No. 5

July 27, 2022 Comments Off on No. 5

Kristie sent me a list that Michelle had sent her of the biggest and baddest climbs in California. Out our back door is No. 9, CA 155 to Shirley Meadow. Not out our back door is the 84-mile round-trip, 8,500-feet of climbing beast called Sherman Pass, a/k/a No. 5, topping out at 9,200 feet.

Funny thing is, there are much harder climbs nearby, like the Sawmill-Portuguese Pass debacle, 28 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing up dirt, much of which is soft sand. I did that with Boozy P. back in May, with fully loaded bikes.

We walked a lot and it only took 4:49 to go less than 30 miles.

And then there’s the unmentionable, Bodfish to the back side of the climb up Piute Mountain Road. Kristie and I gave up at 7,500 feet, but still clocked 8,500 feet of climbing in less than 60 miles. Oh, and the front side, up a 19-mile dirt road to Cold Spring Camp, just below Piute Peak at 8,200 feet. We walked a lot on that monster, too. She forgot her sleeping bag and it was a balmy 17 degrees that night. Pro tip: loaded bikes and backpacks are slower going, but sleeping bags are worth the extra weight.

But back to No. 5.

I lit out at 4:53 today because the ride is bitter no matter what, but unbearably so if you get a late start and have to make the 15-mile climb in triple digits. I have done this climb ten times and only made it to the top in seven of the attempts. Actually, the climbing starts way before the turnoff to Sherman Pass. The whole ascent is 31 miles, but it’s the last fifteen that really wreck you. Me.

I always keep an eye out for Summer Sale goodies, items that thoughtful tourists toss out the car to beautify the pristine Kern River, and this morning I was rewarded for my keenness. At first it looked like a pink t-shirt all wadded up, which would have been a perfect addition to my bike cleaning rag bag after a wash. I stopped and uncrumpled it and it turned out to be a pillowcase. Even better!

But then I noticed there was a portion of the material that would not uncrumple, as if it had been stuck together with some type of organic material. On closer inspection it did indeed appear to have been used as a mop-up for some sort of car-based extracurricular activity, so with deep regret I let it fall back to the roadside, where it will eventually get washed into the river and wind up in the LA or Bakersfield water supply, which is fitting, since the amorous folks who deposited it likely came from one of those two places.

I reached the base of the climb and got up it quickly, for me, in under 3 1/2 hours. Along the way I stopped and snapped photos of each 1,000-foot elevation marker, except for 8,000, which is no longer there, and 9,000, which is within an infographic at the overlook. From the overlook you can see Mt. Whitney, the highest bragging point in the lower 48.

I was going to eat my pancakes when the rain started. It had been incredibly cool the entire morning, but rain at 9,200 feet is extremely cold if not freezing, so I headed down the hill. About a mile into the screaming descent I almost hit a bear that leaped across the road and dove into the trees.

“Seth Davidson, 1963-2022. Killed in a bike-bear collision. Helmet would not have saved him.”

Not the best epitaph. But not the worst.

At the bottom it was very hot. I slogged along for a few miles before pulling over and eating my pancakes along the river. It was a nice day-use area that visitors had decorated with cigarette butts and my favorite item, shit-stained Kleenex thoughtfully wedged into the bushes.

I’d planned to get a half-gallon of chocolate milk in Kernville but had forgotten my wallet. So I rode home hot, worn out, bonked. I wondered what numbers 1-4 were like.


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