The Sierras

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Tour without a goal – 31 August 2014

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Amtrack

all day I said nothing
unable to sleep
the moonlit night
 
-Santoka

this train is bound for Oly
My train didn’t leave until the evening so this meant I had most of a day to kill in Bakersfield. I was close to the central downtown and let me tell you there isn’t much action on a Sunday in Bakersfield. I found the most active coffee shop in the “arts district” and hung out there until the Art Museum opened. My plan was to spend the afternoon there and then ride to a store to get some supplies for the train trip and the head to the station to box up the bicycle. Well the best laid plans &c – the art museum was closed to install new exhibits. So I went to the natural history museum instead. This was a bit more kid oriented but there was some nest stuff there. Not far from Bakersfield is “Sharktooth Hill” a large fossil bonefield from when the Pacific Ocean ran into the San Joaquin valley. They had many fossils of sea creatures both extinct and still existent. They also had a quite interesting mineral collections with beautiful examples of petrified wood particularly standing out. I spent as much time as I could there but eventually I’d seen it all and I headed out

Fox Theatre

I rode around town checking out the Fox Theatre, public art, the Aquatic Center – the most active place in town on this hot day – but eventually I headed toward the closest store. Apart from the small central downtown Bakersfield seems to be all edge city of check cashing places, pawn shops, hairdressers and fast food. Needing to eat I was at a Subway when a guy pulled into the handicap spot, didn’t stop and went through the sign and into the window of the next door Panda Express. I took it as commentary on Panda Express’ menu. I got some supplies at the store and headed to the Amtrak station. There I struggled mightily to get the pedals of my bicycle, but the seemed to,have gotten bound on. While I was engaged in the struggle four cops showed up, entered the woman’s bathroom and removed a woman in handcuffs. Welcome to Bakersfield.

Changing trains in Sacramento

I finally just stuffed my bicycle in the box and wrapped in all in duct tape and checked it in. Not long after I boarded the San Joaquin train that would take me up to Sacremento where I’d board the Coast Startlight at midnight. The San Joaquin is a wide flat valley with small hills far in the distance to the west and the Sierras towering to the easy. All cultivated farmland it seemed really flat all the way to the hills. The sun set a fiery red ball over the hills and later on a wavery crescent moon was reflected in the train windows to the east. Only an amazing ten minutes late I arrived in Sacramento and transferred to the Coast Starlight, which was already running twenty minutes late, so technically I left Sacramento the next day.

on the train north
three weeks of travel in five hours
— crickets

Tour without a goal – 30 August 2014

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Thumbs up

Mountains, rivers, and the great earth,
Grass, trees, and the forests,
All are mu.

-Bassui

no goal reached
Lake Isabella is the end of section four of the Sierra-Cascades route and as far as I’m going to follow the route. Today I strike off on a route to Bakersfeild that I put together on Google Maps. This turns out to be just the kind of route that ACA would have done. Once I’d ridden past the lake on that busy shoulderless road I headed up the canyon walls. From there I stayed well above the Kern river for a fair spell on lightly trafficked backroads. This was quite nice, riding through the stark, dry landscape, under the blue sky masterfully painted with white clouds. The Kern was boiling along below over large shattered rocks and there was considerably more greenery down that way. I even passed a couple of campgrounds – wish I’d ridden the few miles west of Lake Isabella and camped at the Hobo Campground.

Leaving Sequoia National Forest

Eventually though the route descended and joined the main highway to Bakersfield. This road quickly fell to near the level of the river and became a fairly narrow shoulder-free road. Happily most of the traffic was heading upriver, but this is California and there are few empty roads. I kept descending in the canyon but the walls seemed to get taller if anything. Toward the end they were these towering shear rock walls with large crumbling boulder piles. The was a little dam at the end of the canyon which upon passing I left the Sequoia National Forest – the end of the long string of many, many national forests I’ve been in for the last few months.

