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Drive to Mammoth, July 22, 1992 - Photos drive through Yosemite from the SF Bay Area to Mammoth Lakes.
|Bike Ridden:||Bridgestone RB-T|
|Cumulative climbing:||5160 feet|
|Avg. Speed (moving):||12.8 mph|
|Max. Speed:||44.5 mph|
Minaret Vista, July 23, 1992 - On short notice, I was invited to join some friends at their rented condo in Mammoth Lakes, CA for the week of July 18 through July 25. Since there are some good riding roads and since the scenery is magnificent in that part of the Sierras, I decided bring my bike along.
The day is crystal clear and cool as I start riding up Minaret Road and head towards Minaret Summit. I intend to ride over to Devil’s Postpile and then out to June Lake and back. This is my first day at 8000 feet, and being a “near-sea-level-dweller”, I huff and puff as my body tries desperately to digest breakfast and to supply oxygen to my legs. As I climb the steady grade toward the Mammoth Ski area, I notice that most of the passing cars have mountain bikes strapped to their roofs. As I near the Ski Lodge, it is clear that a big event is happening on the Mountain today. Hundreds of cars are parked along the road, and in front of the big lawn between the Mammoth Inn and the Ski Lodge, manufacturer and retailer booths displaying large banners have been erected. Apparently, I have arrived in the midst of the NORBA 1992 World Cup Mountain Bike Race.
I continue on to Minaret Summit. From Mammoth Ski Lodge all the way to Red’s Meadow, Minaret Road is closed to the general public. You must walk, ride a bike, take a shuttle bus, or have a reservation at one of the campgrounds along the way. These restrictions mean that the road is relatively free of motorized traffic. After another short hill, a dip, and then another hill, I reach the ranger’s kiosk at the pass. Just before the kiosk I turn right and head up to Minaret Vista. The views of Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, The Minarets, and the headwaters of the San Joaquin River to the west are magnificent. Minaret Summit lies on the Pacific Crest, so one could argue that this is the southernmost crossing of the Sierra Crest, only Minaret Road doesn’t connect to any other through roads on the west side.
After taking several pictures, I get back on my bike and head down the west side of the ridge. For the upper three miles of the descent the road is narrow and steep, but not too steep. I manage good speed, but I take care not to get careless in the turns. Fortunately, the road descends in two long switchbacks and remains visible far ahead, even while a few points in between are obscured. Since traffic is very light, I use the entire width of the road most of the way down. The air is cool, dry, and smog-free or nearly so. This is fun.
After the corner of the only switchback, the overall grade becomes more gradual and I have to pedal over slight upgrades in places. As I near the turn-off for Devil’s Postpile, I pass the driveways for a couple of campgrounds and Starkweather Lake. An odd name for a place out west, Starkweather Lake sounds like a New England name rather than a Sierra name. Most places in the Sierras are named after miners, prospectors, early settlers, early settlers’ things like “Dirty Sock Springs”, their wives or lovers, or are named after Indians or Indian things.
Finally I turn right and head into the Devil’s Postpile National Monument. The road twists briefly downhill before ending at a picnic area where there is a ranger station and restrooms. After locking my bike to the railing at the ranger station, I take the short, 0.4 mile hike to the Postpile itself.
The Postpile is a volcanic plug thrust up to the surface and cooled to form thousands of hexagonal columns. A sign at the base warns that the monument has become more geologically active in the last 12 years, and that earthquakes can happen any time. Recent earthquakes have caused some of the columns of the monument to peel away and come crashing down. Anyone in the path of a falling column would probably die. Therefore, one should not linger near the base of the monument.
I suspect that the monument is best viewed in the evening, as the morning sun and the accompanying glare make it difficult to view. After a few minutes I walk back to my bike. The picnic tables are more crowded now, and a group of kids have shattered the morning silence playing music on their boom boxes. I look over to glare at them and notice that some are playing Nintendo games, oblivious to the surrounding beauty.
I get back on my bike and climb back up to Minaret Road, turn right, and head to Sotcher Lake. From the road, Sotcher Lake looks like a mosquito bog, but through the trees I can see the larger part of the lake. Because of my ambitious plans, I decide not to stay too long. So, I eat a snack and begin the long return trip up to Minaret Summit.
The air is warmer now, and since I’ve only been at altitude for about 15 hours, I pedal slowly. After about 54 minutes, I reach the ranger hut at the summit. The temperature is 71° F.
“Nice ride, huh?”, says the ranger.
“Yeah. The weather’s great.”, I add.
“Did you ride all the way up from Red’s Meadow?”, he asks.
“No. I just went as far as Sotcher Lake. I’m planning to ride out to June Lake this afternoon.”, I answer.
