There was only one white-knuckled terror in my tent, bivouacked along US 395, cozily out of sight of traffic, and it was the padded rustling right at the edge of my tent ’round midnight.
You’d think I’d be accustomed to things that go “bump” in the night but no, cuz city boy. I sweated and strained as the noise circled my tent. “Why doesn’t it go to the panniers? That’s where the food is. What animal eats stringy, wanky, grampa biker?”
Soon enough I realized that it was only the wind rustling the edges of the loosely staked tent fly. But it coulda been a grizzlyrapistbikethiefpanther.
At six I was up and at seven I was riding, starting on a 7-mile uphill to Devil’s Pass. The high desert is hot af in the day and freezing at night. I chattered in my warmest clothes until the sweat kicked in. US 395 was lightly trafficked, well paved, and CalTrans had installed a big tailwind to push me up the climb. My second shot of character came as I left Bridgeport and began the 13-mile tailwind climb to Conway Summit, also topping out over 8,000 feet.
The descent to Mono Lake was a four-lane, fast freefall. I got to the town of Lee Vining at 11:30, covering 60 miles in only 4.5 hours. This was my fastest day so far. I ice creamed up, got some nuts and berries, and turned up Tioga Pass leading to Yosemite, which was closed due to “smoke hazard,” at 1:00. It’s only twelve miles and not that steep, but as the third major pass of the day it hurt at the bottom, boding poorly for miles 2-12.
It took me an hour to go four miles. There was haze but zero smoke, another senseless example of kneejerk closing everything. Inyo National Forest, which borders Yosemite and which I’d counted on for camping, was also closed. There was almost zero traffic. With five miles to go I was thirsty, hot, and tired. It was windless and the views were astounding even with the haze. A minivan had parked in a pullout, so I pedaled over to beg for water. The guy gladly filled my bottle. “You don’t look so good,” he said.
“I feel worse.”
A little girl in the backseat chirped, “Give him some ginger ale, daddy. What’s he doing?”
“Riding his bicycle.”
“Up this big hill? Why? Don’t he have a car?”
“Not everybody drives, honey,” he said as he handed me two cold cans.
“People are damned nice,” I said to myself. “And little kids are damned smart.”
Now I was over 9,000 feet and it was going to be bitterly cold. The urgency to make camp crescendoed as I scouted the roadside. My legs were done, my stomach was growling, and I’d covered big miles and a ton of elevation. Tomorrow would be another hard day; time to quit.
With about three miles to go I heard a stream and saw a path that was marked “Closed.” I whipped in and found a lovely pine grove next to a stream. After pitching the tent I made coffee, spread my blanket, and listened to the gurgling stream in the shadow of El Capitan.
You can close a forest, you can can close a park, but you can’t close the whispering of the gods.
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