It has been some time since my last tour, a 2015 ride from Lone Pine to Palm Desert, our last big ride with our beloved Django. This little ride is my first solo effort since the cross country epic in 2007. Where did those ten years go? Zip. Adios, decade. We live in Bishop, now, and the idea of a quick ride up into the mountains had been brewing for a while. It was time to make it happen.
This may be the best little tour this side of the Pecos. But riders beware: Fitness required. This tour has serious altitude gain, and so you must be prepared to crank--about 7,000 ft. total for the first two days. Day three is easy. The rewards will be obvious as you see the pictures and read about the tour. Here are links to both day's riding:
Day one and three:
I had a choice of vehicles: My trusty Haluzak or the Catrike Expedition. Both are wonderful, capable tourers, but something about the trike was calling to me. The ability to just relax and crank seemed most appealing, and I'd have a seat for camp. The trike won.
At first, I was kind of dreading all the organizing, but as the date approached, I felt the old excitement building. First, I had to convert the trike from a dirt road machine back to a pavement rider:
This was more of a chore than I expected, but soon enough I had the fat, knobby skins off and the faster road touring tires on. Of course, I had to organize and pack the gear and get it loaded.
Then it was time to hit the road! It felt so good to push against the pedals, to feel the smooth movement and anticipate the wide open spaces and big climbs ahead. While it is possible to stay on Hwy 395 for the entire climb to Tom's Place and the campground, I can't recommend it when the alternative of Round Valley and Lower Rock Creek/Old Sherwin Grade Rd. are available. The highway is totally acceptable for riding with an excellent, smooth wide shoulder and rumble strips that in no way impede cycling, even for trikes. But it's a highway with occasional trucks and more traffic generally. The old road provides quiet riding, curving, varied terrain, and very light traffic. Lots of locals ride it. Do it!
Heading into Round Valley:
An old ranch in the valley:
Volcanic rock outcrop and blooming rabbit brush:
A crest before a short but steep drop--losing about 250 ft.:
Aspens lining the way:
My site at French Camp:
After about fifteen miles of gentle riding, the big climb begins, then steady and demanding for most of the way. The route follows a delightfully winding course up the mountain side, through the small development of Paradise and then down steeply to regain the creek. Then it's a final steep crank up to Tom's Place/ French Camp. Expect lots of 7% riding with some steeper sections. I didn't take vista shots because of the smoke from northern California fires. I couldn't do it justice. Even with the hazy skies, it was good to pound my head against some hard miles. I was determined to enjoy myself, so I took breaks whenever I wanted. I tend to get "hot foot" when doing sustained climbing, so there were a few times when I stood up to cool off and let my left hoof recover. It was a huge delight to hit the creek up high and pedal through aspens, willows, and birches in full autumn glory.
Thoroughly worked, I finally arrived in camp. My mistake was in NOT reading the fine print on each of the campsite markers. Site after site read "RESERVED," subject to some sort of same-day system. Another sign read: "See sites 40 through 72" for first come, first served, more-than-one night stay. So up and up and up I cranked, gaining another 200 freakin' feet at the end of a hard day. Ugh. It turns out I should have parked at one of the vacant lower sites and gone over to the host to get clearance to camp. Those lower sites were never occupied. Oy.
Once in camp, I pitched the tent, and rode back down to pay, then rode even lower down to pick up an excellent brew at the store near the highway. There's a pub and restaurant, too, for those who don't want to cook. I enjoy a good brew but wanted to do my own cooking. I enjoy the ritual and details of camp cooking, especially using my beloved Pepsi-can stove, which I built for my cross country ride back in '07. I'd read about the design and kept seeing discarded Pepsi cans on the side of the road during training rides--a sign from the Gods. So I built it. Works perfectly and weighs about one ounce. I use Heet gas line anti-freeze, which is basically denatured/methyl-alcohol. Drink it and you die. Use the yellow stuff, not the red. Cheap and burns clean.
