We actually woke up early to start our climb into the Sierras. For me, the climb started slow -- Rachel and Spencer biked ahead and stopped every mile or so to wait for me to catch up. I studied the geometry of the power lines. I thought we’d be able to see more mountains looming in front of us, but highway 32 really is just a gradual, relentless upward climb with lush, green canyons dropping off on either side, the town of Paradise at the edge of the next ridge over.
We stopped for lunch at 2000 feet at the one-stop shop of Forest Ranch, bought some snickers, tried to convince Haggen Daz to sponsor us.
Spencer turned around after 20 miles and not too long after, we were rewarded with the first downhill of the day.
This was the first moment on the trip I really understood why I was out here. The pine forests ran by and the wind was cold and sweet. We saw the first fellow bike tourist, a lone guy all bundled up who hollered “What are you crazy people doing out here?”
The storm caught up with us shortly after, and we took too long to put on our rain clothes. Once you’re wet, you’re wet, and we were still headed uphill at this point, no service, no signs for the campground we’d decided ahead of time to stay at.
5,000 feet up, we found a little oasis of cell service around this big bend in the road.. and realized we’d passed our campground four miles ago. The next camp spot was 8.2 miles away and the mountain kept coming. My legs were exhausted, muscles barely responsive, body only moving because movement promised warmth and food.
But every time we’re this tired, the journey keeps us going. We topped the mountain and I saw a sign -- which has become my favorite -- warning trucks of a downhill grade for the next six miles. Still raining, the drops hit hard and cold going 30 miles an hour downhill but I’ve rarely felt so satisfied. A gap in the trees next to a turn off opened a curtain to the whole valley below us, fog rolling in and the mountains fading to blue-grey outlines in the distance. Four miles to-go: our destination, Potato Patch campground.
If you haven’t been out in the upper Sierras, you’ve got plans for the weekend. Especially now, before it gets too warm.
After we set up the tent, started the water boiling for dinner, changed into dry clothes, covered our bikes, a big red pickup truck pulled into the parking spot for our campsite. There were maybe 6 or 7 campsites occupied; 10-15 open. It was weird, unsettling. For twenty minutes, old-time music played loudly over the natural din, and Rachel and I sat together and wondered whether we should pack up and leave.
Finally this middle-aged guy comes out of the front and walked over. He stammered something along the lines of him “not being weird” and just sleeping in his truck that night while it rained so he could fish in the morning. And while we aim to give the people we met the benefit of the doubt, this was uncomfortable. With so many open parking spots, with dark falling, and us camped out for at least an hour before he arrived, I was frustrated by the interruption of solitude and kind of creeped out.
Eventually we decided he was strange but harmless. We slept with mace and all three of our knives, tucked into the pockets of the tent, just in case.