This was a tough day but had 3 of the ‘BESTS’ this holiday. The Best downhill, the best panoramic view and the best autumn colours.
We woke as it started to get light and although cold, was not freezing. We packed up and were on the road by 8, making our way through the road works of South Lake Tahoe. We were now on the route that we cycled 22 years ago.
The first part of the day was spent tackling Luther Pass, a 1400ft climb away from Tahoe. The gradient was not too bad and we were feeling strong. As we made our way up to a beautiful high alpine pasture the cloud burned off and we had blue skies for the rest of the day. We also started to see lovely autumn colours, getting away from just pine trees so that throughout the day we saw bright yellows and lime greens and a smattering of oranges and reds.
We then had our best downhill of the trip so far. Clear road, good road surface, not too windy, not too many bends. We flew down and I reached my highest speed yet – 40.2 mph!! In no time we were in the valley below, warmer but with quite a strong wind against us, but were soon at the pretty town of Markleville where we stopped at a lovely cafe and sat in the sun with coffee and breakfast.
We chatted to others in the cafe – the only topic of conversation was the Government Shut Down – universally derided as ridiculous. For us it may have a significant effect as all the National Parks are shutting down and the campgrounds and other accomodation being cleared and shut today. And we are due in Yosemite in 2 days time. We managed to establish that the main highway through the park will remain open but people only let through if they have an end destination outside the park and no stopping or ‘recreating’ will be allowed. We will have to see what the situation is like but the stand off appears to remain with no sign of resolve so looks as if our planned 2 day stop in Yosemite may be off.
We set off from Markleville towards Monitor Pass. This pass was engraved in our memories as being very tough and steep but we had been convincing ourselves that it probably wasn’t that bad. When everyone we met in town gave us that ‘look’ when we told them, we began to think that perhaps our memory was more accurate than we wanted to believe. The first few miles along the Carson river were beautiful but as we turned off to Monitor Pass the gradient immediately increased.
This 3000ft climb was in parts the steepest we had done and was every bit as tough as we feared – but it was also exhilarating as the most incredible panoramic views unfolded. We took it in steps with a multitide of excuses to stop for photos on the way up and luckliy the wind was mostly behind us. The middle section was slightly easier, giving some respite but then steeper again as range upon range of mountains came into view. We were buzzing when we finally reached the top and pretty proud of ourselves.
As we started the descent we ground to an immediate stop as another incredible panoramic view appeared down to the valley floor below. Unlike the climb when the view gradually unfolds we were round the corner and there it was. Breathtaking (sorry – far too many superlatives needed for today).
The descent though was very tricky as the wind was extremely blustery. Half way down David got a puncture, which he had to change in what felt like a howling gale. We both lost our nerve a bit going down after that but as we got into a dramatic rocky section we were more sheltered from the wind and it got easier.
As we reached the floor of Antelope Valley we joined HIghway 395 and said goodbye to Highway 89, which we had been on for days. We also saw our first sign to Los Angeles – 399 miles – although our route will be less direct than that.
Unfortunately we also had to turn directly into the strong headwind. We were exhausted by the climb and the descent and had also not eaten enough in our enthusiasm to get to the top of the pass. We seemed to crawl the 9 miles to Walker against the wind, willing my legs to keep turning. Any thought of going on to the campground were erased and we found a pleasant Motel and collapsed. Exhausted but a fantastic day.