Category: weather

Spring has Sprung Here in the Heart of the Sierra

Finally…The Brewer’s Blackbirds have arrived here at California Alps Cycling HQ! A sign of spring for certain!

A Brewer’s Blackbird showing off the iridescent blue that is so cool.

We’ve also seen robins, yet another sign, and just this week, our first hummingbird visitors – an Anna’s and a Rufous.

The Aspens are starting to bud and the rivers and streams are flowing (almost raging). There are waterfalls a plenty and the lakes are starting to thaw. And, that shiny, bright orb in the sky can be seen most days.

Most importantly, at least from my perspective, I can get some serious riding in – outside. Just last Sunday, fellow CA Alps Cycling member Chris Schull and I, did just that! We started in Genoa (best bar around), went up to Spooner Summit, around part of Lake Tahoe, up Luther Pass and into Hope Valley, back down Woodford’s Canyon (Hwy. 88) and then, after fighting serious headwinds most of the day, we were blessed with a screaming tailwind all the way back to Genoa. We both PR’d 40k in about 57 minutes! My previous was about 1:07. We froze our hineys off for most of the day but that last leg was wondrous – you probably could have scraped bugs from our teeth due to our ultra-wide smiles.

‘Twas a great day indeed!

Click here to check out my Relive video of the ride.

So, if you haven’t made plans to come up to the Sierra soon, I strongly recommend it. Fishing season on rivers and streams opens on April 27th and there are myriad Earth Day celebrations, clean-ups and festivals happening everywhere.

In fact, as part of our mission to “help the communities in which we live, work and ride” we are taking part in a clean-up day on May 5th. We’ll be doing some garbage pick up on the 3-mile stretch of Hwy. 89 that we’ve adopted, as well as some other work around Markleeville along with other members of the community and the Markleeville Enhancement Club (founded by my friend, and former Co. Supervisor, Mary Rawson and me). We’d love to have you join us. Let me know if you’re interested by commenting on this post, or send me an email (mschwartz@californiaalpscycling.bike) if you prefer.

In other news…

The Alpine Trails Association is making plans to work on the Thornburg trail, once the snow clears, and I’ll be out there doing what my crew chief tells me to (with my new Pulaski). Al’s Got Gas has recently opened (used to be Markleeville Gas) thanks to our friends, and local philanthropists John and Karrie Baker. They are getting ready for their grand opening on the 27th and not only will they have fuel, but also fishing supplies, fun things to do for the kids, and FatBike rentals (with tours led by yours truly).

I’m also VERY EXCITED to announce that we’ll be opening our first retail outlet at Al’s. We’ll have tees, jerseys, bibs and vests, cinch packs, and decals for sale. Stop on by and get some fuel, munchies and cycling schwag!

Another plug for the Bakers…They also own the Alps Haus Cafe (awesome sammies and soups, and cold beer) so you can get some good grub, too.

Hope to see you soon…

We hope you too are partaking in the wonders of Spring and hope to see you soon here in Markleeville. Let me know when you’re coming up. I’d be happy to show you around.

Clearing Those Passes in the California Alps

Last Tuesday, April 2nd, I attended the Alpine Co. Board of Supervisors meeting here in Markleeville and one of the presenters was Dan McElhinney, CalTrans’ Acting Director for District 10.

Among other things, Dan brought us up to speed on CalTrans’ plans to clear snow from three (3) major Sierra passes: Monitor, Ebbett’s and Sonora.

They are planning on starting on Monitor next week and expect that it will take about 10-14 days to clear the many feet of snow that have accumulated. They’ll begin work on Ebbett’s and Sonora soon thereafter, or perhaps simultaneously, depending on resources. Apparently there is about 20′ of snow, with the associated ice that comes with months of freezing temperatures, on Ebbett’s and so, of the three (3), it will likely take the longest.

CalTrans assured the Board, and the public in attendance, that it will work VERY HARD to have all three (3) passes cleared by Memorial Day. Mr. McElhinney, and Clinton Neeley, the Maintenance Supervisor for District 10 (he’s based in Woodfords and was also at the meeting), both understand the importance of the work that needs to be done. With fishing season fast approaching, and the Deathride coming in July, clearing these passes, and clearing them ASAP, is vital. Monitor Pass, as the Board Chairman, David Griffith reminded us, is especially important since it is a vital connection between Hwy. 395 and Hwy. 89 – when it’s open, travelers can take the shorter route into Markleeville and then into Tahoe. When it’s closed our little town becomes a cul-de-sac and since much of our income is derived from tourism, that impacts our local businesses.

