An occasional journal of the Life of Reilly

Friday, August 10, 2007

7 ½ Percent Is My Limit



Steepness is subjective. Say you are driving a sports car with enough power to go over 100 mph without breaking a sweat. Any uphill grade may not even require you to shift to a lower gear. Even John’s old Toyota Corolla, with more miles on the odometer than from here to the moon, could transport us with relative ease up any hill. But try it on a bicycle loaded with enough gear, food, and water for an overnight trip, with only your granola breakfast for fuel, and anything short of level ground elevates the pulse.

For months our new bike touring gear has been sitting in the corner of the living room, still in its original packaging. Life’s interruptions delayed our plans to put it to use in Europe this summer. But John finally got out the racks and panniers and mounted them on our bikes. We were going on a road trip.

Our usual optimistic outlook was a bit dampened once the panniers were on the bikes. The bikes were now heavy – noticeably harder to lift. And that was without anything in them. We filled them up with our camping gear, balanced them appropriately, and went to bed with a bit of uncertainty about being able to propel them forward.

Our plan was to do a 100-mile loop – down to Mammoth, then east at the Green Church to Benton Hot Springs, camp overnight, and then head home via Highway 120 the next day. Heading out we had our first grade out of June Lake Junction over Deadman’s Pass. This was the first time either of us have ridden a fully loaded bike, and hey, this ain’t so bad – the bike actually rolls along just fine.

Most of the morning was down hill or flat. Towards noon we were well into the desert – sagebrush as big as cars, a herd of sheep accompanied only by a donkey and a barking dog, less than one car per hour passing us by. We started hitting grades, and our pace slowed down considerably. It gives one lots of opportunity to examine debris on the side of the road – lots of bungee cords (minus a hook), a comb, the lid of an ice chest, coyote droppings at regular intervals.

By the time we reached the turnoff to Benton Hot Springs, we had clocked 57 miles. We found a suitable campsite, but we were out of water. We had never been here before, and did not realize the hamlet was another three miles down the road. Not a problem, as we whizzed past the warning sign saying “7 ½ % downhill grade next three miles”. It was getting late, and we passed on a dip in the hot tubs. We did stop at the local B&B, asking for permission to fill our water bottles. The proprietor said we could fill up, but all the water in town was hot water. She pointed to the fridge and said she had cold water for sale. We said hot water would be fine…we found it to be tepid, and good tasting. Some of the best quality water in the State, so we have been told.

So, with an extra 20 pounds of fluid, we proceeded up that 7 ½ percent grade. John was able to maintain a 4-5 mile per hour pace. I was just barely topping 3 ½. By the time I caught up with him, I was out of breath, and needed a full five minutes to get to the point where I could talk. We hauled our bags, then our bikes, a couple of hundred yards up a sandy wash. We were spent, and saved the energy of setting up the tent to sleep in the open under the desert sky made cloudy by the brightness of the Milky Way.

The next day was also a blur of sagebrush and steep grades. As we reached familiar territory near Mono Craters, we were cooled by a breeze that turned into a steady headwind by the time we turned onto the June Lake Loop. We had to pedal to go downhill. Parched, butt-sore, and rubber-legged, we made it home.

A day has passed, and with time all things heal. The final consensus? Actually, it is just like regular bike riding, just slower (way slower). And you can cover a good distance, yet go at a pace where you can see and feel the landscape around you. And people are so supportive – we got at least two thumbs-up and several honks of approval along the way. It is actually kind of fun…I think we might just try it again soon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Top Ten List of Best Things About the Backcountry







Note: We finally got away from the cell phone on a six-day backpacking trip. We did a loop starting at Twin Lakes, over Buckeye Pass, through Paiute Meadows, along Tilden Lake, up Kerrick Canyon, and over Rock Island Pass to Crown Lake, and back to the trailhead. Nothing much other than lots of walking and picture taking. And some ruminating about…

10. Full moons – who needs a flashlight on those midnight nature calls.

9. Full body awareness – especially the feet, knees, and hipbones.

8. EVERYTHING tastes good – even dried tortellini and instant rice. I get to eat all those things I never allow myself at home – trail mix, peanut butter, Mom’s homemade strudel that has been in the freezer since John’s birthday.

7. Two words – skinny dips.

6. Solitude – it can be easily attained by hiking just a few miles from any trailhead.

5. Meeting the nicest people – hey, they are usually on vacation, happy, and like to do the same things you do. The possibility of meeting an ax murderer on the trail, 30 miles from civilization, is pretty remote.

4. Quiet – so deep it almost hurts. And if there is noise, it is the sound of the wind through trees as it comes towards you, or the sound of a bird, or thunder in the distance.

3. No news – no updates on Iraq.

2. Fresh air – every meal is ‘al fresco’.

1. It beats anything on TV.

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