I was tired last night. I was surprised how hard I had slept. I knew something was not right the moment my face moved. The insect bite really had swollen up overnight. We iced it again which helped, but there was going to be a little extra fluff in my helmet on the ride today. I felt like this was the “worst of it” but decided to split the group in half for those that wanted to do the aggressive day as planned or a modified mellow day with me. The group split about 50/50 between the two rides. I was good with that. Easier for me, more fun for them. We’d all meet for dinner in the end anyway.
One of the misses from yesterday were the “rollercoasters” out east of US-395 on CA-120. We all started late (yours truly coming in last) so the ride was goign to be chill. We had breakfast at The Breakfast Club. They were slammed, but did a really good job at getting our slack group through. We just had a table that kept coming with new people. As earlier arrivers finished, new ones came in! The Breakfast Club is my new spot in Mammoth.
With the morning sun behind us, the road ahead was awesome. It had been a while since I’ve been on the roller coasters and I was looking forward to another round of fun this time. I was worried about my eye. I could feel the swelling in my helmet. I knew that staying put wouldn’t help the situation any more than rolling forward. I figured I’d keep the pace mellow and if things got worse, I’d be near a town to get help. Benton Crossing Road was a nice warmup for the day. It’s wide open sweepers and gentle demeanor made for a great start of the day. Some riders went fast, others slow but we all met up at CA-120 and Benton Crossing to see the red rocks.
The rock formation out here in the desert are cool. The others gave me a quizzical look as I had passed most of them stopped at the intersection with CA-120. I appeared to go the wrong way. I parked at the top of a small hill where the rock outcroppings cluster. They just look cool to me. Back towards the west the road opens up as it snakes across the high desert. Many riders open it up here as you can see tomorrow way out on the horizon.
So what makes the roller coasters, roller coasters? Out here in the high desert, the road goes on for long distances on somewhat level terrain. Think of it like a high altitude valley. Since the area is surrounded by mountains, when it rains, the water has to go somewhere. It collects in deep channels as it winds its way to where ever it goes. Those deep canals are like dry rivers. On the left it seems like flat, wide open road. On closer inspection though, fun awaits!
CalTrans doesn’t curve the road around or through the canals soon it’s a quick rise and fall giving your stomach the same effect you get on a cool roller coaster. One has to be cautious not to overdrive their vision as there always could be a surprise at the bottom of the dip.
CA-120 does have pretty straight, flat sections. I stopped for a second to take some photographs of the riders behind me.
I remember seeing a photograph I really liked of someone’s sunglasses where the mirroring reflected the scene that they were in. I caught the desert in Steve’s sunglasses and wanted to attempt the same type of photograph.
We met back up with Tom who is taking a more leisurely ride up US-395 as he wanted to explore the town of Lee Vining and skipped the roller coasters. The plan from here was to take US-395 north to the town of Walker to enjoy a great barbecue lunch. My eye was getting a bit more aggravated from the wind and sun exposure but still within margin to keep going.
US-395 is not the greatest ride and part of me was missing the technical work out across the other passes. We decided to skip the diversion of NV-338 to give my eye and I some rest. That all being said, it was a beautiful trip up and over Conway Summit. I always enjoy riding over Conway Summit as it’s an opportunity to lean into some gentle turns with some speed.
Mountain View Barbecue in my opinion is the best barbecue in all of California. I know some of it has to do with the fact you have to ride a motorcycle across California to eat there. The service is always good. The food is always good. And I’m always hungry when I get there. It seems like a win all the way around. They’ve been doing barbecue a long time in their grill shows it!
No one in the group was in a particular hurry so I took the time to get a bag of ice and freeze my eye again. Ice seemed to help the swelling goes down even if it was only temporary relief. As a side note, their bathroom also rocks. Ever since my first trip there in 2007 we’ve always left a message in the bathroom. This trip was no different!
(aside from Mike’s handwriting is way better than mine)
After leaving Mountain View Barbecue the ride was getting technical again. CA-89 climbs up and over Monitor Pass with great views all around. Having been filled with barbecue we were all a touch sedate but enjoyed the ride up. I have no idea what this overlook is called but whenever I come up, I always stop at it. When I take photos of it they always look crooked but the valley actually looks off-center in person!
The photographer in me wanted to get some experience taking photos at speed so I asked the group to go back to the last turn out and ride through this turn. It’s got a great apex as well as a view behind it.
Monitor Pass sits off by itself to the south and east from the “classic” Sierra passes. It’s beautiful in its own right having some outstanding fall color as well as high alpine vistas. It’s always struck me as odd by the official sign marker looks like a grave but I’m guessing something awful here happened at some point.
The western side of Monitor Pass is equally as tricky as the eastern side. Downhill turns are something I continually need to practice as gravity makes it harder to control the bike at speed. The pavement on this section of the highway is great and is always a late-season favorite for me to ride.
Late in the day I could tell my eye was tiring. The ice at lunch had helped, but the wind and sun from the stresses of riding were irritating the wound. The other riders said it looked okay but that it had gotten a little worse over the course of the day. I figured swelling would peak somewhere between 48 and 72 hours after the initial bite and then wind down from there. I was still well within the margin of okay, but it was definitely an energy suck from the spirit of the ride.
I wanted to try something different photographing the riders. The classic lean in turn shot above is a hallmark in motorcycling photography. You’ve got a clear view of the rider’s face, the bike, and hopefully an interesting background. I didn’t want all of my photos to look that way though. I wanted some different perspectives. This spot in particular was special to me as I’ve always liked the view looking to the west. It was also the photograph in my 2012 Christmas card. The weather here can truly be unpredictable as the Christmas card was taken in late May after a late-season snow storm came to the area. Monitor Pass usually opens before most of the classic Sierra passes, but it’s not writable from the Bay Area until the least Ebbet’s Pass) in mid to late May.
At this point in the ride some of the guys headed back to the hotel. The light was going to be good at Emerald Bay says Steve and I headed out past the hotel. As we wound our way up CA-89 we could see horrific traffic heading the other direction. Camp Richardson grinds the southbound traffic to a halt as there’s no flow control at a crosswalk. Emerald bay was truly beautiful, as always.
The 70 – 200 lens gives a Really good view of Fannette Island. I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to it before. The Western sun provided a great view of Emerald Bay.
Steve and I had had a full day. The sun, the wind, and fun were showing some wear on us.
We tried to wait out the traffic that was building up on CA-89 but our stomachs were reminding us that it was dinner time. The long line amounted to about 20 minutes of stop and go. It was tiring at the end of the day but not completely obnoxious.
We had dinner at Stateline Brewery. Our group of nine got right in. They set us up with around the pier in a few baskets of limitless potato chips. We were all starving and they were salty and tasty. We knew that the potato chips were strategically placed to be salty so that we remained thirsty and bought more beer.
Last year I remember the food being outstanding. This year the salad I had was barely mediocre. In retrospect, I think I remembered the potato chips were outstanding and assumed the food was as well. 🙂