On the canal in Bakersfield

I exited into a wide valley with a ranch on one side and agriculture on the other which once I climbed out of, I’d reached the far extents of Bakersfield. I was in the San Joaquin valley proper now and it was hot – 97 degrees (F). Google Maps routed me though the ‘burbs and a series of rather depressed seeming neighborhoods until I came upon “Central Park”. This park is along a canal though the central part of town and I rode the paths along that all the way to my hotel. I made a brief stop at Blacktop Cyclery as I needed a pedal wrench for the train trip home. Good guys there, they give me a deal on the wrench as they “liked my (Rivendell) hat”. They came out to check out my bike and were totally into it and the tour. They said that the cycling scene isn’t bad here and they are always working to improve it. I don’t think I’d come here specifically for the cycling but always nice to find good people. It was just a couple blocks to my hotel right across the street from the Amtrak station. Tomorrow I began the trip north.

clouds
mountains
rivers
trees
ocean

Tour without a goal – 29 August 2014

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Lake Isabella

got this far
drink some water
and go on
-Santoka

hungry ghosts
I had pushed it to Lake Isabella as Labor Day Weekend is a wildcard I had to take into account. In the end it would have worked out fine if I’d shown up on Friday afternoon – the campground has filled up but still plenty of spots left. That being said I was here at the lake and I spent an extra day here. There isn’t really all that much to do here without a boat and the temps got into the mid 90s (f) so I spent most of the day indoors. In the morning I rode into the town of Lake Isabella, stopping to check out the earthwork dam on my way in. The road is pretty bad, busy, no shoulder, and winding through big piles of rock. Not looking forward to riding it again tomorrow.

Moonset over Hungry Gulch

In town I ran errands, had lunch but spent the bulk of the afternoon in e library. I did run into a guy with a,crazily burdened bicycle pulling a large no made trailer. He had a cat carrier strapped to the handlebars with a small kitten and a dog was traveling with. He seemed a bit burned out but he was up on the Sierra-Cascade route and touring and had ridden himself up to Astoria. He talked about wanting to get back to the coast and noted he probably couldn’t do the mountain route with his load. At one point he noted, “You meet a lot of interesting people when you are on the road”. Indeed.

sitting under the Milky Way
listening to the blowing wind

I rode back to the Hungry Gulch Campground with a stiff tailwind to find a lot more people had arrived. People would continue to arrive into late in the night. Once the sun goes behind the hills it cools down. On this evening after the sun went down I noticed the sliver of a crescent moon which shortly thereafter set behind the scraggly hills. Once again I marveled at the panoply of stars which have been so outstanding on this tour. Here there is some lights unlike some of my destinations but still the milky way stands right out and familiar constellations are harder to pick out amongst all the other stars you can see. Really love these nights and will miss that.

over the barren hill,
between scraggly trees,
the crescent moon sets

Tour without a goal – 28 August 2014

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Giant feet

I wish to say nothing. What does the sky say?
-Confucius

last walk with giants
Even after yesterday’s long climb there was still nearly 3000 feet remaining up into the Giant Sequoia Monument. This was much easier being first thing in the morning when it was cooler and I was more rested. But I also think it was just a bit easier – the grades seemed less and I was able to establish a steady pace. At one point on the climb I was passed by a car which I then found a couple of switchbacks up with its hatchback open. I was passed by a roadie at about that point and he waved off the woman at the car. We had a few words – mutual complaints about the black flies – and he mentioned he hadn’t seen another cyclist in four days. He rode on and I really wondered what sort of a ride he was doing. He was climbing this hill supported and had been doing this for days. I was even more mystified when I saw him descend the hill in the car.

Looking back

I reached the summit before noon and at the tiny “town” of Ponderosa I stopped for lunch. It was all big trees up here and while I’d seen a few sequoia, there didn’t seem to be any of the big groves up here. But after riding the plateau for some time and descending to closer to 6000′ I came to the Redwood Campground and the Trail of 100 Giants. Here I took one last walk among these magnificent trees; this is I think pretty much the southern extent of the sequoia range. It really is humbling to walk among these trees. Thousands of years old, survivors of ages of fire, snow, ice, changing climates, mans insatiable appetites. The rough, textured reddish bark, the broken crowns, the celery stalk shape of dusty green foliage all towering far above you with a mass that can be sensed. Farewell sequoia, you will be missed.

