Epic Road Trip (Day 3)

Published on July 29, 2015

Day three had me completing the first crossing of the Sierra Nevadas, then looping back across the same mountain range for a second time through the Sonora Pass. Tioga was relatively consistent in how steep and windy it was (which was both), but Sonora was a much more gentle climb which finished off with a very steep and challenging ascent and descent. In retrospect, I probably should have found another way around rather than crossing these two high, challenging passes.

I woke up early after a rough night's sleep. It got MUCH colder than I thought it would and I wanted to get going since I had another pass to tackle. I at my beef jerky to tide me over until I could find a breakfast place, packed up my bike and tried to keep warm (it was in low 30s somewhere), then hopped on my bike (after having a rough time getting it started) and hoped for some sunshine to warm me up.

The descent from Tioga wasn't steep, but consistent, curvy and way fun. Just before I exited the pass (having just dropped to around 6200 feet), I was halted by a Forest Service crew. They told me it would be a few minutes, so I killed the engine and chatted with the flagman. They were removing some “hazard trees” left over from the Rim Fire a few years ago. Apparently, you can tell when and generally where pine and fir trees will fall because the wood is somewhat flexible. Cedar, the kind of tree they were removing, is so hard that when it leans, it can snap suddenly. The Forest Service goes in and does a precision fall with these trees when they're near a roadway so they don't fall on a car (or motorcycle).

After watching one of the loggers pound away at the trunk for several minutes, the flagman explained that it was tangled up in the branches of a neighboring tree and didn't want to fall. They brought in a piece of heavy machinery to assist. The log mover just pushed on the tree, it fell, and exploded when it hit the ground. Freakin' awesome!

With the way down clear once again, I finished my descent all the way to 2600 feet. Groveland is a really cool, antique/rustic looking town at the bottom and it was there I split off onto Highway 49 where I was greeted with sprawling hay fields and horse farms for the couple miles between Highway 120 and Highway 108, which would take me to Sonora Pass. The road curves with some roller coaster slopes and even at 55 it's fun!

When I hit 108, I started the climb to go back over the Sierra Nevadas. This was a very different highway, which was windy and went up more gently than Tioga's descent. I figured the pass wouldn't be as high. The climb was deceptive. When I reached Kennedy Meadows (where the signs recommended no one take a trailer beyond), I was surprised with a sign indicating a 26% grade (!). Luckily, it the climb wasn't terrible, but was like another mini Devil's Highway. The descent, however, was equally as steep in some sections (grades ranged from 8% to 26%).

After the last sign indicating a 15% grade, I was nearly to the bottom and provided a place to pull over, which I did. Because, I just won.

The rest of the ride was easy, and I went up 395 all the way to Carson Valley. I decided to skip taking the back highways to South Lake Tahoe and just take Highway 50 in to Highway 28 around the north side of the lake. I'd done enough steep and curvy roads for the day and one more was just inviting disaster. An hour later, I was settled into my cabin in Kings Beach and had made my way over to the nearby beach where I could sit on the rocks and watch the sun set.