Reno to Crater Lake to Aspen


Fall 2013


Denis Kertz, ©2013

Day 0: Sun, Sep 01, 2013 - Reno, NV

My friend Dave picked me up at 2 pm for my 4:20 pm Southwest flight to Reno, NV, out of Midway Airport.  This was a later flight than I wanted, getting in at 6:20 pm but it was the cheapest flight and a non-stop flight to boot.  On top of that Southwest didn't charge for the first two checked bags.  They did charge $75 for taking my bike but that was still cheaper than the more typical $100 on other airlines such as United and American.  However, it was also $25 more than what Southwest charged a year ago.  Ideally, I would have liked to have shipped my bike via Amtrak but the Reno baggage service closed at 4:45 pm and didn't open until 8:45 am.  So I wouldn’t have been able to pick up my bike until the next morning and that didn’t work well.


It was an uneventful flight but an almost full flight arriving right on time.  It was hazy flying into Reno and as soon as I was outside the smell of a forest fire smoke told me why.  This was smoke from the fire near Yosemite.  Since I would be heading north in the morning I hoped the smoke wouldn't follow me too far.  My plan was to first ride to Crater Lake National Park.  Four years ago, I rode through Crater Lake.  The night before I passed through Crater Lake the wind shifted and smoke from a forest fire filled the lake.  Now I was on a mission this year to return to Crater Lake and see if I could confirm there actually was a lake there.


Baggage handling at the airport went well and I was out the door with all my baggage and caught a taxi to the Fairfield Inn in Sparks, about 5 miles east of downtown Reno.  Using my Marriott reward points I was able to secure a free night at the Fairfield Inn.  Three years ago I stayed at the Courtyard in Reno but this year the Courtyard wasn't available.  That was probably just as well since the Courtyard was south of downtown and I would have had to ride through downtown or find a way to skirt around it to head north.  With the Fairfield Inn location it looked like it would be easier to head north.


As usual it took a couple of hours to re-assemble my bike and then re-pack all of my panniers.  There was a fast food taco place right next door so I first grabbed a quick bite to eat and then worked until 10 pm getting everything in shape for leaving in the morning.  Of course, 10 pm was really midnight by my Midwest time and I didn't actually make it to bed until almost 11 pm.  Nevertheless, it was a successful first day with no surprises although I narrowly avoided a major surprise.  Every year I always forget something.  Last year it was a battery charger that was not easily replaced.  This year it would have been my ThermaRest pad except at dinner last night my friend Dave casually asked how thick my sleeping pad was.  That's when I remembered my sleeping pad was buried under another sleeping bag and I had forgotten all about it.  I surely would have been able to replace it in Reno but it would have been inconvenient and maybe costly.


Day 1: Mon, Sep 02, 2013 - Reno, NV to Doyle, CA [53.5, 5:14:01, 10.2 mph, 1,883']

Last night was a different experience, the first time sleeping in a bed in 5 weeks.  Five weeks ago after braking on a wet road I fell hard on my left side and drove me left elbow into my ribs.  X-rays didn't show anything but something happened and I couldn't lay flat and sleep in a bed.  Instead I slept in a lounge which actually turned out to be fine.  As a result I didn't need to rush back to bed although I experimented a couple times and I couldn't lay straight back or on my left side so I stayed with the lounge.  With my left side getting gradually better every week I was pretty sure a bed wouldn't be a problem and it wasn't.  I had to be a little careful positioning my left side but otherwise the bed was fine.


Still I didn't sleep well for whatever reason.  I got up shortly after 5 am, really 7 am my time.  I had forgotten to print a document I had put together with accommodation options along my route but the Fairfield had a business corner where I was able to use my USB stick and print the document on a laser printer.


Fairfield had a continental breakfast as part of the accommodation package and I wasn't disappointed.  I had Canadian bacon, eggs, a waffle, oatmeal, and a banana – all the breakfast I needed to get on the road.


Back in the room I completed my packing and left at 8 am, much earlier than I had expected, a result of getting up early.  There was a prediction of some possible rain in the afternoon.  The wind was supposed to be out of the southwest.  Good news for a tailwind but bad news for smoke from the Yosemite fire.


I left along the road in front of the Fairfield which curved north.  Then a left and a right put me north on Sparks Boulevard.  After I got on Sparks I noticed a paved trail nearby but there was no easy way to get to it.  That didn't matter since there was very little traffic on the four lanes on a holiday.


