|07-01-2010, 07:22 PM||#1|
Joined: Jun 2008
Out and back: Oakland CA to Zion, UT (Long)
Day 1 - 06/24 - Oakland CA to Fallon, NV
277 miles: Highway 4, Highway 88, Highway 50. Kirkwood, Minden, Carson City, Fallon.
Very late start, but at least I did the dishes first. Knowingly left without matches, but thought they might be easy to find on the way. Took a while to get all the gear squared away on the bike, but in the end the whole camping set fit into the side cases, the personal bits and bobs in a tank bag and only the tripod strapped across the rear seat. I wonder how much of it besides the bike, riding the gear and clothes I started in will actually get used. Riding a couple of hundred miles in mesh gear is great for keeping the clothes underneath well aired, even at 85F.
I had a bit of trouble with early route planning. On the one hand I wanted to quickly get to new scenery, but on the other I didn't want to spend the first few hours just cruising on a boring roll on I-80. Having ridden over to Yosemite before on 120 that seemed like a better choice for the way back, too. So Highway 4 across the Central Valley to get up to the Sierra foothills, then onto Highway 88 up to Kirkwood. Layers are handy when you go from sea level up past 7,000ft on some of the passes. There was plenty of grimy snow around on either side of the trees, and not just in shaded areas. I was sure the temperature was well above freezing, but couldn't help but be a bit paranoid about ice wherever water was running across the road.
Passing Kirkwood meant the trip was finally underway. Rolling on 88 East, late afternoon sun, snowy mountains and lakes were just right. I was a bit tired, though, and turning North to Lake Tahoe was tempting -- plenty of cheap hotels and food to be had there. Instead I headed down to Minden. The basin to the east of Tahoe was mottled light and shadow of rainstorms sliced up by late afternoon sun. That wonderful view put me in mind that I hadn't bothered to bring waterproof gloves, or any cover for the perforated leather gloves on my hands. Ho hum. As it turned out I didn't get more than a sprinkling from the the edge of passing showers. Some childhood ignorance about the weather one should expect in a desert should have had me soaked.
Minden had hotels, but now I'd decided I wasn't that tired yet. Keeping going meant more great scenery, but the reviews I'd read of cheap hotels in Carson City weren't impressive and since I didn't feel like camping the first evening, that meant going beyond Minden probably meant going all the way on to Fallon.
Carson City was where I picked up 50 East, the gateway to the 'Loneliest Road in America'. The scenery rapidly settled into the theme for the next several hundred miles: broad desert basins with scrub vegetation crossed by arrow-straight sections of Highway 50, with ranges of hills in between. A visor swap to accommodate the fading light, some gas and on to Fallon.
Arriving in Fallon I was expecting something a bit bigger, but it had plenty of hotels to choose from. After a loop up and down the strip I pitched up at America's Best Value Inn. Good price and clean rooms, which included a fridge and coffee maker which both went unused. The innkeeper was friendly and recognized the accent. He was Indian but had relatives in Leicester. In the car park a bloke struck up a conversation with me about my bike, where I was coming from and heading and so on. He wasn't riding but had a KTM 990 in the garage back home. After chatting for a while I suggested we continue talking over a beer. Me having dumped the important stuff from the bike to hotel we repaired to bar across the street, but not before receiving advice passing reception that the only smart option was to go play cheap slots and let the casino feed you free drink. And that if if you wanted to 'bang a girl', that was probably the right starting point, too.
My newfound motorcyclist buddy was in the town checking the rear control surfaces on Navy F/18s at Fallon NAS, just down the road. Turns out some of the composite manufacturing wasn't quite up to snuff, but rather than scrap the batch of surfaces and hold up getting the aircraft into surface they decided they'd just need to inspect them often. The rest of the evening we spent talking about the benefits and drawbacks of various bikes -- including, of course, that his old man had a little-used Hayabusa that he was looking to acquire. I wouldn't want to sit on one for too many hours, but you could give one its legs on the almost cop-free, empty desert roads. I turned in by 11 after drinking a few more beers than intended.
Day 2 - 06/25 - Fallon, NV to Ely, NV
257 miles: Whatsisname Station, Austin, Eureka, Ely.
