100.4 mi / 8:10:56 time / 12.2 mph avg. / 7618 ft. climbing
Staying at Trimmer Springs Campground, Pine Flat Lake Recreation Area
Yeah, so that’s why I needed to eat and rest yesterday. A fully-loaded century, through the Sierra Nevada mountains, with over 7500 feet of climbing. Riding from sunrise to sunset. By the numbers, it should have been one of the hardest days I ever did on a bicycle, but surprisingly, it wasn’t. Apparently all the hard work of the past 3 weeks made the hard work of today easy.
Well, “easy” is a bit of a stretch.
Since I knew today would be a long one, I was on the road before 7am. I got to see the Yosemite Valley softly lighting up, and got some different views because the one-way roads through the Valley take you on a different path on the way out. Tunnel View was the last sight of Half Dome and the rest; it’s sort of supposed to be your first view, as you emerge from a long tunnel and go “whoa”. But I was heading the other way. Cyclist tip: one-third of the way west into the tunnel, there’s a shaft that shoots off perpendicular, and leads to a rocky ledge where you could have your own, personal Tunnel View. It’s something only a cyclist would ever see, because you can’t stop your car in the middle of the tunnel!
So leaving the valley was a 2100 foot climb, and after that, they threw in another 1400 foot climb for good measure. All before 10am. After leaving the park, the route went down local backroads for almost the entire way. Traveling along the southwest shore of Bass Lake was the first of these, and it was in fairly bad shape and constantly curvy with lots of smaller ups and downs despite following a lakeshore.
In North Fork (the exact center of California, according to them), I got a grocery store lunch, but since the grocery store had no hospitable area outside, I went a few blocks down to the library and sat and ate it on some steps across the street in the shade, along with an old dude smoking a cigarette. He gave me some info about the upcoming route, and generally helped define the huge contrast between the rich Bay Areans populating Yosemite, and the survivors hanging on in these small beaten-down towns of the western Sierra foothills. Let’s just say that the 2013 Ford Mustang Convertible is not the Official Car of this area. The library had good Internet though!
Leaving North Fork, I bombed down an insane twisty hill to the San Joaquin River at 1000 feet, all the while being assaulted by a blast furnace wind flowing up from the valley. Unlike his Central Valley twin to the north, the Sacramento, there was no town like Redding at the San Joaquin crossing. There was basically nothing but a power generating station and baking sun. Oh, and a palm tree. Some contrast from the morning pines of Yosemite!
I had to take a whiz at the side of the road, and when I hopped back on my bike, suddenly I couldn’t see what was behind me! Ack, what’s going on?! My helmet mirror was missing! Nature had done its best to fight back against my desecration, and a prickly tree branch had ripped it from my helmet. It actually took a good five minutes of searching to find it, and it’s a good thing I finally did, because there were no shoulders today, and this doesn’t seem like a place with a lot of bike shops!
The climb back up to Auberry, some 70 miles in, went a lot better than I expected. It seems like I again have my body tuned to the point where the engine can run all day long. The tradeoff is that it can’t put out a ton of power, but that’s okay, because in a power struggle, these mountains will always beat you. In Auberry a guy mentioned that this was the coolest day they have had in some time, so my amazing weather-luck continues. I was expecting the last 30 miles through the heat and the hills at low elevation to be a brutal death-march, but it was surprisingly pleasant, and the fact that it was only 90 degrees instead of 100 probably had a lot to do with it. There were a lot of small ranches and farms, most of them for sale, but the people seemed friendly, waving from their cars as they passed carefully on the narrow twisting roads. And everything just had a golden glow in the late afternoon sun. The whistles from football practice at Sierra High were a comforting sound. I wish I could have stopped for some pictures of the landscape, but I was racing against the sun without a minute to spare.
The final 5 miles got less and less comforting. Traffic on the roads began to dwindle, the centerline eventually disappeared, and I entered an area with free-ranging cattle as the day’s light began to fade. I had to pass some cattle on the road, including little ones, and I was just hoping the bull was nowhere nearby. Because they threw in some 10-15% grades just for fun in the last couple miles, so I wouldn’t be outrunning anyone.
It’s exactly as I expected, but the campground on the man-made lake is desolate and isolated; figuratively, it feels more than 100 miles away from Yosemite Valley, and literally, it’s miles away from anywhere and anything. It’s nowhere anyone would want to stay, but today was all about staging for the climb back up to Sequoia. The lake water level is really low, which certainly adds to the desolation. But they have a free shower, woo hoo! I expected there to be no one here, but there is one other couple, which is kind of nice even if they aren’t social.
I took a shower and ate dinner in the moonlight, and am going to try my old trick of skipping the tent and sleeping on the picnic tables. It’s really quiet. About 10 cars have gone by on the road above in the 2 hours I’ve been here, and you can see and hear them from far away, and repeatedly, as they then wind along the twisting lakeshore for miles. Some yahoos on the other side of the lake just discovered the incredible echo, let’s hope they tire of that soon.