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!

Climb! the California Alps

For years, like many of my friends, I have been riding bikes. Mostly road bikes but I do some mountain biking as well and have been known to ride my wife’s hybrid as well – especially when I don’t want to gear up.

I’ve gotten to be a better rider over those years, mostly because I’ve lost some poundage but also due to the shear volume of riding, with the associated climbing that comes with living and riding in the California Alps.

I’ve found, though, like many of you I suspect, that I pretty much “just ride.” Yeah, I’ve used a heart rate monitor for years and I’ve been active my entire life, even when I weighed over 300 pounds, but I never really paid attention to the data and until about two (2) years ago I never had a power meter.

So, as I added my big events to the calendar this year, the first one being the Wildcat 125 in Chico next month, I decided I needed to do more to improve my climbing. An ad or an email, I can’t remember which, that I received earlier in the year touted a new book: “Climb!” by Selene Yeager and the editors of Bicycling. The sub-title reads: “conquer hills, get lean, and elevate every ride.” So I went ahead and bought the book and read it from cover to cover.

What an awesome book! It has several plans in Chapter 12 and I decided to do “The 8-Week My-Base-is-Built-So-Let’s-Roll! Hill-Climb Plan.” It’s a combination of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), steady-state intervals, endurance rides, easy rides, and rest days. In other words, exactly what I wasn’t doing! By the way, as it happens, just yesterday Selene posted a blog article on HIIT workouts. Click here to check it out.

Well, I’m in the middle of week 5 and it’s making a huge difference. My power is up, my endurance is up and I’ve learned some new skills as well. Because of the weather here in the Sierra over the last several weeks I’ve had to do many of the workouts inside but thanks to Zwift and FulGaz, and my smart-trainer, that hasn’t been a problem. Last Sunday I got outside for my first ride in awhile and I killed it! Extra poop on the climbs, lower heart-rate while generating more watts, and I PR’d my Max Avg. Power (20 min.)!

So, if you haven’t checked out the book, and if you want to be a better climber, I recommend that you do. It’s a good read with lots of nuggets, and no, I’m not getting paid a cent by Bicycling for this “review.”

And if you have any climbing tips for your fellow riders, comment on this post and share them.

Last but not least, I wanted to let you all know that you can FOLLOW US now on Twitter! @bikedalps is our handle and we’d love to have you join the conversation!

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.   

Snowshoeing – Lessons Learned on the California Alps

Last week was so cold and icy that I accomplished my entire weekly cycling goal of 100 miles, on Zwift. So, when Chris (Schull, one of California Alps Cycling’s Legacy Members) and his wife Shyanne (and their two pups, Kona and Java) offered to take me on a ‘shoe trip to Winnemucca Lake last Saturday I was all over it.

A map of the trail from Highway 88 at Carson Pass and Winnemucca Lake.
The trail from Highway 88 (Carson Pass) to Winnemucca Lake.

Lots to learn

Now I’ve done a lot of hiking, some backpacking, lots of camping and quite a bit of hunting in my day, including an elk hunt in the snow many years ago. Still, I was unprepared for our little adventure – this was only my 2nd snowshoe trip afterall. Click here if you’d like to read the post about my first snowshoe adventure, by the way.

My gloves were too small. They worked great on the property but add a little sweat and they were too hard to get on and off, and they didn’t have the fingertip sensor so I couldn’t snap photos without taking them off. Lesson 1. Lesson 2 – my pants. I had a great weather proof pair of Arcteryx snow pants, however, they didn’t stay put due to a drawstring that kept loosening. Suspenders would have helped greatly! Handwarmers were another item I could have used. One of my fingers went numb and into pre-frostbite because I had trouble putting on my snowshoes with my gloves and so had to take them (the gloves, not the shoes) off. It was a hard, kinda lumpy (with white patches starting to appear) digit until Chris gave me one of his handwarmers and showed me how to put it in my glove and wrap that finger around it. Lesson 3 and a big one. The biggest lesson I took away, though, was not to rush the preparations. I was a bit cocky and so figured I could just get all my gear together the morning of the hike. Big mistake. It wasn’t just a hike and more preparation and time was warranted.

On with the adventure

Once I got through (or we got through) my “greenhorn issues” (thank you Chris for having my back and thank you Shyanne, Kona and Java for waiting on my sorry ass) we were able to make some tracks. It was a beauty (albeit chilly) day on the pass. About 20 degrees or so. The day was fairly clear, though and until we reached the lake, there wasn’t much wind. It took us about an hour to get to the lake (we averaged 2 mph for the entire hike) where we found some shelter from the wind and had our lunch. Oh, and I learned another lesson here…bring something to sit on. Shyanne used a plastic garbage bag – light, easily packable and cheap.

