MexiCan Mounties - Chapter One
Miles: 59 Feet Climbed 6,145
Following our drive to San Diego, in a rented mini-van, on Thursday, a friendly tour of the Commonwealth home office, and a comfy stay at a Hampton Inn, we met our new Excellent Transporter, Jeff, at the nearby Hertz office. Then he drove with us to the Mexico border – Tecate, CA/Mexico. After reassembling the tandem and loading it with the panniers and other bags, we thought we should take a photo at the official starting line.
Then, Andy thought it would be good to have a photo with the border-crossing gates in the background, which turned out great!
However, as he started back across the official line, a border patrol officer stopped him, and would not let him back in the US of A. So, Andy and the tandem (since it had been out of the country as well) had to go through the customs office – where they asked for his passport (which he didn’t have). Eventually, all was explained and he was released to freedom. Yippee!!
Then, we took this photo, where Andy is likely to become #8, so be on the lookout.
After this smooth start to the journey, we started pedaling. Just a few hundred yards later we met another Adventure Cycling route-follower, from Holland. He’d been biking throughout the US, visiting National Parks, and was just about to finish at the same place where we started.
Then, we really began to pedal, climbing more than 800 feet in the next 4 miles – which is plenty! After another 9 miles, with some flat roads, we arrived at the first mini-mart of the trip in Campo. The people were very friendly, and complimentary of the tandem. Back on the road, after 12 miles of rolling hills, excellent roads, light traffic, and friendly drivers we arrived at our turn onto Highway 8. We found a bit of shade and enjoyed some trail mix and cashews for lunch.
After a few miles we came to another border patrol checkpoint, which we were allowed to simply coast through, with the agent wishing us best of luck, as he shook his head – apparently doubting that the odds were in our favor.
Then the real climbing started – about 3,000 feet in 10 miles. The “fuel” was the wonderful scenery – trees, flowers, and excellent rocks; and the “reward” was reaching the Mt. Laguna Tavern and Café. We had yummy veggie chili (Kim) and chicken tortilla soup (Andy) followed by raspberry cobbler alamode (yep, both of us).
This gave the opportunity to talk with lots of Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hikers who were also re-fueling at the café. There were two burley guys hiking together, one wearing a kilt with a sticker on his backpack that said “beer is food”. He and Andy were immediate friends! Another hiker, from North Carolina, sat down at our table and told us of his PCT start – 43 miles so far. He’s already hiked the Appalachian Trail, and is now doing the PCT to raise funds for charities.
Back on the road, other than just a few short but steep hills, it was mostly a coast for the final 20 miles into the town of Julian – which is famous for apple pie. Our room in the Julian Lodge was amazingly huge – about 750 square feet, according to Andy’s pace-off measuring. Dinner at the Julian Grille was delicious – linguini with prawns in lobster broth for Andy – and followed by apple pie (duh!) with ice cream.
It was a challenging day – climbing over 6,000 feet in our first tandem ride over 30 miles since August of last year. Each day is new, and tomorrow starts with a downhill!
Miles: 80 Feet Climbed 6,204
After a comfy night in our expansive room at the Julian Lodge, we got an early start, with a chilly but mostly downhill ride to Santa Ysabel. We stopped for breakfast at the Apple Country restaurant, and were very pleased with the friendly service of Christine. She gave great suggestions for menu choices, and told Andy (after seeking Kim’s approval by saying “I’d like to say something to your husband”) that he has “amazingly beautiful brown eyes” that made her say “wow!”
Her pronunciation of various words had the two of us (when she was not standing by our table) debating where she was originally from – with Minnesota and the Dakotas the strong favorites. As we wrapped-up breakfast and she gave us some tips for the roads and towns ahead, Kim asked the question, and she replied that she gets asked so often that she offers to forgo her tip if the customer guesses correctly. Turns out the correct answer is that she was born and raised in Huntington Beach, CA, and has no idea how she developed the Minnesota accent.
Back on the road we went through a huge foggy area coming from Lake Henshaw, which was disappearing before our eyes as the sun climbed higher in the sky. It was a lovely morning, with the countryside looking very much like the Portola and Mohawk valleys that are so close to home. The most exciting event of this first section was a bee that decided Andy’s helmet was a hive, or that his head smelled so sweet it must be a flower. (We’re going with “hive”) It made several trips into the helmet and only flew away when Andy took his helmet off – yes, while we were riding – and left it off for a few hundred yards.
Our first stop of the morning was at Warner Springs Glider Port. There were dozens of gliders and a few “real” planes in a huge field. We made a pit-stop there and were treated to one of the workers/pilots discussing his extreme disappointment with his neighbor that had neglected to have her cat fixed. They did give us a few tips about the countryside ahead, and to be cautious of the traffic. This warning was well taken as we were passed by numerous cars, and lots of trucks loaded with off-road toys.
This was a very steep section of today’s ride, with Kim focused on the approaching traffic, and Andy keeping us on the narrow road with no shoulder. The drivers were all friendly. There were also a few of the biggest strings of motorcycles we’ve ever encountered – we were disappointed that we’d not counted them.
