Southern Pacific Crest Trail & New Mexico

 

Fall 2010

 

Denis Kertz, ©2010


Day 0: Sun, Sep 05, 2010 - Naperville, IL to Reno, NV

My friend Dave picked me up and drove me to Midway Airport for my noon flight on Southwest Airlines to Reno, NV.  The flight was late because of headwinds so I arrived 30 minutes late at 2:30 but it only took me 30 minutes to get to my Courtyard where I had a free night set up.  I was disappointed to learn that Marriott didn't have a courtesy shuttle and I had to take a taxi.  The Courtyard couldn't have been more than 5 miles away yet my taxi cost $15 plus tip.

 

After checking in my first priority was to pick up my bike which I had previously shipped via Amtrak Express so it was waiting for me at the Amtrak Station.  The station was downtown and I had previously used Google Maps to show me it was 5 miles.  If I had arrived a couple hours earlier I would have considered walking.  A taxi didn't seem reasonable since downtown was about twice as far from the Courtyard as the airport and I couldn't imagine paying something on the order of $30.  Fortunately, the Courtyard was on Virginia Street, a main street, and there was a public bus service.  I walked a couple of blocks to a bus terminal and was charged a whopping $2 to get downtown.  Even better, the final bus stop downtown was only a block from the train station.

 

The train station was confusing and I had to ask a couple folks how to find the baggage area.  As I was wandering around, a conductor was loudly lecturing passengers about rules as a train was about to pull in.  Given the ferocity of his lecturing you would have thought his passengers were a bunch of thugs but the conductor did give me good advice.  He told me to catch the guy who was unloading the baggage from the train that had just pulled in.  Within a few minutes this guy located my bike and delivered it to me.  The Amtrak bike boxes are rather flimsy and one end of the box was open but there was no damage.  Then all I had to do was attach my pedals and handlebar and I was set to go.

 

As I was getting my bike ready the train pulled out of the station.  Suddenly I was the only person around and the baggage area was closed.  I didn't realize it but the station was gated at both ends at the track level and the only way out was through the station.  But the baggage guy knew that and he hung around to let me in the station so I could get out.  It was only then that I realized how close I had come to not getting my bike today.  It wouldn't have been a great disaster if I had to wait until tomorrow but it would have been a bummer.

 

It was an easy ride back to the Courtyard heading south on Lake Street.  However, I eventually had to ride on busy Virginia Street which wasn't the greatest place to ride.  I wanted to measure the distance but I noticed my cyclocomputer wasn't working.

 

For last year's trip I had bought 2 new Continental Top Touring 700x37 tires.  The front tire still had plenty of tread but the rear tire was about half way worn.  So I decided to replace it with a new tire.  I did that last Sunday when I rode my bike to Chicago Union Station to have my bike shipped to Reno by Amtrak.  I kind of hated to waste half the tread on the old tire but I was pretty sure the rear tire would have been marginal by the end of this trip.  Later, though, I realized what I should have done was put the new tire on the front wheel and move the front tire to the rear.  Since the front tire always wears significantly less than the rear tire, it had enough tread to last for this trip on the rear plus it is always best to have the best tire on the front wheel.  So when I got back to the Courtyard I made the switch.

 

After that I ate at a nearby Subway but it was bad timing.  There was a couple ordering ahead of me and they took forever to order, seemingly oblivious to 6 others waiting behind them.

 

After eating I went about organizing and packing all of my stuff.  I also fiddled around with my cyclocomputer and found that the main unit just needed a new battery.

 

Finally, I got logged on to the Internet.  Earlier I had tried and my Linux PC couldn't get in.  So I called a tech support number and the guy got me hooked up.  That allowed me to do some basic research on  my route tomorrow, a challenging climb on the Mt Rose Highway to Lake Tahoe.  My research showed there was a campground just beyond the high point of the highway that looked like an interesting camping spot for tomorrow.

 

Day 1: Mon, Sep 06, 2010 - Reno, NV to Incline Village, NV [32.5, 4:52:06, 6.7 mph, 4,480']

One thing I've always liked about Courtyard is their breakfast buffet and I took advantage of it.  I expected I was going to need all the help I could get since I had to climb about 4500' today.  I left about 8:20 after finishing my packing and headed south on Virginia Street.  In about a mile I found a grocery store and did my first shopping of the trip.

 

Continuing south, I could have kept on Virginia until I reached Mt Rose Highway but I turned west on Arrow Creek Parkway to Thomas Creek Rd which intersected Mt Rose Highway.  Almost as soon as I turned on Arrow Creek I started climbing.  It was about 22 miles to Mt Rose Summit and most of that was climbing.  I saw a handful of cyclists and that seemed to confirm that my route was a good choice.

 

After seven miles I reached Mt Rose Highway which started out as a 4-lane road with a wide shoulder.  I was surprised at the amount of traffic.  I expected oncoming traffic returning to Reno on Labor Day but didn't expect the amount of traffic headed in my direction.  After 10 miles Mt Rose Highway narrowed to a 2-lane road with little or no shoulder.  Then shortly the road started some serious meandering as it wove its way along the contour of the mountains.

 

There were a few scenic viewpoints looking back towards Reno.  At 10:30 I stopped for my first break.  My legs were holding up pretty well under some serious climbing, mostly at about 4 mph.  Around 1:15 my legs started complaining and I took about a 20 minute break.  When I resumed riding I found a sign in a short distance noting the campground turnoff in a half mile.  There was only one campground along the road between Reno and Incline Village and my plan was to camp at this campground that was just over the summit.

 

At the summit there was a full parking lot for the trail that led to the Mt Rose Peak climb.  It looked like everybody had decided Labor Day Monday was the day to make this climb.  After a few minutes checking out the exhibits in the parking lot area, I took off only to find that the campground was closed.  At first I thought they meant it was full but it was shutdown, apparently for reconstruction.

 

This meant I had no choice but to continue on to Incline Village.  This wasn't a big deal riding wise because it was all downhill but it meant I would have to find a place to stay and I didn't want to stay in Incline Village because I was sure it would be expensive.

 

In town I stopped for a cold drink at a food mart and learned that there were no nearby campgrounds.  Riding a little further I found a visitor center where the campground situation was confirmed.  I was also told that there was only one motel in town and motel selection was better heading in the opposite direction, which I was in no mood for.  The only motel was just ahead and I reluctantly decided to stay there even though it cost $99.  I just wasn't sure what I would find or not find if I headed in the opposite direction.

 

There was a Chinese restaurant not too far away by walking and I picked up a takeout order.  It wasn't the greatest but there was a lot of food and that was what I needed.  My room was okay but not to the tune of $99 but it did have a nice flat screen TV where I watched the Boise State vs Virginia Tech football game.


Day 2: Tue, Sep 7, 2010 – Incline Village, NV to Zephyr Cove, NV [20.8, 2:14:22 9.3 mph, 1233’]

I took advantage of the continental breakfast at the motel.  I loaded up on cereal, oatmeal, and bread and managed to stuff myself.  It didn't hurt that no one else was around to watch this spectacle.

 

It was a chilly morning so I delayed departure until close to 9:00.  I only had about 20 miles to go to my destination – Zephyr Cove – but the wind was supposed to blow about 20 mph so I wanted to avoid that.

 

The first 5 miles were along the lake with lots of nice views.  Then the road veered inward a bit and the lake played peek-a-boo with the trees.  The road also started climbing as well.  Finally, the road veered totally away from the lake and there was some serious climbing for about 3 miles.  All in all, I climbed almost 1,000 feet to the junction with US50.  From there US50 descended fairly steeply with a nice shoulder and rejoined the lake front.  The rest of the way to Zephyr Cove was fairly easy riding.

 

I arrived in Zephyr Cove around noon.  This was a resort area with a beach at the cove and a large campground.  It cost $32 for a walk-in tent site although it was a ride-in site for me.  There were only a few tenters so I got a fairly decent site.

 

There was a restaurant along the road where I had fish and chips that cost almost $20 with tip.  Nothing is cheap here except for the free Internet access.  After eating I wandered around the area and spent some time at the beach.


Day 3: Wed, Sep 08, 2010 - Zephyr Cove, NV to Topaz Lake, NV [42.6, 4:56:00, 8.6 mph, 3,378']

It was overcast when I packed up in the morning.  As I rode through the campground a guy walking a dog stared in amazement at my bike and load and gave me a thumbs up.  I locked my bike up outside the restaurant without thinking and then noticed there were no lights on.  The door said opening time was 8:00 am.  I wasn't prepared to wait 35 minutes so I moved on.  Originally I figured it would be cheaper to find breakfast in town but yesterday I saw this place had all-you-can-eat pancakes for $7.  I was pretty sure I could make that a good deal for me.