Chris, Shyanne and Kona and Java taking a lunch break near Winnemucca Lake.
Lunch stop at Winnemucca Lake (the actual lake is to our left). Notice that Shyanne is comfortably seated?

We took a few minutes for some lunch and some spiked hot-chocolate (oh, so good!) and the goilz (Kona and Java) enjoyed nibbling kibble nuggets that Chris had thrown out on the snow. It wasn’t quite a bluebird day (there was some clouds as you can see) but it was damn close. There is something about being in the mountains with snow all around. It magnifies the beauty ten-fold, maybe more. For those of you who ski or do other winter sports I know you know what I mean.

Back to the barn, er truck

Now that we had put my wardrobe (and other malfunctions behind me) and had some much needed sustenance and cockle-warming we were able to put the pedal to the metal as it were and make good time heading back to the vehicle. Oh, I should mention that you need a Sno-Park permit to park at the trailhead. We forgot ours and so had to head back to Sorensen’s to get it or risk a $94.50 fine. Thankfully, not too much of a delay. Anyway, the trip back was uneventful and we made good time. We covered just over 4 miles with 1:47 of moving time and about 2 1/2 hours elapsed time and when we got back to CA Alps Cycling HQ we had a warm fire, cold beers and some good company with whom we could share our adventure. Here’s a few more pix from the day.

I wish you well on your next adventure. Why not head here to Markleeville for it? We’ve got some good eats and cold beer, a nice hot spring and more snow is on the way. I hope to see you soon and remember not to rush the preparations and most importantly be safe and kick some passes asses!

How About a Hike for a Change?

The Burnside Lake Trailhead sign on Hot Springs Road in Markleeville, CA
Just a couple miles up the road from
California Alps Cycling’s HQ, and only 3 miles from Markleeville, you’ll find the Burnside Lake Trailhead.

After a long day, or long week perhaps, a day off the bike can rejuvenate the spirit and rest those weary legs. And, you can take the family along, too. As someone who, like many of us cyclists I suspect, gets a little obsessive about miles, training, VO2 max, FTP and the like, I often need to force myself to do something off the bike.

Charity Valley Trail to Grover Hot Springs

The trail starts here! Just three (3) miles from California Alps Cycling HQ you can begin your trek to Grover Hot Springs State Park. It’s a nice, easy hike (with some little ups and outcrops) of about a mile into the park. From there, as you can see from the sign, you can make the hike (it’s also a nice trail run) to Burnside Lake or Charity Valley. There are other options as well once you’re in Grover. The entire Charity Valley Trail, if you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, is about eight (8) miles in length, with a moderate difficutly rating (per the Carson Ranger District).

We Locals Love our Parks

In the Winter 2018 print edition of Parklands, the California State Parks Foundation’s rag, there’s a little write up about Grover: “Thanks to 75 volunteers and a $5000 grant, the Native Plant Demonstration Garden underwent a number of improvements, such as irrigation and invasive weed removal. Trash pickup, raking and clearing fire rings also helped enhance the Grover Meadow area.” The locals are also supported by organizations such as the Alpine Trails Assocation and the Alpine Watershed Group.

Sign indication the border between the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Grover Hot Springs.
Crossing over from the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest into Grover Hot Springs. This photo was taken December 21, 2018.

Taking Some Time Off the Bike

Make a picnic lunch, grab the family and head out for a rest day (or a least a day off the bike). My wife and I did just that last month. In fact, it was our 22nd anniversary! We made some hot soup, loaded up the thermos and did the two-mile round trip to the park and back in the middle of my work day. Click here to watch a short video of our trek, complete with a “Gomer Pyle shot” of yours truly.

As I mentioned earlier, there are certainly more ambitious options if you’re not looking to get a lot of rest; the Burnside Lake Trail to Grover is just the start. From the park there are myriad hiking and, as you might have guessed from the park’s name, soaking options too. Well, okay, just one soaking option really unless you’re a polar bear. Still, that pool with its 103 degree mineral springs is an awesome way to finish a day, whether that be after your hike, after a ride or as many snow sports enthusiasts know, after a day on the slopes or in the backcountry.

Soak well my friends and remember that rest days are just as important as intervals and hill repeats!