one trip only. Obviously, they've encountered bikers before! [TOC]

Day 3: Mt. Shasta to Burney Falls

Several of us took advantage of a nearby Jerry's Coffee Shop to start the day with pancakes. I, for one, appreciated mass quantities of real coffee. (I had been using the Folger's bags, which are better than instant, but still leave something to be desired.)

Unfortunately, two of our group had to leave us at Mt. Shasta for personal reasons. We bid them good-bye and headed out on SR-89, the main road for the rest of the trip.

The road climbs gently giving nice vistas of both Mt. Shasta (the peak, not the town) and Castle Crags to the south. The views provided a nice soothing influence to counteract the roar of logging trucks pulling up the grade. From here until Truckee we would see logging and chip trucks on a regular basis, although the stretch to Burney Falls was definitely the worst.

After the first upgrade, we had a nice descent into McCloud where we stopped at the good sized grocery for lunch supplies. While there, we met a couple from England on a 2 or so year bike tour. After travelling from Vancouver, BC to Baja, they are hoping to fly to New Zealand, and then to Australia before returning to England. We also go out first glimpse of a streak that turned out to be a couple from Holland touring the PCBT.

After McCloud, the road climbs somewhat gently through a nice forest. As we were (we thought) tooling up the hill at a good clip, the Dutch Streak blew by us as if we were standing still. Sigh. We did have a nice lunch stop at the bar in Bartle (it's the only building in Bartle). There we met a solo woman biker also heading to Lake Tahoe who would join us for the rest of the trip (she had started on the PCBT at the Canadian border 6 weeks previously).

I'd like to say the rest of the trip to McArthur-Burney Falls State Park was uneventful, but it wasn't. This stretch of SR-89 has very little paved shoulder in most places (3 to 6 inches or so). And, what little is there is usually severely cracked, making riding on it quite dicey. Further, this is an old road, as in the lanes are quite narrow. Add the logging truck and chip truck (long and wide semi-trailers carrying wood chips) traffic and you have a potential for some nasty occurrences.

My nasty occurrence came as I was descending a hill about 5 miles from the state park. A chip truck started to pass me, giving me a wide berth of 8-12 inches. Another chip truck came around the curve headed towards us, and the one passing me edged closer. I chose to leave the pavement for the shoulder, which was the "right" choice, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the shoulder was softer than I realized, and I couldn't hold the front wheel straight for more than about 20 feet. Then, the front wheel dug in, turned 90 degrees to the left, and pitchpoled me over the handlebars.

Fortunately, I tumbled out of the fall cleanly, and was not injured. However, my front wheel looked a bit like a potato chip. And I don't mean a Pringles brand chip. Rather more like the generic discount brand chip that's been kicked a few times.

Since the wheel wasn't ridable, I hitched a ride into the park from a local in a pickup truck. I hoped to find a ride into Redding (about an hour's drive) to get a new wheel at a bike store, as there were no bike shops in Burney. The one shop that had some parts didn't have a 700c wheel. I wasn't able to manage a Redding shuttle, and was faced with having to drop from the trip.

At the park, I learned that I wasn't the only one to have truck trouble that day. The woman from England had also been forced off the road, and crashed. While her bike wasn't damaged, she banged a rib rather severely. They were going into Burney the next day to have her ribs checked more thoroughly than the first aid person at the park could manage. They expected to stay several days in Burney to allow her to heal before continuing their trip.

Well, I decided I had nothing to loose, and began the process of trying to turn the potato chip into a wheel. I made one big mistake - I should have taken bets as to whether or not I could pull it off! I eventually got it round enough to barely be able to use the brakes, but I was uncertain about the strength of the wheel, given the stretch in some of the spokes, and the bending of the rim.