The reward for our efforts was finding a Dairy Queen in Anza – where treats were enjoyed, and we got to read a pretty interesting list of the DQ timeline – including, first store in 1940, the launch of the Blizzard in 1985, and purchase of the company by Warren Buffet in 1998.
Back on the road it was more and more climbing until we reached our destination of Idyllwild. Our lodging for the night was at the Idyllwild Inn, in a cabin that’s been around since at least the 1950’s – given the earliest names and dates we found carved into the walls and doors inside the cabin! We had a terrific dinner at Gastronome, which had been recommended by one of the DQ patrons who had lived in Idyllwild. Then as we headed across the street to check what time the coffee shop would open in the morning, we realized that a band (lead guitar, bass guitar, drums) were playing in the shop.
They were young, local guys, with an enthusiastic audience. When we walked in they were playing music from the Black Keys, then Counting Crows, then the Allman Brothers, then Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb (which inspired Kim to donate to their “Karma Jar”), then the Rolling Stones. All were excellently played. It seems like a great town, and we’re already thinking about when we can return.
After that, it was back to the cabin to get the fire started, the bike maintenance accomplished, and type this little summary. Until tomorrow…
Miles: 57 Feet Climbed: 6,257
We’re sure that the first thing you noticed about today’s journal entry is that we climbed 53 feet more than yesterday, in 23 fewer miles. And, we’re sure you know that means our legs are pretty tired, since the hills were very steep, and long! We are very grateful to Duane and Connie of Tour of Nevada City (and their excellent team) who installed an extra climbing gear on the tandem just before we left. Yes, it brought our speed down to 5 mph, but it meant that we actually had mph!
We got a pretty early start with trail mix and cold leftovers (no microwave in the cabin) for breakfast. Then it was 1,000 feet of climbing in 3.5 miles until we reached a mini-mart for “real” breakfast. We had an interesting conversation with the attendant whose 10 year old daughter wants to attend the Idyllwild Arts High School (where we think last night’s band is from) for the small fee of only $25,000 per year… for high school. So, we bought an extra Frappuccino to help.
On our way again, we had a brief downhill thorough gorgeous rocks and beautiful trees which look just like those in Truckee. After a brief climb we took a break at a Vista Point, which was probably an excellent vista when it was built, but the trees and bushes have grown, and mostly blocked the scene. We did meet some interesting folks from San Diego who were enjoying their holiday weekend with camping and hiking.
Then we had an amazing 25-mile downhill into Banning – out of the forest and into desert, though acres that had been burned by fire not too long ago. With an impressive view into the valley from a very steep, but smooth, road. It felt a bit like coming in to land at an airport with an overview of the city (including the prison).
By the time we “landed” we’d arrived back in civilization, with a string of fast-food restaurants, hotels, and stores. We cruised through the fairly sizable city and stopped at a little cluster of stores and restaurants, called Cherry Valley. As we were getting ready to leave our bike outside a mini-mart, a kind man warned us not to leave anything outside that we didn’t want to be taken. As we were considering what to do, the restaurant next door, City Sushi opened for business. If you’ve seen the South Park episode, you’ll chuckle at the name, as we did. The sushi chef helped us find a place for the bike inside the restaurant. Andy’s sushi was excellent, and Kim enjoyed her teriyaki chicken.
After lunch, just a few feet up the road, we had to climb a very steep hill, complete with a required left turn at a stop light to stay on our route. All went well, and the drivers were very kind and patient as we scrambled our way through the intersection.
After about 8 miles, we reached Yucaipa and needed to refill the water bottles before the final, giant climb. We were lucky enough to stop just across the street from a restaurant with tables out front, one of which was occupied by the first Shouter of the trip, and his family. He did show a hint of fear as Kim (with all her burly muscles) jogged across the street. And, Kim is confident, he breathed a sigh of relief when she smiled and took the water bottles inside.
Back on the road, we pedaled a few more miles on a fairly busy boulevard and arrived at Highway 38, the start of our final 11 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing. Fortunately, there was an excellent, smooth, wide shoulder for about the first 5 miles. Due to our previous days of climbing and the 5-6% grade, we adopted a 15-minute pedal-time policy. In between the pedals, we took a few minutes to stretch and recover, then back on the bike for another 15 minutes. After about 2-1/2 hours of this strategy, we arrived at Angelus Oaks, our town for the night.
We checked into our cabin at Whispering Pines Cabins, Kim got a tour of the owner/artist’s oil painting gallery (a very talented man). He even painted this lovely mural view in our cabin.
We had dinner at the only option, The Oak Restaurant, which was named after the 50-foot oak that was burned to the ground, along with the original lodge-restaurant, in 1980. We also made a trip to the only store in town – a one-stop-shop that the new owner (for the last 7 months) is trying to bring back to life after it was closed for 5 years. We bought as much as we could from the limited inventory, so we’ll be ready for tomorrow’s adventures.
Miles: 51 Feet Climbed: 4,407
We left Whispering Pines Cabins just before 7:30, and enjoyed a great breakfast back at the Oak Restaurant. Andy has entered the “order one of everything on the menu” phase so he can have enough calories to burn. It was a wonderfully beautiful morning, and we started pedaling a little before 8:30. The first section was up, up, up. A bit gentler than yesterday afternoon, but we climbed about 800 feet in 9 miles.
