New Jersey

I’ve been in the state of New Jersey twice, the first being way back in 1980 driving through on my way to NYC. The second time was in September 2007 when I did a house swap with a woman who had a penthouse apartment a couple of blocks off Central Park. While in NYC, my pal Alan Geiger, previously blogged about here, arranged for a bike loan and we rode across the George Washington bridge into NJ and then north along the Hudson River palisades.

However, today I’m not posting about that New Jersey. I’m posting about this new jersey

Connie and the velobum at Point Vicente (courtesy of Mario Obejas)

Connie and the velobum at Point Vicente (courtesy of Mario Obejas)

The jersey I am wearing is from a local business here in central coast wine country. A fellow who rides regularly with the groups here, Gregg Bone, has an olive farm and his own processing facility on the west side of Paso Robles. It’s called Kiler Ridge Olive Farm. Recently he took delivery on cycling kits produced by Voler out of Grover Beach, just down US101 a few miles. A couple weekends ago I moseyed on out to the farm and bought myself a jersey, then interrupted one of Gregg’s facility tours to model it for his olive oil clients.

Last weekend I was in LA and wore the jersey on one of the Beach Cities Cycling Club rides into Palos Verdes. The picture above was taken by my pal Mario during the mid-ride break at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center overlooking a whale migration path just offshore in the Pacific Ocean. When setting up the shot I knew the jersey would look good, but realized we would need some eye candy to offset me doing the modeling, so we called over our friend Connie to join me.

This is only my second new jersey this year, the other one being a 50th anniversary jersey for the Great Western Bike Rallye. If I could ever manage to get to San Luis Obispo at some hour when the Bike Kitchen is open, I’d have a third new jersey, like this

SLO goin' jersey

SLO goin’ jersey

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The Swarm, the Warm and Avoiding Harm

Last night as I was reading “Travels in Siberia” by Ian Frazier before crawling under the covers, Mammoth Lakes was hit by a swarm of small earthquakes. People who don’t live in an area subject to earthquakes might say that any size earthquake is too big, the fact of the ground swaying and shaking under your feet, even a wee bit, is too much to stomach or even contemplate philosophically. But I’ve been living in California since 1981 and have gotten used to them, even after bouncing off the walls in the shower early one morning during the somewhat large Northridge quake in 1994. Granted, I’ve never been at the epicenter of one, but as a geologist friend of mine once commented, lots of little quakes (to ease the crustal tension in small bits of movement) are far better than one big’un.

So feeling all of those little jolts during the swarm at Mammoth actually was reassuring. Sort of like your significant other letting you know, gently, about each irritating habit as they are enacted, rather than storing them all up in the emotional cheeks until no more space remains and they come spurting out under pressure.

In the morning Mario and I got up early to clean the condo, pack up my velo-mobile, and get on the road for a full day planned to end at chez Mario in Torrance. First stop, Hilltop Hot Spring north of Crowley Lake.

Second stop, town of Independence, where we started our ride up Onion Valley Road. I cannot find any reason for the name of the road, certainly I did not see any fields of onions, not even post-harvest stubble. Regardless, this article portrays the Onion Valley climb as the toughest in California and the 3rd toughest in the US, while this article suggests that the Onion Valley climb is equal to Mont Ventoux in la France.

Mario and I parked my car behind the Inyo County Court House in the shade of a massive Deodar Pine tree, kitted up, used the rest rooms in the court house, and then started riding. Not much flat… we crossed over US395 onto West Market Street and the climbing started immediately. Gentle at first, but the climbing did not cease until we reached the top of the road at the Sequoia Pack Station. At the edge of town the road name changes to Onion Valley and the grade kicks up. You also lose anything to block the wind blasting up Owens Valley from the south, so were we being buffeted by a stiff side or frontal quartering wind, depending on the stretch of road.

As we were fighting the wind and the pitch, I started to doubt the wisdom of making this ascent today. But here we were, nothing like the present and not too many opportunities to be in this neighborhood, so we continued our uphill slog. I started in a 39×24 gear combination and stayed with it until we hit the steep stuff above Upper Gray’s Meadow campground, then went to a 30×24 and stayed with that the rest of the way. Above Gray’s Meadow, around each turn I would look up the road and momentarily get intimidated by the vertical and lengthy perspective. But Mario and I would just keep spinning and putting the pavement behind us slowly and surely, no pushing hard into the red zone. Along some stretches between hairpin turns we would have a tailwind which I found was helpful only if I spun faster to pick up some speed, then the tailwind would add to the effort.

Up high on the climb the pines march in closer to the road and a rushing stream of no doubt frigid water splashes downhill, yet lifts ones spirit. Even more so when we came around an upper bend and saw vehicles parked at the pack station lot.

