California Sierra Trail Race: Part 2
August 3, 2014
I wake up shivering in my sleeping bag. It's not terribly cold, but my lack of a sleeping pad puts me in close contact with the cold ground, the only night I miss having a pad. We get moving pretty quickly just as first light appears, climbing steadily up to the high point of the route - 9,600 ft at a saddle below Freel Peak.
Sunrise hits just as we crest the saddle. Jack bombs off the other side, but I linger for a few minutes, just taking it all in. Damn, I could just stay here all day, but we've got places to be!
The rest of the morning presents some damn fine riding. The dirt is like velcro thanks to all the rain, and we just carve our way down to Scotts Lake. Everything is wet and shimmering in the morning sun. Big Meadow is impressive, but the final descent down to Meyers, Christmas Valley - oh my god, so good. Fast, very technical, super fun. It ends with a delicious breakfast in Meyers - huge bagel and egg sandwich chased by a massive muffin and large coffee. This is one of the best mornings in bikepacking I've ever had for sure.
Our breakfast stop in Meyers
Echo Summit - leaving the Tahoe basin, heading down to Strawberry
After a way too long breakfast stop, we set out for Strawberry, our last resupply before Foresthill, some 120 hard miles beyond. I am still buzzing from the endorphins of the great morning and the coffee - the riding is effortless. Jack I think took quite a beating on his hardtail this morning and falls back a bit, needing some time to recover. We reconvene in Strawberry, and have a little contest to see who can spend more money on food at the market - I drop $40, Jack beats me by $15 or so. Hope it's enough for the next 120 miles!
A nice but steep paved climb brings us to Wrights Lake - wow, such a cool spot, a beautiful lake looking towards the backside of Desolation Wilderness. Need to remember to come back here for a weekend.
For the next couple hours, we bounce around on another 4X4 road. The glee from the morning has worn off, we are both cursing the endless boulders.
We blow past the turnoff onto the singletrack and have to go back. Where is the trail? We blindly follow the GPS track through the forest until the faintest of trails starts to appear. And damn it is good, some true backwoods exploration, with flowers everywhere, golden hour evening light, and a good long descent. Glee has returned!
We make it down to Bassi Creek just as the last light of the day fades. Our target for the night is our mosquito-infested camp from the first night, the Rubicon river. And yeah, I neglected to buy bugspray or a bug net. Gonna be a fun night! Another hour or two of relatively easy road riding brings us to the top of that 3,000 foot road descent we climbed the morning of day 2. We bundle up in every bit of clothing we have and drop down into the cool darkness. The light of the headlamp on the undulating road is hypnotizing, I am snug and warm in my down jacket, and before I knew it, I'm falling asleep on my bike! At 30mph! I slap myself and sing songs to keep myself awake, but it's a struggle to make it down to the river. Finally, we pull into our old campsite, do the whole cliff scramble thing to get down to the river for water, and are sound asleep around midnight.
I forego the sleeping bag and just curl up in my bivy, hoping to avoid the overheating of the first night and keep myself shielded from the skeeters. It works, I sleep through the night! It is hard to get moving today, the sleep deprivation hits me hard and I can't shake off the bleariness like usual. Caffeine no longer has any effect. Jack always starts off strong in the mornings, and he shoots ahead up the road. The music in my headphones clears my head and I catch him before long.
We've got a good 80 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing between us and Foresthill. I'm a bit worried about my food supply, it looks like barely enough to get me there. The problem is, we might not get there till 8pm or later, and I didn't have much faith any of the stores or restaurants would still be open, as it's such a small town - that would leave me possibly foodless for the final stretch back to Auburn. This bit of urgency pushes our tired bodies forward, and after a brief rest at French Meadows, we set out on the last major climb of the trip - back up to Robinson Flat. We are pretty much praying for roads at this point.
And roads we receive, minus a small navigation kerfluffle trying to find some rough singletrack connector trail. We both struggle on this climb, but finally top out. Tick tock, let's roll! A long descent awaites, time for some more Western States.
