I decided to sleep in. This is vacation after all. I woke up completely congested, unable to breathe, and with a headache manlig-halsa.se. With the excuse that I’m waiting for rush hour traffic to clear I eat a leisurely breakfast. Strange that I was so anxious to go, yet now I’m taking my time! To complement my general feeling of malaise the weather reports from the week prior were wrong. It wouldn’t be mid to high 80s, but rather high nineties (102 when I was riding home on day three)! Woo Hoo!
I finally get out, top off the tires, and am on the road at around 10:30. The first section of my ride follows the Adventure Cycling Western Express route (map 1) to Placerville, CA. It’s a fairly easy ride up to Rescue. The road is narrow, but traffic isn’t too bad. One black SUV passes close enough to elicit a verbal response, but overall it was peaceful. The further up I go, the steeper it gets, but still easy going. The route is easy to follow for the most part, but there is one place where Green Valley road makes a poorly marked turn. I continued riding along the main road when I suddenly realized that I was no longer on Green Valley road, but was now on Missouri Flat Road. When I saw the street sign I flagged down a construction worker at the intersection in his pickup. He seemed reluctant to talk, but waited anyhow. He said that he didn’t know the area, being from San Jose, but that the other workers just up and over the big hill where he’d come from would know. Anxious to climb a big hill for instructions I wasn’t, so I studied my maps more closely. It appeared that I’d just missed my turn, and looking around I could actually see where I’d gone wrong. Phew! At Placerville I diverge from the Adventure Cycling route and head into downtown Placerville. There is a vegetarian restaurant (they serve some meat) that I really enjoy there called Cozmic Cafe (http://www.thecozmiccafe.com/). Unfortunately I’d not looked closely enough at the elevation profile of the route that I chose and now looking at Google Earth with 3D terrain turned on I can see that I passed over one of the highest peaks in the entire town! I got a nice 11% grade to prepare me for the upcoming mountains! In downtown I was riding along in the center of the narrow lane avoiding the door prize and keeping up quite well with traffic, until I hit a slight grade that slowed me down. The idiot behind me decided to express his displeasure using his auditory warning device. An oncoming driver in the other direction took the opportunity to shout what I was thinking “SHUT UP YOUR *F——* HORN!”I ate a great meal, their Righteous Rice Bowl, containing organic basmati brown rice, balsamic beans, tomatoes, red onion, carrots, cabbage, melted Monterey Jack cheese, avocado, sprouts, green onions, fresh cilantro and sesame seeds, served with salsa, balsamic vinaigrette and cilantro sour cream. mmmm… makes me salivate to think of it. Along with copious amount of iced tea I refilled my two large water bottles and was on my way.I looked around for a city park to sit and read while digesting this treat, but didn’t find anything shady enough, so I decided to just press on.
Leaving Placerville, I headed north on hwy 49 towards hwy 193. At hwy 193 I called home to let everybody know that I’d survived this far and that I would probably not have cell coverage for a while. The 11% downgrade was a fun rush. Unfortunately I couldn’t let it all out since I was afraid to let the loaded bike go above about 35 MPH. Turns out that I actually hit 38.4 somewhere along there, even though I was feathering the brakes most of the way. At the bottom of the grade, hwy 193 crosses the south fork of the American River. I was looking forward to a refreshing dip in the river, but unfortunately at the bottom I found one side was a quarry, and the other side of the road had a private resort that was tightly fenced off. Darn. Since there was no shade here anyway I decided to just begin my climb back out of the river valley.
The climb out of the valley was long and hot, though not nearly as bad as I expected. Living in the flatlands near Sacramento I don’t get a lot of practice hill climbing. My 20 mile RT commute has maybe 400 feet of climbing over 10 miles, so climbing isn’t my strong point! I spent a lot of time in my low (26/34) gear and just spun on up. The sun was beating down on me such that I was actually wishing more for shade than for flat/downhill. No uncomfortable run ins with cars, even on the blind corners, though a few drivers shouted out encouragement “You can make it!”. The views back down into the valley were breathtaking, though honestly I spent far too much time with my head down trudging away to enjoy it as much as I should have. Dismounting from a loaded touring bike on a steep hill isn’t exactly trivial, so I was very happy to have my well broken in Brooks saddle since rests usually consisted of locking the brake and putting a foot up on a guardrail.