After a break at the lot we headed down very, very carefully. The pavement on the entire length of the road has thermally-induced cracks across the width at pretty regular intervals, ranging from finger thick to six inches wide, so while descending I would try to be light going over them to minimize blowout potential. The guard rails at the steepest dropoffs are pretty short, and elsewhere are non-existent, so I made an effort to stay away from the airy edges.

I suppose we ought to be congratulating ourselves on completing the erstwhile toughest climb in California, but I’m not so sure about that rating. Certainly it is a big effort, but even though I’m old and yawn all day because I can’t seem to suck in enough oxygen, I was never close to being overwhelmed on this climb. I’ve had much more trouble going up California 39 to Crystal Lake in the San Gabriel Mountains (and I was younger/stronger then), and Santa Rosa Creek Road inland from Cambria truly is an uphill nasty. I’m sure I could enumerate many more, but I’m happy to know that I should be able to climb Mont Ventoux without much trouble, since it is on my bucket list.

That’s it, we are done with our 8-day cycling and hot springing trip. Back to the retired grind…

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Legging Day #1

Portents of winter arrived today in Mammoth Lakes. A cold and stiff wind blew down from the Sierra Nevada under a sky patchy with fast gray clouds. Mario and I had planned on riding up Tioga Pass today, but climbing 10% ramps with a 25 mile per hour headwind did not appeal to us. Instead, we worked out a roundabout path from Mammoth up past Lake Mary to Horseshoe Lake and back down. Out came the leggings for the first time on this trip, for the first time this season.

Mammoth actually has a nice network of bike paths separate from roadways, and we used quite of few of the paths today. First we dropped down below Mammoth (elevation) on the road that heads to US395, then got on a bike path that turns back up the hill and parallels Old Mammoth Road. Our first stop was at an overlook view of the upper Owens Valley to the east.

We continued climbing up the bike path, but eventually it ended so we had to get on Old Mammoth Road to climb farther up toward Lake Mary. As the road climbed, it narrowed and got curvy while the pitch increased. I was thinking “goat path” as Mario called out 14%. Finally we intersected Lake Mary Road and got onto the bike path running alongside it. This bike path took us all the way to Horseshoe Lake.

On the way back we rode the loop around Lake Mary, and then back on the bike path that ran alongside Lake Mary Road all the way back down into Mammoth. Much faster on the return trip!

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Out of the Saddle (and into hot water)

Leg break today. We decided to rest the corpus and lay off the climbing. Instead we went to visit the tufa towers at Mono Lake, and a couple of backcountry hot springs near Bridgeport.

As I mentioned in a previous post, surface water from June Lake eventually flows to salty Mono Lake, but there also are underground springs that percolate up into Mono Lake from the lake bottom. These flows are the source of the tufa tower deposits which have become visible as the level of Mono Lake has dropped over the last 70+ years. The freshwater springs carry calcium which mixes with carbonate in the salty lake water to produce calcium carbonate, aka limestone. Read more about it here.

We drove north from Mono Lake to the town of Bridgeport, and first checked out Travertine Hot Springs. There is some serious mineral deposition going on here, just take a look at the stony ridges created by the hot water flow.

Here are three images showing an old travertine ridge that has gone dry.

While sitting in the pools at Travertine you are high enough up the eastern slope of the valley where Bridgeport is located to look west over the town and the grazing pastures to the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. On a cold day, if you had a powerful enough spyglass, you could probably see the steam rising from Buckeye Hot Springs hard along Buckeye Creek flowing out of those mountains. That’s where we headed next.

Take a drive on US395 north through Bridgeport, then on a secondary paved road to the west, then on dirt/gravel Buckeye Road heading north and up onto the mountain slope. A few miles in there is a wooded camping area, and a bit past that Buckeye Creek and the hot springs. A small pool (4 person) at bath temperature is located up on the slope well above the creek next to a lone pine tree, with some expansive views. The larger pool is down the slope next to the creek. Mario took a hike down there and reported that the water is hotter down below.

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Lake Effect

June Lake, Silver Lake, Grant Lake. A series of freshwater lakes and streams that ultimately flow to Mono Lake, which has no outflow and is salt water. (images courtesy of Google maps)

Today Mario and I rode from Mammoth Lakes to June Lake, taking the Mammoth Scenic Loop Road to US395, then the June Lake turnoff west to the town. Along 395 we crossed over Deadman Summit, which marks the hydrologic boundary between the Owens Valley and the Mono Lake basin. Theoretically speaking, if I emptied my water bottle on the pavement at the top of Deadman Summit such that half of it flowed north and half flowed south, the water flowing north would end up in Mono Lake and possibly be photographed for a poster included with a Pink Floyd album (see below), while the water flowing south would find its way to Crowley Lake and into a pipe headed for LA and then quite possibly out of a spigot at Mario’s home in the city of Torrance and into his water bottle. (image courtesy of Hipgnosis design group)

