And it begins... Part I of the Ride

Today is Friday, September 28th. The day had come. It is a chilly September morning and I am up early, nervous with anticipation of the start of the trip. The weather is about to change. It is high time for me to get out of here. Allie and Emily should be on their way soon. They are supposed to arrive to my house at 9:00 am so we can start our ride together. Knowing Allie though, 9:00 will be more like 10:00. At 10:30 we finally hit the road. Photos are taken in front of my house before the departure. We stop at Olympic Bike shop to check Emily’s brakes. She will need them especially for a descent on the other side of Luther pass. My dear friend Lianne comes for our last hugs and goodbyes. It’s a pretty emotional departure. We slap some high fives with the guys at the bike shop and we are off. I am a very optimistic person, but I doubt I can make it  all the way to Bridgeport in one day. It’s 144 miles away, with some good long climbs. We should have started riding a lot earlier for me to achieve that. I have a back up plan though. My son Tilen will leave our house mid day in our Sprinter van and will pick me up if needed. 

From left to right: Allie Donovan, Emily Turner, Alenka Vrecek

From left to right: Allie Donovan, Emily Turner, Alenka Vrecek

Over the seven years when Allie, Emily and I ran Youth bike team, North Tahoe Bike Force, Olympic bike shop always supported us. It is very fitting for me to start my ride with this two awesome friends. I wish they could ride with me the whole way, but that is a huge time commitment. Allie has a brand new baby at home and it is hard enough to steel time away just to ride for a day. Emily has a brand new puppy that needs her as well. By the time we actually leave the bike shop in town, it is pleasantly warm. John and baby Dot catch up with us in a car just before Emerald Bay. Riding around the lake is always spectacular. This is our home and we remind ourselves how lucky we are to live here. At the top of Emerald Bay climb at Inspiration point, our friend Pete surprises us by waiting for us to go by and he waves and honks and waves and honks when we pass by him. I feel the love from so many people who wish me safe journey. Many express desire they too would like to come along. Everyone has commitments. I know I am fortunate to be able to carve time out of my life to take this journey on. 

I forgot how long the climb is up Luther pass. I start to doubt myself. I can’t keep up with Allie and Emily. They are so freaking strong! What the hell am I getting myself into! It’s only my first day and I feel my legs burning. I am riding my 18 pound Scot CR1 carbon road bike. How the hell am I going to switch to riding my 65 pound mountain bike for miles up and down the hills?  That is the weight without even all the water and food that is required on longest sections without resupply on Baja Divide. The longest test ride I did with the bike loaded with camping gear without food and only two bottles of water, was twelve miles. I was afraid that if I did longer rides, I’d get discouraged and would chicken out. My plan is to ride the road bike to Bridgeport and from there  to Yosemite over Tioga pass to get big climbing out of the way before I switch to fully loaded Mountain bike that will be my home away from home for the next two months or so. 

On our ride around the lake and over Luther pass, we are passed in both directions by hundreds of obnoxiously loud motorcycles. It just so happens, that we are riding during Street Vibrations Fall Rally weekend. Thousands of Motorcycle enthusiasts gather every year in Reno for music, poker runs, stunt bike shows, bikini team competitions, lots of beer drinking and even live tattooing. We are closely passed by Low riders, Choppers and probably every Harley Davidson ever made in America.The riders are fully attired in black leather and  American bandanas. Big buts and beer bellies ride by us in constant loud stream. Some wave, most don’t. Our insides are definitely vibrating with every passing and oncoming  rumbling motorcycle. It’s a whole different world of people. After a long, fast and super fun descent down the other side of Luther pass, we stop for lunch. John, baby Dot and Emily’s new puppy Honey,  are waiting for us. Allie and Emily load the bikes on the car to drive back home. I am tempted to do the same. Luckily there is no room for my bike. We say our goodbyes and I take off without looking back. I am afraid if I do, I will start crying.

I ride another fifty miles toward Gardnerville where I turn right onto HW 395. Shoulder is wide and riding not too difficult. A bit of head wind, but not too bad. After several miles on 395 with big semi trucks and cars blasting by me,  I am relieved to finally turn off to a much quieter HW 208 toward Wellington. My son Tilen picks me up at a 100 mile mark. Perfect timing as it is getting dark. We head to Bridgeport to our friend Glen Poulsen and  Uli Schmid Maybach property for an annual Burning Lamb gathering. Tomorrow I’ll go back and ride the remainder of 44 miles to Big Hot Ranch  just a few miles past Bridgeport. 

In the morning Tilen drops my friend Matt MacLean and I back to where I finished the night before. We ride hellish 44 miles, climbing 3000 feet to Sweetwater Summit and ride into strong gusty winds that literally knock me off my bike several times. Thank you Matt for pulling the way. I’d still be out there if I rode alone. We get back just in time for the party. Four lambs cooked traditional Argentinian asado style, sausages and amazing side dishes that people who come from all over, contribute. Plenty of wine and beer flows but I have to be careful not to drink to much. Tomorrow is a big day. 