The trail peters out in that same burned forest we encountered on the first day - it is choose your own adventure type riding, my favorite! I lose Jack here but keep rolling, knowing he'll catch back up. A brief road climb puts me back on Western States for a long, fun, traversy section, followed by a crazily steep, rocky, switchbacky, 2,000 ft bomb down to the American River. The famous footbridge there had been burned by the fires last summer, so I take my shoes off and wade across, the cool water rejuvenating my legs.
The push back up the other side of the canyon is pretty nuts too - 2,000 feet straight up, no riding here. After doing parts of this trail, I have even more respect for the runners who finish Western States! Way tougher than I imagined. Adding to the misery are the bugs, swarming my face and sticking to my sweaty skin.
Still no sign of Jack as I make it to the top of the climb. I am feeling absolutely great at this point, zero fatigue or pain, and I know there is only one last big climb before Foresthill. I can probably make it before 7pm! The descent to El Dorado creek is fast furious fun, and I happily hike my way up the other side, knowing that this journey is almost over.
Almost to Foresthill. Photo by Sean Allan.
A couple miles out of Foresthill I run into the man himself, Sean Allan, who jumped on his bike after work to come and find us. It is great to see him and share some stories of our journey on this course he designed. We pull into Foresthill right at 7pm, and he graciously offers to treat us to pizza. Even though a big part of me wants to just quickly grab some food and bang out the last 25 miles to Auburn, I'm starving and happy to sit and chill for a bit. Sean goes back out to find Jack, and they return a while later. Sean gets a good laugh at how bad we smell - we have no idea, our noses packed full of dirt and accustomed to our stench. Apologies to Sugar Pine Pizza in Foresthill! If you go there, don't sit at the booth to the right of the front door.......
We linger till it's nearly dark out. Sean escorts us a few miles down the trail till we reach his house, and bids us good luck. We take off in the dark and cruise down to the river, at which point I realize I've lost Jack again. I wait for a bit but don't see him - I'm so eager to be done at this point that I keep going. The 1,500 foot climb goes by quickly, my legs still have plenty of pep, and the singletrack back to Auburn is way too much fun in the dark. I'm actually feeling good and having fun this late in one of these races? That's a first, probably due to the fact we never pushed too hard, we were on more of a fast touring pace rather than a race pace the past few days. Kind of hard to motivate for race pace when there's only 2 of you.
The final 1,000 foot climb up to Auburn does finally break me and I'm hurting. I even manage a nice, slow motion fall off the side of the trail, stuck upside down probably in a big bush of poison oak. I finally roll up to Raley's in Auburn just before 12:30am, so grateful to be done, happy the race went so well and was so enjoyable. Unfortunately, I discover that in my pre-race haste, I left the dome light on in my car, resulting in a dead battery. Dammit! I just want to drive to Denny's and get some nice greasy food in me, but looks like I'm stuck. I clean myself up in a gas station bathroom, buy a sorry dinner of a Lunchables and a bottle of Muscle Milk recovery drink, and pass out cold on the back seat of my car. After a few hours of sleep, I find someone at dawn to jump my car, and I set off for the 3 hour drive back to the Bay Area with a huge cup of coffee.
I sincerely hope more people show up for this race next summer. It's every bit a quality route as the other big bikepacking races, CTR and AZTR. This race probably has more miles of fun, flowy singletrack than either of those other races, and the scenery is close to CTR standards, although pretty much nowhere matches the beauty of the San Juans in my opinion. Huge thanks to Sean Allan for all his work putting this together, I really hope that many more people get to enjoy this race as we did. We finished in 4.5 days at a fast-touring pace - the Jefes and Kurt Rs and JPs of the bikepacking world could easily chop a day off our time, maybe more, and would be really fun to watch. Let's hope people make a race of this route in the years to come!
Big thanks to Jack for flying all the way out from Maryland for this race - it was his first bikepacking race and he absolutely crushed it. Really fun riding with him, it was so nice to have company for all those long miles. And as always, a huge thank you to my girlfriend Megan for her unconditional support, always encouraging me to follow my passions and do these crazy things, even though it means being gone for long periods of time. I couldn't do it without her!
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