Then we rejoiced with about a 1-mile decent to the Santa Ana River before we started our major climb of the day – 2,000 feet in just over 8 miles. It was more of the same beautiful scenery, and we were surprised to see more than a few snow-capped peaks.
As we pedaled we were surprised to hear a voice behind us. At first, Andy was a bit scared by the voice and wondered if he was hallucinating. It turned-out to be a woman biker climbing to the top of the hill (Onyx Pass – 8,443 feet) as her exercise for the day, then she’d coast back down. After a brief conversation, she resumed her regular cadence and took-off. A few minutes later, one of her riding partners also paused for a few minutes of slow pedaling to talk about biking and cross-country-ride journals. He and his wife have the same tandem bike that we have, although he said if he took his wife on this particular road/climb she would kill him. And, about 5 minutes later, the third member of their party passed us, without conversation, as he worked to catch-up with his team. About ½ mile from the summit we snapped this picture of them headed back home.
At the summit we bundled-up a bit and celebrated the 2,000 foot decent into Big Bear Lake (the town, not the actual lake), which reminded us of the South shore of Lake Tahoe, without the casinos, and a bit of the East shore thrown in. We met a very friendly attendant at the mini mart who gave us excellent directions about what food options were ahead. Yes, we were very hungry, and the whole conversation was about where to eat.
After a rest stop and lunch at Taco Bell (the best ever!) we continued around the lake and across the dam, and immediately started a steep climb with a stiff head-wind. As we climbed the road carved into the side of the mountains, we could see the stretch ahead and behind which was pretty amazing. A panorama of the journey. We also could look across and see the snowy peaks from earlier in the day. Basically, our trip was a big horseshoe around Sugarlump and Sugarloaf Mountains. Sugarloaf’s elevation is 9,938 feet, which explains the snow.
After the summit we had an awesome Grand Prix style decent with great pitch to the road, excellent, curves, basically no traffic, and even a truck driver who pulled to the side to let us glide past. He, of course, passed us as soon as we reached the flat section, but it was great to have him as our “traffic protector”.
After a couple little hills, which Andy deemed “unremarkable”, but Kim deemed “a pain”, we coasted into our home for the night, Giant Oaks Lodge. The accommodations were excellent, even a Jacuzzi soaking tub for Kim, a fire place for Andy (ok, gas, not wood) and pizza within walking distance!
Miles: 46 Feet Climbed: 5,535
After a comfy and quiet night, albeit without any hot water for showers, which was a real disappointment, we headed out to start Day 5. First stop, about ¼ mile away was at the Old Country Coffee Shop. Andy enjoyed another hearty breakfast of eggs (over-easy) and a hamburger patty, which seems to be a common menu combination for these parts. Kim thought the French toast was excellent. We also saw a man with the most amazingly-long mustache ever. We wanted to take a photo, but noticed the para-military magazines under his arm, and decided not to.
Fully-fueled, we headed out over hill and dale, through tiny towns and neighborhoods until we arrived a stop-light near Crestline, and decided to ask for some directions. The electrical contractor who was loading his truck, gave some instructions that took us off the Adventure Cycling route, and saved us about 500 feet of climbing. They were a bit confusing, however, so we stopped in Lake Gregory to ask a delivery-truck driver for a car parts company for some clarification, which he was able to help with.
He also pointed out that we may want to stop at the coffee shop across the street before we headed into the wilderness. Next stop, Lake Gregory Coffee Company, where we were welcomed by an amazingly friendly group of people including the new owners. We enjoyed our coffee and hot chocolate, received even more directions for the upcoming section of the ride, and, finally, got back on the road.
Back on the bike, we were able to find the Knapp Cutoff Road that we’d been told about, and were greeted with an unrideable uphill. So we pulled the bike to the top, and then experienced one of the steepest, sharp-curviest sections of road ever. Kim noted a pick-up truck approaching, and we were able to pull into a small turn-out to let him go by. He was going so fast that we could hear his tires screech around the corners until he was out of site.
As we reached the bottom of the hill, we left the forest and were back in the desert – about a 1,000 foot drop in 2 miles. We had a slight down-hill and a “blessed tailwind” as we headed towards Silverwood Lake. Then we were reminded of our pedal through Kansas because of the side-winds and head-winds – one gust of which almost blew us off the road. After about 5 miles of this lovely adventure, we took a break at a back-country mini-mart, where Andy lost the bet if there would be Frappuccino. There was. Even there. We also got to see an amazing collection of photos of giant Striped Bass caught in the lake – the largest being 55 pounds and 11 ounces.
Back on the road we endured more head-winds and quite an uphill to Cajon Pass, and after about 5 miles we reached our next turn, which was a short stretch on a very busy highway. After a brief stop in our least favorite, very busy, mini-mart, we made our last turn of the day onto Loan Pine Canyon Rd. Then we began to climb, first at about 6% grade, and working itself up to 9% (with a few sections at 10%) as we pedaled a basically straight road through a valley, with large mountain walls on either side. There were no trees, just a couple of homes/buildings, and very little traffic. On some of the sections we reduced our pedal-and-pause strategy to 10 minutes of pedal-time.
