I had a bad feeling about today because it had been a bitter climb up to Miramonte and was going to be another fifteen miles uphill to King’s Canyon National Park. The bad feeling was wholly validated. It took about three hours to get to the visitor center, along with a $20 admission fee.
I fiddled around with the lousy wi-fi, then fiddled around with the delicious whole milk and turkey sandwiches at the convenience store. I also found some hair bands in the girls’ gift section for my growing ponytail, which is more like a Rottweiler’s tail at this point. One day when I’m feeling the right way I’ll wear the pink one.
The bad news was that Sequoia National Park, which connects to King’s Canyon and serves as the southern exit, was closed. The 150,000 acre fire was still going strong and no traffic was allowed through. This amputated my trip, but it could have been worse. With all the fires, the pandemic, the road closures, the everything closures, this was the first time in over 3,000 miles that I’d had to deviate from my route.
I turned around and descended the way I’d come, continuing on the endless downhill all the way to Woodlake. When I’d asked the NPS guy for info about the best route, he suggested I take the freeway.
“I live in Huntington Beach, so if you’re going to LA, take the 180 and the 99 to Bakersfield, then the 5 and you’ll be there in no time.”
I was standing there in full dork garb next to my bicycle. “Not sure the freeway is my best option.”
He looked at me again. “Are you on a bike?”
“Not at the moment.”
He looked, then thought again. “But looks like you will be?”
“Chances are good.”
“Then maybe stay off the freeway.”
“But be careful if you take the 245. It’s twisty and winding; doesn’t get a lot of traffic but the locals, you know, they sometimes drive crazy.”
I dug into my pack for the biggest grain of salt I could find, as I was now being counseled about road dangers by a guy who’d advised a cyclist to take the Interstate back to LA. “The locals, huh?”
“Yeah. They act like they own the road sometimes.”
He apparently had no clue that “twisty and winding” and “doesn’t get a lot of traffic” are holy grails for bicyclists, but I thanked him and went to the convenience store.
The lady was nice. “How’s your day?” she asked.
“Great! How’s yours?”
“Fancy, it’s real fancy. Where you coming from?”
“I camped outside Miramonte last night but it looks like I’m going to have to turn around because of the road closure.”
“Yes, that’s really a shame. But be careful. The locals can be pretty aggressive on the back roads.”
There it was again. The dreaded locals. I wondered what the locals thought about the tourists, most of whom had never driven a curved road in their lives? Nah, I didn’t really wonder.
As I was eating I got to watch one of those tourists, a guy my age whose legs were so stiff he could barely walk. He hobbled around the parking lot, took a few pictures, hitched up his pants, spit, and stiffly got behind the wheel. The locals were looking pretty good.
Indeed, the entire 35-mile descent I saw not a single car going my direction, and only a handful going the other, all locals, driving slowly and taking care around the innumerable tight bends. As bad as the climb had been from the 180 to Dunlap Road to the 245 up to King’s Canyon, the descent to Woodlake had it beat all to shit. It was endless; thank dog I didn’t have to go up it.
In Woodlake I had a reckoning, but first a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. In order to get back on course I’d have to ride about 20 miles uphill, then search out a campsite where there was nothing but private land. I was beat and beaten. I was tired of hiding. I was tired of bivouacking. I was tired of pitching my tent, cooking in the dirt, crawling into my sleeping bag, and smelling the road stink of my own cruddy body and mouldering clothes.
I wanted my mommy, and failing that, I wanted a hot shower and a motel room.
I found one in Visalia, 20 miles away, at $85, which was considerably less than my $300 room in Astoria, Oregon back in July. Flat ground, no traffic, arrow-straight farm roads, and no wind meant that I was clicking along at close to 20 mph, in other words, light speed.
I got to the motel, checked in, showered, then showered again. After that I began hand washing my shorts, jersey, and socks.
Yeccccch. Talk about brown water.
After I got done I showered again just to be safe and then made dinner. It was pretty danged posh to be eating at a table and to have a washcloth to wipe my mouth with. When my postprandial hankering for sweets set in, I walked over to the Valero and got two bottles of milk and a bag of sugar donuts.
As I washed down that last little sugary donut I got to thinking that you know, every once in a rare while, this civilization thing isn’t so bad.
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