Here at California Alps Cycling, we’ve developed a nice relationship with Clinton and his crew; we work closely with them on our Adopt-a-Highway program. We’re so appreciative of the tough, sometimes dangerous work that they do. I personally make sure to tell them that whenever I see the crews working on roads I’m riding and I always salute them when I see their trucks or plows passing by.

So, when you see the crews out there, please let them know how much you appreciate the work they do. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to kick those passes’ asses!

Snowbound California Alps Cyclist Found in Australia

Well, okay, you got me. I’m not really in Australia, at least physically. I don’t know, is it still real if you’re there virtually? Don’t get me started on that philosophical discussion.

I did, though, ride the entire month of February, INDOORS! Crazy! The winter of ’16-17 (our first winter here) wasn’t this frozen or at least it didn’t seem that way. Reminds me of Game of Thrones. And as it turns out, I have yet to get outside for a ride this month. Yet…

Can’t even get this far up Hwy. 4 right now. This is the gate at Hwy. 4 and Wolf Creek Rd. in January. As of today the closure is 4 miles North of Markleeville, at Monitor Junction! So much snow…

The title of this post is somewhat of an ode to my latest recommended app, Fulgaz. Different from Zwift, it allows you to do solo rides all over the world, including Australia. It’s not as competitive (I’ve yet to try the challenge feature as I just recently subscribed – after my 2 week trial) but it’s a nice compliment to Zwift, and vice-versa.

After riding a bit over 400 miles in February I was grateful to have both apps. And with an Apple TV combined with a bigscreen in my paincave, apps running on the Mac or the iPad (fewer, if any connectivity issues I’ve learned) – I set up a tripod with a laptop tray and so I’ve got a bit of mission control – and good tunes on the earbuds it’s not too bad at all. I go with Apple Music but there are myriad music options out there.

Here’s a little glimpse of my pain-cave, which doubles as a guestroom. Notice the high-tech fan and the custom towel rack? Hey, whatever works, right?

Here are some stats from my February:

Miles ridden: 425
Feet climbed: 24,703
Hours in the saddle: 21.73
Calories burned: 16190
Locales visited: Watopia (Zwift virtual “country”); Queensland and Victoria, Australia; New York City; Belgium; Marin Headlands (Marin Co., CA); Richmond, VA; Innsbruck, Austria; Buckinghamshire, UK; Colorado

What about you? What do you do to stay in shape when it’s too chippy to go outside? We’d love to hear from you. Comment on this post and share your advice!

In the meantime…Ride safe and Let’s Kick Some Passes’ Asses! Even if they’re virtual. That’s what I’ll be doing today because guess what? It’s snowing. Again…

Crazy Weather Daze

My wife and I moved up here to Markleeville in October of 2016 – just before that winter kicked into high gear. My original plan in dealing with the snow was to shovel it. It would be a great workout I thought. That lasted about two (2) weeks. The call to Sears for the snowblower went out one morning and we picked up the ‘blower that afternoon. Major kudos to the inventor of that little gem!

Fast forward to this year, after a low volume winter of snow and rain last year, and as Yogi Berra would say, it’s deja vu all over again! I don’t have any hard data to compare this year to last but from our persective (not just mine and the wife’s but other locals too) this year has been snowier and colder than that epic winter. As I write this post this morning it’s 2 degrees. We’ve seen several days of negative temps too yet I only recall one “minus-day” in the winter of ’16-17.

I also remember that I was able to ride a bit more outside during our first winter. Some of that was behind the locked gates at the junction of Monitor and Ebbett’s passes, which by the way I no longer do. I was a bit naive when I first arrived in the Sierra but after a couple mechanicals behind those gates I quickly realized that it wasn’t such a good idea – what if something went seriously wrong? Nonetheless, I was able to get up those roads that year. Not so, this year. There are feet of snow now whereas in that winter there was none!

Rocking the Mapei jersey on Monitor Pass. Winter of 2016.

Thankfully, there are cycling apps like Zwift and FulGaz that allow those of us who live in the colder climes to get those miles in. Sure, it’s not nearly the same as riding outside but it’s riding at least. Combine the apps with a smart-trainer and it’s pretty cool. In the interests of full disclosure I must admit that the technology can sometimes be a little frustrating. I’ve been going through some major gesticulations with my current trainer – getting the power calibrated correctly or making sure I have the right dongle can be a bit trying. In fact, my new trainer arrived yesterday. BOLO (be on the lookout) by the way for a future post on my (and other California Alps Cycling members) timely trainer tips and tribulations.

