F650.com Altitude Sickness Ride: September 2008

Friday, September 5: San Carlos – French Camp Campground

I hope no one is looking for a wonderful in-depth report of the ride across the Central Valley because, frankly, it’s boring and you’d rather hear about the awesome dirt riding later in the weekend. πŸ˜‰

Andy, Mike, Ranier, and I stopped in Groveland for lunch; we parked next to some amazing-smelling BBQ, but unfortunately they were just starting up the grill and they wouldn’t be serving for another hour. So we ate across the street at a cafe that made really good fresh turkey sandwiches.

Next time, we’ll eat at Stan’s Que:

We headed through Yosemite, which was gorgeous as always.

Our first “official” rally duty was to meet up with the group at Angel’s Restaurant in Mammoth Lakes.

Angel’s is a nice bar and grill, featuring lots of meat and many local beers on tap. What’s better than that?

After dinner, we rode south the 18 miles from Mammoth Lakes to French Camp Campground. There was still enough light to set up camp, which I did alongside Nancy, who was sharing the campsite with me for the weekend.

The stars at French Camp Campground were absolutely stunning.

Saturday, September 6: Ghost Town Loop

Saturday dawned clear and warm, perfect for camping! I took a few pictures of the campsite before Nancy and I rode over to Tom’s Place for breakfast.

The restaurant was overrun with Clampers in their bright red shirts, which made me very happy and squee around like an idiot. There was one woman there, wearing a “Clampers Lady” T-shirt, and I’m still kicking myself for not asking about it.

Women traditionally can’t be Clampers, which is ridiculous since I look good in red and I like history and beer, but there you have it.

Don models the fine establishment:

The first part of Saturday’s ride was pretty but tedious: a 70-mile stint north on Hwy 395 to Bridgeport. I had to stop for gas at Mammoth Lakes as well as at Bridgeport…the one downside to bringing the XT. Even at 70+ mpg, the long days in the saddle eat up gas when you’ve only got a 2.2 gallon tank!

I’d let everyone pass me early on since, let’s face it, no one wants to be stuck behind a 225cc carbureted thumper at altitude. I was wringing the hell out of the throttle and still maxing out around 55mph on some sections of Hwy 395. I met up with everyone again in Bridgeport, though, and Nancy waited at the gas station for me to fill up and buy some snacks.

We headed north out of Bridgeport on Hwy 182, which was not ugly.

Fifteen miles or so later, we were in our 36th state (and probably my second-favorite one).

We all reassembled at the intersection with Sweetwater Road, our first dirt ride of the trip. Tires were aired down, cameras were placed at the ready, and we headed off for adventure!

Some of the first bits of the road were pretty rocky. I’m inexperienced on rocks and was having a bit of a hard time with them, especially on the downhills. This trip really increased my confidence on them though and I’m hoping next time will be easier!

Nancy took this photo of the first rocky ascent:

This may be my favorite state sign ever. See the “CA” on the tree? That’s what I’m talking about.

Shortly after the California state line, we came across the ghost town of Masonic. It’s hard to believe that 1000 people once lived here; there was even an extensive tram system that connected Masonic to the Chemung mine, a couple of miles away. Now there remain just a handful of scattered buildings.

The Clampers plaque at the site reads:

“Although gold was discovered here in 1860, it was not until about 1900 that Joseph Green staked the rich Jump Up Joe mine. On the Fourth of July, 1902, J.S. Phillips of Pittsburg, with partners J.M. Bryan and Caleb Dorsey made an exciting find and called it the Pittsburg-Liberty to honor a birthplace and a date. Fraternal background determined the name to be attached to this camp, which eventually evolved into three sections known as Lower, Middle, and Upper Town. By 1908, Masonic promised to be one of the major mining camps of the west, but the yellow metal followed no pattern. Rich pockets were found and exhausted; then Phillips’ broken body was found at the bottom of a shaft. Was it a slip, or was treachery afoot that night? The ghosts of Masonic have many secrets.”

A few random pics of people riding:

Paul on his Triumph Tiger (see, I’m not the only one who didn’t bring an F650!):


Gangplank, who’s real name I don’t actually know, oops:

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, we managed to get completely lost leaving Masonic. One would think that someone in a group of dirtbikers with GPSes would be able to find the right crossroad, but one would be wrong.

The “where the hell are we?” shot:

The nice part about getting lost was that we accidentally bumped into the aforementioned Chemung Mine. There are stories that the mine is haunted by a poltergeist that is particularly active on Saturday nights…maybe the phantom tricked us into coming near the mine that Saturday?

Instead of backtracking to Masonic and trying to find the road again, we chose to follow the nice packed road we were already on, which led back to Bridgeport. After all the rocks, I was glad to be on a road that I felt at least vaguely competent on, so this was fine by me!

We wound up eating at the Bridgeport Inn, which I’ve parked next to many times but have never entered. Like many Bridgeport restaurants, it’s like a Victorian house inside, with flowered wallpaper and dark wood fixtures. They didn’t blink an eye at a group of dusty dirtbikers, though, and the food was pretty good.

After lunch, Nancy and I headed to Hwy 270 east out of Bridgeport towards Bodie. Finally, literally years after I started riding past it on a quasi-regular basis, I could legitimately say “Goodbye, God, I’m going to Bodie!”

The pavement ends a few miles into Hwy 270 and becomes a wide gravel road for the last couple of miles into the ghost town. It’s really not a tough road at all; streetbikes shouldn’t have a problem on it either unless you’re seriously freaked out by gravel. It was way more annoying-washboard than technical, per se.

On the off chance that anyone reading this isn’t a Californian history buff, a few words about Bodie. Like most of the ghost towns in the state, Bodie was a gold mining town. By the 1880s, it grew to about 10,000 people and 2000 buildings…with no churches but 65 saloons!

