MexiCan Mounties - Chapter Two
Day 1 - 8/1/13 (33 miles)
Well, we’ve finally started our next bicycle adventure! Our (ultimate) goal is to ride from Mexico to Canada via the “Sierra Cascades” route from Adventure Cycling. However, since we couldn’t start until now (August 1, 2013), we thought we should demonstrate at least a little common sense and not ride through the desert at this time of year.
So, Excellent Transporter Preston picked us up at 5:45 AM and drove us to Oakhurst, CA, where our plans changed before we even started to pedal. Due to the Aspen Fire, near Bass Lake, the valley was completely clogged with smoke. So, after lunch and putting fuel in Preston’s truck, we travelled up the hills until we reached Fish Camp. This area was much clearer, with breathable air, so we decided to start from there.
We got ready to go, and Preston headed towards Curry Village in the Yosemite Valley, with our pannier bags, where we planned to meet for dinner and sped the night. After just a few miles of pedaling we found ourselves riding on the outside edge of a huge string of traffic lined-up to check-in to the Park. So, we worked our way up the shoulder, saying “hi” to Preston as we passed him, paid our $10 per person bike fee to enter the Park, and then waited in line for a one-way traffic construction zone.
Finally, we did really start to pedal, and snapped this picture of Andy at the National Park sign. The first several miles were either flat, or gloriously downhill, and then we began our climb to Glacier Point Road – during which time all of the vehicles we’d passed in the “check-in” line (including Preston) passed us.
As we were climbing we had a wonderful surprise of being cheered on by a family just returning to their cars (two mini-vans and a convertible) after a hike – “go-go-go-go-go-go” – with much clapping, waiving, and smiles. It was great fuel!
At the summit we had an excellent downhill, and another round of cheering as the three cars passed us on their way down. Then… we reached Wawona Tunnel (4,233 feet long, and the longest highway tunnel in California). We had our tail-lights flashing, stayed to the far right, and were super grateful that the car behind us simply chose to stay there until we were very close to the exit. It seemed a much longer trip that the number of feet would indicate.
At the exit, we pulled into the Tunnel View parking area to take a peek at the valley, and ended up parked right next to our Tunnel Angels. We thanked them for their patience and help, and learned that they were Marc and Martina, from Zwolle, Holland, who were wrapping up a terrific Western US trip. They’ve invited us to give them a call when we begin our trans-Holland journey.
From there, it was a wonderful, smooth decent into the valley. Mid-way down, we spotted the three cheering-squad cars by the roadside, but no cheerers, as they must have been taking another trail walk. Yet, as we neared Curry Village, we were surprised, yet again, for them to drive by with more enthusiastic cheers and waves. They, most definitely, were MVPs of the day!
We arrived in Curry Village, met Preston, checked-in to our cabins and enjoyed a relaxing dinner and ice cream. As we were travelling back to the cabin to get all of the gear ready for tomorrow’s very challenging journey, we met one of the Park’s employees who asked about our ride. It turned out that he rode his bike to Yosemite from New Mexico to apply for the summer job, and was planning to ride from there to San Francisco to seek post-Summer employment.
Day 2 - 8/2/13 (79 miles)
After a great night’s sleep, other than the neighbors who were talking on their porch at 3:00 AM, we were ready to get started. Andy hunted and gathered some yummy bagels and juice at the village bakery, and we were on the road at 7:30. The ride through the valley was so beautiful, with low traffic. As we came into a more open-field area we both noticed a medium-sized bear about 25 yards to our left. Our first Critter Spotting, and a great way to start the day… especially since we were clipping along at about 20 mph.
After about 6 lovely miles on the valley floor, the day’s challenges became apparent. We started our first climb of the day up to Big Oak Flat – about 2,300 feet of climbing in 10 miles. This included going through three more tunnels. Although none were as long as yesterday’s, and the traffic was much lighter, whenever a car was in the tunnel with us, it sounded like a jet from Top Gun taking-off over our heads. When we were alone, we did some sound tests of our own, and decided that there was about 6 seconds of echo time with each sound.
After the climb, we arrived at the gas station-mini mart where we refueled and turned onto Highway 120. As usual, the bike was an excellent conversation starter, and we talked with a couple that had ridden the Pacific Coast route back in their 20’s.
Back on our way (basically climbing all the way), we were surrounded by huge granite slabs and wonderful trees as we pedaled past Tenaya Lake toward Tuolumne Meadows. At the meadows we enjoyed lunch in the shade and a great conversation with a visitor from Seattle, dressed completely in hikers-tan-nylon. Andy was very jealous of the all-tan look.
Then we began our last climb of the day, up to Tioga Pass. The rocks and views were totally amazing, and very “viewable”, since we were travelling at about 5 mph. Finally, we reached the summit, and stopped to take this photo – yep, 9,945 feet. We talked with the two park rangers, who said they’d “won the lottery” to be able to have this as their summer job, and then started our prize-winning decent of 15 miles to the finish line, which was aptly named The Tioga Lodge, just through Lee Vining, with a lovely view of Mono Lake.