At the corner of Sparks and Baring Boulevard there was conveniently a shopping center with a large Smiths grocery store where I stopped for my first food shopping.  It took a while to locate my foods and then to pack them in my panniers.  Unfortunately, this added about 10 pounds to my bike but I didn't know where I would be able to get food once I left the Reno area.


It was probably close to 10 am by the time I left and took Baring Blvd west where it turned into McCarron Boulevard.  McCarron had a fair amount of traffic but it also had a bike lane so the traffic was not an issue.  Shortly I could see downtown Reno through the Yosemite smoke.  I passed US395, the main north-south route, and continued north on to Virginia Ave.  My goal was to stay off US395 as long as possible and Virginia was an okay street.  It started out with a good shoulder that deteriorated into little shoulder but there wasn't much traffic.


I stayed on Virginia until it looked like it continued on a gravel road.  At that point, Red Rock Road, I picked up US395, a 4-lane expressway at this point.  There was a fair amount of high speed traffic on US395 but it had a shoulder about as wide as a traffic lane.  I made a final stop at a food mart at Hallelujah Junction, the intersection with NV70.  Then US395 narrowed down to a regular 2-lane highway.


Once I joined US395 I left the Reno metro area behind and the route became pretty scenic with the desert sagebrush and the rolling mountains.  As I neared Doyle, US395 entered a wide valley and cattle put in an appearance, grazing in the fields amidst some irrigated fields.


My goal for the day was to make Milford where there was a free, primitive campground 4 miles off the road.  However, as I thought about that and see the surrounding terrain it became clear to me there was probably going to be some climbing along those 4-miles, perhaps even some gravel.  Then my right heel was rubbing on my sandal and I was concerned about getting a blister.  That made me decide to seriously look for a place to stay in Doyle even though it was only 3:30 pm.


Doyle was a small town of 700 that had obviously seen better days.  Once, there were several places to stay.  There was still a local bar but it also had a for sale sign.  I stopped at a place with a Motel sign that wasn't obviously open.  But I got a room there for $30 cash, a real dive.  But it had a decent bed and a shower.  There was a community park in town where I might have been able to camp but it wasn't clear who to ask.  Given the $30 cash price I opted for the motel.


After cleaning up I walked the short distance to the bar, the Buck Inn, where I had a large frozen pizza and some soda.  I felt a little dehydrated so I opted for the soda rather than a beer.  The pizza was good but rather expensive at $11.  While waiting for my pizza I typed my notes for the day.  The bartender was impressed that I ate the 12” pizza.  This was actually a little more pizza than I needed but sometimes you have to step up to the plate.


When I left the bar I was the last customer.  There was one other customer when I showed up but he left before I did.  I heard the bartender saying she was thinking of closing at 7 pm since she said it was a slow day.  Maybe that's why the place is for sale.


When I got back to my motel, I tried out my latest toy – my Kindle.  Originally, I had bought the Kindle to have an online dictionary but then I realized it would work well for my bike tours.  I could check out Kindle reading material from my library and didn’t have to worry about returning them to the library since they simply expired automatically after 3 weeks.  This Kindle also was a PaperWhite so it had lighting that would make it easy to read in a tent.


A fairly easy first day of tour.  There was a 1,000 feet of climbing and most of that was in the first 15 miles leaving the Reno area.  After that the route was pretty flat until Hallelujah Junction and then it descended the rest of the way to Doyle.

Day 2: Tue, Sep 03, 2013 - Doyle, CA to Eagle Lake, CA [80.1, 7:59:43, 10.0 mph, 3,319']

I slept better this second night even though accommodations were considerably inferior to the first night.    I left before 8 and rode up the road to us395 where the motel owner had led me to believe there was a service station.  A little further on US395 there was an RV park where perhaps I could have camped.  Then a little further there was a food mart where I got milk for my cereal and a bear claw.

It was cool in the morning, maybe high 40s or low 50s but good cycling weather.  It was about 18 miles to Milford on a mostly flat road with a bit of climbing.  US395 continued through a wide valley, hugging the west side of the valley.  Milford had a population of 170, even smaller than I thought.  As I expected, the turnoff to the USFS campground didn't look promising for cycling.  Just north of town there was a mini-market and then a little further on was an RV park/campground which claimed to have a restaurant.  The restaurant sounded suspicious because there wasn't any real advertising to lure folks from the road and it didn't seem likely that the park/campground could itself justify a restaurant.  Anyway, it looked like it would have been a decent place to camp had I not stopped in Doyle.