At the top of the big climb, things leveled out a bit (still uphill) the rest of the way into Georgetown. It was a nice quiet ride most of the way. One SUV passed me a bit too closely (pattern emerging?) and was pulled over by a CHP officer. Wow! Who’d have expected one to be sitting out there? I spent the next few hours worrying a bit about retribution, but it never came. Georgetown is quite small. I stopped at the first gas station that I encountered and bought a ginger ale. Real, brewed, ginger ale, the kind that burns on the way down. Yum, though difficult to drink after cycling. The gas station reinforced every stereotype of Georgetown that I’d heard. Guys wearing jungle cammo clothing, cammo face paint, and covered in tattoos were the majority of the customers. The others were tough looking girls with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. I managed to drink about half of my ginger ale, then went looking for a restaurant. There were only three that I could find. Mexican, Chinese, and Pizza. The Mexican place was closed, so I finally settled on pizza.
While locking up my bike in front of the pizza place, Hungry Dog Pizza, I asked a lady who was smoking out front if they made good pizza there. She said yes, then put out her cigarette and went inside. It turns out, the place was empty except for her (the waitress), a cook (her husband?), and myself. I ordered a veggie pizza (smallest size, 10″) and iced tea. While waiting for my pizza to cook I pulled out my book and started in on it. Copious amounts of iced tea (yes, there IS a pattern fully emerged here), a completely consumed 10″ pizza, and three refilled water bottled later I was on my way. She was quite surprised when she came over to offer to box up the leftover pizza and there was none.
The ride from Georgetown to Cool was nice and easy, mostly a gradual downhill ride. I was looking forward to finding my campsite and things were looking good. My intended campsite was a few miles off of my planned course, but on the satellite map it looked really good, a group of trees near a small lake on BLM land. Reality didn’t quite match the mirage. The entire area was tightly fenced off with only a small gap for hikers. Many signs were posted insisting on no camping and that the park closed at 9:00 pm. Darn. Not wanting to risk problems I pressed on hoping to find something better. A long descent to the confluence of the North and Middle forks of the American river found nothing. The land was too overgrown and steep to set up a tent on, and besides, it was all fenced off with no trespassing signs.
At the river I started to worry. It was getting dark fast. Auburn was only about 3 miles uphill to the left with motels and all services, or the long empty road to Foresthill to the right. Deciding that I was out there for adventure and not going to carry the heavy camping gear for no reason, I took the unknown road that I’d never taken before. Up, up, up, about 8 miles up. It was completely dark and I was burning my headlight and taillight. More and more desperate. After many failed attempts (too steep, too exposed, gate too narrow,…) I finally found some mountain bike trails that had an opening wide enough for my bike, though I had to lift the entire load up and over a bar about 12″ off the ground that I think was there to discourage motorcycles. The areas was more exposed than I wanted, but it was late. Digging for my flashlight… can’t find it… OH NO! NO FLASHLIGHT, I FORGOT IT! Not wanting to expose my position I also didn’t want to use my 20 Watt headlight! Setting up the tent (second time ever) by the light of my cell phone screen I suddenly hear a voice. “Hello, hey, hello?!?” My heart rate shot through the roof for a moment until I realized that I’d somehow redialed the last number that I’d called and that the voice was coming from my phone. Pant, pant. Funny, when I’d tried to use it a moment earlier to check in it hadn’t worked! Worried about my position being exposed in the morning I set my alarm for first light.
Sleep didn’t come easily. It was HOT, lumpy, noisy (some road noise, but mostly crinkling of weeds under my tent), and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with my location. Just to add some interest to the night I had a horrible sore throat. Not the kind that comes from being sick, but it felt more like I’d bruised my esophagus. I think that it was caused by huffing too much air and water too fast. The sore throat lasted until the morning of day 3.
— 68.5 miles, many more than I had planned for a single day!