So my story of woe continues…I’ve not ridden outside at all this month. While there have been a couple days where it might have been warm enough (if you call 25-30 degrees warm enough) there was either too much ice on the roads or too much snow on the shoulders (the road’s, not mine). I’ve logged just over 300 miles this month and have done so in such places as Australia, Belgium, Innsbruck, Watopia, London and the Marin Headlands. All virtually of course.

Happy Saturday to you all! Today I think I’ll go to a new destination – after I set up my Wahoo Kickr. If you hear me cussin’ you’ll know why. I’ll leave you with this little ‘cicle, as opposed to cycle, video. Ride safe and Let’s Kick Some Passes’ Asses! Even if they’re virtual passes.

I’ve seen lots of icicles in my days here but none quite like this one.

Current Road Conditions in the Heart of the California Alps

One of my Strava friends recently asked on one of my posted rides if the gates for Monitor and Ebbett’s Pass were open. That question made me realize I hadn’t posted an update on the local road conditions lately. So, here’s one!

Four recent rides

Since last Sunday I’ve toured the area around Markleeville and ridden in or to Diamond Valley (Hwy. 89 between Markleeville and Woodfords), Wolf Creek Road (Hwy. 89 between Markleeville and Monitor Pass and Hwy. 4 from Monitor Pass up a portion of Ebbett’s Pass) and Crystal Springs Road (Hwy. 88 from Woodfords up a small bit of Carson Pass) and have this to report:

  • Diamond Valley – Snow on the sides of the roads but no ice on the roads themselves. Lots of “snow plow dirt” and other detritis on the shoulders though.
  • Wolf Creek – Ditto – heading up Ebbett’s to Wolf Creek you’ll see some small slides, with assorted rocks and boulders, though. Not too “bouldery” on the roads themselves but certainly some. On one ride earlier this week I heard, and then saw, some rock coming down one of the hills onto Hwy. 4. A bit disconcerting…
  • Wolf Creek Road itself is gated/closed.
  • Crystal Springs – Easy going on Hwy. 88 with only the plow detritus on the shoulders. No ice on Crystal Springs Road.
  • Monitor Pass is closed for the winter. The gates at Hwy. 395 and at Hwy. 4/89 are closed.
  • Ebbett’s Pass is closed for the winter. The gate at the Hwy. 4/89 junction is open, and the sign nearby reads the road is closed seven (7) miles ahead (Raymond Meadow Creek), HOWEVER, the road is actually closed 2.5 miles from the junction (at Wolf Creek Road). It’s likely that the gate will be closed at the junction at some point in the near future though, as more snow is forecast for this weekend.
  • Carson Pass is open.
  • Luther Pass is open.

Pix of some of those roads

The lucky shot

Sam (could be Samuel or Samantha) the bald eagle (as we’ve named it) posing for a pic near the Hwy. 4 and Hwy. 89 junction.

Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend! More snow is on the way so please remember to ride safe and let’s kick some passes’ asses!

The disclaimer

The information and content on this page, as well as any other California Alps Cycling (CAC) page or materials, is general in nature and must be used with an understanding of your capabilities and expertise. Please be sure that any trails, roads, hikes etc. that you use are suited to your skill set as CAC is not responsible for any injuries to you, your companions or your equipment.  Additionally, while we strive to provide accurate, timely and complete information, it is subject to change and therefore CAC is not responsible for the accuracy thereof.   

Winter Cycling in the California Alps

I’ll try not to whine too much as I write this post. After all, I get to live and work in the heart of the California Alps. Still, the winter can be tough up here in terms of cycling. The roads, even though most are plowed, have a tendency to ice up a bit (or more than a bit), especially after a decent snow, and that can make things a bit difficult on any bike, let alone a road bike.

A crisp, cool and icy Diamond Valley afternoon.

Over the last several weeks it’s been so icy most of the time that riding outside was not really safe. Thankfully, there are options. For example, a bluetooth trainer helps lessen the boredom and makes a virtual ride more engaging. I use a CycleOps Magnus with Zwift. The trainer syncs with Zwift and so as the grade increases on the screen, the resistence increases on the trainer. It’s not climbing per se but it certainly feels more realistic than mashing a bigger gear to simulate a climb. With this set up I can spin at a high cadence when I climb in the house just like I would when I’m on the road.