After Milford it was another 20 miles or so to Susanville on a mostly flat route with a little modest climbing.  In Janesville I stopped for a drink before continuing on to Susanville.  US395 split off a few miles before Susanville.  Susanville was a town of 17,500, the only sizeable town between Reno and Klamath Falls.  I rode through town around noon, looking to see if I might find an Internet cafe but nothing showed up.

So I picked up CA139 north in the middle of town and climbed a few hundred feet to Lassen College where I stopped in a grassy area for a break and to apply some sunscreen.  A couple miles further I started the first major climb of the day, 1,000 feet over 3.5 miles.  I climbed mostly at 4 mph, stopping for a short break after climbing 400 feet.  CA139 essentially had no shoulder but it had little traffic and rarely any simultaneous 2-way traffic so the lack of shoulder was not a problem.  Motorists were easily able to pass my on the big climb.  I reached the summit at Antelope Summit at 5814 feet.

Once I reached the summit I entered a strange looking area.  There were trees on both sides of the road whereas before trees were only in the distant hills.  It was a nice change of pace.

After descending and riding on the flats for about 8 miles I started the second major climb of the day, 810 feet over 3 miles, but not quite as steep as I averaged 1 mph faster.  Strangely, when I reached the summit there was no summit sign even though this summit was a little higher than Antelope Summit.

From the summit I could see Eagle Lake about 10 miles in the distance.  There was a fast descent where I hit 40 mph and then 5 miles of flat riding to reach the northern end of the lake where there was camping.  There was a USFS campground near the entrance but I continued on because there was supposed to be a restaurant about a mile further.  I found it but it was closed.  It wasn't clear if it had just closed for the season or had been closed for a while.

So I return to the USFS campground where my senior pass got me a site for $4, a good deal.  This was also an opportunity to eat into my food stash and lighten my load a little.  There was only one other camper in the campground in addition to the hosts.  I picked a spot that was close to the restrooms and water and set up.

This was a fairly hard and long day at 80 miles with two significant climbs.

Day 3: Wed, Sep 04, 2013 – Eagle Lake, CA to Bieber, CA [51.4, 4:49:47, 10.6 mph, 1,909']

I was packed up and gone by 8 am.  The road immediately started climbing, about 600 feet in 5 miles.  There was almost no traffic on the road, about one vehicle every 5 minutes.  The climb was followed by a descent and then another climb after passing through a wide valley with cattle.  This was followed by a long descent of 1500 feet over 20 miles.

About half way along the descent there was road construction and a single lane road.  I stopped and a flagman asked me a little about my trip.  He then noted that the big upcoming Aden Pass climb could be avoided by taking A2 to Bieber and then riding Lookout Road north where it rejoined CA139.  My goal for the day was a campground just north of Canby and there was a climb just after that campground which this detour also avoided.  The big problem was I had no idea if any water or camping was available along the 35 miles of Lookout Road so I was leery of this detour.

After the pilot truck took us through the construction area I continued the nice descent and continued to mull over this detour.  When I got to the A2 turnoff I decided to continue on.  Then I changed my mind and retraced about 3 miles, somewhat harder than I expected since it climbed a little and it was into a headwind.  My rationale for the detour was that I didn't have to continue on when I reached Bieber.  I started thinking it might be nice to have a shorter day.

It was 11 miles to Bieber on another relatively traffic free road.  Bieber was a town of 500 that had a small cafe and a motel.  I hadn't eaten since breakfast so I chowed down a double-cheesburger and fries.  Next door was a Visitor Center where I got some more information including a suggestion I could detour again when I got back to CA139 and ride to Lava Beds National Monument where there was a campground.  Decisions, decisions.

I checked in at the motel with a room for $51 that included WiFi although the first room was marginal so I got moved closer to the office with a better WiFi signal.  When I cleaned up I also rinsed out my riding clothes and then took them outside to hang.  With the sun and the wind I figured everything would be dry within a couple of hours.  I hung my clothes in back of the motel where I figured they wouldn't be an eye sore but the proprietress saw me hanging the clothes and had a snit.  She said there were hangers in the closet for hanging.  I noted the wet clothes would drip on the carpet.  She replied in exasperation that I could hang them in the bathroom.  In a snit myself, I hung them in the closet and let them drip on the carpet.

