Puttering around California Caverns: October 4, 2008

We got an invitation to go caving at California Cavern with Viv, her boyfriend Aaron, and their friends Loren and Esther this weekend.

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.

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