1997 GPC Yosemite Tour Report

Trip Overview

Planning for the 1997 edition of the GPC Yosemite Tour was rather hectic due to the campground and road closures resulting from the January floods. Also the trip roster kept shrinking due to various family and work commitments. I had hoped to follow essentially the intended route of the 1995 tour, but as the departure date approached it became clear that we would not be able to bicycle to Yosemite Valley on Highway 140 because of the closure in the park. Thus, we were left with our fallback route on Highway 120. This made the trip more of an out-and-back, but we still managed to get a fair amount of variety.

The final trip participants were Ed Beaulac, a club member who lives in Redding and who rode on the 1996 tour, Jorge Liderman, a member from El Cerrito and me, Mark Sapiro of Mill Valley as leader.

Day 1: Saturday, May 10

On Saturday, May 10, Jorge and I met at the new East Dublin/Pleasanton BART station at about 7:10 a.m. Jorge had taken the first train from El Cerrito and transferred at Bayfair; I had taken the train from Daly City. There were balloon arches and tables being set up for the opening festivities at the station, but we managed to get out of the station and on the road before the crowds arrived. Meanwhile, Ed was starting from his nephew's house in Livermore.

We found our way from BART to Santa Rita Rd., Valley Ave. and Stanley Blvd. to Livermore. This is not the nicest of riding, but it felt so great to be starting a tour that I didn't notice.

A little later on Southfront Rd. in Livermore Jorge began to drop back. I slowed a little and he was still back so I slowed some more. When he caught up, I noticed the left rear tire on his Bike Friday suitcase trailer was flat. I called out to him that he had a flat, and he said he wondered why the pedaling had gotten so hard. We stopped and patched the tire, in the midst of which Jorge discovered the glue in his patch kit was completely dried up. Fortunately, mine was OK.

Soon we were pedaling up Altamont Pass Rd., and Jorge wanted me to check his tire again. This time the tire was fine; it was just the hill.

We made good time out Grant Line and Kasson Rds. arriving at the fruit stand at Kasson Rd., River Rd. and Highway 132 at about 11:30 a.m. There we were told that Ed was only a few minutes ahead of us. Actually, later conversation with Ed placed him more like an hour ahead. We had a nice lunch at the fruit stand and then rode Highway 132 and Paradise, Hatch and Whitmore Roads to Hickman.

On Hatch Road, we passed a place where a man had a small, second hand bicycle business in his front yard. He had a sign advertising repairs, and I stopped and asked him if he had any patch kits for sale. He told us the best bet was the Kragen store down the road but wound up giving us a partially used tube of glue from an automotive style kit he had. He was quite interested in Jorge's Bike Friday and showed us a folding bike he had just acquired. It had a Sturmey Archer type hub and caliper brakes, but I was unable to identify it.

Later, on Whitmore Rd. I heard what sounded like motorcycles approaching from in front of us, and a moment later a pack of more Cushman scooters than I had previously seen in my entire life passed by. It seems they were having a rally somewhere nearby - we were told Lake Don Pedro by one person and Snelling by another.

When we got to the store in Hickman it was still fairly early and the selection in the store was limited so we made the 2.5 mile round trip to Waterford to buy groceries for dinner at the supermarket there. We then rode on to Turlock Lake and met Ed at the Picnic Area there.

Ed told us the campground was closed from the flood. I was not ready to deal with alternatives at that point so I suggested we just prepare and eat our dinner in the picnic area and worry about sleeping later.

While we were preparing dinner, a ranger came by and told us that our camping options were Lake Don Pedro (about 20 miles further) or a private camp across the river on Highway 132 that we couldn't easily get to because the bridge was out and it was at least 15 miles around. Ed reminded the Ranger that he had spoken with her last year and they had a mutual acquaintance (if I'm recalling correctly). After a little more conversation, the ranger said we could stay in the picnic area for the $3.00 per person hike/bike fee if we waited until they closed before setting up. Needless to say we jumped at that deal, and that was our first day, 91 miles from Pleasanton and 1090 feet of climbing.

