Time is a blur these days. As one who regularly travels, I usually segment time in blocks of “at home” or “on the road.” Since October 25, 2019, I’ve spent just about every night in my bed aside from a short work trip in mid-January. I don’t think I have had a no travel block that long since I joined my current employer almost eight years ago. Travel is a natural part of my job and my psyche.
The lack of movement has been disorienting to me. It’s been about six months since I’ve seen any of my out-of-town work colleagues. It’s been almost a year since I’ve seen my parents. It’s been more than a year since I’ve slept underneath the pines in the Sierras. Coronavirus has quashed all but truly essential airplane travel. Restrictions recently expired in my local area, so it was time to return to the pines in the Sierras.
I do believe that coronavirus is a real thing. We do have to take practical precautions around the pandemic. I’m keenly aware that the pandemic has other consequences. It’s not just the virology of coronavirus. I’ve been cooped up too long and need some low-risk socialization. My mental health is degrading. I decided to go camping with two buddies of mine.
The Beemer has only been on two overnights: June Lake and Death Valley. I’ve not been camping with him, yet. I always divide the Sierras up in terms of the passes which cross this beautiful mountain range. Yuba Pass is the furthest north on Highway 49, and Walker Pass is the furthest south on Highway 178. John booked a campsite at French Meadows, just off Mosquito Ridge Road. This particular section just south of Interstate 80 isn’t an area I ride frequently. Mosquito Ridge Road is an out and back trip – unless you’re a dirt rider and can make the journey up to Soda Springs.
I’ve been a late committer for all things motorcycling the past couple of months. A variety of factors have kept me off the bike. I called John 1/2 hour before he was leaving to say, “I’m in!” He laughed and gave me the campsite details as he and the crew were headed out.
My trip up to the mountains was pretty uneventful in the first half of the ride. Interstate 80 was its low traffic, pandemic self. All of us on the road headed east were rolling at a pretty good clip through Sacramento and into the mountains. The trip became significantly more interesting once turning off Interstate 80 onto Foresthill Rd. The Foresthill Bridge is the highest in California and is always a hoot to look out into the valley below.
John mentioned that I get supplies before coming to the campsite. I stopped at the grocery store in Foresthill and, for lack of better words, freaked out. It had been months since I’d been to a grocery store that didn’t have mask requirements, social distancing requirements, capacity requirements. People just walked in and loitered all over the place just like we did in the “old days.” It felt disorienting to me. I couldn’t get out fast enough.
The right turn to Mosquito Ridge Road was just east of the grocery store. John mentioned it was a fast turn, and Google Maps agreed. I still missed it. To confound matters more, Google Maps and the Garmin GPS had different ideas of where the campsite was. Google Maps gave a drive time of 1 hour and 40 minutes by car and 2 hours and 4 minutes by bicycle. I only had to go 30 miles. Garmin’s GPS noted 1 hour and 20 minutes. :facepalm
About five years ago, John and I rode Mosquito Ridge Road together. Both of us remembered the pavement quality being rough with rocks and other debris all over the road. Fortunately, the road was in much better shape than I remembered it. It was a great ride to the top of the ridge and back down into the subsequent valley.
One of the benefits of riding in early summer is the very long days. The sun was starting to make its way below the horizon. The shadows from the trees were getting longer, and the air was quickly getting cooler. I didn’t want to stop to put on my heated gear as I was getting close and losing daylight. With every turn, the air was getting a little bit colder.
I arrived at the campsite right at 8 o’clock. However, John was not there. There were multiple campsites at French Meadows, and this one wasn’t it. When John and I were talking, I took note that we were camping at French Meadows but didn’t note the rest of the essential details. Fortunately, the name “West Lewis” came to mind, and the campsite host pointed me in the right direction. With a little bit of luck, I saw the group returning from a hike, and they pointed me in the right direction.
It was great to be up in the Sierras again. The fresh air hit me instantly! As the night’s deep colors soaked up the sky, the stars dotted from horizon to horizon. The chilly air quickly surrounded each of us when we stepped away from the fire. I was camping. It was good.
Sleeping was a whole different matter. It got cold. I didn’t expect to see 34°F in mid-June. I also forgot how hard the ground was. Almost every part of my body come morning was stiff. They may say 40 is the new 20, but I feel like 40 is the new 60. The cold was great for sleeping but left a few aches and pains come morning.
The ride back down to Foresthill was even better than the way up. While the camaraderie at the campsite was excellent, I also appreciate time with my bike alone to explore. I enjoyed sitting by the reservoir.
I was in awe of her clear waters surrounded by the mountain peaks. I saw small, level dirt road off to the right when climbing out of the valley. I wanted to get a bit better of a picture of the reservoir and thought, “why not give this one a shot?” I’ve not had much dirt experience other than one run down to Eureka Dunes in Death Valley. I know adventures lie behind these dirt roads, but I’m not ready to take that step – yet. Maybe I’ll find my way into a small dirtbike one of these days.
One side benefit of traveling is that you often find connections in just about any city. Each time I travel through Sacramento, I always like seeing friends of mine who live there. I had a lovely visit – and was a nice pause between freeway legs.
California is returning to its new normalcy. Sunday evening rush hour was a phenomenon I didn’t understand until I lived out here for a few years. Everyone goes to the mountains or the coast on Friday and returns to the Bay Area Sunday night. The traffic can be brutal at times. The traffic was back today. At each of the significant freeway merges traffic backed up. Of course, it was crazy hot on the freeway. While he may have started my day at 34° F, it was clear I was finishing it at 92°.
It was good to be out. It was good to soak in nature. It was good to feel a little bit of being me again.