Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
California, Part 1
California was another one of the very best border races. With a distance of over 70 miles, it might've been easy for some spreading to occur, but not this time. Dan, Paul, and John were all racing, so it took a lot to try to keep their pace, and sometimes I was unsuccessful. I managed to make each aid station only a few minutes after they did, and usually left just a few minutes before. In the final stretch, I left a few minutes before the rest, then slowed down greatly as I ascended an enormous hill. Paul and Dan passed me on it together, giving some encouraging words to keep pedaling. Once I crested the hill, there was one of the most intense downhills I'd ever seen. I had to conquer some fears to take a few corners as fast as I did, then once it straightened out, I threw it in my highest gear and started pedaling, though I could barely even keep up with how fast the hill had me going. I could see the California border and thought I was in for third when John blew past me with about 300 meters to go. I stood on my pedals and gave it everything I had, but to no avail. John beat me by about two meters, giving me no points for the California stage of the Sierra Border Classic. What a finish though!
It was good to get into California and even better to get out of Nevada. In one day we went from nothing but brown-grey dirt to seeing lush pine forests and snow-capped mountains that put Colorado to shame. Our first California destination, Benton, was only 11 miles from the border, so we got there quickly. We were camping, which generally means no showers, but we were able to get some grime off us in the hot springs! Krista's dad was there, I can't remember why, and cooked us two dinners. Wow. He also brought us a bunch of fresh California fruit, and I had forgotten how much better California fruit is compared to any other kind.
In the morning I woke up and for some reason itched all over. Then I looked up to see a whole swarm of mosquitoes circling inside our tent. The tent hadn't been zipped closed all the way and we had all been eaten alive. Some people slept outside with no tent, and they had it worse. We made it a general policy to always keep both the mosquito net and the door to the tent closed at all times.
The next day's ride was a mere 40-something miles to Mammoth Lakes, but we knew that this was our first day in real mountains, so we expected something tough. Right away, a long, steep grade coupled with a head wind provided a major challenge. Dan got behind me on the hill, and noticing I was having trouble, stayed right behind me giving pointers on how to keep my heels down, how to time pushing down and pulling up on the pedals, keep breathing, and anything else that would help. He stayed there for a few minutes and it helped me get up the worst part of the hill. Then all of a sudden he stood up on his pedals and sprinted past me. I have no idea how he did that.
After a short distance, we had our first aid station, then got informed that there was a steeper hill waiting in only a few miles. We got nervous and decided to take it together as a team. The hill wasn't nearly as bad as the first, because though it was steeper, it was much shorter. At the top, we were rewarded with what I still remember as one of the most fantastic views of the trip. Just an absolutely spectacular view of a massive mountain range. Then we realized we had to get over or around them, and they started to look less pretty.
The remainder of the day had some ups and downs, some easy, some tough. We met some cyclists on the road and rode with them for a while. I guess we're the only people crazy enough to ride bikes through the desert. Mammoth Lakes proved to be a cool little town, especially nice to bike around. We stayed at some campsite right in the middle of town and cooked for ourselves that night. Just as the sun was setting, several of us took off in the van to see some lakes. I was glad I went, because we got to see spectacular waterfalls tumbling into perfectly placid lakes, reflecting the mountains around them. We stayed there a while, with the occasional snowball fight mixed in. It's strange to be flinging snow in late June.
After Mammoth Lakes, we were supposed to ride into Yosemite over Tioga Pass, but due to a scheduling error, we wound up taking a day off in Mammoth Lakes instead. Some of us elected to take the van to Yosemite on our day off, since we now wouldn't be getting a day off in Yosemite. I had gotten some recommendations from my dad about what to see in Yosemite, so I was excited to see Half Dome, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls.
We got there just after 10:00 AM and for some reason didn't start hiking until just before noon, and we were due back at the van at 5:00 PM. Knowing Half Dome was a 10-12 hour hike, it looked like I wouldn't make it. I managed to see Vernal and Nevada Falls though, and both were stunning. A local had told me beforehand to bring some rain gear for Vernal Falls. Good advice! Vernal Falls generates a ton of mist, which makes you feel part of the waterfall. Seeing both was listed as a five-six hour hike, but I finished in three and a half hours. As we drove through the valley, I was able to see Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan from the car. They were all impressive, but I wish I'd been able to see them up close.
We set off for Yosemite the next morning, one of the cloudiest and coldest mornings we'd seen this whole time. It was also damp. Early in the day, I got a flat tire, the first I'd had since Texas. Paul stopped to give me a tube since I didn't have one, and Dan stopped to make sure I got it fixed right, mentioning that today would be a bad day to get left behind. After a decent-sized stretch, we found ourselves at the base of the hill leading up to Tioga Pass. We knew what we had to deal with. 12 miles of 6-8% grades. More than daunting. We got plenty of food and water at the aid station, and the drivers agreed to set up another during the climb, despite the fact that it was only 12 miles.
Gradually, we set off to take the hill. Shortly after I did, head wind started pushing me back, and it started raining. So there we were, pushing ourselves through head wind and up a steep hill, all in 40 degree weather and rain. Pretty tough 12 miles. The first aid station was at the five mile mark, and apparently there was another, though I missed it. It took me an hour and 45 minutes to move 12 miles, and I was one of the faster ones! Paul took an hour and 10 minutes, or so we think, since he didn't have a computer to time himself. That's very close to the Texas 4,000 record of one hour and six minutes, and Paul did it in bad conditions. I'm impressed.
