Peter jumped at the idea, but caving isn't really my thing. I liked doing the touristy thing at Carlsbad and Meramec Caverns on my bike trips, but four-hour excursions to places like "the meat grinder" and "pancake"? Eh, no thanks.
So we tossed the XT in the back of the truck and I puttered around the area while the rest of the kids were being grinded and pancaked and muddied up.
When we got there, I started gearing up in the parking lot, only to discover…..
I'd left my boots at home.
Go me! Well now, this is interesting. The only shoes I had with me were my canvas hightop Converse sneakers. Awesome. There went my ideas of finding some cool offroad trails. Oh, and did I mention it was raining? What could be better than canvas shoes?
Well, I made do. I borrowed some gaffers tape from Esther and taped up my shoes the best I could. Nothing but style and class, that's me.
Fortunately the riding itself was pretty cool. Once I realized that Converse meant no Stanislaus National Forest roads for me, I asked the guides at the visitors center/giftshop for suggestions. I wound up with a nice 50-mile loop on some great backroads, including 10 miles of easy dirt.
Michel Road, the road leading to and from California Cavern, is pretty neat in and of itself:
Another great back road, Old Gulch Road:
Fricot City Road is paved up until Fricot City (really just a few buildings; more on that in a second) and turns to dirt afterwards.
The paved section is wonderful and has great panoramas and vistas.
I met this little friend along the road in Fricot City.
The guide at California Cavern had told me that Fricot City is a "really weird little town". I figured he meant in the same way that all rural Sierra foothill towns are a little weird…but no. Fricot City really is sort of strange.
Its main attraction seems to be the Rite of Passage high school, which looks like a normal school at first, until you notice the "visitation" parking areas. The best I can find online is that it's a "residential treatment site" for "at-risk" boys. According to the website, one of the core tenets is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is pretty neat stuff. At any rate, there were no students or faculty around when I drove by, so the residence buildings looked like a gray and misty ghost town on this rainy day.
After the high school, the road turns to easy dirt. I took it slow, second gear, because of the whole no-boots thing. I stopped for a bazillion photos and had a great time.
It started raining in earnest as I neared the town of San Andreas and the gaffers tape on my shoes was giving up. I stopped at the Calaveras County Museum, which was spectacular and well worth the $3 admission.
My favorite part of the museum was the jailyard, which included photos of the sheriffs of Calaveras County from 1849 – present.
The whole museum really is cool, though, and I definitely recommend it if you're at all interested in California history.
The ride back to California Cavern was pretty uneventful and I hung around the gift shop for a while waiting for the gang to get back from caving.
You can see the shoes didn't really work out so well:
The triumphant — but muddy — cavers return!
All in all, everyone had a great time. Though next time I'll try to remember my boots.