In any ride, or adventure for that matter, there’s highs and lows. The highs can be amazingly exhilarating and the lows can make you want to go home and curl up in front of the fire and lick your wounds, so to speak.
The ride from Big Bear Lake to Tahoe City was a bit of a roller coaster of highs and lows. At one point I was struggling both physically and mentally and was ready to go home. It was cold, wet and at times just a bit of a grind. Other times were incredible and I was riding along with a grin from ear to ear and enjoying the solitude, sweat and pain that goes with it.
The bucket list item and a major highlight was the time I got to spend in Yosemite Valley. Yosemite has always fascinated me, ever since I saw the towering granite in climbing magazines years ago its captured my imagination. I didn’t realise how much I was looking forward to it until I rode passed the sign at the Park entrance and started grinning like a Cheshire Cat. It’s strange how little things can flip that endorphin switch.
Anyway I digress, entering the National Park from the South the terrain is pretty much like the rest of the country. There’s a bit more wildlife though. While riding up a two hour hill a motorist stopped to tell me there was a bear a bit further up on the road. A little more alert I rounded a corner a couple of km later and saw a whole bunch of cars parked all over the road and people milling about. All my alertness went out the window when I realised they were all there to get photos of the bear. To the bears credit he was 5-10 metres off the road and scratching about in some tree fall looking for something to eat. Luckily Mr Bear didn’t realise that there was probably a good meal or three in all spectators. As I weaved through the cars and people I couldn’t quite believe that people were taking their kids to within 10 metres of this beautiful but wild and powerful animal just to get a photo. I guess Darwin’s theory is still alive and well.
It’s not until you start descending into Yosemite Valley that the true scale of the place becomes evident. Then there’s a long tunnel to descend through that opens out to an amazing panoramic view of the whole valley with El Capitan taking centre stage. The cloud and mist just added to the atmosphere. It was truely breathtaking.
Descending further to the valley floor was equally spectacular. With all the rain and snowmelt there were waterfalls coming off every cliff. Needless to say I was well distracted and the ride up the valley to a camp was somewhat protracted.
And what better place to have a day off. The only problem with that plan was there was so much to see and do. So yes it was a day off the bike but there was the hike that just had to be done, especially with the sun shining and the waterfalls just going off. It was detracted from a little by the swarms of other people having the same thoughts, but it was Memorial weekend, which in the US seems to be the official start of summer and everyone heads to the woods. Just this year someone forgot to tell summer that.
However the crowds couldn’t take away the mind blowing scenery and it didn’t take much to find some solitude.
It wasn’t all exercise though. The thunderstorms finally arrived late afternoon and it was time to retreat to the tent for some reading an relaxation.
The following day dawned wet with snow forecast. Since I was heading north there was a couple of hours climbing before I could drop to the west. The plan was to get out of the Park then cut through forest service roads until I got to Highway 88, the nearest open pass, and could cross the Sierra’s.
Well it didn’t take long to reach the snow line and I spent two hours climbing in the falling snow. Before reaching the snow a ranger stopped me and suggested I turn around because it was going to be impossible, even though the road was open. She couldn’t quite fathom that I was going to carry on regardless and was shaking her head as she drove off. I was prepared to turn around if need be but I’d also learnt long ago not to trust an overweight American telling you that something was impossible.
As the climb progressed the snow became heavier and the road started disappearing altogether.
Near the top of the climb, in about eight inches of snow I came across a crash where eight cars had stacked into each other. Looking like they were all rentals I wondered if they had the excess waiver. Then the road crew tell me the road was now closed…”but you’ve got this far so you can carry on”. Phew. The top was only a few km away then it was all downhill. Easy right.
So riding up the hill was definitely a highlight. I was warm and dry but probably sweating a bit much. Riding down the hill was definitely not a highlight. The road was graded so the snow wasn’t an issue, but it was slippery and there were a few two wheel drifting moments. The biggest problem was the snow changed with the change of the terrain. It became wet and incredibly cold. Although my core was warm(ish) my gloves became wet through and my hands froze. The only way I knew I was braking was by feeling the bike slowing down. This cold went right through me and by the time I arrived at the Park Entrance 20 minutes later I realised I couldn’t continue without getting warm. Luckily for me here was a small visitor centre with some very friendly staff. It was warm and they even gave me a hot drink. At this stage I was a bit of a mess and couldn’t even sit on the floor without getting light headed and thinking I was going to throw up. But time worked its magic and after an hour and a half I was ready to get down the hill to some place warmer.
It didn’t take long to drop below the snow and things started looking up. On arriving in Groveland I hooked into a hot rotisserie chicken and hot chocolate when a guy approached me and said he was a guide in Yosemite and a mate of his had sent him a photo of me riding though the snow. He figured I’d stop in town and had come to find me and offer me a place to stay. Although incredibly tempting it was just too early in the day and I decided to keep moving. But this was just another example of the incredibly generous American hospitality that we had experienced earlier in our trip. Less than an hour later I had dropped to 200mt altitude and was back in shorts and shirt. It’s amazing what 1700mt of altitude can do.