My original plan was to explore part of the Stanislaus National Forest up near Yosemite, as I've wanted to ride the Old Coulterville-Yosemite Road for a while. This was the original road into Yosemite, but exists today as a dirt road through National Forest land. One nice feature of said National Forest land is that one can camp pretty much wherever one wants, without needing reservations and without having other people camped next to you. Helpful when one wants to escape civilization and isn't sure how far one will ride any given day. I stared at maps for weeks, making sure I had a set of good route possibilities in my head, knew where the water sources were, and lined up a place to park the car near a ranger's house.
However, this was July. As the weekend approached, I looked at the weather forecast for the area. Forecast highs were up above 100 degrees. Not what you want to see when you are planning a ride with a bunch of climbing on dirt on a bike loaded with camping gear. I also had this weird niggle in my brain about fire season, as that area had been exceptionally hot and dry for weeks.
What to do, what to do... I decided that going up to higher elevation was the solution to high temperatures across the state, so we picked up a map for the Tahoe National Forest and headed up towards Truckee, with the loose plan of parking the truck at Stephan's cabin and riding up into the hills from there to circumnavigate Stampede Reservoir. It was only going to be about 90 degrees up there -- much more manageable.
The first part of the ride was along a mellow paved bike trail along the Truckee River, but the views were awfully good for all that we were still within civilization.
After a few miles, we headed north across the river and followed the road just east of Boca Reservoir.
There were still cars on that road, so we turned onto Forest Road 72, which started out as a perfectly nice dirt road heading up the ridge. I always like to see the "cars not recommended" sign when on this kind of trip; it means there won't be much traffic :)
Of course, in this case, it also meant that the road, which for the record was a solid rather than dotted line on the map, gradually degraded until it seemed more like an OHV trail than an actual road. The upper sections of the climb were steep and rocky and loose, and perhaps a little challenging on a bike loaded with camping gear. These things always seem to happen...
Oh, and the first two drainages I was hoping to get water at were dry. Ugh. At this point, it was near 90 degrees, the day was getting a bit long in the tooth, and we had fought our way a couple thousand feet up a fairly brutal climb. Fortunately, the drainage at Worm Mill Canyon had water.
Shortly after that, I declared myself done for the day, and we set up camp on an old log landing.
Chad hung the bag of food before it got dark (see if you can spot it). Yay! This is so much easier to do while it is still light (trust me, I've had to do it in the dark too many times).
As the light waned, I wandered about taking pictures of the sunset,
while Chad hid from mosquitoes and potential chilly night breezes in the cozy tent.
A few clouds led to a glorious sunset,
after which we settled down for a well-deserved recovery sleep.
The next morning, we discovered that we had camped almost exactly on the high point along the 72 road. A fortuitous thing, as the road went mostly downhill to the vicinity of the reservoir, so we knew it wouldn't be too bad a ride to get more water (our last reserves were used for breakfast).
Fairly rough riding downhill, in spots. Perhaps this is why the road is not recommended for cars.
But look -- water! And just around the bend, Chad found a full bottle of water that must have bounced out of someone's ATV.
One of the better sections of road. Standard excellent view.
Once we made it down off of that ridge and hit a road junction, we decided to take a side loop over into Dog Valley, as Chad had heard it was pretty back there and might lend itself to some pleasant riding.
It did. And there were occasional creeks in which to refill the water bottles. (Can you tell I was mentally scarred from the previous unexpectedly dry day?)
On finishing the side loop, we rejoined Henness Pass Road and circled around the north side of Stampede Reservoir. I expected this section to be relatively easy riding based on what the section of this road over near Downieville is like, and it didn't disappoint.
The bridge was out on the side road I wanted to take. Why do these things always happen at the end of the day when one is getting tired??
After looking at the Little Truckee River where the bridge was out and deciding that we didn't want to ford it there without a bridge, we rode out to the paved road and rolled down to an actual campground with a walk-in-site available. It was pretty, despite the fact that there were other people camped there. And there was an actual water spigot. Water, water, water. Drop a strawberry lemonade Nuun tablet in and call it "the finest rose". I think we might have been a wee bit tired by that point.
The third and last day brought us some singletrack. First of all, I convinced Chad that it was a good idea to hare off the main highway the campground had been on onto an OHV trail, even though the connection from that trail to the trail we really wanted to be on didn't exist on one map, and was a mere ghost of a dotted line on the other map.
The OHV trail was quite rideable -- much better than good old Forest Road 72.
It got skinnier, and perhaps a bit overgrown.
Still, the views were expansive, and we had a lot of fun picking our way down.
One has to enjoy a well-placed bench in the shade near the reservoir.
Shortly after this, we hit the absolutely enjoyable singletrack section that rolled up and down toward Truckee. At one point, I made us take a shortcut across a creek. That cool water felt so good!
Along the way, we ran into several other mountain bikers, who generally looked at us on our loaded bikes on the hilly terrain like we were crazy -- except for those cool few who looked faintly jealous on hearing about our adventure weekend route. As well they should. What's not to like about this?
As for our original plan? The actual high temperature that weekend in the forest up near Yosemite was 112, and the Ferguson Fire, which has now burned almost 100,000 acres, sparked in that area just a few days later. We made a good choice to go somewhere else this time; those maps will keep for a later trip.