More than we signed up for, but we are grateful for the extra fat helping of cycling goodness heaped on our plates. The morning dawns grey and windy still, the mountains socked in. Great, another battle royale with the elements. What's that line about the honey badger? Jeez. However, we get lucky. Once we get into the narrow folds of the mountains, we seem to hide from the wind, and our big climb to the pass goes smoothly. No rain falls.
On the back side of the pass, we drop westward for miles, out into patchy sun and fantastic views:
In Alturas, after securing a set of three tubes of the proper size for the trailers at the True Value Hardware store (the only place with any bike gear on the whole tour except Susanville), we hit Starbucks, groceries for me, and turn south again. Light traffic and wide open vistas along Hwy 395. The shoulder isn't bad. At the tiny "town" of Likely (good store, no produce), I talk to Jodi on the cell. It was our plan to head east for a few miles to camp beside the Pitt River in the National Forest, but Jodi informs me a serious storm is coming in, and if we take the additional day and a half I'm planning on to finish the tour, we'll be stuck in the middle of the storm--high winds, low snow level, flat out tough conditions. When I discover that one of our team has NO rain gear and NO synthetic insulation only cotton (Richard!), I get worried. Hypothermia is no joke, and with nearly freezing temps, driving rain, and high winds, we could easily find ourselves in a sticky situation. We pow wow big time on our options. If we push hard from Likely, we can make it to Susanville the next day, but it means logging nearly thirty more miles today, and it's already after 3PM. I was really looking forward to the more leisurely pace, but the weather gods have pushed our hand, so we saddle up, put foot to pedal, and keep the mojo movin'.
After Sage Hen Summit--our last pass for the day--we bomb into a fine, wide-open basin. During the drop, going perhaps 30 mph, my bike freaks out. Suddenly, the rear end demands to go left, and I have to struggle and compensate by turning right. A flat? Huh? I yell out "STOP!" and the peloton avoids a pile up. My rear wheel has popped out of the dropout on the right side. I've kept an eye on this problem in the past, but I hadn't checked it in days, and here I nearly paid a very dear price. The bike is built with very shallow dropouts, and I've noticed a tendency for the wheel to slip forward. Fortunately, all is well. The disc for the brake is not bent, and with my pit crew assisting, everything is up and running in only a few minutes.
We bottom out, tank up with water, and gun for glory across The Great Wide Open:
Camp arrives in the form of a flat patch near some electrical infrastructure of some sort near the dead zone of Termo--closed up businesses, boarded home, nothing but sage and dust and forgotten dreams. For all its pseudo-industrial funk, it is an excellent camp, and we cook dinner, this trio of tired but satisfied riders. I sip a good cheap red wine and smile into the stars and at my companions. "I know I'm crazy," I say, "but I love this." The cheapo red, the camp beside the chain link fence, the stars overhead, the long, hard days pushing across wild country. A great day, this.