Most of the town was destroyed in 1932 — far after the population was declining anyway — and it’s estimated that 95% of the town’s buildings were lost. The last producing mine was shut down after World War II and the site became a state historic park in 1962. The park is currently preserved in a state of arrested decay, looking pretty much as it did when its last residents left.

Bodie is, in a word, fantastic. We had precious little time there because of our detours in and around Masonic and Bridgeport (and we still had a good 70 miles to go to return to camp). I’ll definitely be back with more time on my hands.

Nancy and I met a nice ranger named Joe who told us Bodie stories and history. Like all of the Bodie rangers, he lives on-site; any building on the property with curtains in the windows is a ranger house.

(above photo courtesy of Nancy)

I bought Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” from the Bodie gift store. It’s become a bit of an accidental tradition of mine to buy Mark Twain books while riding through the area about which the book was written. It started with “Life on the Mississippi”, which I bought in Hannibal, Missouri, and has continued on.

Nancy and I left Bodie the way we came and headed back to camp for the group BBQ dinner.

Dinner was a fantastic smorgasboard of ribs, burgers, brats, corn on the cob, and more. Everyone drank and ate and lied about their bikes and had a great time.

Paul is the rib man:

Sunday, September 7: Antelope Valley Loop

After our long day on Saturday, a bunch of us decided to take it easy on Sunday. Nancy and I walked up to breakfast at Tom’s Place, lingered over coffee, and set out to find Rock Creek.

After wandering around the river for a bit, Nancy had to pack up to head back to L.A. I put the saddlebags back on the XT so that I could store water and a couple of books and set out on a solo ride.

The first part of my ride was to head down Rock Creek Road, which heads south from Tom’s Place for about 9 miles to the Mosquito Flat trailhead. It’s one of the Sierra’s highest trailheads at 10200′. The road is paved the whole way and is really picturesque and fun to ride. I passed a bunch of campgrounds and a couple of lodges, saw very few other vehicles, and spent some time photographing both a coyote and a limber pine.

I turned around at Mosquito Flat and retraced my steps. I parked alongside a hillside of recently-burned trees that I had seen on the way south. I stayed in the field for some time, wandering and photographing. As best I can tell, the damage is from the Birch Fire of July 2002.

Once back at Tom’s place, I went north for a couple of miles to Crowley Lake. I wandered some dirt roads around the marina but the air was thick with marsh bugs and I decided to press on.

Hot Creek Springs were just a few miles north, so I headed there hoping for a quick dip. Unfortunately, the hot springs were closed to swimmers due to 130F temperatures…no thanks!

Continuing on Hot Creek Hatchery Road brought me to a literal maze of dirt roads. Some of the larger ones were labeled on my GPS, but mostly I found myself approaching the intersection of “Road” and “Road”. The last civilization I saw was a tour group on horseback…check out all the hoofprints on the road!

For the next few hours, I got wonderfully lost in the volcanic flatlands east of Hwy 395. I spent about 50 miles riding alongside powerlines, entering and exiting Inyo National Forest, encountering wildlife (but no other people, save one ATVer late in the afternoon), and having a wonderful time.

Most of the riding was two-track and sandy; though, not being 8″ deep Australian Death Sand, it certainly wasn’t the most annoying sand I’d ever ridden through!

I came around one corner to find a huge hillside of quartz…it looked almost like snow and ice. Very cool. A few miles later I was on the backside of the hill and found the mine entrance.

Shortly afterwards the road went through a small portion of forest; a nice respite from the sand and sagebrush!

Ah, the whims of the road…those little buildings below are on Hot Creek Hatchery Road and are exactly where I wanted to go….too bad the land in between was private fields and none of the roads went through! It took me two extra hours to weave my way back around the private land and reconnect with the “main” gravel roads.

I met some locals while I was working my way back to the main road:

Anyone for cleaning up? You find weird stuff out in the middle of the desert…

When I got back to Tom’s Place, I found Mike sitting outside the lodge. He was waiting for his wife Andrea, who had driven down to meet the biker scum in her car. They were going to scope out some of the local hot springs and they graciously invited me along.

The first spring we went to was “The Tub” off of Whitmore Tub Road in the Long Valley area. It’s a pretty popular spring; a group of four or five women were just getting out when we arrived and a couple of other people showed up while we were there. The water was wonderful; I’d guess probably in the high 90s.

After The Tub, we went to Shepards, which is a mile or so down another side dirt road. I don’t have any photos of Shepards as there was a nude couple already bathing there when we arrived. They didn’t mind us sharing the tub with them, and they were very nice and fun to talk to, but I wasn’t about to bust out my camera!

I had a small dinner with Mike and Andrea after arriving back at Tom’s Place, then I pretty much headed straight to bed. I felt bad for being antisocial but I was pretty darned tired after 100+ miles of off-roading!

Monday, September 8: French Camp Campground – San Carlos

Monday started out with a great breakfast at — you guessed it! — Tom’s Place.

Poor Paul had a lot of photos taken when he pulled away from Tom’s Place with his bike in the back of the pickup. πŸ˜‰ I have to admit that I was jealous, though, when I was riding the XT225 back up Hwy 395 for the upteenth time that weekend…

The same band of Bay Area adventurers headed back together, but this time over Sonora Pass. Again, I’ve written a bunch about Sonora Pass in the past, so I’ll leave you with mostly photos of our return trip.

This is one of my favorite signs in the Sierras:

At 9624′, Sonora Pass is the second-highest pass in the Sierras (Tioga Pass through Yosemite is about 300′ higher).

I love the deep sweeping valleys just west of the pass.

Mike, Ranier, and Andy goof around at a vista point:

The whole weekend wound up being pretty much exactly 900 miles and, overall, I’m glad I brought the XT.

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