My relationship with Fresno County has never been good, thanks mostly to my dealings with the evil law firm of Onion & Frankenface, but also because it is hot and dusty and redneck.
I left Auberry just after seven and rode through a massive gathering of trucks, engines, and firefighters on the Creek fire, which was already 350,000 acres. The fire was in the northeast and I was heading south to King’s Canyon, away from the fire.
The roads were deserted and gorgeous, dry and oaken, so different from the conifer forests higher and more northern in the western Sierras. Best of all there was hardly any climbing, only rollers. The Cascades/Sierra route is brutal. No wonder people only ride tiny little sections of it. Every single day is hard climbing with multiple passes. It has made me tougher than when I started, that’s for sure.
But it’s beautiful and alone and the descents are endless, until they aren’t. I got to Piedra and charged my phone at the library while eating lunch at the grocery store next door. A group of motorcyclists from Fresno stood around modeling their leathers and cafe racers while talking loudly about gear and their awesomeness.
Just like cyclists! Nary a word about the scenery, about the fresh air, about love or laughter, sorrow or joy, only rake angles and badassery and frame geometry. One day they will wake up and see that it’s nothing but a garage full of stuff.
I left and got a nasty slap in the legs in the form of an ugly, hot, steep 12-mile climb. It took forever and a bottle until I descended to highway 180 towards King’s Canyon.
At the turnoff was a filling station so I stopped to fill up with ice cream. A guy in a van was selling t-shirts.
“Wow, what a beautiful bike! Is it carbon fiber?”
“Man I love bikes but haven’t had one for ten years, a Cannondale. Been living out of my van since 2018,” he said sheepishly.
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“You got everything there, don’t you?”
“What about water?”
“I was drinking from streams in the Cascades … “
He looked horrified. “You can’t do that here, man, you will get girardia. Buddy of mine was a tour guide, drank unfiltered water and it got him, he thought he was gonna die. He filters everything now.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Here man, take this.” He rummaged around in his van and pulled out a brand new, unopened water filter kit. “You gotta use this, really. This is free range cattle country and with this you can drink straight out of the Ganges.”
Here was a guy with barely enough money to put gas in his car giving me a water filter because he was so concerned. “What’s your name?”
“Thanks, I’ll take it.”
“Oh hell yes, you will. You’re wild camping, right?”
“You gotta have a filter; there’s no drinking water for the next thirty miles and it’s all uphill. Hide good, too, the sheriffs will fuck with you if they see your tent.”
I thanked him again, then pressed a twenty into his hand.
He drew back. “You don’t have to do that. They cost five bucks at Wal-Mart.”
“It’s all I got, and the nearest Wal-Mart is on Neptune.”
He hesitated, then took it. “Thanks, buddy.”
Back on the bike I started up Dunlap Road. So much for flat Fresno. By 3:30 I was ruined and had only climbed about six or seven of the twenty-five miles up to the park.
I spied a little scramble down to a creek, but once down realized I couldn’t get my bike back up without taking off the bags. I was afraid of being rousted so I climbed deep into a little oak grove and cooked dinner, with Oreos for dessert.
Then I went to the creek and bathed. Cold water on road grime and sticky sweat is one of the finest feelings on earth.
Then I filled up my water bottle bottle, confidently, thanks to my first friend in Fresno.
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