Day Five: Johnny McNally's Fairview Lodge to Kennedy Meadows General Store - "Vibes" - CycleBlaze

From "Vibes"

By Jeff Lee

June 19, 2024

Day Five: Johnny McNally's Fairview Lodge to Kennedy Meadows General Store

I coughed most of last night. I tried chewing cough drops, drinking water, and changing positions in bed. Nothing seemed to help. Finally I got up for good at 4:00.

It was the chilliest morning yet, so I put on my Marmot rain jacket, but only for warmth. The likelihood of rain in this very dry country surely approaches nil.

I started up the mountain road. There were a few work-type pickup trucks heading up the mountain. One of them slowed down next to me, and the guy said "I saw your partner down the road - same kind of setup, with bags on the bike and blinking red light." I am of course traveling by myself, so I didn't know who he was talking about. For the next few hours I expected to see another touring cyclist in my helmet mirror, but I never did.

After about 4.5 miles I turned onto Sherman Pass Road. This was where the first REAL climbing on this trip began. I was at around 3,200+ feet when I made the turn, and Sherman Pass Road would take me all the way to above 9,000 feet. So about 6,000 feet of elevation gain. And in not that many miles. In other words: Steep.

This was a very, very empty road. Based on my admittedly brief experience here on this trip, California designates these narrow, lightly traveled paved roads as "mountain highways." In this case, a large sign warned that the road was not maintained. Scrubby vegetation grew right up to the pavement, and in some cases had encroached on it, making the road even narrower. The yellow center line was so faded that it was barely visible in places.

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I hadn't been on the road very long when a pickup truck slowed beside me. A cowboy-looking guy leaned over and said "Good mornin', pardner, there's a big cattle hauler coming up behind." I pulled over as far as I could into the scrubby bushes. A few seconds later the the big truck and trailer came struggling up the road. The driver's jaw appeared to be clenched in concentration as he navigated around the switchback ahead of us. That was the only big truck I saw on the road the entire day. In fact, I saw few vehicles of any type going up the mountain. This was one quiet road, at least on a weekday.

The first part of the day was nonstop climbing. There were almost no flat spots, and certainly no brief descents. It was switchback after switchback for hours, along with occasional straight climbs. I was in a national forest, and of course there were no commercial activities or houses along the road, not there would be space for things like that next to the narrow road carved into the side of a mountain. I tried to divert myself by observing how (very gradually) the character of the vegation along the road changed. It took a long, long time, at my slow pace, for the scrubby bushes to be replaced by small, then larger, trees. I hadn't had a cell signal since sometime yesterday afternoon, and certainly would not have on on this road. So all I had to entertain myself were my own thoughts and observations as I rode up at 5 mph.

There were occasional signs along the road marking the elevation. I stopped at the first one, for 4,000 feet. I felt pretty good that I'd gained about 800 feet pretty quickly. Only a mile of elevation gain to go! The cough that had bothered me so much was mostly gone in the daytime. If it had been as bad as the night before, there's no way I could have done this ride today.

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The road was very quiet, but a large percentage of the few drivers coming down the mountain gave me a thumbs-up or "v for victory" sign. That's always encouraging.

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I was getting tired by the time I reached the sign marking 7,000 feet. I started taking breaks by the side of the road. The trees were big enough now that they provided shade. I lay down among the pine cones for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I was of course in what I describe to my wife as "bike touring" mode, in which  wildly atypical behaviors for me, like lying down on the dirty ground littered with pieces of cow dung (since the whole area was open range) was perfectly acceptable.

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One of my resting spots.
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I was still enjoying the ride. Practically nonexistent traffic, no annoying wind, and no sounds other than the occasional bird chirps - very nice. But I was becoming slightly anxious by the failure of the "8,000 Feet" sign to appear. Surely I'd ridden enough now to have reached it? I'd been climbing for an hour and a half.

I noticed that it had become sharply cooler. I had to be close to 9,000 feet now. Sure enough, I finally saw a sign that announced a "Vista Point". It was pull-off with an informational sign, but no signing announcing the elevation that I could a take picture of my bike with. What an outrage! And I assume that some thief stole the "8,000 Feet" sign, and it's now hanging in his garage or something.

