A bit anxious start, given what a lot of locals had told me about CA highway 12. I did a lot of research on possible alternate routes before concluding an early Sunday morning start for 14 miles of "Death Alley" would be necessary. Once clear of Rio Vista, there were other poor options ... but options, nonetheless, to avoid the worst 23 miles of this road. The first segment took me into the bay delta area; it looked a bit coastal areas of Georgia.
After crossing the Sacramento River, I started probing the alternate routes identified with Google Earth and local maps. Some portions worked better than others; several miles were on gravel.
Mid-morning, I stopped off at Travis AFB and signed up for a Space A flight back to Hickam. The only Hickam flight scheduled was a C-5 that departs tomorrow morning ... show time is 6:30 AM, so it'll be an early taxi ride.
Through the rest of the day, I faced a 15-20 knot headwind. The breeze came right off the ocean, clearing the smoke nicely.
Eventually, I made it to Vallejo, for the ferry crossing over to the Embarcadero. While on the boat, I enjoyed listening to ZZ Top's "I'm nationwide" on my iPod.
Once on the other side, I waded through a zillion (that's a lot) tourists and zipped over to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, then over to Baker Beach to dip the front tire in Pacific waters. The sun cheered the entire area and many people were out in the parks, walking, jogging, etc.. The water felt neither warm nor cold: just exciting.
Celebrate is order of the evening. A bowl of jumbo, cold beers, and more live music at Biscuits and Blues in the Union Square district.
Groveland to Lodi California; 87 miles
Neither the spaniards nor I wasted any time in the morning: up, pack, depart. They went east, I to the west.
My first 12 miles descended approximately 3500 feet with a lot of tight hairpin turns. Eventually, I left the Sierras behind, clearing into the Golden Hills. The fields I passed were extremely dry and I saw few ponds with water in them for cattle.
Mid-morning, I began to modify my route to see what other road options there were. Passing a prison, a sign imploring: "Do Not Stop For Hitchhikers" raised several questions. I ended up on an unfriendly Cal route 4, with no shoulders and a lot of speeding pickup trucks.
Once I got to Stockton, I stopped at several bike shops and a bookstore in search of a suitable track into the bay area. Good options seemed lacking.
The parts of Stockton I rode through were pretty rough. This was the only part of the trip where I felt uncomfortable in an urban setting. Much of the town looked like a ghetto and there were a lot of hobos "hanging out" in public places. Stopping at the public library for a blog update, the staff warned me to strip everything off the bike and lock the front wheel with the frame and back wheel. In addition, I asked the library security guard to keep an eye out. The bike shop from the edge of town had also told me a frequent theft item is the bike seat itself. I finished blogging and went outside to reassemble the rig.
Next stop: a bookstore, where I bought a couple of maps that would help plot a route and highlight trouble spots.
Overall: pretty lazy day, will probably get to the Golden Gate Bridge tomorrow.
I much anticipated today for the last significant climb of the trip. After a fairly lazy get-up/departure, I finally began climbing at roughly 11 AM. In the first 12 miles, the climb was from 6800' to 9900'. There really weren't any tricky or bad steep areas and many people passed me offering kind support and a few "woo-hoo's".
It felt good to be at Tioga Pass and the start of a pretty ride through Yosemite Park at between 8000 and 9500 feet. Smoke from the wildfires was everywhere and obscured the view. Fortunately, it wasn't so thick that it interfered with my performance.
The run down out of the park was fast and fun. At one point someone pulled in front of me in a car and leaned far out to take a few pictures of me speeding down the hill.
Plan was to go to Buck Meadows for lodging, but I hadn't called ahead and the lodge was full (Friday night).
I kept on another 12 miles to Groveland, where the rooms were all full; I was sent to a place at the edge of town. Someone named Arizona was in the office dealing with an irate customer caught between an angry girlfriend and a room that had inadvertantly been rented to someone else.
By the time Arizona got to me, she said "I'm not Clinton, I do inhale and I hate men." She lightened up when I told her she just needs to work harder at it. The tent Arizona rented to me was clearly the only game in town and she put me next to a young spanish couple travelling via motorcycle from San Jose to Denver. We shared a few funny stories at the campsite.
For dinner, I biked to town and wandered into the Iron Door Saloon, grabbing a salad and listening to the "WingNuts" crank out some pretty good blues. The singer/drummer/harmonica player obviously kept the guitarist and bass player in continuous stitches.
The tent was spacious, with only a short walk to the showers.
Benton to Lee Vining California; 48 miles
Smokey morning with smell in the air from the California wildfires. I rose early and enjoyed sunrise while soaking in the hot springs. After a fine breakfast, I took time to update this BLOG. Dianne, the owner, enjoys long distance biking with her husband (Bill) and she provided helpful suggestions on routing into the bay area. I plotted this route and loaded the final set of points into my trusty Garmin.
I got a lazy, late start and began climbing (from 5400') a bit of a short but roller-coaster-like road. When I topped out at 8100' I could see my first good view of the "high Sierras". A few stretches were a bit steep and I took a sip or 2 of water. It was a bit of a thrill, knowing the mountain range in-view was the last major terrain obstacle between here and the coast.
