Swing Low, Sweet Chariot to that High Lonesome Sound



Just about everybody hit the road by 10 AM. The plan last year on day two was to hit the bristlecone pine forest as well as cross Sherman Pass. I wasn’t on top of my game and forgot water so I missed the bristlecone pine forest. Also reports of Sherman Pass led me to believe that the road was covered in snow. The goal this year was to hit both.

Tad agreed to come along for the ride as he was up for an extra day of riding. He was familiar with both of the places for today’s ride. We headed north out of Kernville on Sierra Way towards Sherman Pass Road. Sierra Way is a little tight but generally of fun ride out of town. About 20 miles out of town Sherman Pass Road appears on the right. It’s a hard right turn but not very easy to miss.

Sherman Pass Road in my opinion is the most technical of any Sierra crossing. The first part of the road up to the top of the pass is a really nice ride. A little on the tight and twisty side, but that’s how we like it! There are strong mountains all around!

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The top of Sherman Pass is right around 8000 feet. It cooled off a little bit from Kernville which is at 3000 feet but not appreciably so. There’s a small lookout at the top of the pass where you can see the mountains to the east. It appeared we’d have a fair amount of vegetation between here in US 395 so it was likely to remain cool. The view however, was crystal clear.

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Tad and I met a couple who camped out at the viewpoint to have an early lunch. I don’t remember their names but they were from Tulare and were out vacationing for the long weekend. They were bummed that they couldn’t stay in Kernville last night as they really wanted to stay there. What they didn’t know it’s about 50 of us sold the town out for the night. We told them we’d be shocked if they were sold out tonight as everybody went home. They graciously volunteered to take a photo of us with their newly found good news!

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As we started descending down towards the US 395 the road got a little more interesting. We had a new dynamic I haven’t dealt with much in my writing career: sand! The pavement quality held somewhat and the scenery was still good.

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What surprised me about this next section of road is how loose my rear tire was. It challenge my confidence most of the way to Kennedy Meadows. In most turns the rear tire would squirm which caused me to go slower. There were vicious cycles of progress and regression all the way down the mountain. Kennedy Meadows is a fun town on the eastern side of the Sierras that I’d like to stop in one day. They seem to have a couple of restaurants, lodging options, and an ice cream parlor that would make for a great overnight destination. As we were leaving Kennedy Meadows the sand began to disappear and we are running at a good cadence.

9 Mile Canyon Road is amazing. The pavement is great. The turns are great. And the scenery is very austere.

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It was a quick ride down to US 395. Unfortunately, it was going to be another long slog up US 395 back to Bishop. Note to self: find a good alternate. We were getting hungry by the time we rolled into Lone Pine. A bit of searching around Yelp didn’t yield any good winners for lunch. We wound up at the Pizza Factory.

I’m not going to do a formal review of the Pizza Factory. It is fast food pizza. The salad bar is decent, the pizza was good, but it was a touch expensive for what you get. My hunch is that has to do with geography more so than the restaurant. Overall rating for Lone Pine: B-.

After lunch it was more slogging up US 395. Once we got to Big Pine we took a right onto California 168. Fun mode was turned on again! California 168 is a mixture of sweepers and tight turns up into the White Mountains. California 168 is a state highway in three very distinct sections: the western half between Clovis in Huntington Lake, the central part between Lake Sabrina and Bishop, and the eastern section between Big Pine and the Nevada state line. The section between Huntington Lake and Lake Sabrina is absent. Caltrans did not put the road through. I’ll visit the central part in tomorrow’s posting. We only road 168 from Big Pine to the Bristlecone Pine Road. The pavement was great all the way through. We hardly had any traffic as well.

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Doug also took an extra day to go wander around after the Death Valley ride. As we were heading up to see the Bristlecone Pine Forest he was on his way down!

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The Bristlecone Pine Forest road is in two major sections: a well paved road from Highway 168 to Shulman Grove and a well-maintained dirt road from Shulman Grove to Patriarch Grove. The road just dances along the landscape on its way up to higher elevation.

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Once I got there I have to admit my body was having trouble adjusting to the altitude. The day before I was 200 feet below sea level and now I’m at 10,500 feet above sea level. Why the attraction to the ancient Bristlecone Pines? They are the oldest living things on earth. With an average age between 4000 and 5000 years, they make Jesus look young. Talk about wrinkles? These puppies have rings upon rings upon rings.

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At such altitude everything fights to stay alive. The landscape is barren and austere. Most of the bristlecone pines looked dead. My hunch is however, at this altitude leaves are very much a liability rather than an asset.

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  Tad and I each took a picture with the ancient giants.

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We met a park ranger down to the parking lot as the sun was going down. He seemed to have a lot to say and we were running out of daylight as well as warmth. I needed to get down the mountain to get insulin so I left poor Tad to fend for himself. I owe you one. 🙂

The closing of the day was beautiful. While it’s hard to have a truly bad day on the bike, the memorable ones really stand out.

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