 

On my way to town I spotted a grocery store and I found my powered milk for breakfast.  I also picked up a paperback for reading.  Just before the turnoff to 207 a hotel/casino advertised a $4 breakfast special so I stopped for that.  I got 2 pancakes, 2 eggs, and 2 strips of bacon which was barely adequate.

 

Finally, just after 9:00 I took off.  I didn't expect a long day to my destination, Topaz Lake, but first I had to make it over Kingsbury Grade on 207.  This was almost a 1,000 foot climb over 3 miles.  This was steep and I climbed at 3-4 mph.  I started wearing a jacket but I had to take that off with the hard climbing.  There was an adequate shoulder that was helped by the slower than normal traffic due to the grade.  There was also some construction and a short section of one-lane road that didn't cause me any problem.

 

The summit was at 5987 feet and then, according to a sign, a 9% downhill for 8 miles.  I put my jacket back on for the descent.  I took my time to enjoy the view.  It was also very windy with some gusting which made it prudent to keep the speed under control.  At the bottom I took 88 north to where it ended at 395 and then took 395 south the rest of the day.  395 immediately took me through Minden and Gardnerville.  Several signs said the temperature was 63 degrees.  These two towns might as well have been a single town since only a sign told them apart.

 

I stopped for a break in Gardnerville before heading out at noon.  Leaving Gardnerville the riding was difficult.  It was very windy with occasional gusts of wind that wanted to blow me into the traffic lane.  Fortunately, it was only a few miles until I left the Carson Valley where the surrounding hills must have helped temper the wind because riding improved.  However, it was about another 1,000 feet of climbing out of the valley.

 

Just past the turnoff to 208 I had another short climb.  When I crested the climb Topaz Lake lay below, nestled in amongst rounded brown hills.  I stopped at a casino cafe for a hamburger around 3:00.

In the cafe I got my first serious inquiry about my trip.  This guy had ridden from San Francisco to LA with a group on a supported tour, basically following the coastal route.

 

It was a couple miles east along the north end of the lake to the Topaz Lake Campground.  The campground was virtually deserted with only 2 other RVs in the campground.  It cost $18 for a tent which was no great bargain but at least that included a shower.  The bad news was that it was extremely windy with nothing to break the wind coming across the lake.  It was almost impossible for one person to erect a tent.  I had to stake down 2 ends of my tent first while keeping the ground cloth under the tent.  As soon as got the tent erected I dumped my panniers in the tent to provide ballast to hold it down.  The good news was that the wind quickly dried out my shorts and jersey after I rinsed them out when I took my shower.

 

There was a hill just outside the campground that blocked the view of a good part of the lake so I hiked up the modest hill to get a better view.  There was a bench on top and that would have been a good place to spend some time enjoying the view on a less windy day.  Then I retired to my tent for some respite from the wind.

 

Day 4: Thu, Sep 09, 2010 - Topaz Lake, NV to Bridgeport, CA [50.9, 5:37:00, 9.0 mph, 2,849']

Sometime around 7pm last night I noticed the wind had eased off and was no longer threatening to blow my tent down.  Throughout the night the wind came and went but when it blew it didn't blow as ferociously as it did late in the afternoon.  I hoped that was a good sign.

 

When I woke in the morning the sky was clear and the wind calm.  That was a relief.  I packed up and rode the 2 miles back to the highway.  The last third of a mile was a bear of a climb, steeper than what I had climbed before and its only saving grace was that it was a short climb.  I went back to the casino restaurant and had 3 large pancakes so it was a good breakfast.

 

I left about 8:40 and in a short distance I entered California.  Both Nevada and California shared Topaz Lake and anglers with a license from either state were eligible to fish there.  I never realized it before but reading up on the area I learned that fishing was a major tourist attraction.

 

In a few miles I passed the turnoff to 89 and Monitor Pass, where I had descended from last year to join 395.  Over the next 10 miles I rode through Antelope Valley and the small towns of Coleville and Walker.  Coleville, pop 400, had no services but it did have a high school.  Slightly larger than Coleville, Walker had the standard services.  I stopped for a second breakfast in Walker.  I didn't really need food but Walker was the last place for services until Bridgeport.

 

Leaving Walker, I left the Antelope Valley behind and started the continuous climb to the Devil's Gate Summit at 7519', a climb of 2500' over 25 miles.  There were stretches where climbing was moderate at 6-7 mph and some steeper stretches of climbing at 4-5 mph.  Initially, the climb passed through the narrow Walker Canyon for 4-5 miles and then the canyon broadened.  The road followed the Walker River upstream a ways until the river passed under the road and headed up to its source in the Sierras.

 

As I was riding along a Porsche with a bicycle on a rooftop carrier came from behind and then slowed right next to me.  I assumed the driver wanted to talk to me about my fine cycling form but then he sped up and took off.  Maybe he was intimidated.  Then about 20 minutes later he returned and this time slowed and asked if I had seen another cyclist and I said no.  At that he took off and I never saw him again.

 

Finally, I reached the flat Devil's Gate Summit, 7519’, and began an easy descent to Bridgeport.  The last few miles brought me into a bowl populated with grazing cattle and the town of Bridgeport.  Last year I stayed in the unique Victorian Hotel that was moved from the now ghost town of Bodie.  At $45 it was easily the least expensive place to stay in town in addition to its uniqueness.  This year the price in the window stated $60, a 33% increase in one year.  I guess Bridgeport hasn't heard about the gloomy economy but they priced themselves out of my range.  Instead I decided to camp at the reservoir just north of town.

 

I ate at a small hamburger place and then rode to the library where I was able to access their WiFi and take care of email and other miscellaneous.  Since I was getting close to Yosemite I started checking on camping options.  I was sure that since it was after Labor Day and that I was avoiding the weekend that camping wouldn't be a problem.  I quickly learned how wrong I was.  The Yosemite website said reservations filled up through September.  There were some sites that allowed walk-ins but those required folks to show up early and there was no way I could do that on a bike.

 

After learning about the different campground locations, I discovered I could get a Sunday night reservation at Tuolumne Meadows.  That didn't solve my problem of needing 2 nights in the valley but I figured I better grab that and hope something else came through.  This was a real disappointment to be this close to Yosemite and perhaps not be able to at least spend a day in the valley.  But I really had no realistic option other than to pass through Yosemite on my way south.

 

I finished my Internet activities just as the library was closing at 5pm.  I rode 2 miles north to the Bridgeport reservoir and got a campsite for $20.  It was nothing great but it was serviceable and included a shower.

 

Day 5: Fri, Sep 10, 2010 - Bridgeport, CA to June Lake, CA [50.6, 5:41:00, 8.9 mph, 2,593']

It was very chilly in the morning at 6500’.  My guess is it was close to freezing.  I packed up and headed into town for breakfast.  I picked the first place I saw, a cafe right at the south edge of town.  It looked popular and it proved to be a good choice.  It wasn't a large place and it filled up while I was there.  I had 3 large pancakes that were very good.

 

By the time I left around 8:30 it had warmed up enough to be reasonable riding weather with my jacket.  This was all familiar territory that I had ridden last year but it was still scenic riding.  After 9 miles the climbing started to Conway Summit at 8143’, the highest summit on US395.  This was steeper climbing than yesterday and I chugged along at 4-5 mph while taking in the scenery.

 

When I reached the summit there was a steep downhill for a half mile or so that was interrupted by an overlook of Mono Lake.

  It was still fascinating to read about Mono Lake and its importance to migratory birds a year later.  Then I resumed the downhill run to Mono Lake.

 

Just on the other side of the lake there was a visitor center that advertised Yosemite info so I stopped at this place again.  I explained to the ranger my predicament about camping in Yosemite and my limited bicycle travel mode.  She suggested that I would probably be able to get a site at Crane Flats.  This was a campground just outside the valley along my route down to the valley from Tioga Pass.  This campground didn't fill all sites with reservations so the ranger thought that outside the weekend there was a pretty good chance I would be able to get something.

 

Buoyed with that more positive outlook I rode into Lee Vining, a small tourist town with a population of about 250 with a number of motels.  I stopped at a motel with a coffee shop that provided WiFi access to take another shot at finding a reservation in the valley.  This time I got lucky and was able to get 2 nights at the Upper Pines campground.  Almost as good, these reservations cost me only $10 with my senior pass.  I knew my senior pass would get me into the park for free but I was unaware that I would get 50% off my camping fees.  This fortuitous turn of events improved my outlook greatly.

 

Since today was Friday and my Tuolumne reservation was for Sunday night, I decided I would camp some place on the June Lake loop not too far outside town and stay in a motel in Lee Vining on Saturday night, assuming I could get a motel.  I got a list of motels from the visitor center in town and the prices varied from $60 to double that.  The cheapest place didn't take reservations and no one was around until 4pm so that was out.  The next cheapest was the motel with the coffee spot and they were booked.  The next cheapest, each step up costing another $10 per night, had just had a cancellation for tonight but were booked for Saturday night.