Giant sequoia

There was now about thirty miles of descending primarily following the Kern River once I was down from the mountain. It got hotter and hotter as I descended and down in the Kern river Valley it was mid to upper nineties according to one thermometer I witnessed. The river was quite lively, with a decent amount of flow over big rocks with many pools. Once again I was tempted to stop and cool off in these pools. But alas I had too much distance ahead. There was a small dam, which didn’t make a reservoir but they were clearly getting power from. Below the dam the river continued to rush along and there was much recreation going on. This is USFS land so you can camp freely in “developed spots” and these were becoming packed. The wind also increased as I came down the valley at times blowing really vigorously. Happily I was mostly going downhill as a counter to it, but can’t deny I’d have preferred no wind.

Lake Isabella

The Kern River was clearly a big recreation area and when I reached Kernville there was many resorts, campgrounds and the accompanying tourist facilities. I turned south and followed the river to Lake Isabella. Another reservoir lake it was again obviously quite low. The road along the lake had the usual up and down, with one more significant upward section that went right through a cut in the shear cliffs. More traffic than I prefer in a narrow winding road likes this. I Passed multiple USFS campground along the lake but I wanted to be a the farther east south one which is the closeted to the town of Lake Isabella. When I got there I found that it was “reservations only” and “full”. Talking to the host it turns out that due to the drought and extreme fire hazard the bulk of the ‘ground was closed and being the closest to the lake it was fully reserved in advance of the Labor Day weekend. So I had to ride two miles back to the Hungry Gulch Campground which in contrast was entirely empty.

gazing into the deep sky–
    no clouds
        no stars
            no sky

Tour without a goal – 27 August 2014

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Lake Kaweah and up toward Sequoia

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
-John Muir

low and high
My campground was only four miles or so from the entrance to Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park and I reveled in my final glimpses up the valley. Moro rock stood out as did the surrounding rock edifices. But out of the canyon I went and into the tourist town of Three Rivers. I spent too much time here but I really needed some essential supplies. At a hardware store I got actual denatured alcohol for my stove for the first time since Ashland. So it was early afternoon and already plenty hot as I rode out of town and around Lake Kaweah.

lower Yokohl Valley

The lake was, like Pine Flat Lake, super low and it was really hot in this valley. So the campgrounds and such around it were all empty as far as I could see. The heat really picked up as I descended still further from the lake down to 512 feet, here temps were at least in the upper 90s (F). The road swung into the Yokohl Valley and this was the most bleak landscape of the tour. Nothing but rock, dead grass and dirt under the merciless sun. Barely anything here though it was ranch land. As I climbed the oaks reappeared and sometimes there was some shade. This was a pretty tough slog, a 2000′ climb out of this bowl like valley up switchbacks to the lip. There was a pretty long decent from the Yokohl but mostly on terrible roads that I had to be mindful of. But on reaching the bottom, I took a short break to resupply my liquids and then began the second climb of the day. It was after 5pm, I’d already ridden near 60 miles and it was 97 degrees here.

Giant Sequoia National Monument

The ~3500 foot climb into Giant Sequoia National Monument was probably the hardest climb of the tour. It was all small curves with really steep bits leading up and around each curve. The sun was right on my back and just beating down and I was already worn down. The valley though was beautiful with big rocky protrusions and a the Tule River merrily running over rocks below. The river ran over a series of pools that looked so inviting to swim in. The sun was setting and I again attracted the swarm of gnats that harried me for many miles. At one point, just over 70 miles for the day a pickup truck passed and asked if I need a lift. Only pride had me immediately respond “I’m cool”. They drove on. If they asked me again five minutes later I probably would have given in. I nearly bonked on this climb as I was starving for dinner and it was getting late. Finally though it flattened out and the final few miles to Camp Nelson weren’t bad. I turned down the side road to Coy Flat Campground which was two miles into the woods and it was pitch black. I was quite happy though to reach the campground, drink as much water as I wanted and cook dinner.

crumbling black rocks     &#160 —    &#160soft scurrying of lizards
withered yellow grasses    —   &#160raucous scramble of squirrels
swirling tan dirt                —    the piping of an unseen bird

Tour without a goal – 26 August 2014

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

image

The big tree is nature’s first masterpiece, and, as far as I know, the greatest if all living things.

