Kern River to Tehachapi. 56 miles. 7125 feet climbing (yes that much!).

Bernie: We woke early in our riverside campground and packed easily with a dry tent. We were now on the very tail end of the Sierras so it was hot and dry. We knew we had a tough day ahead and so got on the road by 7.45 and stocked up on extra water as there did not appear to be many facilities on the route (and we were grateful for this during the day). [By this Bernie means that I hauled an extra 8 pints of water and we refilled our bottles during the day].
After a short climb we descended to Lake Isabella and the first views reminded us that when we cycled this before, Lake Isabella was a disappointment. Although it is the second largest reservoir in California, water levels were low at this time of year and the surrounding lake side and hills are dry and dusty. Award for the least picturesque lake of the trip!


I found the morning the most difficult of the trip. My body was cumulatively tired. Our last full day off had been on Truckee, the government shut down having scuppered our rest days in Yosemite and Sequoia, My mind was on going home, the scenery dry and scrubby – not exactly ugly but not at all inspiring. And we had 3 b**ch*s of climbs that morning. Each between 1000 and 1500 ft and very steep with tricky steep and windy descents (particularly difficult for David on the brakes with the weight of the trailer) Even the brief flat across a valley floor we had a strong headwind against us again. Cycling is mostly in the mind and climbing like that is difficult when the mind is not in the right place. In retrospect, it made me realise that I had not felt like that the whole trip, even in the difficult times, but had genuinely enjoyed the whole experience.
By lunchtime I had cheered up and was feeling more positive. It was difficult to know why as our lunch stop was in a “town” called Caliente. We have been through a lot of ‘one horse’ towns so had to downgrade Caliente to a ‘no horse’ town. One post office (closed – Sunday), a rail track, a few dusty clapboard houses and not a soul to be seen. Luckily it did not live up to its name (hot) in mid October with a cool wind but we could see how it would be a furnace in mid summer!


A brief short and steep climb out of Caliente took us up to Highway 58. What we had not known is that the 58 turns into a Freeway at that point and we had 5 miles and a 1000ft climb with lorries and traffic zooming by. At least it wasn’t too steep but not at all pleasant. There was a sign saying “Bicycles not permitted” which was, to say the least, slightly worrying. We consulted the “Addendum” to the American Adventure Cycling Association website on the Sierra Cascades route (which I had printed out in advance) and it said that Caltrans had assured them the sign was wrong and it would be removed. No sign of removal and yet we pressed on, working out in our minds what we would say when stopped by the sheriff. Luckily David’s advocacy skills were not called into use.
Relief when we turned off the Freeway hoping for coffee in the “town” of Keene. The small store was closed (sunday) and possibly at all other times. There wasn’t anything else to Keene so it qualified as another “no horse” town (although David says he saw 2 horses but no one was riding them so maybe that does not count). The shop/cafe being closed was a bit of a blow but it was one of those days.
We had a last 1400 ft climb up to Tehachapi but this was not too steep and was the prettiest of the day in the late afternoon sun. After 3 miles we reached the famous Tehachapi Loop (not knowing of this fame in advance). It claimed to be one of the 7 wonders of the railway world!!!!  Anyone know any of the others is welcome to tell us (and the rest of the world via the comments section – especially Malcolm if you are reading this).
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The history of the famous “loop” is that in the 1870’s, to lessen the grade of the railway track up to Tehachapi, a 3/4 mile spiral was built to reduce the gradient going up and down. The train descends (or ascends) on the spiral and, with US trains over a mile long at times, the front carriages can pass under (or over) the tail end of the train as the track overlaps itself. It is not easy to explain in writing but by chance a train came along just as we arrived at the ‘look out’ spot, and demonstrated how it worked. To the disappointment of the railway buff (absent parka and thermos) it was not a long train so we did not see it tying itself in knots but got the general idea.
Legs were definitely aching the time we set off again up the rest of the hill but as we passed through Golden Hills, at the top of the pass, the evening sun demonstrated that it was aptly named. A small descent and small climb again to Tehachapi and we passed the 7000ft of climbing in one day – a record for our trip (but no doubt just small change to those riding the Tour de France). No wonder our legs were hurting! What had started as not a great day ended as a day of acheivement! I understand that this may not mean much to readers who are not touring cyclists but it meant a lot to us! And we had ‘earnt’ ourselves a night in a hotel rather than pressing on another few miles to camp. A hot bath definitely in order, pizza for dinner then we collapsed!

3 thoughts on “Kern River to Tehachapi. 56 miles. 7125 feet climbing (yes that much!).

  1. Just spent a happy half hour looking for the other 6 wonders of the railway world. There is no official list but numerous others have also looked, having read the same plaque and there is a lot of discussion online. Most are in America predictably from Yanks who have never been overseas but even so, you will be pleased to know, the Forth Bridge appears in almost every one, as does the Channel Tunnel (though I would go for the Sekan Tunnel in Japan which is longer and completed first). Someone also nominated ‘Tornado’ – our newly built steam loco! No-one mentioned the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway which would be on my list as would the Durango and Silverton High Line which is mentioned by others (it’s in the USA!).
    Hey – I could get boring quickly here so just to say well done again with your ride which puts all of my efforts into deep shade! Look forward to further posts and good luck with the rest of the trip.

  2. I guess you have to have the (very) occasional day like that to set the rest of the trip into context. The climbing is phenomenal – you must both be ultra-fit by now!
    Must be a shame to be leaving the sierra mountains behind after so long, but I’m sure that the constant variety adds to the sense of adventure and achievement.
    Looking forward to the next chapter……

  3. When I was a young girl my folks, brother, sister & I road the train a couple of times through Tehachapi to visit family in Indiana. I remember it so well, especially going through those tunnels!!!

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