I went to bed excited about the next day's ascent--a 3,000 ft. climb to nearly 10,000 ft.
Although the night dropped to about freezing, I was almost too warm in my little tent, my metabolism fully cranked from the heavy riding. The night passed quickly, and I crawled out into the early light to brew coffee and have a lazy morning. I wanted the day to warm a little before setting off. I also knew the riding wouldn't take that long--continuous climbing but only about 11 miles of distance. At 9:30AM, I set off.
Right away, the ascent gets down to the up business with a spectacular and steep narrows along the creek, kicking up to 12%.
Eventually, you bust out into a more open setting with more spectacular aspens and soaring rock cliffs, scene of some of our best local climbs.
Mountains don't climb themselves, I'm fond of saying, so feet to the pedals. Although the day was cool, I climbed in full sun with only a light breeze from behind, so I sweated hard. I was going for SKT--"slowest known time" and FKT--"funnerest known time." I think I won both awards. I took breaks whenever I wanted, especially to cool down and dig the scene. I encountered this magnificent juniper, which most drivers hardly notice by zooming by:
Eventually, I could glimpse the rugged High Sierra through the gap in the trees, the mighty Bear Creek Spire cutting the sky:
Higher and higher, though a painful double-digit corkscrew, and up to the edge of winter, ice still lingering on the side of the road in the afternoon:
And then, almost before I was ready, the end. Success and repose at nearly 10,000 ft, Take that, chumps!
The glorious Catrike at Mosquito Flat:
Squeezing through a bridge to get to my lunch site:
And then it was time to let 'er rip. I bundled up in layers and tipped my wheels over the edge and into the loving hands of kinetic energy. Oh, the bliss. Buttery smooth pavement and miles of high speed payback. Love! Joy! I laughed out loud at the ludicrous fun of it all. Too soon, I was back in camp. Pedaling time: 2 hrs. 45 min. up. I picked up another celebratory brew--more climbing--and enjoyed the sunset over Boundary Peak:
The next day, it was more bombing runs down into the deep Owen's Valley and back to home. Here I am parked before the final big run, Bishop in the distance. Booyah!
A final shot in the glories of cottonwoods in October. Life is good:
The final fifteen miles went much more quickly than I expected, and in about an hour of riding, I was home, a great little tour in the bag.
Gear and touring considerations:I can't recommend this tour enough. It's just brilliant. Of course, for those with more time and greater ambition, more extended versions are possible. Crack open a map and see what you find. The East Side, as we call it, has some of the best touring anywhere. For this ride, I'd keep in mind the time of year as being critical. Bishop readily hits the 100 deg. F. mark in the summer, so the climb out can be brutal. I'd limit this tour to late spring and early/late fall. Upper Rock Creek is closed when snowy, so that's a consideration on both sides, too. In the spring you get beautiful snow on the high peaks; in the fall it's aspens and cottonwoods on fire. Both are double excellent. I'd recommend going when high's in Bishop are in the 70's to low 80's for the ideal experience. As noted, there are services at the top, and the campground is good. Unless you have a senior pass, expect to shell out $25/night, however. At least French Camp has flush toilets for that rather steep camping fee. Oh, this was on a weekend, so there was some traffic on the road up to Mosquito Flat, but it was not heavy, and zero commercial traffic. Weekdays would be preferable as this is a very popular trail head. The road has recently been repaved with a striped shoulder for biking and signs for the way up--very nice!
My Catrike has a few items worth noting. Most important is the Schlumpf Mtn. Drive, which gives me insanely low gearing for fully loaded cranking up mountain grades. I wouldn't tour without it. My knees are never in danger of blowing for want of a lower gear. The bags are Dutch "Radical" and fit nicely, although I had to stitch on an extension to the front strap to fit the trike seat. I don't know if Radical has changed this or not. I've had these for ten years. They do require a liner to be waterproof, however. Great bags.
So get out and ride. Life is short, and there are so many tours still to do.