It is hard to find a silver lining when it is in the low 40s, the wind is blowing over twenty miles an hour, storm clouds are brewing, and you know the road is going to be gumbo mud with a dash of ice and snow from the weather you had the night before. But yesterday I somehow found one, and it was the silver lining of “I’m so weak, fat, and out of shape that if I can get in a little ride this morning it will double my fitness.”
So I made the left out of the driveway and began the up. My legs were drained from the day before, a 35-mile loop around Lake Isabella into the hardest wind I’ve ever encountered. At one point I was out the saddle going about 3mph uphill, and even more defeating, at another point I was out of the saddle going about 5mph … downhill.
Despite climbing this dirt road outside my front door for close to a month now I still haven’t gotten to the top of the climb. For a long time you couldn’t even reach the t-intersection with Wagy Flat because of the snow and ice; just the other day I finally did, but ground to a halt about a mile and a half later due to the, um, snow and ice.
On the way up yesterday I recalled how miserable it is to start every ride with a minimum 2-hour climb, and how much more miserable when you’re starting to know every inch of the way and, as mentioned earlier, you are pedaling on dead legs. There had been a bright patch of blue sky to the east but the giant black storm clouds from the west covered it up and, because when you climb you go up, and when you go up it gets colder, the temperature kept dropping.
At the T I went left, a first. The road was narrower and less traveled and after only a short distance it became rocky. The mud was deeper and the large granite stones were slick. I picked my way through them and kept climbing.
Here is where I’ll note that this is about the worst riding you’ll find in the Kern River Valley, and it’s magnificent. Not a single car, cougar/bear/bobcat/deer tracks everywhere, air so clean it tastes like it came out of a bottle, and the astonishing natural quality of peace and tranquility people call solitude. True, the weather was shit, but it is February in the mountains. And it was weather was easily defied with a rain cape, some wool, and thick gloves.
What’s more impressive about the Kern River Valley from a cycling vantage point is what it doesn’t have, and that would be Strava KOMs. There are three segments around here, all brief downhills, over thousands of square miles, and so inviting is it that I’m tempted to open an account simply so I can get fifty or even a hundred KOMs in a single day. Tempted, I said.
It’s odd that the area is so devoid of cyclists but then again, not. The bulk of the cycling population is in Bakersfield, a solid hour away, and the world knows no greater homebody than a cyclist with an expensive bike rack. For Los Angeles and its teeming millions you’d think that this would be a natural ride destination until you remember how many good trails are near the city and recall the laziness of cyclist and their expensive bike racks. Also, much if not all of the riding here requires huge uphill before you can descend.
Moreover, you hardly have to drive up to Lake Isabella to get great trail riding. There are numerous pullouts along the Kern River canyon that appear to be jumping off points for the few MTB riders who do venture up here. Why drive another half-hour through even more twisting roads?
I pushed on for a while until the continual climbing graduated from mud and rocks, to mud with ice/snow on the road’s edge, to patches of snow on the road, to long, deep stretches of it. I walked a bit until my shoes filled with snow, then pulled the plug. Yet another day when I would be defeated by this mountain at whose foot I live and, in several ways, study.
Having switched out my Panaracer touring tires for Panaracer gravel tires a few days ago, 38mm fat and deflated to 45psi, the descent was fine despite wet and cold everything. On this lonely road you get to know everyone and everything; I saw Tess in her Jeep on the way down (we stopped and chatted), and I hollered at Duke, the giant white dog that “escapes” and fiercely chases you for a few yards every time you pass.
Back in the driveway I was frozen to the bone and far more tired than when I’d begun. I looked over my shoulder and saw the eastern sky clear up again. And in it was a rainbow.
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