Day 2: Sunday, May 11

The second day promised to be the hardest day of the trip so we got an early start. We ate very little in camp as we figured we'd get breakfast in LaGrange which was about 10 miles away on Highway 132. When we got to LaGrange we were disappointed to find that the saloon/grill didn't open until lunch and even the grocery store didn't open until 9:00 on Sundays. So we rode another 10 miles or so to a grocery store on Highway 132 near Lake Don Pedro. Here we were able to get coffee and some things to eat.

After breakfast, the riding became more difficult; we started to climb for real, and the day was warming up. By the time we got to Coulterville it was hot, and we were about to begin the serious climbing. We stopped at a small store in Coulterville for food and drink. I had an ice cream taco - essentially an ice cream sandwich folded like a taco - and about a liter of Gatorade.

We left Coulterville and headed up the Priest-Coulterville Road towards Priest. I had seen the south end of this road in 1995 and it piqued my curiosity. When selecting the Highway 120 fallback route for 1997, I looked at this road in my DeLorme Northern California topographic atlas. Priest is about 10 miles from Coulterville and only about 800 feet higher, and I didn't see any steep sections on the map. Of course, it's hard to tell with 100 meter contour intervals. Mike DeMicco has ridden this road and advised me that it had some steep sections.

This route starts easily enough. We rode about 2 miles up Greely Hill Rd. and turned onto Priest-Coulterville Rd. It climbs gradually through oak trees along a stream bed for a while and then gets steeper. This is the only really steep part and is not too long, but I was standing part of the way in a 24 ring, 32 cog gear. At the top of this climb I waited for Jorge. He was about out of water. He was drinking a bottle every 2 miles or so from the heat and exertion, and he only had two bottles. Fortunately, I had extra in my Camelback and was able to give him some. While we were talking, we saw a pick-up coming up the road with Ed and his bike in the back. He decided to save himself a bit and got a ride to Big Oak Flat.

The next part of the road is a moderate 400 foot descent and then an equivalent climb up to Priest. It was quite pretty and a nice ride, but I couldn't help a little resentment at giving up that hard earned elevation. We had hoped to get some water at Priest, but the little resort/restaurant was closed, so we rode on a mile and a half or so to Big Oak Flat where we got some more food and drink.

Next we rode up to Groveland where we went to the grocery store and bought food for dinner. We had considered taking Ferretti Rd. from Groveland, but due to the hot weather necessitating extra stops and the fact that Ferretti Rd. is more up and down, we decided to go on Highway 120 from Groveland.

The next stop was a cafe where Ferretti Rd. comes back to 120. The cafe was actually closed, but there were people there who generously allowed us to fill up bottles and Camelbacks from their water cooler. After a short rest there, we started again.

In Big Oak Flat, we had been looking at the campground maps I brought because we thought we might stop short of our original goal which was Hodgdon Meadow campground just inside the park. I decided to stop at the Groveland District ranger station just after the cafe to see what forest service campgrounds were available. The ranger there marked a map for me with the open campgrounds, and we decided to stop at Sweetwater which is about 10 miles before the park.

After stopping for obligatory photos at the Rim of the World viewpoint overlooking the Tuolumne River, we reached camp. We had ridden 61 miles and climbed 5310 feet. We cooked and ate dinner and retired early after our long day. Actually, Jorge did most of the cooking the first two days, and the meals were excellent. This evening we also wanted to get in our tents away from the mosquitoes which were the thickest we encountered the whole trip.

Day 3: Monday, May 12

On Monday we again started early and rode about four and a half miles to the Yosemite Lakes store. There in the parking lot we met Julian who had spent the night there. He was fixing his third flat of the trip. Julian was a visitor from the Basque region of Spain who was doing essentially the same trip as we were. He had left from the Pleasanton BART a little after us and had ridden through Tracy and Manteca and followed Highway 120. He had a Cannondale mountain bike with flat bars and bar ends and narrow, slick tires that he had brought from Spain. Unfortunately, he had a mountain bike mini-pump and was unable to inflate his tires enough to avoid pinch flats. I used my pump to inflate his tire to over 100 psi, and he joined us and finished the trip with no more flats.

