San Francisco to Fresno (via Tahoe!)

From September 1 through September 15, I travelled from San Francisco to Fresno (the long way around), fully loaded. The trip was difficult, exhilarating, interesting and, I hope for your sake, entertaining. I'm submitting this report for the information of club members. If anyone would like more detailed information, please feel free to contact me through email (
--Rich Lesnik

Day 1 found me leaving San Francisco, traveling over the GG Bridge, through Marin to Fairfax, over White's Hill to Woodacre, then into Nicasio and on to Petaluma via Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road. Nothing very exciting here, except the fiasco of spending the night at the North SF-Petaluma KOA, where a tent site costs $29.70!

Day 2, I set out for Santa Rosa via Lakeville Road and Sonoma. Though it was the long way around, it turned out to be a lovely ride, and the route to Santa Rosa on Bennett Valley road was great. After lunch at a union Labor Day picnic in Santa Rosa (what else!) I followed Al Forkosh's advice and took Brush Creek/Wallace Road/Reibli (Wild grapes for a snack)/Mark West Springs to Petrified Forest, then down into Calistoga and on to Bothe State Park. Kind of dry, with lots of scrub oak and some "long-term" residents of the hiker-biker sites lending an earthy atmosphere. The price was right, though ($3).

Day 3, after breakfast in Calistoga (overpriced, but great), led me to 29 and a surprise. I'd never ridden this before, and only vaguely knew about the climb over Mt. St. Helena. Luckily the weather was foggy and cool, so the climb, though long (3-4 miles?), was OK. Parts of the road are in bad shape with little or no shoulder, and a number of trucks. But it wasn't terrible. The flat ride to Middletown for lunch was cooler, too, than before (only 95 instead of 105!), and eventually, I hit Lower Lake, where I made my first serious route/camping error. Instead of following the lake shoreline road to an RV/Marina resort about 4 miles from route 20, I followed route 53, which is being torn up, through hot, dusty, some climbing terrain, to 20, then went West four miles to Clear Lake Oaks and the M&M campground. Not recommended. No grocery, though they have OK showers and restrooms. But the grounds are kind of funky, and, again, very "colorful" inhabitants. Not a catastrophic decision, but a mistake, in my opinon.

Day 4 I climbed out of Clear Lake Oaks over Walker Ridge (all on route 20), then settled into the long flat ride through Marysville, Colusa and on to Yuba City. Williams, by the way, has a great Italian Deli/Resort type place to eat and rest in the shade. This was my longest mileage day of the trip (about 69 miles), but with a slight tailwind and flat terrain most of the way, I took it easy and still made it to Yuba City by 6. In Yuba City, I stayed with a friend who was to join the Bil Paul/Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail group the following Saturday in Tahoe City. This was the only night I "motel-ed" it on the trip.

I should say here that I tend to break camp late. I've discovered that my touring style is that I enjoy being lazy in the morning, making sure I'm relaxed and have my coffee and breakfast without rushing. This means I'm usually packed and ready to go no earlier than 8:30 or 9, and sometimes as late as 9:30 or 10. I "pay" for it on the other end, sometimes getting to camp later than some would like -- but I never once had to set up in the dark, and I believe the relaxed morning helps me enjoy the day better.

Day 5 the ascent began. I worked my way on Hammonton-Smartville Road to Smartville, then rejoined 20 after a package lunch in Smartsville (the "s" was inadvertently removed by the post office when they built a new building). On to Grass Valley, through town and worked my way up to Nevada City. One local cyclist warned me away from route 20, and recommended a route that would "only" add another 60 miles or so. This guy had obviously never ridden anything over 19 lbs.! Anyway, after a visit to a local bike shop, I determined route 20 would be OK, and began the climb to White Cloud campground (Forest Service). A beautiful climb (first up Harmony Ridge, then onto Pine ridge later), the road's a bit narrow in spots, with a questionable shoulder. I found traffic (including trucks) to be quite forgiving and courteous, though, so didn't have any trouble. Got to the campground at around 6:55 PM, just in time to set up, cook dinner, and crash with chills and a slight fever (from elevation and cooler temperatures, I suspect). I awoke the next morning feeling great.

I want to say a few words about diet. As you may know, I'm kind of heavy for my height. This didn't hinder my trip at all. However, I had been concerned about diet on the trip, both for energy reasons and because I didn't want a ride like this to become an opportunity to binge on foods that aren't good for me. Anyway, as the trip unfolded, I ate anything and everything in sight, and usually it worked out just fine. I found, of course, that because I was riding constantly, the temptation to eat out of boredom was gone. Also, I was too busy! Some days I ate more protein than others, though I never gave much thought to it. I just bought what appealed to me, and ate it. I figured my body knew what it needed, and I followed my tastes. I also drank cytomax during the whole trip, which I think helped my energy alot, especially on climbs, which were aplenty!