5:30 am, still too dark to get up. 15 minutes of trying to fall back asleep for 1/2 hr more and I finally give up at 5:45. Still difficult to see but I managed to change into clean cycling clothes and pack up. As I’m leaving the park I encounter somebody letting his dog out of the back of the pickup for a walk. Good timing.
Uphill. That’s the entire theme of day two. Constant uphill grind into Foresthill. When I start seeing signs of town I stop to turn on my cell phone and check in. While stopped and talking another (unladen) cyclist passes me. I cut my conversation short and take chase. I quickly caught up to him (uphill, loaded) and asked him about the route that I was following. Got a café recommendation and when we got there we parted ways. He was planning a day trip up and back, I’m surprised that I never saw him coming back down the hill.
Looking at the café I wasn’t initially impressed, so I decided to ride the mile uphill to the downtown area. On the way I pass some old men hanging a banner over the roadway for an upcoming street fair. They ask for help centering it, and then tell me that if anybody complains that they’ll be sure to let them know that I said it was good! They repeated the recommendation for the first place, but I look around downtown anyhow. A saloon and a Subway due to open in 15 minutes. Nah. Roll back down to the original place and lock up my bike to the same tree as an old beat up mountain bike already there. Inside I sit near the window to keep an eye on my stuff and order a Spanish omelet. The waitress fills my three empty bottles with ice water (skipping the half empty Camelback bladder, a mistake I learn later) and I enjoy a hearty breakfast, minus the iced tea since they only had the fountain drink imposter, not the real deal. The owner of the mountain bike, a somewhat dirty homeless looking guy, takes a great interest in my bike and proceeds to tell me all about his bike trips down to Sacramento (nothing about rides back up) and his buddy’s bored out big block dual quad dual blower fiberglass bodied race car. I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying, but nodded as if I was hearing it all along. A healthy dose of local gossip from the people sitting at the bar (apparently the Subway isn’t so popular in this small town and could have used my business!) and I’m on my way again.
Uphill. Long, straight, hot. Not much to see out here. A pickup pulls out of a side road and stops mid turn. He’s obviously waiting to talk to me. Doesn’t look threatening, so I roll up to him. He says he’s never seen anything like my loaded bike and was wondering what it was coming up the road. He says that he hopes that I have a gun. Not wanting to expose myself I answer in vague terms “I’ve got what I need to protect myself”, which is really just pepper spray/tear gas mixture, and that only because it made my family feel better. He warns to be careful of the Russians. “What?” “The Russians.” “The Russians?” “Yeah.” Confused I just ask, “Has that been a problem?” “Oh yeah.” “OK, uh, thanks.” Lots of discarded CD-Rs on the side of the road. Briefly consider collecting them to see what people are throwing away, though at least one of them (`Hot Latinas’ Porn DVD) didn’t need explanation. About 10 miles out of town I find what I believe is my turn. It’s unmarked, though there is a sign saying that it’s forest service route 10. My map says that the road I’m looking for is FS12. Hrm. I head DOWN this hill until the two mile marker. It’s not matching my map, and I’m getting suspicious. I stop at the 2 mile marker and try to wave down a car coming up the hill. Two hands above my head isn’t how I usually wave hello, but apparently the driver didn’t realize that. A big smile and a single handed wave in return and he’s gone as fast as he came. Well, nobody else out here to help me. Not wanting to continue DOWN such a steep hill if it’s the wrong road, I double back. Two miles UP. At the top I look around more for clues, still none. So I give up and continue up the original route. I finally see Hidden Treasure Road, which is supposed to be just before my turn. Ah, OK, I’m feeling like a dummy. I continue on, a mile, two… still no road. Hrm. I flag down a truck, he’s got a nice spiral bound book of very detailed maps. Sure enough, it’s supposed to be one mile after Hidden Treasure Road. Why haven’t I seen it? I continue on. I flag down a Jeep Cherokee. The driver doesn’t live around there, just up exploring, but he says that he’d seen it about five miles up. I tell him that the maps indicate that it shouldn’t be that far, then he concedes that he might have seen it on the way up. He offers to drive down and look for it, and if he finds it he’ll come back and tell me, but that I should continue up in case he doesn’t find it. I find a spot with cell phone service and call home for help. Every third word gets through and I’m getting frustrated. During the call he suddenly comes back with good news. He found it, 2.7 miles back down the hill. Thanks! So, I turn back and am watching my odometer when I suddenly pass Hidden Treasure road again. Gah! A loud scream of frustration causes the well hidden sign for the next road to pop out of its hiding space. What? It’s west of Hidden Treasure? But the maps all say that it’s East!!! Turns out… it’s the ORIGINAL ROAD that I’d taken the first time! AAAAAAAAAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….. 10 miles of hilly riding for nothing!!!!
