Everyone has a greatest descent ever. Mine happened today, and it started with a big chunk of character building. Truly, my character must now be built higher than the pyramids and more solid still.
The Cascades/Sierra route from Canada to Mexico is not a fan favorite. Unlike the coastal route, which sounds flat, tailwind, balmy, and fun, “Cascades/Sierras” sounds mountainous, cold, endless, ominous, hard. Whereas I met many riders who were doing the tailwind coastal route, I have met zero cyclisys doing the Cascades/Sierras.
That’s zero as in “0.”
I will admit it’s not for the Strava-hearted, but this route is as spectacular, lonely, beautiful, mysterious, and humbling as any stretch of roadway on earth. There are answers out here, real ones, pearls of enlightenment that come contained in salty drops of sweat.
Today’s descent began with a 21-mile climb to Lassen Pass, at 8,500 feet. I estimated three hours minimum, likely more, but was astounded to gallop up the hill in about 2.5 hours. My legs felt magical, pushing on the slopes like they did when I rode a bike unemcumbered with all my life’s possessions.
I chalked it up to the shortening days. With sunset around 7:45, I’m prone in my tent for 10 or 11 hours. Muscles and body parts like all that prone, it seems. It is interesting that when you sleep too much in the city you awake heavy and tired, but when you lie down at dark and awake with the sunrise you feel energized, strong.
Across the top I started to drop. The covids and fires had scared off all the junk haulers, and I bombed the eight miles without seeing a single vehicle in either direction, using both lanes to set up the corners, touching the brakes hardly at all.
So much freedom and exhilaration, all for the cost of sweat.
I swung into the visitor center for a second breakfast-early lunch and was niced by the young man working the snack bar.
“How’s your day going?” I asked.
“Pretty good!” he said with the enthusiasm of employed youth.
“Do you have any milk?”
He shook his head. “Sorry, only the drinks in the display.”
I nodded. Milk is a huge part of my day’s calories and nutrition, and since leaving Ashland I’d had none. Another difference with the coastal route is that supermarkets are few, and often off-route by many miles.
The young guy looked around. “Hey,” he said.
“I could make you a coffee that was, you know, heavy on the milk and light on the coffee.” He winked.
He took a large cup and filled it with cold milk. “I’m making this the same way my dad makes a dry martini.”
“Fill ‘er up with gin, and glance over in the direction of Italy for the vermouth.” He looked over at the coffee and handed me the milk.
“The pleasure, sir, is all mine.”
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