 

I could see this was getting more expensive by the motel.  I decided to ride through town and make sure I matched up each motel against my list.  As luck would have it, the cheapest place was first and I noticed the office was open.  So I inquired about Saturday and was told they didn't take reservations but they were happy to take my money when I said I was paying a day in advance for a Saturday night room.  So things had improved a couple quantum from the low point yesterday when it was unclear that I would be able to stay in Yosemite.

 

At that point I rode south out of town to pick up the June Lake loop.  I stayed at June Lake last year but I never did the loop.  This time I started with the loop that took me by Grant, Silver, Gull, and June lakes.  Grant was nice but the campground didn't look all that inviting.  Silver Lake was nicer as it was nestled in amongst the mountains but the campground didn't have any view of the lake.  Gull Lake had some nice sites on the lake, most of which were probably taken, but the view across the lake was developments on the other side.  I finally ended up at Oh Ridge, the same campground I stayed at last year.  However, at 5pm on a Friday afternoon, I was sure I would not get the nice site I had last year and I was right.  All the sites around last year's site were all taken but I got a reasonable site that had a bit of view of the lake for $20.


Day 6: Sat, Sep 11, 2010 - June Lake, CA to Lee Vining, CA [21.0, 0:00:00, 11.1 mph, 450']

I waited until 7:00 when the sun started peeking over the mountains to get up.  I was in no hurry since I was just going to ride back to town and take the rest of the day off to rest up for the climb to Tioga Pass tomorrow.  After packing I rode the short distance to the town of June Lake.  Along the way I saw a couple deer and then I stopped at a little parking area where last year I was sure had a little lookout but this year I only found something enclosed in a blue tarp with a flag flying above it.

 

I had expected the town of June Lake to be very small but it was actually larger than Lee Vining with a population of 600.  When I rode past the first restaurant there was a crowd outside the restaurant, at 8:00 in the morning, reading off some chant from scripts of paper.  I continued on to the Tiger Bar and Cafe for breakfast.

 

I figured I would eat at the bar but the bar was virtually full and folks were drinking.  There was an open booth so I claimed that and had a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon.  There were more folks in this place of some group evidenced by their jerseys.  As I was eating a guy asked me if I was doing the Sierra Cascades route and I told him I did most of that last year and was finishing it off this year.  He was also a cyclist.  Then he told me the group was the Mono E Clampus Vitus group that was dedicated to the historical preservation of this mining area.  Every year they erected some monument and this year the monument was the blue tarp covered hunk I saw earlier where the lookout tower used to be.  This group was also dedicated to having a good time and they were doing a good job of that.

 

While I was eating I saw a group of about 10 cyclists taking off on a ride.  As I finished my breakfast another group of cyclists was congregated outside where my bike was locked up.  So I managed to chat with them a bit before they took off.  I told them I would give them a head start and catch up later.

 

The shortest way back to town was east to 395 but I chose the scenic route by retracing my ride from yesterday.  This was fairly easy since the ride was mostly a gradual downhill with a couple short, steep downhills.  I rode past Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and then Grant Lake and was passed by several cyclists along the way.  When I reached 395 I only had a few miles back to town.

 

When I got back in town I found the cycling group I had chatted with earlier.  I accused them of cheating since that was the only way they could have beaten me back to town.  I learned they were from the Bay Area and were going to be riding around for two weeks and heading down to Bishop in a few days.  I retreated to my favorite coffee shop for an hour or so of Internet access.

 

The one downside to my cheap motel was they didn't open until 4pm so I couldn't check into my room until I got a room key.  So I had some time to kill and spent some time in the local library which was part of the local high school and wasn't much of a library.  At 3pm I rode back to the motel to wait and someone showed up about 3:15 and I got my key and checked in.

 

I took advantage of my day off by doing some laundry and some food shopping.  I also learned from a poster that tomorrow was the 30th Annual Tioga Pass Run, billed as a 12.4 mile run with only one hill.  I wondered how a run would work with traffic since I doubted that the road was very wide.  Later I ordered a pizza from a place right across the road and settled in for the night.


Day 7: Sun, Sep 12, 2010 - Lee Vining, CA to Yosemite NP, CA [26.5, 3:55:05, 6.8 mph, 3,080']

I walked to the nearby restaurant and had 3 large pancakes.  With the big climb to Tioga Pass, I was going to need every one of them.  The 12.4 mile run to Tioga Pass took off at 8am and I left shortly after so we never interfered with each other.

 

I picked up 120 to Tioga Pass, 9943’, just outside town and immediately started climbing.  The climb was basically 3 parts with the middle part the steepest and the other two not quite as steep.  At one time I thought I was doing really well, so well that I started wondering if I had developed bionic legs or if I had left half my equipment behind.  Then I realized that my cyclocomputer was set on kilometers and when I set it back to miles everything looked normal again.

 

It was a very scenic but hard climb.  Usually you can't see where the climb is going but in this case you could see the road heading uphill along the side of the mountains.  It is also often the case that the climb doesn't look that steep even though your legs tell you that it is.  This time after about 9 miles there was a great view looking back down and you could see clearly how much climbing was involved.

 

Near the top I rode past Ellery Lake and Tioga Lake, two scenic alpine lakes.  Both had campgrounds that would have been nice camping.  I had thought about camping at one of these spots but was afraid, with the proximity to Yosemite, they might be full and I could ill afford to ride that far up and not be able to get a camp site.

 

Then up ahead there was a line of cars and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was until I realized it was the queue for entrance to Yosemite.  I got to skip part of the line because my senior pass got me in for free.  When I veered to the left to bypass the entrance booth there was a group of runners and volunteers waiting at the finish line for the late finishers in the run. 

 

Overall, I finished the climb in just over 3 hours total time and a little less than 3 hours actual riding time at a blistering 4.4 mph with almost 3100 feet of climbing.

 

From the pass it was a nice 8 mile descent to Tuolomne Meadows, my destination for the day.  The road had no shoulder but I really didn't need one since I was moving at a pretty good clip.  It was a ride through the pines with the intoxicating pine aroma.  Although I had a reservation at the campground, I wouldn't have needed one since a sign said camp sites were available.  This campground only allows half of its camp sites to be reserved and the others are first come first served.  I got a reasonable site and set up camp with my food, as required, in the bear locker.

 

Then I took off and checked out the small visitor center and the store which also had a grill.  For the afternoon entertainment I picked a loop trail that took me to Dog Lake and led me to a climb of Lembert Dome.  The trail wasn't that long but involved a fair amount of climbing.  The reward was another fine alpine lake, Dog Lake, with a couple of deer thrown in for a bonus.

 

Descending on the other side of the loop, a side trail took me to the Lembert Dome.  The dome was accessible from the east side but the west side was a very steep drop off.  It was a great view from the top and well worth the climb.  I watched several other climbers head off towards the sheer side and thought maybe there was a way down, which would have led me right back to the parking lot.  However, I saw a couple of real rock climbers who said there was no way down.  I took their word for it and retraced my route on the side trail.

 

When the loop trail reached the road, I just walked along the road to get back to my parking lot.  At that point I was hungry so I rode back to the grill and had a hamburger and fries for $9.  Then I retired to my camp site and ate some more from my personal food supply.


Day 8: Mon, Sep 13, 2010 - Yosemite NP, CA to Yosemite NP, CA [62.3, 5:10:00, 12.0 mph, 2,277']

It was a chilly morning but not surprising at 8600 feet.  It took a while for the sun to climb over the mountains so I lingered getting up, plus the grill didn't open until 8am.  When I got to the grill there was a line extending outside and service took a while.  I settled for an egg biscuit sandwich with ham that was pretty decent.

 

The ride to Yosemite Valley wasn't that difficult, since it dropped 4600 feet but it did have some climbing so it wasn't all downhill.  The first 10 miles were very scenic, riding along granite cliffs, along Tenaya Lake, and then a view of Half Dome from Olmstead Point.

 

After Olmstead Point the ride was along a pine lined road.  There were a few short climbs and a steep, nearly 4-mile climb.  Outside those climbs the road had to do a lot of descending to lose 4600 feet.  On some of the descents I was averaging 30+ mph and almost not impeding and following traffic.  The descents were nice because they didn't get out of control and the road was mostly well paved with good sight lines.

 

At Crane Flat, 120 continued west and I picked up the Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite Valley.  This road continued the descent and shortly revealed the first view of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite Valley with the Merced River still far below.  There were 3 tunnels I had to ride through with my lights but only the first tunnel was significant.