Once beyond the pass, I levelled out on a plateau thick with lavender and a carpet of really pretty pink flowers with small petals: the smell was refreshing and the flowers beautiful. Next came a descent into a red pine forest, followed by a burnt-out area.
A couple more climbs into the wind above Mono Lake and I cruised into Lee Vining for the end of an easy day.
But not so fast ... at dinner time, the locals told me to go to the Mobil Gas Station for the best chow in town. Despite doubts, I kept an open mind. I pedaled up the highway a mile to the pumps and when I got there found the entire town had gone to this gas station for a bluegrass concert. There was a stage next o the building, and a large piece of well-watered grass that people were dancing barefoot on. The band was really good and from time to time someone would come out of the crowd to play harmonica, banjo, or some other instrument for a song. The gas station was turning out some amazing plates of lobster taquitos, elk steak, grilled salmon salad, etc.. This was no ordinary Subway-type of deal. In addition, people were buying beer, wine, mango margaritas etc. (you get the idea) to accompany the music. Everything had a very spontaneous and sincere joy about it: children playing, old folk laughing, the 20-ish flirting and having a great time, everyone dancing ...
Tomorrow: Tioga Pass.
Fairly easy day, rose late ... nice breakfast with lots of people to chat with:
- a waitress that just returned from a very smokey Medford OR
- a guy that is taking chemo for his cancer
- a guy that loves to ride harley's
A couple of waitresses were pondering a calculator by the cash register, which was off by a single penney; I told them I'd never seen women think the cash calculator was off, usually it's the scale. Fortunately, they didn't throw any hard objects at me.
As I sat at the bar, there was an (older) lady that wouldn't talk. She looked like she was either embalmed or made out of wax. I know she could hear, but would not say hi or acknowledge even the simplest pleasantry. This was the first and only type of this experience I've had so far. Maybe it was the moustache?
I felt very fresh leaving Tonopah and began to note smoke from the California fires. The first 50 miles flew by in just over 3 hours. There was only one big (2800') climb for the day and I rigged up some shade (sticks, duct tape, a road sign, and my raincoat) for a half-way up water break. The rock I sat on was hot.
After the rest, there were several drivers that stopped to ask if I needed more water. Each had nice words of encouragement.
After another 10 miles, I saw 2 wild horses that were very curious. I stopped and they started running toward me. They'd stop, start, approach some more ... the one with the white forehead was the more curious.
Eventually, I crested Montgomery Pass (7100') and it was pretty much downhill from there.
I pulled into Benton Hot Springs, where I had actually called ahead for a reservation at the Bed and Breakfast.
After getting settled, I enjoyed watching the sun set on Boundary Peak from one of the outside tubs fed by the warm springs.
Rachel to Tonopah, Nevada; 110 miles
I had to put the water containers in my bag and strap clothes to the outside, because of the size/shape of the containers. In addition, I used the duct tape to strap the bottle or two that I still had to the rack frame. The bike handled very poorly when I stood on the pedals.
I left in the dark and rode with my headlight. It was very quiet and a little almost spooky. A bird was fascinated with my light and followed me for several miles. A few times, a jack rabbit would dart across my path a few feet ahead of my front wheel. I didn't hit any, but was glad to see twilight for the cues. This was by far the loneliest stretch of road so far.
The few cattle I passed were very perplexed and tended to run away when I passed. The times I thought I saw a mean looking bull, I'd generally yell "what's for dinner?" and even he'd run off. At one point, I snuck up on a coyote making a meal of a rabbit ... when he saw me he took off and must have set a speed record.
There were 6 significant climbs for the day ... made so by combinations of heat, steepness, and headwind. None were all that steep. I passed Cedar Pass, then Reville ... again, memories of "break left, flares!" in my mind's radio.
I suspected there would be a tree or two at Warm Springs (59 miles into the ride) and was shocked by what looked like an oasis. The trees you see straight ahead were an extremely welcome and rare sight.
One of the alien watchers had told me to expect a place to take a dip in the water, ignore the "Keep Out" signs, and how there was a hole in the back of the fence. Just when I got to the point where I was ready to take a dip, some men drove up and (politely) chased me out ... at least they let me eat a snack in the shade of the trees.
While eating, a tall blonde named Elena ran by (I don't think I was hallucinating). After catching up to her on the bike, I learned she started running west from Virginia Beach on April 1st. Her boyfriend and family were supporting in a RV. Elena is heading to Santa Cruz.
The sun grew very hot (105-110) and the last 10 miles into Tonopah was a killer. Uphill and into a 15-20 knot headwind.
Tonopah looked like a nice place to cool off after a very tough day.
I left Caliente well before sunrise and climbed 1500 feet to get back to the open road. Caliente was sound asleep.
