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Day 3: The Suffering Gets Worse (Somewhere in the Mountains to Tahoe) 6/3/21

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

By the time I hear the bear I am in my sleeping bag, exhausted, and would do just about anything to sleep. The bear sounds like it's about 200 feet away from me and I can hear it ripping bark off a tree, some soft snuffling, and what must have been it rubbing itself on the tree. Despite my weary state, I am wide awake now. Hearing the bear and knowing my food is out there, unprotected, and that I ate in my tent to shelter from the mosquitoes so the smell of food is likely still in the tent, I am scared. I lay awake listening to the bear for probably around 20 minutes. Then, eventually, the noises stop. I remain on edge and as awake as ever...

I had intermittent service since I was on a ridge. One bar that came and went. I managed to load a page on black bear activities, hoping that bark shredding was not a favorite pastime and my nerves would recover because it was likely another animal instead. What I read, though, was that in mating season (May and June) male black bears rub on trees and claw bark... Exactly what I was hoping to not read in early June... Needless to say, I got almost no sleep as my adrenaline was pumping all night long. I never heard the bear again, but the forest was dead quiet without any breeze the entire night. A breeze would have helped me get some rest as it would cover up any sounds in the forest, and I would be none the wiser. Instead, every single falling twig, leaf, mouse, bat, or any other creature that made noise was easily audible. It's difficult to tell in a clearing, like the one I was in, whether the soft sound you heard was a bear or a mouse. Neither would make much noise on the ground itself and so every time I was close to sleep I would hear something and once again remain awake, adrenaline going strong. I called out and clapped my hands and shone my light around outside my tent a few times throughout the night, but I ultimately never saw or heard anything similar to the bark shredding earlier.

At 5:30 AM there's light, and the mosquitoes are back in droves. Knowing I wasn't going to get any sleep, and wanting to catch some of the cool of the morning, I get up and start packing up camp. I fully expected my food to have been taken by the bear, but when I walked over to where I had stashed it, none of it was disturbed. I had hid my trash and food separately in trees, and both hadn't so much as moved, due to the lack of breeze. This was a relief as I ate some dry oats and dried fruit for a quick breakfast. After packing up, I still had a more realistic fear to face than the bear, lack of water.

The previous night I had less than half of my final bottle left and now I was out after being thirsty all night. Very luckily for me, my Dad had texted me some suggestions at the end of last night that actually managed to reach me and my one bar of service. He suggested there may be a creek down a ravine near to where I camped. After capturing some drone footage of the surrounding forest, I got my gear on my bike and past a closed gate and down an old dirt logging road I went. Soon, I was forced to walk my bike as the road turned into a trail full of loose rock and dirt.

At the bottom, I found a small cabin which looked unoccupied, but I was not going to try and find out. The only thing on the Mormon Emigrant Trail was evidence of extensive logging and my guess is the cabin was used by loggers when they stayed overnight. A little past the cabin, I did miraculously find the stream and set to filtering the water as fast as my filter would allow. While the water was cold, there was not a lot of it and the flow was slow. I was very happy for my filter as the creek was starting to build up some algae cover...

It was now 8:30 AM and I was down a gully with lots of hike and bike on the way up. Eager to finally get going, I slowly made my way back up to the highway. I really need to work on a more efficient way to get packed up in the morning and back on the road. From there the day got progressively worse.

I had heard that there was 28 miles of pure climbing on Mormon Emigrant and I thought that must be an exaggeration and that the climbing, if there, would be pretty easy. Boy, was I wrong. The Mormon Emigrant Trail was unrelenting in the hills it climbed. My cycling computer shows an elevation chart of the next mile and it would just keep rising and climbing off screen with rarely a flat plane between climbs. In addition, I was now getting into significant elevation. 6,000 and 7,000 feet came and went and on the climb continued. The only nice aspect about the Mormon Emigrant trail is that the shoulder is fairly substantial. I was never particularly nervous about the cars passing me and the traffic was so infrequent that I would often ride in the road itself and keep an eye on my mirror attached to my glasses to make sure no cars were coming.

I would like to say soon (but it felt like forever), I made it another ten miles and again I was running low on water. I was down to my last bottle since I had been drinking pretty heavily to make up for the previous day's rationing. I should note that despite constantly being low on water, I'm never in dire straits since should I really need it, there is occasional traffic that I could ask for help and it's simply a matter of pride (and some shyness) that I refrain and don't flag a car down for water. But, as these things often work out, I find another stream right at the end of my final bottle. This time it's directly down a steep 20 foot ditch, but I don't have a choice, so down I go. I can't take my bike with me, so I leave it on the side of the road out of my sight. Once I refill my bottles, I try to scramble back up to the road and get covered in loose dirt and sand for my trouble. But what I immediately notice more than the dirt is that the small 20 foot slope has me completely out of breath. Until then, this day's riding had been significantly harder than the day before, but I had associated that with the long unrelenting climbs. However, I think altitude may have played an even more important factor. I slogged on up Mormon Emigrant.

