Sabrina & South Lake
77 miles & 9,300 vertical feet
What the hell am I doing. It’s one thing to dress for cold weather cycling in your warm cozy home after a nice breakfast and cup of coffee. It’s another crawl out of your sleeping bag to see that your water bottles are frozen. The MSR Whipserlite stove roared like a jet engine as it pumped warmth into the water that would soon become my coffee. Slipping back into the warmth of my down bag I debated sleeping another few hours and spend the day rock climbing, certainly a more pleasant idea at the time. Motivation is sometimes hard to come by when you ride alone.
After inhaling a bagel I layered up, tossed my thermos in my bottle cage and rolled out of the campsite. There is something exhilarating about the crisp air once you get moving, it’s filled with the anticipation of a big day to come. After a gusty night the only sound was the rocks pinging out from under my skinny tires as I made my way to Gorge road. Well, road is an understatement. More like a single lane, expansion crack filled , bone jarring path that followed the Owens Gorge. It was a seven mile, 2,000 foot decent to connect to 395, the main artery for my routes this week. Wanting to skip the surely frigid decent, I headed uphill hoping one of the lines on Google Maps would connect me to the 395.
The couple in bright neon, puffy jackets stared in bewilderment as I slowly cycled past them, they smiled and gave me a knowing nod. A great thing about spending time in an area like Bishop is there are so many like minded, active people. My dreams of an easy morning faltered at the sandy, rugged fire road, 25mm tires weren’t going to cut it here. Looks like I have to make the decent down Gorge road. I paused and caught my breath, pulled the buff around my face and turned around.
I went from comfortable to freezing in an instant as I approached 40 MPH, the expansion cracks coming every 10 seconds. The decent down gorge road was terrible, now and forever this road will be my nemesis. Jarred, stiff and freezing I made it to 395. Finishing my coffee and with renewed spirits got to work as the desert slowly warmed around me.
The day gradually warmed as I lost even more elevation working my way toward 169 and the climb up to lake Sabrina. Having heard that the climbs here rivaled the alps, I was expecting steep switchbacks and monster efforts. In reality I found the climb just a slow, straight 6.5% grind upward, leaving the desert behind and gaining an alpine feel at higher elevations.
The exhilaration of being out on another adventurous ride felt great, a feeling I’ve been all to lucky to indulge in this month. I clearly didn’t have my normal legs under me, but I was in no rush, stopping to stretch and enjoying the views. I’m often asked when I’m out riding or in emails from people viewing this blog “what kind of bike is it, is a road bike? gravel? cyclocross? It’s not a roadbike…” People don’t get it, the Viaje is just a bike, It’s my only bike, from the single track MTB trails to group rides with friends it does the job. Mounted with road tires today it’s my elevator, an elevator of pain true, but up we go!
Climbing through the little village of Aspendell, the brightly colored trees gave way to grey snowy peaks and I reveled in the last push to Lake Sabrina.
Lake Sabrina was not so Lakey…
Reaching the end of the road my body shuttered from to cold alpine air, time to toss on the layers again. The decent back down to Aspendell was gorgeous but this thin alpine air was freezing my toes. I had wool hiking socks on but I’m too cheap to buy toe warmers, and booties take up too much space….so time for poor mans goretex! Stopping at the one cafe in Aspendell I grabbed two plastic bags and wrapped them around my feet hoping to shield them from the wind. The huge grilled cheese and hot coffee came with the plastic bags, Cardinal Cafe is a highly recommended stop!
My toes were much warmer (if a bit wetter) on the ride back down to the east fork road that I would take to South Lake. Another 2,000 vertical feet later I was at south lake, answering the questions of a confused Korean couple wondering how on earth I got up here. “I’ve got two engines” I exclaimed pointing to my legs and evoking some laughs. Freezing and again underwhelmed at the lack of lake in South Lake I bundled up and heading back down. Past the apsens bursting with colors, fishermen casting for trout and spotted snow patches, into the hot desert air again.
The ride down was fantastic, so smooth and fast. Perhaps a bit boring due to lack of switchbacks but enjoyable none the less. Reaching speeds of 54mph was effortless and I only wished for more gears. Stretching out my sore neck and shoulders I began to strip down to my cycling shorts and jersey as the valley sun was scorching me. I’ve never gone through such extremes, from 25 degrees one moment to 75 the next, it was certainly taking a toll on my body. That and the altitude. I deal with altitude well and I’ve been up to 29,000 feet but the effects of cycling at 10,000 feet were certainly felt. My nemesis the Gorge road was waiting for me, and my calorie and oxygen deprived body slowly spun back to the campsite. Chasing the sun for warmth I arrived at the campsite as the sun was setting, happy to crawl back in my sleeping bag and do it again the next day.