Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My Love/Hate Affair With CA Hwy 89

Pic, from top to bottom. Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, Coming down Hwy 89, End of 89, Mono Lake

Day 15, August 16 Wednesday - 430 miles.

My love/hate affair with California scenic Hwy 89 ended when it ran into Hwy 395 below Carson City. How did it end? To tell the truth, the final miles decided the issue.

I woke late and took 395 down towards Reno and Tahoe. I turned west on Hwy 70 above Reno (I decided to bypass Reno in order to see more country) and then south on Hwy 49 which then hooked back up with 89 to run down the west side of Lake Tahoe.

What can I say about Lake Tahoe? Well, the first thing is that is truly is beautiful. The second is that I wouldn’t live there for a million years because it is horribly crowded. Just too many people and too many houses crammed into too small a place. And it was only a Wednesday!

Finally, south of Tahoe, the road opened up again, except that there was constant work and delays. Apparently, what they say about the mudslides in northern CA is true…the hills are always coming down on the roads and buildings; almost all of the work was crews cleaning the dirt and rocks off the roadway. And if you take the time to look at the hills (and I had plenty of time when stopped) you can see that they are nothing but loose, porous soil in which boulders are sprinkled much as are chocolate chips in c. chip ice cream.

I hated that road. But when it was clear, it was gorgeous. It was like a bad woman…hurting me and then making me fall in love with her all over again, only to mistreat me again. How would it end?

Still on 89, Harley and I rolled, and stopped way too often, through the 4 – 6000 foot passes, the land being mostly dry, almost semi-arid, but with hardy pines still the dominant tree. Then, we descended into a canyon, with the road running alongside some funny kind of sounding name stream. Up ahead I could see a mountain string that I figured we would ride over.

I started up the grade to the pass, and I started seeing some cyclists coming down. One rider was remarkable on his descent past me…the wind was gusting fiercely from side to side, the worst thing for a bike rider, but he was really moving out…much faster than even I would have gone down a mountain on my Trek.

The cottonwoods gave way to pine that eventually yielded space to stands of aspens. Then, after a turn or two, I was near the top of the pass, at almost 8,000 feet. This is only 2,000 ft higher than Tahoe, but I had lost altitude after leaving Tahoe, so the climb in total feet was pretty significant. And the view, what I could see through the smoke haze, was gorgeous. Even at that height, it was hot, 85, so I kept rolling. Once I hit the peak, and looked into the valley below, I knew how it would end with 89 and me…we would part on good terms.

The road down was a biker’s dream, pedal or motor. The roadbed was perfect, the turns predictable, the grade steep, and the views to die for. I passed a couple of teams of cyclists on their way up and knew they would be having a good day, albeit long.

Finally, 89 ended at 395. It was over. I forgave 89 for all the grief she had caused me; she left me with a lingering kiss and fond memory.

On 395, it was time to roll. The 65 speed limit was a joke. But there were two problems. The first was that, because it ran parallel with the mountain range, the wind whipping down the slopes clobbered me from the side much as was often the case on Hwy 93 in Colorado. But 93 didn’t run for long…now, I had over 100 miles to go. It was so windy that they even had wind socks along the road in places. The second problem was that there was, you got it, more construction.

At one, I was again, second in line to stop. The driver of the car in front had her window down and had a really good song playing. Finally, I couldn’t stand it, started up, rolled up alongside her, shut down the engine, and asked her who the band was. She said it was David and David…you had to order over the internet. Well, I’m gonna order it.

Soon, the flagger waved up around and she took the lead. After we passed through the other end of work, the last for the day, thank god, she stomped the pedal. She had told me while we were visiting that she was from Reno and going to LA. It was 350 miles and I guess she planned to get there in an hour or so.

Even though there was a fierce headwind coming up the valley from the south, I turned the throttle up and stayed back behind her…if there was a cop he’d nail her first.

But when she got stuck behind a truck, I was first around and took the lead for a while. For the next 75 miles we swapped turns up front. Then, when I was leading, I pulled into a gas station in Bridgeport and she followed me in. I got gas and she went in to buy cigarettes. When she came out, I had pulled the bike up to take a break. We started talking and it turns out she’s a surgical nurse in Reno going to see her cousin in LA. She had a ring with diamonds on her left ring finger, but when I said it was time to get going, she took a pen and piece of paper and wrote out her number and email. “If you’ve got time in LA, call or email me,” she said.

Oh, yeah, right! She’s a smoker, I’m not. I’m available, she’s not. I don’t need more trouble. But we had a nice chat.

From there, 395 had surprises for me. It climbed over several more passes, had no more work, and revealed some beautiful scenes. One was Mono Lake, near where the first placer gold mining operations took place. Another was the line of Sierra Nevada mountains that appeared on the right. Imagine driving up 75 in Boulder County, but all the land around you is flat, excepting that to your right is a steep wall of mountains, not the foothills that grow into the Rockies like by 75. And, to your left across the flatland is another wall of mountains.

The thing is, much of CA is valleys hemmed in by long lines of mountains. And these mountains and valleys vary in height from one to the other. For instance, Owens Valley, where I am now, is at about 4-5000 ft. I understand that the Sacramento Valley that eventually becomes the San Joaquin Valley are at a much lower altitude. But they, too, are walled in. The geography of CA is really interesting…when it holds still long enough for you to see and study it!!

I was running way late, fearing two problems. One was that I didn’t want to hit any animals. Hwy 89 was littered with the carcasses of dead deer, and they were big mothers. Now, on 395, I saw signs warning of ELK! The other problem was getting a room. All the travelers are like birds flying to roost at night. Wait too long and your spot in the tree or on the wire is much less than desirable.

In fact, I’m in Lone Pine, at the Dow Villa, an old historic, downtown motel. There are pictures of John Wayne everywhere. He (or more likely, one of the Old West characters he played) must have stayed here. There is NO BATHROOM in my room, only a sink. Just like the real west. I checked out the communal bath, saw the water on the floor and didn’t even bother to check inside the shower stall. The old “spit bath” thing is gonna work for me tonight.

Low point of the day: The traffic around Tahoe
High point of the day: The final miles of Hwy 89

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