We bought some food at the Yosemite Lakes store and rode up to the park entrance. We hung out at the park entrance for a while, and Jorge bought a couple of guide books at the small shop there. Eventually, we started the ride up to Crane Flat. The climb to Crane Flat is actually fairly easy. It is a 1400 ft. net gain in a little under 7 miles, but the grade is fairly uniform except for a short downhill section, and it went fairly quickly.

We stopped for a short break by the Crane Flat store which was not yet open for the season and began the descent to Yosemite Valley. This is a fabulous part of the ride. The pavement is good and the grade is sufficient to sustain a good coasting speed but not too steep. We stopped at a few view points for photos and essentially coasted into the Valley.

The next part of the ride is my absolute favorite. I cannot describe the feelings I get riding into the Valley with the view of El Capitan and the Heart (a feature on El Cap known to rock climbers) across El Cap Meadow. All I can say is if I had a Church, this would be it. I've been coming to Yosemite Valley since the 1960s, and it never fails to impress me this way. All too quickly we rode past El Cap and up to Yosemite Village for lunch. We then bought groceries for dinner and rode to our campsite. Then we walked to Curry Village for the first real showers since we started. It was an easy day, not too hot, about 37 miles and 3600 feet of climbing.

I had thought that on our layover day we might ride up to the tunnel view point on the Wawona Road for the classic Valley view. Jorge was reading his guide book and asked me which I thought was better, riding to the tunnel view or hiking the four-mile trail to Glacier Point. I told him that if we had the energy, the four-mile trail was better. I didn't realize at this point that Jorge thought it was four miles round trip.

Day 4: Tuesday, May 13

In the morning, we rode our bikes to Yosemite Lodge for breakfast in the cafeteria. We then rode back to camp and Ed stayed in the Valley while Jorge, Julian and I took a shuttle back to the Lodge and began walking to the four-mile trail. At this point, we all knew it was about 10 miles round trip and over 3000 feet of climbing, but we were all game. We stopped at Union Point for some photos and continued on to Glacier Point. We made good time reaching the top in about two and a half hours. We stayed on top for a while enjoying and photographing the view and then started down.

I have a theory that hiking uphill tends to use the same muscles as bicycling, but hiking downhill uses different muscles which are untrained in the typical cyclist. Suffice it to say that we were all pretty tired when we reached the Lodge for the shuttle back to camp. We showered again and then all went back to the Lodge for dinner. If my theory is correct, at least we won't need to use those stiff muscles on tomorrow's climb out of the Valley.

Day 5: Wednesday, May 14

Wednesday morning we packed up and loaded our bikes and rode back to the lodge for breakfast. After eating, we rode out of the Valley and began our climb back to Crane flat. This is a steady climb of almost 10 miles, but the average grade is less than four percent, so it is not particularly difficult. Even the narrow, mostly shoulderless road is not a problem as most cars are traveling slowly and are quite courteous. The only real problem is the tunnel. This comes about two and a half miles into the climb and is about four tenths of a mile long. I don't know what it is about tunnels that brings out the worst in people, but it's there. When I reached the tunnel, Jorge was already half way through, but I waited for Ed and Julian as I had a flashing tail light and a reflective triangle on my back and I wanted to go last.

Sure enough, no sooner had we entered the tunnel than a large truck came up behind, horn blaring and yielding little room. I don't know if I'm unique, but I tend to get vertigo when riding next to a dark tunnel wall, and this truck didn't help matters any. Well, I managed to maintain something of a line without riding into the wall or the traffic, and we made it through without further incident. The rest of the climb was a piece of cake by comparison.

We stopped again at Crane Flat and tried to determine if the Old Big Oak Flat Road, now known as the Tuolumne Grove Road was clear down to the park entrance. We were unable to determine if the road was clear, and I wished to avoid a repeat of 1995 when Jay Murphy and I went down and had to carry our bikes over, under or around about 50 downed trees, but I did want Julian to see the Giant Sequoias. Finally, we decided that Ed would wait and watch our stuff while Jorge, Julian and I rode our unloaded bikes down to the Tuolumne Grove and back up. This worked well, and we got to visit the trees before riding out on the highway.