I woke up feeling better than I was expecting. The hotel's provided breakfast had better options than I expected, so I got going with juice, couple of mini croissants and some toast. Having failed so far I was trying to start taking the advice I'd read on the Iron Butt website: eat healthy, not too much, avoid caffeine and things like. Quick stop to pick up some Gatorade and off. No need for gas -- surely -- since I'd only got about 25 miles on the tank and it was less than 200 miles to Eureka. At Middletown Station I stopped and took a couple of pictures of the most desolate motel I'd ever seen, a half dozen or so rooms built near a bar in a middle of nowhere. It looked quite fun actually, and if it was further along I'd have stayed there.
Next up was sand mountain, the most traditionally desert looking lump in the whole place, but incongruous. I didn't head over to it because I wanted to get some miles done, but I could see dirt bikes and ATVs roaring about on the slopes. That did look like fun.
Next was Austin, a small town on a hillside heading up to a pass. It seemed too early to stop for lunch so I decided to press on toward Eureka. The road above Austin over the pass was steeper and much twistier than pretty much the whole rest of the route. I got stuck behind a truck pulling a roll of what looked like roofing tar, keeping things slow. I should have been annoyed but having ridden so much straight road I wasn't actually in the mood to push the corners, so it didn't matter much.
About forty miles short of Eureka the gas gauge began to flicker the first of its two warning stages. This wasn't right at all -- the tank should be good for about 230 before that happened and I'd barely broken 200. Time to back off the gas and see how long I could go. About 15 miles before Eureka the no, really flashing started. I cruised to Eureka at about 50 mph, desperately hoping to avoid the ignominy of pushing the bike or hitching into town to get gas. 240 miles total on the tank. Not sure if it's because I put in 85 not noticing that Nevada 'regular' wasn't 87, that the whole time I was above 6,000ft, or that those long straight sections encourage covering ground... promptly.
Gas gotten, it was time for lunch. And what better to have for lunch in Eureka, Nevada than Chinese? It was cheap, there was plenty of it and it was really very tasty beef and broccoli.
On to Ely, and dinner (buffalo salad followed by coconut banana cake).
Day 3 - 06/26 - Ely NV to Hurricane, UT
250 miles: Pioche on 93, Beryl Junction, St. George, Hurricane and Zion
Not such an early start, and a long drive ahead. Southbound from Ely on Highway 93, which threw me off with an early dogleg. With so few towns and junctions to navigate coming across Nevada I'd stopped bothering with the GPS, just using the iPhone for music from time to time. The sudden swing to the northwest had me thinking I'd fluffed it, before Highway 6 continued off into the mountains and Great Basin NP while 93 forked south. Just after the junction a sign advised 'Next Gas 80 Miles'. Plenty in the tank this time.
At the other end of the 80 miles was a little town called Pioche. The run down seemed even more remote than crossing Highway 50 the previous day. There were mountains bracketing the road to the east and west, but this time none ahead and the road disappeared into haze. After many miles a low range crept over the horizon. Somewhere around there must be Pioche. Eventually those low hills came into view, with a small town on the shoulder of the first. A sign indicated a split for the main highway -- which all trucks should use -- and the business route. There's a sign like that on 50 coming east into Sacramento. I wasn't sure how much business it was advertising here.
Not wanting to repeat my experience running on fumes in Eureka I stopped at small gas station near the edge of town. A group of guys were troubleshooting lighting issues on some guy's trailer. He'd had it in storage all winter, though I never did quite understand how that had caused the wiring on the signal lights to get screwed up. Pumping gas was standard pay at pump, so that part was over quickly. It seemed like a good time for another bottle of Powerade after the run through the valley, so I stopped in the shop. This was the coolest gas station shop I can remember. The counter was a sort of advisory area in the corner, with a till straight out of the saloon in a spaghetti western, and the bulk of the shop behind it. The garage had a small mechanical shop with a lift, and mixed in with the sort of mechanical staples that go with that were the usual gas station candy, sodas and beer. And some bait. I couldn't see where the hell anyone could fish nearby. The walls were layered with old posters and newer flyers for local events. In a local raffle you could win a Blu-Ray player. I had a few minutes to take all this in as I stood awkwardly at the counter with the enticingly cold bottle I'd retrieved from the cooler. I was at a loss for whether any of the guys working the trailer issue actually worked the shop, but if they did the trailer was definitely getting done first. It was nice because, after all, I wasn't even sure where I was going and wasn't in a big rush to get there. Took me a moment to figure that out. Eventually a couple of the guys wandered in, said hi and rang me up. Took about five seconds to down the contents of the bottle and I was on my way.