Day 6 after losing about 1800' of the 6500+ I'd climbed the day before, I began the climb to Donner Summit. This stretch on 20 is really beautiful, heavily forested with usually plenty of shoulder. It ends at I-80, where the only choice is a 2-3 mile jaunt on 80 to Cisco Grove. An old railroad terminus, there's not any town left, only a few trailer/RV parks and a big restaurant (great lunch!). Then, on to Donner Pass Road (which is the old highway), a totally deserted and lovely climb up to Donner Summit, then a screaming descent (almost 2000' in what felt like 2-3 miles -- probably more, though) with several hairpins and great switchbacks and curves. Then a leisurely ride along the north shore of Donner Lake to the State Park. That night: 28 degrees F. By now I had travelled 370+ miles, and climbed roughly 25,000'. Whew!

Day 7 was a "rest" day, involving a short (17-mile) jaunt down to Tahoe City, where I connected with Bil's group. We stayed at Kaspian Bicycle Campground outside Tahoe City. The group was quite interesting. Ages were: Men -- two at 65 (Harry and Dave), one at 60 (Fred) , one at 55 (Zeke), one at 53 (Bil Paul, the leader), and me at 50. Women were one at 63 (Liz) , one 59 (Ruth, who turned 60 on the trip), one 58 (Ingrid, on her first loaded tour), one 37 (Jamie), and one 30 (Cory). Dave and Jamie bailed at Yosemite Valley on the fifth day for various reasons. Harry, Fred and Zeke had ridden the week before from Fresno, on a route I never quite got straight in my mind. They were all from So Cal, and were sort of autonomous.

Day 8 began the group ride along a section of Bil Paul's Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail. This is a route following (as close as possible, on roads -- paved, dirt and gravel, but no single-track) the Pacific Crest Hiking Trail. This year's segment had us going from Tahoe City south, ending at Pine Flat Reservoir, about 40 miles outside Fresno. The route took us over the following passes: Luther, Monitor, Devil's Gate, Conway Summit, and Tioga. Other major climbs included the climb out of Yosemite Valley and the climb up to Shaver Lake (which I did not do).

So. This first day's ride took us South along 89, climbing several times before reaching Inspiration Point and Emerald Bay, then south to the 89 turnoff and over Luther Pass. A small group (including me) decided to go a bit further that night and camp at Grover Hot Springs State Park. Another group stopped a bit earlier at a USDA camp ground (Indian Springs, I believe). The rest stopped at a Forest Service Campground about 10 miles before that. The Tahoe riding was beautiful. Luther's quite boring, as I recall. The descent, though, was great.

Day 9, we met in Markleeville for breakfast, then set out for Monitor. If the previous day's climb had indicated a wide spread in speed, ability and stamina (the gap between first over and last over Luther was about 2 hours), Monitor was ridiculous. By the time the last person pulled into Topaz, where we'd all been hanging out for a rendezvous, about 3 hours had elapsed since the first person arrived. We then continued on through Walker and up the road to Chris Flat campground. A couple of people were in pretty bad shape, but on the whole we were doing fine.

Day 10, we set out anywhere from 7:30 to 10 (me and Bil), climbed Devil's Gate and stopped in the beautiful metropolis of Bridgeport for sustenance. We then proceeded up to Conway Summit, a gradual (about 6% I'd say, most of the way) climb to 8300'. At the top, we caught a couple of the earlier riders who were suffering at the only diner/soda fountain around. From there, we descended to Mono Lake, and made our way to Lee Vining, an RV park, showers and laundry. Not much cooking there. We ate out!

Day 11 was sort of anticlimactic for me. Here was Tioga, the highest point on the tour, and supposedly a really difficult climb, but except for a couple of miles of 8% in switchbacks, it was pretty mild. Of course, the scenery was beautiful a good part of the way (Yosemite, after all!), and as the rest of the group waited at the top for a group photo, it was lots of fun arriving. We continued through Tuolemne Meadows, on to further climbing and descending to White Wolf campground (total climb that day was some 5500').

Day 12, we went down to Yosemite Valley. A beautiful descent, the ride was well worth the climb the day before. Except for a couple of interesting moments around the tunnels, no real safety problems, especially since I was going faster than most of the cars. You'd be amazed (maybe not) how fast a fully-loaded bike descends, especially carrying an "over"-loaded rider! Anyway, we arrived in the Valley, found the backpackers' campgound, then began to hang out with the tourists. Showers, a "fast-food" lunch and a ride to the recent rock slide area were highlights.