 

When Big Oak Flat reached the valley floor the road divided into two one-way roads, one on each side of the Merced River.  Over 4,000 feet lower than Tuolumne Meadows, it was quite warm but trees lined the road and formed a canopy over it and provided protection from the sun.

 

In most parks when folks are stopped along the road and pointing it's to identify wildlife.  In Yosemite it's just as likely or more likely to point out some climbers on one of the granite hunks in the park.  In this particular case, some folks were climbing Cathedral Rocks but you needed binoculars or a camera with a high powered zoom to see them.

 

I rode into the valley and headed for Curry Village, near my Upper Pines campground, to see what kind of food facilities it had, which was pretty extensive, but then again this area was like a small town.  Then I road to the campground and got a site that was within easy walking distance of Curry Village.  There were campers everywhere in this campground with 238 camp sites.

 

After setting up my tent my first priority was food so I walked to Curry Village where I got a surprisingly good burrito.  I also found a lounge area that had WiFi so I was able to check email.  When I left my camp my next door neighbors were sitting in chairs and chatting up a storm.  When I returned an hour or so later, it looked like they hadn't moved a muscle other than talking muscles.  I thought it was a little strange that this was their idea of camping in one of the world's great national parks but I figured out later that they were chatting with visitors to their camp site.

 

Day 9: Tue, Sep 14, 2010 - Yosemite NP, CA to Yosemite NP, CA [8.3, 0:53:57, 9.3 mph, 0']

I started the day with a breakfast buffet.  It opened at 7am and there was a line waiting when I got there at 7.  I did my best to get my money's worth.

 

My camp site was within walking distance of the trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, both falls of the Merced River, so I started with that.  I wasn't sure whether I would go all the way to Nevada Falls since I had other things I wanted to do on my one day in the valley.  The first part was a moderate uphill to a bridge with a view of Vernal Falls.  It was only another 1.3 miles to the falls so I had to do that.  That part was somewhat harder with more climbing and most of the climbing was stair steps.  I could tell from water coloring on the rocks that the falls was currently a small part of its full blown self.  Once I was at Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls wasn't all that much further so I had no choice but to continue.  This section was a continuation of the previous section and more stair step climbing.  It was easy to see how someone could choose to spend a whole day taking in the views and basking in the scenery.

 

I lingered for a while at the top since I spent so much effort getting to the top.  Then the descent proved to be about as hard as the ascent.  I had to be careful with some of the steps which had a layer of sand.  The last thing I needed was to slip and twist an ankle, which would be easy to do since my cycling sandals don't provide any ankle support.  I was really glad I had started this trip early.  On my way down there was a near continuous stream of uphill hikers.

 

I got back around 12:30.  I should have ridden my bicycle to the trail start because when I got back to camp I just jumped on my bicycle and rode to the Mirror Lake trail which went right by the falls trail.  The good thing about the Mirror Lake trail was I was able to ride my bike most of the way.  I didn't realize it but the Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake and it was just a stream this time of the year and there was no lake and no mirror of Half Dome.  Fortunately, Half Dome is not seasonal and I did get a good view of Half Dome.

 

I rode on to the Visitor Center, passing Yosemite Village on the way.  It was really convenient to have a bicycle and ride on the bicycle path to get around.  The best thing about the Visitor Center was that it had a topographical display of the valley and I could see what I was seeing on my falls trip.  The Visitor Center also had a campground status with basically everything marked FULL.  Unfortunately, this included the Wawona campground that was my logical destination for tomorrow.  I hadn't realized that Wawona, being a town, was part of the park.  Its campground took reservations so it wasn't encouraging to see it FULL.

 

With that I decided at near 3pm my best bet was to head back to the Curry Village and see if I could reserve a campground at Wawona for tomorrow.  There was another campground beyond Wawona in Fish Camp but it required a 1000 foot climb and I had no idea whether that campground was full.  So it simplified matters that I was able to get a last minute reservation at Wawona.

 

After that, the next most important thing was food and I had another chicken burrito plus some ice cream from the store.  Never mind that it was a pint of Haagen Daz – it was on sale so I had no choice.

 

At my campsite my next door neighbors queried me a bit on my trip.  They were impressed that I had come up Tioga Pass.  They said they were fairly frequent visitors to Yosemite although they acknowledged that getting campsite reservations was a hassle.  They told me that they didn't think I would have problems with getting campsites in Kings Canyon and Sequioa.  Learning my lesson in Yosemite, I had checked the website for these parks and all campgrounds were first come, first served and not reservable except for two campgrounds.  The website did say that the campgrounds usually filled up in July and August but made no mention of September, which sounded like a good sign.

 

Day 10: Wed, Sep 15, 2010 - Yosemite NP, CA to Wawona, CA [30.6, 2:50:40, 10.8 mph, 823']

A strange thing happened last night.  A little after 10pm, which was quiet time, someone pulled up next door and had their lights on which woke me up and distracted me.  I assumed they were friends of my next door neighbors.  However, in the morning I discovered a vehicle parked in my drive and a tent erected on my site.  I was flummoxed that someone would be so brazen as to do that.  They had to have known that I had the site occupied even though I didn't have a vehicle.

 

However, I was meeting my friends Jim and Leslie at 10:30 at the Tunnel View today and I didn't have time to decide what I should do about my invaders.  I packed up early to make it to the breakfast buffet by 7am.  In contrast to yesterday, there was no line and I got right in.  That was probably because they had 2 cashiers rather than the single one yesterday.  I loaded up and took off a little after 8am.

 

I figured about an hour and a half to make Tunnel View but I wanted to leave a little more time to check out any sights along the way.  The best sight was the morning sun glinting off the granite walls in the valley.  There were also a couple deer out for breakfast.

 

I made it to Tunnel View a little before 10am.  Tunnel View is known for its view of the valley including El Capistan and Half Dome.  It was a popular spot for others to visit including a couple bus stops.  So it was a good place to be stuck waiting.  Jim and Leslie were about a half hour late because they got delayed by road construction, the last one right at Tunnel View.  Leslie came walking up to the view area while Jim was stuck in the vehicle waiting to able to advance and turn into the parking area.

 

We unpacked my bike and loaded the bike sideways in the SUV and took off for Glacier Point.  By ferrying me to Glacier Point Jim and Leslie saved me a hard day's ride and made this an easy day.  The road up to the Glacier Point turnoff was narrow with no shoulder.  The Glacier Point Road was even narrower with no shoulder and a fair amount of traffic.  So these were good sections to be able to avoid riding.

 

Glacier Point was packed with vehicles and people.  And it was no wonder.  The viewpoint was spectacular from 3,000 feet above the valley floor.  The Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls were viewable without water, Half Dome was prominent, and I could see both Vernal and Nevada Falls that I had hiked to yesterday.  To make the time complete, we found a nice spot with some shade for a leisurely picnic lunch prepared by Leslie.

 

Too soon it was time to move on and we drove back to 140 where I loaded up my bike and took off south to Wawona and Jim and Leslie headed back to the valley to spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the valley before heading home.

 

I felt almost guilty riding the downhill 12 miles to Wawona.  I did have to climb 500 feet to Tunnel View in the morning but that was the only difficult part of the day.  140 to Wawona was under construction and it was narrow with no shoulder but going downhill helped me to minimize my impedance on traffic.  There was a place where we had to wait a while but once going I was able to keep up with the traffic on the twisting road.

 

The Wawona campground turned out to be pretty nice.  There were several cars at the entrance and it looked like a couple must have gotten turned away without reservations.  I got a fairly nice site up on a hill.

 

After setting up I rode the mile into Wawona to see what was there.  I saw a library sign and decided to check it out to see if it had Internet access and it turned out to be difficult to locate.  When I did finally find it it was closed even though the library hours said it should have been open.  The “downtown” along the road had only store.  With nothing of interest I returned to my camp site and settled in for the night, fighting off mosquitoes.

 

Day 11: Thu, Sep 16, 2010 - Wawona, CA to Auberry, CA [57.9, 6:34:04, 8.8 mph, 4,369']

I packed up and rode the mile to Wawona.  I figured the grocery store was my only option for breakfast but I discovered the Wawona Hotel which was built in 1876 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.  The hotel was an old style classic Victorian hotel with wrap around porches.  It advertised breakfast so I stopped there.  The hotel was a little classier than I was used to and their breakfast buffet at $15.25 reflected that but it was a nice breakfast experience.  As usual I loaded up on food.

 

That was good because the road climbed right off the bat, about 1,000 feet over 4 miles.  That was so enjoyable that I added a couple more miles of climbing for extra credit.  Okay, I missed the turnoff on 41 heading south out of the Yosemite south entrance.  I saw the entrance booth and just blindly assumed it was for the Mariposa Grove, which didn't make sense since admission was gained by park entrance.  I knew something was wrong when going straight ended up in a parking lot, the parking lot for the Mariposa Grove.  So I turned around and raced downhill and took the turn out of the park, leaving Yosemite behind.