– John Muir

amongst the monarchs
I spent this day in Sequioa National Park Park experience as much as I could of the park. I took the shuttle up from my campground in the morning and took the last shuttle back – maximized my time best I could. I was alone in the shuttle up and the driver would just whip around the corners of the crazy twisty road. I have to admit that by the time I got off at the Giant Forest Museum I was feeling somewhat queasy.

image

The museum had some interesting exhibits on the life cycle of the sequoia and the history of this area. The Giant Forest is one of the biggest sequoia groves on earth with over 2500 tress with a greater than 10 foot diameter. But I wanted to get out amount these trees so shortly I was on the Big Trees hike which makes its way around a forest meadow. These meadows are essential sequoia habitat as they need huge amounts of water but with teir wide shallow roots they can’t actually be in a wet meadow. So they like to grow on the edge and dip into its water.

image

The trees are just magnificent, huge gnarled bases then the thick knotty trunk rises up and up. The lower branches die off on the older trees so they have a stalk of broccoli kind of look. On the oldest trees the crown also dies off and there is bare wood at the top. There were several big fallen trees here, laying like huge pipes across the forest. Many of them had the burn scars that is so common of these old timers as they slice century after century through all manner of conditions.

Looking up at the canopy

One particularly interesting thing about the Giant Forest grove was that by the 50s it had been extensively overdeveloped with over a hundred buildings, plus campsites and all the services at many people demand. All this right on the shallow roots of these ancient monarchs. Well the forest service really turned things around from the 70s on and almost all of those buildings are gone and they built a new lodge outside of the grove for visitors. But I’ve seen this time and time again at these old parks, how they were focused on the people and car culture at the expense of the natural environment that they are actually there to experience.

Vagina tree

From the Big Tree trail I hike out to Beetle Rock which give a nice view into e foothills and the smoggy San Joaquin Valley. Then it was back to the shuttle bus where I took it up to the General Sherman tree. The other of the “generals” this tree is the largest being on earth by mass. And it is truly huge and just stunning. Several places on the hike you could see the entire tree – which is often difficult – as well as the signed location where people basically went one after the other to get their picture taken with the tree.

Moro Rock

I used the shuttles to go to Lodgepole where I ate my lunch and then up to Wakushi Lodge, which was the one built to replace the Giant Forest lodge, where I took advantage of their internet connection. In the later afternoon it was back to the Giant Forest where I hike up to Moro Rock. This was the longest hike I did this day and the most hike like. That is it was a dirt path in the woods that while not too challenging was virtually deserted. It went right by some big trees, that you could walk right up to and feel there tough skins. There was a fire in this area, ever deliberate or natural and thus there was burnt sequoias as well as regular trees. A couple of the sequoias had holes burn right through the base.

Climbing up Moro Rock

I took the short trail to Hanging Rock where I got a view of Moro Rock which is a big fin like chunk of granite right on the mountain edge with a dome at the top. Really neat and you could see all the people on top. Climbing Moro Rock itself was via a series of 600 stairs at I almost ran up as I was pushing it to catch the last shuttle. These were decent stairs but went right through natural openings and such that sometimes were really narrow. But they blended right in with the rock and didn’t alter it’s character.

Looking east from Moro Rock

The view from the top was absolute amazing, nearly 360 degrees you could see the eastern mountain range where Mount Whitney is (though it itself is obscured) and then the southern range who’s rampart like rock faces stop the view. But then the long view down the San Joaquin toward the coast range all lost in mist-like smog. A really fitting overview of a lot of the park and a perfect final view of Sequoia National park.

Looking down the San Joaquin toward the coast range

looking up
buried under giant trees
clear blue sky

Tour without a goal – 25 August 2014

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Grant Tree

The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.
 