As with all rides, one pedal-stroke at a time finally results in arriving at your destination. This time it was Wrightwood. And our first stop was an excellent bakery. It was just about to close, with the owner walking out to his car when he noticed us outside. He re-opened and we each had two pastries – apple turnover and cream cheese benieget for Kim, and cinnamon twist and almond bear claw for Andy. Totally delicious!
About ½ mile up the road was our lodging for the night, Mountain View Cabins, circa mid-1960s. Dinner was about 1/3 a mile back into town at Blue Ridge Inn, which has been operating for 44 years. The owner’s daughter was our server, and her younger brother was the bartender. She told us that when he was in kindergarten he told his teacher that he’d be leaving school the next day to be the bartender. He did actually finish school – at least kindergarten – and seemed to be a very nice guy.
Miles: 49 Feet Climbed: 1,165
After a pretty good night’s rest – other than the mini “explosions” every time the heater kicked on – we were up early and ready to head out. The lovely accommodations didn’t really influence our departure time. We grabbed a few handfuls of trail mix, loaded up the bike, said good-bye to motel-owner, Ed, whose nationality we are still debating, and started on our climb of the day.
Just over three miles later, after only 900 feet of climbing, we reached the top of the pass, elevation 6,864. On our way up, we passed the Mountain High ski area – located in LA County – which we never would have guessed. After a brief pause, and snapping this picture, we bundled-up as much as we could for the 19-mile decent. It was a great ride with beautiful views, and would have been one of the highlights of the trip, if it hadn’t been so cold. With the temperature in the low-to-mid 40’s, and us zooming down the hill at about 30+ mph, we were somewhere close to low 20’s in “real” temperature. The views, however, were excellent.
Before we left the motel, Ed had warned us about falling rocks, and sure enough, a marble-size rock did careen down the hill and hit our front tire. No damage was incurred and Andy kept the bike on the road.
As we coasted into Valyermo, past their official post office building, and little else, we pulled into the first mini-mart we spotted to try to thaw out. The attendant was very friendly, but the bathrooms were out-of-order, so we were back on the road for another 4 miles until we reached McDonalds, aka civilization. We had our “real” breakfast, consisting of just about everything on the menu. We also had a long conversation with Alvin, a retired USAF assistant load-master. He’s been in the valley since 1956, and described many of the transitions the area has made over the years.
After almost an hour of conversation, we were thawed-out and ready to resume the journey. For the first time this trip we were on flat, smooth, road, with almost no wind. We had an easy cruising speed approaching 20 mph as we sailed into Palmdale. All of the drivers were wonderfully friendly, including the city bus driver we played “leap-frog” with for a few miles as she would stop to pick-up/drop-off passengers.
Then, we arrived at pure bliss – a paved bike path for basically the last five miles of our day. It was lined with trees, had very few people walking on it, no other bikers, and only one “renegade” Chihuahua which tried to slow us down, until its owner picked it up… just in time.
The most excellent scenery appeared just a few hundred yards later as we pedaled by Skunkworks. We stopped to watch a couple of jets practicing their touch-and-goes, and hoped to catch a picture as they flew overhead. Some security camera must have alerted them to our presence, so the best we could do was this.
Just a few miles later we cruised into our home for the night, did a batch of laundry – yes, we thought six days of biking in the same clothes was plenty, and, if we wanted to keep biking with ourselves we needed to tidy-up. We had a big, late lunch at Black Angus, and a mini dinner, consisting mostly of McFlurries, at McDonalds (yep, twice in one day…). On our walk back to the hotel, the wind had really picked-up, and we’re inspired to get going early tomorrow morning to see if we can avoid it.
Miles: 43 Feet Climbed: 2,692
After an excellent, comfortable, quiet night at the Hampton, we had a quick breakfast and headed out on the road to try and beat the wind. It was pretty calm, with a lovely blue sky, and not too much traffic. We travelled through Lancaster for about 6 miles on a basically flat road, which was a great way to start the day.
As this photo of Andy shows we’re basically in the desert, with little vegetation (except for a few fields that are irrigated), and lots of dust. We also road through an area we think was the Antelope Valley Solar Farm – a 200 acre solar energy project.
You might have noticed that we’ve swapped our Ben & Jerry’s jerseys for these Mass Bike jerseys. They were generously donated by Jennifer and Dave at Sam Adams, and are supporting safe biking in Massachusetts. The pockets on the back say “for the love of beer”. We’ve had numerous conversations with fans of Sam Adams beer (the majority), those wondering if we pedaled all the way from Massachusetts, etc.
After we pedaled through the solar farm, we started our climb-of-the-day through the Antelope Valley Wind Farm. And, you’ve probably guessed that, in addition to the climbing, we were now riding into a headwind, which got stronger as the hill got steeper. The wind farm is the largest in the world (as of 2013) and has about 5,000 turbines, of various sizes, the largest of which generate up to 3 megawatts, which Andy says is “a lot”.
