It’s Saturday December 3rd, 2022. It’s Day 5 for us on the California Backcountry Discovery Route and it’s also Day 10 for me on the road.
We did a Motel in Lone Pine and that was probably a good thing as the weather that everyone was talking about finally hit us. We probably both woke up around 5 AM but I know when I did all I heard was the rain draining off the roof hitting the metal picnic table outside our room.
So I did the only sensible thing and went back to sleep. For the record, if we were tent camping I would have done the same.
By 7 AM the rain had slowed a bit and looking at the radar maps it was just supposed to keep getting lighter. We got up and walked briskly down to the Alabama Hills Cafe for a little breakfast and more importantly, COFFEE!
Same waitresses. We’re regulars now. We eat and drink and then decide to see what we can do of Section 7 and maybe Section 8. We keep hearing that there’s snow in Benton.
SECTION 7 HARD:
Section 7 splits into 2 routes, the hard and the normal. We honestly were in for the hard as neither of us had ridden over on the east side of Hwy 395 but weather was sketchy and the snow level had dropped significantly and was continuing to drop.`
That’s a 5,000 + elevation gain from Lone Pine. We could already see the snow on the foothills around town. So for this time, we rule out the Hard option. There’s no way we could make it to Big Pine this way.
SECTION 7 NORMAL:
So it’s the regular route for us today. This route isn’t “EASY”, it’s just not as hard as the HARD option.
The rain has slowed down to almost nothing as we head out. It was around 9:30 AM. It’s a quick left onto Whitney Portal Rd up into the Alabama Hills. We’re quickly heading down what is called “Movie Rd.” and the gravel is wet and it’s near perfect riding conditions. No mud, just rocks and gravel.
I had been down this road for a bit but never realized how far back it goes. The trails were in fabulous shape and we were riding well. It was overcast and it felt like it could rain most any time but other than a few sprinkles here and there we were dry.
All of a sudden we had come into Manzanar from the back side. I had always seen the buildings and guard tower from Hwy 395. I had never stopped and didn’t know there was anything behind it.
We stayed on the route which led us through the complex and we stopped at a memorial that I don’t think you can see from the Highway.
We stopped and explored the area. There’s a few graves or markers here and there.
Leaving Manzanar we cross the Highway and go down a washboard road directly across. This is leading us towards Reward Mine.
We climb up into the start of the hillside to the Reward Mine entrance. This is that mine that you can drive into. And yes we did.
For the life of me I could not get my GoPro to work. Mike had busted his mount a few days ago with his crash through the windshield. I did try to use my phone for video but it was too shaky. So all you get is pictures.
We looked at the odometer before we entered and when we got out. We could have gone in much much further. Overall we did around a mile in the mine.
At our deepest point I was tempted to turn off the motors, the lights and sit there in the silence for a few – but I also know that’s when Gollum would have attacked. I was wearing a (silicone) gold ring.
Out of the mine we looked out at the expanse. Weather was holding so on we went. At the bottom of this hill, we went to the right skirting the mountains.
The trail along the plains was fast and flowing. We had a few cattle gates to manage.
We came across one Overlander at a gate who held it open for us. We kept saying the whole trip how strange it was that we didn’t cross paths with anyone else doing the BDR. Not a single Bike or 4×4.
We came through Kearsarge – a ghost town with some abandoned mining equipment . I was going to go out on this platform and pose but it was looking a little too sketchy, so I posed next to it instead.
The next section might have been my favorite of the day. It started taking us up and up into the hills. The trail was a 2 track but just barely that. It was a tough uphill of wet half buried rocks that you had to pick your line though very carefully or it was a certain pinch flat.
As we gained elevation it got colder and colder.
Pretty soon we were at snow line with scattered snow here and there. We were almost at the top of the hill and I knew from maps that it circled around and dropped back into Big Pine. What we weren’t sure of is if it started back down before it got too deep of snow.
While we were stopped contemplating what to do I could hear a vehicle’s motor. I looked back down the hill from us and saw no one. It was up ahead of us and it was an old rancher and his dog. He was plugging away crawling in 4 wheel low. We came up on him and I’m sure he knew we were behind him but he made absolutely no attempt to let us pass. Finally we found a small intersection where we could slip by and as I passed his open window I said “Thanks!” in as nice of a voice as I could. Maybe he’ll be a little better for the next motos he comes across.
It had been spotty show patches, but was now a solid trail of snow for us. We were at the top now and heading down so it could only get better, right?
We weren’t sure either but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It was cold and sleeting a bit, but we were good.
The trail did go down and the snow did diminish. We dropped right on down into Downtown Big Pine. We’re stopped at Hwy 395 (Main St.) and Mike said something about wondering if there was a local coffee place in town. Somewhere we could sit and warm up a little. We were both a little cold and a little wet.
I look directly across the street and see a cafe.
In my best sarcastic voice I say, “Maybe they might know a good place“. Mike sees it, we proceed, park our bikes and go in. It’s only then that I see the name of the place.
I can’t make this stuff up.
It’s cozy. There’s a wood burning stove in the corner. One person reading next to it. We order a couple of drip coffees and sandwitches. (that’s how they spell it). We’re their last customers and they close up as we finish. Great coffee, great food. 5 stars from us!
Next we’ve crossed back over Hwy 395 and we’re going to see how much more we can do. The road here is flat as it leads right up to this very large array of radio telescopes. That might not exactly be what it is but it certainly looked that way.
We stopped to take a picture or two.
You might not be able see it in the picture but behind that big one (and there were several big ones) there are hundreds of smaller ones.
We looked for Jodie Foster but didn’t see her. Then I looked down at my bike. I could tell instantly that another one of my gas tank bolts had backed it’s way out. The one I repaired the day before was holding but this one was gone.
On the 690 the whole rear half of the bike is made up of the gas tank. It’s what would normally be called a subframe. It’s held on by two bolts behind the side covers and then triangulated by a through bolt lower down. If the two top bolts fail the whole rear end of the bike pivots on the lower bolt and drags. Mine was at 50% failure and there was just no way to continue. If it was just a tightening of the bolt, we could do that but the whole bolt and nut was missing!
So we made the decision to beeline it down Hwy 395 back into Lone Pine. If I could find a bolt I could fix it.
We made it back to the Motel and I started pulling the bike apart. Amazingly I found the bolt. It had fallen out but had also wedged itself in between two things. The “nut” portion had broken it’s weld from the frame.
I rode Mike’s bike to the hardware store and bought a variety of bolts just to make sure I had the right one. It was starting to get dark and stores in towns like this close early.
We made the repairs and got the bike back together. Crisis adverted!
We showered (separately Tomm) and walked a few blocks to dinner. Tonight we tried a different place. Got a burger and a beer or two and as you can see I failed to take a picture of my meal – as this was the only part that was worthy of my pixels.
SCORECARD: We started around 9:30 AM and got back to the Motel around 4:30 PM. We rode some great trails, went deep into the earth, found snow, didn’t find Aliens. All around a good day for what it was. Tracking didn’t catch as many waypoints but that’s ok too.