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

Here are some photos on the way to and at June Lake:

Out of June Lake we rolled past Silver Lake and Grant Lake. While riding in a northerly direction along the west shore of Grant Lake, we had a tailwind and were pedaling smartly. When we got to the intersection with US395 and turned south, we got smacked in the face with a stiff headwind. This location was the lowest elevation of the ride today and we had to get back up and over Deadman Summit. So we had a headwind, we were heading uphill, and if the sky was dropping frozen rain it would have made for the perfect triumvirate of cycling misery. But we were not so unlucky and the weather, aside from the headwind, was lovely.

Mario and I formed a two-man paceline to help each other into the wind and up the climbs. We took a break at the cafe and petrol station located at the June Lake turnoff, and there we met some French visitors touring California on rented Harley-Davidson motorcycles with full fairings and luggage packs. I trotted out my cobwebbed French and attempted to explain why we call these motos “hogs”.

Back up and over Deadman Summit and then up Scenic Loop Road back to Mammoth Lakes. I think that today I must have made progress in the physiological adaptation to the altitude because I felt quite good and was strong even at the end, despite this being the longest ride we have done so far, as well as with the most elevation gain. Even so, a cold beer and a hot tub was welcome at the end.

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Fire in the Hole

Yesterday evening the devil sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Ride to my postpile tomorrow, you won’t regret it.” This morning I passed the thought on to Mario and we succumbed to the temptation. Up Minaret Road from Mammoth Lakes, past Scenic Loop Road and onward to the big ski lodge where the wooly mammoth statue presides over the parking lot.

Continuing up we passed the spur road to Minaret Summit and got the go sign from the ranger at the Devil’s Postpile entrance station – no fee for cyclists, woohoo! Then down, down, and more down on Postpile Road into the hole where the devil installed his lavatic outcropping, spectacular views in every direction. Too bad the road was so tight, twisty and bumpy. We couldn’t just let the bikes run and maximize our enjoyment, especially while thinking about the payback climb.

At the bottom of the road we were not yet at the postpile. We had to don our cleat covers and push the bikes along a dusty, rocky 4/10 mile path to reach the natural wonder. But we didn’t regret it, and Mario even wore a thematic jersey for the ride. Some older readers might recall a 1973 musical release by the Brit group Led Zeppelin that was titled “Houses of the Holy.” The cover art for the album had ethereal children climbing a similar rock formation in Northern Ireland called “Giant’s Causeway.”

For your consideration:

Lucky for us, the fires near Yosemite have not made an appearance in this area, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t feeling heat. During the long climb back out of the hole, on this clear and calm day, the sun was burning the backside of my black cycling shorts. The steep pitch of the climb and the thin air made me go to my ultimate granny gear for most of the ascent, a 30×27 combination, but that makes for slow going. Seemed like the devil was chasing me with a blowtorch on my tailbone.

We got around the last curve on the upslope, so I shifted to a stiffer gear and muscled my way up to Mario, who was ahead of me for the entire climb. We rolled together past the entrance station at the high point and fist-bumped a successful ride. Back down past the wooly mammoth and to the condo for cold beer and hot tubbing!

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The Hot Spring Solution

Normally, 2000′ feet of climbing does not bother me (much), assuming the grade is reasonably 8% or less and I’m not starting too far above sea level. But starting at 7000′ and climbing up to 9000′ is a different matter. Even more so after having reached my advanced age. What’s an old dog to do?

Mario and I have been staying at a condo in Mammoth Lakes (thanks Melissa) for the past couple of nights, and this morning decided to start our ride at Tom’s Place, which is a store/bar/restaurant/lodge south on US395 toward the town of Bishop. From Tom’s, first we rode downhill to the business end of Crowley Lake to see the dam and the upper end of the Owens River Gorge.

Then we rode back up the same road, passed Tom’s Place and headed up Rock Creek Road, intending to climb to Rock Creek Lake. By the time we gained 2000′ feet at East Fork campground, I for one was feeling the altitude, as in not enough oxygen being delivered to my blood. Just past the entrance to the campground the road turned to gravel, and that was enough of an excuse for me to decline going farther up, leaving us about 7 kilometers short of Rock Creek Lake.

After a short break we pointed downhill and released the brakes. It was a much quicker journey going down, but we took a pounding while at speed from the pavement cracks and dips. This is snow & ice country in the winter and the pavement shows it.

Despite not making it to the high lake, we felt that our efforts deserved a reward anyway, so we drove directly to a remote hot spring on the north side of Crowley Lake and soaked away any cares from the day. A cold beer helped too. That’s what an old dog does.

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