Very brief update since I need to hit the road and head home. This was definitely the coolest of the 3 road climbs. Onion Valley is the hardest climb in California, and #57 in the world. A pretty solid continuous grade to the top (no false summits!) and the terrain is varied and interesting vs. mile long switchbacks and the usual epic scenery.
Since this was my last climb, I was also able to ride it at a more aggressive pace which is good because it was also the COLDEST day. 37F and a stiff breeze coming up the valley – I never took off my windbreaker the whole ascent.
I took a lot more pictures on the way down, because it was so cold my fingers would go numb and I’d start shivering. I’d pause in the sun to warm up a bit and continue on. Winter was definitely in the air!
The expansion cracks were actually better than Horseshoe – most had been filled in and I didn’t see a lot of tire eaters on the way up, so mostly it was just annoying KERTHUNK KERTHUNK KERTHUNK
Oof, that was pretty tough – it has been a while since I did a 11,582 ascent day.
Tackling two of the hardest climbs in the country in a single day was a bit ambitious. Horseshoe Meadows is #7 in the US and #69 in the world. Whitney Portal is #14 USA, #122 in the world.
Horseshoe Meadows starts off a few miles south of Lone Pine via Lubkin Canyon – you can also do it the long way from Whitney Portal, but I was going for steepest/shortest.
It starts off with a gradual climb up Lubkin over pretty broken pavement, then you hang a left and do a lonnnng drag to get to the ominous switchbacks.
In general nothing too extreme, but the pavement is pretty rough, above 7000 feet, there’s a lot of broken expansion cracks. 700×32 tires suggested.
There’s a false summit around 8600 feet which is annoying, then you eventually end up in the camp ground areas – not much to see up there other than trees!
The descent was pretty crappy coming off Horseshoe – those expansion joints are brutal, some were tire eaters, so I had to go slow. Even down low, the pavement was pretty choppy.
After a quick snack and reapplication of sunscreen, I drove back to the hotel and started off on Whitney Portal.
This is another long drag and then 2 (or 3) huuuge switchbacks. My legs were definitely feelin’ it by the time I hit the first switchback, which, coincidentally, is when the grade kicks up to 10-15%, yech.
Pictures declined significantly, which usually means I’m groveling. I did, eventually, make it to the top.
Good news is the pavement on Whitney Portal is good, so I was able to blast back down the mountain.
Well, been a while since I’ve done a blog post from my android phone on the road.. not even with the motorcycle this time. Only a few days off and I wanted to bring two bikes.
Day 1 is a full dirt climb up to an old mining site, Cerro Gordo. Notably, by FIETS score (16.98 FIETS, Pike’s Peak is 17.8) so this would be a solid Top 10 in the USA if it was paved – it climbs 4600 feet in a little less than 8 miles. It starts about 15 miles south of Lone Pine toward the Panamint Valley and then onto Death Valley.
There’s a whole bunch of interesting history in this area related to the Water Wars where LA diverted their river – it’s still going on to this day over toxic dust clouds caused by the dry lake.
Anyways, it kicks off in Keeler, where a few hardy souls still hang on, and a lone US Post Office outpost.
Once you roll out, it takes you onto a pretty well maintained dirt road (and in fact I passed a grader on the way back down) – the washboard was not too bad on the lower slopes and the first 5 miles is a pretty gradual (heh) 8-10% grade.
It kicks up in a few spots, but nothing egregious. At this point I was wondering what the fuss was about and figured it was cake.
Then you get to about mile 4.8 and take a small downhill, and the rest is pretty brutal. Solid 15-20%, and I saw upper 20s a few times. The road surface becomes a lot more challenging – much looser and more washboard. I don’t advise trying to stop: You may fall over or may not be able to get going again!
The summit gives you a peek over into the Panamint Valley and you can check out the old buildings and random artifacts related to the old mining history. I didn’t hang around for a tour and headed on down.
The upper descent was definitely sketchy on skinny gravel tires. You don’t want to get too much speed going on the loose wash board, or you may run out of traction. Being solo, I took it easy.
Once onto the lower slopes, I met up with the grading tractor knocking down all the washboard (what luck!) and it was smooth sailing.
As usual in this part of California, epic scenery abounds!
So here we are in September 2019, with hardly any updates. So what happened to 2018? The plan was: Double Century in March, Death Ride in July, then Mauna Kea (the hardest bike climb in the world) in August/September.