We were, literally, surrounded by enormous turbines, with huge blades that we could hear cutting through the air. Kim wanted Andy to jump the fence that said “Danger Wind Turbines. No Trespassing” and stand by one of the turbines so that she could snap a photo with him as a scale reference. Andy, fortunately, had learned his lesson at the border, and obeyed the sign.
The climb became so steep as we approached the summit that we did a few switches of walking and pedaling. Once we reached the top, it was a speedy, although a bit chilly, coast down to Tehachapi, our home for the evening. We stopped on the outer-edge of town to have some lunch at McDonalds, along with a bus full of kids on a field trip and a gaggle of Harley riders.
One of the bikers looked at us and made a colorful reference to the route we had just travelled, the weather conditions, and body-parts. Luckily, one of the patrons next to us spoke Harley and was able to translate the biker’s remarks to mean “this motorcycle rider is most impressed by your fortitude and persistence with the severe inclines and excessively-breezy conditions you’ve encountered.” With this compliment, we pedaled the last couple of miles to the hotel, and called it a day.
Miles: 63 Feet Climbed: 5,994
We awoke to a typically blustery morning in Tehachapi, with rain forecasted to start by 2:00. So, we had a quick breakfast in the hotel, loaded-up the bike, remembered to review our “before we start pedaling” checklist, and headed out to race the clouds.
We rode through some nice housing areas, and then Andy realized that we were parallel to the famous Tehachapi Loop, one of the Seven Wonders of the Railroad World. The Loop, built in the mid 1870’s, makes a circle around a conical knoll to lessen the grade as the train climbs over the Tehachapi pass. A train over 4,000 feet long will actually pass over itself.
Following another toboggan-style run down the hill, which was bittersweet, since we knew the “down” would mean there was “up”, a lesson we’ve been reminded of many times on this trip, we arrived at Keene Café. As we took a brief break, a local biker, on his mountain bike, coasted into the parking lot. He’d taken an off-road ride and his wife arrived right after he did, in their car, to carry him back home. This sounded like a wise plan.
Our next bit of the journey was on the shoulder of Highway 58, with hearty rumble-strips separating us from the traffic, which was relatively light, but had a significant number of big-rigs. Fortunately, most of the 5-mile section was downhill, so our time on the highway was kept to a minimum.
We coasted back into the country at Bealeville Road, where we experienced our own mini, Tehachapi Loop. We went under a small bridge, with a train going across it (our first time ever to do that), and then we found ourselves surrounded by the train we had just ridden under on the bridge. We came to a stop at the crossing, and watched as the train circled, finished crossing the bridge and headed up another hill.
Then we pedaled along Caliente Creek, past lovely flowers, with dramatically steep hills on both sides, and plenty of ground squirrels to provide entertainment. As we approached a fork in the road, we were grateful to find a Kern County road maintenance worker. He was there to replace a road sign which had been stolen – apparently they’re taken, cut apart and turned in/sold for aluminum recycling. He said the County pays about $150,000 a year, in materials and work-hours – to replace the signs.
He described the two options – shorter and hillier, or longer and flatter. With the rain clouds continuing to gather and the wind increasing, we elected to try our luck with shorter and hillier. It was definitely hillier. Some of the steepest yet. We climbed about 2,500 feet in 6 miles. The road had very little traffic, and the scenery was quite lovely. As we neared the top, it started to sprinkle, and then got a bit more like rain as we started our descent. Thank goodness for excellent tires and disc brakes. We had a safe and sane descent into Walker Basin, where the rain stopped, clouds disappeared, and the wind became a Blessed Tailwind.
The wildflowers were amazing, in variety and color. Kim snapped this picture of Andy next to a huge flowering Yucca plant.
As we approached the end of the valley, before we began our next climb, 4 donkeys came running across their field, as gracefully as donkeys can, to greet us and give us encouragement for the next hill. Unfortunately, some of this enthusiasm was diminished as we rounded the next corner and came across skeletons driving a 1927 Buick.
We interpreted this as an incentive to get a move on, and up we climbed – about 1,000 feet in 3 miles. After a quick coast down, we started our final big climb of the day – about 800 feet in 3 miles. The skies were clear, the views amazing, and we thoroughly enjoyed our next downhill cruise which took us to Lake Isabella. We had a quick lunch at McDonald’s, then pedaled around the lake, with much more traffic (although still exceptionally friendly), and arrived in Kernville.
We located Kernville Lodge – very cute, and conveniently located next to the Kernville Brew Pub and across the street from a grocery store. And, with that, we’ve completed Sierra Cascades map #5 (Tecate to Lake Isabella, or vice versa) Yippee!
Miles: 56 Feet Climbed: 6,076
After listening to the rain all night, along with the very limited, 4-letter-word, vocabulary of the two guys sharing the room next to us, we were so glad to awaken to beautiful blue sky and barely a breeze. We walked across the street for breakfast from their deli counter. It was actually a pretty good selection of scrambles. bacon, and biscuits, with a friendly server, and we could pick-up up the various other items we needed at the same time.
We were on the road by about 8:30. We followed the Kern River out of town, and for about 12 miles, with a gentle climb towards McNally’s – home of the 40 oz. Porterhouse. We decided to skip the steak and just went for our typical Starbuck’s Frappuccino “energy drink”.