Almost next door to the gas station was a small museum dating back to the 1800s, and a now-closed hotel with a sign noting, if I read right, that Herbert Hoover had once stayed there. Just around the corner was the short main strip. A handful of stores, couple of restaurants and a bar/inn announcing, among other things, that bikers were welcome. I wondered if they meant me. I didn't think I was likely what they had in mind. Climbing up out of town the road passed the remains of an old bucket pulley system used in a local mine. It was intended for cargo but miners used to ride the buckets, too. That looked like fun.
One thing I'd hoped and failed to find at the gas station was a handy map. Lacking one I suffered another moment of navigation confusion just out of town. A few miles down was a Nevada state tourist information center. Time to clear up this getting lost bullshit without resorting to the GPS again. Inside were two helpful staff and only me as a customer. I asked about the best route to Zion and got good advice. The more direct looking route had also looked like the more scenic to me, and I was assured it wasn't. The best option was to turn at Beryl Junction and head down to St. George, and up to Zion from there. I turned on the GPS maps anyway.
Southern Nevada and western Utah were proving hotter. Eighties and nineties gave way to over a hundred, and I wished I'd finally broken out the cooling vest.
The landscape was changing as I neared Utah. I'd seen a few red rocks appearing around Pioche, and now the landscape was transitioning quickly. The familiar pale sand and dark scrub of Nevada gave way to bright stratified sandstone. Descending to St. George the road swept passed a local canyon on the right, bigger and more dramatic than any I'd seen before.
St. George was the biggest town I'd seen since Carson City. Shortly I was in stop-and-go traffic in the 100 degree heat. I shuffled along in increasing discomfort, taking the turn toward Zion and passing several hotels. Growing tired of the heat and not being quite sure what my plan was I stopped at an oddly empty Burger King. I tried to keep it small, a little disgusted with myself for having gone for fast food. But blessed air conditioning. And when I sat down, the first 3G signal I'd seen for a while. Now I could sort out what I was actually going to do next. St. George obviously catered to tourists and travelers between bigger cities north and south and had plenty of hotels. I could just stop here and head up to Zion tomorrow.
A bit of Googling, some typical food and some more air conditioning later I felt refreshed, and had discovered from Google that there were other options closer to the park. Time to keep going. The outskirts of St. George thinned out quickly, and next up was Hurricane. More hotels, a bit closer. But still only mid afternoon, so I kept on toward Springdale and the park boundary. A mild climb out of Hurricane and 17 more miles to Springdale, a small town tailored to the Zion visitor. Saturday evening in June and lots of No Vacancy signs. The far end of the town was right against the park boundary. The ranger at the booth asked if I was heading through, and when I said I was staying finished up printing my receipt and advised me to immediately head back down to sort out somewhere to stay since they expected Springdale to fill up.
The hotels in Springdale were priced for a tourist town. I stopped at one modest looking one and was quote $79 per night (plus tax) with the same rate both Saturday and Sunday. The 17 miles between Springdale and Hurricane was a nice ride, a few curves almost approaching twisties and great scenery. I rode it in the other direction and found a cheaper hotel in Hurricane.
Day 4 - 06/27 - Zion Canyon
05:45 Shuttle. Observation Point; Riverside trail at the end of the canyon; giant late breakfast; Emerald Pools; the amazing $40 tacos
I'd seen a schedule for the shuttle when picking up my park ticket the previous evening. First bus was at 5:35 from the visitor center just inside the park entrance, in time to see sunrise over the canyon. After not much sleep I got up about 4:30, had a quick cup of hotel room coffee and hopped on the Suzuki, having put my gear together the night before. Climbing up out of Hurricane and heading over toward Springdale was beautiful under a full moon. The air was cool, sometimes chilly and I had the road almost completely to myself. A little cone of high-beams over a great empty landscape lit by pale moonlight, with dawn creeping in above the canyon walls to the east.