Right on cue, the sun came out after we were done climbing. Frustrating, but nonetheless, we were in good spirits at the end of the climb, knowing that 9,945 feet was the highest elevation we'd reach on the trip. It's downhill from here! It was also the end of the day, since the park wouldn't let us bike through. So we packed up the trailer with everyone's bikes, on our own this time, got in the van and car, and drove in to our campsite. Packing the trailer with all the bikes and still finding room for the equipment was quite a task, but with a lot of patience and a lot of effort, we got it done. Once we arrived at the campsite, we were tired, so we mostly hung around and relaxed in the quiet wilderness.
Descending out of the Sierras into Fresno was one of the best days of the ride so far. For the entire first ten miles, I was using my brakes a lot more than my pedals. We were descending down a twisted mountain path with about as many curves as pine trees. An exhilarating and scenic ride! A few miles outside of that, we wound up on a quiet country road that took us through some gentle foothills. I think I saw about five cars in the course of an hour. I was with Athan most of the time, both of us making great time on the foothills. Athan would get to the top of the short hills like they weren't even there, and I was just pedaling hard to get to In-n-Out Burger faster. Only 20 miles outside of town, I got another flat. It was frustrating to stop and fix it, because I had hopes of getting to Fresno early. I got in with the middle of the pack, but on the way to our hosts for the evening, I had to stop and ask directions to the nearest In-n-Out Burger. It added six miles to the day's ride, but no matter. That Double-Double with fries and a Dr. Pepper was so worth it.
That night we were staying at one of our more unique accommodations. Three neighbors had an acre of land each, and since they liked each other I guess, they all knocked down their fences and shared their backyards. This resulted in a huge beautiful garden, a swimming pool, and a house-sized building with one huge hardwood-floored room, where we slept. We also noticed it had a drumset. A few of us decided to go see Superman Returns while we were in a town with a movie theater, and on the way we agreed that Andrew would probably wake us up the next day with a drum solo. Superman was…OK…but the real treat was afterward, when we went and got some In-n-Out Burger. I was so glad to eat two in the same day, and I think I got a few more people hooked.
As predicted, Andrew woke us up with a self-admitted bad drum solo. Before setting out, we stopped by Guaranty Bank, where we took a photo with some executives who donated some fruit to us. On the way to the bank, only a mile away, I got another flat, for the third day in a row, all on the back tire. Thinking something was wrong, I put my Bontrager tire, one of the ones that came with the bike, on the front, moved the good Gatorskin to the back, and tossed the supposedly bad Gatorskin in the van, intending to patch it that night.
The directions out of Fresno were confusing, so we stuck together for the first 10-15 miles. On the way out, we started seeing lots of vineyards, orchards, and eucalyptus trees, the kind of stuff I'm used to seeing when I visit family in Southern California. Lots of us had never seen that kind of stuff before, so there were frequent stops for photographs. At our first aid station, Andrew was playing Stevie Ray Vaughan, a good enough reason for me to hang around there for a while. The rest of the day was mostly flat and uneventful, but since it was flat, I made great time and got to the church in Coalinga pretty early. There was a public library only two blocks from the church, but it just happened to be closed on Fridays. The pastor of the church lived right next door and let us walk over to his house for showers, which was very kind of him.
During the middle of the afternoon, who should show up but Jim, the guy who let us use his trailer on the way into Zion National Park in Utah. Jim lives just outside of Fresno, but missed us there, so he drove over an hour to Coalinga to meet us there. This time he had brought his friend Bob, who owns a grocery store chain. In the back of their pickup were tubs and tubs of Gatorade and fresh California fruit, I mean the mouth-watering kind! I couldn't believe it. I mean, the entire back of the pickup was full of the stuff. So Jim probably spent about $50 on gas to drive out and give us hundreds of dollars’ worth of Gatorade and fruit. What a guy! Since he already had a T-shirt from our last encounter with him, Bob got one too. Lots of the congregation showed up later to give us a fantastic pasta dinner, so we put on a program for them. Jim and Bob were invited.
We noticed that the next two days were both short, and we were eager to get to the coast, so we started entertaining the idea of skipping King City altogether and seeing how far we could go, perhaps even to our next destination in Carmel. We left early and made decisions on the fly during the day. Andrew's friend Devon was joining us on his mountain bike, and he even took lots of footage of the day using a helmet camera. After about 55 miles, I got another flat, which took several tries to patch. I felt bad for holding back the team on a day when we were trying to push on, but they didn't seem to have any problem with it. After about 70 miles, we made the decision to do the extra 50 or so (we thought) to Carmel. Unexpectedly, there was about a five-mile hill that started around mile 90. At one point on the hill, it was enough to make me start to wonder if it was such a great idea to skip King City. At the top of the hill though, I looked back and saw an incredible view of the California countryside that I'd just spent all day biking through. I stayed there for a while, then coasted down quickly.
After a long, fast descent, we mostly had rolling hills the rest of the way. Somewhere as I was coming into town, the mileage caught up with me and I started slowing down. It was about then that Bobby and Krista bombed past me. Holy cow, were they moving! It was like the previous 115 miles had no effect on them.
Just as we got into town, it started getting cold and cloudy after being warm and sunny all day. We weren't supposed to be in town that day, so sleeping arrangements were non-existent. Amazingly enough, Andy was able to drive ahead into town and get three hotel rooms donated, which turned out to be the very last three in town. They were supposed to hold four people, but we crammed six or seven in each. A few of us decided to go down to the beach after we rolled in, but I was unfortunately unable to go, since I was given a hotel key and held responsible for making sure everyone in my room got there.
Getting to Carmel was great because we realized that not only did we voluntarily change a day's ride from 65 to 125 miles, but we'd made it to the West Coast and crossed half the country on a bike. Quite a feeling! I got some good Chinese that night in celebration and slept well on a hotel bed.
Heading to the coast for our first week of California was the best part of the trip to that point. The California coast is coming up in the next update.
from Texas 4,000