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!)
Some days ya eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.
Plan was to motorcycle 400 miles to the foot of Mount Hood, bicycle up, then motorcycle 30 minutes to a cheap(er) motel than those in the area.
First 2 hours were not bad, boring but no traffic and making good time.. until you turn west to head toward Portland.
Relentless, awful wind.. 100s.. if not 1000s of wind mills, so apparently it is awful all the time. My left arm went numb from counter steering to the left for 1.5 hours of this, and then you drop down into the Columbia river gorge.. and this is even worse, by a lot.
Relentless, random buffeting, and heavy tractor trailer traffic. Exhausting and awful – I would never do this route again on a motorcycle.
Thankfully after another hour of this abuse, the Garmin beeped and said hang a left! yay!
Except it took me down some no where backroad.. and then told me to turn into a NF-xxx road. NF means “National Forest” which means.. no pavement.
Optimistically I went for it.. and it was okay for a couple miles.. then it hooked a sharp left straight up the mountain, up STEEP loose switchbacks. Running near slicks, I was roosting up dirt just to get up and around the turns.. I really wanted to turn around after 2 or 3 of them.. but it was so steep and loose I had to keep going for another half a mile before I could turn around. Going down as about as much fun, although at least I remembered to turn off my ABS before I hit the dirt at the start.
So after arguing with Garmin (GRAGE!) I got back on track, for another hour of the horrible gorge, which, if anything, got even worse while I was lost in the hills.
Finally, I was back on the correct road and another hour took me to the start of the climb.
The climb basically goes up a highway, an EXTREMELY busy highway, with tons of tractor trailer and logging trucks. As far as I can tell, Oregon does not believe in a 3 foot rule.. I am pretty sure they think it is 3 inches.
And the wind was here too, relentless buffeting – a few times I thought I had a flat tire. Going up was bad, going down was really awful.
Luckily it was “only” a 2 hour climb and I was happy to get it done. I’d say this was the least fun climb (even ignoring the 450 miles of motorcycle tri
bulations) of the trip. Combined together, I am beat!
Tomorrow off to Mount Shasta, the final climb of my trip!
Running out of mountains to climb! Today I headed up Mt Spokane, which is probably just out of the top 100, but still pretty notable for the area, with a 4000+ foot ascent. [Strava activity here]
Since I knew this was pretty easy, I decided to just ride to the 15 miles to the start of the climb instead of starting at the base. Especially with all the delicious oxygen at 2000 feet above sea level.
The first 15 miles were through the rolling hills off Spokane wheat country, one thing that I found interesting is there are housing developments scattered within the fields – either these are the richest farmers I’ve ever seen, or these are separate houses that just happen to be within the fields – interesting locale to live in.
Once the sun came up, I turned onto the highway that leads into Mt Spokane park, and eventually the climb starts. I say “eventually” because it is pretty gradual for the first 10 miles or so.. and back in the tree tunnels.
When you turn off into the actual park, the grade kicks up to a more reasonable 6 to 8% and it feels like a real climb. Unfortunately the last few miles turn into mega-huge switchbacks and it eases off again, which is the reverse of most climbs – usually they’re steeper at the end.
You really only get vistas starting in the last 2 miles, and unfortunately things were pretty hazy – either due to the fires or just high clouds.
Due to the gradual grades, the descent was pretty non-technical and I just cruised back down for some pancakes!
2 more climbs to go – tomorrow I’m going to do the motorcycle-bicycle double on Mt. Hood, since it is also a gradual climb.