 

This was followed by a nice descent until I took the turnoff to Bass Lake on Bass Lake Road.  After a 3 mile climb I turned onto Road 222.  At a Y my map said to turn left but having just experienced what happens when I didn't pay enough attention to routing, I questioned this and took the “right” turn which took me around the west side of 4-mile long Bass Lake, formed by the Crane Valley Dam of Willow Creek and a U S Forest Service Recreation Area.  It was a nice winding ride along the side of the lake with little traffic.

 

Then just beyond the lake I noticed I wasn't on Road 222.  So I backtracked just about 1/3 mile and discovered I should have taken a hard left turn to continue on 222 whereas my map said to take a left at a Y and the intersection was certainly not a Y.  That got me back on track to North Fork where I stopped for a cold drink.  It was a very warm day and I needed something cold.  I also stopped at the public library to see if they had WiFi access but they didn't and a UPS guy at the library said he didn't know of anything available in town.

 

So I rode on and began what a sign said was a 9% downhill to Kerckhoff Lake.  That downhill was on a somewhat rough road so I rode my brakes most of the way and stopped about midway to make sure my rims didn't overheat.  Unfortunately, this descent had to be paid for with a 4 mile ascent of about 1200 feet.  I plugged away and ground to the top near 4pm.  A short distance later I rode through the town of Auberry hoping that the only motel in town wasn't full since there wasn't any nearby camping.  I found the Daddy Joe's coffee shop/motel but had to call for Joe to show up and sign me up for a $69 room which he said was the least expensive room.

 

After checking in to a pretty nice room, I walked downtown to a Mexican place for a reasonable burrito meal and bought some drink and an ice cream cookie at the grocery store on the way back.  Then I had fun trying to connect to the Internet.  The coffee shop had WiFi and had 2 versions.  Joe gave me the password for the free version but I couldn't get it to work.  I suspected there was an issue with upper vs lower case so I tried variations but none worked.  So I called Joe and he said he would check on the password.  About 30 minutes later he came to my room and signed me up on another network that provided 24 hours access but cost him $10 to do so.  I thought that was pretty good service since it looked like my PC wouldn't work with the other network for some reason.

 

After that, I did some more work on a work issue that may take a couple more sessions to complete.  Then I did some research on Kings Canyon.  My Adventure Cycling map wasn't consistent with my generated elevation profiles so I did some additional checking and verified that my profile was correct.  I also did some more checking on the canyon ride into Kings Canyon and discovered there was a campground well down in the canyon.  I wasn't aware of that and thought I would have to camp at the park entrance and do an unloaded bike ride down and back into the canyon.  This new knowledge gave me another option to consider, namely riding down one day and riding back the next.  The big issue was that there was a 3600 foot drop to get down into the canyon.

 

With that additional info I rested for the night.

 

Day 12: Fri, Sep 17, 2010 - Auberry, CA to Squaw Valley, CA [62.8, 6:49:15, 9.2 mph, 3,189']

There wasn't a real breakfast place in town so I grabbed a egg sandwich from the coffee show below and a muffin, a much smaller breakfast than the breakfast buffets of the last 3 days.  It was already fairly warm when I left around 8:45 in contrast to previous days that always started off at least a bit cool.

 

Today's route was through the Sierra foothills on different roads with ups and downs.  I must have hit the morning rush because there was a surprising amount of traffic in basically a rural area.  I rode Lodge, Burrough Valley, Maxon, and E Trimmer Springs to get to Pine Flat Lake.  All of these wound around sun burnt hills with some steep climbs.  Yesterday there was some smoke and I thought I had left the smoke behind after leaving North Fork but today there was a lot of smoke in the area.

 

The scenery of the day was Pine Flat Lake, an 18 mile long lake formed by the Pine Flat Dam on Kings River in 1954, which wiggled its way through the foothills.  As I rode above the lake on E Trimmer Springs a cyclist passed me coming the other way and he stopped.  He had ridden from Chicago to Salt Lake City last summer and was now working in Fresno doing volunteer work.

 

I was really dragging in the morning.  All of the climbs seemed to just wear me out and I wasn't sure how far I would make it today.  The road around the lake was well above the lake so I passed up the couple opportunities to stop at a grocery store because it would have required a steep descent to the lake level and then a steep ascent to get back to the road.  Instead I rode all the way to Piedra and stopped there at almost 1pm.  I took a good long break and had my second breakfast and a large cold drink.  That seemed to help somewhat.

 

When I took off near 2pm, I was supposed to turn on Elwood but I never saw a sign.  So I continued on a road that looked like it had to be the right road since it followed along a river.  After riding a while and never seeing a road sign I became very suspicious when I saw a bike route sign.  Then I checked my GPS and could tell I was well of course.  However, I saw I was headed towards 180 which was called the Kings Canyon Road so I knew I could get back on course.

 

The problem was the missed turn probably cost me about an hour but it was also nice because it was on the FLATS and it was enjoyable to just be able to cycle away without dying.  It turned out I was on a road called Belmont and, using my GPS, I picked a road to cutover to 180.  Initially 180 was awful with lots of traffic and virtually no shoulder.  Then 180 did a left turn to the foothills and traffic eased off somewhat and there was a better shoulder.

 

Things were great until about 6 miles from Squaw Valley when the road started climbing into the foothills.  I must have climbed about 1500 feet over 3-4 miles and it was a real drag.  I stopped several times for a short water break and that was unusual for me.

 

Finally, I crested the hill and coasted about a mile and a half to Squaw Valley.  I found the only motel in town and got the last room for $59.  It was a small room but it was a room and there was no camping in the area.  I ate at a pizza place where I got soda refills and I drank almost 4 large glasses.  I left feeling very bloated with more pizza than I could eat.  I wobbled back to my room and barely managed my daily report before I crashed for the night.

 

Later, I used RideWithGPS.com to compare my actual route with my map’s route and found I did about an extra 15 miles but they were flat miles so my estimate of an extra hour of riding was about right.  I also figured I did a little less climbing, but not much, but the climbing was also a little less steep.  Still, I’m sure if I had a conscious choice to make I wouldn’t have taken the longer route.

 

Day 13: Sat, Sep 18, 2010 - Squaw Valley, CA to Grant Grove Village, CA [32.0, 6:01:37, 5.3 mph, 5,014']

I noticed my rear tire appeared to be low yesterday when I crossed the cattle grates so I pumped it and the front tire up before I left the motel.  Then I rode a little over 4 miles up the road to Clingan’s Junction where there was a restaurant open for breakfast.  I had the tall stack of 4 pancakes which were fine but more like 3 large pancakes.  Today figured to be a hard day with about 5,000 feet of climbing so I wanted all the breakfast energy I could get.

 

I needed to be careful today since my route kept me off of 180 as much as possible and I couldn't afford any routing mistakes like yesterday.  Right away I left 180 and picked up Dunlap Road, then Milwood Rood, then Todd Eymann Road to Pinehurst.  It was bad enough that these roads were steep but to add insult to injury the flies were out in force today.  The two previous days I had an occasional fly bother me but today they were out in hordes.  I was continually swatting 10-20 flies away from my face and that was very aggravating.  Occasionally, there was a light breeze and that would get me some respite from the buggers but that was short lived.

 

I ground my way up to Pinehurst by 1pm and stopped for a couple of sodas at the bar/store.  After a substantial break of at least 30 minutes I picked up 245.  245 was not quite as steep as the other roads and I could have enjoyed it somewhat except for the flies.  It did help that 245 had a fair amount of shade to protect me from the warm sun.

 

My real fear was the flies would be dangerous when I got on to the busier 180.  When I reached 180 I was seriously considering whether I should try to hitch a ride.  Certainly, if someone had stopped and offered a ride I would have been happy to accept.  Nevertheless, I started riding on 180 and battling the buggers.  Then mysteriously the flies disappeared.  Maybe they can handle only a certain altitude and that got rid of them.  In any event it was a great relief to be able to ride the rest of the way without bother.

 

I stopped at the park entrance booth to pay my $0 fee using my Senior Pass and then rode on to Grant Grove Village.  Normally there are 3 campgrounds open but two of them close mid-September.  I rode to the Aezala campground which was almost full.  The tent only section was completely full and it didn't look like many other sites were open so I just grabbed one.

 

After setting up I rode back to the village and the Visitor Center where I got the not too unexpected bad news – the Kings Canyon was smoked in and the ranger, who was also a cyclist, didn't advise taking that route.  That simplified my planning but was an obvious disappointment.  Last year smoke ruined the Crater Lake view and this year it ruined the Kings Canyon view.

 

I grabbed an expensive burger at the restaurant and then retired to my campsite for the night.