Arriving early meant a good parking spot at the visitor center, and I packed my gear into the topcase and E21s, swapping my Sidi Canyons for some Salomon trail runners for a day of hiking. The light was coming in quickly and by the time the shuttle reached the stop for the Observation Point trailhead there was plenty of light for hiking. I decided that the head torch I'd brought was just good hiking practice. In case I got stuck on the frequently-trafficked trail for the next 14 hours or so. And then needed to read a book or something.
The hike to Observation Point was great. The signs warning those with a fear of heights were sensible, but the trail wasn't technical. Arriving alone at the top soon after sunrise made me feel like I had the whole canyon to myself. The sun was up but it was still cool and breezy.
Back in the Canyon I hopped back on the bus for the short run to the end of the road, and a short flat hike up to the head of the canyon where the width dwindled to the river itself. The upstream river is considered a hiking route, with boots advised. I'd seen people on the bus wearing these elaborate strapped neoprene boots that looked designed for that task, and I guessed were rented locally since I'd never before seen the like. Carrying a stick was also advised for negotiating sections of deep pools. And plenty of posters offered a short checklist of how to anticipate an approaching flash flood. That looked like a good adventure for a return trip.
By now it was mid morning and I was getting peckish, so I caught the bus back down to the visitors' center, checked my ticket was good for pedestrian re-entry to the park and transferred to the Springdale shuttle. The driver recognized me from her first shuttle that morning and was happy to give advice on where I might get breakfast, but wasn't allowed to recommend anywhere. I picked somewhere random and ordered a Pioneer Skillet. That was a serious breakfast, with a couple of eggs flanked by two strips of bacon sat on top of a couple of inches of vegetables, ham and cheese, and all with toast. I decided to walk back up to the visitors' center after that for fear of otherwise expiring in a snoring heap under a tree.
In the afternoon I took the shuttle along to Zion Lodge and hiked up to Emerald Pools, which turned out to be good spots to soak my hat for (and on) the hike back down. By then I was feeling proper knackered and headed back down to Hurricane.
The hotel had a washer and dryer for guests to (pay to) use. I'd only brought two sets of hiking and riding gear, and by now it was ripe enough that it seemed a good time to put it through the wash. And also a good time to feed myself.
I looked around a little and decided I still wanted to do better than leper's facecloth pizza, and fancied something different from the IHOP-style place I'd rolled into the night before. A place called Durango's looked alright, so I wandered in and saw a much larger menu than I expected. The staff were laid back but almost solicitous about the food; they really, really wanted you to know they could cook. Turned out they could. I followed the youth waiter's suggestion of ahi tuna tacos with walnuts, veggies and peppers in kind of honey sauce. Those were very tasty. So I followed his second advice and had carrot cake and strawberry ice cream to follow. Alongside all of this I had a glass of strawberry lemonade. All very good, though I ought to have guessed it wasn't going to be cheap when the cook had brought over the piece of ahi before preparing it to show me how splendid it was. The bill came to $38 and change, for three tacos, a piece of carrot cake (a la mode, of course) and a glass of lemonade. Still, they were cool about me not having enough cash to pay since they hadn't mentioned it was cash only, and cheerfully let me run down the street to the ATM. The food was good, but I thought maybe there was supposed to be a lap dance included there that I'd missed.
Day 5 - 06/28 - Through Vegas to the Hoover Dam, and north to Mammoth Lakes
511 miles: South on I-15 to Vegas, 93 South to the Dam, 95N to 266W, 395N
The Givi E21s are great everyday side cases, but they aren't huge. Carrying camping gear, tripod, camera, netbook and sundries for a trip of indefinite duration means some stuff gets strapped to the seat, and the cases tend to need encouragement to close. I'd thought about getting larger ones for road tripping, but being out of work isn't the time to spring for different luggage load outs for every occasion. Everything had come out to make room to stash gear on the bike when heading up to the canyon. The first twenty waking minutes were spent trying to improve on my previous packing strategy. It had the same mix of repeated early optimism followed by failure that I get playing with children's puzzles. Oh well.
My wavering on whether to head further east or start back west had ended with me deciding on a trip to the Hoover Dam. I'd been swapping emails about a postponed meeting and amongst discussing my location someone recommended a tour of the dam at Page if I went further east. That sounded cool, so heading west the Hoover seemed like a good bet. I got a fairly early start and hit St. George in time to drop into a powersports shop I'd seen beside the freeway and pick up an ideally small can of chain lube. Not far from there was a large outcrop of Barnes & Noble, so I stopped in to get a book I'd head about the other day to read in slow evening moments. They didn't have it, so on I went.