We continued following the Kern River with blue sky, beautiful wild flowers, excellent rocks and colors, for about 8 more miles. Then we started our major climb of the day, and found a bit of snow at about 5,000 feet. As we climbed higher and higher, we found more and more snow, which was completely unexpected given the weather info from yesterday, and before we left Kernville. At about 6,000 feet, it looked like this.
Then, as we continued to climb we ended-up following a road-grader performing as a snowplow. We ended-up in a line of cars following the grader for about 4 miles, and had a couple of brief conversations with the two women in the car in front of us, who’d driven from upstate New York. Eventually, the grader waived the cars around, and we thought we were in the clear.
We made it up the last steep pitch to the top of the climb, and celebrated by stopping at Brewer’s Ponderosa Lodge and Café. We were a little chilly, and enjoyed our table near the fireplace, along with some soup, chili, and onion rings, which were prepared and served by the owner, Mary. Her family has owned and operated the lodge for the last 43 years.
With the rest of the day’s miles to be mostly a downhill coast, we thought we should bundle-up a bit. It turned out to be the best decision of the day. The downhill was one of the wettest, coldest 10 mile sections we’ve ever done. There was much more snow than there had been on the up-side of the climb, and plenty of water and slush on the road, which quickly soaked our feet. With the temperature in the upper 20’s, the wind chill was significant.
Andy did a terrific job of captaining the bike through this challenging environment, and we shivered our way into Camp Nelson and arrived at the Pierpoint Resort. Our motel room was in a building just behind the café, which worked great for dinner – an excellent BBQ pizza (handmade in the café) followed by yummy apple pie (manufactured by Cisco).
We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the weather really is as forecast for tomorrow, and we’ll enjoy our cruise back down to the foothills.
Miles: 67 Feet Climbed: 3,623
After, effectively, spending the night with the couple in the room next to ours – due to the paper-thin walls. We could hear every bit of their conversation, their retrieval of various beverages from their ice chest, and the bizarre super-natural TV show they were watching, etc. After about 30 minutes of trying to get to sleep, with ear plugs, Kim went next door and asked if they would turn the volume down on the TV which they did, in a very friendly way. A bit later, we were serenaded by the snoring, which lasted until their alarm went off at 6:00 AM, much to their displeasure.
Andy found a hose outside and cleaned-up the bike, removing the grit from yesterday, and re-lubed the chain to get ready for our long pedal. There wasn’t any ice, but the temperature was only a smidge above freezing, so we put on every bit of clothing we have, and Kim ended-up looking a bit like a nuclear power-plant inspector.
We did a very chilly, twisty-turny, 14 mile, mostly-downhill section, dropping 3,700 feet, and cruised into Springville where we stopped at the Café for breakfast. The friendly place was filled with locals, and completely decorated with cowboy art. Following a tasty breakfast we turned on to Yokohl Road – which we aren’t sure how to pronounce, but our guess is something that sounds like “local yokohl”.
We saw several bikers, headed the other direction, and many beautiful wildflowers, as we pedaled over some of the roughest roads on any bike ride – other than the bike path in Telluride. There were numerous “Road Work Ahead” signs, but no sign of actual work being done. It was also a day of funky fence posts – with several being “drilled”, like this one, and one being the home for a huge group of bees.
After all of the amazing rocks, trees and flowers we’ve seen on this trip, our travel through this totally empty area was a reminder that we’re in the foothills of the Southern Sierra Nevada, and at 700 feet instead of 7,000 feet. One of the amazing views from this section was a group of mountain-climbing cows that were grazing on the very steep slope of one of the monster hills we cruised by.
Forty-five miles into the day’s ride we turned from the back-country road onto Highway 198, our last turn of the day. After about 5 miles we entered Lemon Cove, spotted a mini-mart, and pulled-in, thinking it was our only option for food. We talked with a local person at the gas pump who recommended we drive another ½ mile and stop at the Dry Creek Deli. Boy are we glad we did!
After starting with a couple of Frappuccinos, we had burgers and sweet potato fries, and Andy added chicken tortilla soup. Just as we were starting our meal, another biker entered the restaurant and stopped at our table to say hi and ask a few questions about the route.
Louis, is a 25-year old recent law school graduate from France, who’s taking a year off for travel. He started biking in Seattle and went down the coast to San Francisco. There, he took locals’ advice and rode the train to Merced, then a bus to Yosemite, where he hiked and biked and camped for about 5 days. He’s headed south, and eventually to the Grand Canyon, then flying from Phoenix to New York for some “city time” before he heads home to study for the French Bar Exam.
As we headed in opposite directions, we were 16 miles from our destination. With just a few hills, pedaling along the Kaweah river, with many similarities to the Yuba river, it was a lovely way to wrap-up our ride. We cruised across Pumpkin Hollow Bridge, circa 1922, and arrived at Gateway Restaurant and Lodge. The rooms were updated this year, and are very comfy, the restaurant has a variety of tasty offerings, with views of the river from the dining room.
So, with all the amenities, and after 10 days of pedaling, we’re planning to take tomorrow as a rest-and-recovery day.