Finally, I reach Highway 88 and my miles without any resources are somewhat behind me. I get my first descent in what felt like days, only to be greeted by yet another wall of climbing. This climb would prove to be even more difficult than the Mormon Emigrant climbs. Carson Pass has two sections of uphill, the first of which climbs up from Kirkwood and never flattens out until the top at just shy of 8,000 feet. This was the most brutal climb of the day, but it rewarded me with a spectacular view of Pyramid Peak. I rested at the top for around 30 minutes and used that time to fly my drone around and nearly crashing it off a cliff before continuing on. At the time, I thought that point was Carson Pass itself, when in reality the pass was yet to come. After another brief downhill, I was back to climbing up what I thought must be my final climb of the day, only, when I reached the top the sign read Carson Pass again... In my beleaguered state I couldn't even get the energy to be upset.

A minute or two after I arrive at the top of the pass, a rider comes up from the other side. His name was Charlie and we started talking pretty quickly. It turns out Charlie is an accomplished adventure cycling racer and has competed in numerous races all across the USA. In the last five years or so, these races have exploded in popularity, but Charlie had ridden in the Great Divide Race in 2014, well before it had gained the popularity it has these days. The Great Divide Race starts in Canada and goes all the way down to Mexico and is the longest dirt cycling race and route in the world. Charlie suffered an injury during his attempt and hopes to compete again and improve his time. Good luck, Charlie, and thank you for the photo!

But more than anything, Charlie was concerned about me. Up until this point, my bike setup had my tent, poles, and sleeping bag all lashed to the front of my bike. My tent with Velcro, but my sleeping bag was attached with bungee. This meant that whenever I went over a significant bump, my sleeping bag would sag and rub my front tire. In addition, having that much volume on the front of the bike meant that my bike was hard to handle and heavy. Charlie was concerned that on the descent after the pass, a significant gust of wind could push my handlebars off course and I would crash at high speeds. I was so tired and having made it down previous passes in the day, I nearly brushed off his concern, but in the end I caved and he spent the next ten minutes adjusting my setup and making it far more secure. I had jury-rigged a system with Velcro to keep my sleeping bag from rubbing my tire so much, but even I knew it was shoddy. While he was helping me get set up, Charlie was also giving me some great advice for the rest of my route. Most importantly, how to get more water on my bike and how to better utilize my space and what to pack.

When I was ready to go, he decided to stick with me and ride behind me on his way back to his camp. I was grateful for the company, but I know he also just wanted to make sure I made it down safely. We would end up hitting 49 Mph, so I now fully understand why he was so concerned about me heading down the pass as I was originally planning with a floppy front end. Thank you, Charlie, for all your fantastic advice and potentially saving a life! I have now fit my sleeping bag into my seat pack so you can rest easy!

After we parted ways, I had one last pass to climb, Luther Pass. At this point it was around 4:00 PM and the only food of substance I had to eat all day were those oats in the morning, and I had been subsisting entirely off walnuts ever since then. If you are going to subsist off one food while riding a bike, walnuts are not a bad way to go. They are about the highest calorie food you can eat and carry easily, but mine didn't have a lot of salt, and I was feeling it. Another piece of advice that Charlie had for me was getting electrolyte tablets, which I didn't have at the time, but I do now! Whether it was due to dehydration, lack of salt, or lack of substantial food, I was getting a little delirious climbing up Luther Pass. I found myself singing and talking to myself all the way up to the top as motivation. And I never sing.

I don't even remember the top of the pass. The next thing I know I'm cutting through a campground heading down to Tahoe. It turns out my family was waiting to ride down with me somewhere along Highway 89, but that campground ended up cutting out a section of highway, so I missed them. Not realizing this at the time, I eventually meandered to the cabin and arrived just in time to hear my mother on the phone with my aunt talking about how they were both getting worried since my tracking device was not working ever since I left the first part of Carson Pass. My tracker requires I have cell service and I must not have had any since then.

At the cabin, the rest of the family heard I bypassed them and soon everyone was back in time to head out for some amazing fish and chips from Cold Water Brewery and Grill. Although, at that point, anything would have been amazing, so don't take my word for it...

Now I will rest up for a few days as I monitor the weather in Nevada. I hear things are going to cool down soon. Once that happens I am off to Fallon, NV and my California segment will officially be over! This is a long post, but I don't expect many to be this long in the future. This was easily the most brutal day of the trip so far...

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Shannon Barker
Shannon Barker

Great job Peter! The fact that you have the energy to even write, let alone such detailed and entertaining journal entries is impressive. Looking forward to hearing about your Nevada crossing. Rest up and take care!


Byron May
Byron May

Really enjoying your posts Peter. Very glad you also met some experienced cyclists along the way.


Believe me, I am also quite thankful!


Another fantastic post, Peter!




Thank you! Most of the rest will be from my phone so there will be more mistakes and also be shorter. Easier to read probably though.

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