-John Muir

riding with the generals
I spent part of the morning exploring what I could in Kings Canyon but alas the titular canyon itself is thirty miles up a road perpendicular to the route. It’d take at least a couple of days to explore by bicycle. But it is not without some regret that I didn’t do it – no less authority than John Muir said that it rivaled Yosemite. I did though go to Grants Grove, a stand of sequoias withe the second largest entity on earth (by mass), the General Grant tree.

image

Really majestic these old wanderers who stride through time, though fire and flood and snow and the deprivations of man. There was a hollow fallen sequoia you could walk though – it had been a saloon, horse stables and barracks throughout the years. The fire damaged trees are especially fascinating as a sequoia can be completely hollowed out by fire and yet live on.

image

From the grove it was back to the road which continued the climb from where I’d left it. It would peak somewhere around 7500′ but then it oscillated from 6000′ to over 7000′ several times in a series of rollers. Still in Kings for the most part, there was views into the far distant rocky canyon, and back toward the foothills I climbed up yesterday. And of course fantastic stands of trees everywhere, though sequoias tend to be in groves and so it was mostly pines and oaks and also Nobel Firs – Christmas trees!

image

I entered the edge of the Giant Sequoia National Monument and the into Sequoia National Park. Along the road was the Lost Grove, one of the few stands of sequoias the Generals Highway passes through in this part of the park. Not too much further on I reached the Lodgepole campground and visitors center. About in the middle of the highway this is clearly the center of the car portion of the park. For even more than Yosemite almost all of this park is designated wilderness and inaccessible by car. Here there was laundry, showers and a store and I took advantage of them all.

despite mans best efforts
the giant trees still stand

What with using all of the facilities at Lodgepole I returned to my travels rather late. Happily it was almost all downhill from here to where I was camping. The road was the twisty-est I’ve ever ridden on and the first section was undergoing work and as all torn up and gravel strewn. This was a pity as it went through the Giant Forest and there were huge sequoia at every turn. But I had to keep my eyes on the road. Happily there wasn’t too much traffic.

image

The lower down portion of the road was if anything even more winding and steep. It had had its roadwork down previously though and was in good shape. I was mostly out of the forests – definitely below where sequoia grow, and there was huge views all the way out to the coast range. A domes and rampart like rock structures of the park would also come onto view. I descended from nearly 7000 feet to around 2500 feet, so it was pretty epic and a lot warmer. It had clouded up this afternoon, so as I descend there was a dramatic sunset through the clouds and over the foothills. It was deep gloaming when I reached Potwisha Campground where I’d be staying for the next couple of nights.

true darkness,
only light the strewn of stars–
giant trees stand silent

Tour without a goal – 24 August 2014

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Dry Lands

all withered–
grasses I walked over
going nowhere
 
-Santoka

big hills into big trees
Packing up this morning I received a surprise as when I was pulling,stuff out of my Hobo Bag (the handlebar bag) a giant hairy, tan spider charged out. A wolf spider I’m pretty sure, (though perhaps a hobo spider!) it was about the size of a fifty cent piece. I shooed it away and it hung out under the picnic table for the duration of my time there. This is hot land for sure, the campground fee collector had a group move sites because they were right below a hill and at night “the snakes come down where its cool”.

view down the valley

This was a hot day and it featured some of the toughest climbing of the tour. I was at around 750′ and I had to climb up to Kings Canyon at around 6500′. So over 5500 feet of climbing. This was done in three big stages each doing near 2000 feet. The first was the shortest stage, but it was on these back country roads with no sort of grade limits. So steep through ranch land and heading right into the fierce morning sun. The second stage occurred after a brief stint on hwy 185 which was busy so it was good to return to the back roads. This stage was the longest climbing over 2000′ and I finally made it out of the dry valleys. Trees appeared beyond the black oaks, and manzanitas that there had been so far. There was still dry rivers though, and it was hot out of the shade.

