Climbing the Sierras – Part 1

This is the first in a few posts about our cycling ascent of the Sierras.

This post contains profanity. If that offends you, you may want to skip this post (particularly the first two paragraphs).

Placerville - previously known as "HangTown" during gold rush days.
Placerville – previously known as “HangTown” during gold rush days.

After spending a rest day in Placerville, we headed out Thursday morning to begin our Sierra ascent in earnest. Our goal was Omo Ranch – 25 miles and 4,000 feet of climbing. The ride out of Placerville started off with a bang. The first bit of climbing we encountered was steep enough that it’s the kind of incline I refer to as a “Fuck You Hill.” As in, “Fuck You, road engineers for not doing a better job of choosing a longer and less steep route!” And because that’s what I’m muttering for putting myself in this situation. 

As I climbed this roughly third of a mile, I imagined this hill as the Sierras introducing themselves to us: “Welcome, over-confident Assholes! There’s a whole lot of this kind of shit up ahead, you middle-aged, wanna be cyclists.” I’m proud that I actually rode all the way up that climb. I like to think my success was a response in kind: “Fuck you back, Sierras. I’m coming for you. Maybe slowly, and groaning like a constipated 5 year-old, but coming.” (I happen to know exactly what that sounds like. Many years ago I held a 5 year-old’s hand in moral support while he sat on a toilet and strained for success.)

Once we got past that “F U Hill” the rest of the day’s climb was a hard slog but not terrible. We saw beautiful scenery and occasionally get a vista that would let us admire how much climbing we’d done.

Although we were planning to ride only 25 miles, we were anxious to make good time. We had heard that a storm was rolling through that afternoon and we wanted to be ensconced in our tent before the rains started. We made Omo Ranch just as it started sprinkling. Our destination was not what we expected. The proprietors had set up a small store right next to their house and the campsites were not proper campsites, just open spaces in the woods behind their house.

IMG_2546When we arrived at the campsite/store, a sign on the store front greeted us, “Honk for service.” We were baffled about what to do. We don’t have a horn. After wandering around yelling, “Hello” for a few minutes we got her attention and she opened up the store for us. For weight reasons, we carry little food and had been hoping to buy things for dinner. What a disappointment the store was. Rows of junk food, cheap beer and random camping stuff. She did have one banana, which we bought.

As we headed out the door Joy asked the proprietor if we needed to worry about bear bagging our food. Her response was, “Well, we do have mountain lions and bears.”  And then she paused to pondered for a while. “Well, given the weather, you’re probably okay.” Probably.

By the time we got back to our tent it was full-on dusk and starting to rain in earnest. And the temperature had dropped —  a lot. We decided against setting up the stove and cooking in the rain. Instead, we climbed into our tent, curled up under the sleeping bag and made a meal of Fritos and other assorted junk food. By 6pm it was pitch black outside. Because my iPhone was low on battery, I decided against reading. Normally I can get some charge from the DynaHub in my front wheel. But I have to be cycling at least 10 mph to generate enough energy for charging to occur. Given the 4,000 feet of climbing in front of us, at best we’d be doing 5mph so we wouldn’t be able to charge our cell phones until Friday night. I just snuggled up with Joy and tried to fall asleep, praying that the rain would let up so that Friday’s ride wouldn’t suck. 

As I lay in the tent waiting for sleep, I began worrying about how much rain we’d see on Friday. I forgot to pack my cycling rain booties (covers that slip over your cycling shoes). My feet are always cold and I was worried about how debilitating having cold feet can be. I also worried about whether the cold temperature meant the snow level would drop and we’d be riding in snow. I worried about how much snow we’d encounter at the Summit and whether snow would be piled up on the shoulder. My cousins tell me that Navarretes specialize at worrying. My father once told me that he was worried about one of my brothers because there was nothing to worry about at the moment. I sometimes worry that I will be like him when I get older.

Here I was worrying about how much ground we could cover, food supplies, and the weather. I made a mental note to myself not to make fun of the Donners just before you start cycling up the Sierras.


9 thoughts on “Climbing the Sierras – Part 1

  1. I relate well to your worrying, Tony. I’m a worrier too. And as I was reading about the possible snow I started thinking about the Donner party…when you mentioned it I laughed out loud. Only partly at the absurdity of it…

    When you’re going through the flat lands of Nirth Dakota or wherever think that straight road will never, ever end, you can think back to these mountainous rides with nostalgia.

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  2. Thanks for the update! A factual, yet dramatically delivered line in Ken Burn’s “The Donner Party” documentary is uttered in the story as the group has stopped for the night to see if the George Donner family is going to catch-up with them so they can cross the Sierras together. (George had wounded himself with an ax while chopping firewood a day or two before and was not moving as fast as the others.) The narrator says, “That night, it began to snow.” And, you know the rest. We are loving the rain here in the Bay Area – but I send puffy clouds, sunshine and mild temps to you both. Hope the roadside cuisine has improved, too.

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    1. Elizabeth, yes, I remember that line. Great line. Your puffy clouds, sunshine and mild temps definitely helped us today. Was supposed to rain and thunderstorm. We got lots of fog and cold but the road was dry. Now we’re at Kirkwood Lodge and looking forward to a visit to the hot tub!

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  3. Know you are concerned about weight, but there are some good freeze dried meals,(Mountain House brand) packetized that are pretty light – just add hot water and quite healthier and filling than Fritos. One for emergencies?

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  4. Tony – Your description of worrying in the tent had me laughing out loud! Tony and Joy…your blog, photos, etc. are wonderful…it would make a great book! Thanks for taking the time to keep us informed. I’m sending lots of positive thoughts for good weather and easy rides!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tony, does your tent stay dry in the rain? Last time i slept in a tent in the rain, the tent fell over, and was dripping on the inside!

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