Monday, August 10, 2009

Riding in a postcard

Many rides are ridden in preparation for some larger event, the date for which is often circled on the calendar in the kitchen. Just as often as those rides that warrant a note written in ink on the calendar, an unplanned or hastily planned ride is the source of just as much enjoyment and sense of accomplishment. I'm lucky in that it is expected that I'll pack a bike when we take our nearly annual camping trip to the Sierra, and this year the bike I brought along was a recently refurbished mid 1980s Scapin. Late in the planning and packing process, my son decided he wanted his bike along too. The car we borrowed had just enough space on the return trip, even though packing was like solving a three dimensional puzzle.

Though we are long overdue to deviate from our traditional three Sierra camping locations, again this year we went to Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe for several days, with a move mid-trip to Tuolomne Meadows for a short stay, stopping at Grover Hot Springs for a visit to the State Park's heated pools. All three of these locations are on a short list of my favorite places on Earth. If you know how to work it, all three offer some fantastic riding terrain as well.

On the first day at Emerald Bay, my son and I left camp with no fixed destination, at least not one I was aware of, other than a southerly direction. To leave the campground we needed to climb pretty consistently for about a mile to the campground entrance, and from there it's a fun run downhill with Lake Tahoe behind you and Cascade Lake ahead and then a sharp 170 degree turn and some more downhill that takes you toward a series of bicycle paths and signed bicycle routes through South Lake Tahoe toward the busy section of Highway 50. After crossing 50 we ended up in a residential section that was northwest of the airport, which I now knew was where my son wanted to visit. We wandered around in what we thought was the right direction and then asked directions of a local out walking his dogs. After a moment's thought he recalled that there were some trails nearby that would get us toward the airport. While I thought that would take us directly there it turned out to take us only to the east side of the airport property which was fenced off all around, but yet still had open gates. As we rode toward the gates we saw pavement that was not roadway but probably something more than a bike or multi-use path. After about 20 minutes investigation we realized it was an access roadway for airport maintenance vehicles and would not take us anywhere. We followed it north as far as it would go and then spotted a fading trail off to the west that we guessed would take us to a different residential section of South Lake Tahoe, and it did, but not without us having to walk our bikes over some pretty rough trails.

Rolling downhill on CA 89 at 9am on a weekday in the summer is one thing, but climbing back up the switchbacks at noon would be in traffic, but my son did fine. We stopped a few times on the way up but no matter. We had gorgeous views to admire while he caught his breath.

On Tuesday I left camp very early for a much longer and challenging ride than the bike path would provide. Even at that early hour there were other cyclists out on the roads though more would show up as the morning wore on. We've camped at Emerald Bay maybe half a dozen times and many of those trips included a ride between Emerald Bay and Grover Hot Springs in Markleeville on 'moving' day. On this day though my ride would be an out-and-back with the turn-around being the top of Luther Pass. The only way I've ever done this is by taking back roads on the leg between Emerald Bay and Highway 50 at the foot of the climb up to Echo Pass, and then riding CA 89 over the pass. There is no way I could tell someone how to ride that leg without consulting a map but I've never had a map with me when I've done it, trusting to a sense of direction to get me where I was headed. It helps when certain landmarks tower thousands of feet above everything else. On the the short linking stretch of Highway 50 that I rode between the back route and the turn onto CA 89 I passed a road named South Upper Truckee Road, and momentarily wondered where it went. After the right turn onto CA 89, the roadway runs straight for a few miles with a very slight incline. Truckers drive fast along this stretch, gaining momentum that they really hate to lose once the incline increases. In the early hours, there were only the gravel trucks flying by and a mile or so into the real climb, those disappeared too.

Approaching the pass from the north, the grade levels off significantly for the last mile of the climb, so much so that it's hard to say you aren't going downhill already at that point. To the west of the roadway, there is a gorgeous meadow and behind that the mountains that runs to the south toward Carson Pass. I have an older photo of my Scapin propped up against the sign post marking the top of the pass, and with the Scapin newly restored I had to get a new photo. No sooner had I packed up everything pulled from my pockets during the break than other riders began to show up. I chatted a bit with a rider who also turned out to be from the East Bay, and then pushed off down hill back toward Lake Tahoe.

With the turns for the return route pretty fresh in my mind, that section ended quickly and as I approached CA 89 from Fallen Leaf Lake Road I noticed two riders passing by, each looking like dedicated long distance riders. I pushed a bit and caught them before the incline to Cascade Lake began and chatted with them a little to find out where they were headed that day. It seemed pretty apparent to me that they were local riders and I asked them if they got used to the tourist traffic during the summer. We were approaching a section of 89 where there were a number of vista sites, state park land, campgrounds and general tourist destinations so the question of traffic was pretty timely. I was just finishing up my ride and Bob and Christine were just beginning theirs so they were pacing themselves for all the climbing that would occur later on their ride so on the big switchback up to the Eagle Point campground entrance I got ahead of them enough that the idea dawned on me to stop and take a couple photos as they rode by. Once they passed I hopped on my bike and it took a bit to catch back up to them. Even though I passed the entrance to the campground where I started the ride, I wanted to round up my mileage for the day to at least 50 miles (we were going kayaking later so I had to find a way to be happy with just 50 miles. And I was.) so I had decided to ride around Emerald Bay to the D.L. Bliss campground entrance and then return. Traffic picked up quite a bit around the parking areas near Eagle Lake Trailhead and the trail down to Vikingsholm across the road. The 'local' cycling club in the Tahoe region is the Alta Alpina Cycling Club and it sounded as though Bob and Christine were active members of that group. Anyone that has done riding in the area most likely has heard about the annual Tour of the California Alps, which is probably more popularly know as The Death Ride. Alta Alpina was for many years a major part of that ride, and I have many great memories of having done that ride plus they began a new ride this year which a number of my riding friends attended and liked, so Alta Alpina has earned many points with me. It was nice to briefly hook up with local riders, and I came away with a good suggestion for an alternate route up Luther Pass which I am eager to use, hopefully not to far in the future. My destination was back at Eagle Point so once we reached the entrance to D.L. Bliss State Park I turned around, making the circuit around Emerald Bay once more. Just before reaching the entrance to Eagle Point Campground the roadway travels along the crest of a ridge with the Bay on one side and Cascade Lake on the other and the views from here are simply stunning. On a warming, early August morning it was a great place to be on a bike.

On Wednesday morning, we broke camp and drove to Tuolomne Meadows via Markleeville and Grover Hot Springs. The pool at the State Park there is one of my all time favorite places on Earth, so I was looking forward to the stop there. My wife was looking forward to a meal at the Mobil Station in Lee Vining. I'm not kidding about this, and I was looking forward to it as well. This gas station has a huge reputation for the food served at the Whoa Nellie Deli inside the convenience mart on the gas station grounds. Once we finished our meal, we headed up the long climb to Tioga Pass and the entrance to Yosemite Park. The weather was changing fast at this point and everyone walking around near the pass had on jackets, long pants and hats. By the time we reached the campground it was now overcast and overnight the cold front passed through and at 8am we were greeted with what was somewhere between a hail storm and snow showers and temps hovering in the 30s.

All in all a nice but short trip with the good stuff outweighing any of the low points on the trip.


René said...

Beautiful photos!

Brenda Giese said...

Interesting story and nice pictures! What an outstanding way to enjoy a family vacation.

Brenda Giese said...

Interesting story and nice pictures! What an outstanding way to enjoy a family vacation.