Irmina’s husband Sam turned up at the campsite with their two dogs at four in the morning – he left LA late after work & also managed to get slightly off the best route to Big Meadow. With my two sleeping mats & toasty Fairydown sleeping bag (it was needed, it got down to under 40 degrees – water freezes at 32) I had had a great sleep & dragged myself out of the tent to see what our little campsite looked like.
This is obviously the stream I could hear the night before.
Not the best photo, but we were surrounded by pines – it’s quite nice seeing native pines in the wilderness, as opposed to plantation forests that I’m used to in NZ.
Our small campsite, there was a great fire off to the left that we got a permit for for the second night – greatly helped to ward off the chill. From what I worked out, Sam came along to cook & drive shuttle runs for us – & he did that superbly. We seemed to have a small store’s worth of food & supplies – first up for breakfast was fantastic omlettes cooked on the tray of the pickup. As we generally lazed around quite a bit, by ten o’clock the bikes were loaded & ready to go.
Even though we were a long way up in the hills, we had to back track along the gravel road to the seal & then climb up to Sherman Pass. About ten minutes from our camp on the gravel we spotted a rather large brown bear cub running away from the road – this was quite exciting, I had never seen a bear in the wild before. It was difficult to get a photo of it as we had to stop first – Bill managed this one – if you look closely in the centre you may be able to make out the shape of a bear.
After that excitement, we continued all the way up to the pass (9200 ft). Good views out to Mt Whitney – the highest point in California & the 48 contiguous states. There were a few others up there preparing to ride & then an old school bus with twenty bikes & riders (& only nineteen helmets apparently – do we have a spare helmet? As if.) turned up – we made sure we were ready to go before them (some were either ambitious or just nuts – with over 7000 ft of downhill, there were a couple of hardtails to be seen).
The trail started off as I expected it to go most of the way – downhill, rocky (but also sandy & dusty) & technical.
It quickly became apparent that I would be the slowest on most of this rocky downhill goodness. But I was in for a rude shock – after our first initial down hill, there was quite a bit of climbing & with all the riding I’d done in the previous fortnight I was a bit quicker – nice not to be holding people up. Most of this climbing was on dirt single track through pines & it got steeper & steeper. More of a matter of pride I stayed in the middle ring & grinded most of the way up, but with a few hundred yards to go & my lungs screaming as we got near 10000 feet I succumbed to the granny ring & relaxed a bit. With a few little stream crossings & the increasing steepness, it was nice to have a slightly technical climb. But it was better that it was all worth it.
Soon we were going down again towards our campsite. To start with (I think, it’s a bit of a blur – it all happened so fast) it was nice tight twisty modestly downhill singletrack.
As has so often been the case with my riding here, the grade increased & the trail turned to rocks in a flash & about five minutes later I emerged from a fantastic chute & pretty pleased at how the riding was going. Back to the smoother track & emerged in another pretty meadow.
I waited a while for the others to catch up & after Bill & I waited for Irmina to show up we wandered back up the track a bit. Met the first of the group of twenty coming down & he advised Irmina was looking for brake pad – not a great sign, but better than injury. Somewhere after all the rocks ended, Irmina grabbed a handful of front brake & quickly found nothing. Quick inspection revealed a pad, the spring & the pin missing. She quickly found the spring back up the trail & proceeded to walk up the trail very slowly looking for the pad. Bill & I joined & gave up after about fifteen minutes of staring at too many rocks & too much dust – but Irmina was determined to find it (“If I can find a rock of cocaine – I can find a brake pad” – police training has some advantages, probably many). Bill & I were both carrying spare pads – but for the more common Juicy brakes – not XTR (who has them?). But the missing pad was found after an hour & the brakes reassembled & the missing pin was MacGyvered out of a keyring & it was just like a bought one. Back on the bikes & it was only a few minutes to the campsite, a quick refuel for the Camelbak, move the coolers/chilly bins/Eskies in to the shade (the sun moves – who would have thought?).
From here we avoided the boggy singletrack around Big Meadow & spent a bit of time on fire road before climbing a long steady hill (my middle-ring efforts were humbled by a guy riding up to the top while we were waiting on a singlespeed 29er). We had also picked up another guy, Brad, near Big Meadow – he had been let out & was riding by himself, & just happened on us – he knew Bill & Irmina from somewhere. From the top of the hill, it was down a bit more & then back in to the most rocky & technical climb I’ve done in a long time. Sod the singlespeed – I was pleased to ride the whole thing in middle ring, only stopping once to push around some big rocks & dabbing one other time.
From here it was another great rocky twisty downhill – I was pleased to let Brad past, he was noticeably quicker than me. Can’t remember too much of that section – except it was great again. By now, the sidewalls on my rear tyre were getting a good beating from scraping on rocks – I must have two or three cuts in them now. Due to our brake pad hunt earlier in the day, the group of twenty had passed us (very spread out) & we were now catching them up & passing them. One of their group had an endo & I was surprised to see as we waited at a fireroad that he was riding with an eye patch on!
From here it was through another gorgeous meadow (perhaps the flattest part of the ride) – there were a few rocks to play on at the end of the meadow:
Now we were at the part we were all waiting for – a 5000 ft descent in just 8 miles (1500 m in almost 13 km). Bill & Irmina had been carrying armour all day & now it was on – this had me slightly nervous, I was hoping that the downhill wasn’t too much steeper & technical than what I had already done – I didn’t have any extra protection. I did put my camera in my backpack, so unfortunately don’t have many photos of it – here is one looking down to Lake Isabella (not the best view of the lot) – we ended up only a couple of hundred feet above the lake in Kernville.
So this eight miles was just fantastic. The start was really tight & rocky with a lot of dropoffs & weaving through obstacles at relatively low speed. After a steep uphill push on sand, the trail opened & smoothed a lot & as we were getting lower, the temperature jumped a lot – just as well there was significant breeze. There was about a mile of heaps of choice switchback as we lost much more altitude. About this time, I experienced my first brake fade – not too surprising. A brief rest at one of the gates & the Juicys recovered somewhat. It was almost over, the last part was blasting down a potted dirt track through a meadow taking less than ideal lines trying to pass the people in the big group that had passed us at our last gate stop – great fun. We waited a little for Sam to pick us up & then it was in to town & I was thankfully able to get a gas can & a couple of gallons of gas for my dry car.
Back to camp – by then it was getting on to seven & a dip in the chilly stream to remove all the dust wasn’t so appealing – I think I got to my knees & that was enough. Sam cooked up a storm & I devoured too much salad, a wonderfully divine huge piece of fresh salmon & some excellent steak. Camping in style, what a great day.