Then I used the WiFi to check my email for the first time since the first night in Reno.  However, I discovered the first night I couldn't actually access my email.  I figured it was a problem with WideOpenWest, my service provider.  However, I found the same problem today.  I discovered I didn't have cell phone access so I couldn't call WideOpenWest.  Later I googled the error message I got and someone suggested that clearing out the browser cache could fix this and it did.

After email I did some more route research.  Trouble was there wasn't a whole lot of accommodation options the rest of the way to Klamath Falls.  I also was on target to make Crater Lake just in time for the weekend when I would have preferred avoiding the weekend.  That started making the next detour to Lava Beds National Monument more attractive as a delaying technique but it didn't do a lot to solve the accommodation issue.

Later I went back to the cafe across the street for a sandwich.  At the same time I grabbed my wet clothes and hung them on iron posts along the road where I could see them from the cafe.  They were there for about an hour and mostly dry by the time I returned to the motel.

I was pretty tired by the time I rode into Bieber, maybe because I hadn't eaten since breakfast, and a shorter day was probably a good idea.  It also gave me the opportunity to research some more travel options for the next few days.

One of the problems with my rib injury from a month ago was that it made sneezing out of the question.  I did it once a week after the injury and nearly died so I was loathe to sneeze again.  However, sooner or later I had to take a chance that I was healed enough to sneeze again.  So today I tried sneezing again and I did so without pain.  I enjoyed it so much I sneezed a couple times again later in the day.

Day 4: Thu, Sep 05, 2013 - Bieber, CA to Lava Beds Natl Mon, CA [63.1, 6:25:22, 9.8 mph, 2,382']

I wasn't in a hurry to get up because the cafe didn't open until 8 am.  I packed up and got to the cafe about 10 minutes early hoping that would entice them to open early and they did.  I had their pancakes which were fine.  On my way out of town I stopped at a combined service station, grocery store, feed store, and lumber store, typical for a small town.  I picked up some cereal and bear claws and was shocked they cost almost $10 but you sometimes have to take what you can get because you don't always find the selection you want.

I took the Lookout Road north.  It was supposed to be 35 miles to CA139 but it was a couple miles shorter than that.  This was a nice ride through some ranching territory and then the Modoc National Forest.  It was a climb of 600 feet but that was hardly noticeable because it was gradual.  I saw there were a number of places I could have camped since it was a national forest but I didn't see any water except for one small, dirty looking pond.

Close to 11 I stopped by the side of the road and had my second breakfast.  Along the way I spotted a cowboy on his horse apparently trying to round up some of his cattle.  Two of them tried to cross the road and he herded them back and then rode up the road a bit.  A few minutes later two cattle crossed the road, looking like the two who had tried to cross earlier.  I also saw a couple of deer ready to cross the road until they saw me and then watched me warily as I rode by,

There was little traffic on this road so it didn't need a shoulder.  There were 2 empty logging trucks heading north and later three logging trucks with a load.

When I reach CA139 again I was surprised to find a 3 foot shoulder whereas yesterday there was nothing.  I rode 12 miles and then took the turnoff to Tionesta and Lava Beds National Monument.  Tionesta was just a place with a couple of RV parks and a small store where I stopped for a cold drink.  The lady in the store was from LA and had moved there 17 years ago, enjoying the quiet of the area.

The road to the monument was not the greatest.  It had cracks across the road and in a few places the road was chewed up badly.  I had some headwind and a little climbing that made for slow going at times.  When I reached the monument entrance I had about 400 feet of climbing to get to the Visitor Center.  Just before the center was the turnoff to the campground and I saw two bicycle tourists turning down the road.  I continued to the center and paid my entry fee - $10 with my senior pass.

When I rode to the campground there were two loops and I looked for the cyclists.  I found them in the second loop and learned they were a Dutch couple who were cycling from Anchorage, Alaska to San Francisco.  They were continuing on a route that I had done some parts and was able to give some suggestions.  In particular I was able to advise them there was a motel in Bieber and that they would want to take the Lookout Road.  They were also hoping to ride Tioga Pass into Yosemite and were aware of the problem with a forest fire.