Jim, Monty, and I

Jim, Monty, and I

From Bridgeport I ride  with my daughter’s friend Patric. It is 25  miles to Lee Vining where we meet up with Jim, Jana and my dear and crazy funny friend and Baja neighbor, Kari Castle. We reluctantly start climbing Tioga Pass. Patrick does a great job pulling the way up front. He is young and strong, so we make him a sacrificial lamb and wind blocker.  Strong gusts do not help an already challenging climb. At one point the gusts are so strong that Jim and I have to get off our bikes to walk. I am literally pushed backward. How demoralizing, but we make it to the top. My daughter Jana meets us at the gate to Yosemite National Park and from there we part ways. It is very emotional. Kari and Patrick ride back down to Lee Vining, Jim drives Jana and her dog Bixby back to their car  at the bottom of Tioga pass and I continue riding to Tanaya Lake. The ride is beautiful and riding downhill feels rewarding, but because it id getting late, also a bit chilly. Jim catches up with me and we drive to find a camp spot which is not easy in Yosemite without reservation. We find it just before dark and while Jim is searching for firewood, I prepare dinner. It will be our last supper together. We eat by the fire and wash it down with beer and couple of shots of tequila.  We don’t talk much. Monty lays between us and we all just stare into the flames of fire all wrapped up in our own thoughts. I think Jim is still hoping I’ll change my mind and go home with him and forget about the whole thing. In the morning, which is Monday, we say our last goodbye and I ride off with tears in my eyes not wanting to look back at Jim. I know he’s crying.This is the longest we will be apart since we started dating more then fifteen years ago. As I pulled on to the road, I almost got hit by a car. That would not be a good way to start a trip. That probably gave Jim a hardtack.

Yosemite Valley is beautiful but I can’t wait to get out and away from all the traffic. Lines of cars and busses bring thousands of visitors to the valley each day. The charm of the wilderness is lost. Back in 1984/85 when I first came to the States, I did a road trip with Mike Carville and his collage friend Rod Sutherland. We were planning to go ski the volcanos by Mexico City. A very lofty goal for a three week trip. Our first stop was Yosemite. I was twenty years old and in awe of massive granite walls I’ve only been reading about and dreaming to climb. It was a completely different style of climbing I was used to back in crumbling limestone rock of Julian Alps using pitons. Jamming my fingers, fists, elbows and my entire body deep into cracks and chimneys, was a totally new experience. Watching Mike climb was like watching a performance of a ballet dancer. He was an amazingly beautiful climber and I was intimidated, but he was a good leader and teacher and we climbed some beautiful routes. I was a good athlete. Light and strong and flexible so I quickly caught up to the new techniques of climbing. My fingers bled, but my heart was singing with freedom of the rock. I do believe I was born to be a climber. We slept under Yosemite falls bathed by full moon on my first New Years Eve in United States of America in Yosemite of all places. I was freezing cold though. We had no tents and I didn’t even have a sleeping pad. Just a borrowed sleeping bag placed on the snow.  My birthday is on January 2nd. and on that day I turned 21. We climbed one of the all time classics, a fifteen  pitch Royal Arches and it was a sunny day. Snow was melting on the ridge above us and we bathed in water that was collecting in pools on sheer vertical granite wall way above Yosemite Valley. What a way to celebrate  21st birthday. We lingered on the top of the climb for a bit too long. We rapelled back down and landed on the freezing snow covered ground in pitch dark, ate cold pizza and went to sleep - well, at least we tried to. Our next stop was climbing in Joshua tree National park and we realized we were running out of time to drive all the way to Mexico City. Our trip ended up leading us to Mulegé, an oasis town on the Cortez side of Baja peninsula. Back in early 1985, The Transpeninsular Hw 1 was rugged and many sections remained unpaved. Although, we were advised against it, we camped on beaches and drove at night. I fell in love with Baja. I knew I would be back. 

Climbing out of Yosemite

Climbing out of Yosemite

The 3661-foot climb out of the valley is hellish. After 50 miles on my bike that weighs more then half of my bodyweight, I make it to Fish Camp at the South End of Yosemite entrance just as it is getting dark. I stumble into White Wolf Lodge and although it is way over my budget, decide to stay there. It is dark and cloudy, threatening to start raining at any moment. In the morning I wake up to pouring rain. Trust your intuition! So glad I spent the money to stay in the lodge instead of camping. I heat up water in a microwave to mix dehydrated packet of camping food for dinner, reorganize the bike but no matter how I repack it, I feel like I have way to much stuff.
In the morning I take time to regroup and repack and deal with taxes and business emails. I already have a few very difficult days of riding behind me and I need to pace myself. I need to make sure I get good rest and replenish the calories I burn during riding. Although I have a late start at 1 pm, I ride another 40 miles on beautiful quiet country roads by Bass Lake and am rewarded by some smooth long downhills. I  pay for them climbing back out of the valleys to gain 2536 feet all in all. I make it to town of New Auberry in the dark again and find a tavern. I am all sweaty and my hair is sticking in all directions, so I am quite a sight among the locals sitting at the bar. Cold beer and mushroom burger never tasted better. Listening to country music and watching the local people gathering for the only entertainment in town to play pool and drink beer is priceless.
       

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So, I am on my own now. Riding whenever I want to, at my own speed, as far as I can go each day. I am loving it. My butt and my legs, not so much. My knee hurts like hell and my right quad is cramping due to nerve damage. I try to ignore it as much as I can, but my mind and my heart are opening up to the freedom of the hills around me. I inhale sweet air infused with pine, manzanita, and earth after the rain. The views from the top are exhilarating and the downhills are a hoot. My “Beast” is performing beautifully. It feels as solid as it is nimble. We are slowly getting used to each other. It is my friend and my trusty companion for a long road ahead. I will take good care of it and keep the chain oiled so it stays faithful to me.
I am off to the next unknown territory.

The Beast is ready

The Beast is ready




“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves “ said Sir Edmund Hillary




Alenka Vrecek