Interstate 15 is surprisingly picturesque. Soon after leaving St. George it crosses into Arizona as it snakes and pitches among canyons and over low passes. A little further and it descends into Nevada, and the scenery quickly reverts to huge bowls of scrub desert corralled by mountains, staying that way to Las Vegas and beyond. I was glad I'd dunked the Marsee cooling vest this morning before setting out. It made a big difference in the 100F+ heat. At that temperature the breeze alone isn't enough to stay comfortable, doing more to keep the makers of sports drinks in business.
An hour or so of riding in Nevada brought me to within sight of Vegas. It looks surprisingly silly from a distance in the daytime. A couple of patches of mine's-bigger-than-yours toys at either end of the strip and a broad, mostly low rise city spread out around it. No sense of bling from twenty miles across the desert. Passing through I hit my first city traffic since leaving the Bay Area, and it was no fun. As I was broiling nicely from stop light to stop light the iPhone decide that it, too, didn't like the heat, flashed its temperature warning and promptly shut off. This became a theme for the day, on the only day so far I'd really wanted GPS. No fifty straight miles to a lone junction here. I was reduced to several wrong turns and a couple of sessions hiding in the shadow of signs in parking lots to look something up after the phone had cooled a little. Eventually I was back on may way out toward Boulder City and the dam.
The last few miles to the dam were a crawl on two lane blacktop in bumper traffic, with an ironic addition of construction traffic working on building a large four lane bypass alongside. There was also a token scratch and sniff security checkpoint at which all traffic had to halt, some to be searched. I wondered some then and more after a tour just what you'd need to be packing to do much damage to the dam if you set it off on top. I figured something measured in kilotons would be wasted on anything besides the media, and could be used to more effect on the Vegas strip. That way a generation of crazies of every stripe could discuss what cosmic significance could be attached to a large terrorist incident in Sin City.
The Hoover dam is impressive. It may not be the Three Gorges but it's big, holds back a lot of water, generates a lot of power, and to a geek is just pretty fucking cool. I sprang for the full tour, the next slot of which wasn't for another hour or so, so I time for a look around and lunch. The tour started by descending down to the base of the dam into one of the bypass tubes, of which there are four, two on either side of the dam. One on each side feeds into a generator plant, the other is for overflow releases. The first viewing gallery on the tour sits above the fifty-foot wide pipe running through the tube, carrying nearly 90,000 gallons per second into its respective generator bank. The second viewpoint is in the generator hall, which is equally impressive. Adjacent is the base of the dam itself, over 600ft thick. Oddly, much of the place seemed to have been built with visitors in mind, marbled with inset designs and all. After various tunnels and brief stops inside the dam itself the final stop was looking out of one of the overlook panels on the dam face. Worth doing.
Waiting for the tour meant it was mid afternoon by the time I got going. I wasn't too sure of where I wanted to or would end up, so I decided on Beatty as a waypoint and got going. The traffic back toward Vegas was much faster than the approach to the dam, and thankfully the commute traffic wasn't too heavy. Strong low-angle sunlight made the GPS screen almost impossible to see, but that mattered only briefly as it soon popped up the familiar temperature warning and went back to bed. The road seemed to be looping through Vegas in roughly the right direction, and finally I saw signposts to Reno and figured there had to only be one road on this side of the city heading that way, and it must have Beatty on it. A few miles later the suburbs began to thin out, a mileage sign included a distance to Beatty of less than 90 miles and I was back on a straight desert road. By now 90 miles seemed like a quick hop.
Beatty had a couple of motels, but it was early and I thought I could make it over to California and the eastern Sierras. I decided on Big Pine. The turnoff for highway 266 was 50 miles or so north, with what looked like somewhere near another 100 miles west over the intervening mountains to get to Big Pine. I'd gone about 100 miles since getting gas, and the trip over into California added on plenty enough miles to make me wonder about range, so I refilled and continued on. The option to instead cross Death Valley to Lone Pine went on the list for a future trip.
