Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why America is Cooler Than Unicorns

September 30

The Auburn Fire Station
For those like myself who believe in the greatness of our nation, the American River is a bit of a disappointment.  I expected the waters to flow red, white, and blue, while the crackling rapids would bang out the "Star Spangled Banner" or at least "God Bless America."  Dark green covered in a smattering of white foam was the pathetic reality.   No patriotic tunes whatsoever could be heard in the quiet bubble.  The river didn't even have the decency to swim uphill so I could fill my empty jugs.  There was no choice but to head into the gorge after her sustenance.
Hundreds of others had gotten the same idea.  The park along the river was flooded with cars and bikes, while others relaxed at the river's edge.  Over seven hundred feet above was the Foresthill Bridge, a reminder of what might have happened to this beloved setting.  The bridge is the highest in California, constructed to accommodate a much higher water level below. A dam was in the works, but plans were derailed by activists, who defeated the project in a running battle lasting over the course of two decades.
The opposition extended beyond the usual tree-hugging, patchouli-scented crowd.  The American River did not have a stellar history with reservoirs.  The Hell Hole Dam, located on a tributary named the Rubicon, burst in 1964, shortly after completion.  The Greenville Bridge near Auburn was destroyed as a result, bringing into service the Mountain Quarry Bridge, a sturdy structure which had been out of use since World War II.
Mountain Quarry was the most expensive privately funded bridge in the country when constructed in 1912.  Trains carried limestone across the gorge over the concrete arches four times a day, but only while supplies lasted.
A robust climb up to the bluffs and over led me to Auburn.  Born in the madness of the gold rush of 1849, the city has taken pride in the past, preserving many of the old edifices.  An impressive stone statue of a prospector panning for gold stands prominently at the entrance to the downtown.
The image of one of Auburn's early citizens might be residing in your wallet.  Jean Baptiste Charbonneau arrived here in the first days of the gold rush and stayed on until 1866.  You might know him better as Sacagawea's son, the baby who crossed the fledgling United States with the Lewis and Clark expedition. You can spot the infant's visage splayed across his mother's shoulders on the $1 gold coin.
Without a doubt the early citizens were in a hurry to reach the riches here.  Recent visitors rush for a different reason.  Racing has become a way of life in Auburn, and they don't do those little sprints.  The city is nicknamed the Endurance Capital of the World.  The Tevis Cup is the year's main event.  The one hundred mile ultramarathon begins in Truckee and concludes at the Auburn Fairgrounds.
I ended the day's portion of my own lengthy jaunt at the Holiday Inn.  Manager Tami went above the call of duty, comping the room, my dinner, and making a generous donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.  The American River may have been a bit drab, but Americans are pretty bad ass.  I ain't queer* or nothin' but I think they are way cooler than unicorns.

*He is indeed quite queer - Editor

The Foresthill Bridge
10 miles/3893 total miles

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