Returning Sonora




After a night in Bishop, I realized I wanted an additional day up here in the Sierras. The air quality was fantastic, and being up here lifted my spirits and so many ways. I was adventuring again in a place I love to call home. There’s so much about this area that’s rugged, unexplored yet familiar, and soothing for my soul. It’s the land of alpine crossings, clear lakes, and views like none other.

Today was a 300 mile day. It’s the first genuinely long day I had had since the tennis elbow surgery 18 months ago. My care team thought I was ready for it. I was preparing for this day by gradually increasing distance throughout the summer.

By 9 AM, it was hot in Bishop. The temperature was well north of 80°, and it was only going to get hotter. The first order of business was to climb the 3000 feet back up to Mammoth Lakes for some cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, that did not come. It was comfortable but not the cool mountain air I was expecting.

I also wanted to put some laps in at June Lake. Swimming helps me stretch out muscles that tend to tighten up after a long day of motorcycling. Unfortunately, June Lake was closed. “That seemed odd,” I thought. This area didn’t seem as fire-prone as other parts of the state. Maybe it was due to some other reason. Bummer! Swimming in June Lake always seems to evade me for one reason or the other.

I took the time to wander on some of the roads outside of the June Lake Loop and found a lovely little dirt outcropping to view the lake from its western side. June Lake is one of the prettiest bodies of water in this area and a place I always like to stop.

June Lake Junction has the best T-Mobile service in the area. I’ve learned to live with T-Maybe over the years as I love the features, but sometimes the coverage stinks.

My travel agent needed me to rebook some trip plans later in the month she didn’t have access to. I’m thankful for this little spot, as it made the rest of my day rest a little easier knowing that I took care of my travel plans back east.

Sometimes modern technology truly does amaze me. Here I am on the backside of the Sierra Nevadas, booking a plane ticket to a far-off place on a mobile phone. Even five years ago, that wouldn’t have been easily possible.

At about noon, I reached the Tioga Gas Mart. I remember a group ride many years ago where the dinner stop was at this gas station. The ride lead said, “hear me out. This is one fantastic gas station!” Lo and behold, he was right. The Whoa Nellie Deli has a fantastic menu, and everything is outstandingly good. It’s well worth the stop!

Enter Tioga Gas Mart!

I’m also always impressed by the sheer number of solar panels on top of the building. The Tioga Gas Mart has about 175 solar panels facing to the south. The first time I saw it, my jaw dropped. In the summer, they must be a huge power contributor to the local grid, lessening the need to pull large amounts of power from faraway places. Good on them!

I ran into a group of about six Yamaha Star riders from Indiana. They were making their trek out west from Indiana. Their final day was crossing Tioga Pass and ending in Fish Camp on the other side of the park. From there, they were returning east. I asked, “why not go all the way to the coast?” You could see his shoulders drop as he responded, “I just don’t have the time, and I need to drop my wife off in Vegas to fly home.”

Secondly, I met another couple on a Triumph Scrambler headed east. He was British. She was Australian. They both matched each other in hipster gear, looking to see the great national parks to the east like Zion, Bryce, and Arches.

After 18 months of social distancing, it was great to mingle with strangers again, talking about bikes and sharing adventures. The Yamaha Star riders said several times it was great to meet somebody with local knowledge helping them get the most out of their ride. I enjoyed the conversation in the momentary company as all three parties headed in different directions.

Sonora Pass is one of my favorites in the Sierras. It’s unabashedly technical without being obtuse. The eastern side works even the most proficient riders with its sharp turns, steep climbs, and killer views. Once I reached the top of the past, it was clear what was going on across all of the national forests: they were closed. The Sierras were vacant. Everyone’s campsites, vacation plans, and adventures in the national forests were canceled. The Forest Service couldn’t handle one more fire, so they sent everybody home. Fire season here in California truly is that dire. Every car parked on the side of the road had a written warning from the Forest Service.

The prettiest part of Sonora Pass for me is just west of the summit. The road drops about a thousand feet and sneaks through a winding valley with lush trees, high mountain peaks, and beautiful pavement. Riding west through the mountains was everything I wanted it to be, as it felt like I was indeed all by myself.

Once below 3000 feet, the heat started to get unbearable. The bike’s temperature was over 100, and I was in full gear, sweating profusely. By the time I got to Jamestown, I had to change my approach. I quickly downed 2 quarts of Gatorade Zero. I soaked my T-shirt in the bathroom to provide evaporative cooling across the valley. There is no good way to cross the Central Valley in a heatwave. Grin and bear it, they say.

As I was crossing the Altamont Pass, I could start to feel a cool breeze. I looked down at the temperature gauge to see a frigid 97°, LOL! About 30 miles later, my gas tank sent me the signal that it was time to fill up. I kept riding until the last possible moment as I like to leave my gas tank full for the next ride. I was about 10 miles from home for that last fill-up. The bike got 5 gallons of gas, and I got one court of Gatorade!

What surprised me was my foam earplug wouldn’t go back in my ear. Apparently, it has absorbed too much moisture, and the foam wouldn’t easily compress. Who knew that ear sweat was even a thing?

By the time I got home, I was tired. The heat took more out of me than I expected. I did all the right things, but it was still a challenging ride.

With a full tank of gas, where will the next adventure lead?



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One response to “Returning Sonora”

  1. Nina Belott Avatar
    Nina Belott

    Great ride … beautiful pictures!

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