Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lava country

After 18 miles on State Line Road there's my right turn south on Hill Road. Or, allegedly Hill Road. The brown Lava Beds National Monument sign is the only clue. Again no street sign. So a map wouldn't help. At the intersection is a little store, Westside Grocery. Note to self for next time: it has a deli.

This is the second important turn of the day. It avoids the highway in favor of a scenic alternate through lava country. Recommended by the Forest Service guy I talked to. Much prettier than the highway, he said. I didn't get his name but it turns out to be great advice.

It's a little uncomfortable without a map, that's for sure. My old self planned things out to the nth degree. Yet trying new things involves a certain measure of unpredictability. Risk. That is kind of the point, after all. So I'm navigating by nose and rough memory of Google Maps. Good for the brain.

Even if there had been time to hit AAA for maps, on longer rides those maps are less useful than they seem. Their scale and features are designed for cars. Essential details for cycling (terrain, alternate routes, prevailing wind direction, availability of food, water, lodging) are missing. Recently AAA also began removing the locations of railroad lines (good landmarks) and adding casinos. You won't find many hungry cyclists at the casino buffet.

Krebs Maps, made by and for cyclists, have all the right information. No Krebs Map for rural Siskyou, Lassen and Modoc Counties though. When you get out here you understand. This part of California is remote and lightly trafficked. The road surfaces are smooth. With natural beauty all around, it's great for cycling.

On Hill Road, the "hill" is a 150-foot escarpment to my right, basically just a long wrinkle in the earth. Looks and feels a bit like Owl Canyon on Route 66.

In Owl Canyon we had a massive tailwind. Here  (as forecast) it's a howling headwind from the southeast. The long, low wrinkle of a hill does nothing to buffer it. And Tule Lake to my left is whipping it into a chaotic frenzy. It's going to be a long, slow afternoon.

The Camelbak feels a bit light. Relieved for an excuse to stop, I turn into the Visitor's Center.  After mistaking it for the one at Lava Beds National Monument, the volunteer quickly points out this is Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge 10 miles to the north. The Google map shows nothing here. Google definitely makes mistakes.

The sign back at the junction with East West Road (no kidding) says "Tulelake 4 miles". An alternate plan was to stop here instead of Klamath Falls, spending the night in tiny Tulelake. It was the bail-out option. At mile 92 the Camelbak is full and legs are still strong. Don't need to bail out. Let the second ride begin...

Ahead lie 10 miles to the north entrance of the monument, then 10 miles to the other Visitor's Center, then 10+ miles back out to the highway. The wind is full-on now, raging in the late afternoon as the front moves to the east. This is the project. At this rate, it will take 3 hours :(

It's ample time to look around and notice the well-designed exhibits and waypoints. The volcanic domes have fabulous names like The Castles, Bearpaw and Hippo Butte, Fleener Chimneys. Most of the black rocks along the road came from inside Fleener Chimneys about 10,000 years ago.

An occasional strong gust of wind makes me laugh out loud. As violent and inhospitable as the wind is today, it's nothing compared to hot rocks spewing out of the earth.

Along the road (which is NOT flat) there are caves and trailheads begging to be explored. A campground, too. I start plotting to return another day, perhaps a day where the wind is blowing out of the northwest. The Meetup group would bring tents and sleeping bags and stoves; they would stop at all the waypoints and love it here.

The Visitor's Center is at the top of a hill. Outside are several WiFi Vultures, a new species found in national parks and monuments (only at Visitor's Centers). The woman is checking the weather on her phone; the storm coming in means tomorrow won't include kayaking on a lake.

The two guys turn out to be grad students in Planetary Geology at University of North Carolina. One of them tells me about his thesis; he's mapping lava flows in the caves here so they can be compared to other volcanic flows in our solar system. He's trying to understand what factors affect their shape and other characteristics. He's been here for a month. He looks happy.

I use the WiFi to text Danny and let him know I made it here, give a time point.

At the bottom of a nice descent, I barely catch this Road Closed sign out of the corner of my eye.  The way out of here was closed last weekend! Oh, it would be some tailwind on the way back to Tulelake...

Tionesta has a sweet little rustic resort that looks very, very tempting. A place with cabins and a store in a gorgeous setting. The sun is sinking low and part of me is definitely ready to call it a day.

Reminder: that would mean a 50-mile ride in the rain to Alturas tomorrow. There's a tailwind on this segment and I press on toward the highway.

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