While I was working on the wheel, several folks pointed out to me that I might be able to fit a 27" wheel onto my hybrid bike, and maybe even get the brakes to work. Even though it was after hours, I risked a call to the people that ran "Cassarang's Small Engine Repair", which also stocked some bike parts. Fortunately for me, evening phone calls to shop owners is apparently not uncommon in a small town, so I didn't get yelled at. He confirmed that he thought he had a built up 27" wheel in stock. Maybe I'd be able to continue the tour after all. [TOC]

Day 4: Burney Falls to Lake Manzanita (Lassen Volcanic National Park)

While the other folks headed off towards Mt. Lassen, I limped the extra 6 miles into Burney to wait for the small engine shop to open. This was quite a shop! One half was used as the small engine shop, while the other half was devoted to jewelry and bike parts. They even had a Burley trailer! I lucked out, and the one 27" wheel they had worked fine. I added a rim strip, tube, and tire, and I was out the door for under $35.

Did I mention that this was a steel rim with schraeder valve tubes? Covered with shiny chrome? I could have used the rim for a shaving mirror, except that I couldn't lift it with one hand! This is the true genesis of the "Steel is Real" slogan!

I gave Bil a call on the radio, and told him I'd be bringing up the rear that day, but would see everyone at Mt. Lassen. The other advantage of going into Burney was that they had a Safeway, so I stocked up on bananas, bagels, and fresh salsa, all items we hadn't seen recently.

The rest of the day was a very nice journey along SR-89 through the Hat Creek area. As the day grew hotter, I really appreciated how closely the road paralleled Hat Creek. I lost count of how many times I stopped to soak my jersey and bandana to help keep me cool. I had lunch at Honn Campground, though which Hat Creek flows. The surrounding area was burned several years ago, so the campground appeared as an oasis. It was certainly a wonderful spot to eat lunch, write postcards, and soak my feet.

The town of Old Station is quite scenic, and provided a welcome afternoon ice cream break. From there, the road started climbing at a very steady pace, just a smidgen steeper than I can handle comfortably. It made the descent to the turnoff to Lassen Park all the sweeter. And the Manzanita Lake Campground was wonderful with it's shower facilities!

This had been a very unusual day for me, as I ended up riding by myself for the entire day. As much as I enjoy chatting with other folks while riding, I also really enjoyed being able to set my own pace, and the relative solitude. I understand a lot better why so many folks I know do solo touring. [TOC]

Day 5: Manzanita Lake to Lake Almanor

Well, this was the day to go up and over Mt. Lassen. The road summit is at 8,512', a 2,665' climb from the campground spread over 22 miles. It's actually a fairly gentle climb, with only a few stretches of 6% grade. There are great vistas along the way.

The road over the pass had only been opened the previous Friday, due to the deep snow pack. We encountered snow patches at about the 7,000 foot elevation, and by 7,500 feet the snow was constant. However the roads were dry, so I didn't have to worry about the decreased braking power of my steel wheel.

I'd like to say it was the extra weight of the steel rim, but I'm afraid it's being out of shape, that caused me to stop about every half mile or so above 8,000 feet to catch my breath. The views were nice, though. The one problem with going so slow was that I didn't end up riding with anyone, and missed out on some of the great snow ball fights I heard about at camp that night!

Hal at Summit The pass over Mt. Lassen on July 27, 1995.

Just past the pass, both Helen and Emerald Lakes were still mostly frozen. Lake Helen consisted of one ice floe separated from the shoreline by about one foot all the way around. This small gap allowed some water to be atop the ice, showing that marvelous blue shade that only water on ice packs show. It was truly exquisite.

The descent down the south side was quite nice, and I was very glad I hadn't had to climb panting past the Sulphur Works area! I met up with some other riders at the chalet near the south park entrance and had a nice salad and a real latte.

From the park to Lake Almanor was a pleasant ride through forest, along mostly lightly travelled roads. There were few places open along the route, so I didn't manage to get my ice cream treat that day.

We stayed at the Plumas Creek campground, and although the area is a major resort area, the only close store was woefully stocked. Getting dinner supplies was an exercise in creativity, and the smarter folks ate out. The deer around the campground were habituated to humans, and peacefully grazed quite near our campsite. However, even they could sense the desperateness of our culinary endeavors and didn't come begging. [TOC]

Day 6: Lake Almanor to Cromberg

Ahh, the joys of touring. After an easy early start, several of us stopped for a 2nd breakfast in Greenville. Some even relaxed for a bit longer, watching me change out a spoke I broke on the way to the post office. For added entertainment, I changed the tube after it started leaking at the valve stem when I inflated the tire. Sigh.