From here it’s downhill all the way to the turn off for the Mammoth Scenic Loop. I begin coasting downhill toward the Mammoth ski area. When I reach the big lawn in front of the ski lodge, more booths have been set up, and mountain bikers and their friends are lounging around watching people who are also watching people. Loudspeakers blare advertisments and MTV-type music. There doesn’t seem to be an event happening at the moment, but the urgency in the voice over the loudspeaker hints that the excitement is about to begin—a complete contrast to the calm and serenity just a few miles on the other side of Minaret Summit. I decide to eat some of my lunch and watch the activity.
“What race is happening now?”, asks large woman in stretch polyester pants.
“I’m afraid I don’t really know how this event is organized.”, I reply.
“Oh! Well since you have a bike I thought you’d know!”, she says.
Everyone is riding mountain bikes, and I ride a touring bike with skinny slick tires and drop handlebars.
After several minutes of resting, I get back on my bike and start down the hill. More cars have parked along the road; about half of them are small pickup trucks with shells or vans stuffed with all sorts of bicycling paraphernalia. Many picnic from their tailgates. As I pass down the parade route, resting mountain bikers eye me warily. What a sight I must be riding a last-year’s-model touring bike laden with pack and kickstand instead of a fully-suspended composite mountain bike frame with all the latest whiz-bang gizmos and wearing a sloppy oversized sweatshirt instead of a smart fitting peacock-colored jersey emblazoned with the names of manufacturers of the latest and greatest thingamadoodles!
Soon I leave all the commotion and begin the brief gradual downgrade to the Mammoth Scenic Loop turnoff. Three miles later I turn left and pedal up a brief hill at the start of the Mammoth Scenic Loop. The Mammoth Scenic Loop, named so as not to scare off the tourists, isn’t really a loop at all, more like an alternate escape road from the town in case Mammoth Mountain blows its stack. It’s just an alternate route to the Mammoth Ski area connecting Minaret Road to US-395 north of the CA-203 junction. The road begins with a brief uphill and then a long straight downhill followed by another moderately long uphill. Then the road begins a long descent to US-395. As I speed down the final descent, I pass a couple of cyclists riding up looking hot and sweaty. It must be warm.
When I reach the bottom, I feel tired. It doesn’t feel very warm to me, though, so I continue north on US-395. I begin riding up a short hill and then level for a stretch. A headwind blows. After a quick dip, the road begins a long gradual downhill. Near the bottom there is a left turn for a rest area. My water bottles are running low, so I decide to stop.
Now I’m starting to ache all over. I drink alot of water and rest. I’ve found that drinking alot of water helps flush the lactic acid out of my system. I check the thermometer. 89° F! And it feels like 70° F! Something’s wrong. The air must be very dry and I must have lost a lot of fluids.
After resting a few minutes I resume riding north on US-395. Not feeling particularly energetic, I pedal slowly. I think I’ll scratch June Lake and turn around at the approaching summit, aptly named Deadman Summit. The grade is just over a mile long at 6%, but by the time I reach the summit I feel nearly dead. Now I definitely don’t want to head down the other side, and I start to worry about the climb back up the Mammoth Scenic Loop Road.
Managing my most energetic posture, I duly take my picture next to the summit sign and then turn around and head back down toward Mammoth Lakes. Glorious downhill! It feels good not to pedal. Unfortunately, the downhill doesn’t last very long, and soon I find myself pedaling again. Several minutes later I reach the rest area again. This time I rest for about 15 minutes before continuing back to Mammoth Lakes.
As I start riding again, I feel light-headed and slightly dizzy. I’ve been drinking lots of water. I don’t understand why I’m starting to feel sick. The ride back up Mammoth Scenic Loop Road is no fun at all. I spend the entire time watching my altimeter tick off the feet climbed and the odometer tick of the tenths of miles to the end.
Finally I make it back to the condo. I’m thoroughly exhausted, and now I feel chilled. I’m also disappointed. I’ve only ridden just over 50 miles and 5000 feet of climbing! It’s not fair!
After showering I went straight to bed. I learned later that I had probably suffered from a combination of heat exhaustion, salt depletion, and altitude sickness. The six hours immediately following the ride were quite unpleasant with diarrhea, a fever over 101, and a splitting headache. Yes. I guess I had overdone it for my first day at altitude. The dry heat didn’t help either. Since I eat a diet low in salt, I’m going to carry salt tablets with me from now on. I’m also going to look into bringing along electrolyte-replacement energy drinks on long and/or hot, dry rides. A couple weeks earlier I had suffered similar, though less severe, symptoms after riding 112 miles locally on a hot and muggy day.