After leaving the park, we headed up Evergreen Road to the Diamond-O campground which was our destination for the day. After making camp we considered riding up to O'Shaughnessy Dam but wound up just going to Evergreen Lodge for dinner. We rode about 39 miles and climbed 3330 feet including the side trip to the Tuolumne Grove but not including the trip to dinner.

Day 6: Thursday, May 15

Thursday we were a little slow getting started, but we finally got going and rode up to Mather Road and Cherry Oil Road and back to the highway. The ride along Mather Road overlooking the Tuolumne River is my second most favorite part of the trip. The road goes along the south side of the canyon, high above the river with shade from many trees and beautiful views and a gentle downhill grade. It hardly gets better than this.

After returning to the highway, we rode to Buck Meadows for a late breakfast at the restaurant there. After breakfast we went west to Smith Station Road and began another climb. On a short downhill in the middle of this climb I felt my rear end fishtailing in a curve so I stopped and sure enough my rear tire was almost flat. Jorge waited while I fixed my flat (the last anyone had on the trip), and we continued to the top and down to Greely Hill Road. This is another beautiful stretch of road with wide open views of the Sierra and a nice descent. Once on Greely Hill Road we climbed once more before descending the long open slope to Coulterville. This too is a beautiful section. In fact, the ride from Diamond-O to Coulterville has got to be among the best 40 miles anywhere.

We stopped in Coulterville for a sit-down lunch and then began riding back through the ranch land to LaGrange. This time the store was open, and we stopped for ice cream and conversation with the local ranchers. We also decided that since we couldn't camp at Turlock Lake as originally planned, we would go all the way to the private campground in Waterford. We arrived there after 76 miles and 2990 feet of climbing for the day. Julian and I left Jorge and Ed to shower up while we rode into town to get dinner groceries. We returned with the groceries and showered while the others fixed dinner. It was pre-season and we had the entire tent area to ourselves. It was quite nice although the sites are very close together as in many private campgrounds, and it would be quite packed if many people were there.

Day 7: Friday, May 16

The next morning Ed left early as he wanted to ride to his nephew's house in Livermore and wanted to beat the winds as much as possible. Jorge, Julian and I cleaned up the dishes from the previous evening and went into Waterford for a leisurely breakfast. Ed had invited us to come to his nephew's house, but we felt if we rode that far, we might as well go all the way to BART and home. Thus, we planned to either stop in Tracy where we had reservations at the Motel 6 or go on to BART in Pleasanton and home.

We had a fairly pleasant ride through farmlands and suburbia on Whitmore, Grayson and River Roads back to the fruit stand at Highway 132 where we had lunch. Again they told us Ed had just been through. At this point it was still early and only about 14 miles to Tracy, so we decided to go all the way to BART. I called and canceled our reservations, so we were fairly committed. By this time it was getting very hot. We followed Kasson, Durham Ferry, Chrisman and Linne Roads to Tracy Blvd. I joked to Jorge that we could take a shortcut to Livermore on Corral Hollow Rd. We agreed that the climb would be too hot. The headwinds never materialized although they might have been welcome if they had brought relief from the heat.

We stopped at a small store at Tracy Blvd. and Grant Line Rd. and got cold drinks and ice cream and some ice for our bottles before tackling Altamont Pass Rd. Eventually, we made it over the pass but not before stopping again at the Mountain House for more water. We crossed I-580 at Vasco Rd. and retraced our outbound route back to BART.

We arrived at the BART station about 6:00 p.m. to find crowds of people, most of whom appeared to be heading for the A's game, and all of whom seemed to need tickets and be unfamiliar with the ticket machines. After relaxing a bit, taking a few photos and waiting in ticket lines, we finally made it to the platform with our bikes at about 7:00. We thought we were home free at this point, but there were more delays on the train. I finally made it to Daly City a little after 9:00, tired but happy after a thoroughly enjoyable tour.

--Mark Sapiro <msapiro@value.net>

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