This post is a bit delayed, but worthy of sharing and remembering this experience nonetheless. I love teaching. Every day is different, and you never know what to expect from the middle schoolers. On this particular Friday I just couldn’t wait until the final bell when I could hop in the car and head up the mountain to set off for a fun long-weekend adventure. Melissa and I left as soon as we could and decided to make a stop at camp Winthers outside soda Springs to visit our friend John who is the new site director. We spent a half an hour watching the sunset over the mountains as we cruised around camp dreaming of the possibilities and opportunities to spend time with kids outdoors, and inspire them to appreciate and protect our natural spaces. As we carried on up the freeway we were prepared to make a stop in Truckee before camping out near the start of the trans Northern California. Just as we were pulling into town a group text went out from a local who said if anybody was looking for a place to crash they had an extra bed.
I love serendipitous moments like this. We texted back and jumped on the opportunity. Within 15 minutes we were at the house of Forest, his wife, and his son playing with his friend. They live in a cabin where most of the other homes in the neighborhood are rentals and they describe how interesting it is to have massive influx of people during different points of the year. They were so generous and hospitable and we had great conversation.
The next morning we awoke and I had a heavy heart to say farewell to Melissa as I departed for an adventure with her to hold down the fort and cheer on the blue dot on mine. Little did I know she would go on her own adventure and climb Castle Peak. The start was pretty mellow with just six of us taking off, well Doug the route creator broadcast us on Facebook live and set off with us on his bike. I settled into a rhythm and within 10 minutes realized I had chose the wrong gearing. I had a 32 up front which clearly wasn’t enough with my 11-42 in the back. This was my first bikepacking race with my new 1 x 11 set up, and I soon realized I wish I had chosen differently. My legs were getting warmed up and I settled into a rhythm riding next to Kurt. He had made it clear he was going for sub 48 hours, as this was his third go on the route and he has done some pretty gnarly bike packing adventures.
It was nice to have some company and conversation. Around lunchtime I stopped to filter water as I realized I hadn’t taken a moment for a stretch break and Kurt carried on only to be seen 350 miles later. The views through the Sierra were awesome and I loved the forest service roads and single track that eventually took us into Forestville. At first it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting with lots of pine needles and shrubs, but I eventually warmed up to it and it became pretty fun and swoopy. I was counting on getting some food in the next town so I carried on to do some more climbing, little did I know I missed a turn in a tight switch back and did a little extra climbing before realizing and doubling back to catch the road into town. As I rolled down the hill into town I bumped into Kurt’s friend, Fallon, who was shooting some video and photos of the trip. He was out in front of the only restaurant which had unfortunately burnt down and all they were serving was barbecued hamburgers. I asked for some french fries and and fortunately they didn’t have any as I hadn’t realized another cyclist had rolled past me. It took me a few minutes to find a small store and when I walked in I saw him now resupplied heading out. His name is Frank, it was his first bike packing race and he was 61 years old. We rode together along the side of Bullards bar. He was so strong and it really helped motivate me as the sunset. I took a branch to the face and quickly put on my clear glasses. When we stopped at the parking lot to change into some warmer clothes Frank accidentally rolled over my glasses and that was that. We pedaled into the darkness and on a steady climb I gently pulled away and that was that for my time riding with him.
As I rolled into Oroville, I was excited for some solid food and ended up pushing my bike through Walmart where I bought a new pair of clear glasses. Quite a crowd for midnight.
I had a quick bite and headed out under the moonlight on the straight roads across the valley. Around 180 miles, I decided to lay down for a couple hours in an orchard. I woke feeling refreshed and hopped on the saddle in the darkness to some unwelcome wind. I was headed for Maxwell where I would stock up at the gas station for a big push over Goat Mountain and into Mendocino National Forest.
After a quick stop, the morning sunrise, and chat with Melissa I turned into the winds and began climbing. Up and up and up some more. The views were incredible and the sun was beating down. Descending was hairy and dusty and eventually things opened up again. As I headed into Potter Valley and towards Ukiah the winds were still ripping, and there were broken tree limbs littering the roads. Before Ukiah you meander alongside Lake Mendocino. This is a major mental section. I chatted with Melissa for some, but it seemed to go on forever. Tons of poison oak, and deer eyes was about all I could see with my lights and the winds continued to rip. Eventually I crossed the spillway/ dam and this was some of the sketchiest riding of the whole route. Perhaps the strongest winds I have ever felt and with a framebag, saddle bag, and backpack on I thought I was going to end up like a kite being blown off. I later learned that in this moment, California wildfires were flaring up all over the place, including one that included evacuations of Potter Valley, where I had just passed.
I stopped at a gas station and ate some salty fries at In N Out before quickly exited Ukiah for my final mountains before the coast. As I headed up the dirt road into the darkness, a car of 3 passed by. They stopped up the road and offered me a shot from their open bottle of liquor. I declined and they asked where I was headed. When I said the coast, they said “you know you are going past the cemetery and nobody ever makes it back from there.” I laughed and carried on. Soon I saw some light and smoke in the distant mountains. Perhaps it was the few hours of sleep I was functioning on, or the fact that I had been pedaling for somewhere around 36 hours, but it didn’t occur to me that this was a wildfire.
I topped out on the climb and carried on a bit before pulling over in the redwoods to climb into my bivy for a few hours of rest. Waking up at 4 am, I packed up and began pedaling. I remember smelling smoke and thinking someone must be camping and having a fire. The dirt roads were covered in branches and debris and I was cautious not to suck up something or snap my rear derailleur off.
My eyes began to water and soon I was tasting the ash. It looked like snow was falling and so I pulled my hanky over my face and wet it down with my camelback hose. For the next hour or so the torture continued until eventually I descended into a valley that had some relief. The sun began to rise and I was excited to enter Mendocino Woodlands. I spent time working at a Science Camp here is 2008. I loved the quiet and solitude that the redwoods provide and forgot just how cold it can get under the deep canopy. I didn’t realize how fun this section would be with awesome sweeping turns, followed by steep punchy climbs. Difficult as it was, the towering redwoods with rays of sun peeping through made up for the numb hands and slippery hike a bike sections. I knew eventually I would come out and follow the river to the bridge where I could dismount for a final time.
Indeed, I did. One of only 3 finishers after 53 hours and 48 minutes. Getting home was another adventure that took over 13 hours as fires had closed roads and turned California upside down. I ended up getting horizontal in Kurt’s house in Grass Valley around 1 am, as was happy to return to the tiny house around 2 pm on Tuesday.
Returning to school on Tuesday was bittersweet as I was still buzzing with enthusiasm and heartbroken for all the families who came face to face with the disaster. May our perseverance always give us strength.