Redemption, or something close
Words and Photos by Kelli Samuelson, racer and owner of LA-Sweat
It was June of 2015, I was in full race mode with LA Sweat in its first year, working full time, and doing the Red Hook crit series. But even with all that I was having a serious case of FOMO when it came to Yonder Journal.
Let's back it up…. What is Yonder Journal you ask? Well it's a group of friends who basically ignore every warning sign and embark on these crazy rides, hikes, adventures. Or whatever you want to call it. These “rides” are riddled with bad luck. But no amount of rain, snow, blizzards, blistering heat or a combination of all of that in a twenty four hour period ever stops us from doing them, or in most cases, attempting to do them. So when I had a week free of bike racing, and no major work events before heading to Tulsa Tough, and my friends asked me to join them in the Sierra Mountains for a few days, I said “Fuck it, I'm in!”
I scrambled to get the gear I thought I would need. The plan was to ride/ hike the entirety of CA 168. The 168 stopped on the east side of the Sierras just outside of Bishop, CA then picked back up on the west side outside of Fresno, CA. This required a 30+ mile hike, while carrying all your gear and your bike on your back, up and over Piute pass. NBD right? Oh and just add doing all this at altitude! I was only a tiny bit nervous about the insane amount of climbing considering I had only climbed maybe 2K feet since my recent hip surgery. But I had committed and I was excited. As I’m sure you can guess, things did not go according to plan. Bags broke, we went through the gauntlet of weather, shoes fell apart, it was the perfect storm. So while sitting at the top of Piute Pass the group made one of the hardest decisions ever, which would become the hardest DNF we had yet to endure. You can go check out the details over on the Yonder Journal site. Ever since that day, I have been more than determined to finish and conquer the 168.
Fast forward to almost exactly a year later, I still heard the 168 calling my name. I tried planning a redo trip with my original teammate Mr. Paisley, I thought about doing it with all women, but in the end I decided that I would just plan a short trip up the west side, and at the very least do the second half of the original plan. I headed to Fresno to meet up with Blake who had been there racing all weekend. I was determined and headstrong to stick to the original route, just in reverse. But after much convincing at 1:00am the plan had changed - we would take the “back roads” up and the 168 down. Really I was just too tired to argue about it. We had no GPS and a hand written turn by turn on a piece of cardboard. Totally doable!
I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised. These back roads were amazing and lived up to their Million dollar road name. There were rumors of snow, so I packed for the unexpected. Cold I can handle, you add more layers and buckle down. My body works well in the cold. What my body doesn’t like is heat. And on this Memorial Day, the weather decided to be HOT, and I mean really f*****g HOT! The 66 mile route started like any other, rolling beautiful, legs feeling great! We were three hours into what seemed like a pretty easy ride up to this point. I checked the limited GPS on my phone and realized we only had about 20 miles left! YAY!!!
Then it hit me. We had only like about 2.5k and still had just under 6K left of elevation. WTF?!
The climbing became relentless, as did the heat. I found myself just riding to the next big shade spot to cool down. We were down to three bottles between the two of us, and we were slow as molasses. We had been told of this magical place that had water and an ice machine. Ice machine you say? BS! This was a closed off road, we hadn’t seen another human in hours, no cars, no people and in my mind no ice machine! I had accepted my fate of rationing water or filtering from one of the many small waterfalls when we came around a corner, and there is was the sharp right hand turn to a service building. There we found the mythical ice machine and all the water we could drink! I’m pretty sure I sprinted to that building, and ran straight to the machine and took a huge arm full of ice and just hugged it until my hands were frozen.
Partially recovered and restocked with water we were ready to finish the first day's ride. It was slow going and the deer flies were basically eating us alive. But it was worth every bit of pain and suffering for those views. Our spirits were lifted when we saw the sign that said “Huntington Lake 3.8 miles” this would be where we would set up camp for the night. It was short lived when we saw we still had 2k feet of elevation to climb. Lets just say we weren't winning any Strava QOM’s on this ride.
When we finally reached the lake we spent a good hour just sitting on the damn taking in the view and even got out my Causwell Tenkara rod and tried catching dinner. In that peaceful moment I could finally reflect. In all the pain and heat and moments of feeling like I couldn't take one more pedal stroke, I found the same feeling I had the year before. I had done something I didn't think I could.
We found a quiet little spot to set up camp, ate dinner, and passed out pretty quickly before the sun was even down. There is something about waking up in the mountains to the sound of the forest and the creek that brings me back to growing up in Idaho. It's relaxing and centering, it's my happy place for sure. A cup of coffee (yes I brought a camping size pour over - priorities!), some oatmeal, and we were off.
On our particular route, we decided to go around Huntington Lake and head down back to Fresno via the 168. “It's all downhill from here!” is what I told Blake that morning. LIES! All lies ! Our legs were heavy and the 3K feet of climbing, felt like another 10K. The temperature was high and the road fully exposed. Not a tree or sport of shade in sight. We pulled into our friend's driveway and melted onto the floor. It may not have been the whole 168 or the route that I had initially wanted, but it was close enough. And I got to share it with a pretty rad person, so I was happy!
Maybe next year I’ll do the entire 168 again, I’m still hearing its siren’s call. But, at least for now, I feel like I finished a prior DNF.
- Specialized Awol bike
- Hyperlite Mountain gear
- Echo II tent system
- Medium and large stuff sacks
- Pole straps
- 2400 Southwest pack
- Sierra Designs backcountry bed
- REI sleeping pad
- Porcelain Rocket frame bag
- Yanco Handlebar Bag (snack pack)
- Good to go backpacking meal
- Jet boil and gas
- Giro vr90 mountain shoes
- Scarpa Approach shoes
- Varies ride food
- Black Diamond trekking pole
- Smith Optics glasses
- Water filter
- Platypus platty 2L water
- Snow Peak cup and spork
TIPS FOR BIKEPACKING:
Being a weight weenie is A-OK for bikepacking. You want to be as comfortable as possible, so pay attention to what you bring. I like planning my meals prior, so you aren't packing around a bunch of food you aren't going to eat. But be realistic and make sure you have enough. Roll your clothes and pack them in a small stuff sack that will keep them dry in case of weather, and you can compress them down in your bag. Bring items that have multiple uses. The Hyperlite sleeping system is great! Instead of poles it uses your trekking pole, this way you can use it to hike and also to keep your tent up. Make sure your shoes fit! This will keep you happy your whole trip. Only bring what you absolutely need! And if you're going where you know there will be limited services or other people, I suggest in investing in a spot tracker.
Happy and safe travels!!!