Day 5: Fri, Sep 06, 2013 - Lava Beds National Monument, CA to Hagelstein County Park, OR [61.6, 6:27:14, 9.5 mph, 1,526']

The Dutch couple were early risers as was I.  I packed up and ate and then walked to their site to say good-bye.  I warned them about the difficulty of getting a Yosemite campsite, which was news to them, although with the fire this year their chances were probably somewhat better.  They took off and I left shortly after, around 7:30.

Leaving the monument was more interesting than arriving.  There were a number of exhibits along the road that I checked out.  Leaving the park also was a descent, giving up the altitude claimed yesterday by entering the park.

After the monument I entered the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  I rode along Sheepy Ridge on my left and Tule Lake on my right.  Tule Lake attracted a lot of birds.  I followed two white cranes as they kept leapfrogging me, letting me get close and then flying a little further ahead.  This repeated 3 or 4 times.  I also raced a chipmunk along the side of the road before he realized he wasn't winning and he dove into the bushes.

As I continued riding a car pulled up and slowed.  Then the passenger asked whether I might have left a cell phone charger at the campground but I hadn't and they rode on.  After they left I thought about the Dutch couple so I called Lava Beds and clued them in that the Dutch couple was planning to stay in the motel in Bieber and maybe someone could check with them there.  I was surprised that I was able to make this call this because I wasn't sure I would have cell coverage.

After 24 miles I reached State Line Road, the boundary between California and Oregon.  I jogged left and then turned right to ride 2 miles on a road that intersected with OR39 which had been CA139.  This road had a pretty miserable shoulder that was cracked up and broken up but it was only 2 miles to Merrill where I stopped.  I was hoping to get breakfast at 11 am and I lucked out with a cafe that served breakfast all day but I couldn't get any pancakes or waffles.  So I had an omelette and a good breakfast.

When I left town OR39 suddenly had a nice 3-4 foot wide shoulder and I needed it as there was a fair amount of traffic, easily the most traffic so far on this trip.  Then when I got within 9 miles of Klamath Falls the shoulder narrowed and riding became a bit dicey.

The Dutch couple had clued me in that there was a bike trail into Klamath Falls.  So when I saw the OC&E trail I guessed that was it although there was no sign about where this trail went.  However, I passed a woman walking her dog and she assured me this went into town.  Later I met another cyclist who gave me some details on how to get downtown from the trail.  When he was turning off the trail he reiterated how to proceed.  But when I told him I was on my way to Crater Lake he strongly suggested I go up the west side of the Upper Klamath Lake.  Before the trip I had done some research and gotten some bad reviews about the west side route but this guy didn’t believe that.  He also mentioned a camping spot along the west side that sounded attractive.  He gave me a lot of directions on how to get to the west side, too much in fact, but the best thing was he got me going in the direction of a Visitor Center.  I stumbled around and was able to find the Visitor Center.  There I learned it was about a 1,000 foot climb to get to the west side and maybe 20 miles to the campground.  That was too much for the time left in the day so I scuttled that idea and proceeded up US97.

The Visitor Center gal was a bit challenged for giving directions, telling me this campground on the west side was 30 minutes while I stared at her wearing my bicycle helmet.  And she had no clue how far that might actually be so I could gauge what it would be on a bike.  She did alert me to the Hagelstein County Park for camping along US97.  But she told me to look for it when I started riding towards some big hills and that if I started riding along the lake I had gone too far.  So when I was riding towards some big hills I didn't see any county park and then I started riding along the lake.  Fortunately, a map I got at the Visitor Center said it was 16 miles to this park and I knew I hadn’t gone 16 miles and I continued riding on.  Eventually as I was riding toward some more big hills there was a sign for the park and I stopped there.

There were two negatives about this park – it was next to the busy US97 and it had no drinking water.  But I had stopped for a big drink at a food mart earlier and had 4 full water bottles so I figured I was okay.

The park wasn't much but it had a great fee - $0.  It was also about 10 feet below the level of the road and that helped mitigate the noise somewhat.  It had a small lagoon and a spot that was just deep enough for me to jump in and clean up – quickly as the water was pretty cold.  Then I ate and settled in for the night.



Copyright Denis Kertz, 2013. All rights reserved.