Entering Kings Canyon

There was only a short stint on relatively flat land before the final haul. This last stage was hard, as I’d already climbed a lot and was plenty burnt out. It was steep too, a series a switchbacks that climbed the bulk of the altitude in short order. During this time there was an increasing swarm of gnats, or black flies or something buzzing around my head. I couldn’t pick up enough speed to lose them and it was only the occasionally breeze that would blow them away. There was plenty of big trees now, so e redwoods for sure among much bigger pines than I’d seen in some time. Finally I turned back onto hwy 185 for just the last six miles or so. I passed 6000′ just a bit after this and the final miles while still uphill wasn’t too hard. But I was plenty tired. So I was happy to enter Kings Canyon National Park and I made my way to Crystal Springs Campground.

climbing so slow
even the flies have to double back
to buzz me

This being a national park there was some concern about the campground being full, though if hoped showing up on a Sunday would ameliorate that somewhat. Well can’t fears were unfounded as the campground was nearly empty. I had the quietest night in a campground I. Quite some time.

hot
sun
climbing
switchback
after
switchback–
  red
   &#160dragonflies


Tour without a goal – 23 August 2014

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Pine Flat Lake

somehow
I get to go on living
among summer grasses
 
-Santoka

the empty lake
Today was mostly spent in the low altitude valleys and it was hot. First thing In the morning I crossed the San Joaquin River and then climb right back over 2000 feet. But the rest of the day was primarily on valley walls going up and down in the heat. I was on these virtually empty back roads through ranch land that was dry, drought dry. I rode along an empty stream bed and crossed over the dry feeder creeks. The terrain was all brown, tan, dead grasses and stunted trees. I never saw any livestock on these ranches. The only relief from the blazing sun was that portions of it were lined the black oaks that hung over the narrow road providing some shade

Deeper part of Pine Flat lake

Most striking though was when I came around Pine Flat Lake, which clearly was a major recreation area. But the lake was dramatically low, with this hard line of trees where its level had historically been. But all the way down to the current level was these rings like close terraces showing where the levels it had been as it slowly drained away. There was still boating and such in the deeper sections of the lake but I have to,say this brought the three years of drought home. From the lake I descended to below 750 feet to Choinumi Park in Piedra where I camped this night. This was on a river that drained from Pine Flat lake and I was happy to see it burbling with water. Plenty hot here until the sun went behind the hills and it cooled a bit.

far down the hot, dusty valley,
the promise of green mountains

Tour without a goal – 22 August 2014

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.
 
-John Muir

steaming into the valley
Today was going to be a short day due to the vagaries of campgrounds and timing so that I’d reach Sequoia National Park post weekend. So when I was just four miles out from camp and I encountered the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, I had to check it out. This turns out to be an old rail logging concern which really stripped this area bare in the early 20th Century. It was well forested now but it’s all second and third growth – natural too as the loggers of the day didn’t deign to replant. The engine was a Shay engine, prized for its ability to pull loads up steep grades. Easy to see why that’d be a popular logging engine.

On the train

During the trip the conductor talked quite a bit about the trees. I was able to verify that those huge pinecones I’ve been seeing are from sugar pines. Ponderosa pines have the largest needles and almost look bushy. Also,learned that these bushes that look like Madrona’s are in fact Manzanita, though I ink there was Madrona’s in southern Oregon. In the thirty odd years this logging company was active they apparently cut enough boards that if laid end to end would wrap around the earth 26 times. The train wound downhill and then stopped for a short break at an outdoor amphitheater. This is only used for various nighttime programs they use which means it was a bit of an anticlimax on this trip – not really a destination. But the steam engine was the focus of the event and it’s plenty neat.

Bass Lake

Back on the road I was primarily descending today. Down from the heights of the Yosmite Valley, primarily through trees. There was one climb back up to 3000′ where I rode around Bass Lake. Another reservoir type lake it was heavily used for recreation. The road that wound around it always going up and down was in quite poor shape though happily it wasn’t too busy (yet). The lake was crowded with people playing in the water and on the shore. Past the lake I really descended into the San Joaquin Vally and near 1000′ for the first time since the Columbia Gorge. It was really arid here, all dried grasses, ponderosa pines, sugar pines and thorny bushes. Just above the San Joaquin River I pulled off to camp at Smalley Cove Campground on Kerckhoff Lake. It was really hot in the valley and I was here really early. So I took a good long swim in the lake which I have to say was just what I needed.

this hot late summer day
begins to cool
as the sun falls behind the hills