Well we tried to escape Mammoth this morning but a series of since-remedied technical failures convinced us to stay. Megan has been dealing with some pretty bad joint issues (sound familiar?) and wasn’t really in the mood to ride anyway. The solution was a trip to the local bike shop where they told her to do the one thing that fixes nearly all biomechanical issues: raise the saddle. Now we have a fighting chance of making it across Nevada in one piece.
Chasing John Muir
… into the Valley
After taking a day to complain about how hot and miserable climbing the Sierra Nevada was, we camped in the outdoor theater of Groveland. For what it’s worth. sleeping on hard concrete isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds when you have a decent sleeping pad. The following morning we woke well rested and continued the climb that we were assured didn’t exist. For the 32 miles we went up.
Too Tired To Eat
The weird thing about this mountain range was that you really can’t appreciate its magnitude when approaching from the West. Its just a gradual climb through charred pine trees. And flies. There were so many unpleasant black flies that clung to our faces desperate for sweat to drink. Only passing cars and luck managed to disperse them, otherwise we were just too slow to escape.
The National Park Service Hates Bike People
Immediately upon entering the park we went to the campground reservations office to talk with a ranger. Damn near the hardest thing to do in a National Park these days is to find an open campsite. First we were told we could camp literally anywhere ( like right on the side of the road, which is clearly a lie) but when pressed we were told there was a walk-in campsite reserved only for backpackers and cyclists. This was later corroborated by several other rangers that we interrogated.
The National Park Service as a whole lacks a cohesive plan for drop-in cyclists. Here’s the flow chart for obtaining a campsite by method of travel.
In a car? If you don’t have a reservation show up as early as possible and get a spot, otherwise you need to leave.
On foot? In parks connected to major hiking trails (e.g. Pacific Crest, Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide, etc) there are usually backcountry permits and walk-in campsites, you’ll be fine. If you walk to a park without any major trails (e.g. Everglades) see the rules for bikes.
On a bike? Wait, you rode a bike into the park? That’s impossible. Is that possible? You mean you drove a car here, then unloaded a bike which you want to ride to a campsite, right? Oh, OK you rode a bike here. Sorry, we have no plan for you good luck. If we catch you outside a designated campsite we’re going to fine you, and you’re probably not allowed to share with strangers (e.g. Yellowstone and maybe Zion).
If that last bit seems a bit overwrought you haven’t ever biked to a national park before. It’s always a bit of an undertaking just to get to the entrance and then you’re never quite sure whether you’ll be allowed to stay. We arrived at the backpacking site exhausted and hungry just as a backpacker tried to bully some other cyclists into leaving. I had to step in: the campsite is huge, you don’t know the rules, get lost.
On our second morning there we awoke to find a warning under our fly for camping multiple nights in the backpacker site and were told to move Camp 4. We managed to get a refund and everything turned out ok, but it really highlighted how poorly the park manages cyclists. We were more or less told we should have known better despite the rules being entirely undocumented. ho’well.
We Are No Longer Capable of Load Bearing
Our first day in the park we were too exhausted and hot to do much other than cruise the visitor center and watch interpretive films. It’s a little lame but when you show up with no plan the films provide an overview. We spent our second morning rushing to Camp 4 to get a spot. Camp 4 is a famous walk-in only campsite where you need to arrive around 6 am to get a spot. The remainder of the day we spent hiking to Upper Yosemite Falls, which is currently dry. It was a pretty brutal hike through deep sand and sand covered steps, but that’s the cost of the view.
Somewhere on the trip down, as we were once again swarmed by tiny black flies, we each realized how hopelessly out of hiking shape we are. We can ride heavy bikes over mountains but we can no longer walk uphill. The hiking muscles are dead now. We ate and decided that we would never dismount again until the trip is done.
Our final day in the valley was spent complaining about delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), swimming in the Merced river, and doing laundry. I think the last time our clothing was properly washed was on our way to Crate Lake a few weeks ago. You don’t know how good a clean shirt can feel.
…Up to the Alpine Meadows
Our next stop in our tour of YNP was Toulumne Meadows. Mariposa Grove, half the reason Yosemite exists, is closed until 2017 for restoration. Our calves were still fairly nuked even after a full day of rest and so we very nearly took a shuttle bus out of the valley and up to the Meadows. Yosemite Valley hangs at 4,000′ and the Toulumne Meadows is 50+ miles away and at 8,600′. For once we thought we’d just cheat to get some place. After spending about 30 minutes on the phone with a staff member the previous night it still wasn’t clear whether the shuttle bus would actually take us with our bikes. That phone call was an adventure in and of itself and started with me being assured that all the shuttle buses have bikes racks and it would be no problem. None of the shuttle buses have bike racks, which is obvious if you’ve ever looked at one.
So we climbed out of the valley which ended up being slightly less dangerous and exhausting than I expected. Along the road to the top there is a small consolation giant sequoia grove so we hiked a few miles before lunch. These trees are rather sensitive to our changing climate and only a few such groves exist, dotted all across the Sierra Nevada range.
It’s a long way to the top so we split the climb into two days, stopping at White Wolf campground along the way. There we talked with some other cyclists that are travelling with about 25 lbs of climbing gear to the major crags in the area. Bravo! The next day we finished our uphill slog, getting dizzy and nauseous with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and took in some excellent views at Olmstead Point.
Our time in Toulumne Meadows was spent on relaxing strolls, shivering and dodging snow.
Sadly we are out of time here at the library, so I must go before copy editing. Nevada looms large, but we’ve been promised hot springs and a secret beer or maybe water cache somewhere in the middle. Shhhh
Bidding Surface Water a Fond Farewell,