Day 13, we climbed out of the Valley. This was route 41. Shoulder was negligible, and in many places, what seemed to be a gravel shoulder turned out to be deep sand. Also, a long uphill tunnel (.9 miles by my calculation) was scary, as traffic was whizzing by, and the high curb was constantly threatening to jump out and rub my panniers. Anyway, the weather was perfect for climbing (gray, threatening to rain, kind of cold), and though I eventually put on my rain gear, it was primarily for warmth, as the higher elevations started to get quite chilly. After topping out at around 6400', we (Bil and I, again) descended to Wawona, where we just made it to the Wawona Hotel's "all you can eat" buffet lunch (for a whopping $8.26), and gorged ourselves. Problem was, what Bil had thought was a 500' climb after lunch (to the South park entrance) turned out to be more like 1200', and on a full -- REALLY full -- stomach. So, we finally made it to Fish camp, with another 14 miles to go to Bass Lake for that night's destination, at around 4. The "descent" to Bass Lake, of course, ended with a 4-mile climb up to the lake. Kind of reminds me of the climb up to Big Basin when you leave 9 and go onto 236, but no redwoods! Anyway, we arrived at camp at around 6, quickly set up, ate, then crashed.

Day 14 was the day I decided to take a short cut and go straight to Pine Flat, then continue into Fresno the following day to pick up my previously-stored truck, and return home. I had committed to giving another member of the group a ride home, so I had to return to Pine flat Sunday at noon, but no problem, I thought. Anyway, the rest of the group embarked on what turned out to be (from comments I heard) two days from Hell. The scenery was great, but the riding was more than difficult, cold, and they had to break camp on Sunday in the dark if they were going to make it to the next destination on time. As it turned out, after I waited at the rendezvous for 3 hours, I went looking for them, and about 15 miles out began to come across some exhausted, in-need-of-rescue people. So I sagged all but 2 into Trimmer (the rendezvous at Pine Flat), then high-tailed it home with my rider. My ride (days 14 and 15) was great. Cresting at North Fork, I descended to Powerplant road, Kerchkoff Reservoir, then climbed up to Auberry. Then descended to Burrough Valley, and rode rollers on into Pine Flat. An Army Corps of Engineers park ranger took pity on me and didn't charge me the usual fee ($14), so that was a nice little treat. Then, the next day was about 7 miles of rollers, then flat, flat, flat into Fresno.

I learned on this trip that, for me, touring in a group with people I don't know very well just doesn't work. I'm better on my own, or with a smaller group; perhaps with a small group within a larger group, but definitely not "on my own" in a larger group. Chemistry, ego stuff, different riding/camping/touring styles can sometimes create pressure or friction that detracts from the fun. I realize looking back on it that I was much happier the first 7 days, and especially the last 2, than when I was with the group.

I also learned that, overweight or not (both me AND the bike), loaded touring is definitely IT for me!

Here are the stats:

Day 1 (SF-Petaluma) 54 mi., 3200', av. spd. 10 mph (about)
Day 2 (Petaluma-Calistoga) 65 mi, 3370', av. spd. 10.3
Day 3 (Calistoga-Clear Lake) 50 mi, 2300', av. spd. 9.1 (a hot day)
Day 4 (Clear Lake-Yuba City) 79 mi, 2680', av. spd. 11.2
Day 5 (Yuba City-White Cloud campground) 59 mi, 6500+', av. spd. 7.9
Day 6 (White Cloud-Donner Lake) 45 mi., 4700', av. spd. 8.2
Day 7 (Donner Lake-Tahoe) 22 mi., 920' (!), av. 9.8 (rest day)
Day 8 (Tahoe-Markleeville) 57 mi., 4260', av. spd. 10.5
Day 9 (Markleeville-Chris Flat campground) 48 mi., 5050', av. spd. 8.8
Day 10 (Chris Flat-Lee Vining) 47 mi., 3440', av. spd. 10.1
Day 11 (Lee Vining-White Wolf-Yosemite) 48 mi., 5550', av. spd. 8.3
Day 12 (White Wolf-Yosemite Valley) 37 mi., 1190', av. 14.3 (descent!)
Day 13 (Yosemite Valley-Bass Lake) 53 mi., 5220', av. spd. 9.8
Day 14 (Bass Lake-Pine Flat -- on my own) 56 mi., 4220', av. spd. 10.4
Day 15 (Pine Flat-Fresno) 34 mi., 710' (!), av. spd. 13.8

Totals: 754 mi, 53,310'. too lazy to figure out the overall av. spd. Slow, though.

Note: Other tour reports by Grizzly Peak Cyclist members can be found on our tour page.
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