2018 reality (the light blue line is “training load” – ie, how fit you are and prepared to go ride up crazy mountains)
In short, the wheels fell off the wagon. I still managed to do Death Ride with the wonky Achilles but it wasn’t super fun: Strava Link
After a bust of 2018, I took some time off and gradually trained back up and lost all the weight I gained being injured, preparing for Mauna Kea in July 2019.
5 days before I left, the natives shut down the road(!) – could have been worse, I was meeting a buddy from the U.K. that flew over to do it.. so I couldn’t complain that much. But I did anyways. I still rode across the whole Big Island and up Mauna Loa, but I can’t help being disappointed. Strava Link
More importantly, here’s the new motorcycle and new 2×2 rack!
Well, this goes back a bit. I’ve been motorcycling for a while. I’ve been bicycling for a while. ~5 years ago, I spent 4 weeks riding my motorcycle around Canada and Alaska.
As my next 5 year sabbatical approached, I began planning what I thought would be a motorcycle trip down the Continental Divide (from the Canadian border down to Mexico.)
I also started recovering from my latest injury and began bicycling more, culminating in participating in a local hill climb series (shout out to Low Key Hill Climbs!) as well as dropping the latest 30 pounds I gain every time I get injured.
I figured I should use my current cycling form for something, and decided I should at least ride all the top climbs in California this summer. Which lead to John Summerson’s “Complete Guide to Climbing by Bike” book.
Unfortunately for me, I loathe long car road trips.. but I can ride my motorcycle day after day forever, no problem.
A quick Google for “bike racks for motorcycles” turned up the most excellently engineered 2×2 Cycles Rack and a vague sketch of a plan formed in my mind: I would travel around the western US with my motorcycle AND bicycle. Motorcycle to the foot of a remote climb, switch to bicycle, ride it, then switch back! CRAZY!
Crazy enough people said I should blog about my experiences, including my lovely wife. I don’t do Facebook, my Instagramming is inconsistent, and Strava only covers a small aspect of it. Plus, I’m capturing my own learnings and actions as I go along.
So, here it is… count-down to (probably) June. Please leave a comment if you’re interested in any particular aspect of this craziness!
This is, so far, my deeply thought out plan (each balloon or diamond represents a notable climb.)
Today was gonna be a long one – I planned to ride up Mount Shasta (#60 in the US, ~4000 ascent) early, and then motorcycle the 300+ miles home in one shot. “Dangerous heat” advisory starting Monday, and the idea of slogging down California during the week day commute period made doing a double seem more appealing.
Rolled out at first light and headed up, got a mile out and realized I forgot my cell phone – oops. Coasted back to the hotel and started again.
The climb up Mount Shasta was very pleasant and relaxing – no traffic, a pretty consistent 5 to 6% grade. The lower half doesn’t have much scenery, just trees and quiet.
3/4 up things open up a bit and you can see a bit more, and the final 3 miles are entirely closed to traffic (I don’t know if I count as traffic, I didn’t ask) – at the top, the landscape is scoured pretty clean from heavy avalanche/snow I assume.
The closed section was a bit dirty and bumpy, but nothing too bad, and after that the descent is pretty much no brakes to get back to the valley floor.
This was a great final climb for my trip, peaceful and nothing too extreme. Plus it put me in a good frame of mind to tackle 300 miles of mind numbing interstate, which I did in a one stopper because it was already 97 degrees at 10 AM in Redding. So that’s all I’ll say about that part of the trip.
I’ll put together a trip summary post in a day or two, but I’d say it was successful! Epic and awesome and great bicycling!
After the awful slog yesterday, I chose to take the secondary highway (26 to 97) down from Portland to Mt Shasta. So far this is my favorite route through Oregon, despite the state’s love of 55 mph speed limits.
Light traffic, some elevation and scenery changes, nice and cool weather since 90% of it is at higher elevation, and most importantly, NO CRAZY WIND.
So despite spending 6 hours on the road, it was the sort of motorcycle day that makes you think you can ride forever.
Tomorrow morning is another 4K ascent up Mt Shasta, which is significantly steeper and more consistent than Mt Hood & Mt Spokane.
Assuming I feel good after that, I may head straight on home via the interstate (punishingly dull, but at least I’ll be home at the end!)