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No summit sign, so this will have to do.
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There were a couple of motorcyclists at the Vista Point. They'd ridden up from the other side, and told me that condition of the road there was pretty bad. I shrugged and headed down, after putting on my rain jacket. It was cold at up there

The descent was initially a big disappointment. I had convinced myself that I'd basically be coasting all the way down to Kennedy Meadows, my destination for the day, but this "descent" was a lot of ups and downs for several miles. I was getting aggravated and tired. The cough started again. I was blowing my nose constantly. I took a lie-down-in-the-dirt break for fifteen minutes, moved some of my last remaining "auxiliary storage" water to my main water bottles, and then, trying to start up another damnable little climb, was unable to get completely clipped in, then couldn't get unclipped of the other shoe, and fell to the pavement. As I always do when this kind of thing happens, I immediately jumped up and said, out loud, "IT'S OK" four or five times. I'd only scraped one knee, so I continued on the little climb.

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The motorcyclists I'd talked to at the summit were correct. The road on this side of the mountain was a lot rougher. Even on my mountain bike, with its big, tough tires, I had to be careful not to ride into large potholes.

FINALLY I exited the forest and there was a nice, long descent into the outskirts of Kennedy Meadows, a tiny mountain village very near the famous Pacific Crest Trail.

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Mark BinghamThe perfect sign for this tour. Maybe you should make this the one you use for your thumbnail.
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4 weeks ago

I stopped at the General Store, which caters to the PCT hikers. Hikers were milling around everywhere, talking in their sort of coded language about the trail. Like bicycle tourists, backpackers, especially the ones who do these super-long trails, are very much their own subculture, I believe. I felt very much like an outsider. I inquired at the store about camping (free, behind the store) or lodging (none), but the lady I was talking to seemed distracted by questions from some hikers, so I rode, in a bit of a huff, almost three miles to the other store/restaurant/campground, where the vibes were much, much worse, with outright rude employees blaming dysfunction there on "the owners" of the place, and basically telling me to "take a hike" (pun intended") if I wasn't satisfied with their customer service.

So I sheepishly rode back to the General Store, adding a few more pointless miles when I somehow took a side road by mistake.

Things seemed much nicer at the General Store now. I arranged to camp behind the store - although I was saddened to learn that my petulance had caused me to miss the 5:00 PM cutoff to use the showers - and ordered a very good veggie burger and fries. The cook was a nice guy who'd been hiking the PCT, and then took some time off to work at the store. I had an enjoyable conversation with him. My dark mood from earlier was gone. I hung out on the deck adjacent to the grill until almost dusk, listening the stories of the PCT hikers. It was a pretty mixed group, with a surprisingly large number of women. A few of the hikers asked what I was doing on the bike. One of them said it sounded much harder than backpacking, and I just laughed that surely it's the other way around. I really do believe that. For me, anyway, bike touring is about riding from small town to small town on quiet roads where possible, eating pizza and ice cream and similar indulgent meals during, and at the end of, the day. Very different than walking with a heavy backpack in the woods for days in a row, subsisting on rice and other non-pizza-like stuff.

I eventually retired to the tent, where, once again, I coughed through the night. This time it was much worse, because I was sure I was waking up some of the dozens of hikers in nearby tents. I hoped they wouldn't confront me tomorrow and extract some sort of vicious hiker justice.

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Today's ride: 56 miles (90 km)
Total: 296 miles (476 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 11
Comment on this entry Comment 4
John EganWow, wow, wow!
I love your idea about writing first.
Who needs pictures when you paint it in words?
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1 month ago
John EganPics are lovely, too.
But hey, that's a nice road.
(By my standards)
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1 month ago
Kathleen JonesChapeau! What a great ride.
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1 month ago
Toni Romp-FriesenGeez, Jeff! You are a beast! Having a cold would have been only one of 17 reasons why I couldn’t drag my butt and my bike up some of those hills/mountains! It will be easy to follow you now that I found your blog! Be safe and have fun, in that order…
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1 month ago