Miles: 24 Feet Climbed 6,355
Day 11 was a wonderful, relaxing day at Gateway Lodge in Three Rivers. The location is lovely. Glenn and his wife have owned the lodge for 14 years, after he decided his time as an oil trader was complete. We spent the day eating yummy food – including crème brûlée, chocolate lava cake, and pastry-wrapped, deep-fried cheese cake (very tasty!)
For Day 12, after eating a mini veggie pizza for breakfast, we got started pedaling just after 7:00. For a scheduled ride of only 24 miles, that might seem like an early start. However, when you see that we climbed 6,355 feet in that distance (the most for this chapter, in ½ to ¼ of the miles of pervious 6,000+ foot days) you’ll understand. It was about 6-hours of work, at about 4 miles an hour, our slowest average speed ever.
The wonderful bonus is that almost all of the pedaling was accomplished in Sequoia National Park. The roads were lovely, if quite narrow, the park guests very friendly – with lots of waves and thumbs-up, and the scenery was amazing. It turns out that 4 mph is almost slow enough for riding through the amazingly huge trees, which neither of us had seen in person before.
After about 20 miles we took a break to walk back and “meet” General Sherman. It’s the largest living thing on earth, about 2,200 years old, 275 feet tall, with a base that’s 36.5 feet in diameter and 103 feet in circumference. Totally amazing!
As we were getting back on the bike, we (ok, Kim) rejoiced in our very first “negative” Shouter. He asked Andy, “don’t you feel bad about her doing all the pedaling?” Kim immediately requested a high-five, named Paul MVP of the day, and snapped this picture.
After just a few more miles we arrived at Wuksachi Lodge, our home for the night. We enjoyed yummy late-lunch and dinner, with great service by friendly people. We were surprised at how many non-US people we met and heard in the park and the lodge. Our quasi-complete list of countries includes – Holland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, and Asia. We think was easily 75% of the people we encountered, including families with young children.
With three days remaining for this chapter, and the most significant climbing complete, the finish line is coming into view. Thanks so much for all the support and encouragement!
Miles: 47 Feet Climbed: 2,500 Shouters - 4
After a comfortable night in the Sequoia building of the Wuksachi Lodge, we enjoyed an excellent breakfast buffet, at a very reasonable price, with our European co-guests. We’re sure they were impressed with the huge, delicious bowl of California fruits. While we dined the frost that we noticed on the stairs and path as we headed to the buffet melted away. It was a great day for a leisurely breakfast.
We were on the road by shortly after 9:00. The first few miles were rolling hills, amazing trees, including the occasional Sequoia, cloudless blue sky, no wind, and almost no traffic. It was as if we had our own road, with occasional views into the valley, and of higher, snow-covered peaks. We reached 7,335 feet about an hour into the ride, and Kim snapped this picture of Andy to show the snow that was still on the ground after last week’s storm.
A few miles later, we spotted a new creature for our list, a Marmot. It dashed across the road in front of us, and did a few “check-backs” after he reached the other side.
After about 18 miles of pedaling, we reached the high-point of the day at 7,612 feet, and from there it was basically downhill all the way to our destination for the day. As we cruised around the corner of the summit we encountered not one, but four Shouters, letting Andy know that Kim wasn’t pedaling. We think that’s a new record!
We did have one mini-adventure as we descended. About 15 miles into our coast, as we rounded a corner, we noticed a park ranger’s truck pulled to the opposite side, and the woman ranger walking down the side of the road. In just a few seconds, we noticed a couple of cars, one going uphill and one going downhill that had come to a stop. Then we saw a dog - a medium-size German Shepherd/Siberian Huskie mix – that was wandering around on the highway.
We pulled to the side, and Kim jumped off the bike to try to help the ranger and a couple of other drivers corral the dog. He had a collar and wasn’t aggressive, but wasn’t willing to be approached by anyone. After a few minutes an SUV, filled with young women all wearing hijabs, pulled up the hill. They told Kim that they’d tried to catch the dog earlier. About that time the ranger made it down the hill and put some food out to try to attract the dog. Andy took this picture of the almost-catch.
The dog then took off up the hill, with the ranger following, and all drivers waving and slowing down. As we got ready to continue the ride, one of the drivers pulled alongside and said that the dog had been roaming the area for at least two weeks. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the ranger was successful.
We got back on the road, which was completely smooth, new pavement. A few miles ahead, we pulled into Gena’s place in Clingnan’s Junction. As we checked to see what time the restaurant would open, the owner, Gena, unlocked the door and invited us in. She wasn’t planning to open until 6:00, but she gave us water, and if we were interested in staying in any of her motel rooms, she was willing to cook lunch for us. We felt like we should get the last few miles in, so we said thanks, and pressed on.
About 7 miles later, we arrived in Squaw Valley. Not our Squaw Valley, but a very small town with one pizza place (with a tire store and auto repair right next door and owned by the same family), one mini-mart, and one motel. The pizza place had terrific service, yummy food, and ice cream – perfect for both lunch and dinner. The mini-mart will supply breakfast (Clif bars and Frappuccino) tomorrow, and the motel, while it is one of the tiniest rooms we’ve ever stayed in (about 10 x 10) is owned by very friendly, kind people, and has reasonable-speed internet.
