Part II: The Sierra Nevada Foothills Experience
I left New Auberry behind around 9 am. I Enjoyed killer coffee and a bacon scone for breakfast at Java House with very friendly proprietors, Joe, and his wife.
I get a lot of high fives, waves, thumbs-ups, friendly honking horns, and smiles. Yes, I also get many inquisitive looks. “Look at that nutcase on a loaded bike!”
This is a ranch country. I pass many along the way. Some are neat; wood is stacked and ready for winter. Some are not so neat. Old rusty cars without wheels, old farm equipment scattered, trash piled everywhere, and pit bulls tied to zip line. I pass those as fast as I can.
This is God’s country, and I am reminded that Jesus is here on billboards and church signs in every town I pass. Christian music plays on radios everywhere.
This is also an American flag country. I pass flag-painted mailboxes and flags flying over trailer homes that are bigger than the home itself. I pass golden hills studded with oak and pine trees; yes, this is beautiful countryside. I am reminded this is still a country of good and kind people. On one of my many climbs, this car was slowly driving behind me but not passing. It was a lonely, narrow country road. I was getting uneasy. I kept pulling to the right as far as I could go, but the car just wouldn’t pass. So I pulled over and stopped after much contemplation. The car pulls up beside me with a mother and her young teenage daughter leaning out the window:
“We just wanted to make sure you are safe riding up this hill. People drive crazy out here! “ I almost cried with relief and appreciation.
I am starting to enjoy climbing the hills. I can just put my head down and surrender to my thoughts, though the tiny flies that are invading my nostrils, eyeballs, and ears are seriously annoying. But moving feels good. I am cleaning out my body’s cobwebs.
Down the hill we fly, The Beast and I. The fastest speed we clock is 31 miles an hour down 9% graded hills. I ride on a smooth road, golden hills on all sides, moss, and lichen-covered granite boulders fly by me. The wind on my face feels good, my sweat-soaked Sherpa merino wool zip neck is drying quickly. I feel pure joy going through me like a bolt of lightning. I have a smile on my face stretching from ear to ear. I scream and I yodel even though I see the road climbing up and up again out of the gorge ahead of me. Wait, did I just see a lightning bolt. The clouds are very dark ahead, and the wind is picking up. I might get wet here soon!!! I better keep moving.
I pass many a road kill. Squirrels, lizards, small birds, an owl with big beautiful brown wings that had a span of at least a foot and a half, many frogs, skunks, a raccoon, a possum, baby deer and mama deer just feet apart, their bodies decomposing and causing a stench that is blinding and nauseating. Oh, and snakes. I rode by a rattlesnake thinking it was dead. I stopped to get a closer look, and it started moving with a rattle in an angry ready-to-strike position. I lost the desire to look for a place to camp in dry high grass fields.
I started yet another climb. It went on and on and on, and suddenly I wasn’t enjoying it so much anymore. I was running out of water, my back started to hurt, my knee was throbbing, my quad was cramping, and I wanted to get the ride over with. The problem was, I was still nowhere near any town. I kept looking at my Garmin and maps on my I phone; nothing ahead. So, I asked Siri where the nearest motel was. She told me the nearest was Sierra Valley Lodge and it was five miles away. She said:
”You are quite a ways away.”
“Shut t f...up Siri!” I reply. I was tired and didn’t want to hear that.
“Now, now,” she says. Siri doesn’t like it when I use bad language with her.
Five miles is no problem if you are in a car, but on a bike, it’s a different story. And guess what? It was mostly uphill. It took me almost an hour to get to Sierra Inn. Funky is definitely the word for this place. Right out of the sixties and even back then it was something to be desired, alright. I got a discount because the sink didn’t work. Gena owns the Inn, and she does it all. She cooks, cleans, pours beer, and sweeps the floor. The entertainment during my dinner on the porch was top notch too. Two guys, one large and bald the other short, skinny and missing a few teeth. They were each playing guitar and singing classics and drinking beer and scotch. Making up some words along the way, they were quite the characters. Politics were quickly thrown into their conversation, and I was informed that neither would under any circumstances, ever vote democratic.
“Just look what they are doing to poor Kavanaugh, those bastards!”
I tried really hard not to react or get pulled into the discussion. I also learned how the tall bald one lost everything in 2008, had a heart attack, his wife left him and, of course, stole all the money he had. I don’t know which order all those things happened and no, that was not a country song he was singing. He now collects unemployment and social disability. The short one then asked me if he can help himself to my garlic bread as he clearly saw I wasn’t going to finish my dinner.
The tall bald one scolded his friend for doing so.
“No, No, don’t worry! I’d rather see someone eat food then throw it away!” I exclaimed. And it’s true. I left my dinner on the plate and said, ”Here is dinner for your dog!” I hope the dog got his share; at least the bone.
Ok, I had enough for the day. 55 miles, over 4K vertical feet of climbing, 8 hours in the saddle makes it for a long day. I also have a case of megasorass iritus. I hope I get some sleep.
Gena was very kind to give me a box so I could pack up some of my gear to send back home. An extra sleeping bag, sweatshirt, hat, t-shirt, turtleneck. My bike will thank me, but I hope I don’t regret it later. I now have room to put my food and my backpack where my sleeping bag was.
As soon as I laid down, it started to pour. At first, I didn’t even know what the sound was. It sounded like a train was coming through my room. All I could think was, “Boy, am I glad I am not in a tent.”
The next morning after a great breakfast Gena made, I took off and started downhill to get back to Dunlop where the road went toward Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
It was a nice start to the day. A slight mist was evaporating after the previous night’s torrential rains. Then, the road started climbing, and I kid you not, it climbed for the next 5,600 vertical feet. I reached the entrance of the park, and at the gate, the ranger told me the campground was only three miles away. No problem- even as tired as I was, I could do that. Well, that was in the direction of Kings Canyon, but my route took me to the right into Sequoia National Park. I kept climbing, and the fog got so thick I had to turn on a headlamp on my helmet even though there was still an hour or more daylight left. It was now getting critical to find a place to camp. At Quail Flat, I scrambled up the hill and found a semi-flat spot behind some big boulders and started setting up my tent. By the time I was done, it was dark and getting cold. I was at around 7000 feet elevation. I was freezing already. If you can imagine, I was really regretting I sent my extra sleeping bag and clothes home. All I could do was to force myself to eat some salt and vinegar chips, a can of tuna, and send a message on my Mini Inreach satellite unit to Jim that I was camping for the night and everything was OK. The night was long and cold, and I heard every pop and crackle in the woods around me. I was practically expecting for a bear to come into my tent. I threw the can of tuna as far away from the tent as I could and prayed. Although I didn’t sleep much, I made it through the night. I kept having a dream that my dog Monty left the tent and I couldn’t find him. In the morning everything was soaking wet from thick fog, but luckily it did not rain at night. The sun came out, and I carried all my things to a spot where I could spread everything out to dry.
The ride started by climbing high away through majestic forests. My legs were heavy, and I was tired from the day before, so it took me a while to warm up. There was snow upon the highest parts at 7500 feet. I didn’t want to go downhill, because I was so cold.
At the end of a long and cold day of riding, I was rewarded by seeing the biggest tree in the world and felt insignificant and humbled. The ride downhill into Three Rivers was breathtaking. These are no foothills, my friends; these are impressive mountains. A part of the Sierra Nevada range I’ve never seen before.