Friday, June 28, 2013

Hot enough for us

The sign on the barn across the street says it was built by Isaac S. Church 1895. The barn is weathering the scorching heat way better than the 2 cyclists.

We're huddled in someone's driveway under a few trees. The humans inside the air-conditioned house are not likely to emerge and chase us off their property. They're gonna stay right where they are.

For the last hour and a half we've been riding across Sierra Valley, in silence. A few yards up the road, just before reaching the crossroads that is Sattley, CA suddenly Bill says "do you need to stop for a few minutes in the shade?"

My thoughts have been more along the lines of no way am I putting a foot down in this hell of a valley. I'm getting through here as fast as possible. What actually comes out of my mouth is "if you are talking about it then we probably should do it". 

And we do. We stop in Sattley, which is named for a family that settled here. In fact the barn was built by Isaac Sattley Church. The thermometer on Bill's bike says 113 F. There's a little back and forth about how normally temperature is measured in the shade. But we aren't riding in the shade. Right.

Let's review the triumphs of yesterday. An unsupported 300K connecting the dots of three rural counties: Modoc, Lassen, and Plumas. A sit-down pizza dinner (still in bike clothes). Afterwards a shower, a motel bed. A decent breakfast in the lobby of the Gold Pan Lodge. All  courtesy of the benevolent universe.

While we ate, showered, slept, then ate again, the universe has been gathering a massive area of high pressure over the western US. In the works since the storm blew over on Tuesday, it has arrived. Lots and lots of air molecules pressing down on us from above. With wind and rain the National Weather Service is all over the map but with the timing and scale of this heat wave they're right on the money. It's a monster.

So it's already hot in the parking lot of the motel at the crack of 8:45. We wave at this traveler heading west on 70. He stops to chat for a few minutes.

From Virginia, he flew to San Diego to ride the Sierra Cascades route. Holy cow Batman, that's a lot of hills! Tonight he's going to Chester, near Westwood. Bill gives him the lowdown on the terrain.

Speaking of hills last night Stu assured us there wasn't much climbing between Quincy (elev. 3432) and Portola (elev. 4856). Our legs tell a different story as they climb the morning away on busy, hot, exposed Highway 70. There's a good shoulder so unlike Highway 89 it's plenty safe. But no cyclist would find it pleasant.

At Portola, another mini-mart to the rescue. Ice, Gatorade, salt pills, snacks. There's a rush of humans toward Lake Davis for the weekend. But we're not putting up our feet with a cold beverage next to a large body of water.... No, we're heading a few miles east to County Road A23, also known as Beckwourth Calpine Road. Then south across Sierra Valley, and over the big hills to Truckee. That's the idea.

Sierra Valley is an old lakebed that was formed the same way as Lake Tahoe. It filled up with two thousand vertical feet of silt. So now it looks like a meadow, a bare expansive meadow in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Another difference, Lake Tahoe sits at 6200 feet of elevation; we are just under 5000. When the Sierras got lifted up, something had to sink down! My strategy for this tour had been 'stay high' but apparently this is nowhere near high enough.

After 10 minutes and a few salt pills we quit the driveway. Sierraville, 3 miles away, is the lunch spot. There's a chair at the one restaurant with my name on it. At some point I realize Bill has exactly the same idea and that is a relief. We'll sit down for a real lunch and evaluate.

The fajita salad is delicious. Why more Mexican restaurants haven't figured out how to make salads like this, I don't know. Word among the locals is this place serves the best Mexican food for hundreds of miles.

Over lunch there isn't a lot of talk about what to do next, perhaps because we already know. We've both done plenty of double centuries. We're both mineral-sensitive, not evolved for heat. And what lies ahead is a dangerous, narrow, busy section of Highway 89. A big climb into the Tahoe basin. Hot, no shade. Bill is going to miss his bus connection in Truckee and he needs to get home.

The next hour unfolds like a plot sequence from a Coen brothers movie. It all makes sense in the moment but is kinda unbelievable when you look at it later. In this life-threatening heat Bill's shifting problem is back. Unbelievably, he has towing service for his bike (yes, there is such a thing). Ernie drives from Portola to pick us up. Pulling a trailer for the bikes.

For $50 he'll take me as well. Or, I can stay overnight here in Sierraville and start climbing at 6am and hope everything goes OK. It is not likely to cool down overnight. And that will cost more than $50. To only prolong the misery.

For the third time in my life, I get in the truck.
Ernie, the awesome tow truck driver.
We won't run the gauntlet with angry, daredevil cars on narrow Highway 89. We won't climb for 20 miles in the hottest part of the afternoon. In the cab of the truck both windows are down and we're going plenty fast. Almost air-conditioned.

Ernie tells us about working the business with his wife, in a rural territory. He used to live in Fresno where it's a lot easier to make money. His son is leaving the business for better money. So that vacation they planned is on hold. He built this truck by bolting a chassis over another truck. He's had good luck with vehicles except for that one that went up in flames on the side of the road over here. The hoses were all plastic and you know what happens when hot oil touches plastic. And right here is where he had to push a wreck off the road - there are the skid marks.

He gets us to Truckee with 30 minutes to spare. Under the gathering thunderstorms Bill makes his Amtrak bus to Sacramento and then his train home. I look at the sky, do the math with the weather forecast, and decide to get on the same bus. There is no point in touring the beautiful Sierras in triple-digit heat.

Just before midnight I get off BART and ride another 25 miles across the Dumbarton Bridge. At 2am it is still hot.

A week later, the heat breaks.

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