Day Eighty-Five: The Sierras in a Day’s Work

Distance: 72 mi.

Elevation gain: 3,877 ft

Song of the Day: Moon Hooch — Mountain Lion

6AM: Eat the remaining perishable goods in Steve’s pantry; not so much hungry as eating has become automatic behavior before riding, always paying off later on a thousand foot climb. Liz and I pile into the Explorer for a literal lift into the Sierras. Past Carson City I begin to feel jangled excitement; suppress the urge to holler at Steve STOP so I could climb the entire 8,000 feet, maybe also see Tahoe. But we’ve opted to play the long game today, 70 miles, we lack the time to plunge the whole morning into a four hour climb. (Not to mention my aching achilles tendon.)

The sign marking the cross into California was so pitiful we almost missed it.

Turn right on Route 88 and face the mountains head on; soar up into Woodfords, the pine trees are friendly giants fanning both sides of the road, I’m now extremely excited to get outta the car and ride. Lizzie holds minimal share in my desire, so we drive a little further. Unable to contain myself any longer I start imploring Steve to pull the car off the road; he’ll find somewhere good to pull over, he says, he’s the driver and does not invite me to share further sentiments on what I consider to be a “good spot.”

All smiles today.

Reassemble Tilly and Marrakesh and begin the climb, stopping once or twice to reposition our front axels and prevent disc brake calipers from rubbing against wheels. Above 7,500 feet the desert climate disintegrates as dew returns to the trees and fog billows down neat meadows below raised outlines that foretell distant mountaintops.

Grade of the climb steepens, trees giving way to switchbacks cut from banks of colossal rock. A penetrating wind overtakes us; bikes quiver and wobble, we struggle to steer the handlebars in unison with the curvilinear and abruptly narrow shoulder. Occasional whoosh of RV reminds us to grip strictly, pedal evenly, balance more exactly. Traffic lets up and I slant downwards across the road to a gravel pullout. Forgoing Tahoe was the right call today, as Route 88 bears its own lake overlooks:

Lizzie nor I have cell service. We activate our GoTennas and check our GPS location against GoTenna’s mapping tool. We did not spend the usual time familiarizing with our route or plotting out surroundings; using GoTenna we’re able to identify a few lodges and markers that should be easy to spot, just in case we get separated. Handy tool!

GoTenna allowed us to download a map of California and permanently save it to our phones.

Silent pause at the peak of Carson Pass. “Is this really our final mountain pass?” Lizzie remarks soberly a moment later. I offer no response, nod to myself as if unable to bow to the disclosure.

Sail 5,000 feet down swirls and turns beside pockets of unmelting ice; honks and cheers of encouragment from oncoming cars testifies to the still-continuing adventure, rescues us away from our prior broodings. The atmosphere thickens into a stable heated condition as we lose altitude. The grade of decline evens out and we tackle a few short climbs amid an incursion of tourist restaurants and cabins near Kit Carson.

Reach Pine Grove and brake for what is presumably be the only homemade ice cream in fifty miles (Lizzie chooses ice cream over a paid-for lunch; I am a cruel but effective Chief Financial Officer.) Ice cream jet fuel propels us into Sutter Creek’s relaxed outskirts as we try to remember the aggressive-defensive cycling patterns advantageous to a more urban environ.

Brake down a steep hill onto Patricia Street which leads to our Warm Showers hosts. Michael greets us and offers us a beer, I decline and Lizzie accepts.

Manicured lawn. Windmill decor. Rangy farmland view.

Michael took a bad fall off a ladder and fractured a few discs in his back and is using an inversion chair to recover; I hang upside down for nearly fifteen minutes which does wonders for my back. Kathy arrives and offers an immediate and winsome greeting, before she’s even clear of the car.

Quickly becomes evident these are not run-of-the-mill Warm Showers hosts. Kathy prepares a prodigious meal for us: an entire chicken, two hunks of fish for Lizzie, steamed broccoli, salads, twelve butter rolls, and several boxes of ginger molasses cookies. How do they know everything we want when they’re not even bike tourists?! The answer is their son, Josh, who signed them up on Warm Showers after completing a Bike and Build tour a few years ago. I’m not sure he asked permission, but Kathy and Michael have adapted. “We especially like to host bikers with funny accents,” Kathy goads. “This one guy from Holland would rummage through my cubbards, pointing at each item saying: ‘Foor journeey? May take foor journeey?”

Meet Cawber, the oversized, fluorescent 30 year-old McCaw sunning in a garden room snacking on peanuts. He cracks the shell with his beak, grabs hold of the nut with scaly left foot before shuffling the treat into his mouth. Kathy plays a pop song from her iPhone and Cawber headbangs along (or headbutts along, depending on his proximity to the cage.) Killah, a large pitbull, trots around outside, eventually invited into the house only to be scolded for licking Lizzie too vigorously.

Killah fiends for Michael’s molasses cookie.

Dinner done, we adjourn to a living room decorated with The Hulk and Wonder Woman posters. Kathy imparts tale about a Warm Showers guest from the UK who ditched his hotel management career to tour America. When the tourist asked Kathy and Josh about a resort he saw by Carson Pass, they told him “That’s Kirkwood Ski Resort, you need to go there if you didn’t stop.” So he did: he marched in with his hospitality qualifications in hand, told them he’d like to be hired as their head of operations. Persisting in enthusiasm for a couple weeks, Kirkwood finally offered him the position, which he accepted, and hired Josh, who will break from university this winter to work for him.

A mere two days of riding from our journey’s summation in San Francisco and we are treated to one of three all-time best Warm Showers experiences. Liz and I spent well, our moods improved by the unending surprises, expectant for more exploits in California.

If you’re wondering about the other two best ones, that I will not divulge — however, having taken note of the steady readers of this travelog, it’s a safe bet that if you’re a Warm Showers host reading this you’re also at the top of the list!