The turnoff to 266 was at a closed and rapidly fading restaurant once called the Lida intersection. Lida is a ghost town about 20 miles west along 266 from the turnoff. A sign advised that a pass on the California side was closed due to snow. The sign had a flip down section to indicate road closure (or not). I'd heard it was plenty hot over in California too and decided that nobody cared enough about the sign to latch that flap back up to indicate the road was open. This idea was appealingly talismanic because the alternative was riding 60 or so miles to find the road closed, ride 60 miles back and then go another 100+ miles by another route, which would have been pants.
The road wasn't closed. A long, bumpy section led to base of the first set of hills, with the handful of structures making up Lida tucked not far up the slopes. Through and beyond Lida I saw the first set of real twisties for days. Not great sight lines but some good on-camber curves. Later on in the fading light I passed one rider heading in the other direction, gave him the wave. Now both he and I knew our route ahead was passable. The curving roads were mostly welcome, except at the altitudes I guessed snow was common in winter. Here there was loose gravel shuffled into berms an inch or so thick, typically right in the preferred line through a corner between where car tires would be. All of a sudden this was tiring, with every corner asking for a line closer to the double yellow or the verge than seemed natural. And it was slow.
Eventually I passed into a basin housing Deep Springs. Approaching sunset this looked like a lost world, with steep red walls around a green valley, a large patch of what looked like salt deposit in one corner. It was smaller but seemed much more alive than the desert valleys across Nevada. One more pass beyond the road finally descended into Big Pine. I paused, swapped to the clear helmet visor and took a few pictures of the sunset.
Big Pine didn't have anywhere that looked likely, as I'd suspected. I'd already told the now-cooled GPS to guide me to Bishop, so I turned north and headed on. This was going to be a 500-mile plus day, so I decided I'd prefer another motel to camping. Arriving in Bishop there were plenty of options, and figuring it likely as cheap as anywhere I turned into a Motel 6. I asked about the rate and bored clerk quoted $65 plus tax and before waiting for a response walked to his keyboard and asked me if I wanted smoking or non. Having come this far I decided I'd prefer some fuck you to paying him $65 plus tax. I went out front and looked around a little on the phone. The Super 8 was expensive, too, so I called the Vagabond Inn across the street: $79 plus tax there. The plugs went back in and I hopped back on, sore arse and visor covered in bug guts. Another forty miles or so and I pitched up in Mammoth Lakes. The Motel 6 quoted me $59.99 plus tax. That felt like a minor victory and I was in bed about ten minutes later.
Day 6 - 06/29 - Mammoth Lakes
I was sure I was tired, but apparently not enough to sleep in. I woke just after six and went to Schat's bakery for coffee and a chocolate croissant that looked like it could go toe to toe with McDonald's worst for doctor fright. After coffee I wandered down to check out a campground I'd found while browsing around. It seemed like a good bet so I went back to the hotel to pack up.
It was actually a couple of hours later that I strapped the tripod back to the bike to head down to the campground. An attempt at a follow up doze seemed in order, and was partially succesful. The campground had plenty of open sites, and the instructions by the entrance said to pick one and the camp host would eventually be around to relieve you of $20 per night. I inspected a couple and ruled the first out for a particularly enthusiastic ant population. I took the one opposite and within 15 minutes had my tent pitched, pad and bag in it and other camping bits unpacked from the bike. The camp host showed up and told me this was a reserved spot.
Well, not actually reserved, but reserveable. She was supposed to get a sheet by email from the company (what, the CIA?) by 7 a.m. showing the reservations for the upcoming day. Yesterday she hadn't received that until midday and it had been all wrong. So, see I might have to move. But she didn't know. She hadn't seen me come in, which was odd given that she'd looked up from her raking duty at me from about 10 feet away as I rolled by at walking pace. There was a list, see, of sites which could be reserved and those which were walk-in. If I'd only picked that one over there it'd be fine. The notion that sites which might be reserved should perhaps have a sign saying to check explicitly -- or just not pitch in them -- seemed alien. See, if they sent the list through, which might be wrong, and someone showed up later then I might have to move. I picked up my tent with thermarest, bag, and tripod in it and moved it to that one over there. And paid my $20.
