It never ceases to amaze me how much the scenery can change in a day, and this day had more changes than just about any of them on the trip so far. I went from the West side of the Sierra, past Aspen meadows and the meandering Carson River, by huge pines twisted by the wind, up and over Carson pass, down again through pine forests, into the foothills, and stopped in the golden hills of the foothill wine country. All the while, the scenery getting more and more familiar, more like home.
Today’s ride started with serious climbing right off the bat. I found myself in my “grandpa gear” as soon as I got out of the parking lot. But I was in no hurry and it was great to just spin and drink in the scenery and the fresh mountain air.
Turns out I’m still on and off of the Pony Express Trail. It went right through Woodfords, as did the Emigrant Trail explored by Kit Carson, who was a scout for Fremont exploration of the northwest. So there’s a lot of history on this route. As I look out over all these steep granite slopes, I can’t even imagine crossing this country in a horse-drawn wagon. Those folks were tough.
In the first 5 miles I pedaled by an old favorite of Megan’s and mine, Sorensens. It’s been our base camp for seeing the October Aspen colors more than once and the nearby Hope Valley is about as ideal a Sierra Mountain meadow as you could imagine.
I didn’t move fast at all today. I found myself lingering in beautiful spots as long as I could while still leaving time make my destination tonight. But when it was time to move on, I had a new salve for the pain of letting go of a beautiful spot – “it’s OK, I can come back here next week if I want.” Literally, I’m about a 4 hour drive from home, and only a 2 day bike trip.
The Sierra are distinctly different from the mountains of Utah and Nevada. All of this granite! It’ shines bright in the daytime and the big round shapes are such a great contrast with the straight trunks and twisted limbs of the trees at high altitude. I found myself trying to photograph them and get it right and suddenly realized that I was trying to retake an Angel Adams photo I’d seen before – which is a pretty high bar to set. I was tempted to through in the towel on that note.
It took awhile to get over the pass but it really wan’t too bad – just takes patience and that’s easy when there’s so much to look at. When I reached the pass I pulled over at the visitor’s station at the top, I met “Rabbit and Squid” (their “trail names”) who are hiking the full 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
I never thought of having a “tour name.” I kind of like that idea – let’s you maintain some privacy and assume a different identty of your own making.
They were having a great trip and felt they timed it pretty well. I think that’s been tough this year because we got so much snow many folks were too early and got bogged down by snow still on the trail.
After cresting the pass it was down, down, down. Well there’s the Carson spur that is up, then down some more. Down past Caples, Silver and Bear Lakes, past the vista over the American River Canyon, down into the the deep pine forests.
I stopped to have lunch in Cooks crossing and got there at 2:10 when they close at 2:00. But they were still full and let me in. Whew, I was counting on those calories. The women who worked there warned me that my next road, Shake Ridge Road, was closed due to a landslide. But they heard that other cyclists had made it through. That was good enough for me.
Following this road downhill, the country got drier, hotter and more like the foothills instead of the mountains. When I hit the manzanita I really started to feel close to home.
A little farther and we’re in the “golden hills” of CA, where the landscapes dominated by live oak. I’d forgotten what an odd combination of lush and dry they are. It rains a lot here in the winter, but in the summer it’s bone dry.
And a little farther down and I’m in California wine country, Plymouth. Most people know about Napa and Sonoma, but there are growing wine areas in the foothills, and down state too. The owners of the place I’m staying tonight said that when they moved here 11 years ago, there were 12 wineries nearby. Now there are 45.