 

Day 14: Sun, Sep 19, 2010 - Grant Grove Village, CA to Lodgepole Village, CA [38.6, 4:59:17, 7.7 mph, 2,848']

My campground was at the turnoff to the Grant Tree so when I packed up I headed straight for it at about 7:30am.  It was a mile downhill, further than I expected but there was only one other car in the parking lot.  The trail around the Grant Tree was paved so I rode my bike since no one else was around.  The Grant Tree is the 2nd largest tree in the world measured by volume (not by height) and it’s the widest tree in the world.  It was once thought to be 2000 years old but its age is now estimated as 1650 years old.  It is named after Ulysses S Grant, the 18th President of the US.  The one problem with this tree is it was too tall to get a complete picture with my camera.  I would have had to be further away to get the entire tree in a photo but then I wouldn't have had a clear view of the tree.

 

I climbed back to the main road and headed for breakfast.  I had decent pancakes, eggs, and ham with the ham a surprising thick slab of ham.  Afterwards I took a quick trip through the Visitor Center and then was on my way.  I had anticipated a fairly easy day since my elevation profile looked reasonably flat but the scale hid how much climbing there was.  There was some up and down but quite a bit more up including a long 3-4 mile uphill.  By 11am I had already climbed 1400 feet and I was far from done.  At least there were no flies.

 

The road was narrow with generally little shoulder but there was little traffic.  I stopped at a couple of turnouts and was rewarded with views of smoke and smog from the San Joaquin Valley.  At one turnout I managed to kick a lady in the butt.  I have my sleeping bag and tent packed on top of my rear rack so to get my leg over to the other side when mounting my bike I have to lift my leg pretty high and swing it over the tent and bag.  This one time a woman was walking by the bike just as I was doing that and my attempted mount failed because I hit her butt, or something.  She laughed, I apologized, and I succeeded on my second attempt.

 

There weren't very many scenic places to stop so I was focused on getting down the road.  When I thought the route was relatively flat and would be an easy day I didn't try to predict how far I would make it or want to go.  Then when it became obvious this would not be an easy day I wanted to make Lodgepole, a small village with a campground.  However, this campground is one of only two in the Kings Canyon/Sequoia area that takes reservations.  It normally fills during the summer and weekends in September.  I was counting on it not being full on a Sunday evening.  Still I wanted to get there reasonably early to make sure I could get a campsite.

 

The ups and downs continued and I finally made Lodgepole around 2pm and I had no trouble getting a camp site although the campground looked pretty full.  After setting up camp I grabbed a bite to eat in the village.  Then with some time on my hand the obvious thing to do was to visit the Sherman Tree, which is the largest tree in the world by volume and named after the American Civil War General, William Tecumseh Sherman.

 

It was a couple miles down the road with some climbing and then maybe another mile off the road to a parking area with more climbing.  I was just thankful I was doing this on an unloaded bike.  It was a fairly easy walk to the Sherman Tree which is on the northern edge of the Big Forest which contains 5 of the 10 largest trees in the world, all Sequoias.  Again, it was hard to take a reasonable photo of a 275 foot tree which could only be seen at a relatively close distance.  There were a number of other Giant Sequoias in the immediate area but they posed the same problem.  Suffice it to say that these are huge, impressive trees.

 

The way back to camp was almost all downhill.  The village had showers available for $3 so I took advantage of that to not only shower but to rinse out my riding clothes for another day of riding.  But the grill was closed so I had to eat from my food stash.


 

Day 15: Mon, Sep 20, 2010 - Lodgepole Village, CA to Lemon Cove, CA [41.7, 3:38:00, 11.5 mph, 1,227']

It was a fairly cool morning, somewhere in the 40s, and it was going to take a while for the sun to come over the mountains blocking the sun from my campsite.  So I packed up and rode the half mile or so to the Visitor Center where the sun was able to peek in.  The store didn't open until 9am so I made my cereal breakfast with powdered milk.

 

When I left the campground I retraced my route yesterday to the Sherman Tree parking lot turnoff so I had a little climbing to do.  At that point I entered the Giant Forest where Giant Sequoias are sprinkled throughout.  They were easy to spot with their distinctive red ruffled bark but many were relative youngsters compared to the Grant and Sherman trees, or they didn't eat their vegetables when they were growing up.

 

After the initial climbing, I basically had to lose about 4,000 feet to leave the park and some more elevation loss after that.  However, there was some road construction and I had to wait at one point for about 45 minutes to get through.  The road was shut down in that area for all traffic and traffic was let through one-way once at the beginning of each hour.  While waiting I talked to the traffic controller guy to make sure I would be okay on a bicycle (which I was because it was all downhill).  I had seen a small black bear just before the stop area so I asked him about bears.  He said he usually sees 6-7 bears each day.  Turns out there were a lot of berries along the road and the bears were gearing up for the winter.  Then a few minutes later we saw a bear up the road above us.  He was just ambling along the road side until a vehicle came along and scared him into the bush.

 

The section where the road construction was underway was very twisty and winding.  I followed the pace car and had no trouble keeping up since he went very slowly.  However, I had to use my brakes constantly to keep my speed under control.  When the pace car turned off, I pulled off to let all the vehicles behind me pass.  Then I stopped a couple of times on the way down to make sure my rims didn't get too hot from braking.

 

With almost all downhill riding, I cruised into Three Rivers, named for the 3 forks of the Kaweah River that meet near the town.  I wanted to get Internet access but the public library was closed on Mondays so I wasn't too hopeful.  But then I found a deli that had WiFi so I stopped for a bite to eat and to take care of some personal and work email.  After that I did some grocery shopping that I had been putting off due to the high prices in the park stores.

 

Lemon Cove wasn't a great destination but there weren't really any other camping options.  The traffic controller guy had suggested skipping any Lake Kaweah campgrounds because the lake, a reservoir formed by the Terminus Dam on the Kawah River, had been drained, presumably for irrigation, and was quite low.  The lake was situated in a nice valley surrounded by yellow hills peppered with some junipers and the valley was irrigated to provide a vivid green contrast to the yellow hills.  Interestingly, the lake had mostly empty from 2004 to 2009 due to drought conditions but then a heavy snowpack in the spring had filled the lake to capacity.

 

Shortly after the lake I stopped at a food mart at the intersection of 198 and 216 where I met a retired park ranger with a long gray beard.  He asked a lot of questions and I got a little worried when he started asking about how much my bike and panniers cost.  I think he would have talked forever but I finally begged off to get something to drink.  While I was in the store he got distracted by a gas customer and I was able to make my getaway.

 

Just a couple miles down the road was Lemon Cove, a rural town of 300 surrounded by cattle ranches and citrus groves.  Not quite a mile south of town was a private campground where I got a site for $15 which wasn't too bad.  One good thing was its little store had used paperbacks.  I was almost finished with my current paperback and needed to get something else so used paperbacks were just the ticket.

 

After setting up my tent I rode back to town for some chimichangas at the store which were pretty decent.  Then the store had some ice cream bars that were 2 for $1 which would have been senseless to pass up so I didn't.  One was a coconut bar and the other a cookies and cream bar.  Both were very good but a little messy leaving my hands sticky.

 

Back at camp I worked on my bike.  Earlier in the day I noticed that my rear tire seemed a little soft and it was when I tested the pressure with my fingers.  Having only pumped it up a couple days ago it had at least a slow leak.  While I was messing with the bike I first cleaned my chain, figuring I was going to get dirty hands any way.  Then I took the rear tube to the men's restroom and stopped up one of the wash basins to test for the leak.  I found one leak that was very slow, maybe a bubble every 5-10 seconds and then I found another nearby that was about every second.  I debated tossing the tube but then decided to patch the more substantial leak and see how that worked.

 

After my maintenance work was complete, I showered and used the WiFi for Internet access.  The store/Laundromat was closed but there was a concrete patio with an outdoor electrical outlet that worked just fine.

 

Day 16: Tue, Sep 21, 2010 - Lemon Cove, CA to Camp Nelson, CA [54.0, 7:52:45, 6.9 mph, 5,889']

Being about 6000 feet lower than the last couple of nights it was somewhat warmer sleeping and I never zipped up my sleeping bag.  In the morning I rode back to town for milk for my cereal breakfast since there wasn't any breakfast place around,

 

I rode another 5 miles south on 198 which had a good shoulder but a lot of noisy traffic.  Then I turned on to Yokohl Drive and rode through the Yokohl Valley heading for the Sierra Foothills.  This road must be a local bicycle route since I saw several cyclists riding back on the road.  I had to climb about 2200 feet to get out of the Yokohl Valley and over to the other side.  Much of the climbing was some repeated climbing followed by easing off until the last 3-4 miles when it was all climbing.