Last weekend, I took another step forward. I mounted a flat screen in my workout room and hooked it up to an old Apple TV. I did have one problem, though: the Zwift app. was kinda janky and running it with the Apple TV remote was problematic. So, I went with Airplay instead. That actually turned out to be a better set up. I put my laptop on a tripod (you can get a special tray on online to attach to any tripod), placed it by my side, opposite the stool I have for my water bottle, phone, towel, etc. and man, it felt like Mission Control! And that larger screen (46″) made for a much more immersive experience than what I had used previously – just the Mac in front of me on that tripod. Since the beginning of the month I’ve put in about 214 miles, with 172 of those on Zwift. I cast my mind back to the winter of ’16-17 when I rode 600 miles during one period, all indoors!

Yeah, I here ya! I need to find something else to do perhaps. A bit of snowshoeing maybe? Time to learn how to ski? How about a hike? Yup, I need to do some of that too. I do have a sweet little gym set up (little being the operative word) so I can do some core work, keep the upper body strong and work on those hammies and glutes a bit too. But, I agree, some other outdoor activities are warranted.

With that said, I did get a little break in the weather, or ice I should say, and got outside for a couple hours last Sunday. I was able to ride up Highway 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) a bit. The snow, and requisite gate, however, stopped me at Wolf Creek but I did get a glimpse of a bald eagle and I startled a coyote (doing it’s “business” on the side of the road). It’s the little things…

Snow and ice behind the gate at Hwy. 4 and Wolf Creek Road.

It was a great day, made even more special by the fact that I was outside. Yet another perk of riding inside: the rides outside are just a bit more enjoyable. If you’d like to do a bit of winter riding in one of the most beautiful places in the world, come on up, the weather’s fine…for now.

Snow on the sides of the road but not on it! Made all that much sweeter by that bright, shiny orb in the sky.

It’s Often Windy Here in the California Alps – Why is That?

As a San Jose native, I was very familiar with the wind patterns. I lived in South San Jose for many years and could plan my rides knowing pretty well how the wind would blow: Go out early and get the tailwind on the way home. Go out later in the afternoon and get the headwind on the way home. Certainly this did depend on the direction of my ride but for the most part I could easily predict the patterns.

So, what’s the deal here? Well, thanks to “A Sierra Club Naturlist’s Guide” by Stephen Whitney I’ve found some answers. 

Mountain winds: “Winds and breezes passing over a rugged mountain range such as the Sierra follow tortuous courses over and around ridges, up and down canyons, through gaps in the crest. Eddies set up by the irregular terrain blow here and there in vigorous gusts that rattle trees and shrubs one minute only to abruptly die down the next. In the protection of a large boulder or grove of trees there may be scarcely any wind at all, while just a few yards away, in a more exposed area, it howls furiously.”

Wind-driven clouds in the CA Alps

Okay, so that makes sense. It’s somewhat analogous to the flow of a river. Rocks = rapids. Eddies are often downstream of those big rocks and flat water can bee seen where there aren’t any big rocks to interrupt the water’s flow.

Let’s dive a little deeper, though. Why is it that I can head up Hwy. 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) with a headwind and then not get that tailwind on the way back? Okay, sometimes I do get the tailwind but it’s not consisent like it was in Silicon Valley. Well, Mr.Whitney has a bit more information in that regard. It’s about mountain breezes, valley breezes and the mountain ranges “intrusion” into the tropopause

“On a warm summer morning the air next to the ground surface is heated and rises. Cooler air nearby moves in to replace it and rises in turn. This movement is felt during the day as an upslope breeze.” Typically, he writes, this starts about three hours after sunrise and reaches its peak during the hottest hours of the day and then it tapers off again around dusk. This is a valley breeze.  “At night, cool air flows downslope, creating the mountain breeze.”

Dust off those cobwebs and cast your mind back (thanks Paul Sherwin) to those high school science days (daze?); here’s some additional data: “Wind speed increases over mountain crests and through canyons and passes because air – like any fluid – accelerates when forced through a narrow passage. As a volume of air moves upslope, it is increasingly squeezed between the mountains and the tropopause, the inversion layer acting as a lid on the lower atmosphere. Since the volume of air remains the same as it squeezes over the mountain crest, it becomes elongated.” Okay so that means it picks up speed. Makes sense. He goes on to write that “air forced to squeeze through a canyon or mountain pass is accelerated in much the same way.”

So, there we have it! Mountain winds, mountain breezes and valley breezes combined with the myriad canyons, crests, passes and that ol’ tropopause challenge those of us who cycle in the California Alps. It’s a rare day when we have no wind and due to the topography you can’t count on consistency. If you ride here then you, grasshopper, like I, need to learn to embrace the wind. 

Ride safe out there and let’s kick some passes asses!™ Even the windy ones…