Mammoth is active year round, with mountain biking and hiking in the summer. I was surprised that in the last week of June they still had some terrain open for skiing. Neither my skis nor my mountain bike had made it into my camping gear, and rentals were expensive. A better deal was the combination gondola and lunch ticket to go up the mountain and have lunch. It turned out certainly be a better deal than just paying full price at the top, where the cafe was predictably expensive. The summit mountain interpretive center was one room, albeit nicely done. After finishing my sandwich I went outside and snapped a few pictures, then enquired of the mountain safety guys where the hiking route down was. They were very helpful, pointed out the line but figured it was likely too heavy with snow to negotiate easily. One of them called the Forest Service while the other was pointing out where the trail should be. It was considered closed, so I took the gondola back down and caught the shuttle down to the trailhead for Devil's Postpile.
The Devil's Postpile is a formation of 'columnar basalt' -- tessellated hexagonal columns that our ancestors decided couldn't have occurred without some nefarious supernatural intervention. It's a nice easy hike in, not worth a special trip. Further down the trail is Rainbow Falls, named because the constant clouds of spray catch the sun to give a double rainbow effect. The falls were fairly thundering with snowmelt. If you're on this trail, don't turn around at the Postpile without continuing down to the falls.
Day 7 - 07/30 - Through Yosemite and Home
251 miles: 395 to 120E, across to 205E and 580E
I had planned on taking some long exposure night shots, but found I was tired and turned in early for a poor night's sleep. Several times I woke up in the night to find the campsite quiet. The all you could stand and more country medley coming from the F450 at the next site up the slope was gone, and there was no party of drunken kids murdering tall tales over the last of the firewood. Good night to be asleep, in fact.
Next morning was fine and I started slowly, punctuating breaking camp with some calls and text messages about the job I'd just been laid off from and possible future options. The updates were mixed, and left me keen to get on the bike and get moving to get my head straight. After the hiking in Zion followed by a hot 500-mile day my legs ached, too. It was about time to be home. Packing seemed to go well with the innovation that knife, the tent's sole folding pole and a couple of other things could be tucked in the tripod bag. I was pleased with myself until I found my hiking shoes laughing at me from the seat when I was almost done. They were silenced by tucking under a couple of bungy cords and I started out.
The first few miles went quickly. I passed a pair of riders, one of whom was in what looked like a Victory Vision. It was vast, like a Goldwing sent back from the future. Room for small aircraft, dingies and torpedo tubes in that thing. I was soon up to Mono Lake and turned onto 120 to head up into the Tioga Pass and Yosemite. The Tioga pass is a brisk climb up through 9,000ft from deserts to green mountain pasture dotted with lakes. I pulled off when I came up to the fee station marking the entrance to Yosemite. Although the sun was warm the air temperature was much lower up here, and needed a Windstopper fleece under my mesh jacket to stay comfortable. And grip heaters never get old when things get suddenly chilly.
For the next thirty miles or so there were a mixture of roadworks and slow traffic. The scenery is good but the road wasn't too wide, and the surface varied. No place to let your attention drift, so I settled for snatching glances around whilst trundling in a column of cars. In turnouts near the more notable outcrops climbers were perched around the backs of cars racking gear and discussing beta. Made me wish I'd brought my harness and stickies; there's great climbing in Toulumne just a few minutes from the car.
In the end I arrived at the fork heading down to the Valley and began to make better time as most of the cars ahead turned off. A few minutes later I passed through the booths at the east entrance and started descending to the Central Valley. A stop for gas in Groveland, a second gear idling shortcut down the Old Priest Grade and after not long at all I was turning in Oakdale.
A blustery wind was blowing on the east side of the Altamont pass as I came out of Tracy. Probably why all those wind turbines are up there. Sideways gusts are a tiring formula on the Wee Strom, and I was glad to get down into Livermore. Being among cars on a big multilane freeway was jarring after riding out in the boonies for a week, but at least it was mid afternoon and before the commute buildup. The final leg on 580W (actually heading nearly North) up to Oakland was familiar from hundreds of evening runs back from my last place of work. Twenty more minutes and I was pulling into the garage, 12-point turning the bike to launch position, shutting down and peeling off gear. I left the camping gear on the bike for the time being as it cooled, ticking away. Let the wife know I was home, and I was just waking up from a doze when she arrived back from work bearing beer. Great end to a great trip.
spaceharrier screwed with this post 07-03-2010 at 06:54 PM
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