This road is much more interesting, and the long descent is a nice change, though in the back of my mind I’m thinking about the upcoming ascent that must follow. There are no towns here. Nowhere to stop for lunch, so I snack on Powerbars, trail mix, and Fig Newtons. At the bottom of this descent there’s a beautiful reservoir. I stop on the dam road to take some pictures and when I’m about to leave this old drunk guy with a black dog yells out “Hey, come back! I want to talk to you!” He’s standing next to a beat up, 60s, orange, Chevy pickup. His shepherd mix dog is very nice, though getting me wet. On the floorboards of the pickup I see empty cans of cheap beer. He asks me about the trip, and I give some short answers trying to get on my way (it’s HOT standing here in the direct sun!). He then proceeds to tell me that he built all of the bridges in the area. Maybe he meant that he was one of the workers, maybe the foreman, I don’t know, but he was quite proud of them. He told me how he personally trained the 19-year-old boy who built the center support of the Foresthill bridge (2nd highest in the nation, tallest in the state). Maybe. I finally manage to escape and continue up the road, listening for him to come behind me so that I can get far off of the road!! A full-sized Ford Bronco pulls up and stops. The passenger slurs out of the window that the hill that I’m on is only 1.5 miles long and laughs as they drive away, leaving me in a cloud of smoke. A few minutes later, Poncho and his owner (drunk bridge guy) pull up and stop. He offers me a ride to the top of the hill in the back of his orange stinkmobile, and I decline saying that the hills were the reason that I was out there. He tells me that I’m crazy, rolls back a few feet before the clutch grabs, and leaves me in a cloud of the worst exhaust stench. The sides of the roads here are testament to the success of Coors, Budweiser, and even cheaper brands of beer. Too bad my cell phone didn’t work out here, though the CHP officer was probably nowhere to be found anyhow.
At the top of this hill there is a road to the right that descends DOWN to the lake. I stop and ponder the situation. If there is good water there to fill my bottles it’s worth it, if not I’m in trouble. I sit and read for a while deciding what to do when a forest service firetruck come by. I wave them down and ask if there’s potable water at the campgrounds, which they assure me that there is. They then offer to fill my bottles from their drinking water supply! Great! They fill two bottles and are on their way. I decide to try the lake and descend, CLIMB, and descend the 1.5 miles to the lake. It’s a beautiful lake. Almost nobody is there, the water is warm and deep… peaceful. I slather on some sunscreen, hide behind some bushes to change, and am out for a swim. Ahhh… it feels soooo good to wash off some of the road grime from the last two days. I lay in the water until I’m a prune, then lay out my tarp to lay on. The sun feels good now, and I’m seriously considering calling it a day, even though it’s only about 4:00. There are two girls floating around on inflatable pads laughing and splashing around. They lay still for a while and let the current and wind push them some distance away. When they’re paddling back they come near me. I can hear them speaking, but cannot make out the words. It’s obvious that they’re speaking English, but there is an accent. When they come closer to where I am I hear some giggling and they switch to speaking Russian! OH NO! RUN! IT’S THE RUSSIANS! AND THEY’RE DISGUISED AS ATTRACTIVE 20 SOMETHING GIRLS!!!!! I grab my pepper spray and huddle under a rock… OK, not really… I can understand a few words of what they’re saying, but not enough to figure out what they’re saying about me.
When I’ve had enough swimming I fill one bottle from the tap that says that it’s safe water and decide to check out the campgrounds. They’re $18 per spot, no hiker/biker rate. I cannot find the camp host, so I try the other side. After talking to the camp host at the other campground I decide to press on. Back UP the hill (14% grade using Google Earth to get the elevations and distance!!) to the main road. One and a half miles it may have been, but it may as well have been 15.
