There are a number of reasons why people read our blog. As yet the strangest search term to find us here is “lesbian couple camping”, such is the wonder of the WWW. If you are here doing a bit of research and thinking of doing the Sierra Cascades, pay attention now. Do not try to start much before May 1st as you will give your self restless nights of anxiety about roads ahead being open or closed after the winter. Where ever possible book hotel rooms on the web as you will get a better deal than walking up to the person on the front desk. Even if you log on at McDonald’s across the street it is worth doing and this ploy works world wide. Two gems of advice there.
We rolled into Teddy Bears cafe in Big Bear Lake wearing almost our full winter gear and the meter reading 41*f ( sorry my continental friends, we are running imperial for this part of our journey, for ease of navigation). We were meeting Ali, who had helped us in the bike shop the day before. An hour later, and it was warm enough to ride in arm warmers out of town on H 18 towards Arrowbear. The sign was encouraging, but how someone had managed to hit it 9 ft off the ground was not.
The road was running at about the 7,000 ft mark as it went around Big Bear Lake and then went up a little, opening out to give views of snow capped mountains. It would have been nice to gaze around, but the road surface required concentration, with wheel swallowing holes waiting to ruin the day. The roads are wide here though, and make hight in easy grades, cutting into the sides of hills in spectacular fashion.
Skyforest and Rimforest came up and went past quickly and we lost a good deal of yesterday’s height. We were riding the Rim of the World, with massive dusty vistas to our left of San Bernardino and maybe 70 miles beyond.
Turning right towards Crestline, the road makes height quickly and the good times are over for a while. Pot holes, twists and turns and now 10% grades. We stopped for food in a dimly lit bar to give the legs a rest. ” I could do you a cocktail”. We were in the wrong place, still totally lost in the American way of doing things. Peddling across the street we were more in luck and had our third breakfast of the day.
Highway 138 at first takes little care in avoiding or going around things and thought nothing of throwing in the odd 14% up and serpentine descent in Alpine style. It was truly warm now, even hot and 14% grades bring you down to the cruising speed of thirsty insects and we got a lot of attention.
Into another valley and running above Silverwood Lake we got some idea of how hot things can get in early afternoon. This is the start of high desert which is something we have very little of back in Scotland. The thermometer on my bars went up through the 70’s and into mid 80’s and the landscape became a little less comfortable. How on earth were we riding in winter gear just a few hours and a handful of miles back?
The road went up just enough to bring on a sweat and the first panics about water. We use clear plastic bottles so that you can see how much liquid is in them and have had some good practice at hot weather riding in New Zealand, but this is a quantum step up and it is hard not to fixate about water. The last climb is 3,500 ft and we knew we were safe as my altimeter showed over 3,000 already. The road drops down to Cajon Junction down bellow in the desert and joins the railroad ( near here is that bit where the rail corkscrews and the end of the train passes under the front).
Best Western is the only place to stay and they could charge whatever they want, which is exactly what they do. Hikers on the Pacific Crest use this as a supply drop and a place to rest up, so they were unsurprised by two touring cyclists pushing their bikes into the room. I felt guilt about running a bath, but rarely has it felt so good and it was yet another meal at SubWay for us before bed.
An early start did little to beat the heat and we had a monster climbing day. The profile on our map of the route ahead had done it’s very best to intimidate and the massive trains passing nearby had made sleep difficult (why do they have to blow those horns so much?). We turned left onto Lone Pine Canyon Road and started to go up and then the road settled down to an arrow straight path and 5% grade.
You know you are not going to get up without stopping so pick a mark ahead, be it a sign a tree or a bit of scrub and try to stay on to you reach it. Some times you feel strong and go beyond but you never stop before you reach that mark. It is the rule of climbing and it is there for a very good reason.
Again, water is the problem, as it is every time you have heat with climbing. Trees were barely in leaf here and the first hardy flowers were showing some bright flowers. We made Wrightwood for a second breakfast having climbed 3,000 ft. it is a nice place and very friendly which is why the nice lady at the shop started talking and telling us about the road ahead being closed after the snow. This was a big problem so she phoned the fire department, not trusting the roads department in these matters. ” It is closed but you can get through” was the less than clear conclusion.
Beyond Wrightwood the road goes up again. We asked again at a forestry info place. ” Closed but you can get through, I think” and we were beyond the point of turning back and now climbing steep sections, all of which is not too good for the moral. The scenery was stunning almost beyond compare. When a biker stopped to tell us there was no way through and we should turn back we could almost have cried. Something told us to keep going up and so we did. It was now getting late in the afternoon and we did not have a good plan B.
A Roads truck waved us down and the nice guy uttered the sweetest words in the English language. ” Course you can get through”. He then ruined the moment a bit “You going to camp? Watch out, cos we have got bears and mountain lions”. I had forgotten about lions with all the excitement about snakes and bears. He wished us well and off we went to camp at just under 7,000 ft at Buckhorn Camp.
None of the camps are open yet and this one is remote. We did our bear area camping routine and went around singing “hello bear, hello lion”. It is a strange feeling not knowing where the nearest human being is. It felt like a long way in that star filled night at just under 7,000 ft.
Next morning, porridge made and water filtered we had a small climb and then down to Newcombes Ranch for a second breakfast. It looked closed but said open Wednesday and it was a Wednesday. Our only stop for the day and closed so I tried the door. It opened and we had breakfast number two.
Down we went riding through a vast area of fire damage. I watched the altimeter go down and the thermometer on my bar go up. We turned right and dropped again, this time on melting tar that made the tyres sizzle and did nothing for the confidence. Pull on the brakes too much and there would be too much heat in the rims or take the corners too fast for the melting road. We turned right onto Angeles Forest Highway and my meter stayed at 90*f as we now started to climb again.
You know where you have to climb to and with an altimeter you know where you are at so you can judge your efforts and I would recommend one here. You look ahead and search for the road as it cuts up into the mountains, every time hoping its route will be shallow or even down. We sat out the heat and pumped great quantities of water.
This area is hot and very dry. I have been amazed at how the fly of the tent is dry in the mornings even on days close to freezing, so dry is the air. It burns your throat as you climb and does unspeakable things to the inside of your nostrils. It is as dry as the inside of your grandmother’s biscuit barrel and then some.
Ahead lay Palmdale and the end of the day for us. The ride in is not bike friendly and a wrong turn put us on an interstate where we groveled on a narrow shoulder and then sprinted across to do a “U” turn. Not of which felt legal or probably was. It was 94*f as we ended our day in a Days Inn motel. Five days on the road, 200 miles and over 20,000 t of climbing and already you can hardly recognise yourself in a mirror. People stare at us and I am sure we smell, no more than that I know we smell. It has been five amazing days.