The highlight of this day were the roads from Lake Almanor to Quincy. We went down several very beautiful river canyons, including the Wolf Creek and Indian Creek tributaries of the Feather River. These were deep canyons, with interesting formations along the way. The water was crystal clear, and the pools looked very inviting.

We also went up the Spanish Creek canyon on the last part of the stretch to Quincy. This was a bit nasty to ride, due to the narrow winding turns that were difficult for large trucks to negotiate. A novice (I hope) trucker cut off a number of us, and I later saw him parked by the roadside. Whether it was the heat, or frustration, or whatever, I parked my bike and went over and spoke to him. He did seem a bit shook by the stress of driving the area. I hope they put him on an easier route, or he gets a different job.

Quincy is a relatively large town that is the seat of Plumas county. It's pretty much dominated by timber industry concerns, with many business displaying "Timber Industry makes for a stable economy" signs. I got the impression that you might loose business if you didn't have the sign.

This was another hot day for afternoon climbs. By this point, I'd learned to just take it real easy and be the last to arrive at camp most days. This day was a bit tougher, as there weren't as many creeks in which to soak my jersey.

Somewhere in this stretch, I started getting a weird little shuffle to my rear wheel. I looked several times for rocks, a cut tire, and other ills. Finally, I noticed that a section of bead about 6 inches long was coming loose from the sidewalls. Another reason to take it slowly. I had never seen such a tire failure before, and had assumed that I'd be able to boot any tire cuts I picked up along the way. I was glad to be able to purchase the spare tire that Bil had been carrying. (I don't know what I'll do on my next trip -- I hate the thought of carrying a spare tire.)

When I finally arrived at the Jackson Creek campground, it turned out it had been closed and the water shut off. Most of us stayed there anyway, using water we filtered from the creek. Two folks went on to Jamesville State Park, which has a nice museum, campground and showers from the reports I heard. However, it was 5 miles further, and then up a very steep hill!

There were some strange clouds that made a brief appearance that night. A few drops of rain even fell, just enough to make me put the rainfly on my tent for an hour or so. This was the closest we came to getting rained on during the entire trip. [TOC]

Day 7: Cromberg to south of Sierraville

The next morning we rejoined the folks who went to the State Park in Graeagle, a very strange town. We're talking high end resort area, with at least 4 golf courses and all buildings designed and painted to look like a pseudo Swiss town. The server at the coffee shop was very snooty, hardly deigning to serve mere bicyclists.

The grocery store was very impressive, though. Not only was it much more complete than many we'd seen, but is also carried filet mignon! And, fresh fruits, to my delight.

The road wound past the entrances to exclusive developments, through forest, up and over a good sized hill to Calpine. It turns out we'd arrived there a bit too early, as the chili cookoff wasn't yet in full swing! A couple of us took a detour to the east here, to see if there was anything to see where the map indicated "Sierra Valley Channels". Turned out to look like regular farm land to us.

We did get a strong dose of headwinds for our curiosity, though. And everyone got good crosswinds when we rejoined SR-89 for the last miles into Sierraville. It's quite interesting to see the bikes in front of you in a perpetual lean of about 10 degrees, almost as if we were pedaling at one of those "mystery spots"!

At Sierraville, we had lunch. I stuck with just a rootbeer float and a chocolate shake. Others, however, sampled the food at all three cafes in town. We also got one or two group photos, as one of our party was leaving us, preferring to stay on at the nearby hot springs for a day of massage and relaxation.

The afternoon was a simple 4 mile climb to Cottonwood Campground outside of town. We arrived in good time to just kick back in the shade for several hours. Lots of laughing ensued, although I don't know if we were just silly or really as witty as we felt. It did feel like a very appropriate way to spend the last night of the trip. [TOC]

Day 8: Sierraville to Tahoe City

Another early start. For the first and only time on the trip, I was the first ready to go. Well, almost. When we got to the campground entrance, I discovered that I'd forgotten to put my mirror on my glasses. By the time I got that sorted out, the rest had disappeared over the first crest. I'd only see them from afar until Truckee.