We’ll be on our way to Auberry tomorrow, and Oakhurst the next day. Almost there!
Miles: 48 Feet Climbed: 4,127
After a cozy, and surprisingly comfortable, night in our tiny room, we were up before 6:00 and on the road a bit before 7:00. Little did we know that our first turn, onto Elwood Rd, would almost have us singing the Blues. After a couple of miles we passed the standard sign with a picture of a cow and “8 miles” on it. Very soon after, we crossed our first cattle guard. Due to the weight of the bike, and the potential damage crossing the guard could bring to the tire rims, we’ve adopted a policy to always dismount and walk the bike across.
We would do that 11 times over the next 10 miles, and a total of 21 times in 31 miles. After about 5 or 6 of the crossings, we saw a group of about 5 cows grazing of the steep hillside to our right. As we began to pass by, 4 of them scampered up the hill to safety. The fifth one, decided that she should run down the hill and cross the road in front of us to escape. Given that we were going downhill, at a pretty quick pace, even with Andy squeezing the brakes, we came very close to meeting the cow head-on.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and the cow skidded on all four hooves as she also narrowly escaped tumbling down the hill on the other side of the road. And, there was much rejoicing, instead of Blues singing.
Continuing to pedal, we kept our eyes open, with cow-spotter Kim warning Andy was we rounded a corner and there was another cow, right in the middle of the road. We were able to easily come to a stop this time, and snapped a picture.
It was another cloudless, windless day, with countless spectacular wildflowers of many different types and colors. We cycled about ½ way around Pine Flat reservoir. Another disturbingly low water level lake. We pedaled through many different mini-ecosystems – some areas covered with trees, some completely grass.
And, we came across a number of critters, including a Garter snake, which was about 2 feet long, slithering across the road, lots of Quail, a huge spider, and, yes, more cows. We passed many lovely homes, including an amazing ultra-modern wonder-home right on the Pine Flat River.
After about 5 hours of pedaling, we reached Auberry, our home for the rest of the day. We arrived just as the Java Time owner (and owner of the rentable rooms upstairs) was getting ready to close his coffee shop for the day. He helped us with some snacks, and we hauled the bike up the stairs to a large, comfy, mini-apartment.
We had lunch at the Mexican restaurant, the only dining place currently open, and received some warnings about the road for tomorrow being narrow. After a bit of relaxing and email catch-up we ventured across the street to Stone Tavern to see if we could have dinner there – the first day the tavern is open under new ownership. Unfortunately, they were still working on the kitchen, but did have wine and beer for Andy. So we walked to the grocery store, gathered some food, and walked back to the tavern for our dining experience.
We got lots of details on plans for the soon-to-be-updated establishment from the new owner and his wife, and had a relaxing dinner. We’ll add them to our list for our return trip (by car) to see how they’re doing.
One more day, and we’ll arrive in Yosemite!
Miles: 41 Feet Climbed: 5,705
With an early wake-up in Auberry, and no restaurants open, we had a classic breakfast of Frappuccinos, bananas, power bars, and Oscar Meyer’s protein packs (cubes of meat, cheese, and a few almonds, delivering 13 grams of protein). Andy was really missing his standard two-eggs and a hamburger patty that he’d enjoyed earlier in the trip.
Just after 7:00 we were on our way for the last day of this chapter. We started with a moderate climb, received a few head-nods from the teenagers engrossed in their cell phones as they waited for their school bus. After a short climb, we made a quick decent to the San Joaquin River and across the wide, curved bridge where we stopped and took this photo of where the bridge used to be.
Then we began the steepest sustained climb we’ve experienced on this trip – about 3 miles at 10% grade, and cruised through the town of North Folk which claims to be the geographic center, the “heart”, of California. After another short climb, on smooth roads with little traffic and lovely countryside, we arrived at the Southern end of Bass Lake. We pedaled up the West side of the lake – which was lower than normal water level, yet surprisingly lovely, with beautiful views and homes. We made our first stop of the day at Miller’s Resort and Marina – a great restaurant and mini mart, with the cleanest, best decorated bathrooms on the trip.
After a few more miles of pedaling around the lake we began our decent towards Oakhurst. Then we accomplished the section of Chapter 2 that we decided not to do last year due to all the smoke of the Rim Fire – an 11 mile climb up to Fish Camp. It was, most definitely, a long and winding road. We made numerous stops as we climbed, and the traffic was busy in both directions, yet, mostly, friendly. Eventually, we made it to the Fish Camp market, where we’d officially started Chapter 2 in August. Lucky for us, a local pulled into the Post Office parking lot, just after we stopped. Pam, was willing to help us with our official “this chapter is complete” photo.
We enjoyed some sandwiches and root beer at a table outside the market, and then coasted back down to Oakhurst, our last night before we get to sleep in our own home. Friends, Jan and Mickey, had arrived with our Subaru yesterday, and played in the park. We had a great dinner with them at the local brew pub, South Gate, and will drive to Grass Valley tomorrow.
Definitely a challenging chapter of MexiCan Mounties, and we’re already looking forward to Chapter 3!