The realization that nearly a month of cruising around South Lake Tahoe and rock climbing might have had a negative impact on my cycling fitness came quickly as Jen and I creeped sluggishly up the South Upper Truckee Road into the mid-day sun.
My tire has to be flat!
I exclaimed as I threw my leg over and dismounted my trusty little stead. In reality I just needed the chance to catch my breath and the excuse to check tire pressure allowed me to protect my fragile little ego as I let the lactate drain from from my burning legs. A swig of water and a minute of respite from the saddle gave me the boost I needed and Jen and I soon crested Luther Pass for the second time on our tour and descending into the beautiful Carson Valley beyond. A quick twenty mile spin into Markleeville found Jenny and I soaking in Grover Hot Springs and sipping cold beers in an empty campsite.
The Eastern Sierra is a heaven for the touring cyclist who enjoys long climbs on low traffic roads under huge skies. Those with the resolve to put their head down and spin the frequent climbs to 8000 feet are rewarded with expansive mountain views and screaming descents into deep valleys that leave a smile on the face until the climbing begins again. The cooling September temperatures, changing colors of the Aspen trees and ample opportunity of free camping have made this portion of our journey most memorable and a personal favorite thus far. A couple days on these steeps roads restored strength to our soft legs and the rhythm of bike touring snapped us from our domesticated lives of hot showers and soft beds.
South of Mono Lake the climbing begins to cease as highway 395 opens up into the desert landscape of Owen's River Valley. Temperatures begin to climb and the tall Ponderosa Pine are replaced with dry hills of rolling sage, steep granite peaks of the Sierra towering to the west and dotted oases of Aspens indicating outposts of civilization around water. As Jenny and I were climbing towards Crowley Lake several nights ago, a truck pulled over near the crest of the hill and a man waited smiling at the shoulder of the road. After a short conversation, Jeff invited us to his home and we were treated to a warm shower, an exquisite meal with he and his wife Lesley and a restful night in a soft bed. The kindness of strangers still never ceases to amaze me.
In the morning Jeff made us lattes before work and Leslie sent us out the door with boxes of bars, maps and homemade brownies. Jen and I pedaled south for an hour on Old 395 and met the first group of touring cyclist's we had seen since leaving San Francisco. We shared stories from the road with three men near my parent's age and before we departed, one handed me $60 and insisted on buying Jen and I dinner. I don't even know the man's name, but will remember that he only asked that I pay the generosity forward some day. This I will do.
Lesley caught up to us on her road bike and escorted us to her friend's Kari and David's in Round Valley outside of Bishop. Despite the fact they just returned from driving across the country, they welcomed us with open arms and Jenny and I again find ourselves showered and sharing strong margaritas with neighbors over the good-natured banter of instant friends. I feel like the Eastern Sierra has cast a spell of magic embrace upon us and we drag our heels out of Bishop late in the afternoon the next day and and are pushed south ten miles to Keough Hot Springs for the night.
A long hot day on the wide shoulder of Highway 395 into the wind brings us to Lone Pine and a fork in the road. Tomorrow we will finally start heading east across the the desert of Death Valley and Sin City beyond. The temperatures are said to be 'cooling' to the low 100's so I anticipate some early morning and late evening rides.
Without a doubt the last week has been a highlight of the trip and I look forward with anticipation to what the next leg of our journey will bring.