Bicycle ride for two
Local couple reminisce on 34 years’ participation in Butte County ride
Having ridden together in every Chico Wildflower Century since the event began in 1981, Todd and Adria Jones have come to measure the annual rides by memories rather than specific dates.
“Every single one is unique, but they all kind of blend together,” Todd said during a recent interview with the couple at their north Chico home.
“It’s the same as someone asking, ‘What year of your marriage was the best?’ The answer is, ‘All of them.’”
The Joneses’ personal history is firmly intertwined with that of the Wildflower, which—along with cycling in general—played an integral role in their courtship. Both were budding cyclists when they met in 1980 while working at a movie theater in Oxnard. He was an everyday commuter, and Adria—who’d recently graduated from Chico State—was preparing to return to Chico to participate in her first long-distance cycling trek, a week-long ride to raise money for the American Lung Association. Todd pledged money to be one of her sponsors.
While on that ride, Adria met late local cycling legend Ed McLaughlin, who’d tagged along to observe how a distance ride was organized and supported. “I’m pretty sure he was looking into how to start a big ride in Chico, because just a year later he [helped start] the Wildflower,” she said.
Adria and Todd began dating soon after her first long ride. Though still living in Southern California, they made a trip to Chico to visit Adria’s alma mater and ride the byways of Butte County.
“She kept telling me how much I’d love riding in Chico because it was so flat,” Todd recalled with a laugh. “So our first ride in town, she took me up Honey Run [Road]. It was 32 degrees in January and I felt like I was almost dying … but of course I couldn’t stop or pull over ’cause we’d just started hanging out, and I couldn’t let her see that.”
The couple came back to Chico a few months later to ride the first Wildflower in March 1981, along with just over 100 riders, which is a small group considering that the ride draws thousands today. They moved to Chico the following year and married in 1984.
“We planned to be here a few years and then move back to the beach or something,” Todd said, “but then things just happened, like three kids and a house. But we don’t regret it a bit; it’s been great living here.”
The Joneses credit their early Wildflowers with giving them the confidence to embark on even longer rides. Together they’ve ridden the whole coastline of California and from Washington, D.C., back home.
Recalling past Wildflowers, the couple spoke about one year when it was so cold that Todd’s feet wouldn’t work when he stepped off his bike for a breather at the top of Honey Run. Other years the temperature rose above 100 degrees.
Then there was the time they were riding a tandem cycle (they usually ride separate bikes) and reached speeds of 60 mph coming down Lime Saddle. A few miles later, while climbing again, the bike’s rear cluster froze up, and the two don’t like to imagine what might have happened if the malfunction had happened just minutes earlier.
“Were they all good times?” Todd asked. “I’m not sure, but we kept doing it, so in my book every one has been a good ride.”
The most memorable Wildflowers are those involving their children, the Joneses agreed.
“It was always a personal challenge to ride no matter when the kids were born,” Adria said. Their oldest, Anthony, was born just six weeks before the 1985 Wildflower, and she still rode. “It was really rainy that year and we stopped early, which is probably just as well because I was still nursing.”
Their middle child, Sadie, was born in June 1989; Adria was seven months pregnant when she participated that year.
Both recalled riding with their third child, Stacey. She was born in November 1995, so that spring they again broke out the tandem and hooked up a trailer to take her along. Todd described riding down Lime Saddle—this time doing only about 45 mph—and looking in his mirror past his worried wife to see the trailer swinging more than he was comfortable with, much to the delight of the couple’s laughing, smiling 7-month-old.
“That was definitely one of the most interesting rides because of everything involved,” Adria added. “We had to stop several times so I could nurse and change diapers.”
Todd and Adria said they don’t always ride the full route. In their younger days they sometimes cut it short for various reasons, namely weather and children, and the past few years they’ve skipped the Durham portion of the ride to finish their own 80- to 90-mile variant they’ve dubbed “The Jonesflower.”
They also participate in a few other century rides some years, but none they cherish like the Wildflower. Just as the ride played a role in their early relationship, they both say it has contributed to the longevity and happiness of their marriage.
“It’s something that we get excited about together every year and that we do together,” Todd said. “Then it gives us something to talk about after. It’s just a nice, common experience we share.”
“It’s our ride,” Adria affirmed.