Near Big Pine, California. Feb 18, 2015
At a coffee shop in Pig Pine I looked up Tioga Pass, 9945ft/3031m it's the highest pass in California. It has been a low snow year but that doesn't mean much, it took me 7.5 hours to go 6miles in about a foot of snow in Colorado. The next closest detour would take an extra 4-5 days to get to Yosemite but I hat to at least try it.
Found a tiny line on google maps: Casa Diablo road and I took it. Riding alongside the Sierra Nevada range was amazing and for now I completely forgot that I will be actually crossing them.
Great weather and great roads for the day. Due to my inability to point the camera at anything else but the mountains there isn't much variety of shots today.
I spent few hours writing up the Nevada update at Mammoth Lakes library and backing up SD cards and then took off in the dark to find a spot to camp.
After a very cold morning camping at 8000ft, I visited June lake, a scenic loop took me around a beautiful valley and I got a chance to talk to some of the construction guys working there.
"You are the only person I've met who knows where Tuktoyaktuk is," said one of the workers. He had worked in the oil industry in Canada's Arctic out of Tuk - the small town by the Arctic Ocean where I began cycling 11 months ago.
He proceeded to tell me that there is no way I can make it across Tioga Pass.
At the gated entrance I met a Park Service employee who told me that the road is good to about 9500 feet and then:
"There is a foot of snow for the next 30-40miles. You will go 200 yards and then give up."
Besides, there was snow forecasted in two days time. Bad news. But I had other things to worry about, like this hill!
He was right. Snow started at about 9500, too soft to ride and too difficult to push. I set up camp beside the highway and while making dinner the same man came back down on his skis.
"If you can make it across, you are the strongest man on earth," he said.
"It's impossible, otherwise I'd be encouraging you to go."
We talked for a bit as the sky was changing colors and the temperature plummeted down. He invited me to stay at his place down the road tomorrow, as if me making it across was not even remotely possible.
I couldn't sleep all night, thinking about what I'm getting myself into if I keep going. I had about 6 days worth of food, snow coming in two days and I was told of a ranger station in the park which is open (should things go bad).
It would only make sense to turn around and take the longer route. But wouldn't crossing Tioga Road on a bicycle in winter be epic? One last big challenge before the paved roads which await my ride down the west coast from San Francisco.
I got up at 6 and started cycling on the snow, frozen enough from the night's cold to support me and the bike.
Then... I just kept going.
After Tuolumne meadows it got bad. Really bad. The snow depth was about 1 to 2 feet but sometimes I would sink in just a little and sometimes knee-deep. Although slow, there was progress. The very bad section only lasted for 30-40 meters before surface slightly improved.
There was no escape. No shoulder, no clear patches. Few times I thought of calling it a day and then starting very early in the dark but I just didn't want to stop.
After unnecessary difficult section I finally saw some pavement. The views and being able to ride the bike truly turned around this day.
...and forward to Half Dome
clouds rolled in for tomorrow's snow
In the morning, despite the snow, the road was navigable. Only few sections required pushing and there was some pavement.
My new favorite sign is the "Watch for Rocks" - which means exposed road and pavement. I then took a pledge to always play rock in rock-paper-scissors.
Then came my new favorite: "ROAD WORK NEXT 15 MILES"
I made it!
A park ranger drove up behind me and pulled me over. It was time to be officially welcomed into Yosemite!
"Where did you come from?"
"Tioga Road," I said excitedly. That's what he wanted to hear.
He told me that the rangers at Tuolumne Meadows saw my tracks and were chasing me on cross country skiis. First he said they were worried about my well-being but then I found out the real reason: they wanted to give me a ticket!
By some strange twist of nature, when snow falls on Tioga Road it becomes wilderness, and he wrote me up a $125 ticket for "Possessing a bicycle in a wilderness area."
He even wrote down my ALASKA license plate, even though I told him that it is not mine.
To top it off, he passed me and waved at me. Waved. What kind of a person gives you a $125 ticket and then waves at you? Rangers have no souls!
(to be completely honest, he was taking instructions on the radio about the ticket - I doubt he had much say)
Regardless, I will be framing that ticket when I return home!
In the valley I met few cyclists from San Diego and we got talking. They were here for the weekend and were leaving soon but I managed to convince Dave to ride my loaded bicycle to the campground!
Dave, Mike and Imran were leaving today but invited me to visit them in San Francisco.
Over cheeseburger at Yosemite Village I took a shot of the ticket and returned to camp...
...To find out that they put food in my locker before they left. There is no way I am biking out with this much food. There was only one solution:
Stay here in Yosemite and hike. Why not?
6, 7, 8
I won't get into details about how the hikes went but instead will post the photos. I don't have the vocabulary to describe such beautiful places so instead I will do what seems to be the cool thing to do and quote famous people, like John Muir.
For the first time since I left Alaska in August, everything was green again. Full of life, flowers, even bugs - which as usual flew into my eyes.
Somebody suggested a river trail to follow, warned me that there may be some pushing over stones but I was already set on going. He later drove up to me to tell me about a river crossing but said it was doable.
Navigating over some of the fallen boulders was difficult...
...but well worth it.
Something I haven't had to worry for a while was finding a place to sleep. Everything was fenced off, no trespassing and private property. With no houses visible to ask for camping, I set up beside the road at a corner, out of sight of traffic.
I met a man who hasn't been fishing in 5 years and was shocked to see how low the level of the river was. California is in its 5th year in a drought.
The ride to Modesto was nice and fairly uneventful. Narrow roads, lots of traffic, orchards, farms and a dream: to eat a lunch buffet at Pizza Hut!
But it wasn't meant to be, I was told that the buffet has been stopped, not sure if it's a California thing or nation wide. The good news was that I found another pizza place who did it. After an hour I realized that I will not be doing any more cycling today and took off to look for a phone & a place to stay.
"Are you really from Alaska?" asked a girl at a traffic light.
Amanda is actually moving to Alaska in two weeks and showed me the Dry Creek Trail and Downtown Modesto. I also used her phone to get in touch with a warmshowers host in the area who offered me a place to stay.
Riding out of Ceres into the country side was great. Trucks dropping off Mexican workers, wineries, cattle and the clouds forming in the distance.
I took the pleasant but unremarkable Ironhorse rail-trail for most of the day. At Martinez I met Dave, whom I knew from Yosemite. He offered to ride Deadhorse again so I accepted, making those hills before Vallejo much more pleasant! Even Dave resorted to pushing the bike up the last hill.
For the first time since Death Valley I got a chance to rest up and get caught up on important things, like "Death by Chocolate"