 

When I made it to the top I had to take it easy going down because the road was a little rough in places.  I also had to turn on Balch Park Rd and I didn't know where that was and the last thing I wanted was to miss the turn and have to ride back uphill to pick it up.  However, I needn't have worried as the turn was at a stop sign and the road was well marked.  From there it was mostly a coast to Springville.

 

Springville was actually off route about a mile but I needed a break because I had another 3000 feet of climbing to Camp Nelson and I needed to re-energize.  I stopped at a hamburger place which I thought might have fast service but that was not the case.  That might have been just as well to force me to take a good break.

 

When I took off it was almost 2pm.  The full climb ahead of me was about 6000 feet and Camp Nelson was half way.  I knew it was going to be a hard day but I figured it was better to get half the climb out of the way and only be faced with 3000 feet of climbing tomorrow.

 

The climbing started okay on 190 winding its way along the contours of the mountain.  The early part followed the Tule River which was tantalizing close at times.  If water quality weren't a concern, it would have been nice to just stop and drink from the rushing stream.

 

A little further the road crossed over a small hydroelectric facility and climbed steeply for several miles.  Then things got really ugly with the Return of the Flies II.  Earlier there were one or two flies that were pestering me and they were easy to deal with.  Then the flies called in for reinforcements and I started battling hoards of flies, worse than the climb to Kings Canyon.  I had to keep my hand waving like a windshield wiper to keep them at bay but that was very tiring and it spoiled the view since I couldn't afford the luxury of admiring the scenery while fighting off the flies and keeping the bike on the road while riding one handed.

 

Interestingly, when I stopped for a break the flies seemed to take a break too.  Maybe they thought that was only fair or that I was more potent with 2 arms free to ward them off.  But after I started riding they would find me again.  It was really annoying to have these hoards buzzing around my face.  The best thing would have been to out run them but that was impossible when I could only climb at 3-4 mph.  A few times the climb relented and I was able to pick up a little speed and leave the buggers behind but that was only for a few short stretches.

 

I knew when I started this climb near 2pm that it would be a 3-4 hour climb.  I finally reached civilization near Camp Nelson, a rural town with about 200 people, around 5:30 when there was a resort with a restaurant/store.  I stopped and guzzled a 32oz Gatorade for some energy.  The woman behind the counter offered some advice on camping, suggesting that the Belknap USFS campground was the nicest of the two campgrounds.  The campground was almost 2 miles off the road and she said it had some ups and downs.  Later I learned the campground was part of the Giant Sequoia National Monument in the Sequoia National Forest.

 

I rode another mile and took the turnoff to the campground.  Shortly there was a store where I stopped again.  I thought I would pick up some sandwiches since the previous store didn't have anything but this one didn't either.  So I bought another 32 oz Gatorade, drank half of it and saved the rest for later.

 

Then the ups and downs to the campground turned out to be mostly ups, with one short but very steep climb.  At least returning in the morning would be easier.

 

By the time I got to the campground I didn't care how good it was.  I didn't investigate and picked one of the first sites I saw, set up, ate, and crashed for the night.  Nearly 6,000 feet of climbing made for a hard day and the flies made it miserable for several hours.

 

Day 17: Wed, Sep 22, 2010 - Camp Nelson, CA to Lake Isabella, CA [64.2, 6:47:10, 9.5 mph, 4,430']

With a big climb ahead of me I wanted to get a good breakfast but the cafe didn't open until 9 so I didn't hurry packing up.  Yesterday my rear tire went low in the afternoon and pumping it up got me to Camp Nelson.  This morning, no surprise, it was flat so I took the opportunity to replace the tube with a new one.

 

When I got to Mo's Diner a little past 8:30 I found the door unlocked so I walked in and got served.  The 9am opening time was the winter time scheduled to start next week so the place had opened at 8am.  I had 3 pancakes and an order of bacon and the bacon was 4 real slices of bacon.

 

I left about 9:15 and immediately started climbing.  I had about 10 miles and about 3000 feet of climbing so I figured a minimum of 3 hours, perhaps 4.  It was cloudy and that helped to keep it cool and helped the climbing but the low clouds hid the views.  My elevation profile showed a constant grade for the climb so I was surprised that the climbing seemed easier than yesterday.  Perhaps the overnight rest worked its magic.  I ended up climbing to the summit in a little less than 2.5 hours without taking a break.

 

On the climb up a guy in a SUV pulled over into a turnout and as I approached he stuck his head out the window and turned to me and said “Do you do this every day?”.  He said he saw me climbing yesterday and I told him I had only made it to Camp Nelson and was completing the climb today.  With that he was happy and drove on.

 

As I neared the summit the sun started coming out.  Just over the summit I stopped at a store/restaurant in Ponderosa.  I wanted to get milk for a cereal breakfast but they were out of milk.  They had some chicken gumbo soup that looked good so I had a bowl of that and rested.

 

Despite the cool weather with the clouds blocking the sun I had sweated and I was a little uncomfortable and a little chilled.  The downhill run and a little sun helped to dry me out and make me comfortable.  I also saw and smelled some more forest fire smoke but it never bothered me.

 

I rode 190 up to the summit and then the road became the Western Divide Highway.  After 15 miles of descending with a couple stretches of climbing I picked up Mountain Road 50 to Johnsondale which became Sierra Way.  Johnsondale had a store and I thought I would stop there but the road didn't go through the town.  By the time I realized that I was past the turnoff and didn't feel like backtracking uphill for a break I didn't really need.

 

A few miles later I crossed over the Kern River and followed it the rest of the way to Lake Isabella.  It was a scenic ride with the river passing through some steep, rugged hills.  To make things better the road was all downhill with only a few places where I had to do a little pedaling.  There were many places along the river for camping and fishing appeared to be an important attraction.

 

I stopped at a little motel/store place for a break and a bite to eat.  Then I pretty much coasted the rest of the way to Kernville, the first of 3 towns along the lake.  In Kernville I took the main road through town that became Burlando and that took me to Wofford Heights, the second town.  I stopped to pick up some food for dinner and then rode another 3 miles to the Bolder Gulch Campground.  It was just off the road and looked to be empty except for me so I had my pick of sites for the loops that were still open.  Later I discovered why I had my pick of sites – the campground must have been closed although I saw no signs to that effect.  I did notice there were no sign up envelopes but thought maybe a ranger came around to collect as in June Lake.  But when I tried to use the restroom I saw a closed sign and that's when I was pretty sure the campground was closed.  However, at that point I was all set up and not about to move.  I had everything I needed except a restroom and the price was great.

 

A particular highlight of the day was virtually no flies.  I guess flies are not morning people and it was actually a reasonably pleasant climb to the summit without the bother of flies.    There was a short stretch descending to Johnsondale where the flies tried to make a comeback but it was a breezy day and I was too fast going downhill so they could only make a token effort.

 

Day 18: Thu, Sep 23, 2010 - Lake Isabella, CA to Golden Hills, CA [61.7, 8:32:39, 7.2 mph, 6,263']

I got up early because I had a long day ahead of me.  Unfortunately, there was no place, either camping or motel, to stay between Lake Isabella and Golden Hills, a distance of about 60 miles with LOTS of climbing.  So I didn't have the luxury of dallying around.

 

I was packed and on the road the 4 miles to the town of Lake Isabella by 7am.  This stretch of road was terrible for cycling.  It had high speed traffic and no shoulder.  There was almost no bail out option because the asphalt dropped off the edge so heading off shoulder was potentially dangerous.  It was a good thing it was only 4 miles.

 

I arrived in town and there was a cafe right on the corner of the main intersection.  I had 3 pretty good pancakes.  Then since there was the possibility I might not make the next town today I stopped for a few extra groceries just in case.  When I pulled out my credit card to pay I noticed my Chase bank ATM card was missing.  I could only guess that I had left it at the credit union ATM in Three Rivers a few days ago.  That was the last time I used it and know I had it.  If I hadn't been crunched for time as it was I would have called it in but I figured someone had already managed to get whatever cash they could from it if they were the dishonest type or had turned it into someone and reported it.  So I figured it could wait until the evening.

 

I headed south out of town at 8:30.  I had 3 summits to climb right off the bat and I started climbing the first one right away to get out of the valley.  It was a steep climb with several switchbacks which afforded some nice views of Lake Isabella the lake.  After that I descended into an area that had just been part of a forest fire.  Some folks were surveying the damage and I could smell the burnt wood.  I wondered if this was the smoke I saw yesterday riding into the Lake Isabella area.

 

The second summit was a steep climb but not quite as much altitude gain.  However, this summit held a surprise for me – food and drink.  I was unaware of any access to food/drink until near the end of the day so this was a welcome surprise, looking like a mirage at first.  I arrived at the summit around 11 which was perfect timing for my second breakfast.  Since it would be a while until I could get more drink I scarfed down a Gatorade for good measure.  I also wanted to top off one of my water bottles but the place had a problem with their plumbing.  So the proprietress opened a gallon water jug for me, which was pretty good service.