The next day was an off day. Feeling lazy, I rode the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain and ate lunch up there while I enjoyed the view. In the afternoon I took a leisurely trip with my friends out to Convict Lake (Now there’s a wild-west sort of name!) some 10 miles southeast of Mammoth Lakes. I had originally planned to ride through the Yosemite high country, but I put those plans off for the third day. Unfortunately, this meant that I would not get to ride over Sonora Pass and back on my last day as I had originally planned. I did drive home over Sonora Pass just to get a look at the road and take a record of the mileage and altitude between US-395 and Kennedy Meadows, the interesting section of CA-108. Oh well, there’s something left for another visit.
Mammoth Mountain, July 24, 1992 - After overdoing it the prior day, I took the gondola up to the top of Mammoth Mountain to enjoy the morning view.
Convict Lake, July 24, 1992 - After returning from my trip up Mammoth Mountain, I went with Frank, Mattie, and the Flecks to Convict Lake to enjoy a relaxing picnic by the lake.
Around the Condo, July 1992 - Various photos taken around the condo.
|Bike Ridden:||Bridgestone RB-T|
|Cumulative climbing:||5480 feet|
|Avg. Speed (moving):||13.2 mph|
|Max. Speed:||49.0 mph|
Tioga Road, July 25, 1992 - Not even 60 miles. Well, I had two reasons for not pushing myself on a longer ride today: One, I overextended myself two days earlier, and I didn’t want a repeat performance of the unpleasant symptoms, and two, since CA-120 or Tioga Road through the Yosemite high country is one of the most scenic roads in the Sierras, I wanted to have time to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. It makes little sense to attempt distance/speed records here. I decided to limit my ride to CA-120 from US-395 to Olmsted Point overlooking Tenaya Lake, Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome as this is the most interesting section.
After sleeping in after the extended happy hour the night before, I finally pull out of the parking lot in front of the condo. I drive from Mammoth Lakes up to Lee Vining before starting the ride. Unfortunately, this means I won’t have much time to warm up as CA-120 begins climbing right from US-395, and then has only a short semi-level stretch before beginning the long upgrade in earnest.
When I arrive at CA-120, the air is already warm. I’m carrying three water bottles today, and I’ve promised myself that I’ll keep drinking water even if I don’t always feel thirsty. After checking over my bike, I ride a tenth of a mile down to the intersection of the two highways before resetting my meter.
The first mile of climbing is hot and windless, but before long the road levels off. On the left there’s a spigot for drinking water. I stop and top off my water bottles. A tenth of a mile later is the Inyo National Forest Ranger Station at Lee Vining. This is the last opportunity for water until I reach the campgrounds near Tioga Pass.
As I continue up from the ranger station, the road rises very gradually for the next mile or so. But suddenly, after passing through a gate, the road begins the long upgrade to Ellery Lake. To the left down the slope is the pretty Lee Vining Creek and meadow. To the right up a long gravel slope is Lee Vining Peak. Ahead I can see some higher peaks: on the left two peaks at the end of the Dana Plateau, and on the right Lee Vining Peak. Mt. Dana is still hidden from view. I stop several times along the way to take some pictures.
The road is smooth and in good condition, and the shoulder is usually wide enough to comfortably accommodate a bicycle. While traffic is somewhat heavy, it is no worse than CA-9 here in the local Santa Cruz Mountains. On the way, the road passes through a large scree slope that looks like it slides constantly. As I ride by I can hear rocks and pebbles falling and sliding.
After about an hour and a half of nearly constant grade, I reach Ellery Lake.
The sign reads an elevation of 9538 feet, so my Avocet 50 is reading low, as usual.
From Ellery Lake to Tioga Pass, the road ascends very gradually. The mountains rising on either side are magnificent: Gaylor Peak and Mt. Conness on the right and Mt. Dana on the left. Traffic seems to be getting heavier as I approach the entrance station. A van full of teenagers passes by; one of them is pumping the bulb of a toy horn.
At the entrance station, about 40 cars wait to enter the park. I pass carefully on the right. As I wave my entrance fee receipt, the ranger waves me through. I’ve made it! Nearly 3000 feet of climbing! (Actually a little more than 3000 feet, but the Avocet isn’t giving me full credit. Tioga Pass lies at 9945 feet.) I rest for a few minutes and enjoy the scenery before continuing on to Tuolumne Meadows.
Unfortunately, CA-120 through Yosemite National Park is very narrow with a 6-inch to non-existent shoulder, and is heavily traveled by cars, trucks, vans, and—worst of all—Winnebago campers. With the clear, warm weather in the Sierras we’ve had for the last week, everyone is crowding into the park.
The road from Tioga Pass down to Tuolumne Meadows is a nearly constant gradual downhill. The road is narrow and traffic is heavy, but I manage to maintain enough speed to keep most of the cars from passing. Before long the great hulk of Lembert Dome comes into view, and after crossing the Tuolumne River, I pull into the parking lot of the store and grill.