So, after 8,251 feet of climbing and 7:08 of pedal time, we were definitely finished for the day. Tomorrow will be a whole new adventure.
Day 3 - 8/3/13 (53 miles)
After a noisy night in our cute Tioga Lodge cabin (about 25 yards from Highway 395), we headed to breakfast in the dining room, and found the same young woman who checked us in the evening before serving as waitress. Since there were few early diners, we had the opportunity to talk with her a bit. She’d just finished her freshman year of high-school (age 15). She did a terrific job, basically running the whole show while her mom, and perhaps dad, did the cooking. Kim, of course, asked her if she was saving part of her summer earnings towards her college education.
We also talked with the owner of the Lodge – initially to compliment Andi – and learned a great deal about the history of the buildings and the lodge. It was definitely a fine stay, but would have been better with noise-cancelling headphones for sleep.
After about 5 miles of pedaling, we started our first climb of the day – almost 1,200 feet in just under 4 miles. Quite a way to start the day! And, it was basically like that for the rest of the miles for the day – all on Highway 395, with continuous calls of “car back infinity”… until we were mere shadows of our regular selves.
We had a nice refueling stop at the Shell station in Bridgeport, where there was a lovely grass area, complete with picnic tables. The only not-so-good part of the stop was when the cashier decided to tattle on Kim and tell Andy that she’d not been pedaling. (Shouter #1 for this trip) After a “tattle-tale” comment from Kim, he did try to make up for it by telling her that he’d only mentioned it because Andy looked so “in need” of pedal help.
Our evening meal was at Walker Burger, where Kim loved her Root Beer Freeze, and Andy had a Walker Burger and a Blackberry Shake (both were excellent). It’s also a great location with a shady seating area with comfy tables.
The hoped-for early sleep didn’t quite happen. First, we could hear the next door fisherman giving detail after detail of what to find where and what bait, line, etc to use. Then, although the traffic noise was much reduced from last night, the other next door guest’s snoring was very impressive. He clearly slept well, as the snoring lasted all night. We however, did not. Looking forward to a new place tomorrow night!
Day 4 - 8/4/13 (61 miles)
With the continuous wake-up call from our snoring neighbor, we were easily able to get an early start today. We had a quick breakfast of mini-mart supplies, and then a quick, beautiful ride on our last section of Highway 395. After about 9 miles we took a break, and turned onto Highway 89. This was the beginning of the highway, and we’ll (ultimately) ride its full length, all the way to Mount Shasta City, CA, but that won’t be on this Chapter.
Immediately after our turn, we started to climb, and climb, and climb, until we reached the summit of Monitor Pass. We captured this view from one of the scenic view areas, which wasn’t even at the top. You can see the road winding back towards the valley (which is the light-ish area beyond the lowest “V” of the hills.
The best part of the trip was the very low amount of traffic. We were passed only 25 times over the 2.5 hours it took us to make the climb, and most of those were motorcycles. We took a brief stop at the top (8,314 feet) to capture this photo with the official monument of Monitor. On the road again, we dropped about 3,000 feet of elevation in 20 minutes – much easier than the up – but there were more up-hills to come.
One of the climbs was well rewarded by stopping at Hope Valley Café and Market. Their baked items were wonderful – Kim loved the Banana-Coconut muffin. Another place to stop if you’re driving through. The dry weather has made this a drinking-intensive ride, with Andy downing up to ½ gallon of water in one stop. At least we think we’re staying hydrated.
Ultimately, we climbed over 6,100 feet, and ended-up back in the familiar territory of South Lake Tahoe, and deviated a bit from the Adventure Cycling route to avoid some hills. We also got to see our first tandems since early in our Sea to Shining Sea ride. Granted, one was on top of a car, in a bike rack, but the other was a dad and son pedaling together. Taking the advice of a local we chatted with, we ended-up staying at the Apex Inn, conveniently located next to the excellent Italian restaurant, Passaretti’s.
Although small, the room was comfy, and the spacious bathroom provided a storage spot for the tandem. It was our quietest night yet, and the sleep was much appreciated. On to Truckee tomorrow!
Day 5 - 8/5/13 (45 miles)
After a relaxing night, we enjoyed breakfast at Ernie’s Coffee Shop, within easy walking-distance of our motel. After less than ½ a mile of pedaling, we were on our regular Ride Around Tahoe route. Since we were starting at the location where we’re normally 50 miles into the ride, it did make it interesting. Not stopping at Camp Richardson for ice cream was a bit disappointing, but taking on the Emerald Bay climbs after just 5 miles of riding, instead of 50+, was a great benefit.
The view of Emerald Bay from above, in the early morning light, was lovely, and the traffic not too busy. The lake was beautifully calm and very peaceful. A wonderful way to start the day.
