One of the most heralded bike rides in the state made its grand return last weekend as hundreds of bicyclists took on the 100-mile challenge of the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway.
Dubbed The Grizzly Century, the ride - not a race, organizers often pointed out - made its return after being canceled last year due to wildfires.
More than 400 riders charged out from North Fork Elementary School around 7 a.m., taking on a course that many said has the most beautiful views of any ride they’ve ever seen.
“It’s a great ride,” said Glenn Medina of Clovis, filling up his tires before he took on the Grizzly for the fourth time. “The scenery is beautiful, the volunteers are incredibly helpful, and for the price, it’s definitely worth it.”
Along with the 100-mile course along the Byway, there was also a 26-mile “Loop the Lake” course at Bass Lake, a Metric Century (62-mile ride), and the Grinder, which circles the entire Byway along with 10 miles of gravel.
Ride chair Mike Nolen said around100 volunteers helped with The Grizzly Century, and that it was great to see it return after its forced cancellation last year.
“I think it’s a boost to commercial interests in town and it’s a lot of fun,” Nolen said. “We get riders from across the state and elsewhere. It’s great to put on this event.”
In the early 1990s, North Fork’s lumber mill was shut down due to environmental concerns. That meant a loss in a lot of jobs, Nolen said, and a general sense that the town was doomed.
“There was just this funk in the air,” said Nolen, a forester at the Bass Lake Ranger District. “People kept thinking ‘what’s going to happen to this area.’ So the District Ranger at the time, Christine Nota, had an idea. Let’s do something to perk up the town, and give it a shiny gold star ... she heard about bike rides, and said, let’s put one on to draw tourists in.”
Nolen said the town was switching from an industrial air to one focused on tourism, and The Grizzly Century - its first iteration in 1992 - was the perfect fit.
Riders of all ages enjoy the Grizzly, including Joyce and John Van Ornum, who would only admit they were “in their 80s,” and have ridden in the event since its beginnings.
“The big thing for me is just showing up early in the morning ready to tackle this thing,” John said. “All us cyclists get together, say hey, how have you been, joke about what kind of pills are you taking now, it’s just a lot of fun and a good way to see people again.”
Additionally, the Van Ornums and several other riders noted the event had some of the best food they’d ever seen, with items such as homemade sushi and cinnamon rolls.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of another ride where you get to eat sushi halfway,” John laughed.
Proceeds from The Grizzly Century go largely towards improvements along the Byway, such as filling potholes. Any additional money not used for the ride goes towards scholarships at Mountain Area schools and other community programs.