Monday, May 12, 2014

Sequoia’s: Mother Nature vs. Melissa (Part 1)

Entering Sequoia Natioanl Park from the north

I will always remember my ride through Sequoia National Park, it's frozen, literally, in my mind! Mother Nature put me to the test, and I prevailed (just barely).  I had come from California’s coast where they had been having a heat wave.  When it is hot outside, it is hard to fathom the weather any other way, you just think it is hot everywhere!  By the time I reached Fresno, I could tell that the heat wave was breaking.  In fact, the night before I headed up to the Sequoia’s, it hailed.  The next morning there were clouds in the sky and it seemed as if it could rain, but it held off until the last 5 miles of my ride that day.

The lingering clouds had finally decided to let down and I arrived to my host’s house wet and cold.  Thankfully, a warm shower awaited!  How lucky am I there is a warm shower host 10 miles from The Sequoia and Kings Canyon entrance.  Linn is an avid cyclist and done a lot of tour cycling and riding, so it was great to share stories with her.  I went to bed that night not knowing if the weather was going to hold for me.  When I got rained on that day, half a foot of snow had fallen in The Sequoia’s and the temperatures had dropped.

Small Sequoia's at the start of my ride
Snow on the ground= getting higher and colder!

Thankfully I woke up to beautiful sunny skies and was delighted.  I probably should have started riding early, but I wanted to do a blog post, so I lingered around Linn’s until about 10 am and finally got on the road. Besides, it was sunny, I was all set.  Again, I am so narrow-minded when it comes to the weather.  It was sunny where I was, so I just thought it would be sunny everywhere!

Hope I'm out before then!

It was gorgeous for the first hour and a half up to the park entrance.  But the ranger at the entrance warned me that there might be slush at the top of the pass.  I put on some warmer clothes and kept climbing.  I knew I had a good deal of climbing to do, but I didn’t think it would take 3 hours to go 30 kilometers!  By the time I got to the first lodge, it had become foggy and cold.  Visibility was really low, luckily there weren’t many cars. I could see the trees in the forest, but not much else.  It would clear from time to time and the road kept going up.  Meanwhile the temperature kept dropping.  I watched it go from about 9C to 2C in the matter of 6 miles. 

The view from the Montecido Lodge, people were skiing!

Sure, just go right ahead and make yourself at home Melissa!
I welcomed the excuse to stop at the Montecito lodge.  I knew I couldn’t relax here for too long, I still had 70 kilometers left for the day. I really wanted was a cup of hot chocolate with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the girl working the desk at the lodge was so nice she didn’t even charge me (not even after I admitted I filled my mug up twice and took a few sugar cookies that were left out from lunch).  She also gave me some good news.  I had reached the highest elevation at their lodge and the majority of what was left was downhill.  Downhill, on a day like today, is a double-edge sword.  Although I get a break from all the hard work, not expending energy equates to getting cold when descending in severely cold weather. For a good while I was preoccupied looking at the temperature on my GPS drop dramatically and hover around 1 and 2C.  I hadn’t seen colder temperatures than 4C on my trip so far, hence a new record was about to be set. It was raining and sleeting, but since it wasn’t quite cold enough mid-day, the snow wasn’t sticking.   I was also keeping entertained looking at the trees.  Sequoias are unique pines in that their trunks can be so vibrantly red in color and their trunks elongated without any branches until the top of the canopy.

The famous General Sherman, up close and personal

Before I knew it, I was at The General Sherman Tree.  It’s the iconic tree in the park and I got to see it in a unique state, covered in snow! General Sherman was impressive, a massive tree in a forest of other incredibly large trees. On a summer day, I wouldn’t have been able to pedal right up to the tree, but on a day like today, hardly anyone was around.  After a few photos, I hit the road again.  It was getting late and I still had about 40 kilometers to go down to town outside the park.  It was late, but since a long descent awaited me, I knew I would make it before dark, I had to make it, there weren’t any other camping options up high, all the campgrounds were still closed.

Coldest recorded temperature of my trip
The descent was excruciatingly painful due to the cold. I already had all my heavy duty winter gear on- I could have started piling on layer after layer of normal shirts, but I o chose the “grin and bear it” option.  Just before I set out, I saw my GPS hit -0,1C (31F), I had to take a picture. It was officially the coldest temperature of my trip! I headed down the pass. The road was damp, but it wasn’t raining anymore. I tried to sing to stay entertained, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was “Bhhhrrrrr!” I couldn’t stop saying Bhhhrrrrr in all different tones and lengths.  I was beyond freezing! My teeth were chattering, I couldn’t feel my hands or toes and I had worked myself into a panic and the “Bbhhrrrr!” now became whimpering sounds and painful little cries (Click here for the video)!

It’s like I’m hyperventilating, I think I was in a bit of shock or the onset of hypothermia.  The descent had gotten the best of me and I worked myself into a state of distress.  I’ve done a lot of cycling in mountains, but I don’t remember ever being so cold!  Of course I wasn’t reasoning correctly and I assumed the temperature below was going to be the same as it was up in the park, which made motivating myself a real challenge.

One on the many many curve on this technical and cold descent

How was I going to survive this 40 km descent?  I stopped about 10 kilometers in to try to calm myself down.  I needed to get warm and eat something.  I shoved a whole bag of almonds in my mouth and then got off my bike and started to dance around and shake my arms and legs frantically (Click here to witness the dancing).


This was the only way I could think to warm-up.  A few cars passed going up and coming down, I’m sure they thought I was weird.  What a sight to see; all dressed in black with a hood covering up my helmet so only my nose and eyes was exposed. 

Too many rewarding views to capture heading towards Three Rivers, CA

The dancing helped, and so did the fact I that I was dropping elevation.  I hopped back on my bike and continued to ride.  So many sharp turns, steep, with great views all around.  I rode from 7,300 ft (2,500m) to about 1,000ft. (400m) in the matter of 40 min.  I started warming up little by little as the elevation went down so that I could enjoy the scenery. I stopped a few times, once at a look out which is where I met a random host for that night. Luckily, I was warm and dry that night, on the floor of a Comfort Inn, but obviously down at the bottom of Sequoia National Park, temperatures right at sunset were around 80F, a striking difference from the 31F up top.

Can you find the road hidden down there?
Being cold is one of my least favorite experiences on a bike, but I don’t know if it is better than a blustering head wind or scorching heat.  I will soon let you know.  Mother Nature put me to the test going through The Sequoia’s and I passed, barely.   Now I’m headed over to Death Valley.  Wouldn’t you know they are calling for record high temperatures there this coming week and gusty wind?!?!  I’ve never been through a true desert, at least one that lasts for a hundred plus miles.  I have been doing a lot of research and planning for this portion of my ride, but after my experience in Sequoia, I realize no matter how prepared you feel, there are always forces of nature that are completely out of your control battling against you at any given moment.

1 comment:

  1. Melissa, te esperamos en Barcelona.. y manda fotos de las Sequoia !