 

Then I descended into a basin for a little bit of flat riding before climbing the third summit.  This one had a steep part but it almost flattened out near the top so it was the easiest of the three.  Descending was another story.  It was about a 3000 foot descent but the hills were very steep.  So the road had to follow the contours of the hills and gradually make its way in a curvy, twisty way to the bottom.  I had to pretty much ride my brakes the whole way because I couldn't turn the bike loose.

 

In short order I approached the town of Caliente with a reported population of 1,000.  With that kind of population you would expect some kind of services to be available but there was only a post office.  I could only guess they were counting cattle and rattlesnakes as part of the population.

 

Just as I reached Caliente there was a railroad crossing that was blocked by an oncoming train.  I expected the train to pass on to the east but then I noticed it curved around and made a big U turn.  That's when I thought this was part of the Tehachapi Loop, a famous railroad design to allow trains to make it up to the Tehachapi Pass.

 

After the railroad crossing I made a right turn at but away from Bealville Road.  At first blush, Bealville Road would have been the road of choice since the chosen route made a long V and returned at the other end of Bealville.  I could only guess that Bealville was impossibly steep or very dangerous for a bicycle.  Later, I checked and discovered the Bealville cutoff was almost an 800 foot climb over 2 miles, which is pretty steep.

 

For a ways my route followed the train route.  Then I switched back on Bena Road which passed under the busy SR58 and then became a frontage road for a bit before I was finally forced to ride SR58 for 5 miles.  SR58 had a good shoulder but it was very noisy, in part because the big trucks were having as much trouble climbing the hill as I was.

 

When I left SR58 I stopped at the store at Keene, the only place with any food/water before Golden Hills.  Or so I thought.  Turned out the place closed at 3pm and it was 4pm when I arrived.  That was a bummer.  Fortunately, I was doing fine and not in desperate need of food/water but a cold drink would have been very welcome.

 

I continued a fairly steep climb on the Woodford Tehachapi Road for the final nearly 8 miles.  At 5pm I stopped at a plaque memorializing the Tehachapi Loop that was built in 1874-1876.  I didn’t realize it at the time but the plaque obviously was at the Tehachapi Loop, which I thought was the big U I saw at Caliente earlier.  I don’t know if I just didn’t notice the Loop from the plaque turnout or if it wasn’t visible from that point.  I certainly wasn’t looking for it there since I thought the U turn earlier was it and it was getting late and I was anxious to make it to Golden Hills and end the long day.  Later I checked out the loop in earth view on Google Maps and it looks like it would have been hard to miss.  I was certainly bummed out when I learned that I probably missed this sight.  The Tehachapi Loop is 0.73 mile long spiral that is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  A train longer than 4,000 feet, about 85 boxcars, will pass over itself when traversing this loop.  That would have been a sight to see.

 

At that point I had 5 more miles and about 600 more feet to climb.  I finished the climb and descended into Golden Hills a little before 6pm.  I found the Golden Hills Motel right along the road but when I stopped I wasn't sure it was still in business.  It had a twisted decrepit sign that suggested it was closed and nothing suggested it was open.  I almost continued on but figured I might as well check and found the office door was unlocked and someone responded to my entry.

 

I got a decent room for $45.  The downside of this motel was it wasn't near any food places so I ordered out for pizza delivery.  I managed to reward my body with a medium meat lover's pizza and 2 liters of coke.  That seemed like the least I could do for the yeoman work my body had done for the day.

 

Then surprise of all surprises.  I was sure this place wouldn't have WiFi but I found a WiFi signal when I checked.  I did have to get a password from the office but I was happy to do that.  Then I settled in for an evening of getting caught up on personal and work after being disconnected for a couple days.

 

One of the things I did was call Chase Bank and have them cancel my ATM card.  I checked my accounts and nothing was amiss so no harm no foul other than the inconvenience of not having an ATM card.  I discussed my options with Chase.  I thought I could use my Chase VISA card for ATM withdrawals but I was told I couldn’t because I hadn't set it up with a PIN and supposedly I couldn't do that from the road.  So I decided to sleep on this.

 

Day 19: Fri, Sep 24, 2010 - Golden Hills, CA to Palmdale, CA [55.7, 5:10:35, 10.8 mph, 1,380']

Surprisingly, I didn't sleep very well.  I didn't get to bed until 11pm and with the long, hard day and comfortable bed I thought I would sleep very well but that was not the case.  Eventually I wandered off to sleep but I got up several times to hydrate myself by drinking water although the water at the motel had a funny taste.

 

When I got up in the morning I called Chase back and decided to arrange to have them ship a new ATM card to a Chase branch location.  I thought that would be easy but then realized it was Friday and 2 business day delivery put delivery at next Tuesday.  I wasn't sure where I would be then so I arranged to have it delivered to a Chase branch location in Yuma, AZ, which I figured was a safe choice.  However, Chase couldn’t contact the branch because it was open yet to verify that they would accept delivery.  We left it pending that they would contact Yuma and everything would be okay.

 

I left the motel and rode to downtown Tehachapi for breakfast.  I found a place but when I was inside I discovered I didn't have my waist pouch with my money and valuables.  I raced outside to my locked bike and didn't see the pouch in my pannier.  About to have a major heart attack, I went inside again to look around to see if I could have misplaced the pouch.  Nothing.  With considerable dread I went outside to my bike again and with great relief found my pouch lying on top of my sleeping bag on my rear rack.  Apparently when I was in the process of locking the bike I first retrieved the pouch and placed it on my sleeping bag and then retrieved my cable lock and locked the bike.  Then I must have just walked inside forgetting that my pouch was still lying on top of my sleeping bag.  That was a very nervous few minutes that I didn't need.

 

I had a decent breakfast and then rode east to pick up the Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road that I would ride a good part of the day.  Just east of Tehachapi is a north-south ridge that is home to hundreds of wind turbines.  As I rode the TWS Road that climbed over the ridge more and more wind turbines came into view.  As I descended down the other side of the ridge many more wind turbines came into view.  I estimated there must have been at least a thousand of them.

 

Compared to other climbs the climb to the ridge wasn't that hard, gaining maybe a thousand feet.  That led to a long descent, initially very fast and then moderately fast as the downhill tapered off.  This descent led a transition into the desert of southern California that was also irrigated to support agriculture.  It was very warm and the air flow from the descent did little to provide any cooling.  Still it was better than cooler weather and battling flies.

It was easy pedaling for much of the way and there were a couple of mini markets along the way to provide a cold drink.  Eventually the road's name changed to 90th St West in an area where streets where laid out in a rectangular fashion with Avenues along the north-south axis and Streets along the east-west axis.  That made navigation very easy.  I rode until I reached Ave K and took that until 50th St which took me into Quartz Hill.

 

At that point I needed some better directions since I hadn't done my homework at the motel while I was connected to the Internet.  I stopped at a LA county library with WiFi but couldn't use it since I didn't have a library card.  However, the librarian decided to let me use her card number and password and I was able to research the two areas I wanted.

 

First, I wanted to find where the nearest Chase branch location was.  I wasn't totally satisfied with the answer I got from Chase in the morning so I wanted to stop at a branch location and simply ask them if they could issue me a replacement ATM card.  As luck would have it, there was a branch location right along my route.  The other information I needed was where the motels were.  This area was congested with the Palmdale and Lancaster cities and the motels were also near my route.

 

First I stopped at the Chase branch location and was told they could issue a temporary ATM card.  I was hopeful but reserved and then they discovered what I was told on the phone – that it couldn't be done because the issuing state (CA) was not the home state (IL).  At least I satisfied myself that I wasn't being misled.  And while I was there I withdrew some cash to tide me over until I hopefully got a replacement card in Yuma.

 

Then I continued on to the motel area.  There were some expensive motels in the area but there was also a Motel 6 and an EZ-8 and I chose the latter for a room of $40.  However, WiFi access was $5 extra so that somewhat mitigated the attractive price.

 

After a reasonable lasagna dinner at a diner across the street that was more filling than I needed after last night's pizza extravaganza I started researching tomorrow's route.  Tomorrow I was leaving the Pacific Crest Trail route in favor of riding through Joshua Tree National Park and on to Yuma.  There was supposed to be some very scenic routes on the PCT but the every day climbing was taking a toll on my mental health if not my body.  There was still climbing left but it promised not to be so unrelenting.  On the other hand, warmer temperatures were presumably in store so that would likely become another factor.

 

Today was a relatively easy day.  Once the initial climb over the ridge east of Tehachapi was done it was easy pedaling although very warm.

 


 

Copyright Denis Kertz, 2010. All rights reserved.