At the top I try my new water… YUCK!!! It tastes horrible! Good thing I have the water from the firemen!
I continue on to Iowa Hill. Iowa Hill is a little dot on the map — a few shacks and a bar. I’d been warned many times not to stop at the bar in Iowa Hill. When I ride by I see that the door to the little, and I do mean little, store off the side of the bar is open. I look in and there’s almost nothing on the shelves, and nobody there. I poke my head into the bar (there I go, ignoring the advice of others) and see that it is very dark and there are three old men and the equally old bartender chewing the fat. I ask if the store is open and the bartender says that it’s not really, but asks what I’d like. “Something cold.” “Do you want a beer?” “No, it’d be hard to ride after a beer.” “Yeah, it’d be hard to climb that hill after a beer, I’ve got Gatorade, you want that?” So, I agree to Gatorade (Green, that’s his wife’s favorite flavor he says) and have a conversation with the bartender and the three guys at the bar. One comments that he sometimes rides a bike. Another responds “I BET YOU HAVEN’T RIDDEN A BIKE IN 40 YEARS!” The first gets quite defensive, “Yes I have! I have a
I leave the bar and CLIMB (Yep, downhill) a few miles before the big descent. There are signs warning that it’s a primitive road to be avoided by trailers/trucks/etc. It’s a beautiful one lane winding road. The grade is so steep that I was on my brakes non stop to keep the speed down, yet I still hit 37.7 at one point! Out of fear of blowing a tire due to overheating I was stopping on every second swtichback and letting my rims cool. Each time I would feel the rims and they were FAR TOO HOT TO TOUCH. A brief touch turned my fingertips pink, and they were radiating heat about 3″ out. I’d descent two sections, read two or three pages from my book, and descend again. It took a long time to get to the bottom!
At the bottom of this hill there was a campground. It was a primitive campground, but I didn’t want to repeat my experience from the night before, so I paid the $15 (again, no hike/bike rate) and took my spot near the river. When I was rolling in this old couple was sitting at their picnic table drinking their Budweisers and said something to me about how I should get a discount for coming on a bike. I told them that some places do give one, but as far as I knew, not here. We chatted for a while. I noticed some gold panning equipment and asked him if that’s what they were doing. They said yes, but that they hadn’t found much. I told them that my grandfather often does that too and then left to set up my tent. A nice swim in the surprisingly warm river and I felt much better. I ate my dinner of Powerbars, trail mix, Fig Newtons, and Gatorade, and then read for a while. The mosquitoes were too much, so I went to my tent, but there it was too hot! Considered going back to the river, but was too lazy. I read a while longer, then after it got dark scribbled down some illegible notes about the trip in complete darkness.
Very hot, but I slept very well that night. The foam pad was still not very comfortable, next time I’ll take a Thermarest. Didn’t bother to set the alarm this time.
— 60 miles.
I woke up around 7:30 very well rested. Swam some more, took my time packing up, taking it easy. When I went to brush my teeth I opened the bottle that I’d filled the day before, you know, the one that tasted bad… the water was YELLOWISH BROWN!!! YUCK! I took a risk of running out and dumped it out. I’d already drank about half of it, but it hadn’t made me sick yet, so I was hopeful that it wouldn’t. So far, 3 days later, I’m still OK.
Being as I started at the river, the only way to go was up. I was really looking forward to making it to Colfax and having some real food again. I started up the hill feeling pretty good… that is, for about 30 seconds, until the flies found me. There were these swarms of little flies buzzing around me. They wouldn’t leave me alone! It wasn’t enough to fly around my face, bad enough, but many of them insisted on flying up my nose, into my mouth, into my ears, or landing on my eyes. Gah! Neither a slew of profanity nor DEET would deter them! Being as I was going uphill I definitely couldn’t outrun them. They’d go away in the sunny spots, but this section was mostly shade. Just my luck. I’ve wanted shade for two days, and now that I get it it’s cursed! Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it!