My approach to water was to use the extra space under my rack by duct taping bottles of water and gatorade to the panier brackets right above the rear wheel. Also, I taped a bottle on top of the bag itself. While this relieved my back, it created weight and balance problems. Further, when I stood up to pedal hard, the rear end of the bike began to wobble and shake. While I didn't like the effect, it was better than the aching back from the day prior. Given the distance without support, I had no choice on the water.
I recalled flying in the Nellis airspace; I had refuelled many times over Caliente; then came "Texas Lake" and "Student Gap", where I had formed up and "pushed" with huge formations of aircraft. I knew this area and the terrain well from all altitudes and could still hear the radio in my mind's ear: "three groups marshaling west of belted". After I climbed past the gap, I saw Mt. Irish, and eventually Bald Mtn ("don't turn at no-name ..."). I also saw a high fast flier that pushed out from the Gap supersonic and in the contrails, did a serious offset to the north, then pumped out right. He flew away and wasn't seen again. Though the day, I heard but did not see fighters. Unlike back in the dark ages, there was no one "rooting around low" for me to watch.
There was a nice clump of trees at Crystal Springs, where I took a rest, tanked up on water, and began the last 2 of today's six 1500' climbs. It took me longer than ever to get from Student Gap to "The Farms" and I wasn't even in an A-10! Farms are the valley that contains both Rachel and many, many, Red Flag dogfights.
Rachel is mostly composed of trailers and I got a kick out of stopping at the Little Ale Inn: as I sat in the bar cooling off, the waitress (Laura) told me about several of her extraterrestrial and unexplained encounters. A couple of other locals chimed in to talk about lights in the sky and other events of interest.
About this time, a Fox News Sunday crew came in to film a segment about Aliens and Area 51 that will air this Sunday. The people at Rachel were all very good-humored and friendly. Unfortunately, they didn't have gatorade or bottles of water to sell. Since I had disposed of my excess bottles in a trash can at Crystal Springs, they gave me a couple of emptry 1 gallon pickle jars to hold water and ice for the next day.
The room (trailer) I stayed in reminded me a lot of the lodging at Al Jaber AB, in Kuwait. I was in room "5-1".
This was the start of serious lilypad-hopping phase. Towns are few and far between and the pace is dictated by these distances. I began to carry excess water, which weighed heavily on my back (carried in my camelback backpack).
From Cedar City, I had a nice early start and made good tracks ... about 40 miles west of town, I had the feeling that I was really leaving civilization behind.
As I approached the Nevada border, serious thunderstorms loomed ahead. There was no cover, anywhere. I again battened down the hatches and got ready to get wet. The storm began throwing down lightning bolts and I could see them hit the ground, starting forest fires. By the time I got to Nevada, it was clear I'd skirt the worst of the rain. By now there were 4 big fires burning 4-5 miles north of the road. I did get a bit wet, but nothing serious. It was a feeling of relief when past the area of lightning. Approximately 20 miles later, I saw a fire fighting truck on the road and flagged him down to report the location, number, and size of the fires ... he was grateful.
The sun came out and I began a few climbs (1500'-or-so, nothing too steep).
Late afternoon, I rolled into Caliente, Nevada; the town had the serious look of an 1880's western town. It was Sunday, and virtually everything was shut down.
I did locate some duct tape and decided to take another approach to carrying the extra water.
Started with a wakeup climb of 1600', then pretty much cruised along until the rain hit. At this point I was almost to Bryce Canyon. After viewing the storms, decided to combine taking refuge where I could and running thru showers as needed. A stop at a park station provided a weather update that made this plan look promising. I did ride through several rainshowers, but nothing scary.
I climbed to Panguitch and saw a very large storm passing through ... nice time to stop for ice tea. After an hour or so the storm passed and I began a 4100' climb over Brian Head. The climb was pretty gentle with no surprises until I got to the top. The road continued along at about the 10,400 foot level for a good while. The cool air and mountain flowers were very refreshing.
Then, I made it to Cedar Breaks National Monument: spectacular views and a nice chat with a 71 year old man that told me he biked over 7000 miles last year. He looked pretty fit.
The ride down the mountain was a blast. I rolled right into Cedar City, which looked like a large metropolis, after the places I had just been.
Beautiful start, climbed 3000' up Boulder Mountain.
Boulder is a small town on the south side. I stopped to visit an Anasazi Museum and look at ruins.
During a lunch break, townfolk told me all about the evening festivities. They included a parade and dance. A very large female with lots of tattoos invited me to the dance ... I kept pedalling.
After Boulder, there were several wicked climbs across beautiful and very hot canyons.
In this picture, you can just see a bit of the road in the far end of the bottom of the canyon. On my way down, I saw 2 fat guys pushing their bikes up the hill. They said they were coming from San Fancisco and going to Yorktown VA.
I hit a few late afternoon showers that took the bite off the heat. The canyons in this area were among the most challenging climbs on the trip. I pulled up one town short of Tropic, but there were no rooms available; I pushed on ...
Tropic certainly is a service town for tourists going to Bryce Canyon, and they were very traveller friendly. A pair of girls from the former Soviet Union rented me a room. I was pretty much spent by this point.