About 6 miles out from Truckee, I broke another spoke. It was a bit chilly, and I hadn't had my coffee, so I pushed on without repairing it. I just had another excuse to take it easy going up the hills.

As I approached Truckee, it was interesting to notice how the intensity of activity around me increased. While the truckers further north couldn't be said to be lazy, they were busy and hard working without being frenetic. As the local and vacation traffic started to pass me on the roads in, "frenetic" and "rushed" became the words I used to describe the traffic.

Truckee was a madhouse of cars, and I barely found the folks in front of me. I had breakfast with the first bunch, then fixed my spoke while the 2nd group ate.

After a very leisurely breakfast, we made our way the final 14 miles to Tahoe City along the Truckee River. The river was a lot lower than I expected. I didn't get a chance to see if it was a natural outflow from Lake Tahoe, or if they still had to pump water into the creek.

In an attempt to get away from the traffic noise on this final stretch, I rode for a while on the bike path they've built below the roadway. If it weren't so crowded on this Sunday morning, it would have been the perfect way to end the trip. One of the early riders really enjoyed it, but I found dodging roller bladers and tykes on bikes more work than dodging the cars!

At about 12:45, I rolled into Tahoe City, ending a great bike trip totalling 407 miles. [TOC]


Would I do this trip again? You bet! I really enjoyed the scenery and the camaraderie.

I think I'd take it a bit slower, though. There were so many pretty places to stop that I had to pass up, and so many side trips not taken. Yah, I could work real hard and get in much better shape to create the time, but I really enjoy just moseying down the road.

I learned a lot on this trip, and my next trip will be the easier for it. Thanks to all who helped me learn along the way! [TOC]

Techie Details

The Bike

REI Randonee, circa 1988. A good touring bike with cantilever breaks and 18 speeds ranging from 24-28 to 52-13. This was probably it's last major trip, as I've now crashed it three times. I've been told the view from the rear is interesting, in that the wheels don't point the same way!

The Packing

I carried about forty-six (46) pounds, split into four bags on front and rear racks. Add in food and the 200+ pounds of me, and you can see how sturdy the bike has been!

The Daily Mileage

For those interested in the details, here are the numbers for the trip:

          Daily         Ending
Day      Mileage      Elevation (feet)
 0           0          1593
 1          44          2942
 2          62          3561
 3          50          3100
 4          55          5847
 5          63          4482
 6          59          4350
 7          35          6000
 8          36          6180

WWW References

The Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail

Here's the Library of Congress information on Bil's book that we used for the trip:

Author:        Paul, Bil, 1943-
Title:         The Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail / Bil Paul.
Edition:       1st ed.
Published:     Livermore, Calif. : Bittersweet Pub. Co., c1990.
Description:   200 p. : ill., maps ; 23 cm.
LC Call No.:   GV1045.5.P33 P38 1990
Dewey No.:     796.6/4/0979 20
ISBN:          0931255066
Subjects:      Bicycle touring -- Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail --
               Bicycle touring -- Pacific States -- Guidebooks.
               Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail -- Guidebooks.
               Pacific States -- Guidebooks.
Control No.:   90084004 //r92

Bil has also written some other books. To get information on them, check the Library of Congress search.

Road Conditions

Information on road conditions was obtained prior to the trip from the Office of Emergency Services. We were primarily on SR-89, but information on roads that are on two or more highways seems to be listed under the lower number. Portions of SR-89 are also shared (from north to south) with SR-44, SR-36, & SR-70.

State Parks Information

We didn't use the Web to obtain information ahead of time, but basic contact information is available from the California State Department of Parks and Recreation. We all stayed at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, and a couple of us stayed at Plumas Eureka State Park.

National Park Information

The government puts out very minimal information on Lassen Volcanic National Park. More information can be found at the Great Outdoor Recreation Pages (GORP) page on the Mt. Lassen Area. [TOC]

Hal Wine

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