I wake up shivering in my sleeping bag. It’s not terribly cold, but my lack of a sleeping pad puts me in close contact with the cold ground, the only night I miss having a pad. We get moving pretty quickly just as first light appears, climbing steadily up to the high point of the route – 9,600 ft at a saddle below Freel Peak.
Sunrise hits just as we crest the saddle. Jack bombs off the other side, but I linger for a few minutes, just taking it all in. Damn, I could just stay here all day, but we’ve got places to be!
The rest of the morning presents some damn fine riding. The dirt is like velcro thanks to all the rain, and we just carve our way down to Scotts Lake. Everything is wet and shimmering in the morning sun. Big Meadow is impressive, but the final descent down to Meyers, Christmas Valley – oh my god, so good. Fast, very technical, super fun. It ends with a delicious breakfast in Meyers – huge bagel and egg sandwich chased by a massive muffin and large coffee. This is one of the best mornings in bikepacking I’ve ever had for sure.
After a way too long breakfast stop, we set out for Strawberry, our last resupply before Foresthill, some 120 hard miles beyond. I am still buzzing from the endorphins of the great morning and the coffee – the riding is effortless. Jack I think took quite a beating on his hardtail this morning and falls back a bit, needing some time to recover. We reconvene in Strawberry, and have a little contest to see who can spend more money on food at the market – I drop $40, Jack beats me by $15 or so. Hope it’s enough for the next 120 miles!
A nice but steep paved climb brings us to Wrights Lake – wow, such a cool spot, a beautiful lake looking towards the backside of Desolation Wilderness. Need to remember to come back here for a weekend.
For the next couple hours, we bounce around on another 4X4 road. The glee from the morning has worn off, we are both cursing the endless boulders.
We blow past the turnoff onto the singletrack and have to go back. Where is the trail? We blindly follow the GPS track through the forest until the faintest of trails starts to appear. And damn it is good, some true backwoods exploration, with flowers everywhere, golden hour evening light, and a good long descent. Glee has returned!
We make it down to Bassi Creek just as the last light of the day fades. Our target for the night is our mosquito-infested camp from the first night, the Rubicon river. And yeah, I forgot to buy bugspray or a bug net. Gonna be a fun night! Another hour or two of relatively easy road riding brings us to the top of that 3,000 foot road descent we climbed the morning of day 2. We bundle up in every bit of clothing we have and drop down into the cool darkness. The light of the headlamp on the undulating road is hypnotizing, I am snug and warm in my down jacket, and before I knew it, I’m falling asleep on my bike! At 30mph! I slap myself and sing songs to keep myself awake, but it’s a struggle to make it down to the river. Finally, we pull into our old campsite, do the whole cliff scramble thing to get down to the river for water, and are sound asleep around midnight.
I forego the sleeping bag and just curl up in my bivy, hoping to avoid the overheating of the first night and keep myself shielded from the skeeters. It works, I sleep through the night! It is hard to get moving today, the sleep deprivation hits me hard and I can’t shake off the bleariness like usual. Caffeine no longer has any effect. Jack always starts off strong in the mornings, and he shoots ahead up the road. The music in my headphones clears my head and I catch him before long.
We’ve got a good 80 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing between us and Foresthill. I’m a bit worried about my food supply, it looks like barely enough to get me there. The problem is, we might not get there till 8pm or later, and I didn’t have much faith any of the stores or restaurants would still be open, as it’s such a small town – that would leave me possibly foodless for the final stretch back to Auburn. This bit of urgency pushes our tired bodies forward, and after a brief rest at French Meadows, we set out on the last major climb of the trip – back up to Robinson Flat. We are pretty much praying for roads at this point.
And roads we receive, minus a small navigation kerfluffle trying to find some rough singletrack connector trail. We both struggle on this climb, but finally top out. Tick tock, let’s roll! A long descent awaits, time for some more Western States.
The trail peters out in that same burned forest we encountered on the first day – it is choose your own adventure type riding, my favorite! I lose Jack here but keep rolling, knowing he’ll catch back up. A brief road climb puts me back on Western States for a long, fun, traversy section, followed by a crazily steep, rocky, switchbacky, 2,000 ft bomb down to the American River. The famous footbridge there had been burned by the fires last summer, so I take my shoes off and wade across, the cool water rejuvenating my legs.