Backpackers mill about and car tourists crowd the parking lot searching in vain for an empty parking spot. It would be nice to have a dedicated bicycle path through Yosemite somewhere away from the road that only bicycles are allowed to use.
After refilling my water bottles I continue along the Meadows. At the west end, I stop at the turnout and eat lunch. This turnout is where east-bound visitors first glimpse Tuolumne Meadows, an alpine meadow nearly two miles long and one mile across surrounded by mountains and peaks 2000 to 3000 feet higher.
After eating I continue west on CA-120. The road rises briefly and then begins a long descent before rising again. At the top of the second rise, I stop. An older man and his wife are just getting out of their car.
“How far’r you going today?”, the man asks.
“Just down to Olmsted Point. This is the best part of Tioga Road. I came up from Lee Vining this morning.”, I answer.
“Good luck.”, he says.
I get back on my bike and start down the final hill toward Tenaya Lake. Soon the road opens up allowing an impressive view of Pywiak Dome on the left, Tenaya Lake ahead, and Polly Dome on the right. When I reach the lake I continue along the shore and then climb the short grade cut into the granite on the way to Olmsted Point.
At Olmsted Point I take a couple of pictures. Several people are milling about enjoying the view. After watching me strap the camera to the horn of my bike seat and take a self-portrait, an elderly couple approach me and ask me to take their picture.
“Do you mind?”, the man asks as he hands me his well-worn auto-focus camera.
“Not at all. Let’s see, why don’t you two stand over there.”, I say pointing.
“That way I can get you both in between Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome.”, I reply.
“Do you ride any marathons?”, the man asks.
“No. I like to ride for fun and to enjoy the scenery. I’m only riding about 60 miles today—not really marathon distance.”, I reply.
“That sounds far enough for me!”, the man exclaims.
With that we exchange good-byes and I start back on Tioga Road toward Tenaya Lake. I stop several times on the way back to take pictures at the Lake and to take pictures of rock climbers on Pywiak Dome. The two long hills on the way back to Tuolumne Meadows are not as difficult as I had expected judging from the speed of my earlier descent. Before long I reach the Meadows, and as before I stop at the store to refill my water bottles and use the facilities.
The rock formations are more impressive in the afternoon sun than they had been earlier in the day. I stop to take a picture on the bridge in front of Lembert Dome. If I had had an extra two hours or so, I would have locked the bike and hiked up to the top. The view from the top is worth the short hike. I could see some hikers on the top. It looked as if they were trying to find a shortcut down the steep slab side of the dome. Many years ago, I foolishly tried to walk up the south side of the Dome to find that the slab became steeper and steeper, and was finally too steep for comfort. Fortunately, I managed to retreat by sitting and slowly inching my way down.
Unlike the climb from Tenaya Lake, the climb from Tuolumne Meadows to Tioga Pass is more difficult than I expect. The grade is shallow, but the hill seems interminable, and the Winnebagos seem more frequent and impatient. Too bad I didn’t ride this road during the week! Maybe I’m still tired from two days ago, but I stop several times to take pictures of Mt. Dana, Mt. Gibbs, and Mammoth Peak to break the monotony. On my way up the long hill, I notice a couple of men chopping a long-dead and fallen tree. I seem to remember reading somewhere that one isn’t supposed to collect down wood in this area.
A little more than an hour later, I reach Tioga Pass again. After stretching my muscles and after putting on my new leg warmers and checking over my bike, I begin the long descent down the east side.
After an initial downhill, the road levels off until it gets past Ellery Lake. Now the fun part begins. This reminds me of the east side of Carson Pass, only it’s about four or five times longer. My speed gets up to the mid-40’s and then stays there. A large camper appears ahead moving very slowly down the hill. I can see that there is no oncoming traffic, so I pass. Fortunately, I do not come upon any more traffic until just before the bottom of the grade. I reach my maximum speed while negotiating an inside corner. It’s quite thrilling to manage a corner at 49 mph. Even on a relatively shallow turn, the bike leans quite a bit. I might have broken my previous speed record on Spooner Summit if I had had a favorable wind. Winds were blowing up the east side and up the west side of Tioga Pass, so I had headwinds on all of the downhills.
I continue straight to the car parked at US-395. What took me about two hours to climb required only 23 minutes to descend, but it was fun. When I reach the car, the air is hot and dry, much warmer than at the pass. The thermometer reads 85° F.
Well I made it this time, and while I’m still a bit more tired than I would be normally after a 60-mile ride, I don’t feel at all sick as I was two days earlier. Since I missed seeing June Lake on Thursday, I drive the June Lake Loop on my way back to Mammoth Lakes.
Sonora Pass, July 26, 1992 - I drove home from Mammoth Lakes over Sonora Pass. These are photos from that drive.
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