We have out of town guests coming for the entire Month of August. We are also undergoing a complete “down to the studs” kitchen remodel – that seems to be taking forever. The house is a disaster with boxes all over the front room full of our kitchen, the entryway has 20 plus boxes of flooring and backsplash tile, and the garage is full of new cabinets and appliances – so, Lynda’s panicking about where these guests are going to sleep while they are with us. Her goal is to clean and purge at least one of the guest rooms over the weekend of the 9th and 10th. For me - that was a perfect excuse to take a ride - God knows I didn’t want to be underfoot while she was working !!
So, where to go? I looked at the California map and decided that because I had never been to Kings Canyon before that would be a good destination. I also wanted to meander over to 395 and ride it back up to one of the passes home – Not a bad plan, round trip of about a thousand miles.
I left work at 3:30 on Friday intending to spend the night in Fresno, thus allowing for a more leisurely day exploring Kings Canyon on Saturday. The 580 was a full mess, so I took the back way(Highland to Livermore, then the back ways to Vasco Road, and Vasco out to Byron) to highway 4. Traffic moved along just fine and I was on schedule. I picked up 99 just a few miles north of where the 120 comes in and I was cruising along just fine until Manteca. Then all three lanes stopped dead in our tracks. Creeped past a single accident and continued creeping all of the way past Ripon – No clue as to what the holdup was, but it finally opened up again and we buzzed along the rest of the way to Fresno. Fresno is usually a three hour ride for me, this day it took 4,. I arrived at the Comfort Inn just off Shaw Ave at 7:30. I got checked in and settled by 8:00. I passed on dinner for the night as I planned on a big breakfast in the morning. Shaw Ave. is the location of the Foristerre Underground Gardens also -- just a block or two away from the Motel. I’ve not been able to tour the gardens yet, as they are closed in the winter, and only open for certain hours during the summer months - and, self guided tours are not offered.
I’m becoming a fan of Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs for Breakfast! Very filling, and enough to keep me going most of the day. That’s how I started Saturday off -- At a Denny’s just down the street a piece. Then back to 99 south about 6 miles to 180. Ca. 180 through town and finally out into the countryside. I Have to admit that the ride from the 325 foot elevation of Fresno proper to the 8,000 foot elevation of the park entrance seemed effortless, I don’t remember any steep switchbacks, no stunning vistas, just suddenly there was the sign -- Now, that wasn’t the case leaving the Sequoia National Park later that day – more about that later. By 9:40 I had paid my five bucks and was beginning my first ever tour of Kings Canyon. The only preconceived notion I had about this park was that it would be something like the Grand Canyon, or The Black Canyon so I was very surprised when I saw no “rim” Just a road that meandered along. There were a number of beautiful photo op’s and I tried to take advantage of most of them. I finally saw the sign that read “this road ends at Copper Creek Campground”
and sure enough it did! I turned around and headed back the way I came. This is a park
that doesn’t disappoint in scenery, it is located in the most rugged of all the Sierra Nevada,
there are no through highways over these 15,000 foot passes to US 395 only 10 miles
away (as the crow fly’s). Back at the Giant Grove Visitor Center I did a little souvenir
shopping. And took some time to re-hydrate before heading down the road to visit Sequoia
After leaving Highway 180 to get on highway 198; “The Generals Highway” I noticed an
immediate decline in roadbed condition. The ride through the whole park was like riding a
goat trail – extremely rough and uneven road surface, nothing but a bunch of patches from
start to finish. For me, I did not like the ride at all. The forest service was doing a controlled burn and there was
a pall of smoke and haze over all the scenery. This park contains the “Largest group in the world of the oldest
living things ine the world” Viewed from a distance it looked like any other lodgepole pine forest. The downside
is visitors really can’t get up close and personal with them, and where they are available there were so many
visitors trying to get a photo etc. etc. it just wasn’t any fun. The Giant Forest and the General Sherman Tree
(275 feet tall , 103 foot circumference, 60 foot Diameter and 2150
years old) were worth the visit, even though it was much too crowded for my
tastes. The ride out of the park was absolutely spectacular. The road conditions vastly improved as the elevation dropped down and somewhere around amphitheater
point the ride, which had always been pretty technical became three things,
- smoother by far - still very technical with many 10 MPH switchbacks and
very steep descents – and finally truly beautiful scenically. A camera just can not
capture it. This is the Sierra Nevada at it’s most beautiful (well ok, it doesn’t
top Yosemite, or Tioga, but it’s right on up there). I’m very glad I stuck with my plan and did the whole ride.
Once past three rivers I had to decide where to spend the night. I knew that somehow I needed to get over to the
395. I had been toying with the idea of riding back up the 395 and somehow incorporating a friends “whoop-de-
doo” road from Benton to Lee Vining. That meant that I had to get south and East. The options I could easily
see were 65 South to 155 to Lake Isabella or 65 to 58 and my dumpy desert hideaway - Mojave. I decided
to try the Lake Isabella route. So a hot hour and a half on 65 to the 155 intersection followed by another hour plus
ride up to lake Isabella found me in a beautiful area with no reservations and no rooms to be had – I got to travel
down the Bodfish Caliente road to pick up 58 and then on into Mojave after all. That ride was un-eventful, but it
made for a longish day. I arrived in Mojave and got a room at the best western – dinner that night was at
Mcdonalds – I was to tuckered to muster the energy needed to go to anywhere nicer. The Mariah Inn that I
stayed at in March when I went down for my “Desert Southwest” tour has re-opened it’s restaurant. Good
Mexican food, along with a full bar.
Sunday morning I was up and warming up the bike at 7:00 and on the road by 7:15. I took Ca-14 north to where
it turns into US-395. Ever since my first exposure to 395 some 40 years ago I’ve always wanted to ride it’s entire
length and I’ve never done the section between where 190 takes off to the south and Lee Vining to the North.
Today I was going to change that. The ride was long and straight and hot and
boring - After having completed it I have to wonder what I was thinking ! J In
Bishop I hooked up with US-6 and rode the 35 miles into Benton – no traffic very
straight and fast (kind of like 395 was!) Didn’t see another living thing the whole
way. Once in Benton I picked up 120 where it dead end’s at US-6. If you’ve
never ridden this road let me ask that you put it on your “Must Do” list. Those of
us that were able to ride back to Ely last month took this route on the way
back. Bob Hole had promised he’d give us a “whoop-de-doo” or two, and this
is of what he was speaking. Great Twisties early on, followed by five miles of high speed up and down “Dips”
that are a thrill a second, follwed by an 8,500 foot pass, follwed by some incredible views of the Sierra, followed
by some incredible views of Mono Lake before connecting back into the 395. Wow! That made the entire
mornings ride worth it. And I may take that as a standard Detour whenever I’m in the area, and the road is open.
I filled the beast with expensive gas in Lee Vining and continued on my way up to 108. I decided to duplicate this
section from our Ely ride because it was so pretty when we did it last month. I wanted to take it more leisurely
this time and stop long enough to get some pictures along the way. The Sonora Pass at 9,300 feet is one of the
highest passes in the Sierra. There was still some snow on the ground, and the peaks were still covered in white.
Beautiful, just a beautiful ride, but like all good things the thin, cool
air all to soon became hot and dry as Sonora and the 108 bypass
became history and the traffic through Oakdale, into Manteca got
heavier and slower. By the time I got to Tracy on the 205 it was
4:30. I pulled into my driveway at 6:00PM. Total ridden was 1034
miles. Great weekend ride!