I finally make it to the top. For some reason I’ve got the silly notion in my head that once I reach the top of this road it’ll be flat, or even downhill. HAHAHAHA, silly boy. I finally finish the climb into Colfax. I look around for something to eat, but the only things that I can find are Subway and McDonald’s. Hrm. I don’t want to explore up or down any side streets, so I stay on this ridge and finally settle on Subway.
At Subway I lock my bike to itself (good lucky carrying it anywhere!) next to an old Huffy. Inside, I order their 12″ Veggie Max sandwich with everything on it. By force of habit I originally tell her no salt, then realize how silly that is. Yeah, add the salt. The rather large girl working there tells me that she’s been riding to work to get some exercise. She wants to find a better bike than the freebie Huffy outside. It’s a hilly town and she only has two gears left. I tell her to consider used before another department store bike, and she quickly agrees and tells me that she’s searching Craigslist. Her goal is to eventually do a supported multi-day 300 mile charity ride. Her enthusiasm was great! I hope she reaches her goal! I told her that I’d lost more than 60 lbs riding and eating better to give her a bit of encouragement.
I rinsed and filled all three bottles with ice cold water. It was very refreshing to have such cold water for the next 1/2 hr or so. Having a decent set of tools, I took a look at her bike on the way out for any obvious problems, but decided that it was in too bad of shape to touch it. I was afraid of making it worse.
From Colfax, the rest of the ride was supposed to be downhill. Actually, it was, though I had some figurative uphills. Some time on day two I had noticed that I couldn’t shift into my big ring, and I was dropping my chain much more than I had the first day. The chain drop I figured was caused by the big drop from the 42 tooth ring to the 26 tooth ring, and the inability to shift to the big ring I thought was caused by a slipped cable. I didn’t connect them mentally, and merely tried to adjust it out by turning the adjusting barrel. Well, it turns out that there was more to it than that. The crank bolt had worked itself loose and the crank had moved significantly. I was starting to notice some kind of strange play in the crank, and later when I looked down I saw the chainrings wobbling back and forth! Yikes! So, I stopped to tighten it down, but then immediately started hearing a horrible creaking and popping noise while pedaling. I tried to tighten it down, but it wouldn’t go away. Tightening it more made it go away, but that didn’t seem right. A splined (Octalink) interface shouldn’t require so much torque to quiet it! I babied it all of the way to Auburn hoping not to destroy the interface between the crank and bottom bracket, which could get expensive! Luckily it was mostly downhill!
In Auburn I came into the downtown area and started looking for food. Wanting vegetarian food I knew that I’d find it (if it existed) when I saw a hippie girl walking up the street. I rode over to her and asked her if she knew where there was a vegetarian restaurant. She got quite animated and excited to tell me about the two choices. One, right across the street, was a raw food type restaurant that doesn’t serve _any_ meat (or, so she said with a slight tone of pride), or another a bit further away that served a bit heartier food, though they also sell meat. After cycling, I decided to go for the heartier food!
On the way to the restaurant I saw a bike shop, Victory Velo. I dropped in and asked about the creaking. He pulled it apart and found that the washer over the bolt was missing. Hrm… I either lost it during the reassembly with the new chainring, or when I was inspecting it on the side of the road. Ooops. Anyhow, he came up with another one and put it all together. It creaked a bit when he was tightening it down, and once more when I first stepped on it, but was quiet from then on. I asked him how much I owed him. He hesitated a while, but finally accepted $5. A good deal I’d say.
It turns out that the restaurant was a bit fancier than I expected. I felt somewhat silly walking in wearing dirty bike clothes after days of not showering, but the host was very friendly and actually quite excited to talk about the trip and one that he’d made previously as well. The food was very good and the environment was very nice. I’ll be sure to go again when in Auburn again!
The rest of the ride home was basically uneventful. Downhill, fast, easy. A bit hot (102F), but otherwise a nice ride. Home at 4:30 pm giving me some time to rest.
— 43.5 miles
Total Trip: 172 miles, and an insane amount of climbing… I don’t know exactly how much, but I’ve been figuring it out using Google earth, and bikely.com and it’s between 8 and 10,000 feet.