After a brief stop at Tahoma Market for the required Starbuck’s Frapp, we decided to give the paved bike trail a try to stay out of the increasing traffic. After just a block or so, we remembered why we stay on the road – LOTS of bumps, and random walkers/bikers/stroller-pushers/erratic dogs/etc – that make it more stressful than dealing with traffic.
So, we hopped back on the road… only to find, in less than a mile that there was significant road construction. One of the lanes was closed and created a huge line of stopped vehicles waiting for their turn. When there was a safe pause, we dashed back across the road, scrambled up the dirt hill, and decided that the bike path was “great”!
We stuck with it through Tahoe City and the TART Station, thinking we’d hop back on 89 towards Truckee. This was not to be, as we saw yet another construction zone with one-way traffic. Back on the bike trail again, we headed towards River Ranch. We’re still debating if working our way through the construction zone would have been less stressful. There were so many people – walkers, bikers, rafters, photographers – of all ages, and mostly of limited experience. Many were riding on the wrong side of the bumpy trail – towards us – and swerved away at the last second, only after a verbal alert from Andy.
We proceeded at a very slow pace, and thankfully so, since as we followed a family up a short hill under the bridge one of the young teens veered off trail and fell over, after getting tangled in woodchips. Andy yelled “OUT!” and both of us were able to unclick from our pedals and stop the bike before anything disastrous happened. The girl was fine – no scrapes, mostly just embarrassed, and she pedaled off to catch-up with her group. We gave her a big head-start.
At River Ranch we took a break, refilled the water bottles and gave some quick thanks that we were there in one piece. Then it was a blissful, smooth, quick ride on the wide shoulder into Truckee. We had a great lunch on the patio of JAX at the Tracks, and a quick couple miles of pedaling to our home for tonight – Hampton Inn (yippee, says Kim). Tomorrow we’ll head to Graeagle, with fingers crossed for low traffic, and looking forward to a Root Beer freeze at The Frostee!
Day 6 - 8/6/13 (48 miles)
This was a day of some of the most blissful and beautiful riding we’ve done. It was a great reminder of why we love living in this part of California. We got an early start, leaving the hotel at about 7:00 AM, and had a great view of Truckee from the Highway 267 bridge. From there it was a brisk ride through the trees (with the lowest temperature recorded of 39 degrees), and about 8 miles of bumpy pavement, courtesy of “frost-heaves”. The traffic was very light, the sky wonderfully clear, and the mountain-views lovely.
We went through several ups and downs as we crossed Prosser Creek and Little Truckee River that reminded us of the rolling hills in Missouri and Kentucky. Then we climbed up a pass and enjoyed a big downhill which took us across the border from Nevada County to Sierra County, where the road became smooth and the traffic stayed light. We basically coasted for 12 miles into Sierraville and had a peaceful break at Jean and Jerry’s station (a familiar stop from our Sierra Valley rides).
We then sped through the windless (rare!) valley and up and over a little summit (5,414 feet – nothing compared to the last few days) and then reveled in an 8 mile coast/cruise to Whitehawk and the glorious Mohawk Valley filled with beautiful pastures, happy cows, and Eureka Peak on the horizon. Johnsville home! We cruised to the grocery store, had lunch at Gumba’s, and then met our friend, Mark at the Frostee, and he snapped this picture of us with Larry, the owner.
Tomorrow will be a day off, and then, with a short ride to Quincy, we’ll wrap-up this chapter of M2C.
Day 7 - 8/7/13 (24 miles)
This was another amazing day! Due to scheduling and transportation, we decided to make the final ride into Quincy today, instead of tomorrow. Since we were only riding half the miles of yesterday, we slept in, and got a relaxing start. We left Johnsville at about 9:00 and coasted down to Graeagle to the "official" route.
It was a beautiful morning, with blue sky, gorgeous views, light traffic, a smooth shoulder, and mostly downhill! We actually descended 893 feet more than we climbed. Yahoo!
About 15 miles into the ride we decided to stop at a Rest Stop, just for fun. It was beautiful, too… no, really! It was well maintained and had great shaded picnic tables, and best of all, the bathrooms were spotless. We also learned some rules about rest stops: you can’t camp but you can park there for 8 hours out of any 24 hour period. Definitely worth the stop.
We were even on the early side of the logging trucks which go back and forth on Highway 89/70 – full towards Quincy, and empty away. The few loaded trucks that did pass were friendly and considerate, and the nice shoulder helped, too.
At just after 11:00 we pulled into Quincy, clocking our fastest average speed of the chapter at 19.0 mph. We enjoyed a yummy lunch at the Courthouse Café, with our friend, Mark. He then helped us load the tandem into his truck, and hauled us back to Johnsville for a couple of real vacation days before we head home.
All-in-all a great start to the new adventure – even after climbing 23,871 feet, we’re already looking forward to the next chapter!